Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Scylla Rhiadra

Naming Ourselves: Who Will Decide Who YOU Are?

Recommended Posts

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.
      (William Wordsworth)

 

It is no exaggeration to say that that one of the most contentious and long-seated debates within the Second Life community has centred on the nature of identity, and in particular, sexual identity. Of late something of a new chapter in this ongoing discussion has been opened on a number of Second Life related forums and blogs, with regard to the related issues of self-definition and “sexual politics.”

 Who decides who is “transgendered” in Second Life?  Or who is “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “queer,” or (for that matter) “cisgendered” or “straight”?

The origins of the debate lie in the assertion, made by a well-known SL blogger, that he is “transgendered” because he represents as a male, while being biologically female in RL. To this, some have responded that only those who are transgendered in RL merit this name.

So, what’s in a name?  Well, a great deal actually.

The power inherent in “naming” others, and in so doing, defining and asserting control over who or what they “are,” has long been recognized. The archetype of this power appears in Chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, when Adam asserts his dominion over God’s Creation by naming the animals, and his power over woman by naming Eve. Human culture has applied this same lesson with all too much effectiveness: our racist, patriarchal, and heterosexist societies have always established their hegemony by “naming” the “other,” and defining them in this way: “barbarian,” “the gentle sex,” “homosexual,” to name only the least offensive of these, have been terms employed to pin those on the margins of power down, identifying and establishing them as both inferiors, and potential threats.

In our own century, we have seen totalitarian regimes the world over similarly “name” their enemies, dehumanizing them in the process so as to make it morally more palatable to eliminate them. Our own democratic states are not immune to such linguistic manoeuvres: how often has our own military adventurism resulted in “collateral damage,” rather than the less marketable broken and bleeding civilian bodies that are the true legacy of war?

And this is how we “murder to dissect”: we impose, analyze, define, delimit, and ultimately deprive of choice, power, and even humanity all that we would categorize.

The oft-cited old advertising slogan of Second Life – “Your World, Your Imagination,” successfully captured the essence of the power of this virtual world, to permit one to construct one’s own reality here. That power extends particularly over our identities, and our ability to represent here as whatever we choose. The key word here may be “represent,” for we establish who we are here through both visual self-presentation and, ultimately, language.

This is why names and labels are so important in Second Life: here, in contradistinction to “real life,” we can name ourselves, and make of ourselves what we wish. And to accede to the demands of others who would label us as they might wish – in compliance with our RL identities, or in line with their own presumptions about gender and sexual identity – is to surrender our right to choose who we are for ourselves.

So, if someone represents themselves as female in SL, even if it is known that she is biologically male in RL, she is owed the right to have that confirmed by use of the female pronouns “she” or “her.” If someone else believes that he or she is “transgendered” because of how he or she represents, he or she is similarly owed that right. This is more than a mere courtesy: it is an acknowledgement of his or her right to “name” and therefore define herself or himself.

Second Wave Feminism once argued that “the personal is political”: that understanding and ultimately asserting control over one’s own life and identity was as important, in its own way, as fighting the big battles in the political arena. And, in fact, sometimes the big battles are won through the cumulative effect of small or local victories.

Be personal, and be political. Your name is who you are; don’t let others decide that for you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--

We murder to dissect.

      (William Wordsworth)

 

It is no exaggeration to say that that one of the most contentious and long-seated debates within the Second Life community has centred on the nature of identity, and in particular, sexual identity. Of late something of a new chapter in this ongoing discussion has been opened on a number of Second Life related forums and blogs, with regard to the related issues of self-definition and “sexual politics.”

 Who decides who is “transgendered” in Second Life?  Or who is “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “queer,” or (for that matter) “cisgendered” or “straight”?

The origins of the debate lie in the assertion, made by a well-known SL blogger, that he is “transgendered” because he represents as a male, while being biologically female in RL. To this, some have responded that only those who are transgendered in RL merit this name.

So, what’s in a name?  Well, a great deal actually.

The power inherent in “naming” others, and in so doing, defining and asserting control over who or what they “are,” has long been recognized. The archetype of this power appears in Chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, when Adam asserts his dominion over God’s Creation by naming the animals, and his power over woman by naming Eve. Human culture has applied this same lesson with all too much effectiveness: our racist, patriarchal, and heterosexist societies have always established their hegemony by “naming” the “other,” and defining them in this way: “barbarian,” “the gentle sex,” “homosexual,” to name only the least offensive of these, have been terms employed to pin those on the margins of power down, identifying and establishing them as both inferiors, and potential threats.

