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The Douchey DM » Advice, Table Politics » Comprehending Cross-Gender Characters

Comprehending Cross-Gender Characters

genderCross-gender role-playing can be a controversial topic at the gaming table. Opinions are as varied as one could imagine and while some gaming groups are very open to cross-gender characters, other groups are flat out against it. So why is something that has been around since role-playing began such a big deal?

Women are partially to blame. The number of female tabletop gamers has been growing for many years and co-ed games can make people uncomfortable with portraying the opposite sex. After I posed the question on Twitter, one man likened it to faking a British accent with a British person at the table. The pressure to “do it right” can take a lot of the fun out of role-playing, even if the other players at the table aren’t judging you. I was very worried about portraying a man “right” the first time I cross-gender role-played, and it showed. It was our third or fourth session before I really hit my stride and stopped second guessing myself before speaking. I’ve seen the same thing happen with men playing female characters. Social pressure can paralyze a person’s creativity and role-playing ability.

Everyone worries about being judged by others, and good communication is the key to insuring that everyone enjoys your game. If you are worried about insulting a person in your game by portraying the opposite sex, warn them ahead of time. Please notice, I didn’t say to ask permission, because only the GM should have the power to veto a character concept. Just give the other player a heads up, and if it’s your first time playing a cross-gender character, maybe ask for some tips. In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you screw up from time to time. If it’s obvious you are really trying to create a cool character most people will be very supportive.

Sadly, there are those people who seem to play cross-gender characters just to make other players uncomfortable. I have seen this happen with players of both genders, but I think it’s more common for women to be upset in this way. Usually, this happens when you are in a gaming group of people that you don’t know well. Now, really insulting a normal, reasonable gamer is harder than you’d think. Playing an unintelligent woman who loves shoes isn’t necessarily insulting to women (or original), but playing an unintelligent woman who trades sexual favors for shoes every time the party stops in town is something else. The difference is that the player is taking a specific action to demean the character in a way that relates to their gender. As a woman, I can forgive someone for playing a little bit of a stereotype. I cannot ignore someone treating a female character as a sausage wallet to satisfy their own sexual or misogynistic fantasies.

If you are uncomfortable in a game talk about it. Ninety-seven percent of gamers are great people who are not setting out to insult you. Usually if you can have a calm conversation they will try to fix things in future games. If you are not comfortable speaking directly to the other player or if the other player doesn’t agree with you, speak with your GM. You are as important as any other player at the table and if someone’s role-playing is making you uncomfortable, it’s important that the situation is fixed. Be logical, non-judgmental, calm, and have the first conversation in private. Nobody likes to have their mistakes pointed out in front of their friends, so having the approaching them in private increases your chances of really being heard. Also, take action immediately when something unacceptable happens at the table. Get in touch with the player or GM after the session or when your group takes a dinner break. If you say nothing, you are setting the precedent that things of that nature are acceptable. It’s sad that some boundaries need to be pointed out, but to be perfectly honest, some gamers need help with social cues and understanding that some actions aren’t ok, even if they fit with their idea of a character. (Sheesh, there I go stereotyping…)

What is the most important thing to remember about playing with cross-gender players? Relax. Don’t try to psychoanalyze them. It doesn’t mean that they are homosexual, have penis/vagina envy, mommy issues, need to get laid, or anything else. Most players just try it as a change of pace or for a new challenge. If you aren’t interested in playing a cross-gender character, fine, but be open minded with those who want to try it. The purpose of gaming is to enjoy ourselves. Some of us do that by playing characters very similar to our real selves, some of us love to try out completely different personalities for a few hours. Whatever your preference, the purpose is for everyone to have fun! It is a game after all.

(This article was originally posted on CharismaBonus.com)

Written by

Kimi GMs and plays tons of different tabletop systems, but her favorites are the Wild Talents, Savage Worlds, Traveller, and Pathfinder. She is a regular host on the Happy Jack's RPG Podcast , and attends conventions throughout California. Kimi is an avid cosplayer and also loves to make music with her folk band, The Merry Wives of Windsor. You can check out GoldenLasso.net to read more of her articles about gaming, costuming, comics, and more.

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5 Responses to "Comprehending Cross-Gender Characters"

  1. JenniferNo Gravatar says:

    I never gave the whole thing much thought for years. I just always played male characters, to the point where my GMs and fellow players took it for granted. My gaming groups also always had guys who played females. So I never thought it would be a big deal for anyone until I started to read gaming blogs.

    I feel very comfortable playing men and remarkably uncomfortable playing women. I identify as genderqueer/bigender and this is one of the reasons why I play men, it just feels right to me. But for the other genderbending players I know, it’s just the challenge of doing something so completely different. We’re having fun in any case (and in one case, our characters have married).

  2. Eric PiersonNo Gravatar says:

    Admittedly this has never come up in conversation, as some players have always just felt more comfortable playing a character of the other gender.

  3. Philo PharynxNo Gravatar says:

    I probably play about 50% male and 50% female. (I play online as well as in 6 different tabletop games so I have a lot of characters going at any time). I can see the issues. As a male player, my first attempts at playing a female character were very poor. Embarassingly so. There were not any women at those games, but I suspect I might have offended some. On the other hand, without those experiences, I don’t think I would have worked to play females better.

    I tend to think that women have a little bit of advantage in playing men because so many books/movies/games/etc. are written from the male viewpoint. Mostly the books, as they can literally be in the mind of the character. I’m not saying it doesn’t take a little work, but it’s a bit of an easier jump. I think this is why women are more sensitive to it.

  4. JuberBerryNo Gravatar says:

    Actually this came up in a recent D&D 3.5 game a friend started to give the current GM a break. We were starting out at a higher level (9-10) and I created a female Halfling Barbarian. This was a divergance for me from my usual Male Gregarious character (Rogue, Bard, Swashbuckler, etc) and as an exercise to build the character the way I want I wrote a 3 page backstory.

    Within 20 minutes of the first game one of the other players said “I’m sorry I just cannot picture your character as female” and others quickly piped up. I despondantly just started refering to my character as “he” and I feel very “ripped off” by the whole thing. Most of these are people I have gamed with only a few years. I have at least one friend at the table who I have gamed with for 15 years and he was fine with me being female as he knows I can pull it off well. I know the GM would be fine with me setting the record straight but I just don’t feel like it. Plus to make the character work as a male – I would have to rework the backstory significantly – and frankly I like the backstory.

    The attitude of the other players has completely put me off the idea and I’m probably going to swap in some other character that I’ll enjoy just as much but will fill the same sort of role as my diminutive, yet freakishly strong “AUUOOOGH”.

  5. TonyNo Gravatar says:

    With our group switching out our Saturday night game to Shadowrun, I decided to play a female character. One of the other guys in the group decided to as well. Then, the two women in our group played female characters. The only male character was our dwarven bear shaman who described himself as having flaming red hair, having found the bear in prison, and going by the name Cub. So, the joke is that the only male in our group is gay. I would like to point out that it was one of the ladies that made the first, ” super deadly for one week a month,” joke.

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