Masthead CMC Magazine / March 1, 1996
 Gender Without Bodies, by Mindy McAdams

Gender online is a matter of choice.

Online or off, we create our identities. We decide whether to appear bookish and quiet, loud and funny, voluptuous and sexy. Teenagers who move to a new town during high school or who go away to university sometimes achieve a total transformation in their new life. Everyone is capable of such self-reinvention, but few attempt it. Numerous factors inhibit our ability to be who we really want to be.

Any re-creation of a person's physical body (through weight loss or muscle building, by acquiring various markings, or with surgical procedures) requires considerable effort. Crossing gender boundaries is particularly difficult. But gender is more a social construct than a destiny dictated by biology.

Reinventing ourselves online is simple by comparison. We can adopt any name or handle we like; on systems such as America Online, one person can easily have up to six different identities.

The practice disintegrates when online seeps into real life, however. If you are a woman online and a man in real life, most of your online friends will believe that you have lied to them if they discover the gender of your body. They may accuse you of having malicious intentions. They will almost certainly stop being your friends. But adopting a position of complete honesty won't help; if you tell everyone you're a man in real life, no one will treat you like a woman online.

Being someone else online differs from letting others online assume what they will. If you read an article written by someone named Chris Jones, would you assume the author was a woman? Would it depend on the ideas addressed? If I am M. J. McAdams online and I attempt to be without gender, many people may take it for granted that I am a man. They won't know, but their assumptions may affect how they respond to me.

Is it possible to be neither woman nor man online, but rather a person without gender? It would require as much conscious effort as the maintenance of a gender identity other than your body's. And it may be that our minds, so bound up with our bodies in most aspects of our lives, would give the game away.

If my body is female, --is my mind also female?

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