A machine to be another?

So I’ve noticed recently a few folks seem to be very impressed by “Gender Swap” an experiment using The Machine To Be Another (a couple of VR headsets with cameras on them – each headset displaying the view recorded by the other).

So I’m gonna say a couple of things about this, firstly; yes, it’s a fascinating idea. Spending a few minutes seeing what it’s like from someone else’s physical viewpoint is way cool. And who knows, looking in a mirror one time and seeing someone of a different race/gender/whatever might trigger empathy in people who were incapable of relating before. And of course it certainly appears to be an inventive way to get intimate with a person you respect and care for (because I’m asexual, I don’t get it myself but if this is the kind of thing you and your sweet want to spend some time doing then you guys rock on <3).


It’s not about swapping gender, it’s about tricking your brain into thinking you’re a different sex – for a few minutes, in a safe environment where you can quickly step out if things aren’t going how you please. Sure you can put your eyeballs in the head of another for a few minutes (and yes, this is really interesting stuff!) but you’re not in that head yourself. You don’t know what it’s like to have had to live with that body.

You haven’t had to experience with how people treat that body. You haven’t felt pressure to change based on the expectations of having that body. The bodies we are born with force us to have experiences which are outside our control. These experiences shape us as people and who we are in our minds is not so easily separated from them. You can put on the headset and look at a mirror, but you have no idea what life the body’s owner will return to when you take the headsets off. Like I say, it’s an interesting idea but it’s important nobody thinks “Oh, so this is what it’s like to be X” because your life is more than what you see – it’s also years of other people seeing you, speaking to you, touching you AND how they do all that. It’s what you see happen to people who are like you and people who are not. It’s your own head thinking for years on end trying to come to terms with all of this. You can’t be someone else without going through this.

I do believe ‘the machine to be another’ could certainly be an aid to help in understanding and relating to others, but I think it’s very important that we’re all clear that both the machine and the experiment are… well, at the very least they are wrongly named. You can’t ‘be’ another by spending a couple of minutes in a safe and controlled space where everything is mutually agreed – that’s not much like life. And you can’t ‘swap genders’ just by looking down and seeing a body that’s sex doesn’t match up with your own gender (I have a lot of experience on this point).


I’m pretty much done so if you want to stop reading now that’s fine, but because I know people will ask otherwise;

To head off any idea that because it’s not swapping gender it might give you insight into being trans; it really cannot. That wouldn’t happen short of putting on the headset, and finding you couldn’t ever take it off again. That everyone treats you like you were always in this mismatched body, that you have complete sensation of the body, and that you don’t have a ‘partner’ you’re sharing the experience with anymore. – and that’s only a slight picture, you probably won’t have had to go through the horror of puberty in that body.

Like I say, you can’t be someone else – You can wear someone else’s shoes but you can’t truly understand unless you also walk everywhere they have been in them.