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Some time ago I was thinking of a character for a system (which I won't mention, to avoid any bias) who was of the opposite gender. I'm fairly convinced that it's because of the characters background, and the angle I wanted to roleplay from, nothing Freudian (although wondering if it is Freudian, might be Freudian...).

I am more wondering whether my fellow players will think it's "weird," and how I can overcome that.

What are the benefits of, or issues you have seen with cross-gender roleplay? I don't want gender specific tips on actually doing it; those are covered by As a man, how can I roleplay a woman better? and As a girl, how can I roleplay a male character better?

Are people in general comfortable roleplaying with someone who is not playing as their gender? Will my fellow players think that my choices to 'cross dress' are weird and how can I play as a cross gender character without making them uncomfortable? What sort of pitfalls should I try to avoid, not just in terms of RPing better but making sure everyone enjoys themselves?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Crossdressing For Success

I play a character of a different gender than myself about 25% of the time judging from a review of my recent past characters. I think it's a great roleplaying challenge and is a lot of fun. Of course when I GM I run female characters all the time as a routine part of any game session, too.

"It's weird"

Though I've seen occasional forum trolls say that cross-gender RP is "weird," I have yet to meet anyone like that IRL and I've been gaming for 25 years. The majority of folks in the groups I've gamed with generally stick to characters of their own gender, but it's never been an issue for anyone when someone doesn't.

Since GMs have to play characters of another gender routinely, this tends to be an unsupportable premise anyway.

Let's look at the reasons that someone might be uncomfortable with someone else performing crossgender RP.

  1. Those who are so uncomfortable with gender and sexual identity in general that something so minor would cause them to flip out. I think it's fear that your character will make advances to theirs, and that if that happened it "would be really gay."
  2. Those who believe the other sex is weak/corrupt and shouldn't be a character in their group. Needless to say this is even more immature than #1.
  3. Those who complain that it's hard to keep it straight. "He's a guy, I can't think of a woman!" Of course most players don't resemble their characters in any way; they're all robots and bugbears and stuff. So that really makes no sense.
  4. I can't think of a single other reason.

All you can do is feel out your group. I'm not sure how to mitigate any of these concerns without being completely condescending. "Don't worry Joe, this isn't all a dodge to get into your pants?" Frankly I'd just tell them to take a drama class and/or grow up if they're "uncomfortable" with the general idea.

"You're doing it wrong"

What I see a lot more commonly is complaints that "you are playing a man/woman wrong." As in, playing to a stereotype or otherwise in a way the complainant doesn't like.

Of course, the kind of game in which people criticize someone else's character - "you're not playing a dwarf right!" "You're not playing Lawful right!" tend to be reasonably immature, having not moved past a very simplistic view of the world. In my current group, I don't think anyone would have the ill grace to tell someone they aren't "playing their character right."

But perhaps you are doing it so bad as to break their immersion. That's pretty unlikely, as the challenges of RPing authentically are unlikely to hinge on so fine a detail, but reading the As a man, how can I roleplay a woman better? and As a girl, how can I roleplay a male character better? should help you to avoid anything too egregious.

Often times, complaints about authentic portrayals are specious - I know I'd get them a lot, even when I was specifically modeling my character's behavior on a specific incident from one of my female friends' lives! "A woman would never do X!" "Well, my friend Laura did that exact thing, so zip it."

Related are claims about how "sexist" you are playing the character. Frankly, you can do anything and it be interpreted as sexist (including not doing cross-gender RP) so as long as you're not clearly trying to be a punk you may as well ignore this.

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I'll own up to being one of the people who objected to this in the past. There were two primary reasons: 1. I didn't like the places the people I played with "took it", i.e. the cross-gender players lacked maturity in how they addressed it. 2. I generally thought that people (males especially) were HORRIBLE at it. They essentially ended up playing their own gender with the other anatomy. Personally I didn't find that helpful. I suppose you could lump those into section 3, but those were the reason I had personally. –  C. Ross Oct 16 '12 at 16:09
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@CRoss I find most people don't play a lot of things well, elves/dwarves/etc... In our current campaign we have two Oracles that are blind and mute respectively and don't really roleplay being disabled well at all... But as long as we're RPing characters significantly different from ourselves on any vector, we'll have that problem. –  mxyzplk Oct 16 '12 at 18:46

In my experience, it depends on the player if "it's weird" or not. Most people can play PCs of opposite gender without any weird vibes.

