Online Gender Exploration

There is a saying on the internet that might confuse a lot of outsiders: “There are no girls on the internet.” This is due to the fact that many people who say they are girls online are often men offline. There are many reasons for this, and I’m sure people with more time/money than I have done research into why this is, but that will not stop me from giving my take on it, from a transgender perspective.It does go both ways; there are many women who make male characters or pretend to be guys, however, it seems that it is far more common for a man to make a female character.

There are many reasons men say they make women characters. Aesthetically, the female characters are usually nicer to look at. Since videogame characters often are exaggerated stereotypes, the men are usually huge and muscular, with cold or ruthless expressions on their face, and the women all have tiny waists, huge hips, and C-DD cups, at least. Some people say that is sexist, but since each gender here is exaggerated, it really doesn’t bother me. The female characters are beautiful, fun to look at. A straight guy can make a girl character just to stare at her butt as he plays.

Female characters also often have an easier time when starting out in online games like World of Warcraft or Second Life. Straight men seem to treat women differently. When they saw me as male, I felt as if men saw me in one way or another as a sort of competition. It didn’t mean they treated me badly, but since they see me as a woman now, more straight men seem to see me as something desirable, rather than competition. Old men are cheerful, calling me hunn; teenagers flirt casually; middle aged men enjoy a pleasant conversation with a young woman. I don’t mean any of this in a dirty way. There are men who flirt in very inappropriate, offensive, sexist ways, and that’s not okay. The subtle flirting I am talking of seems to be mostly sub conscious, people don’t even realize they are doing anything different. I think I am going to do a longer post focusing on this issue sometime soon. However, all of these behaviors are carried over into online games. Some men really enjoy being treated that way, even if just online. It can be fun to try out. Most people will take your character at face value to start. If you say you are a girl, they will act like you are at least until they start to get to know you a bit more. Some guys take this behavior to rather extreme lengths, handing out huge sums of gold and items to female characters, but usually it’s more subtle and less.. uncomfortable.

There are many other reasons people give when asked why men make women characters. However, as a transgender individual, I see a reason that I think is often overlooked. In our culture, women have gained many freedoms as far as gender expression. It is totally okay for a woman to wear jeans every day. If a woman wears a guy’s shirt, it doesn’t really draw attention. A woman can go out with no makeup, guys pants, and a plain t-shirt, no one would give her a second look. However, if a man went out wearing women’s jeans, he will get stared at. People might call him emo or the “f” word. If he goes out with a girl’s blouse, he will be gawked at and ridiculed. Even if he just wears eyeliner and mascara, a man would get stared at, mocked, and even be at risk of being physically attacked. Its a terrible double standard. It’s changing slowly, but for now, it’s still dangerous for a man to explore his gender identity, while women are not only allowed, but encouraged by many to explore theirs.

The internet has posed a lot of creative solutions to many odd problems, and this is definitely one nobody saw coming. People could suddenly explore themselves anonymously, pretending to be younger, older, the opposite gender, etc. People could roleplay as demons and superheroes, orcs and elves. In games like Warcraft and Second Life, it is considered totally normal for a man to make a female character. However, it lets a guy experience just a little bit of femininity. It is a very different experience from actually interacting with people face to face as a woman, but it is still very different from interacting with men as a man. For many, many, MANY younger trans people, making a female character on some game or chatroom was one of their first and/or biggest steps in their transition. It gave us a way to be treated the way we felt we should be, to be able to express ourselves in a female way. It was safe, no one would find out unless we said something otherwise. It became a fear for many of us, that we would be discovered. Many trans people fake pictures, buy voice manipulation software, and so forth just to make sure no one knows the person behind the female character doesn’t look/sound female. I say younger trans people because I have noticed a trend that many trans people around my age explored their gender online, quietly, while older trans people tell the stories we are more used to hearing; wanting to wear dresses as a kid, saying they wanted to be the opposite gender. Younger people seem have found more subtle ways to explore their gender identity online without having to out themselves to those around them.

It is so common that people want to try out the other gender that Blizzard introduced a paid character change feature, where you can pay them 15 dollars and change the gender and appearance of your character. I used this feature so many times for the characters I invested so much time in.

I know my perspective is skewed, since I went through this exact experience during my transition. I believe I was about 12 years old when I created my first real female character for a game I played at that time. I went to great lengths to hide my female character from my parents, though I wasn’t sure why at the time (I understand now, of course). For many years before actually learning about what transgender is, I made more and more female characters and less and less male ones. I made some very, very close friends who only knew me as a woman. I lost many people in fear they would find out my sex outside the game, and I did lose a handful when the “secret” got out. That was a time of terrible guilt for me. There were people I felt deeply for, close friends and romantic interests, who I felt like I was lying to. It drove me insane, but I kept doing it. Now I know, I wasn’t lying to anyone when I told them I really was a girl. I just never knew that there were other people who felt like me, that there were real options, that someday, I could actually be the girl I wished I was. I’m actually in the process now of reconnecting with people from that time now, trying to salvage some important friendships that got lost in that confusing time.

Nexus: The Kingdoms of the Wind

This is Kaiyan. I made this character when I was about 10 years old in a game called Nexus:TK. Kaiyan was male until very recently. She was one of the very last characters I have changed from male to female, it is a huge symbolic change for me, even if its just a simple graphics game like Nexus.

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