Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The nature and meaning of "transgender" in a virtual world.

I thought this was interesting.

Prokofy Neva, as you know, is a well-known male avatar with a female operator.

There's a protracted dramafest going on inworld and across multiple forums about the JLU group and one of the subplots is about transgendered people.

That led Neva to make this comment in his blog...
"But Kendra didn't accept me. As I've found with a number of other m2f transgendered in SL, she thought I didn't have the right to call myself transgendered in SL. She thought only RL transgendered people were authentic, and if you had an avatar of the opposite gender, this was merely a kind of role-play or "fantasy" and "didn't count". It wasn't politically correct in her very rigid canon."
That caught my eye and my interest and led me to inquire...
"Am I understanding you correctly? You do consider yourself transgender?"
Neva's reply...
"Why are middle-aged males like yourself so prurient about this issue, LeeHere? Why do you think that is? Mitch Wagner was just the same way. I'm not required to discuss my private life with strangers on the Internet. And so I don't. I have a transgendered avatar that is the opposite of my RL gender as is well known. I think that is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and I don't think I'm required to a) discuss any aspect of my private life or b) have to be an actual case of transgender in RL in order to be "entitled" to have such an avatar or be "authentic". I find it the worst sort of fascism when people claim otherwise. Gender police -- ugh! I don't have any plans for any RL operations of any type, I really don't like surgery."
"I'm actually a middle-aged (43) female, Prokofy. I did not think I was being "prurient" about the issue and indeed I was not. You made an interesting comment and I asked about it. You opened the door and I walked through it, politely, gently and reasonably and with genuine interest. I can see that you are so often attacked that you keep yourself in a defensive posture, but I sincerely meant to engage you in a topic I thought both of us found interesting. I have never seen anyone refer to the use of an avatar with a gender opposite to their operator gender as "transgender" unless the operator identified as transgender in real life. I knew you chose an avatar opposite to your operator gender and I have seen you write about why you have made that choice, but I have never before seen you refer to that choice as "transgender." I am not questioning the legitimacy or the privacy of your choices. I read your blog post and had a "Hunh. That's interesting. I've never seen it put that way before." response. That's all. I did not assume you had plans for real life surgery or that you identified as transgender in real life, I thought perhaps you had a kind of philosophical view on the nature of transgenderism in the virual world. Seemed like, as I said, an interesting point for discussion. My apologies for inadvertently causing offense, but thank you for answering the question anyway."
I do think this is an interesting discussion for a number of reasons.

1.  The idea that an operator of an avatar with a different gender is "transgender."
2.  Neva's blog post.
3.  Neva's reaction to my question.

I find it's difficult to have calm, rational conversations with Neva.  No, I'm not jumping on the crazy-lady bandwagon.  I know that Neva purposely indulges in a kind of TalkRadio/Internet culture virtual swinging dick hyperbole that would make Limbaugh and WoW players proud, but I suspect that Neva is so often attacked that he just keeps himself in a defensive posture.  I'm not sure what the approach of a casual reader of  "Second Thoughts" should be on a hot-button topic at this point.  I think I was unexpectedly culling out a bit of that hyperbole and separating it from the herd of the total attack, so to speak, and it may not stand so well on its own legs in that particular field.

So if someone has an avatar with a different gender to the real life that "transgender"?  Is it entirely up to the operator?  Do people who are transgender in real life have cause for offense or criticism?  Is there room in a virtual world for both choices and philosophies?



Neva replied and so did I.
"LeeHere, I thought you were another variation of that Lee who hangs around Ross infohub all the time who is a middle-aged male and has his RL picture on his avatar even. You *are* being prurient. No, I don't find it interesting to discuss my life with you. I wish to refer to my avatar as transgendered. It seems accurate and perfectly legitimate. I don't believe in the Gender Police and I don't obey the Transgender Central Committee. Again, I don't have to prove any status *whatsoever* in RL to have a transgender avatar in SL, end of story, that's all he wrote.
"I'm glad we cleared up the which "Lee" I am part. As for the prurient part, I think we will just have to agree to disagree. I thought it was an interesting question, a kind of philosophical inquiry. Again, thank you for answering the question, regardless. I'm content to leave it there. Have a good day. Happy blogging."


