Genderswap

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Rule 63, Genderswitch, Genderbend, Sexswap, Salad
Related: Genderfuck, Bodyswap, Transfic
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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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. Genderswap is a subset of the more general genderfuck type of fanworks, and stories 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 of these genderswap stories, the character is restored to their original sex by the end, although some stories consciously subvert this trope. Alternatively, some genderswap fic and most genderswap art involves depicting 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 (1978). Despite this, genderswap stories have only become hugely popular in the Internet age, and are much easier to find in fandoms like popslash, Stargate Atlantis, Supernatural and Star Trek reboot than in Classic Star Trek, The Professionals or Blake's 7.

Related Terminology

Genderswap is not the universal fandom term for this trope, and there are a number of terms fans use to describe the trope and its subtropes and related tropes.

  • Genderswap - used for two tropes: 1) in-story sudden (magical or sfnal) gender/sex change and 2) always-a-different-gender
  • Genderbend - sometimes a synonym of genderswap, sometimes a synonym of genderfuck, sometimes refers to miscellaneous gender play not covered by a more specific term
  • Genderfuck - overarching term for fanwork tropes that play with gender
  • Gender Flip - TV Tropes article on recasting characters as a different gender (e.g. Starbuck in the BSG reboot)
  • Gender Bender - TV Tropes article on in-story sudden gender/sex change
  • Rule 63 - general internet term that is sometimes used for the always-a-girl trope. The original Rule 63 has a slightly different meaning. See Urban Dictionary.

Terminology Criticism

The term 'genderswap' itself, as well as the way it most often plays out in fanworks, has been criticised for falsely assuming that both sex and gender are binaries, and for implying that sex and gender necessarily coincide. Various alternatives have been proposed, such as spectrum slide[1]. genderbending has caught on in the 2010s. See this August 2017 discussion, Archived version for more about the history of terms, usage, and some current issues.

While some assert that 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,[2] the term is established for a number of likely reasons, e.g. what some name the conflation of sex and gender in discourse[3] or the better flow of words.[4]

A similar criticism of both the practice and its name doesn't focus as much on the distinction between sex and gender, because sex is seen as just as socially constructed as gender. Rather, it focuses on the particular way bodies and gender are assumed to be related in these kind of stories, highlighting how genderswaps often erase or oversimplify experiences of trans people with their bodies. Cisswap is term often used in this context for genderswaps which assume that having a body that society assigns a different gender to would lead to the character actually being that gender, or that reinforces cissexist norms in some other way.[5]

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[6] — 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.[7] This offshoot of the reboot fandom is popular enough to have launched the LiveJournal community st_genderswap, two months after the movie's release.[8]

Naming and Labeling

These stories are often tagged or labeled with the prefix Girl, such as 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 choices for "girls'" names include canon references if available, like Meredith McKay or Deana Winchester, or standard feminized versions 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 intended to be the same person, not just a child of a different sex born to the same parents.

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 of the Trope

A 2010 comment:

[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. [9]

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".

