A few weeks ago, I started changing my avatars at the various discussion boards I frequent. My old avatar (or the picture that accompanies my posts in a little thumbnail), was from a picture of me in Second Life, and the new one is obviously based on flesh and blood:

Joyce Second Life Avatar Joyce Avatar

It’s clear that my old avatar isn’t the “real” me, but I have used my Second Life persona a lot in the past 18 months to try out body shapes, clothes, interactions with other people, and work through issues in SecondLife support groups. I have been this version of Joyce for quite a while and she feels very real to me.

The new avatar is more “real” than the SL avatar, since she’s cut out of a real photograph and represents a bodily Joyce. This new avatar reveals how the whole world will probably see Joyce in a few months, and I find that changing this avatar picture in online forums that are private and protected spaces for trans* people and their loved ones still feels like a kind of coming out. It tells these communities that “Joyce,” who has been posting her observations under the cloak of semi-anonymity for a while, has a real face that she’s finally ready to begin revealing. This action sort of feels like a big step in the coming-out campaign, as I count these discussion boards as part of my community.

Changing my avatar feels a little bit like changing a driver’s license or passport photograph because it’s usually the one stable representation of me that goes with me wherever I go. It’s not as difficult as telling my family or close friends I’m a transsexual, of course, but it does carry a slight feeling of difficulty and danger as the realness of my impending and voluntary outing to everyone is nigh upon me.