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Gender Bending in Role-playing Games [Apr. 23rd, 2004|09:49 pm]
Hazel's Topics



Do you genderbend? Know anybody who does? Do they do it well? Do you think that people can’t or shouldn't play a gender they’ve never been?
Anecdote: I was running a game, where a good friend decided to genderbend, and play an 18 year old, gamer, with horrible social skills. The two actual women in the game, had their female characters take him/her shopping. They picked out a dress, and sent her into the dressing room. Just for fun, when he asked how his charachter looked in the dress I said, "Well, you feel fat, the fabric of the dress is too close against your tummy. Oh and your legs are too pale, your breasts look weird, and you're cold." When the two women asked how he/she looked I said, "She looks fabulous." The role-playing that ensued was beautiful.

Original Responses

posted 01/20/02

The following is a bit long. I didn't really mean for it to come out that way, but that's how it came out. Also, I have a somewhat authoritative tone in the text below. I am NOT an authority, expert or other. I'm just this guy.

My Current Group:
1 gay man, always plays gay men
1 lesbian, always plays lesbians
1 lesbian, experiments with gender and orientation
1 straight woman, usually plays straight women (sometimes experiments)
1 straight man, usually plays hedonists (either gender)
1 bisexual man (me), plays anything, but usually GMs
This has been the group I've been role-playing with for the past year, although we all occasionally participate with roleplayers outside that core. Also, I purposefully recruit and nurture talented players, so what gender bending takes place is usually done pretty well. My group is fairly "out there" statistically, so take any advice I may pretend to offer with a grain of salt.

And with that firmly in mind, here is my take on some of the problems to overcome with gender bending.

1. Character Sexuality

Generally, men roleplay women as either The Bitch or The Slut.

The Bitch is a powerful, masculine woman who is beautiful, unforgiving, and uninterested. Oddly, some Bitches have a hidden inner Slut who will (seemingly randomly) warm up to a particular male. The Slut is a powerful, feminine woman who was beautiful, warmly caring, and easy. An interesting possible trend (which I can't confirm) is that in fantasy, Bitches tend to be warriors while Sluts tend to be mages.

What both of these hold in common is that their behavior is defined in terms of how they respond sexually to the desire of others (since both are desirable) rather than in terms of what they, personally, desire. That was a bit confused - instead of saying, "my character likes red hair, beards, and romantic idealism", they say "my character responds to the attraction of others with [any icy stare | gleeful abandon]".

And, of course, there seems to be no middle ground, no "well, I'm kind of interested now, I'll wait and see if he continues to impress me". Just [sex | no sex].

Both sexual "natures" (to abuse a Vampire usage) have a lot of baggage in the form of imagery, personality traits and so on, which make most such characters very similar to each other. And neither is very realistic.

Can this be improved? Certainly. But the effort depends on whether the gender-bending player is actually interested in roleplaying the other gender, or in acting out a fantasy. If the player's goal is fantasy fulfillment, there is unlikely to be any interest in an accurate portrayal; if the goal is a good story, however, there is plenty of motivation.

A male can improve his portrayal of women pretty quickly, actually. Just start by listing some four or five traits she likes in men (or women), two or three "turnoffs", and then pay attention to them. It's a little mechanical, yes, but think of it as training wheels while you reorganize your way of thinking about the character :).

For example, my character Zero (in a campaign a while back) really likes to be in control (of herself and environment) because of an early life in gladiatorial slavery. One result of that is that she is attracted to weaker or softer men. She is also attracted to intelligence, and dependability (yeah, those two are hard to find together). She is turned off by aggressiveness, machismo and large size. Zero herself is seven foot two and built like a brick shithouse (she was built for war), so this makes finding her ideal man a bit difficult, but it was fun. Later on, she got hooked on drugs (accidentally, and due partially to her charming naivete), and broke down some of her control freak tendencies, but her sexual preferences remained pretty much the same.

I have not had much experience with watching women roleplay men, and the few that I have were pretty talented roleplayers in general, so I did not observe whether the sexuality problem extended to women as well.

2. The Other

Giving a strange or different character depth beyond shallow characterizations of the differences can be tough. Humans tend to focus on what is different about a person (skin, clothing style, plumbing) and lose sight of what is the same. So if you think of women as a different species, you won't roleplay those parts of them that are the same as any human.

