Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Coming Out Party

Everyone, I've got a confession to make. Not really a 'confession', because the word 'confession' implies I've done something wrong. I haven't done something wrong - or, at least, I don't think I have. I'm babbling now. What I'm trying to say is that I've got something to tell you.

Some party, huh?
I'm not ginger in real life. I'm not blonde/white-haired in real life, either. I'm not 5ft3" tall in real life. My feet aren't that flat. I can only dream of having a ski-slope nose, high blue-blooded cheekbones and pouty lips (And - just to clarify - I only have one SL avatar. If I want to change Kitti's hair colour, I just change it. And her eyebrows, of course. I made this picture by overlaying two pictures. This is the extent of my photo manipulation skills).

Deception was not my game here, it was just that nobody told me that I had to make my SL avatar look or be anything like my real physical first life self whatsoever. That wasn't even in the fine print of the terms and conditions - which I didn't read, of course, but ctrl+f is pretty handy. Kitti is my representative in the virtual world, yes, and I have expressed before a certain guilt curtailing the way I style and dress my avatar, but at no point have I ever set out to make her a replica of me.

In many ways, we are similar. Kitti has the appearance of a young woman. In real life, I am also female, and also in the 'young woman' category, though Heaven only knows how I made it there. At 5ft3" tall, Kitti is one whole inch taller than me. She speaks with my voice, and the only time I have ever put on a kind of play-pretend voice for her is during role-play scenarios. Of course, it is not wholly my voice - it has been mediated not only by my real-life physical body and presence, but also by Kitti's virtual body and presence. I don't think it lost anything along the way. If anything, my voice gains something different when coming out of Kitti's mouth.

'Coming out' - acknowledging the gap between user and avatar - can be a much bigger deal than I have made it out to be. For me, that gap has always been acknowledged, and never hidden. A number of my SL friends have seen my RL face and heard my voice, and I have seen and heard theirs. We're friends on Facebook. But that was a personal choice of mine, and is connected to my intentions within the virtual world. For others, that gap can be narrower or much, much wider - a chasm, almost - and admitting to that can be arduous. 

It is not always met with the greatest acceptance and understanding, either, and I would go as far as to say that some relationships only function within the virtual world if the real world is censored utterly from the equation. As long as that is known and agreed upon by those involved, then there's nothing wrong with that. But what if someone slips up? What if someone changes their mind? What about if a third party, unaware of the agreement, says the wrong thing? There are so many ways things can go wrong and it's not difficult to see why relations might then turn ugly, especially, I would venture, if sexual intercourse has been involved. The situation can also go sour if one person wasn't made aware of the game in hand.

Ultimately, it boils down to lies and expectations. If I poured my soul out to you in SL under the impression that you were going to do the same back, and I learned later that you had spun me a set of well-written lies, I might well be upset. If you tell someone explicitly that you are male in real life, and later on they find out that you are female, or vice versa, they might well be upset. There are a thousand similar situations you can come up with, taking into consideration even the tiniest details which might seem like nothing out of context but which could mean the world to somebody else.

What I think is unfair is when there have been no lies, and the expectations built up have little to do with the person then accused of betrayal. I have friends in SL who were afraid to 'come out', as it were, about their real life selves and were afraid of how I would react, knowing it made no real ounce of difference to me what colour their hair is or what nationality they are or what their sexual orientation is or what they have between their legs. Imagine how difficult it must be to come out to someone who you suspect does care, or will feel lied to, especially if you yourself have gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure you have never lied to this person about the truth of the matter.

I'm not saying that everyone who gets upset by a revelation of this kind is a terrible person. I'm not saying that you are never allowed to lie about who you are, or that you should tell anybody in SL or any other virtual world anything about your real life self. Those aren't the issues here - because there is no obligation anywhere to tell the truth or to say anything whatsoever in the first place. I suppose what I am saying is that we need to be understanding of each other, in all situations and positions, and try our best to work these things out. To be supportive, and to consider our own motives for being in the virtual world and for presenting the face and persona we choose to present. It isn't really mid-life crisis kind of stuff; we don't need to sit in dark rooms and contemplate the meaning of life for an hour before we log in. I have already written at length about why our avatars can mean so much to us, and I barely scraped the surface in terms of energy and emotional investment. We need to remember, too, that the reason our words and choices have an effect on other people is because we are connecting with them not only avatar to avatar, but mind to mind. And I think that connection is a good thing, even if it means we get hurt sometimes.

So will you forgive the real life me for my brown hair and superior foot-arches?


  1. I couldn't agree more. This basically falls under my first rule for life: Don't be a dick.

    Personally, the gap between my meatspace and my SL is pretty huge, but I've also never had any problems with that, or with other people's gaps. I actually don't even care if they tell me a lie about who they are in their meatspace, but I guess maybe I'm kinda weird in that way. Still, it's good to be reminded that for others, that 'coming out' can be a big deal, and a difficult one. I make it a point of personal pride to try to not be a dick (see the above rule for life lol), but I appreciate being reminded to have a care about this. <3

  2. Hey Ruina - long time no speak :). Thank you. I love the phrase 'meatspace' - I might have to start using that ;). I don't think you're weird at all, but I think maybe the nature of the lies, and the relationships, involved can mean that sometimes, people do get hurt. I think you have a really good outlook on the meatspace-avi relationship :D


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