The following is something of a case study: the story of one internet user and his experience presenting cross-gender online. From harmless experimentation to hardcore solicitation, alias "Rufa Hendeiger" went through it all.
Rufa first contacted me in the comments section of a blog post. There, using the name "X_x_Lil-Anonymous," he confessed, "under the cover anonymity," to being "a complete cyber-queen!"
"I have no illusions," says Rufa "about the true gender of the slim yet large breasted 18-25 year old Asian full time students/part time lesbians I have met on AOL instant messenger. Or about 'their' pictures. And I’m fairly sure that the guys who are contacting me when I’ve got some ridiculous cutesy-feminine screen name (see above, add more pink) and asking about sex have any illusions either."
The quotes below are excerpts from an interview I conducted with Rufa via email. Check back soon for the results of a Q&A session with the "cyber queen," and, after that, some humble commentary from yours truly.
"I'm only 23, and this kind of stuff is really an off and on thing with me, and lately it's been off for a good two years or so... for most of my life I have been a boy who did something that he was scared might ruin his life, and now I'm a man who is only slightly concerned it will come back to ruin his life later...
I remember the first time I played a girl online. I was about 13, I had a 33.6 modem, a copy of telnet, and the numbers for a bunch of local gaming BBS... My favorite was Midnight, because it was really small. It could only handle 5 or so connections at once, and the only game it had was MajorMUD. That forced people to party together who normally would not. And plus, it had a Real Live Girl who would sometimes play: the sysop's sister, who went by Sunflower. That made the whole thing cooler somehow.
I learned a hack on some other BBS to get into the mail system. Of course I used it to see what my friends over at Midnight were up to when I wasn't there. What I found was Sunflower's username and password in her mail. I immediately logged off and logged back on as Sunflower. She had a high level Ranger, which I had never played.
So bam, now I'm Sunflower in the middle of the night, using my cool Ranger stuff to bash monsters. Then, somebody else logs on. Busted. He could easily see that I'm logged on using one of the lines, and not as a local user, like Sunflower would be. But he doesn't. He messages me. Could I help him in the tombs? He needs new ring mail. Sure, I can.
So we bash monsters a little. I disable my attack/cast/heal/get gold script because I know that Sunflower doesn't use one. I make like I'm interested in what's going on with the guy and make vaguely encouraging remarks, because that's what Sunflower does. I say I've got horrible homework and talk about baseball because that's what Sunflower talks about. I'd played some D&D, so I just imagined Sunflower as “my character,” and off we went.
For some reason, everybody decided to log on at about 1:30 AM. Soon we got a full party. I started to become aware of the social dynamic that was surrounding me. The other guys argued, ragged on each other, fought over treasure, did the stuff that I would usually be doing, but as Sunflower, I was a little above it all. People considered what I had to say without first making a sarcastic comment, didn't rush for my gold, and if somebody gave me the business, one of the guys would say, “Hey, leave her alone, she's a friend.”
A little background here. At 13, I was really, really nerdy: red hair, glasses, no friends, the whole bit. I felt basically unwanted wherever I went. Later, I'd get a lot better at this kind of stuff, but at that moment, this was as wanted as I'd felt for a long time. It really started to get to me...
There was a shock of new feelings...
I never logged back on as Sunflower, since she really was my friend and I didn't want to piss her off, but I did play female characters after that. I remember justifying it. I would say that it was because people were nicer to girls, didn't grief them, shared items, etc. That was true, but really, it was that girls got a little more attention (both good and bad) and that I let myself play a more neutral, less extreme social role when I was in a female character. It was less work to be friends when you were a girl, especially with other girls. The fantasy started becoming less “I'm a magic warrior who can kill his enemies without consequence!” and more “I'm a pretty, hip teenage girl, one of the most sought after members of society, instead of a ugly, geeky teenage boy, one of the least sought after.”
I'm not quite sure how long after that my family got access to the internet... I used Excite to search for a MUD and logged on to the first one I found... I got my first solicitation for cybersex in like fifteen minutes.
Hey, new experience: rejecting someone! It felt kinda cool! Commence to bashing monsters. A day or two later, I'm in a party with a guy who asks for cybersex... I tell him, 'I don't think I'd be any good at that.' This is true, I'm a virgin and I've got only a hazy concept of what actually goes on during sex. However, I'm intrigued.
I search for any information I can get about cybersex, logs especially. I relate it back to my experience playing roleplaying games and playing MUDs as female characters. I copy some cybersex stuff into a text file, and log back into the MUD, intending to accept the first offer for cybersex I get.
I don't have to wait long. Soon I've got a private session with some random online adventurer. As the supposed female, I wait for him to kick things off. He waits for a moment and then jumps right in with something that boils down to 'I'm fucking you. I've got a huge dick.'
Jesus Christ. Way to fail to meet my expectations, sir... I cut and paste something in, but after that, I'm really struggling with something to say. I invoke the power of the internet and just log off, leaving the guy hanging in a MUD chatroom, never to be seen again.
So lesson learned. I had thought I was totally clueless about cybersex, but really, I had already built up some of the basic skills from writing stories and playing roleplaying games. I knew a story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end. I knew that we're both playing pretend together, and we shouldn't break the implied contract of how this pretend world worked. I knew that what we were doing was similar to what other people did, and I could learn to do it better by reading their records. Right there that made me 'better' than most of the guys messaging me for cybersex.
The next time out, I teamed up with a couple people, and struck up the standard MUD conversations. When I found a guy who was cool, funny, etc, I went ahead and asked him for cybersex. This time, I had done prep (like a DM!), and I took the initiative, setting a scene. We're in the enchanted something-or-other, tired from killing monsters, a moment of silence (an idea from a romance book). Bam, he takes to the idea right away, and we're doing all the romance novel stuff I had originally imagined we'd be doing.
It's addicting. It has a little creative spark, a little spontaneity. It makes me feel desired. It's reinforcing all that social-female fantasy I've got going, and adds in lots of powerful new stuff, courtship, attraction, a story to tell that's about me as a female, instead of just involving me as a female. And of course, its got sex and I'm a teenage boy. I start playing less of the MUD itself, using it more as a networking service. I also start getting my real life together, and the reduced computer time gets cut from the game playing, not the cybersex.
I keep doing the MUD thing for a while, but it gets pushed to the background after I discover instant messaging – ICQ mostly. I also develop a little baby conscience about deceiving these guys about my gender. Mostly, I've got a few people on my friends list who I do it with, no random people in the MUDs or chatrooms. If I meet someone who wants cybersex, I stop if any interest is shown as to my real life gender...
There's just too many benefits to being a straight white male in small town America. I like being just one of the guys. When I say, “I suck at football,” I don't want any questions as to how I define the word 'suck.' I don't want my friends and family to be tested by having a weirdo amongst them, because frankly, I don't think many of them would pass. I'm just barely scraping myself up to Whitey McNormal status from the untouchable geek caste, and backsliding is going to be painful. I have respect for those of us who are publicly identifying as gay, transgendered, genderqueer, what-have-you. That bell is impossible to unring sometimes.
When playing female characters in MUDs, I thought that I was gaining some kind of valuable insight into what it meant to be a girl in our society. I thought it might help me get a girlfriend. It's not really true, though. I could switch my femaleness on and off at will, and that's not what it means to BE female. What I was really getting was insight into myself, and that really did help me get a girlfriend, among other things...
Anyway, I ran out of money, and had to sober up and get a job. And that's where I stand today."