Second Life has seen a resurgence of returning users in recent months, as a result of the imposition of social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines in the face of the ongoing public health crisis that is the coronavirus pandemic.
I recently received an inquiry from someone returning to Second Life after an absence, who asked me:
You seem nice and knowledgeable here: I have been on SL 15 years ago or so, and would now like to return and find gay places, ideally catering to bears and chubs. But that’s not a mandatory at all.
I just wondered whether you know a place that’s a little busy – all places I went to were deserted.
Thank you so very much in advance!
Now, this is a puzzler for me. When I first set foot into SL fourteen years ago, I used to frequent any number of gay bars, fun places that were packed full of avatars. Over time, many of those places had closed down.
When I replied that there used to be a couple of spots for bears (i.e. chubby or overweight gay men, usually but not always bearded and/or hairy, hence the name “bears”), but that they had long since shut down, he replied:
Thank you very very much, you’re my star – not easy finding one’s way here nowadays with so many places deserted!
Are there any other places where simply a lot of gay guys go, also non-bears?
Any help is greatly appreciated!
So, I thought I would broaden the question to include spaces welcoming to all LGBTQ folks in Second Life, and throw the question out to you, my faithful readers:
Where are the places in Second Life where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people can gather and meet each other? Please note that I am not talking about the places where you go to have hookups or sex (God knows, those are easy enough to find!).
I will compile all the responses received as updates to this blogpost, and I will keep this blogpost updated as new information comes in about community spots, since they tend to change over time.
Please feel free to submit a comment. Thanks in advance for your help!
I grew up listening to Amy Grant. I owned all of her vinyl albums in those halcyon, pre-compact-disc days, and my church youth group would always head out to see her perform whenever she came to Winnipeg. Even though I now consider myself an atheist, I still turn to her music for comfort in times of stress and anxiety, depression and despair. Her soothing alto voice in well-known songs is still a respite, an oasis, a retreat. Despite my change in circumstances, I am still an unabashed fan.
Many LGBTQ people, like myself, have complicated, convoluted, and contentious personal histories with organized religion. For example, I met my wife through that same Lutheran church youth group and, like the two well-raised Transcona Lutherans we were, we followed the dictates and strictures of our church and got married (I was 24 and a virgin). After a painful short marriage, and our separation and divorce, we both came out of the closet. (The dress my ex-wife wore for our official engagement photo was later donated to a Toronto drag queen.)
Last night, in an empty Grand Old Opry, Vince Gill and Amy Grant and their daughters put on a livestreamed performance (which you can watch here, the show starts at the 30:00 mark).
And I must admit I got chills down my spine when Amy sang her song Somewhere Down the Road, to which I know all the words by heart:
So much pain and no good reason why You’ve cried until the tears run dry And nothing here can make you understand The one thing that you held so dear Is slipping from your hands And you say
Why, why, why Does it go this way Why, why, why And all I can say is
Somewhere down the road There’ll be answers to the questions Somewhere down the road Though we cannot see it now Somewhere down the road You will find mighty arms reaching for you And they will hold the answers at the end of the road
I hope that you also find some comfort in these difficult days, wherever that might be. Reach out to your friends and family, via FaceTime or Discord or Skype, to support each other. March has been a hard month, and April is going to be even harder.
In particular, female-identifying users of social VR platforms are often the victims of sexual harassment, research conducted by Jessica Outlaw and others has shown. Michelle Cortese writes:
As female designers working in VR, my co-worker Andrea Zeller and I decided to join forces on our own time and write a comprehensive paper. We wrote about the potential threat of virtual harassment, instructing readers on how to use body sovereignty and consent ideology to design safer virtual spaces from the ground up. The text will soon become a chapter in the upcoming book: Ethics in Design and Communication: New Critical Perspectives (Bloomsbury Visual Arts: London).
After years of flagging potentially-triggering social VR interactions to male co-workers in critiques, it seemed prime time to solidify this design practice into documented research. This article is the product of our journey.