In our own century, we have seen totalitarian regimes the world over similarly “name” their enemies, dehumanizing them in the process so as to make it morally more palatable to eliminate them. Our own democratic states are not immune to such linguistic manoeuvres: how often has our own military adventurism resulted in “collateral damage,” rather than the less marketable broken and bleeding civilian bodies that are the true legacy of war?

And this is how we “murder to dissect”: we impose, analyze, define, delimit, and ultimately deprive of choice, power, and even humanity all that we would categorize.

The oft-cited old advertising slogan of Second Life – “Your World, Your Imagination,” successfully captured the essence of the power of this virtual world, to permit one to construct one’s
own
reality here. That power extends particularly over our identities, and our ability to represent here as whatever we choose. The key word here may be “represent,” for we establish who we are here through both visual self-presentation and, ultimately, language.

This is why names and labels are so important in Second Life: here, in contradistinction to “real life,” we can name ourselves, and make of ourselves what we wish. And to accede to the demands of others who would label us as they might wish – in compliance with our RL identities, or in line with their own presumptions about gender and sexual identity – is to surrender our right to choose who we are for ourselves.

So, if someone represents themselves as female in SL, even if it is known that she is biologically male in RL, she is owed the right to have that confirmed by use of the female pronouns “she” or “her.” If someone else believes that he or she is “transgendered” because of how he or she represents, he or she is similarly owed that right. This is more than a mere courtesy: it is an acknowledgement of his or her right to “name” and therefore define herself or himself.

Second Wave Feminism once argued that “the personal is political”: that understanding and ultimately asserting control over one’s own life and identity was as important, in its own way, as fighting the big battles in the political arena. And, in fact, sometimes the big battles are won through the cumulative effect of small or local victories.

Be personal, and be political. Your name is who you are; don’t let others decide that for you.

As it relates to the blogger in question and the context of the assertion...making a mountain of a molehill.  For many years I had no idea the RL gender of said blogger and referred to him as he visually appeared.  This was not out of respect so much as it was what comes natural when nothing other than a visual cue is presented. 

It makes no difference to me if male or female persons depict themselves as redassed baboons...but please don't tell me that you have the ability to emotionally and intellectually experience life and any associated plights, as a redassed baboon simply because you depict yourself as one.  IMO, it is disrespectful to redassed baboons. The context of the bloggers assertion was "I'm not transgenered in RL but I play one in SL, so I deserve the respect and understanding, and perhaps even an extension of a sort of kinship and acceptance from the RL T-Gen Community because of my cartoon choice."    Do those who depict as animals wish to be referred to as "it" until such time that they convey the sex of their chosen animal?   Is it disrespectful when intellectually you know there is a RL human being behind the depicted animal to call them an "it"?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ima, I judge the merits of a person's sensitivities and ability to empathize according to how well they demonstrate those qualities, rather than prejudge them merely because they are called one thing in RL, and another in SL.  I've known men who were among the most intelligent and sensitive feminists I've ever met; I've known women whose lack of empathy for the plight of other women was appalling.

It's one's performance, not one's labels, that interest me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and I should probably note that, while I defend the right of said well-known blogger to represent however he chooses, I find the vast majority of his own characterizations of the LGBT community utter anathema.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Scylla,

You seem to have started with a question and ended with a conclusion so I hope there's room for debate.

 

And I'm sorry, but after all your well thought out and expressed argument I can't get this out of my head. :matte-motes-bashful-cute-2:

 

 

But to start you off.  If the LL quote, “Your World, Your Imagination,” is one you agree with and support and said person is here to live that quote, is happy and not unduly bothering other people inworld then what is the problem? 

If the Lab were about to assert that said person could not be addressed in that person's preferred pronoun then there's a legitimate debate.  SL people though arguing about the rights and wrongs of SL gender definition in a real world forum seems devoid of any reality in either world.  What's next on the agenda?  People who portray themselves as animals can't do so unless they are one in real life? 

I do hope as well that you are not suggesting that the freedom to choose what we are in SL could easily be transposed to real life if only there was the will to do so because that is very vast and grey area and in extremis leads to the glib video I linked.

