Note: This post is completely "Out of Character".

The day that I have known was coming for three years has come and gone.   I broke the last barrier between my actual self and Gabrielle Riel almost two weeks ago.  No more hiding.  No more veil between us.

My name is Kristin Ried Jensen.

You all actually know me very well.  Probably better than most of the people in my life for the last 15 years, most of whom were coworkers.  Many of you know my real name, and have for years, just as I know many of yours.  And I have met 21 of you in the actual world. Each meeting was an absolute joy!

It was about a year ago that I became aware of Second Life/Actual Life Artist Gracie Kendal and her project about identity in Second Life.  When I read about her project I was struck by how similar her experience was to the one I was having (and had had) in regards to my Avatar and my actual identity.  I'd been dealing with it for several years by then.  Check Gracie's project out, it's really wonderful!

I came to Second Life in April 2006 with my last experience of "online community" having occurred in the Fall of 1987 when I took the required, introductory Computer Science course at college.  I was basically a complete "virtual community" virgin.  I also did not play computer games.  I had never read "Snow Crash" and I had no idea what Steampunk was.

My first Avatar reflected my lack of experience in these areas.  I made her look like me.  After about two weeks it hit me that I could actually play with how my Avatar looked and that I could be as creative as I wanted!  She did not have to look like me!  I was anonymous.  No one could see me.  I could literally become anything I wanted.

It was such a heady realization and incredibly freeing!  I promptly made Gabrielle Riel a petite, green eyed, redhead, because that is the coloring I had always wished I could have.  The name Gabrielle Riel was actually a very deliberate choice, although when I selected it I could have never imagined what that name would come to signify.

Gabrielle was the nickname that I gave myself and that my friends in college used for me when we would go out.  I had basically forgotten about that, until that day I joined Second Life.  When I was faced with that screen, and had to choose a name, there was no question and no hesitation.  It could be nothing but Gabrielle.  As for Riel, all you have to do is to look at my Maiden Name.  Ried.  Riel.

Realizing that I could do and be anything I wanted in Second Life, while remaining anonymous, was earth shattering for me.  I was ballsy from the get-go, buying prime property around Adam Curry's SL parcel and then using it as a negotiating tool to get a job as the SL Party Planner for his RL company at the time.  I still remember doing all that, and feeling like I was watching someone else.  Who on earth was this chick?  Sharp, tactical, business-minded, confident and assertive?  Who was she?

As the months passed, I felt like a bystander as I watched this woman emerge.  Gabrielle Riel.  And she was emerging and becoming "real" in every way imaginable. Personally.  Professionally.  Socially.  Sexually.  Sexually??  Are you kidding me??  It was all so incredibly mind blowing and confusing during my first year as Gabrielle Riel.

I remember the first time I heard someone "DJing" in SL (it was Nuala Maracas of T1 Radio).  When I realized that this woman was speaking live, on air, from...somewhere in the world, I vowed that I would find out how she was doing that and that I would learn it so I could do it too.

I remember how I felt when I found Caledon.  It was within my first month in SL. I have been a fan/student/enthusiast of the 19th Century since I was a child, with a special affinity for the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries.  I have several years of childhood Halloween pictures and a library full of books to prove it.  I was over the moon when I realized that I could dress up in Victorian clothes and live in a Victorian house in a Victorian community ALL THE TIME!

I remember how quiet and reserved I was in Caledon initially. I was!  I swear!  Ask Amber Palowakski!  She was my first neighbor in Caledon.  Our first parcels in Caledon sat right next to each other in Caledon Tamrannoch, the 5th Caledon sim.  There are Caledon 50 sims now.  I remember how utterly terrified I was when I IMd Leosanni Somme to offer to play her Halloween Ball.  I remember how even more terrified I was when I actually played it!

I remember how something that I had intended as a joke to tease someone turned into me losing my cyber virginity.  Oh believe me, that was *so* not planned!  The concept of "cybering" was incredibly distasteful to me and was something in which I had zero interest.  But I am a voracious reader and I had long known how exciting a well-written love scene in a book could be.  I have always loved to write, but I had never written anything...well...naughty!  Suddenly the writer and the actress in me were utterly fascinated with the concept of live, on the fly...interaction.  It was like Adult Choose Your Own Adventure in which you were able to write your own dialog, and it was so much better than just reading static words on a page written by someone else.