The well-known immersive aspect of virtual reality—the VR hardware and software tricking your brain into believing what it is seeing is “real”—means that when someone threatens or violates your personal space, or your virtual body, it feels real.
This is particularly worrisome as harassment on the internet is a long-running issue; from trolling in chat rooms in the ’90s to cyber-bullying on various social media platforms today. When there’s no accountability on new platforms, abuse has often followed — and the innate physicality of VR gives harassers troubling new ways to attack. The visceral quality of VR abuse can be especially triggering for survivors of violent physical assault.
Cortese and Zeller stress that safety needs to be built into our social VR environments: “Safety and inclusion need to be virtual status quo.”
The article goes into a discussion of proxemics, which I will not attempt to summarize here; I would instead strongly urge you to go to the source and read it all for yourself, as it is very clearly laid out. A lot of research has already been done in this area, which can now be applied as we build new platforms.
And one of those new social VR platforms just happens to be Facebook Horizon, a project on which both Michelle Cortese and Andrea Zeller have been working!
What I did find interesting in this report was an example the authors provided, of how this user safety research is being put to use in the Facebook Horizon social VR platform, which will be launching in closed beta early this year. Apparently, there will be a button you can press to immediately remove yourself from a situation where you do not feel comfortable:
We designed the upcoming Facebook Horizon with easy-to-access shortcuts for moments when people would need quick-action remediation in tough situations. A one-touch button can quickly remove you from a situation. You simply touch the button and you land in a space where you can take a break and access your controls to adjust your experience.
Once safely away from the harasser, you can optionally choose to mute, block, or report them to the admins while in your “safe space”:
Handy features such as these, plus Facebook’s insistence on linking your personally-identifying account on the Facebook social network to your Facebook Horizon account (thus making it very difficult to be anonymous), will probably go a long way towards making women (and other minorities such as LGBTQ folks) feel safer in Facebook Horizon.
Some rather bitter lessons on what does and doesn’t work have been learned in the “wild, wild west” of earlier-generation virtual worlds and social VR platforms, such as the never-ending free-for-all of Second Life (and of course, the cheerful anarchy of VRChat, especially in the days before they were forced to implement their nuanced Trust and Safety System due to a tidal wave of harassment, trolling and griefing).
But I am extremely glad to see that Facebook has hired VR designers like Michelle Cortese and Andrea Zeller, and that the company is treating user safety in social VR as a non-negotiable tenet from the earliest design stages of the Horizon project, instead of scrambling to address it as an after-thought as VRChat did. More social VR platforms need to do this.
I’m quite looking forward to seeing how this all plays out in 2020! I and many other observers will be watching Facebook Horizon carefully to see how well all these new security and safety features roll out and are embraced by users.
The real world can still be a unwelcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) people. So perhaps it is not surprising that LGBTQ people are attracted to social VR and virtual worlds, as a way to connect with other queer people and create queer spaces. (Please note that, as a proud and out-of-the-closet gay man, I am reclaiming the formerly pejorative term queer in referring to LGBTQ people.)
There are two regular weekly LGBTQ+ and Friends meetups which take place in AltspaceVR:
Come join our global LGBTQ weekly meetup that offers support, encouragement, and love from all corners of the world. Join our North American meetup at: (6:00 p.m. Pacific). If you are sending your love abroad, join us at our earlier time (1:00 p.m. Pacific). We have created this safe haven where you can express yourself in a welcoming environment. We have created this space for those who have difficulty sharing their thoughts and experiences. Feel bold enough to share your stories and we will do our part to give you the encouragement you need to live the life you have always dreamed.
VRChat has an active LGBTQ community that runs its own Discord server, where you can find out about happenings and events in-world.
Have you heard of other LGBTQ-friendly spaces and events happening in other social VR platforms and virtual worlds? If you do, then please leave a comment below telling us where and what it is, thank you!