Genderswap

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Rule 63, Genderswitch, Sexswap, Salad
Related: Genderfuck, Genderbender, Bodyswap, Transfic
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Contents

Genderswap is a fanfiction and fanart trope in which one or more characters switch binary sexes, such as depicting a male character as a cis woman. Genderswap as a term actually covers several different fandom tropes. In fanart, it often it often indicates works in which the fanartist depicts a binary-gendered character as a cis person of a different gender. Genderswap fic is a subset of the more general genderfuck type of fic and can include several different scenarios. In one, a "swap" of the character's sex is usually carried out by some magical or technological device, making the trope popular in sci-fi or fantasy stories. In most genderswap stories, the character is restored to their original sex by the end, although some stories consciously subvert this trope. As in fanart, though, sometimes a genderswap fic involves writing a binary-gendered character as a cis person of a different gender.

Star Trek had a genderswap (actually a bodyswap, too) in canon in the final episode, Turnabout Intruder, and in one of the first collections of professionally distributed fiction, The Procrustean Petard in Star Trek: The New Voyages 2. Despite this, genderswap stories have only become hugely popular in the Internet age; much easier to find in recent fandoms like popslash, Stargate Atlantis, Supernatural and Star Trek reboot than in Classic Star Trek, The Professionals or Blake's 7.

Terminology

While genderswap should correctly be called sexswap, since what is being changed are the visible sex characteristics and the social gender only as a consequence of the physical change[1] , the term is established for a number of likely reasons, e.g. the conflation of sex and gender in discourse [2] or the better flow of words[3].

Further pointing to the fact that the gender is not what has been changed, in the large majority of genderswap stories, the character who has been swapped as part of the plot retains their pronouns in the (generally) third person narrative.

Always been a Girl

A variation on the genderswap trope is "always been a girl" AUs or "Rule 63" fic, where one or more of the canon characters are written as if they have always had a different gender from the one in canon. These stories tend less towards crackfic and more towards seeing what might have changed in a favored character if this one piece of their life had been changed. In fandoms where alternate realities exist in canon, these sorts of AUs seem almost inevitable. However, in the show Sliders, where the entire premise of the show was based on traveling to alternate realities, they only once encountered a sex-swapped version of one of their team. In fandoms such as Supernatural and SGA, where the main action heroes are all men, the use of the trope to write the universe from the point of view of a cisgender woman is popular. Rewriting female characters (such as Teyla) as men is very rare.

With the release of the Star Trek reboot movie in 2009, there has been a surge of interest in genderswap fic in which one, or more, of the characters — almost exclusively male[4] — has always been a different sex from what s/he is in canon. Kirk appears to be the character most often portrayed as female, with McCoy, Spock and Chekov trailing well behind with less than half the number of instances.[5] This offshoot of the reboot fandom is popular enough to have launched the LiveJournal community st_genderswap, two months after the movie's release.[6]

Naming and Labeling

These stories are often tagged or labeled Girl!Jim/Spock or Girl!John/Girl!Rodney. There is some controversy in fandom as to whether a pairing is het or femslash if you've made one or both of a popular slash pairing female, either from birth or from some magical change. If a story involves a temporary change, and gender is therefore not altered, most fans will consider the change to have no bearing on the classification. If a story is an always a girl, or always a boy, opinions vary more widely.

With always a girl genderswap fics, the author is essentially creating a new character, and their new character needs a name. Popular "girls" names for characters rise out of canon, like Meredith McKay or Deana Winchester, or by using a feminized version of the original name, like Johanna or Joan Watson. In some cases, writers simply use the original name, either without explanation or as a nickname or short form of a more standard female-sounding name. Rarely is a totally unrelated name chosen, reinforcing the idea that the swapped character is directly derived from the canon source, not just a child born to the same parents, but of a different sex.

Trans issues

More recent genderswap stories, and genderswap stories in newer fandoms (especially bandom) are more likely to reference, overtly or not, trans issues as part of the genderswap.

Criticism

[T]oo often I will see the author switch into new pronouns to match the new body, or depict the character enthusiastically "trying out" their new body, often sexually. I can tell you for sure, suddenly having the wrong body means CRAZY issues. I can't even look at myself undressed. A new body means learning to use it, first of all, and then all the dysphoria that comes with it, and one thing it isn't going to do is turn its owner on. Long story short, most "genderswap" (which should really be called "sexswap", considering the context the term is most often used in) offends me hugely, and manages to avoid all the opportunities to bring trans issues into the mix. [7]

Genderswap is also commonly criticized for focusing on cissexist and often misogynist stereotypes of perceived gender differences, and for having characters immediately adopt a conservative gender performance without question. For example, men having to learn how to shave their legs when their bodies change, even though they could just as easily choose not to, is a common trope in stories where men's bodies are "switched".

