Let’s Put the “Gender” Back in Genderbending

Ever noticed how some fanfics write your favorite male characters as girls?

A gender bender, or genderbending, is when an author writes a character as the opposite of the gender that he or she is in canon—that is, the writer changes the character’s physical gender (not gender identity, although that could make for a fascinating fic as well). Relatively few stories use genderbending as a way of exploring transsexuality or the more complex issues of gender identity. Typically, as MadameAce has said in a previous post, genderbending is used to spice up existing romantic pairings between characters.

There are several reasons that authors normally use genderbending. The author might want to see more girls, due to either a lack of existing female characters or the existence of really poorly written female characters. Sometimes if the relationship in the story is (as fanfic tends to be) comprised of two guys, the author genderbends one of the characters so that the pair can more easily have children. But regrettably, in most fics, genderbending reads as a trope where guys (for the most part) are turned into girls and then there is a lot of sex, for reasons. The problem is, if you’re changing something as fundamentally definitive as a character’s physical sex, it shouldn’t be glossed over or used as a gimmick.

This doesn’t mean that the author needs to beat the reader over the head with a baseball bat made of pure morals, but if genderbending is employed in fanfic, there should actually be a point to it. If not, it just reads as an excuse to make a homosexual relationship into a heterosexual one, or a cheap excuse to have lesbian sex. Granted, some people just like writing about heterosexual or lesbian sex, and that’s okay. However, there are cases like “Femslash February”, a Tumblr-based initiative created to celebrate female characters, where people want to use genderbent characters for their stories. If the whole point of Femslash February is to celebrate female characters and female pairings, doesn’t turning canonically male characters into females kind of defeat the purpose of the initiative?

Done correctly, I think genderbending could be a real opportunity for some fascinating, thought-provoking AUs. This could mean either rippling butterfly-effect changes or gigantic social critiques. Just as an example, in one of the many Marvel universes, Tony Stark was born Natasha Stark and, during her escapades as Iron Woman, ended up dating and marrying Captain America. Due to this happening, the Civil War arc of recent comics was completely averted in her universe. As Reed Richards put it, Iron Woman and Captain America were “a deterrent to each others’ more aggressive behavior”.

Also, the whole thing lent more than a little credence to the gigantic unresolved sexual tension thing that Iron Man and Captain America have always had going on.

Basically, if a fanfic trope exists, Marvel has already written it.

Basically, if a fanfic trope exists, Marvel has already written it.

Here are some genderbent ideas I’d love to see (or see more of):

  • Tony Stark (Marvel): Tony does a lot of things that are considered stereotypically masculine—he’s an engineer, he’s “the Merchant of Death”, and he sleeps around a hell of a lot. Would society still perceive him as a rockstar if he were female?
  • Dean Winchester (Supernatural): Dean is stereotypically masculine in that he hunts things for a living, loves classic cars and classic rock, and also sleeps around. But he’s also stereotypically feminine in that the thing he cares about most is, and will always be, his family. He constantly makes a big deal of gender—he calls his brother Sam “a girl”, says that he can’t allow “chick-flick moments”, and disdains talk about feelings as too “girly”. As this attitude is in and of itself a stereotype of hyper-masculine characters, how would Dean realistically act as a female?
  • James Bond (Bond franchise): Bond is the ultimate straight male fantasy, which is enough fodder for a genderbent idea right there, but he’s also James Bond, International Man of Mystery. How much harder would it be for him to keep that up if he were a woman? As he gets older, as he does in Skyfall, how would he deal with aging gracefully (and still managing to sleep with every mark he comes across by delivering the cheesiest lines ever)?
  • The Doctor (Doctor Who): If the Doctor ever regenerated into a woman (or a minority, but let’s not quibble), how much more difficult would that make his time-traveling?

Genderbending is a chance for people to do their own spins on the complex gender constructs in society, so it’s disheartening when authors only use this trope for sex. If you were waiting for the opportune moment, fanficcers… this is it.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Put the “Gender” Back in Genderbending

  1. You know, I think there could be more genderbending in actual canon, like in Adventure Time, where Finn was turned into Fionna, and her episodes ended up being the most popular ones, as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Pingback: Fanfiction Fridays: Ironsides | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  3. I’ve heard that in homophobic countries where even mentioning of LGBT is prohibited by law, people forcedly use gender-bender to turn slash into het and so make their fanfics legal.

  4. Pingback: Frozen‘s Fan Art: A ‘Fixer Upper’? | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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