2005-03-15 : Cross-gender Play


1) I want to talk about playing cross-gender, if/why we do and what our reasons are. 2) Also, I want to talk about the gender make-up of our gaming groups.

I've numbered your questions for easy answering.

1) I play cross-gender because my characters are (all?) gendered and sometimes women. Not a helpful answer, I know!

How about this: during the setup process of a game, we create (or buy into) a setting, and we situate our characters in it. Gender is automatically a meaningful feature of a character - so choosing a gender is part of the initial situating. I sometimes play cross-gender because sometimes a woman will be more effectively situated in the setting, with regard to the issues I hope to take on.

In real life it's not analytical like that, I mean I don't sit down and weigh out issues and try to construct a situation backward from the issues I decide are most worthy. In real life it's an immediate and instinctive process. I experience it as a kind of taste and distaste, like I'm like, "problematic fathers? yummy!" or "bleah, not incest today, yuck." Following my sense of taste leads me to a character + turning point, sometimes a man sometimes a woman, very occasionally neither until I concentrate.

2) Group one: female female male. Group two: female female male female male. (All players listed alphabetically by first name.)

It may not come up in the conversation but I'd like to make sure everybody's got the vocabulary anyhow: "gender" is social, cultural; it's what people do. "Sex" is biological; it's what people have in their chromosomes. Gender terms include "woman," "man," "masculine" and "feminine," all referring to how people dress and act. "Male" and "female" are sex terms, referring to people's biology.

1. On 2005-03-15, xenopulse said:

1) I'm on Vincent's wavelength here. I play female characters when that presents different issues to explore and different dramatic possibilities. Though I often make that choice consciously. And as an aspiring writer and long-time GM, I have to think about female characters all the time anyway, so I might as well make a couple of my PCs female to explore that further. And I personally think that women are just more interesting than men, probably because I have no first hand experience at being a woman.

2) Well. My first group was completely male, and we played from ages 13 through 21. Starting at age 18 I began playing freeform (or, as I am supposed to call it around Forgies, drama-only) in an environment that was pretty much evenly split and had an active player base of a couple of hundred people (Compuserve's RPGAMES forum). That was an interesting, enlightening and educational experience, to actually roleplay with the other gender, and it certainly changed my view of RPing. That forum has since been closed down, and some of the old players are meeting here and there to play together (one of them created for that purpose). I currently run an Ancient Egypt setting drama-only game there with two female and two male players (plus me as GM).


2. On 2005-03-15, anon. said:

1) I've played Male, Female, Androgynous, bisexual, male and homosexual; female and Lesbian.  I tend to look at the game and what it offers and then decide what biological sex my character will be, and then depending on who I play with and their comfort level, I may explore sexual preferences.

With Certain games and Certain Gamers I will almost always chose to play a Male.  I notice I do this a lot in Convention games, if I'm the only female present and there I am given an option.

Sometimes I play cross gender for a feeling of power, a feeling of belonging or because playing a male seems like the right thing to do.

In Mountain witch, I was the only female player at a convention, and not familiar with anyone at the table, playing a Male Ronin felt safer, I was just one of the guys then.

2) 2 to 4 males and 2 females (two of they guys don't get along so well, and not so much lately due to scheduling conflicts), 2 males and 2 Females (there are actually two variants of this group with a male switching out for a different male, Once every few months),  One Male and 2 females, (about once a week), 5 males, 2 females (every other week)

There are a number of gamers in our area, not all of them get along with each other, but Michael and I can game with most of them.

kat miller


3. On 2005-03-15, Matt Wilson said:

My position on gender and sex in the oughts is such that I play a woman if I want a complex character that's easy to play, and a man if I want a complex character that's a challenge to play. Depends I suppose on personal laziness and how much I want to center the story on the character as statement.