A fun "exercise" I did once was to have the players roleplay entirely gender-less angels who occasionally possessed humans to get things done. The first several sessions were done in heaven, establishing character politics and goals, and then we began doing possessions. The trick part was that the players had no control over who they possessed (they just looked at souls and guessed at who was likely to be in the Right Place, Right Time), so I could freely swap their genders around. I told them that there was no need to pretend to be the person - normal humans simply reworked their memories to "fit" - so they behaved like their angelic characters, with a few tweaks to behavior due to the situation the character was in. They did very well in both genders.

I guess the lesson is: roleplay a person first, with gender a consideration second.

3. Cliches

Ugh. Why do men and women, when they roleplay the opposite sex, feel the need to indulge in nasty little stereotypes? Women don't constantly complain about broken nails, men don't constantly scratch themselves.

I don't know how to fix this, other than to have something heavy ready to throw when the cliches get thick.

4. Pronouns

It's just plain out hard to remember to say "she" when referring to the female character of a six foot two guy. In my personal experience, this just takes work on everyone's part. If someone is uncomfortable with gender bending, or isn't interested in putting forth the effort, the player is going to be putting up with misplaced pronouns on a continual basis.

I've also noticed that immersion offsets this somewhat - the more immersed, the more correct the pronouns become.

5. Discomfort

Speaking of discomfort, some people simply are NOT comfortable with gender bending. My best advice is for those people to leave groups where it is rampant, or vice versa, that the single gender bender leave a group that is generally uncomfortable with it.

If they are long time friends, it's different. But that's making a stand for your personal feelings with close friends; a particular campaign, however riveting, simply isn't worth the effort.

Thomas Weigel

posted 12/31/01

Let me introduce myself. First I am a 22 year old male presently employed in the military. I am a most avid gamer "foot-ball, pool, bowling, golf, every rpg I could find AD&D, power gamer, vampire, cyberpunk, etc. I also play many board games / strategy games, most card games including magic, pokemon & jihad..And my latest addiction is on-line rpg's which allow for a better fantasy/role-play environment: related to less restrictions on how the other players perceive your character since they can only perceive what is seen on the screen and not the real life face behind it. I also ran a small gaming store for awhile, which allowed for me to enjoy a large variety of gaming. Now that you have an idea of who I am I will move to the topic at hand.

Gender bending in rpg's:: I play several female characters and a couple of male characters. As for do I gender bend well?? I have a hard time judging myself in this but I will say this on the subject. I have a lot of fun playing characters of the opposite gender. I role play to experience things I could never do outside of gaming. I attempt to play my females as true to gender/personality as I am able. This has been a true adventure and a very educational experience helping me to come closer to understanding what is like to be female. No, I do not tell people my true gender for that would cheapen the role- playing experience. I react to flirtation as best as I could judge my character would given her personality or his personality.

One of the most controversial subjects related to gender bending is real life sexuality. When playing a game where your gender is masked, you will associate a male character as a male player, and a female character as a female player, unless told otherwise (or you perceive an other then gender action i.e. female reacts as a stereotypical male would or vise versa). Now add to this the many homophobic players and you have a hot topic that can really bother people. Personally I treat every player as they appear and if they are inadequate role-players I still try to see them as their character i.e. if your playing a female and you’re male, I would rather not know so as to enjoy the role-playing experience. But many do not agree, they assume a male playing a female who flirts with a male character to be bi or homosexual, this can cause a lot of aggression towards female characters played by a male. Personally I can honestly say I am heterosexual a.k.a. straight and yet I play a female and will flirt and play out relations with male characters.

So to all those who switch genders I would like to say have fun and pretend to be whatever sex you want.

Dedicated Gamer,

-52 shadowknight


When I first started gaming (table top), I would alter my gender quite a bit. I was very into the idea of coming up with a completely new and unique character, and trying to develop it, make it become a person, that sort of thing.
This led to an amusing transition when I went to my first Vampire LARP, especially because I was only going for one night to check it out. As I didn't have time to prepare, I decided to just sort of re-write up my pre-existing tabletop character for the night. A male Malkavian with Amnesia and a bad memory...

