WISH 14: Cross-Gender

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Turn of a Friendly Die WISH 14: Cross-Gender: What do you think about cross-gender characters (i.e., men playing female characters and women playing male characters)? What about GMs playing them as NPCs?
I could write on this one all week and not encompass it. I’m sure that there will be many interesting comments. Most of my comments will be as a GM, since that’s where I spend 90% of my efforts.
Let’s get some general observations out of the way first: roleplaying isn’t the easiest thing to do. That’s right, this hobby actually requires some finesse and skill to do a passable job. As time goes on, it may even be that gamers forget that more experience creates a threshold of expectations that can lessen the joy of new players. A word of caution to those who want to see new blood and younger players: give ’em a break if they want to try something they aren’t particularly good at.
One of my chief joys with this hobby is the infinite “what if?” aspect of watching a story develop; often a story that you could never read in print, a story that hasn’t been packaged to an hour of TV, or a particular word-count of the publishing industry. A lot of modern fiction isn’t more entertaining or engrossing than a good RPG session and it ends when the Players say it ends. (But that’s another thread I think.) In short, there is a tremendous treasure in just being able to try something new, to delve into another set of assumptions and viewpoints and spin out a complex story about it. If you can handle the emotional maturity and exposure (in front of friends/strangers) of exploring your own gender, it doesn’t mean you could comfortably try exploring your opposite gender. It makes sense to me that many people are not interested or just can’t do this. Or are interested and do it badly. This is a completely different thing if you try and just can’t do it well. Glory accrues in trying.
I’m in favor of cross-gender play as long as it is done honestly and with a respect for the game texture. In a funny game, or a whacky genre, I’m OK with over-the-top gender play. That being said, I don’t run comedy games. Funny stuff may happen, but the games are serious. So don’t propose a cross-gender character to me, and then not take it seriously. I’ve seen some folks make a mess of character consistency while playing their own gender, age, attitudes . . . so don’t make gaming harder on yourself than you can feel good about during and after.
GMs have to play cross-gender, Players don’t. Try it if you like, understanding that everything will be slightly off-balance, a bit out of kilter, as other Players confuse pronouns, question your identity and motives for playing the opposite sex.
Here’s something I just don’t understand. Turn the question around: GMs don’t have to be good at playing cross-gender, but Players should be before they try?
Everyone will accept that the GM needs to ‘represent’ both genders. It’s just one of the burdens of running the game. For myself, I’m all for it, and I’ve been told that I do it well enough that Players can identify me switching character/gender voices in group scenes. It was after GMing for years that I tried my first female Player Character. I had fun, I liked the character, and it seemed to add much to the game. More than that, I can’t ask.
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