 

Anyhoos, good to see you are still contributing, but I'm led to believe that we are now denied the pleasure of Pep and yourself locking horns with each other. :matte-motes-crying:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i'm not interested in peoples supposed sexuality either and i often get misunderstood, by the PC brigade, ill try to explain it again..

we are not just a sexuality unless we just want to be just a sexuality, i find that attitude very shallow.

hey im gay, hey im transexual,  hey so what who cares i like big boobs but i dont go round telling the world about it, snore.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Sy Beck wrote:

Hi Scylla,

You seem to have started with a question and ended with a conclusion so I hope there's room for debate.

 

And I'm sorry, but after all your well thought out and expressed argument I can't get this out of my head. :matte-motes-bashful-cute-2:

 

 

But to start you off.  If the LL quote, “Your World, Your Imagination,” is one you agree with and support and said person is here to live that quote, is happy and not unduly bothering other people inworld then what is the problem? 

If the Lab were about to assert that said person could not be addressed in that person's preferred pronoun then there's a legitimate debate.  SL people though arguing about the rights and wrongs of SL gender definition in a real world forum seems devoid of any reality in either world.  What's next on the agenda?  People who portray themselves as animals can't do so unless they are one in real life? 

I do hope as well that you are not suggesting that the freedom to choose what we are in SL could easily be transposed to real life if only their was the will to do so because that is very vast and grey area and in extremis leads to the glib video I linked.

 

Anyhoos, good to see you are still contributing, but I'm led to believe that we are now denied the pleasure of Pep and yourself locking horns with each other. :matte-motes-crying:

 

Hey Sy!  Nice to hear from you again!

Well, there's ALWAYS room for debate!  And sometimes it's useful to establish a strong position, if only so others have something to joust against.

I will fully acknowledge the humour and partially concede the validity of the Python sketch. And I'll agree that this becomes a non-issue if one's self-definition is not challenged.  In fact, as far as I'm concerned, that's the ideal situation.

I don't think that this freedom is "easily" transposed into RL at all.  But, to be honest, I'd like to see more of that freedom in the real world too, even if it is always problematized by our conditioned acceptance of the idea that gender and sexuality are somehow inherently and essential "vital" components of who we are.  It's my belief that gender and sexuality are "important" in terms of how we read, judge, or understand each other largely because we, as a culture, have decided that they are.  That's not to say that there aren't important differences, just that we have greatly over-determined these.

I've always kind of thought of SL as a place where we can learn more tolerance and empathy, and apply that to our "real" lives.  This is an instance of that, I think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Dogboat Taurog wrote:

i'm not interested in peoples supposed sexuality either and i often get misunderstood, by the PC brigade, ill try to explain it again..

we are not just a sexuality unless we just want to be just a sexuality, i find that attitude very shallow.

hey im gay, hey im transexual,  hey so what who cares i like big boobs but i dont go round telling the world about it, snore.

 

 

In some ways, Dogboat, I don't entirely disagree.  Again, if we are simply accepting of each other's self-definition, it ceases to be an issue. If people seem overly-assertive about things like sexuality now, it is surely in large measure a response to the general unwillingness to be tolerant and accepting?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

Ima, I judge the merits of a person's sensitivities and ability to empathize according to how well they demonstrate those qualities, rather than prejudge them merely because they are called one thing in RL, and another in SL.  I've known men who were among the most intelligent and sensitive feminists I've ever met; I've known women whose lack of empathy for the plight of other women was appalling.

 

It's one's performance, not one's labels, that interest me.

Understood. While I may be able to empathize and demonstrate my ability to emapathize (perform) via an "imagination" of what it must be like to suffer through the plights of others, the very real and pertinent fact is, I will still have absolutely no real idea what it is like to actually "live" through the plight itself.   This blogger wanted RL acceptance from a community "living" through the plights because through his avatar, he could "imagination" the plights.  Blech! 

Anyway, the discussion will probably progress better for those who are not familiar with the actual post in question.  I will look forward to reading said progression.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Madelaine McMasters wrote:


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

It's one's performance, not one's labels, that interest me.

Yep but, as in the Olympics, shouldn't degree of difficulty figure into the score?

lol

Only if we are intent upon measuring people's right to self-fashion against the right of our culture, and our language, to do it for them.

It's a crazy thought, but what if one's sexuality or gender were about as culturally "meaningful" as hair or eye colour? In such a world, the "score" would be largely academic, wouldn't it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Ima Rang wrote:


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

Ima, I judge the merits of a person's sensitivities and ability to empathize according to how well they demonstrate those qualities, rather than prejudge them merely because they are called one thing in RL, and another in SL.  I've known men who were among the most intelligent and sensitive feminists I've ever met; I've known women whose lack of empathy for the plight of other women was appalling.