See, I think the whole gender-roles revolution is going much better for women. Women are doing all sorts of previously-associated-with-men stuff, and they're integrating it nicely into this "but I'm still a woman" package. I'm not saying anyone's at the finish line, but compare that with men doing previously-associated-with-women stuff. In fact, think of a goddamn example of it that isn't portrayed as outlandish or hysterical (imagine if Vaughn cried as much as Sydney on Alias, or hell, if he cried at all). I think it'd be cool to see that kind of stuff on TV, and of course it'd be cool to see it in roleplaying games, but you know it's going to be challenging for everyone involved. In fact I'm doubting it's been done much at all.


4. On 2005-03-15, Meguey said:

Kat, I have a very similar experience of determining a character's gender. Occasionally, they come forward gendered, but often they do not, and it's a discovery process. Sometimes, two characters emerge as posiblities, and the decission is based on suitablity to the story. Rarely do I find myself with the foresight to think "Hmm, what issues do I as a player want to address, and what character/gender best allows me to do that?" After the fact, I can look back and see better what I'm exploring.

Interesting point, Matt. I think the other thread about playing romance may also be pointed at opening up 'female' realms to male characters. I've seen bits of it here and there, with a male PC (or TV character) able to be the caring parent figure or nurturing healer figure, etc. I hope that this continues. I would actually argue that male PCs get more of this than TV/movie males, because more players are aware of the need for balance.

I play a woman if I want a complex character that's easy to play, and a man if I want a complex character that's a challenge to play. Wow, this is totally unexpected. Can you expand on this a bit?


5. On 2005-03-15, ScottM said:

1) I play male or female characters near randomly; most campaigns have sidelined "personal stuff" components, so the choice is pretty trivial.  I default to male, because it's easier and I don't have to worry about bad/sterotypical portrayals making me look like a sexist stooge.

Sometimes a concept just comes as a total package; my D&D bard was inspired by Rune, a female singer in a Lackey Book.

2) High school and college groups were completely male.  Since then, the balance has been much better. Wil's group is MMMFF, while the Saturday night group is MMMMMFF.


6. On 2005-03-15, xenopulse said:

I think what Matt is talking about is the fact that in U.S. mainstream culture, women are allowed and expected to be complex, i.e., to have and show emotions but also be able to be strong and intelligent and everything. Men are expected to not show feelings and be anything but feminine. I just recently talked to Lisa about this—she was reading in a pedagogic book written by a teacher that when they ask little kids in class about what men do and don't do, pretty much everything that lands outside the "do" circle is associated with femininity or homosexuality. That's why (sadly) boys these days use "That's gay" as a derogative comment; notice that girls don't usually use that expression. We're trying really hard to get our boys off those kinds of habits.

So, overall, if you play a complex emotional male character, you are playing more against gender norms.

For me, the contrast is not that stark, because I am German, and our culture (especially post-1968) is a little different. I occasionally flirt with men and cried at the end of Madame Butterfly, and that's all acceptable where I'm from (though people often use alcohol to justify such behavior). But there's still a limit to these expectations; I could not run around town holding hands with another man the way women could. Well, not without falling outside the general gender norms and automatically being considered something I am not.

- Christian


7. On 2005-03-15, Matt Wilson said:


Wow, this is totally unexpected. Can you expand on this a bit?

I meant to do so via the rest of my post. Christian has got me covered, though. If you get what he's sayin', it's all good.


8. On 2005-03-15, Tom said:

I'm pretty sure the only time I've ever played a female was when I was playing Emily's Icebreaker game.

Here's why I pretty much exclusively play men:

1.)  I've never really seen a very convincing portrayal of a woman by a guy at any of the gaming tables I've sat down at.

2.)  If I play up the feminine aspects of a character, I feel like I run the risk of being offensive or just stupid.  If I try and smooth that out, there's no appreciable difference between playing a man or a woman so I may as well play a guy.

That second reason is also why I generally play a white guy (assuming human characters).  Wyrd is Bond, with it's emphasis on playing a black gangbanging street wizard made me genuinely uncomfortable.  It's easy enough to be an over-the-top gangsta like the rap videos portray, but it really felt like a modern-day minstrel show.  Eventually we just made up characters and went to town, but there was a little weirdness at the start.

