Oh, right, except that Botgirl is really a man! Read the post here. Yes, as my friend said to me last night when I was telling him about this, there is a lot of that going around, but nevertheless I was really surprised. This is actually the second time a cool woman avatar friend, hip to technology, great to talk with, someone I had been hanging out with, has turned out to be not woman at all. It is a strange feeling, to find out that the assumptions one naturally has made, that one has been encouraged to make, are false, at least on one level. Yeah, yeah, in the virtual world, what difference does gender make? All avatars are really substitutes or alts for the actual person, or the typist, if you will, masks, exaggerating some characteristics, hiding others. Blah blah blah. The revelation still stung.
In the post revealing his identity, David wrote:
The short answer is that the pseudonymity that initially facilitated free expression is now a box that constrains creative growth and the development of more fully realized personal relationships. For the first year or so, social interactions were strictly from Botgirl’s perspective and consciousness. She adamantly refused to admit to having any human aspect. But over time, as a number of acquaintances moved towards friendships, it began to feel like withholding all reference to my human identity was inauthentic. So I started to intentionally inject more of my human self into the conversations. No identifying information, but personal anecdotes that were relevant to a conversation. The problem this created was that although both Botgirl and I feel “real” as unique individuals, we are pretty much a sham as a morph.
Those moments of personal anecdotes were the ones that leaped to mind immediately, because I thought they were from another woman. See, I am hung up on the gender. I really, really am, no matter what I would have thought I would have said, how I thought I would have responded. Not that it actually makes a difference, when I do think about it--two parents talking about their kids, not two mothers, so what?--but I am examining my initial emotional response. I tweeted glibly that she is still Botgirl to me, but that was wishful thinking. Maybe it is no coincidence that my laptop logic board failed right after I found out about Botgirl/David! Something short-circuited for a moment! Do I lose that woman friend, then, the one I thought I had? Or who was never really there anyway. Another piece of the frakking virtual world illusion that I am willing to believe in and then it is gone, baby, gone, and I am just an avatar jerk standing there, looking where there once was something that is never going to be there again. Oh! (Insert David Byrne, "Once in a Lifetime"-type smack on the forehead!) It was never really there to begin with! Yes, yes, the actual world is like that too. Blah blah blah on that one, as well. (Once I have my laptop back, I will be back to my usual optimistic self. Perhaps.)
OK, I am all for people experimenting with gender and other aspects of identity in SL. I think that Azdel Slade's project Becoming Dragon about gender and other transformations is fantastic; link here and slurl for SL inworld installation until Aug 30th here. I am happy to call you "she" if you have a female avatar, and be your girlfriend, participate in making that real for you, even if sometimes I look at you and see you reflect back to me what I see as an idealized, essentialized version of my existence. But, you know, the thing about gender, about SEX, about having a female body that you guys running around in your big-boobed, wasp-waisted "girl" avs don't and will never understand, is that having a female body is not only a social experience. It is not only about how people treat you, but it is also about what it is like to live in that body, physically, biologically, phenomenologically, without stepping in and out of it at will. It is not all about "empowerment" and "sexiness" because of boots and clothes. It is not only manipulating the construct of femininity, the performance of gender. It is also what it means to be afraid that you are not safe simply because you are in a female body, that your sexuality is not always defined by yourself, or that your worth as a human is judged by your appearance and value as, basically, a sexual or breeding object. It is to notice how you are responded to when you are one size, and how that changes if you are another. The whole issue of idealized feminine appearance is one big trap, and so easy to fall into in the virtual world. L1 is up to her shiny eyeballs in it; she may have to become a centaur or something to get out of it. But to be female in a virtual world is not the same as being female in the actual world, and being female in the actual world is very different depending on where, when, and who you are.
This actually brings me to an extraordinary sculpture I saw yesterday, Grand Odalisque, by 3D Soup, at the Rezzable sim The Black Swan, which is departing Second Life for their own OpenSim very soon. Our loss. I didn't intend on including these pics here, but I guess they fit remarkably well with the ideas I am trying to express. And I love her face.
It is unprecedented to see an image like this in Second Life, not just because of the hyper-realism (a topic that came up tangentially in the panel discussion I was on with Rezzable's Paviq Lok and Stacey Fox last week, see previous post), which I see as one of the ways virtual worlds will develop, not because of the skill it must have taken to make the sculpties for this piece. We don't see this kind of non-idealized image, especially of the female body, because most people are not interested, and in fact as I stood in front of Grand Odalisque with a few of my friends, the crowd shifted dramatically, from a quietly appreciative one (mostly in Instant Message, I think), to a rowdy bunch making fat jokes and using local voice chat. Yes, the virtual world is impermanent, ephemeral--that is its nature. But the way it is superficial and false is a choice, the consensual hallucination we create, that makes something like Grand Odalisque so unusual to our eyes, so out of place.
Back to Botgirl: I was prepared for Botgirl to really be Grand Odalisque. We are all more like Grand Odalisque than the idealized avatar, and seeing both in the same virtual space reminds us of that, maybe brings us up short (literally, given the gap in size between us and her! Interestingly, it is with a similar disproportion in size that David chose to illustrate his reveal, BIG David face, smaller Botgirl. I, in contrast, tend to show L1 and myself as the same relative size in the pieces I have done.)
I just wasn't prepared for Botgirl to be Botguy. In the long run, it doesn't make a difference. There have always been good authors who have written good characters of the opposite gender, and I interacted with one. Initially, I felt a little duped I guess, and it makes me wonder about authenticity, integrity, in virtual worlds when so much can be obscured. I am not one to throw stones, and I am getting over it. I could toggle, knowing that behind Botgirl is David, interesting in his own right, and think that through. Mostly, I don't want there to be no more Botgirl, the one in my head (and if I ever needed confirmation about what computer mediated communication can do, this is it.) And this is where I wonder if I am willing to stand here as the virtual jerk with nothing really before her but illusion. Not sure. My sabbatical is over. I would like to give the virtual world a little kick while I stand here. Anyone got a good animation for that?