 

It's one's performance, not one's labels, that interest me.

Understood. While I may be able to empathize and demonstrate my ability to emapathize (perform) via an "imagination" of what it must be like to suffer through the plights of others, the very real and pertinent fact is, I will still have absolutely no real idea what it is like to actually "live" through the plight itself.   This blogger wanted RL acceptance from a community "living" through the plights because through his avatar, he could "imagination" the plights.  Blech! 

Anyway, the discussion will probably progress better for those who are not familiar with the actual post in question.  I will look forward to reading said progression.

 

 

 

Oh well . . . This thread is most definitely NOT a "defence" of said blogger, who has demonstrated his unwillingness to extend to others the same right he demands for himself.

I am far more interested in the general principle. It would probably, in hindsight, have been best not to have alluded to that particular post at all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not just sexuality or sexual identity, I am "out" as Bipolar 2 Rapid Cycling as my avatar but it's on a need-to-know basis in RL.  If I was outed in RL my world wouldn't end.  While I want to tell people in RL there is never really a right time for that conversation, and I have no real patience for other peoples prejudices.

My sexuality and gender are the same in both lives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

what the heck is bipolar rapid 2 cycling,, sometging to do with the olympics also?

or just some wierd label you bestowed on yourself to make you seem so different when you are so the same as everyone else?

what the heck is the world coming to?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a few friends in RL who are transgender and one of my best friends in SL who I know in RL as well, is in fact is a Post Op Transgender.  I have and always will refer to them as She or He as I believe we must honor that. I wish I had access to or knowledge of the said blog but I do believe I get your point.

However, this as with any other post I have seen about gender always sets off an uncomfortable notion for me that it makes a difference.  

What I loved most about SL when I started and now, 5 years later still find as the best part of SL is that there are no barriers that we see in RL.  No physical, gender, race or even species barriers though as humans, we seem to have this innate need to judge and often compete by these criteria.

Even the mere mention of this topic sets off alarms in my little brain that tell me there is some predisposed prejudice that is getting carried over from RL.  

That being said, perhaps SL is the place where the world can get past this and begin to realize that what is important is in the minds and actions of those we engage with.  

Most of my SL friends are also now my RL friends and I must say, it's a pretty odd group of friends I have which I too am as odd as they get.  We fit well together and had discovered many of our parities in world.  

Outside of SL, many RL people wouldn't give us a chance at much of anything but here, we have common and equal ground.  That above all else, is what I feel we need to protect.  In SL there is no fight for equality, to me it's inherent.  I have handicaps in RL that I don't have here.  That being said, my SL allows me to bypass these and be exactly what I want to be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Josephina Bonetto wrote:

It's not just sexuality or sexual identity, I am "out" as Bipolar 2 Rapid Cycling as my avatar but it's on a need-to-know basis in RL.  If I was outed in RL my world wouldn't end.  While I want to tell people in RL there is never really a right time for that conversation, and I have no real patience for other peoples prejudices.

My sexuality and gender are the same in both lives.

I think that this is every bit as relevant as the issues surrounding sexuality and gender.  Again, I see SL as a place where we can confront the prejudices that are inherent in the act of "naming" and categorizing, and foster tolerance and understanding. In large measure, the very indeterminacy of SL has an active role in that.  Someone who has known you here forever without knowing you were bipolar might well be astonished to find out. The effect would surely be to educate that person about the nature of the condition?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:


Madelaine McMasters wrote:


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

It's one's performance, not one's labels, that interest me.

Yep but, as in the Olympics, shouldn't degree of difficulty figure into the score?

lol

Only if we are intent upon measuring people's right to self-fashion against the right of our culture, and our language, to do it for them.

It's a crazy thought, but what if one's sexuality or gender were about as culturally "meaningful" as hair or eye colour? In such a world, the "score" would be largely academic, wouldn't it?

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/alice_dreger_is_anatomy_destiny.html

What I'm trying to get at is that the ability of our performances to change others perspectives is affected by their belief that we're actually inhabiting the life that yields our own. Life isn't academic, so the scores won't be either.

I've an RL TG friend who's story is remarkable. Being in her presence makes her performance more powerful than any I can imagine witnessing in SL.

For the many who discount the scourge of alternative sexuality as "chosen", SL would be the posterchild for tolerance run amok. While I can hope that SL gives some of us a chance to broaden our understanding, I wonder if we'd have done it anyway (or even better) without it. Could it be that we're sequestering our tolerance here?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The irony can be that when it is *you*, you don't always feel like being the trailblazer educating them through example LOL.  

