Gender, online roleplay and media

(This post follows on from the “bad chatroom messages” post at the weekend, in which I promised to write about it being hard to find good online roleplay partners)

I’ve written before about my adventures back in BDSM web chatroom land, where I noted that, “A good cybersex partner, it seems, is hard to find.” This post, I’m going to look a bit more about what I’ve encountered so far.

I talked a lot in that post about needing description:

When all you have is the text on the screen, if you don’t describe it, it might as well be invisible. Obviously, the mantra, “show, don’t tell”, is useful here, although feedback (telling) is useful too. You need to use words to paint a picture for your partner, and I want them to paint me a picture in equally vivid detail so that I can add my next layer to it and vice versa.

I also mused about how often men (or people who identified themselves as male) seemed not to “get” what was important about it.

The online space is a liberating environment for my genderfluid self, and because my r/l body is strongly male-gendered it is often a realm where I am happiest to be identified as female, or feminine. I base my description on my actual body, but emphasise the traditionally female-coded parts (man-boobs become (fem-)boobs, describe the hips and arse, talk about “curves”… people get the coding pretty easily), so I get to feel embodied in the virtual space and translate my experience more easily as imagined. Sometimes I shrink myself a bit in order to adopt a specifically fem, Sub, identity for play but still keep features that I associate most strongly with myself (again, size of boobs and arse, and generally hair).

I do play as male roles, with gay men or straight women, because that’s still an important side of me (and reflects my r/l opportunities, which sometimes is what you want from a roleplay fantasy). But most of the time, I’m in a fem role, either top or bottom, and that’s the way I like it.

I have now done several roleplays with male and female partners (or at least, that’s how they self-identified), but the balance is definitely on the side of roleplaying lesbian scenes, because these are the scenes in which I am most likely to get the kind of textual service I expect (nay, demand!) from a partner when I’m doing it for fun rather than profit.

In fact, the quality of service in terms of the use of text to create the roleplay, looks something like this:

  1. Lesbian/bi women: exemplary
  2. Straight women: good
  3. Gay men: below average
  4. Straight/bi men: poor

Of course, there is a lot of variation: there are some straight men who are exemplary, and some lesbian or bi women who frankly leave far too much unsaid. This list describes the overall trend based on observations so far.

This leads me to be MUCH more willing to roleplay with women rather than men, and I have devised a simple way of finding out if a person propositioning me for roleplay is likely to live up to the standards I expect (and of course, I’m much more likely to challenge a man than a woman on it). A pretty good indicator of how well they will describe a scene, is how well they describe themselves in the first place. After all, if you don’t or can’t describe yourself, how am I supposed to see you?

Men, on average, turn out to be very bad at this. Women, on the other hand, seem to find it natural. (I hope people think I find it natural, too.)

There is a common canard that “men are more visual” and that is why men watch porn while women read “romance” novels. But looking at the way men versus women roleplay (in my experience), I would say that women think much more visually than men, whereas men think in terms of action or actions.

This is hardly surprising when we consider the ways that men and women are coded in popular culture and media. Women are presented and described as things to be looked at. Fashion, advertising, even reporting on “action” roles such as sports, politics or writing, tends to take time out to describe the appearance of women in those roles in a way they don’t for men. By chance, there’s a story just out about a male TV presenter who tried the experiment of wearing the same suit for a year to see if anyone noticed. No one did. (The experiment was occasioned by the sexist fashion-policing of his female colleague.)

I wrote before about sexual arousal, and my questioning the assumption that men are better at interoception than women, based on men’s ability to use an external sign (erection) as a substitute for internal awareness of their arousal. This assumption is also challenged by the experience of roleplaying with men versus women and receiving feedback in the roleplay scene.

