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Gender Bending

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 12, 2019
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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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anonymous?

AmeliaP at 4:11PM, Oct. 15, 2019

My "hippie talk". In some spiritual concepts, like the 7 Hermetic principles, there's a law of the Universe about the genre. The Principle of Gender: “Gender is in everything; Everything has its masculine and feminine principles.” To me, it makes sense. I never understood why people get so uncomfortable with transgenders and gender-bending in stories.

cdmalcolm1 at 1:36AM, Oct. 13, 2019

I have thought about it for the HA universe but for an alternate universe. Using the characters personality as the base but with the gender aspect view. There is a character that I created for the HA Universe that plays a roll as either male or female in it’s true form. However, the writer of the story gets to choose which gender to use per issue. The character in the eyes of other characters In the story only see what gender they want to see. The charters name is “Perception”. That is the character superpower. Other than that, I never have done it before HAU.

hushicho at 6:17PM, Oct. 12, 2019

Genderbending is generally a fantasy element and has been used to add certain elements to a narrative by subverting the sociocultural expectation. Look at any number of Shakespeare's works. There's a huge difference between a genderbent or genderblurred character and a transgender character, and of course a gulf between a character and an actual real person, here in the real world. I don't care much for it most of the time, speaking personally, especially if it's a man being turned into a moe wife sort of character, but I also don't think I really need to complain about that because it's just not for me. The story might or might not appeal to you, but that's something you have to decide. It's not the author's responsibility to examine only what some other person wants them to. That's not the nature of creativity, no matter what purpose you hope to achieve.

mks_monsters at 5:27PM, Oct. 12, 2019

Personally... I'm not into genderbending unless you're presenting it in a respectable way. For instance, I'm all for tastefully introducing a transgender character who is in the process. I mean, representation matter. However, because of the existence of transgender people, I find you can be getting into some touchy territory. It's kind of like how back in the day, being gay was presented as comic relief. You need to be sensitive and do it right.

ChipperChartreuse at 4:51PM, Oct. 12, 2019

Timely and as interesting as it is informative for me, as my story starts a handful of years following my main character moving from female to male in society. Since gender is a societal construct, I tend to show this in my cultural variance within my world build. But, she does conform to 'male' based upon the society she grows up within. The way she must live, the way society works with her is dramatically different. Truth be told, she's in her late teens when my story starts and her gender bending days are waning as she's aging regardless of her sexual orientation which has her partnered with a woman at the time.

ShaRose49 at 8:44AM, Oct. 12, 2019

This was an interesting article. I’m not sure if this counts as gender bending, but in mich later episodes of Sunstrike and Bluemist, there is a new titular duo who are also cousins, but this time the boy is the older and more vivacious one and the girl is the younger, more quiet and cautious one. They’re not identical to the original duo to be sure, but still there are some strong similarities. Making Felix (the boy) was and still is probably the most challenging because he’s very emotional like Kat, but he is male, and I want him to also be somewhat masculine.

bravo1102 at 7:35AM, Oct. 12, 2019

Human gender identity is a spectrum. That's science. Sex roles are usually rigid, they are often a cultural take on biology. Men are sperm carriers and women are child bearers. How that is interpreted can differ greatly. I don't gender bend, I've usually just invented societies with different views on the matter. "What if?" "If this goes on..." are my inspirations. One day sexual reassignment surgery may become an actual sex change down to the internal sexual organs. And what does biology say? It's a spectrum based on environment. Radically change the environment and we could see radical changes that'll bend our gender roles all out of shape.

IronHorseComics at 6:54AM, Oct. 12, 2019

The problem is that people DON'T write it correctly, they mosly do it for one of three reasons: 1. Tee Hee haha this guy's a girl now let's have him go through things we think girls do (and vice versa). 2. To show the superiority of one sex over another (usually girl power and that's where the controversy comes from) or 3. To fetishize it... seriously it's all over DA. Now that being said, when it is done right, like say the Fiona episodes of Adventure Time, it works out pretty well.

Tantz_Aerine at 4:31AM, Oct. 12, 2019

dpat57 oh I agree with you. I only linked to the article because the whole concept was high on the controversy scene. I do intend to have another article with my stance on the actual politics behind the controversy soon.

usedbooks at 4:23AM, Oct. 12, 2019

I agree with oz that the Adventure Time gender swaps are fun and well done. Futurama did an episode with gender swapping in one of the late Comedy Central seasons. (The main and secondary cast were bickering between men and women, so an alien entity took away their genders entirely and then later gave them back wrong.)

usedbooks at 4:11AM, Oct. 12, 2019

I haven't really done this. But I have a non-gendered recurring minor character who is an actor and disguise artist and takes on roles. I haven't done much with them yet, but I really like the concept (I have non-gendered and gender fluid friends).

dpat57 at 2:56AM, Oct. 12, 2019

I realize the Jane Foster/Thor thing is only a small part of your article but I thought that was a terrific story idea -- cancer-ridden Jane given Thor-like powers by that goddamn hammer while real Thor is held prisoner somewhere and is off the board. Jane did the biz, despite knowing every time she changed it was weakening her body further. I didn't want Captain Marvel, I wanted to see Jane's Thor movie.

ozoneocean at 12:36AM, Oct. 12, 2019

It's done badly a lot because people don't understand the social aspect, as you say, or they're just after cheap sensation. It's cool when done right. A really fun version is the gender-swapped stuff in Adventure Time ^_^


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