I remember how a casual conversation with Desmond Shang about Open Space sims turned into him handing me the virtual keys to Caledon Carntaigh a few months later and saying "You're a Duchess now". A...wha...?  A Duchess?  What the Heck I am supposed to do as a "Duchess"?  Is this a job?  Am I supposed to actually act like a Duchess?  Ok...remember all the books you've read Kristin, and see how that goes.

I remember the day in January 2007 when it felt like lightning hit me and I realized that I could be so much more than a "Second Life DJ" playing Classical music at parties in Caledon.  I could create a radio station. I knew instantly that I had to do it, and within just a few weeks of that realization, people started appearing on my virtual doorstep, asking to work with me.  I have had so many people ask me how I initially found the Radio Riel staff and my answer is always the same: they found ME. "Hi Gabi!  We're here to work for you. Now lead us!" Oh holy crap...why do these people think I know what I am doing?

It was a few months before my first rezday that I realized that I was not playing a role.  That Gabrielle Riel was...me.  She was the parts of me that were done hiding.  Done laying dormant.  Done doing what everyone expected of me.  I knew that Gabrielle Riel was me and that I was her, and that the next few years were going to be about merging all of the parts of me, for real.  What I am saying here is not news to some of you.  Those closest to me have known about this journey from very early on.

Note: I spoke to an untrustworthy person about this "journey" a few years ago. He then told many people, including business contacts, that I had Multiple Personality Disorder. (No it was not Hotspur. He heard it second hand.)  So THIS is where and how that Multiple Personality Disorder rumor got out and about. Nice, huh? Live and learn!

I was not sure how the "merge" would turn out. But I knew that one thing Second Life could do was to remove any and all limitations that you place on yourself.  Why was it that I could be so confident and proactive while remaining anonymous in a virtual world and NOT the be the same way in the actual world?  I had been holding myself back.  We ALL hold ourselves back.  Our issues.  Our fears.  Our excuses.  We do what we think people expect of us.  Funnily...we play roles.  We assume masks with our neighbors, our coworkers, our families. How amazing is it that you can learn to shed the mask as an Avatar, which is another type of mask?

I felt like there was a curtain between me, Kristin and the Avatar Gabrielle Riel.  "I AM GABRIELLE RIEL, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain..."  And that was how I wanted it.  I was much more comfortable hiding than stepping out and into Gabi's shoes.  That started to change as I began to meet Second Life friends in the actual world.  CaleCon 2008 was a huge leap forward in me feeling more and more comfortable "owning" the parts of me that I portrayed in Gabi.

I remember having a RL, in person conversation with an SL friend three years ago during which I was really stressing over certain parts of Gabi and wondering if they were just a total fantasy...or if they were really who I am.  My friend wisely and gently said, "who is behind the keyboard driving these interactions?  It's Kristin."  It took me a few more years before that really sunk in.

There have been more and more milestones along the way that thinned the curtain.  And time thinned it.  I was so careful during those early years as Gabi to be professional, to act how I thought a leader should act.  I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself, except inside of Radio Riel.  I, Kristin, have a wicked crazy temper, and I tried so hard to not let that show in Gabi. Then the 2008 Openspace/Homestead disaster happened, and my temper came roaring out, and basically did not shut up for a year.  I engaged in and initiated all sorts of arguments and confrontations, as I am sure many of you remember.

As rough as that time was, it was necessary.  I was feeling for a balance.  The kick ass and take no prisoners part of me is pure Kristin. I had to figure out how that part of me would fit into "Gabrielle Riel".  It took time, but I feel much more comfortable now portraying that through Gabi, albeit with caution. I have friends that I can go to (ahem Mr. Breitman) when I am on the edge of a rage who are excellent at talking me down from a decision to kill someone. :-D

In addition to this journey being incredibly personal, there was actually another reason that I needed to take it.  Radio Riel.  I knew that as it became more "real" that I would have to be more transparent about my actual identity.  That scared the CRAP out of me initially, but it had to happen.  Honestly, I am amazed at the amount of money that I have run through my Second Life account in 4.5 years with no one knowing who was behind the keyboard!  However, I was obviously ethical and trustworthy.  I built a brand anonymously.  I wonder how often that happens?

