Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds

I'd like your help in building and publicizing October 25, one month from today, as Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds.

I'm going to sponsor a full day of speakers, multimedia and other creative efforts, and host a fundraising party in Extropia for organizations promoting freedom of expression of gender identity and sexual preference in digital worlds. I'll start the kitty with $L125,000, and I call on you all to match me to the extent you can.

Here's why.

The last straw came yesterday, when a friend was attacked in social media and later pilloried on a blog for the expression of her sexuality. What happened was despicable, and I'm not about to credit the infantile, frightened, intolerant vermin who attacked her by linking to what they did, nor do I want to bring more painful attention to the victim.

What happened to her happens to countless women, and to queers of all gender presentations, every day in digital worlds. Yes, it happens in the atomic world too, where it's often coupled to violence, even murder. But *my* home is here in the digital, and my responsibility is to not sit silent and permit a culture of hatred to flourish in my own home.

Why limit it to digital worlds? I don't have the resources or the connections to act in the atomic world. This is my home, and its issues are different from those of the atomic world.

If you'd like to do something simultaneously in your atomic community, please do! Yes, physical violence is a terrible problem in the atomic - but in many digital worlds, and places within those worlds, a culture of hatred is allowed to flourish in a way that many atomic communities would be appalled to see. That issue deserves its own attention

The problem is huge. Walk into one of the capital cities in World Of Warcraft, or the infamous "Barrens Chat," night or day, and you're likely to hear the foulest expressions of homophobia, gynophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. Of those, the most prevalent seems to be homophobia: "gay" and "fag" are standins for anything bad, and used with abandon, despite their being in technical violation of the Terms of Service. The culture permits it.

I've led a very sheltered life in SL, in part from having helped create Extropia as a haven for the different, a welcome home for any sort of creative gender, sexual, species and artificial self-expression. But I'm seen and received plenty of hostility for failure to conform to gender norms, by not using Voice (and thus "hiding" my "real" gender, two terms I utterly reject), by not being demure, by being openly bisexual. Many others close to me have had it a lot worse.

SL enables a lot of people to exaggerate sexual dimorphism and practice gender-role exaggeration - and that's fine. It's fine if people - both men and women - want to be Gorean, if guys want to be 100 tall on the sliders, with biceps the size of tree trunks, if women want to be all tits, ass, pink and giggles. That's *fine.*

What isn't fine is when those people publicly attack and condemn others for making different choices. Attacking women for being sexually assertive rather than coquetish is not okay. Attacking people for making gentle passes at people of their preferred gender is not okay. Attacking people for presenting their gender in the way that suits them is not okay.

Now, this is a different matter from time and place, and private property issues. I have a friend with a policy of not allowing public displays of sex acts, or Gorean relations, in her store. Her property, her rules. I'm not advocating a mindless claim of "freedom of speech," a concept which has never been a general license to say or do whatever you want, anywhere, any time.

People and communities have the right to accept or not accept what they will: "tolerance" is not the issue.

You don't have to tolerate me. You have to behave in a civilized fashion to me for exactly as long as I behave that way to you. If the idiot blogger who sparked this had made a post advocating traditional gender roles, and arguing that the rest of us were immoral, or endangering civilization or somesuch, no problem. They'd be being an idiot on their own property, and that's their right.

But when they name names, when they attack someone in a public space, when they use hate speech (the blogger didn't, to be clear), that's nobody's right.

A few loudmouth idiots can poison a space for everyone. That's happened to a pretty big degree on WoW, and I'm sure in other game worlds: being openly queer, standing up against the bigotry, is a huge drain, and may be too little, too late. I hope not.

At the same time, digital worlds allow unprecedented scope for gender freedom, for safe havens for for gender and sexual expression. Second Life enables many to experiment, to find safe expression, for identities that may not be possible or tolerated in parts of the atomic world. Digital worlds issues are separate from atomic ones in that respect as well - there's so much more possible here, and by and large much more acceptance as well. Digital worlds offer us unparalleled creative freedom in our gender and sexual expression.

So, that's why I'm calling for a Gender Freedom Day in Digital Worlds. Rather than getting into fights with angry adolescents, let's show our numbers, and show our joy. "That's so gay?" Let's show 'em gay. Let's have some big, loud, splashy fun. Let's be outrageous, interesting, colorful, provocative.

I tossed this idea out to a few friends late last night.

By morning I had a letter of active support from Uthango Social Investments, South Africa - who sees the struggle for gender freedom as part and parcel of the struggle of Africans to be heard in the global discourse.

By morning I had a letter of active support and participation from Tom Bukowski (Tom Boellstorff), author of Coming of Age in Second Life, and a professor of anthropology whose previous work examined the construction of gay and lesbian identities in Indonesia.

I had pledges of support, connections, logistics, from several good, skilled friends.

I need your help too. We need a good graphic for the day. We need events everywhere on the Grid, and maybe in other worlds as well. I'll contribute to coordinating and publicizing the whole thing, and can set up a website and master calendar.

I'll be around in Extropia Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons SLT, to talk with anyone who wants to help make this day happen, or to talk about the issues.

Let's do this thing, October 25, and let's make it big.

You with me?


CyFishy said...

You bet I'm there. One of the things I love about Second Life is the freedom to shift back and forth between genders with just a few double-clicks in my Inventory. People should be free to explore the possibilities without being damned for being 'deceptive'--because, quite often, they're being more true to themselves than the atomic world will allow them to be.

Dale Innis said...

What fun! I'll certainly take part (if I can manage not to forget). We could have a party where everyone goes into Appearance and flips the bit as they walk in the door. :)

Truthseeker said...


Splendid, Soph! And HUGE kudos for choosing to shine *brighter* in the face of such (fearful, ugly, yet oh-so-mundane) human darkness, and spurring us all on to do the same.

To that end, there's someone I'd very much like to introduce you to. I'll chase you down in-world...

Lunette said...

Count me in, too. The recent episode you speak of was truly appalling. I don't have a lot of time or skills to offer, but I will do what I can to support this event.

dandellion Kimban said...

Sure I am there! PARTY!!!!

Will blog it later tonight.

Argent Bury said...

Blogged it, love. But damned if you aren't a hard act to follow :P

Dale, methinks we need to talk to Zada about retooling her Avatar Transformer into a Gender Bender.

Gods, this is going to be legendary!

Ceejay Writer said...

Was sent over by a friend to see this, since the event is on the same day as my Partnering celebration!

But. Due to my own circumstance, I am going to make a statement during the festivities about this, and how I feel about our freedoms.

Faerie said...

What a wonderful idea. I'd love to take part too (if timezones permit).

Sophrosyne Stenvaag said...

Thank you, all of you, for your support!

This event has really taken off - it seems like the time and the message are right.

Ceejay, congratulations! If you and yours want to drop by and party with us, we'd love to have you!

Fae, we'll probably be starting our speakers at 9am SLT, with a reception beforehand, around 8:30am, and partying as late as we can get DJs, so hopefully we'll see you at one end or the other!

Esteban said...

I'll be there with bells on.

Sophrosyne Stenvaag said...

Este - Can we get you to DJ a set? :D

Simone said...

Great idea and I will be there. Personally I haven't experienced too much gender discrimination in SL, except for a few very boorish people who get the wrong idea about my gender presentation in SL.

Sad that people are bringing their preconceptions about transgendered people-or for that matter any gender identity and presentation to SL.

Geesh I can be a dinosaur in SL; why can't I have an avatar that reflects something about my RL gender identity?

Cyfishy is absolutely right in her comment about people who are accused of being deceptive but are really more true to themselves than they can be in the "atomic world".