So on occasion, there's a lot of controversy over gender bending characters- that is, to change the character's sex from male to female or vice versa.
I'm not going to talk about my take on this controversy. At least not in this article.
What I want to talk about is the gender bending as a narrative device! I find it fascinating, if done right.
In all honestly, for me to simply have a women dressed in the costume of a man, acting like that man and/or cracking wise and bucking that man's behavior as part of a gimmick to get people interested in an old franchise or IP isn't of interest to me. This kind of approach to gender bending is, in my opinion, a lost opportunity.
A man and a woman are social creatures as much as they are physical ones. Society's ascription of interpretation to male and female behaviors (and gender identities, etc) are pivotally important to how a child growing up is socialized. To ignore this reality because “it's fiction” when you gender bend a character can be a problem for engagement later on.
Characters don't develop independently of their settings- or at least, they shouldn't. They are products of their environment as much as they are actors shaping that environment back. Therefore, the character's gender is very important in shaping that character, and then in return, that character's gender and how society interprets the character's behavior through those lenses shapes the environment as well. It's almost like a see-saw between the character and the setting, a relationship that should be kept organic and alive at all times. Even when gender bending.
What does that mean regarding a story?
It means that when bending a character's gender, the story should be bent too, to properly fit this character's new profile.
If you're gender bending a newlywed princess that feigns her death to escape public ridicule and execution because she's not a virgin before her first night, and then proceeds to become a mysterious rogue figure of legend in the area, you can't have a prince go through the same steps to become a rogue figure of legend in the area as well. Virginity was never a problem for men, at least in most societies. That part of the story will need to be changed to something of equivalent value that was.
So the idea for gender bending as a narrative device is, I think, a character study and a social study all wrapped up in one. What kind of upbringing and by who would be sufficient for a character to have more or less similar personality traits as the opposite gender? How would society respond to this personality were it manifesting in a man as opposed to a woman, and vice versa? What sort of experiences should be changed to be meaningfully transformative for the opposite gender rather than the original one? Which ones could remain the same?
There is no right or wrong answer (barring, perhaps, the virginity thing…) to these answers. But whatever answers you choose to give, you must have thought about them enough to have a reasoning why you gave them. And that reasoning should be consistent.
That's all it takes to create something new, and yet still faithful to the original concept of a character.
Have you ever gender bent a character? How did you go about doing it?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 12, 2019
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