(The following article was originally published in Second Life Newspaper in March 10, 2009)
By Bixyl Shuftan
A few days ago, one of my foxfolk friends was exploring around, and wanting to rezz some items came across a sandbox at an Italian beach villiage. Like the majority of places he had seen, all were in normal human avies, “mature content and a nude beach.” Just after getting there, “I was approached by a resident and told that I had to reove my ‘ mask.’ I was polite and said that I wasn't wearing a mask that this was my persona.” But the local persisted, so my friend left. Not long afterwards, he told the story to another fox friend of his whom got irritated and insisted he take him and some others online at the time over, most furred but one neko joined in, “We were pretty civil, except for **** calling them racists. ... they bounced us out and banned us from the area."
When a couple others from the incident arrived, they told me a little more, one saying she took on the appearance of a naked hermaphrodite with a huge appendage and didn’t get banned until changing back to a clean furry. They asked me to see the scene for myself, and ported me to a spot next to the beach village. I walked in, the scene rezzing more slowly than normal. Just across the bridge was a sign, and one resident nearby. So I stood on the bridge for a while, waited for the sign to fully rez, and sure enough it stated “No Furry” alongside “No monsters” and the usual behaviors against intimate activity in the open and gunfire. The resident did nothing, though might have been away from the keyboard, so I turned around and left. Porting to a tavern, we had a long talk about the place.
It’s my experience that incidents like this are very rare in Second Life. Most places are happy to have anyone whom is not bothering anyone, especially if they’re spending money. But considering how treatment one sees as unfair sticks in one’s mind, when someone does end up booted from a place because of his looks, it is certainly remembered.
Why do some places limit what avatars can come in? Some are roleplay sims that have rules against certain avatars, but will also boot anyone not following the dress code. I have heard no real complaints about them.
Then there was the one single place in the more than two years I was asked to leave because of my avatar’s appearance. Someone from a charity group sent me a complaint about a formal dress nightclub only allowing in human avatars. I decided to check things out for myself, put on my Dana Delight’s tuxedo, and ported over. Seeing a lady by the door, I chatted with her for a few minutes, and she clearly welcomed me. Going in, no one bothered me at first, but the place was laggy as heck. I was about to conclude the place was a false alarm and port out, when a lady approached me and IMed me, “Excuse me ... could you please change to a human avatar?” My response, “The lady at the door didn’t have a problem with me. And in the year and a half I’ve been here, not a single place I’ve been to has had a problem with my appearance.” “I’m truly sorry, but we have a dress code, and we still need you to change.” I was irritated, no sign of a problem at the door and now this. But how much was a place too laggy to stay worth making a fuss over? So I ported out. Most likely the lag would keep away more people than anything I could do or say.
So why did they have a problem? It may be they saw avatars as an extension on the dress code, since people in Second Life can change their appearance. Trouble is, many people, both furry and normal people, dislike changing their avatar’s look. “I have this nagging fear that I might not be able to change back,” one person told me. In any event, no other place before, or after, had a problem with my foxfolk look. It’s notable that a few weeks later, I was invited to a live classical music performance in a place that was *really* high class and elegant. No one had a problem with my avatar’s look.
Then there’s the scenario that my furred freinds think of most often, getting tossed out “just because” by someone being a real jerk about it. I was a semi-witness to one example. I once joined a group for a pirate club an event organizer I knew liked to go to. One day, one of the pirates started a group chat, “Don’t go to *****. I went there, and they refused to sell me anything, telling me ‘We don’t allow YOUR kind here!’ .“ The immediate response was, “WHOAH! They’re gonna get it now!” This was followed by cries of righteous indignation, and calls for going to the sim to protest or teach them a lesson.
I didn’t get to the scene until later. According to the group chat, the furry pirates began porting over to the place, and before long the local ones threw up a “No admittance” barrier. With no way to get in, the furry pirates cursed for a while, then gave up. The guy who started this then told everyone he might as well shop elsewhere. He soon told the group, “Hey guys, I finally found a place. They even have a furry among them.” And so ended the fight between what one guy called “the tail pirates versus the butt pirates.”
Why do some people have problems with a guy or girl in a furball avatar? The subject can be an article on itself. Penance Sautereau did a two-part article. But what do do about the few whom take things to the point of banning them from sims? That was the subject of a lengthy discussion between me and other furballs.
Second Life’s Community Standards (http://secondlife.com/corporate/cs.php ) began with this statement, “The goals of the Community Standards are simple: treat each other with respect and without harassment, adhere to local standards as indicated by simulator ratings, and refrain from any hate activity which slurs a real-world individual or real-world community.” Even if the banning of people because of their avatars is not against the letter of the rules, it certainly goes against the spirit, in my opinion.
