I know I don't hide the fact that I'm transgender, but I'm certain that not many people click on my author link here at Massively or really ponder the significance of my @sera_brennan Twitter username. That last sentence is probably the first time many of you long term readers even heard that I was transgender. (Although I remember someone wrote the site once and told them to correct all of the times in my author profile that I was referred to as "she" because it was obviously a typo.)
I owe much to my online escapes, as they aid me in more ways than just providing a fun distraction. They give me the opportunity to appear as I truly feel inside, and let me interact with others without the stigma of being or appearing to be transgendered attached. Beyond just me, however, are hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions of individuals who have gained an advantage or some sort of insight thanks to virtual worlds.
My side of things...
Being transgendered is something I never actively decided. You don't just wake up one morning and decide to be transgendered from that point forth. It is, for all intensive purposes, not a decision that you get to make. It's an unexplainable feeling of wrongness that stabs you in your chest everyday, every moment, every second of your life. You know how you feel when you're really uncomfortable, like when you're about to give a speech to a huge audience or when you're about to perform? That's how I feel all the time. It's not pain in the literal sense of the word, but it hurts. It hurts a lot.
"I got a taste of what it's like to be the other gender in social situations, thanks to virtual worlds."
But MMOs and virtual worlds have always been a very special case for me. For a very long time, I obviously could not dress how I wanted. While people are much more understanding these days, there still is a very real stigma when people see you as a transgender. So, in order to cushion some of the blow, I turned to virtual worlds.
All of my avatars, no matter the game, are female. I could express how I felt inside and no one would question me. Sure, 3/4ths of the female avatars in games are usually played by guys, but that didn't matter. I had a place where I could feel right.
It also exposed me to some of the absolutely wonderful interactions women get in real life and on the Internet. Instead of adventuring alone, I'd get group invites and the usual "wow babe ur so hot," whispers in my chat window every once in a while. You wouldn't think that it's really different being a guy over being a girl, but it is. People became slightly more forgiving in party situations, simply because I acted like a female and I had a female avatar. People let me have more items and they would contact me more frequently for groups.
I got a taste of what it's like to be the other gender in social situations, thanks to virtual worlds. I also had a place where I could be me and avoid the constant mental sting, and finally feel "right." But virtual worlds don't just break down gender barriers...