Well, as you can guess, the best way to play him, was to have no idea where I was, how I got there, and to not have any idea why my body was suddenly female. It led for some interesting role play (starting with hysteria and then going on into the logical side of dealing with what you've been dealt) Had a fun scene in front of a mirror.

The most humorous parts (and saddest, in some respects) was when I was hit on by other male characters (mostly guys who wanted to meet the cute new gamer). I played it all in character - which for "Malachi" meant lot's of discomfort and confusion, as he was particularly asexual in the first place, and he'd never had to deal with sexual advances before...He didn't really know what they were at first (he wasn't stupid, just naive).

Anyhow, This has mostly got me wondering what happened since then? I've been gaming now for 7 years, but in the last 3 years I've always played females (Trolls, and Tskrang perhaps, but female Trolls and Tskrang). Is it because I stopped table topping for 2 years, and only LARPed (in which case you are a little more limited in what you can portray...I mean, even as a man trapped in a woman's body, I had a much easier time in game than other characters... some people can't get past what they can really see...)?

Maybe I just forgot what my options were. Thanks for reminding me, I'm gonna get back into that exploration - perhaps I can even push the flag a little further and play a Trannie ... I play Shadowrun - it's the future, people can get cyber anything there......


posted 11/13/01

A friend of mine made a character for Legends of the Five Rings that I think is very relevant to this page,
as well as the in-game sex topic.
So rather than post it twice, here's a link:

The Story of Kakita Misora

posted 7/9/01

Okay, I'm one of the guys who usually seem to play female characters; my reason is simple, but I have no clue whatsoever whether this is typical of "gender benders" or whether it's just my own little peculiarity. Simply put, my female characters always come out at least reasonably heroic, kind, and friendly, while my male characters all are, in one way or the other, jerks. Maybe that's actually some sort of inherent sexist attitude of sorts, I don't know, like "women are good, men are bad", but trying to objectively decide that myself only makes my head hurt as I think a hundred different ways at once.

Anyway, I do seem to fit nicely with Dana Anthony's observations about homo- and bisexual gender bending characters, because only two of my female characters were 100% straight, whatever that means. [Head hurts again.] My favourite character of all times (and odds this'll ever change are pretty slim) was a female fighter more interested in scholarly pursuits than fighting... and I remember like it was yesterday when, in a gaming session in yet another all-male group, my mind just drifted a little until I caught myself, annoyed by some rather mediocre role-playing, thinking, "Men...". This might mean Dana Anthony is right when she says "My [cross-gender] char is interesting and I've had fun playing [the character] but I almost think it would be easier to really get into it if I pretended to be acutally [of the opposite sex]". It might also mean... I don't know. [Head hurts some more.]

Thomas Pichler

posted 6/25/01

Having played on MUSH's, primarily World of Darkness ones, I have run into a wide variety of people playing PC's opposite of their sex. My experience has found that most people playing the opposite sex are male players with Female PC's. While I have seen some truly interesting ones on occasion, sadly most tend to fall into a stereotype that has come to annoy me more and more. Oddly, most play asian females, nearly all of whom are martial artists never older than their late twenties yet with the skills of someone who should have had to study for /years/ before reaching such a high plateau. Of course, the fact they get approved that way also causes annoyance to the staff who turn a blind eye. Most of them quickly earn a reputation as being willing to sleep with anything, male or female. Which means of course a bout of an STD /might/ change them a little. What's worse is, whereas each MU* usually had only one of these, I'm now seeing multiple PC of the same ilk on the same MU*.

Interestingly, I've never had much problem picking out female PC's played by men. Here's the reason. If you sit and observe a PC for a length of time, how they pose will usually show whether the player is male or female. Most women tend toward longer poses with more subtle included body language. Men playing women will tend to cross their legs, pull their hair out of their eyes or inhale deeply to make their chest stick out.