  1. I'm surprised by the number of people from Latvia who view this blog.

  2. LOL @ the Ts on FC ;-)

  3. I'm sure her reaction was defensive because it is difficult to explain how one has a transgendered avatar with a non-transgendered operator.

    RL Prok bears some similarity in looks to Mitch Wagner.

  4. You know how I feel about this, but there aren't many comments so far, I have some spare time as I got up stupidly early for the Rugby World Cup as there isn't a game on for another two hours today, and this seems a convenient and welcoming platform to continue my mission of proselytisation regarding my quasi-solipsistic philosophies.

    I consider every instance of virtual personality to be a different, independent and free-willed entity, distanciated from the author (and other instances) in a similar way to that in which King Lear is a different character from Falstaff in Shakespeare's writings. Would YOU call Portia transgendered because she was written by Big Bill? No, the gender of the author is an irrelevance.

    Nevertheless, Prok's authoress has the complete right to state that Prok is a transgendered ftm if the persona that Prok presents in SL, on his/her/its blog and in forums (if he/she/it is insistent that all those personas are the same underlying "identity" much like Bourne in Ludlum's series of books - although not in the movies which are fun but do not reflect to anything like the same degree the psychological torments and angst expressed by written words) actually represents her/his/itself as transgendered, whether or not the authoress herself is transgendered. Would anyone complain too hard if she had a robot avatar which she called a robot, when the authoress was not herself a robot?

    Where Prok's stance breaks down is in too close an association of her online representations with her real life one, which is obviously a spoof in its overt uber-paranoia, espousing antiquated McCarthyite philosophies, lacking in intellectual credibility and worthy only of disdain.

    Pep (thanks you for the opportunity to maim several clay pigeons with one barrel of shot.)

  5. I hope it was clear that I was not criticizing Prok's choice to be a transgender male avatar. I would say, "Prok's fantasy and all that," but that's precisely part of the point Prok was making, that it is not, in Prok's mind, a fantasy or a roleplay and to call it such or suggest such is offensive and disparaging to Prok.

  6. My point, as I've stated here and there, was just that I'd never seen Prok's situation positioned or described that way before and it was interesting to me.

  7. I genuinely think one of the primary beauties of virtual worlds is the exposure to new and different viewpoints.

  8. @Pep: I don't think anyone was really complaining that she was representing herself as transgendered in SL or elsewhere. Prok, in my opinion, tries to diminish the intellect and the validity of reaction of the RL trangender in question by stating that her(the RL tgen) acceptance of, presumably, avatar only tgens was too rigid. She is seemingly posturing for affect. Any of us may visually depict or RP anything our imagination allows for in SL, but it does not necessarily mean that we, the authors and creators of our pixel stacks, have any ability to associate emotionally or mentally with that which we have created. Prok almost begs you believe that she is intimately familiar with the angst and inner turmoil that is experienced by individuals who are trapped in a body that feels unnatural, and should have been afforded the same degree of acceptance as a RL Tgen. I thought that Lee asking her if she was RL transgender was actually a legitimate question, and wished she would have provided something other than "mind your own fucking business" type response. If she is in fact a RL tgen, it would at least explain some of her persecution complex.

    I suppose that if she built a replica of the oval office and donned a BO avatar, that she would also expect that she is accepted and given the recognition and respect that is afforded leaders of the free world.

    But, as you otherwise indicated elsewhere, it is of no import.

  9. I actually suffer from a similar problem in real life.

    Pep (is a lesbian trapped in a man's body.)

  10. I once read somewhere that 90% of male to female TSexuals become lesbian....and that they they lie through the psych evaluations to get the shrinks to green light the op.
    All of which I find quite fascinating.

    I do have some respect for Pep's point of view as treating each instance of an on online persona as an individual.
    It is not a point of view I share...but I have some other super-smart friends who argue the exact same thing.

    From the dude with a 100 alts of varying genders it must seem honest...particularly if they disclose upfront, that this is their viewpoint.

    To the can seem like a barrier to any true intimacy...that we are reduced to pawns on your chessboard.

