As John Suler suggests in his book, The Psychology of Cyberspace, online gender switching “offers the opportunity for people to experiment with their identity” (n.p.). With this selfie I was trying to make visual how easy it could be to ‘switch’ genders in cyberspace by using selfies. Suler asserts that females may switch their gender online, in order to conduct research, to learn what it takes to be a seductive male (n.p). For this photograph, I had a professional make up artist help me apply some make up to my face to make me look more masculine, I wore male clothing, and I attempted to use a masculine facial expression, channeling what I thought would be manly. This photo, due to my posture and the photo’s angle and lighting could be successful at communicating that I am a male in the online world. The very nature of the selfie allowed me to take many pictures and select the one I thought made me look most masculine. If I had gone out into public in my disguise, I do not think I would have attracted much positive attention, as the make up looked quite ‘clownish’ in real life, however this may have been different had I posted this photo online- perhaps on an online dating profile.
As Suler points out, some women may switch their gender online in order to “experience power that [they have] not been able to experience in real life” (n.p). Rather than feeling powerful however, this selfie evoked a lot of challenging emotions within me. It proved to be much harder to take on the mannerisms, gestures, and posture of a man than I had imagined it to be. Not only did I feel extremely uncomfortable in my costume and make up, I also really did not want to leave the house made up like this. I did not want to be seen out in public as something I do not identify with. This made me think more about what assigned gender means and how important it is for most of us to ‘fit into’ certain prescribed gender categories and how crossing these boundaries would be very complicated. As Suler suggests, gender switching in the online world may be more ‘safe’ than doing it in real life (n.p.) and this experience made this very clear to me. Having a presence online gives a certain sense of security, similar to the security I felt while I was inside the house behind closed doors, while this would have been very different had I actually left the safety of the house- if not in a physical way, at the very least in an emotional way.
*Special thanks and credit to Beth Lomond for helping me with the make up for this photo*