Notable Genderswap Fanfiction

Sudden change
Title Author Fandom Date Notes
My Fair Jeanne Ruth Gifford Star Trek: TNG 1995 An influential early genderswap story in which Jean-Luc Picard is turned into a woman by Q. Winner in the 1995 ASC Awards Best Next Generation Story category.
BJ Sandburg Gillian The Sentinel 1999 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.
The Same Inside helenish popslash 2000 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.
And Now For Something Completely Different Silvia Kundera Harry Potter 2003 Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione one-shot humor fic. "Harry Potter wakes up as a girl."
Girl Maya Tawi and Viridian5 Weiss Kreuz 2003 An epic 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.
Seven Things That Didn't Happen On Valentine's Day At Hogwarts, Or Maybe They Did Rageprufrock Harry Potter 2004 Marauder's era Sirius/Remus story in which several things happen, and one of them is Sirius getting turned into a girl.
Best Laid Plans Asuka Kureru Naruto 2005 One of many Naruto stories utilising the canon Sexy no Jutsu (an ninja technique for turning into a hot girl) for porn purposes, although there's some debate about whether or not it canonically changes anything or if it's just an illusion. This technique is also popular for mpreg purposes.
Biography of the Cheated Girl sesame seed Mirage of Blaze 2005 A story about the time Naoe, a male centuries old 'possessor' who remembers all his previous reincarnations, was born into a female body.
Tennis no Ojousama scoradh Prince of Tennis 2006 A crack wakes up a girl fic.
Being Ray Kowalski & Anima Isis & J S Cavalcante due South 2007 These fics are companion pieces where the genderswap happens 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.
Right Here Next to Yesterday sageness Stargate Atlantis 2007 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.
Girlfriend Resonant Stargate Atlantis 2008 Rodney has exact zero trauma going male to female to male; Sheppard is the one to have life-changing revelations.
Should've Been My Girlfriend Crysothemis Stargate Atlantis 2009 This fic 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.
The Course of True Love Puckling Merlin 2009 The Old Religion turns Merlin into a woman and he has to sleep with the rightful king to turn back. Dewiniaeth (2008) by claire_debonair is an earlier story with a similar premise.
All I Need Is Next to Me stephanometra Panic! At the Disco 2009 Jon wakes up with his beard, but also breasts and a vagina. He doesn't change back.
Hear Me Out impertinence My Chemical Romance 2009 "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." A serious take on the trope where the characters must deal with transphobia and sexism.
Becoming Female Venus god Harry Potter 2010 Cracky badfic in which a potions accident turns Harry into a vapid Mary Sue named Crystal, leading to Harry/Draco. Technically, the fic deals with sexism, but it does so in an over-the-top ridiculous way that mostly consists of bashing Ron Weasley as a "sexist idiot".
More Lovely and More Temperate Saucery Merlin 2010 Arthur's newly-acquired female body makes him notice Merlin in a totally inappropriate way.
even the wrong words seem to rhyme eleadore One Direction 2013 A complex take on the trope where orgasms make Louis change bodies, therefore he tries not to have them.
Origin Story Worldmaker Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Marvel/Supergirl 2013 Xander Harris loses a bet and dresses as Supergirl for Halloween, changes sex and acquires her powers during Ethan Rayne's spell, and is thrown out of the Buffy universe and into the Marvel universe to stop her powers unbalancing the Buffy universe. The situation is actually even more complicated than that, unravelling what's really going on is an important part of the story. Since the Buffyverse has a canon transformative event in the Halloween episode there are many other stories in which it leads to a sex change, usually involving Xander.


Always a Girl (or Boy)

Always-A-Girl/Always-A-Boy
Title Author Fandom Date Notes
Helpmate subterrain Iron Man 2008 A Tony/Pepper slash story in which Pepper Potts has always been a boy.
A Step to the Left greensilver Merlin 2009 A retelling of the first series with always a girl!Merlin which reveals the typical romance dynamic between first season Merlin and Arthur.
Karma graceandfire Star Trek Reboot 2009 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.
Through the looking-glass tucuxi Naruto 2011 A series that explores what the characters might have been like had they been born female.
Homeward Bound Part One: An Unexpected Journey ISeeFire The Hobbit Reimagining of the first Hobbit film with Bilbo as a girl.
But I'm Not a Soldier idyll Teen Wolf girl!Stiles/Derek story portrays strong female character who stands her ground and takes no shit from anyone.
The Least of All Possible Mistakes rageprufrock Sherlock A Mycroft Holmes/Greg Lestrade story follows main canon plotline but with Lestrade as a female detective inspector. The story features John and Greg's friendship, Sherlock's traumatizing experience on hearing his brother's sex life, and creepy Moriarty.
Taking a Licking C31PO (SirenAlpha) Hockey RPF girl!Claude Giroux/Sidney Crosby story. Back-and-forth shameless chirping between Sid and Claude. The undertone explores a possible hostile environment that a girl may encounter when playing in an all male sport.

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

The Hobbit

  • untitled, by rotenschal, Bofur and female!Bilbo Baggins on ponies in the rain.

Cosplay

A lot of cosplay involves genderswap as cosplayers don't limit themselves to characters of the same sex. Cosplaying a character whose gender is different than one's own is called crossplay. Some differentiate between crossplay and genderswapped cosplay, such as "femme" versions of male characters.[13]

Examples include:

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 (deleted)
  • 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."

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. Spectrum Sliding by Allison "Mu" Jones (NSFW) (Accessed September 23, 2014)
  2. August 26th 2008. Sherrold. why ask why? LiveJournal post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  3. August 27th 2008. See strangerian's and omnivorously's comments to sherrold's post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  4. cf. August 28th 2008 ifyourweremine's comment to sherrold's post. Accessed October 3rd 2008.
  5. August 28th 2015. thedeadflag
  6. 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).
  7. As of July 2010, st_genderswap showed 25,22 and 10 instances of always-a-girl for McCoy, Spock and Chekov respectively.
  8. st_genderswap had over 170 members, as of July 2010.
  9. iambickilometer. META: Five+ Ways Being Transgender in Fandom Really Sucks, and Why I Stick With It Anyway, posted to Dreamwidth 2010-04-07. (Accessed April 9, 2010)
  10. Siilie's art blog.
  11. naadi - WebCite.
  12. ileliberte, WebCite
  13. Gender-swapped Doctors are our new favorite form of Doctor Who cosplay by Charlie Jane Anders at io9, 23 February 2012. (Accessed 07 January 2018.)