August 18, 2009

Your world, your imagination: the transgender debate

In a world where you can be whatever you want, can you be discriminated against for living out your true gender? What if your true gender is the opposite of your biological one?

Imagine growing up with the permanent feeling something is wrong. Imagine feeling more and more alienated by what role society has in stock for you. Imagine feeling your body change during puberty in a way that not only confuses you (we all have that), but in a way that repels you, that feels utterly wrong. Imagine the shocking moment when you finally realize you are trapped in a body that is not yours. Imagine admitting this to your best friend, your sibling, your parents. When you think "Mom, I'm gay" is bad, try to imagine how it feels to say "Mom, I'm a woman inside".

People who experience this are not sick perverts or demented. People who experience this and still live - the (teenage-)suicide rate among this group is shockingly high - are facing obstacles us "normal" people can't even imagine. Maybe you have read reports about illiterate people, and how they live a life of humiliation, shame and hiding/pretending. This gives you a little idea what a person growing up and living in the wrong body has to endure.

Second Life attracts these transgendered people. The road they need to take in the atomic world is a tough, hard and long one. In Second Life, they find a breathing space and some peace, and can be who they feel they really are. In Second Life they find other transgendered people, they find advice, they find community, they find resources. I doubt there are statistics about it, but I guess a transgendered person probably is at a much lower risk of committing suicide once they have found SL as their safe haven.

I am blessed with the friendship of 4 transgendered people in Second Life. While only one of them openly states it on the profile, the others came out to me after building and fostering the friendship for a long time, building trust until - without any need or force - they told me this intimate fact about themselves. The stories they told about their teenage days, about the trouble they faced with their families, about being torn between keeping up the appearances and not being able to live with the situation anymore sent chills down my spine. One of them had sex reassignment surgery (SRS) performed many decades ago. Another faces SRS in the immediate future and the last two have no plans for SRS yet.

All of them have fairly conservative views on sexuality and feel offended by pornography and share the view that SL at large is pretty much oversexed. To them, the current message when accessing mature content on XStreet SL, is a slap into their faces:

You are about to be redirected to Xstreet SL Uncensored.
The adult content within this site is intended for ADULTS ONLY (18 years of age or older). If you are not of legal age or do not wish to view materials of a sexually-explicit nature or you are offended by transgender images or topics, then please click CANCEL now.

I am not going as far as to claim that Xstreet SL meant this message as a deliberate insult to transgendered people. But it is the same thoughtless discrimination we face so often in the atomic world. "If you are not of legal age or do not wish to view materials of a sexually explicit nature" would have been more than enough to bring the point across. Instead, whoever wrote this added the reference to transgenders and thereby lumped the whole transgender community together with pornography and sexually explicit material, tarring them with the same brush.

Yes, there is a thriving community in Second Life built around the idea of sexual activities involving hermaphroditic people and anthropomorphic creatures (Shemales, Futanari), or the ideas of of androgynity, flowing gender boundaries or a (in some Asian cultures mythical) 3rd gender (Ladyboys). The vast majority of the people active in those communities have no gender issues in the atomic world. It is likely that Linden Lab had this group in mind when they phrased that unfortunate disclaimer, but by doing so, they discriminated and insulted the first group, the transgendered members of our society.

There is an entry on the bug tracking system (JIRA) where you can vote to have the XStreet SL message changed. I urge you to cast your vote there. Do it for my 4 friends, do it for the countless others out there. These people deserve it! Click here: https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/XSL-17

Thank you!

P.S. This is my 200th post on this blog, marking a bit over 2 years of SL-blogging and almost 3 years of being a SL resident. I was struggling for days what to write for the 200th post. I can think of no better topic than this to mark this milestone.

Update:

Infinity Linden added a comment - 18/Aug/09 02:30 PM
Thank you everyone who brought this issue to our attention, and to all who have shared their opinions in this matter. Linden Lab recognizes that our community is enriched by Second Life's transgender residents. It was never our intention to single out a segment of our community in a negative way. We have removed the offending clause from our disclaimer and offer our sincerest apologies.

The Linden Lab Ecommerce Team

Authors comment: during the discussion, Infinity Linden has identified herself as transgendered.
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