It's a weird contradiction, but there you go.


9. On 2005-03-15, Charles said:

I tend to plAy male characters (I also tend to play thin characters with a reserved and somewhat aristocratic bent), but I have been actively attempting to correct that tendency. I feel like it is laziness to only play the characters I tend to play. I'm not really sure where in the process the character's sex becomes determined. I think it is usually fairly early on, since sex is a huge determiner of other characteristics in almost all game worlds.

My 2 groups are MMMMFF and FFFMM. I've been playing in roughly even mixed groups since I went to college. Before that, I played in a mixed sex group in grades 1-3, and then played almost entirely in exclusively male groups until college.


10. On 2005-03-16, Claire said:

So it seems like for 1) there's a few kinds of reasons:
a) I'm interested in certain stuff, and that stuff has a gender implication
b) What I'm comfortable with myself (aesthetically, socially, culturally, whatever)
c) How I think other people will react (what they think of me, what they do, etc.)

Personally, I give most weight to the first.

And for 2) my group is FFM, and the rest of the games I play are by email, and gender is trickier there.  I play in a game where one guy plays cross gender and people have refused to believe that the player is male because the character is so believably female, and in the sluttish, over-emotional mold, and some people can't believe that a man can play a character like that and make it believable.

Claire /


11. On 2005-03-16, Meguey said:

Ok, Matt, I think get you now. You appear to be using 'complex' to mean something different than I originally understood, specifically, emotionally complex with that being a objectivly observable aspect of the character. By this, I would have to say that most of my earliest characters were non-complex, regardless of gender.

The bits about(predominatly American)culture and society being gender biased etc, I get.


12. On 2005-03-16, Emily Care said:

Tom wrote:
1.) I've never really seen a very convincing portrayal of a woman by a guy at any of the gaming tables I've sat down at.
What a shame. I guess that's probably a common experience, but it still surprises me.  With the sole exception of one male player whose female character spent a (somewhat) inordinate amount of time oiling her nipples, I've never witnessed a player do a bad job of portraying a character of an opposite gender.

Might be the games I'm playing (predominately collaborative, depth-of-world oriented and thematic) or the players I've shared time with (socially and politically transgressive types, many of whom fall into artist stereotypes rather than traditional gamer geek ones).


13. On 2005-03-16, Meguey said:

1.) I've never really seen a very convincing portrayal of a woman by a guy at any of the gaming tables I've sat down at.

And yet that's not a criticism I've ever had in playing hundreds of male characters of all types, nor even a concern, really. Why is that?

Probably it points back to culture, and the overwhelming availability I have to diverse male characters in books, TV, etc. vs. the relatively lesser availablity of female characters to a male gamer. Part of this is clearly about what we read or have read to us as kids: all the Pooh characters except Kanga are male, yet I know all the stories because my mother read them to me. How many men here read as a child or had read to them as a child 'Little Women' and 'Little House on the Prairie' and 'Anne of Green Gables'? And why am I not reading them to my sons? (Ok, the answer to that last one is: we have read Little House, and the others are on the shelf to read this coming winter, when Elliot's old enough to follow them.)


14. On 2005-03-16, Rafial said:

Little Women (check), LHotP (check), missed Anne of Green Gables.  I also much preferred Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys (although Tom Swift beat them both).

My grade school/high school experience was almost exclusively male players, but we included female characters.  Initially, since there were so few of us, and we were playing modules typically written for "5-8 characters of xth level" we all ran stables of characters.  They were basically pawns, and we divvied them up pretty evenly between male and female, but that made no nevermind, because gender was not on the table, everybody was just there to swing a sword/cast a spell.

In late high school when we started doing the 1 player/1 PC thing, I would often play females, sometimes by choice, and several times by GM request, because the other male players wouldn't.

These days I continue to play both genders as the mood takes me.  My decision process as far as I can tell is deciding "which stereotype that fits the agreed upon genre/situation do I want to play today" and then going with the gender that best fits that stereotype.