    That many males play a female in online games is not exactly a secret...but I wonder what the figures are for females playing males??
    I bet an archivist of Lee's stature could uncover this pertinent fact. :-) My guess is, it would be higher than you would surmise.

    SL is a very interesting study of gender....anecdotally I have known quite a few males who run female avatars...who started it as a joke...or just to look at a nice female ass as they wander the grid ( shades of Lara Croft)...only to find themselves thoroughly embedded in their creation. That this experience loosens something in the psyche...and finds fuller expression than they had imagined possible.

    So Lee...have you ever run a male alt....and if not....why not??

  11. "LeeHere Absent said...
    I'm surprised by the number of people from Latvia who view this blog."

    I read that as Labia o.O. Prokofy belongs to the Humpty Dumpty School of Semantics...

    "“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”"

  12. Search keyword phrase used to get to this blog:

    "'prokofy neva' transgender god"

    No lie.

  13. @ Orfeu:

    "All of which I find quite fascinating."

    Me too, as you well know.

    As for the operator-avatar gender in SL thing, the twist here, for me it two-fold. Neva is not positioning it merely as a female operator using a male avatar, but rather a female operator using a transgendered male avatar *and* one that is doing so not for purposes of fantasy or roleplay.

    THAT, to me, is where it gets really interesting.

    I suspect Prok is using a bit of Pserendipitous rhetoric for "Second Thoughts," but if Prok wasn't...well, that would be, as I've said, a *really* interesting conversation.

  14. orfeu said...

    "So Lee...have you ever run a male alt....and if not....why not??"

    /me smiles.

    I've actually talked about this on UV and gV. The actual answer to your question really should be "no," but the technical answer to your question is "yes."

    Have I ever had a male avatar in a virtual world? Yes. Have I ever "run" a male avatar in a virtual world? No, not really.

    I created a male avatar in the Utherverse and used it for a matter of hours for two purposes. One, after "helping"* Kris with his wardrobe, I got frustrated and opened a male account so I could see what was in the damn male closet. (Utherverse closets were clunky and frustrating to me.)

    Two, I used that same male avatar to check out a club in the Utherverse after several *really* long and drama-laden threads fired up talking about discrimination against men and there was, among many arguments, an argument that said there was a kind of ban fence that detected avatar gender and kept men out. As you know, Orfeu, I am actually fairly conscientious about checking things out myself before talking about them in forums, so I took my male avatar to the club to see if I could walk across the threshold and to see if people hurled abuse at me the moment I tried (another claim being made in the threads.)

    That's pretty much the sum total of my male avatar experience.

    *"Helping" here means Kris asking me before we attended events together, like weddings or concerts or whatnot, "what should I wear" and "how about this" type questions. "Helping" as in he would have dressed himself just fine without me had we not been preparing to go together.

  15. And as for why not?

    Hhhmmm. Good question. (Any question that makes you pause and think, any question without a ready answer is a good one, right? ;) )

    Maybe lack of creativity or creative courage? Banality? Laziness? Inexperience? My LeeHere Absent avatar is the most obvious and uninspired avatar choice possible. It's like the "Matrix" me. The *much* better looking fantasy model of the original. I made my avatar with the same coloring and gender as the operator. I even chose the same cup size until I realized how exaggerated that turns out to be in SL. The rest was laziness (which is why my avatar is 7 ft tall or some such thing when I am only 5' 3".) I am not even remotely nimble or dexterous in virtual worlds, so I try to keep things really, really, really simple.

    Maybe lack of impetus? I mean, why? What would I do with him? What purpose would it serve me? You ask "why not" and I think it is reasonable to ask "why"? I don't roleplay in SL except for sexual roleplay and I am heterosexual and have no burning desire to have sex with women (sorry) or gay men, so there's no reason to have a male avatar for sexual roleplay. I'm usually in SL for one of three purposes - to explore SL as me, to hang out with friends as me or to have sex as my alt. No need for more than two female avatars. Even my sex alt was created in much the same way as my main account.