By all means, this kind of problem is not limited to furred avies. I have heard stories of players with normal human appearances being subject to harassment in sims populated by furred residents. One former friend of mine told me via instant message about going to a place recommended by me, and treated harshly by some local furballs, “I had no idea furries could be so cruel!” She would then have nothing to do with furs again. A couple of my friends who prefer to appear normal human told me they themselves had gone through some of this kind of harassment.
The antics of the “human-haters” I find to be just as silly as their anti-furball counterparts, if not moreso. Aren’t we all human behind our keyboards? I’ve had a couple mild-mannered furballs say normal human avatars look unnatural and zombielike, but I’ve never gotten much of an answer from the few haters I’ve come across.
These rare but annoying incidents make me think a little of one bit of movie trivia I came across. Fans of the “Planet of the Apes” movie recall one of the themes was it’s anti-racism message - the gorillas could only be soldiers, the orangutans were limited to sciences and study, etc. Just how well the message reached the actors was brought into question one day. The time it took to put on the makeup was so long, actors would eat lunch still in costume, and did so in a designated lunch area. Once, one of the “apes” happened to look around, and noticed that the place had segregated itself. The gorillas were in one area, the orangutans in another, and the chimpanzees in a third. Even though everyone was human underneath, they had broken up into groups based on their costumes!
With this in mind, maybe it’s a little less surprising some are reluctant to explore places populated by another type of avatar. But it doesn’t excuse a few monkeying around with our freedom of movement.
Have any of you the readers experienced this kind of treatment? Feel free to tell your story in the comment section below.
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This article drew more than a dozen responses. The first condemned all those with furred avatars as sex maniacs that ought to be barred from the Grid. Editor Dana Vanmoer's response was to comment she could have deleted the ugly remark, but was leaving it up there as an example of why some furs complained about discrimination. The majority of those commenting after sided with those wishing for freedom of harassment about their looks. One criticized both, saying those tossing out residents for wearing nonhuman appearances was nutty, but they needed to quit complaining so much about it.
In the five years since I wrote this article, there have been a few complaints about avatar discrimination. Most notably was a club written about by Grease Coakes. One other place was accused of not allowing nonhuman avs, though its webpage had a neko among the DJs, and an investigation came to the conclusion it was the misunderstanding of the hostess.
In May 2011, someone I knew was banned from a small store in Zindra, "get out of my sim." "What the hell is your problem? … What have I done to deserve this harassment?" "you are a furry that is enough to suspect you are a griefer and a copybot and other bad things too … furrys are annoying malicious griefer copybots."
One pirate combat roleplay sim didn't seem to have a problem with furs at first, a rule about allowing only humans and mermaids seemingly ignored. But when they got the attention of Second Life media, they began calling themselves "humans only." Granted roleplay sims have the right to "historical accuracy," but this seemed a bit like a case of "bait and switch" in my opinion.
Then there was one case of anti-human harassment when a human DJ for a furry club was repeatedly insulted by one of the vulpines, called a "hairless ape." He was thrown out of the club and the infuriated vixen who owned the place banned him for a several weeks. But the damage was done. A few weeks later, the DJ told the staff she would no longer perform there, or any other furry club.
One other complaint I hear about is not outright hostility, but silence. A few furs have told me when they go to a human club, few people, or only the staff, will say hello to them. This isn't necessarily a sign of contempt as even clubs where everyone's a friend have their quiet moments when everyone's in IMs, or simply trying to relax and enjoy the music. And the stories of hostility aren't limited to human vs nonhuman, but also between different types of nonhuman avatar.
Still, the tales of harassment, true or not, have given some the impression most of Second Life is a hostile environment. Only in places where there are others like themselves do they feel welcome, or at least a sign that says their type is welcome, such as "Furry Friendly," or "Human Friendly" if the club caters mainly to nonhuman avatars. People come to Second Life to escape real-life troubles, and run into the expectation of one: discrimination based on appearance. A sad observation about life on the Grid.
On the other hand (or paw), there's no shortage of people who ignore these tales, if they've heard them at all. I've seen furry avatars just about everywhere where there's sizeable number of residents. I've visited who-knows-how many places, and only two asked me to leave based on my fox avatar in the seven years I've been around. The furry clubs I've gone to often get visitors in human avs, sometimes several or over a dozen at once. And sometimes residents whom prefer different types of avatars will also date, and partner.
In my opinion, don't worry about getting harrassed because of your looks. This kind of event is rare, and not worth worrying about. So go on an enjoy your Second Life with your friends, no matter what their appearance.