One of my favorite things to see in the cosplay and fan art worlds is genderbent representations of those faces we all know incredibly well. There are some truly brilliant movies and TV shows out there, but sometimes you can’t help but think how different, cooler, or more relatable a show might be if a character you identify with shared your gender. That’s what is so cool about taking a show or movie and genderbending it, flipping the implications couched in these protagonists’ tales on their heads.
There’s a great deal of imagination and creativity behind genderbending in fandom, fan art, and cosplay, and it can help us identify more strongly with those characters we love. But where does it really come from? Where did we even get the idea to imagine our favorite fandoms with this random character change? While the interest in genderbending can come from a lot of different places, I think gaming had a huge part of making it more widely understood.
How would the Harry Potter franchise be different if it was Harriet Potter, The Girl Who Lived? What if our favorite snow queen from Frozen was Elias rather than Elsa? What if Hanna Solo traveled around the galaxy as the universe’s most infamous smuggler rather than Han Solo? What if Bilbo wasn’t Frodo’s adventerous uncle, but Frodo’s aunt? How would the stories change? How would they stay the same? How would their appearance differ? How would their outfits change? It can be fascinating to imagine how our favorite worlds would change and stay the same if our favorite characters were of a different gender.
The world of roleplaying games — both tabletop and console iterations — allowed us to experience an adventure as someone other than ourselves. In that way, we could imagine ourselves going on adventure as a different gender, race, or even an entirely foreign species. It gave fans a new opportunity to look at an environment and interact with it in an totally different way. It gave us a new perspective.
Gaming gave us an opportunity to play with tons of different options. All too often, the same sort of tropes or stereotypical individuals are pre-ordained as heroes, villains, and victims. But in gaming, it’s up to how you want to build your character, what choices they make, and the world has to react around your ideas. I can play one round of a game with a character that is very similar to me, and then turn around and do something completely crazy different the next time. In games like Fable for instance, you have the opportunity to be morally good, bad, or somewhere in between. Do you want to do your questing in a body similar to your own? Do you want to take the path you yourself would likely take, or do you travel the path you wish you could take in real life? Do you do something entirely out of character from yourself just to give it a shot in a no-consequences situation? It’s entirely up to you, and with a changed perspective so, too, are the outcomes.
That idea of building your own world, imagining your own story line, and bucking expected roles is fascinating and exciting, which is what I think ultimately led fans to imagine their favorite stories flipped on their heads a bit, too. In games, we were given a chance to be creative, to step outside ourselves for a while and create something entirely new. I think those feelings have gone beyond gaming, and stepped into the world of fan creation — especially since technology has evolved to give us access to tons of resources and voices from all over the planet. From cosplay to fan fiction to drawings, fans everywhere can experience the excitement of world building and stepping into the unknown while still hanging on and paying homage to a story and character they love — and they can share it with literally the entire planet. The seed of gender swapping was planted from gaming, but I think it has morphed well beyond a dude playing a game as a girl (or vice versa) to where we’re even imagining well-known characters being portrayed by another gender.
Even better than growing creativity, genderbending allows people to step into roles they may not have had the opportunity to fill otherwise. It can allow us some form of representation in roles wherein we weren’t necessarily intended to be represented. For instance, do you consider yourself the danger? Are you the one who knocks, but you also happen to be a female? A genderbent Walter White cosplay would be the perfect way to jump further into the mind of that character you love and identify with and make it your own a bit. Sure, maybe Walt was written as a man, but you can create a genderbent cosplay to show the world the female version you imagine, or you can write a genderbent fan fiction to explain the entire story with your character changes. What would change in the story? What would it largely stay the same or not? You get to make the calls, and you get to imagine the universe. As a woman myself, I love to see roles famously portrayed by men re-imagined with women, and I love playing around with fan fiction ideas where I gender bend the main characters. It not only stretches my creative muscles, but it can be pretty empowering to place a woman in one of my favorite badass roles famously held by a man.
Humans are inherently creative, and it’s in our nature to question things. That’s why we love games where we can role play as someone just like ourselves, or someone entirely different, and I think that passion morphed into an increased interest in dreaming up cosplay, fanfic, and dream castings for genderbending famous roles. We like to shake things up and try on new identities and roles, we like to create new things, and thanks to the internet its easier than ever to share our thoughts and ideas. Genderbending is a great example of that ± taking characters we love, and representing them in a new way — and I think RPGs were pivotal in opening our eyes to that special brand of creativity and re-imagining of reality.
Have you done any genderbent fan project? Tell us about it in the comments!