That's What They All Say
Really, I did not mean to impose a man's outfit on my colleague, but he arrived at the OpenSim test space at the psychically perfect time, as my other colleague was showing me how to give people a folder full of men's clothing.
There he was, standing across the grassy plaza, looking small and a bit vulnerable.
"What, you don't like my red leggings?" He asked, when I chatted my offer. In this particular OpenSim tool, everyone arrives as female their first time in-world, but his or her real name appears over his or her cartoon-head.
In real-life, I've met this colleague only a few times, as he's from another country, and probably, we have not seen each other since 1997, though we see each other's status in Facebook nearly daily.
"Sarah's having her facilitator final exam and she needs to give away clothing," my colleague typed, tongue-in-cheek, or a similar message, as a way of excusing my intrusiveness....Indeed, she was trying to help me gain that experience at that very moment.
How amazing that I saw my colleague's photo all the time in Facebook, but I got extra-excited when I spotted his avatar moving around in OpenSim because it felt like we were together in the same place, for real, even though his name did not match his appearance at all.
It Goes Both Ways, Whether or Not Intentionally
Very soon, a bunch of big guys in suits, all from his country, materialized by his side, like body-guards, and I felt intimidated. Why isn't he taking the clothing I offered, I wondered. I waited with some frustration while he stood with his back to me as the big, suited avatars began moving around the plaza.
My female colleague and I were the only "real" women in the space and I felt vaguely menaced, and alternately nervous, like we were at a high school dance. Suddenly, I saw my male colleague's body swell up and transform, hulk-like, into a man's body, and when he turned around, he was wearing a men's suit with a Hawaiian shirt. Unlike his colleagues, he'd opted against wearing a tie, which made him look less menacing, but also less accessible than when he was small and a bit chesty. Now, he reminded me of the actor Don Johnson during his "Miami Vice" days.
Didn't I need to get back to work? They started asking my colleague useful questions about the technology that I could have learned from, but suddenly, I felt awkward and shy, and the need to get out of there. Reluctantly and eagerly at once, I typed, "I'm gonna go. Thanks," to my female colleague and clicked "Quit."
Both of Us Were Still Thinking About Our Chance Meeting
Later in the afternoon, I received the following, gentle message from him in e-mail:
Thanks for the help in SL.That was very useful. I am really liking using Sametime 3D for meetings. I hadn't used SL in awhile (The personal ROI wasn't there for me). But with all the tools that are there now, I am much more enthusiastic about it. I can see it being a de facto way of meeting.
I think there will also be some interesting discussion around what constitutes appropriate business dress for these things. I suspect it will be that people will wear roughly what they wear in the real world. On the other hand, if I wanted to change my gender in SL, who is going to say I can't? Instead of business casual we might have gender casual. Or species casual for that matter! :) (e.g., [my colleague's name]? Oh, he's that rooster over there! Lookin' good, [my colleague's name]! :) ) Seriously, it could provide for some interesting discussion. Likewise, the reverse could also occur, where instead of it being more open, it could become more closed if we were meeting people from more conservative parts of the world. (I might not like that, but I could see the potential of it happening).
Talk to you soon, Sarah.
Oy, how ironic! Me, who was just training other facilitators this morning via a draft of facilitator notes:
Note: Men appear as female avatars by default; do not bait them or be too apologetic and rather, just help them change genders matter-of-factly, if they wish to, as in my experience, a number feel unsettled by the experience and we ought not add to their anxiety by joking with them about it; also, if they joke first, and it's not funny, don't laugh along, as we don't want to appear misogynistic to any other participants -- I know how this might sound overly-earnest/too PC, but I appreciate your taking this advice.
The facilitators of two genders were fine with my advice, and then virtual reality happened later the same day, and I did not rise properly to the occasion myself. It's remarkable, as I've been talking to another colleague for months about the sensitivity around self-expression in Virtual World environments; she has raised my consciousness that some people even prefer to present themselves in-world as an animal, or a robot.
It's true. At a recent, behind-the-firewall event, I saw a little, brightly-striped fish, a short robot and a man with a big, furry tail, among the rest of us, who were more conventional. Most recently, my childhood friend, who's an avid avatar, gave me the gift of some shoes that sparkle brightly, until I type in the chat window, "Bling off." Not too wild, except that I would never wear blinding stilettos in real-life.
I responded to my virtually FTM colleague:
Yes, yes, yes to all that you said. It was really fun to see you suddenly/psychically in there today. All of the sudden a group of [his native country] guys materialized....
I didn't mean to foist men's clothes on you. Truly, just when you arrived, [my other colleague] was teaching me how to give any man who was anxious about his default gender being female a packet of men's clothing, and voila, there you were! A friend and colleague is actually drafting ideas on how to enable IBM people to express themselves as they see fit in SL/OpenSim behind our firewall, e.g., being whatever gender or species or machine they wish to be.