The scene of RP I found to most clearly demonstrate the difference between a female played woman PC and a male was when my vampire, Embraced on the battlefield of WWI was suffering a flashback. There was a total of one male PC and 3 female PC's there besides my vampire. The male, whose PC was a Mokole or Weredragon and often distracted or not understanding alot of human behavior simply watched, ready to step in if needed. The two female PC's played by women had different reactions. One, who was blind, simply pulled her seeing eye dog closer and kept asking what was going on. The other, a close friend of the vampire, hurried close-did not touch him and began talking to him soothingly to try and calm him. The male player playing the female martial artist PC, sent his PC forward to subdue the vampire, who likely would have frenzied the moment he was touched, until the Female PC talking him down yelled at him to stay back and not touch the vampire. Women constantly tend to have their PC's react as they might in life. When gunfire sounds, they head under the table, while the males run for the sound of the guns. This isn't to say women are cowardly, far from it. But that they would rather take cover and find out what is happening instead of blindly rushing in. I will never forget playing one RPG and my brothers wife joined us. A fight started and we males ran to battle while hers hid behind a rock. Turned out she was the smart one.

Michael May

The First Response

I play in an online game and how you cant tell if people are male or female. Not only do males play female chars and females play male chars... well... some people pretend for real to BE the opposite sex too.

In our game we have lots more of female chars played by male players than we do vice versa. I play a male char as well as some female chars, and so does one other female player and the one female GM plays one male char too but she hardly ever plays him cause she doestn really like to.

Two of the male gms play MOSTLY female chars. The other three male GMS play a few female chars.

My male char is interesting and I've had fun playing him but I almost think it would be easier to really get into it if I pretended to be acutally male... as it is its hard to really take it seriously... I dont know...

The other female player one of her male characters is gay. Many many of the female characters played by males are gay or bisexual. However very few of the male characters played by the male players are gay and hardly any bisexual... its kind of interesting but predictable...

Dana Anthony


From: mcwieg
2004-10-22 08:50 am (UTC)


I'm a 23 year old male and I occasionally gender-bend in gaming. It doesn't bother me in the least and I think it's because I've had lots of GMing experience and you learn to portray a wide variety of people.

Currently I play a female character in a a White Wolf game. The only girl in our gaming group says I do so pretty well.

I think the above definitions of the Bitch and the Slut are spot-on. Curiously, I know a girl gamer who only plays those two character types. Odd, eh?

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: koipond
2004-12-28 07:31 am (UTC)
Gender Bending in an RPG is always an interesting experience.

If done with a group of people who know what they're doing, and I know this makes me sound like some sort of gaming snob, it can be a great experience. Done right it can give a great balance to a group dynamic and through a whole set of wrenches in a whole set of works.

However, if done with a group of people who are full of themselves it can lead to a whole bunch of problems, mostly being any sort of "sexual assault" which can be quite disturbing for a guy playing a female character in a game.

Gyah. I wish I had more time and that it wasn't 2:34 in the morning hear. I could wax poetic on the subject more.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: morgansong
2004-12-28 03:22 pm (UTC)

hee hee

I myself am a "gaming snob" so it's ok...

Come back and expound more whenever. Nothing is chronological here anymore.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lycanine
2011-03-22 09:07 am (UTC)
Okay... in traditional roleplaying it may be fine to play the opposite sex.

But when it comes to forum based roleplaying it's still fine... but here comes the kicker...It is not acceptable to pretend something you are not, when you engage in a sexual roleplay with another human being on instant chat or a forum for that matter unless it is agreed upon.

Call me stupid... but almost every writer associates traits, personality and emotions with their characters. It's one thing for me to be female and pretend my hot vampire female having sex with some hot vamp guy... but it is not okay for me to actively engage other players out there and pretend I am a male just so I can live out my fantasy with another girl.

That is unacceptable in my eyes. Especially when she takes it seriously, only to find I am a female myself. Think how violated she would feel thinking she shared her most intimate thoughts and actions with another woman?

Yes, so before assuming it's okay...its not. Be honest and upfront.

However, sitting a group of people and pretending to be female will not undoubtedly be funny, but hilarious to imagine. I can see that as being fine. It's just not normal when it comes to forum roleplaying or instant chats, because people are still themselves. Its their thoughts, actions and mindset that goes into a story or character.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: morgansong
2011-03-22 11:54 am (UTC)
I completely agree that the gender bending rules for "gaming" are different than they are for sex play. Tabletop gaming is usually played with people you know IRL, so it's doubtful this would ever be an issue. Online gaming makes it easier to hide, but from what my husband tells me MMORPG players don't care so long as you're helping to defeat monsters.

Roleplaying out sexual fantasies should be taken much more seriously. Sure someone might call it a sex game, but it's certainly not something I would call a hobby.

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