When I first started using the internet back in my freshman year of college, I used to chat at this telnet site called Hotel. That was back in 1995 through 1997, so that was before most of the major instant messenger programs/services got off the ground. For the first 5 or 6 months of chatting, I was largely myself (because online we are all a little different than we are in real life) but part of the allure of the internet has always been the anonymity, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see things from a different perspective. There were many routes I could have taken, but in the end I decided I was going to see what it was like to be a woman online.
Part of it was arrogance, I admit. I wanted to know if I was a good enough writer to pull it off, and another part was simple curiosity. So it was that I assumed another identity and I became Marissa.
Now Marissa was an ordinary girl with sort of mundane roots. She was my age at the time, had an older brother and a younger sister, and worked at her parent's gas bar out in a hamlet outside of the town I lived in. I tried to avoid all the mistakes a lot of men trying to play women online make, and because in general, I was a good listener the previous six months, I had picked up a few things about how conversations flowed in that environment. Nothing was too over the top or extreme. She also had a boyfriend, a "fact" I thought I would be able to use if I got into too much trouble in the role and avoid some of the potential complications of someone becoming too enamored with my character. The thought I had in my head as I began was to try to maintain the "Person first, woman second" ethic, so I thought I was ready, but in retrospect, I was likely mistaken.
Within 5 minutes as Marissa at Hotel, someone had asked me about my bust size, which got the equivalent of a slap in the face from me, and I thought it must be a fluke, because I never acted like that in chat, and as a guy, well, no one would really ask me a question like that--but then it happened again, and from someone I knew as my real personality. It was like I was seeing their true colors for the first time. But I kept going with the experiment, because Marissa was becoming a more refined character, which made her a bit more interesting to play. Yes, there was still some harassment(if a received even a fraction of the inappropriate questions that a lot of real women received online, I am shocked women actually participated in chat at all). Now, I am not talking about a little flirting here, I am talking about full-on sexual advances, and I don't think I was putting out those vibes at all! I didn't bring up sex at all... I mean, I was talking about music with a group of people there, and some guy just whispered asking if I wanted to have a little bit of "private fun" with him. I politely declined... but still, I was left very uncomfortable.
I remember one time I was just chatting with some guy and everything was pleasant...
...and then he took off my shirt.
He hadn't even asked me if I wanted to cyber or anything. Absolutely no warning. And this was after I had played the BF card! It just happened. It was at that point I knew my little experiment should end. I went back to being myself full-time there, but after that my vision was colored by my experiences as Marissa, I knew there was all this other stuff going on under the surface and when I met the people who had out-and-out propositioned my feminine alter-ego, well, I had a hard time letting go. It wasn't a fun place to be anymore.
Looking back, do I regret being Marissa? Not really, because it gave me some much needed perspective... though I guess your mileage may vary with experience like that. Would I do it again? Probably not. I ended up feeling a little dirty after it was all said and done, mainly because of the outright dishonesty of playing that role.