I guess it never hurts to show people that you can hold down a full time job and not need to take copious amounts of lithium to do it (no offence to lithium takers, I can't metabolise meds) and I may be the first bipolar person that person has met.  If they have only known me, their default assumption will be that a person with bipolar can do a job, and that is a cause I feel quite strongly about right now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Dogboat Taurog wrote:

what the heck is bipolar rapid 2 cycling,, sometging to do with the olympics also?

or just some wierd label you bestowed on yourself to make you seem so different when you are so the same as everyone else?

what the heck is the world coming to?

you mean being moody is a disease now?

 i'm probably  an F5 bipolar then as moody and bitchy as i can get..sometimes you just can't get out of my way..

i always thought it had something to do with balance..oh well ..just shows how much i read up on diseases of the mind hehehehe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Josephina Bonetto wrote:

The irony can be that when it is *you*, you don't always feel like being the trailblazer educating them through example LOL.  

I guess it never hurts to show people that you can hold down a full time job and not need to take copious amounts of lithium to do it (no offence to lithium takers, I can't metabolise meds) and I may be the first bipolar person that person has met.  If they have only known me, their default assumption will be that a person with bipolar can do a job, and that is a cause I feel quite strongly about right now.

i just dont get why people have to label themselves.

you cant metabolise meds? why not,.care to explain?

you are probably the first person that cant.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Comments like that are why I am not "out" in RL.

People are very ignorant, rude and think they are the first person to ever say it to people like me.

 

I am interesting enough to the people that matter, I don't need to justify a formal diagnosis to anyone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Scylla Rhiadra wrote:

Someone who has known you here forever without knowing you were bipolar might well be astonished to find out. The effect would surely be to educate that person about the nature of the condition?


Someone who has known me here forever without knowing I'd bite your head off for chewing ice cubes within earshot might well be astonished to find out. The effect would surely be to educate that person about the nature of tolerance in SL?

;-)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I generally agree with you, and I usually do my best to respect other people's gender and sexual identities. That is, unless a person denies myself or others this basic courtesy. The prolific blogger that you mentioned has a long history of doing just that. I've noticed that she doesn't seem to be very fond of her biological RL gender, and if I had to take a guess, I'd say that she mainly represents as a male person in SL in order to avoid a gender bias that she herself helps perpetuate.

But be that as it may, I will always extend as much courtesy as others extend to me. Or at least that's what I'm trying to do. In case of this infamous blogger, my upbringing always gets the better of me. When she beats other people (such as M2F transgenders) with a sledgehammer, all I do in return is poke her with a stick. If she doesn't like that, she might want to put her sledgehammer away. 

As for myself, I don't really care which pronoun people refer to me as. Of course I notice when someone uses the male pronoun in an attempt to ridicule me, but it doesn't really offend me, and other people who refer to me as a male mean no harm. I'm somewhere between the genders in SL, which makes both gender pronouns acceptable. There is a reason that I call myself "gender-confused" instead of transgendered :) I think some people, like myself, merely self-project onto the desired gender, in the way that a furry self-projects onto something cuter and more likeable than his or 
her RL self.


What personally bugs me most are the absolutes that people tend to think in. Black and white, gay and straight, at ease with one's biological gender or transsexual/transgendered. Bisexuals are thought of as closet gays, crossdressers are confused with transsexuals, and all biological men who live as women must be "pre-OP" and "transitioning". There are more than two sexual orientations (a LOT more), and of course there are more than just two gender identities. Many M2F transsexuals are perfectly happy with the contents of their panties. They are not pre-OP, they are non-OP. They're not 
transitioning, they're already where they want to be. 

People who are happy being a "shemale" and wouldn't want it any other way -- which actually constitute the majority of trans women in societies that are accepting of a third gender, such as the Thai culture -- are still a taboo in the Western World. Like crossdressers, they are thought of as fetishists who don't deserve a female social identity. In Germany, it is impossible to get a female name and passport unless one is willing to be mutilated. It is disgusting that people who are fine with an intermediate gender identity are coerced into undergoing an unnecessary surgery that has a chance of leaving them disfigured, undesirable, and unable to feel sexual pleasure. It's sick that any form of transsexuality other than this self-mutilation by proxy (no offense to those who desire this option) is still seen as a paraphilia. But that's probably a different topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...