However, as soon as there are too many sexual undertones (either from obvious wish fulfillment fantasies or because some internal conflicts are externalized using the player character), other players might react ... less favorably.

Think about why the character you want to play needs to be of opposite gender, and be careful if the reasons are more based of the player's personality than on the character's.

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I can't address people in general, but in my local play group it's not uncommon or viewed as odd. We're a very gender-skewed play group, so a more gender-balanced party necessarily has a few players playing characters of the opposite gender.

A quick survey of the characters my group have played in our campaigns reveals ~64% same-gender, ~36% opposite-gender.

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To leave the religious context of replies behind and to try to answer your question: I have seen cross-gender roleplayers,and the only thing that makes it weird is when the characters act as if they where their own gender, while their character is not. If you want to roleplay a female and you are male, as long as you don't act like a man when you like and use your gender when in need (and vice versa), it's just fine.

The key is to have in mind that you are not an orcish warrior any more, but a graceful elven lady. As long as you your roleplay is consistent, you are fine. Also, as mentioned above, the people that have problems with some one playing a character of the opposite gender have problems of their own.

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"use your gender when in need" // Sounds like majority of (insert gender here) in real life. –  jva Oct 18 '12 at 14:12
    
I get what your point is, but I'd definitely caution against trying to 'not act your real gender' by making sure you have a maximally gender stereotypical character. Playing a caricature in a mixed gender group gets awkward too. –  RSid Oct 22 '12 at 21:17

Benefits

  • It allows a more balanced set of encounters
  • It allows for more varied character options for female players in some settings
  • It is an essential GMing skill

Drawbacks

  • It can be upsetting to certain persons amongst Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who see it violating the Torah, biblical or koranic prohibition on cross-genderism.
    • if play is public, this can cause major issues with non-gamers.
    • even in private play, this can be an issue with spouses or parents of persons in group.
  • It can be hard to remember the big fat guy is playing a small sexy woman and vice versa
    • if play is public, this, too, can cause major issues with non-gamers.
  • It can create great discomfort when it results in sexual storylines
  • Immature players can often be tempted to turn it into
    • Sexual fantasy fulfillment
    • Massive over-play of stereotypes
    • a source of endless jokes
  • Immature GM's can make it brutally unpleasant for even mature players. (same list as for immature players, but it's much worse)

Difficulties

  • Understanding the gender differences without making them into stereotypes
  • remembering that the differences are more than just a few different organs
    • women have subtly different social needs
    • women have significantly different hormonal balance issues
    • women have different physical capacites - while the curves overlap, they are offset with different central bulges and peak performances, but nearly indistinguishable floor performance, and the central bulges are offset by less than 1 standard deviation, in fact, by under half of one...
    • women have very minorly different mental capabilities - minor, measurable, small but not trivial - which tend to be strongly overrepresented in choice of ideal employment and choice of educational field. They are magnified by societal expectations by gender, as well.
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Thanks for laying out your points so well. I'd just like to comment that whilst I know the Quran and Bible prohibit cross-dressing/impersonating the opposite gender, in the context of a game it wouldn't bother me as muslim...I guess that's not the point though. I do see what you mean though. –  Pureferret Dec 10 '11 at 20:25
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@pureferret Generally, most Christians, Jews and Muslims don't see it as rising to the same, but there are some... worse still, it causes confusion for onlookers, if not scandal. Which is part of the religious issue. If not the major part of it... everyone but the gamers. –  aramis Dec 11 '11 at 2:41
    
I have gamed with people of all kinds of faiths, including a number of evangelical Christians, and participated in the Christian Gamers Guild, and at no time has anyone ever before this point brought up this complaint. Have you ever actually know someone to object to this on religious grounds or is that theoretical? –  mxyzplk Dec 13 '11 at 3:50
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Yes, I have. Specifically, one muslim, 3 baptists, and a Qabbalist Rabbi, all complaining about it as non-players; 2 as parents. And had several players complain about allowing gay players playing female characters as indulging their "sinful lusts." (Many complain about how hard it is to remember the large gay chap is playing a 120# priestess of Hecate...) Then again, I live in a state where same gender marriage is constitutionally barred, and our "liberals" are considered rather conservative nationally... –  aramis Dec 13 '11 at 4:30

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