Second Life allows for an astonishing flexibility when it comes to how we present ourselves to the world. Unlike our physical bodies, which change only through the application of time, diet, exercise, and/or surgery, SL gives us the protean fantasy of being able to assume any shape or form that our imaginations (or amount of lindens on hand) allow us. I could be a Dalek, Twi'lek, or Hannibal Lecter. A zebra, a zombie, or even General Zod*.
I could wheel through my usual haunts, having taken on any of these transformations, and elicit little more than a couple of chuckles from my friends. It's old hat. Nothing shocking. But there was one transformation that I made that apparently became a 24-hour sensation at the gym. Without realizing the gravity of my actions, I had pushed to the edge of what is acceptable and become the thing that men fear most:
A little clarification is in order. I am not jumping into a female avatar and pole dancing in clubs, or even trying to pass myself off as a woman in any level of interaction on SL. My forays onto the other side of the gender divide have less to do with embracing my feminine side and more to do with crass commerce. As a maker of clothing for both men and women, I often need a female model for things like vendor pictures and posters when there simply are none around to be had. Given the possibilities in shapeshifting available in SL, it only made sense to make my own.
That's really all Abelle (the avatar's nickname**; I'm not sure now if it was Karine or myself who gave it to her) is: A glorified mannequin. But the reaction from certain quarters has been, to say the least, a bit perplexing. I don't know if it says more about me for not thinking it a big deal, or more about the commenters for thinking that it is. Either way, the fact that there have been comments leaves me scratching my head a bit.
Nothing serious, mind you. Nobody's been trying to subject me to some sort of virtual gay-bashing or anything like that. But there seems to be a sort of tacit acknowledgement in SL that, whatever gender you are in real life, the one you present yourself as is the one you stick to. Open acknowledgement of jumping back and forth, even for practical reasons not tied in to sexuality, is taboo. Just make an alt and keep your mouth shut like everyone else.
Not everyone embraces this philosophy, I think. There's already a notoriously large amount of playing with gender in SL, and I think that for people like myself, the rendering of the concept of gender down to an aesthetic choice is simply the next logical step in a virtual world.
*- KNEEL BEFORE ZOD! Sorry, just had to say it...
**- Averlast Coach jony23 Abramovic has suggested "Bela". But while that's anagramatic, it's also best known as a guy's name.