The term 'genderswap' itself, as well as the way it most often plays out in fanworks, has also been criticised for falsely assuming that both sex and gender are binaries, and for implying that sex and gender necessarily coincide. For this reason, others have suggested the term 'spectrum slide' be used instead.[8]

Notable Genderswap stories

  • BJ Sandburg by Gillian (The Sentinel)—Blair switches sexes for a year on his thirtieth birthday. Blair/Jim. Quite unusual at the time, certainly for the fandom, and won over a lot of fans. (1999)
  • The Same Inside by helenish (popslash) An important step; the viewpoint character has fun being female, and delivers non-didactic feminist smackdowns on his teammates when they get gender essentialist on him. The story is famous for not explaining the switch at all. Characters simply 'waking up a girl' became thereafter quite common. (2000)

Switch

  • Girl by Maya Tawi and Viridian5 is an epic Weiss Kreuz story in which Aya turns into a girl mid-fight. Aya's body shifts between male, female and intersex during the story, and he has sexual encounters with both men and women. (2003)
  • Best Laid Plans by Asuka Kureru. One of many Naruto stories utilising the canon Sexy no Jutsu (an ancient ninja technique for turning into a hot girl) for porn purposes. This useful ancient ninja technique is also popular for mpreg purposes. (2005)
  • Being Ray Kowalski by Isis (Due South)—and its companion piece Anima by J S Cavalcante are genderswap via universe-swap; Ray Kowalski and "Rae" Kowalski from an alternate universe switch places and each face difficulties coping with being stuck in an opposite sex version of their own bodies, as well as being stuck in an alternate universe. (2006-07)
  • Right Here Next to Yesterday by sageness (SGA)—a femslash story where Kate Heightmeyer is the inadvertent target of the ubiquitous Ancient device and spends some time in a male body. The story is one of the very rare examples of a woman changed in a story. While the story switches between the terms sex and gender to describe what has changed, the depiction is clearly a sex only alteration. (2007)
  • Girlfriend by Resonant (SGA)—Rodney has exact zero trauma going male to female to male; Sheppard is the one to have life-changing revelations. (2008)
  • Should've Been My Girlfriend by Crysothemis (SGA)—does an unusually good job of showing how it feels to be in the wrong body, and how the chance to have the right person be attracted to you might not be enough to make it worth while; borderline transfic. (2009)
More Lovely and More Temperate girl!Arthur manip by Saucery
More Lovely and More Temperate: The original Arthur
  • The Course of True Love by Puckling (Merlin)—The Old Religion turns Merlin into a woman and he has to sleep with the rightful king to turn back. (2009) Dewiniaeth (2008) by claire_debonair is an earlier story with a similar premise.
  • Hear Me Out by impertinence (MCR). "It's not so much the turning into a girl that's a problem; that's happened before. It's the fact that Frank doesn't turn back." An serious take on the trope where the characters must deal with transphobia and sexism issues. (2009-2010)

Always a Girl (or Boy)

  • A Step to the Left by greensilver (Merlin)—a retelling of the first series with always a girl!Merlin which reveals the typical romance dynamic between first season Merlin and Arthur. (2009)
  • Karma by graceandfire (Star Trek Reboot)—is set in a Mirror Universe where women are second class citizens and Mirror McCoy is just as bad as the rest of the men...until he gets turned into a woman. The context allows McCoy to examine his own assumptions and gender stereo-typing, while helping him realize the women have a degree of resourcefulness and cunning they rely on to survive that he was previously blind to. (2009)

Fanart examples

Fandom: Supernatural. Dean as a girl in Sam Winchester's embrace. Artist: sillie[10]

Harry Potter

Merlin

Pokémon

  • Genderswap: Ash Ketchum by Y-Mangaka, a play on the ability to chose the playable character's gender in the Pokémon video games.

Sherlock Holmes

Star Trek (2009)

Supernatural

Cosplay

A lot of cosplay involves genderswap as cosplayers don't limit themselves to characters of the same sex.

Genderswap Picspam

Part of the trend of recasting picspams, where photos of actors of different races, ethnicities, genders or sex are assembled to "recast" a show.

With the rise of Tumblr, animated gifs as well as still photos can easily be shared between fans. These gifs can be AU gif sets, telling a story, as well as illustrations of genderswapped casting.

Thematic Lists

Other Resources

Tumblrs

  • spngenderswap
  • genderfuck - "dedicated to the art of genderbending. Fanart and cosplay will be posted, with majority of content animanga/video game related."
  • hellyeahgenderswap - "a place for genderswapped casts of films and tv shows."


References

  1. August 26th 2008. Sherrold. why ask why? LiveJournal post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  2. August 27th 2008. See strangerian's and omnivorously's comments to sherrold's post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  3. cf. August 28th 2008 ifyourweremine's comment to sherrold's post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  4. Tags for the LJ st_genderswap community record only one instance each of Uhura, Chapel and Saavik as always male, compared to 49 instances of Kirk as always female (as of July 2010).
  5. As of July 2010, st_genderswap showed 25,22 and 10 instances of always-a-girl for McCoy, Spock and Chekov respectively.
  6. st_genderswap had over 170 members, as of July 2010.
  7. META: Five+ Ways Being Transgender in Fandom Really Sucks, and Why I Stick With It Anyway (Accessed April 9, 2010)
  8. Spectrum Sliding by Allison "Mu" Jones (NSFW) (Accessed September 23, 2014)
  9. ASC Awards Winners - Trek: TNG
  10. Siilie's art blog.
  11. naadi - WebCite.
  12. ileliberte, WebCite
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