    Also, there is an element of a sense of personal ethics in my decision as you well already know, Orfeu. If I had male avatar, and again, "why" I would have my operator gender plastered all over the profile. I'm not saying I think everyone should do that, I am just saying I would make that choice myself and it would be based on my experiences from my travels. I've come across a lot of tender and damaged little souls in my travels, as you well know, and I *sometimes* try to tread lightly out of a consciousness of that and I have found that *some* people take me in a way that makes me feel a kind of responsibility to be *real*, if you will.

    Seriously though, I wanted my avatar to be a representation of the real me and the only fantasy I wanted to engage in is that I looked more like Catherine Zeta Jones or Monicca Belluci than Julia Louis-Dreyfus. So that's the route I went. And that's as big a leap from reality as having a male avatar, really. About the only things I have in common with Catherine Zeta Jones is coloring, age and gender.

    And even more seriously, both Kris and Stephie will tell you I am CRAP at this virtual world stuff and KISS is definitely the way to go for me. Stephie does amazing things with her avatar. She's been blood-splattered psycho bunnies, spiders, robots, aliens, cartoon characters and much more. But she's good at this kind of stuff. I got my avatar the way I like it and despite the virtual fortune I spent on clothes I rarely even change clothes. And hair and other body parts? If it doesn't fit right on first rez, fuck it.

    Long answer to a short question, but then you were expecting that. ;)

  16. I did dress as a man in real life in college once for some project. That was fun.

    Also, I used to be the mascot in college and there is a bit of gender confusion for the beholder with that. I've told you, Orfeu, about that before too. It's funny how amped guys can get when they realize there's a girl in the mascot suit. ;)

  17. One of the things I've observed is that people consistently approach virtual worlds (and forums) differently with a different set of expectations, cultural mores and assumed rules and roles and yet there is still quite of bit of myopic judgment about how "the others" use their virtual worlds and with that an environment of near constant defensiveness.

  18. Which is truly unfortunate given the amazing possibilities of the internet and virtual worlds. C'est la any world.

  19. One of the things I find amusing about the gender issue in virtual worlds and on the internet is, due to the prevalence and significance of this particular meme, the irony of being accused of being a male.

    1. I'm not a male.
    2. Is it really that big of an insult? lol

  20. Also interesting to me is how Mulch has couched his member profile expectations on his "The Feted Inner Hangout" forum using terms like "lie" and honest on a virtual world forum when it is not universally accepted among virtual world forum denizens that answers on a member profile are lies or truths regardless of the information provided.,26.0.html

  21. Lee said

    "One of the things I've observed is that people consistently approach virtual worlds (and forums) differently with a different set of expectations, cultural mores and assumed rules and roles and yet there is still quite of bit of myopic judgment about how "the others" use their virtual worlds and with that an environment of near constant defensiveness. "

    Agreed...I am quite wary of the phrase "common sense" it appears their is very little sense that we can trust to have in common.
    I mean...ok...I expect you to need to breathe and eat etc etc....but I cant be sure your definition of "reality"...or...."truth" be anything like mine.

    Amazing this self-evident fact...causes much wailing and gnashing of teeth IN VW's and forums.
    So it is with gender questions.....Some Female plays a Male or vice versa....and in some quarters they are seen as imaginative, playful, embracing the totality of the human condition.
    In other quarters...they are seen as sinister, duplicitous, sexually degenerate.

    Prok famously is a female operator with a male Avatar....I had no idea she viewed her avatar as the hell where we supposed to pick up this info...what cues has she ever gave to make us realise this ???

  22. None...until it served Prok's purpose...or so it would appear.

  23. Actually, that's probably neither true nor fair as she has said she has come across people criticizing and diminishing her choice to have a transgender male avatar before.

  24. Prokofy Neva said...

    ""But Kendra didn't accept me. As I've found with a number of other m2f transgendered in SL, she thought I didn't have the right to call myself transgendered in SL. She thought only RL transgendered people were authentic, and if you had an avatar of the opposite gender, this was merely a kind of role-play or "fantasy" and "didn't count". It wasn't politically correct in her very rigid canon.""

  25. I don't claim to have read everything she's ever written or said by a long shot. I'm no expert on the Prokofy Neva oeuvre.

  26. Excuse me. He.

    (Said sincerely and without sarcasm.)


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