A new virtual reality (VR) experience that allows you to explore a gender different to your own, designed to increase gender dysphoria acceptance, has been created.
Body of Mine is headed up by Los Angeles-based director Cameron Kostopoulos, who was inspired to make it by his experiences with homophobia. The VR experience allows you to view yourself as a human avatar of another gender that you can explore, and plays audio stories about gender dysphoria.
It won a Special Jury Award at South by Southwest 2023 (SXSW23) festival in Austin, Texas. Judges called it a “beautifully crafted virtual reality experience that shows how VR can provide a safe space for understanding, reflection, and connection when a safe space in the real world is hard to find.”
Body of Mine can currently only be experienced at a location the team has physically set up, as it requires the use of five HTC Vive trackers and a VR induction process. With the team having recently surpassed a funding target through Gofundme, there is clearly interest for wider use.
To use Body of Mine, the five trackers are placed on your body while you wear a VR headset, then you make a ‘T’ pose with your body to synch with an avatar. You can then view yourself as the avatar as you look in virtual mirrors inside a human body environment, complete with a beating heart and giant ribcage.
The makers said this environment symbolizes having to live inside a body that does not feel like your own.
As the experience progresses, you touch parts of your virtual body to trigger audio recordings of people telling stories about their gender dysphoria. You’re also led through choreographed moves to further explore your virtual body.
Later, the virtual ribcage environment blossoms into a garden. The makers said this was “a visual metaphor of growing into your own skin and reclaiming your body”.
Body of Mine is an arty, visually-impressive project, but Kostopoulos’s team said that it was designed to have real-life benefits in terms of gender dysphoria understanding. They said it could be used by CIS-gendered people to better understand the feeling, as well as by people who have gender dysphoria but may not feel safe exploring it in the outside world.
“With the rise in attacks against transgender individuals and their rights, we believe that full immersion has the potential for not only powerful empathetic responses from non-queer people, but also profound support for those who are closeted or questioning,” the makers said.
They added: “While a young trans girl in Texas may be kicked out of her home for wearing a dress, within the privacy of a headset, she is able to not only try on a dress, but to explore different bodies, to see the effects of transitioning, and to even try out different names and pronouns”.
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