I love describing arousal, particularly plateau and climax, and sometimes my imaginary orgasms are better than the real-life versions. I have even more material to work with now, after viewing the many excellent pictures in Girl On The Net’s Draw Your Orgasm competition (vote for me! vote for all of them!) and my entry came from one of the more unusual roleplays I’ve done. In my experience, women are much better at describing what’s going on in their (virtual) bodies as a cybersex scene draws to its close, whereas men tend to describe only how they act rather than how they feel (at best, you get what’s going on in their penis). In fact, when I am roleplaying a male role, it is tempting to rely on these behavioural signs; only because I know the value of the whole experience as part of the turn-on for a partner, I am able to keep that broader lens on the internal.

I am open about my genderfluid identity. Nevertheless, several lesbian (as in, exclusively so – again, going on their self-reported identities) and bisexual women have decided that I am female-assign-at-birth. One woman said, of my non-scening chat, “a man couldn’t fake it for this long” even after I told her I was genderfluid. I am tempted to go looking for “women-born-women only” lesbian chatrooms to see if I pass as female under the scrutiny of those who claim to be able to know. But that would still be a violation of consent and unethical, even as an experiment, so it’s not going to happen.

The ways in which my style and instincts for online roleplay match the ways in which women in general seem to play probably strengthen the impression they get. It feels genuinely liberating to be accepted as not-male, and to embrace the “other me(s)”, especially woman-me.

My take-away point from all this is the realisation that the way we feel ourselves, or people like us, presented in the wider social and cultural context really does affect the way we see and feel ourselves to be. The stark contrast between the visually detailed descriptions women give versus the sparse, functional versions men use, is a powerful reminder of the power these social influences have.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
This entry was posted in Gender, Kink, Sex, Writing about writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Gender, online roleplay and media

  1. jem says:

    Firstly may I say you have more patience than me with prats, I no longer do online but both tthe men were very familiar, along with the outright abusive of course.
    My main reason for commenting tho is cos this post reminded me of just how freeing cyber can be to explore parts denied irl. It made me understand why I dont go into chat rooms anymore, as my thighs and bum ache from Carter’s belt as I write

    • ValeryNorth says:

      Patience is one of those things I’ve tried to learn. And since I don’t generally have to put up with their crap so much in r/l, I have a bit more energy left over to try to educate online prats. Even so, as I said in the earlier post, a lot of the time I cut the conversation off far sooner, for the sake of sanity and not banging head against brick wall. But these two were great as examples showing full-length “I tried to be nice” chats…

      Yes, “explore parts denied irl” is exactly it. I think I will always have some parts I can’t fully express in r/l (just because I would need a body-morphing superpower to do so) which is why even when I take long breaks away from chat/cyber, I end up returning to it.

  2. dianekepler says:

    Thank you for the interesting read. Loved the “textual service” ranking, although t I was surprised that you didn’t include trans men or women, whether gay or straight. This interests me because two of of the best world-builders I’ve ever written with were trans. Both identified as gay men while being genetically and physically female.

  3. ValeryNorth says:

    That’s a very good point, Diane. Partly it’s because I don’t yet have enough data points to include generalisations for trans folk.

    I think a massive reason for my not giving trans folk separate listings is the way I use online myself: I’m not-quite-cis due to genderfluidity, and online roleplay is where I can have whatever body I want (or even some incorporeal cloud/smoke/gaseous entity). So I treat others’ virtual bodies the same instinctively, meaning knowing trans/cis is less relevant to what I need from the roleplay scene. From various conversations, I understand that trans folk can feel rooted to an undesired gender assignation by remaining aspects of their rl bodies. To focus on “trans” rather than “man/woman” would feel bad to me, like I was denying them the safe space that I defend for myself.

    All that said, I have had a couple of roleplays with people who specifically focussed on my genderfluid ID because of their own gender non-binary IDs and both were exemplary, so if pushed I would put trans men and trans women near the top of the “leaderboard”.

    Thanks again for the comment 🙂

  4. Pingback: Retrospective: Some highlights of my 2014 blogging | Valery North - Writer

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