The most interesting insight I got while thinking about my reply for this thread was that in hindsight, those characters that stand out the most in my memory tend to be majority female.


15. On 2005-03-16, kat miller said:

I've been surprised at People who balk at gender-bending in role-play.  In college I had one DM who who refused to allow any cross gendered characters.  I mean it was ok to play a Dwarven Berzerker but wrong for a guy to play a girl.

I've run a good deal of Everway and again been surprised at how many players feel free to explore gender in that game.

kat miller


16. On 2005-03-17, Jasper Polane said:

I mostly play female characters. Somehow, it seems to "amplify" my characters, if you know what I mean. A swordfighter will be more kick-ass when it's a woman, a wizard more mysterious. Does that make sense? Maybe it's just me, or the way I portray them.

Also, my gaming group is all guys, and the other players mostly play men. When I think of our game as a television show (we're playing PtA at the moment), I think there should be at least one woman in the "cast".



17. On 2005-03-20, Ninja Hunter J said:

I haven't read this thread yet; I want to answer before being influenced by others, but I'm very happy Meg brought this up here.

1) I'm a male player with two characters in very different groups right now. One is an androgyne, but I'm playing him like an 8-year-old boy because the character's primarily comic and I think 8-year-old boys are hilarious. I was never an 8-year-old girl and haven't paid enough attention to their senses of humor to pull it off, but I know it was different than mine.

In the other group, my character is female because:
I get to talk about the Rosie the Riveter feminism of the 1940s (the period in which the game takes place); I get to be sexy in a different way than I, the player am (not that I'm not sexy; I'm just not sexy like a woman. The degree to which you agree with this is, of course, a matter of opinion and taste.); I get to play a character that never gets properly developed in other period pieces; I get to break stereotype by doing what it occurs to me naturally to do, which makes me look like a better RPer than I really am.

In a lot of ways, she's just stuff I'm not, and in some cases, wish I was: she smokes (heavily), drinks (heavily), is tidy, courageous, beautiful, revolutionary, violent, cool. And she can run in heels. In that way, it's like the nerdy, skinny kid playing the Fighter/Barbarian with St20/Dx20. Playing a woman in this context gives me the opportunity to overcome in a heroic fashion the grief the other players deal and I get to define that arena as this interesting social one. If the character was male, it would take a lot of wind out of the character's sails. I'd have to find other, probably less interesting stuff to confront. And there wouldn't be any female characters.

1a) I'm sure this has come up, but in case it hasn't, I'd like to talk a bit about gender orientation in characters vis-???is the player's, and would like to know what makes a player choose that. I've played all over the gender map, though I don't recall ever playing a Lesbian, probably because it seems tawdry for me to play it as a fairly straight man. My straight male characters don't tend to play out their sexuality, probably because it's too close to home, and I'd have to have six bushels of trust to get into that with a krewe. (I'm close with my second group, comically distant with the first, listed below.) I'll typically play whatever will be the most textured. A homosexual man in Mountain Witch gave me this beautifully melancholy love/death warrior/lover thing; A 'female' monosex genetically engineered posthuman who birthed and consumed her own society at will in a sci fi game a while back; a bisexual femme fatale elfin spy in a fantasy game many moons ago. I almost got to play the gunslinger wife of a PC US marshall in a Western game a few months back, but I ended up having to Produce the game instead (the Marshall's player may have been a little uncomfortable with the setup, not sure).

2) My games are: 4 male and a female, playing D&D (don't look at me), PTA, and DitV soon. We used to have one more female and one fewer male; The other group is suspiciously like Vincent's second: three female and two male in which we're all playing cross-gender. We've discussed why that might be and haven't come up with anything. It might be random coincidence. We'll look again a few generations down the line.

And now, to read everyone else' posts that obviate the need for this one.


18. On 2005-03-20, Ninja Hunter J said:

Oh, I played a character for a while whose lover was his hermaphrodite apprentice/child/subject. I don't know what you call that. But it was true love.


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