03/08/2011 04:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Safaris, Education and Second Bodies for the Disabled

Her avatar is a blond bombshell. Not that my cousin isn't cute. But her avatar in Second Life is her fantasy self -- the one who is busty, blond, who can fly -- and more importantly perhaps, can walk. My cousin Michele Gardner can't use her legs like the majority of people. Born with cerebral palsy, she mostly uses an electric wheelchair to get around. And living downtown Toronto means she's pretty much within "wheeling" distance to all her needs.

The last time I saw Michele, at Christmas, her avatar in Second Life was the big news. She revealed to the family her secret self, and the fantasy life she lives online -- a life that is now featured in a documentary Second Bodies. Through the film she educated us about her private life in a private screening.

Don't get me wrong: my cousin actually has a real life outside the virtual realm, and spends her time at work as a social worker, and educating her young son. In fact there are many opportunities for the disabled, she has shown me. She went to university and earned a degree. And with the Internet, it's even easier to find universities and colleges catering to special needs. See MBA and the Disabled for a starter guide.

I am personally a fan of Second Life because it allows people to travel "green" without actually having to spend a lot of carbon resources getting somewhere. But while Michele's avatar leads her own adventures on Second Life, according to her Facebook updates, she's having adventurous travels of her own, taking her son to various places around the world. I wouldn't be surprised if she'll announce that she's going on a safari. (For those curious, safaris for the disabled is a whole industry.)

Back to the movie: In the film she has a steamy encounter with her ex-boyfriend (from real life) but she as her avatar and he as his. She didn't mention if her disability eventually came between them in real life, but in the movie "stars" were flying between them in a last encounter where she said goodbye for good.

In the movie, Michele very plainly talks about how she does not consider herself disabled, but that other people do. I can understand her attraction to living in online gaming worlds like Second Life, where you can be anything you want to be.

Second Bodies by Sandra Danilovic is an intimate and semi-autobiographical exploration of the avatar experiences of three women in the online world. The film won a prize at the San Francisco New Media Film Festival, and will be screening at the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto, March 19 on 80 Front Street East. It teaches us a lot about the secret fantasies that women explore in virtual worlds, and it has taught me how much resilience and hidden strength some women possess.

See Second Bodies at the Female Eye Film Festival

Karin Kloosterman is the founder of Green Prophet, the leading source of green tech and enviro news for the Middle East.