The curtain became thinner, more like a veil.  And then two weeks ago I pulled it down completely.  I walked into a room, in RL, full of strangers, smiled and said "Hi, I'm Gabrielle Riel.  Where should I set up for the broadcast?"

They did not know me.  They had never heard of Radio Riel.  Nor Caledon.  They had no idea that I was even in Second Life.  A complete blank slate of an audience, which is exactly what I had 4 years ago those first times I went on air in Caledon.  Pressure?  You bet!  But you all also know me, and you know that I *rock* when the pressure is on.  I knew exactly what I was doing, because I've done it a million times with all of you.  By the end of the evening, they loved me and respected me, and Radio Riel.  I had parity in both worlds.

One of the reasons I initially joined SL was to explore it as a tool for Distance Learning.  How on earth could I have known that it would be the tool that would teach me how to be....me.  The person I was supposed to be that I had kept hidden.  The Real Me.  Kristin Ried = Gabrielle Riel.  Completely.  And it feels so good!

Hi.  My name is Kristin, but you can call me Gabi.



Anonymous said…
Bravo to both Gabi and Kristin. May you be she whom you dream of being in all facets of your life.

GoSpeed said…
Well with that out there I think you're going to be the same awesome person I've known and admired the past few years! You go Gabi!
Rhianon Jameson said…
Pleased to make your acquaintance! :)

One of the aspects of Second Life that makes it different from most if not all role-playing games is the degree of customization allowed - which leads to both personalized avatars and an amazing array of online communities. This, in turn, allows users to experiment in ways they would not dare in person. For some, it's pure escapism, and there's nothing wrong with that. Others find aspects of their personalities that existed all along, but were submerged, difficult to express. I'm thrilled by stories that start, "I never knew I could do X until I did it in Second Life."

May Radio Riel be as successful in the thing we call Real Life as it is in our shared world.
mdme said…
Smiles. Nice to meet you, Kristin. Congratulations!!!
Kembri Tomsen said…
Hi Gabi, it's a pleasure to meet you . . . again.

This is a wonderful commentary on what the Second Life journey can be for each of us. It's freeing to be able to not only be anything physically, but do anything and pursue passions that the 'real world' might not let us do. Why not? Education, funding, geographical location, or bias based on age, gender, or ethnicity. These can all stop us from going for dreams. Second life, if given a chance, can offer so much more than just RP fun.

Your post made me realize how much I've grown in the last three years in directions I never thought to look in before, all because of Second Life. I never thought I'd have a successful business designing as one relative quipped, "Avatar do-dads". They did not understand what I do, but SL allows me to design gorgeous things that I cannot own in the real world for many reasons. It also woke up parts of me I never knew existed. It's been such a fun and wonderful journey!

Thank you for making me think about that, and for sharing your journey.

Well done, Lady Gabi. Well done.
Hey there K/G & a very Happy New Year to you, too.

Just wanted to leave a comment that this explanation of coming to merge RL & SL is the best description of what it feels like that I've ever seen. It is an extremely difficult thing to impart to anyone who's never seen SL- but you did a stellar job of it- excellent writing, btw.
Anywho- I did beta for SL long ago- gained lifetime membership- fell out of it for a while (RL in the way- lol), and now am slowly re-entering. Maybe will see you around sometime~ Candy0

I can understand your transformation, as I have been going through something similar the past five years, but from a TG perspective, becoming Amberlyssa Marie from Jeff Bowers, though it was more an outing of myself from SL to rl. Blessings be upon you as you continue your journey to becoming the whole *YOU*!
Gabrielle Riel said…
Dear Amber -

We've been walking down this road together for almost 5 years. always with each other in some form or fashion.

And I can say that it has been an *honor* to share the journey with you. You are one of the best, most caring, most helpful, most supportive and most loving people that I have ever known in any world.