“Well, I didn’t know you were called Dennis, did I?”

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 14: Cross-Gender Play

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?

Wow, this could be a long post.
In my ‘regular’ gaming group (by which I mean the dozen or so people with whom I game regularly in one genre or another), there are quite a number of people who (either infrequently or invariably) play cross-gender characters. I’m going to talk about them in turn and my response to them, and contrast them in turn with some of the folks that never play cross-gender (in my experience).
Juli’s probably the poster-child for successful male characterization (see Lysander in the TiHE pages for more info). She almost never plays females (and rarely plays anyone who isn’t a fighter/warrior/athlete of some sort), and although her men tend to be… comfortably in touch with their baser interests, they all come off ‘right’. A little rough around the edges, not much good in a social setting, but ultimately with a heart of gold… maybe a lot like the guys she tends to surround herself with. Her portrayals are honest, visceral, and from the gut: she simply is the guy she’s playing, and while she’s playing them, she whole-heartedly feels the way a guy would feel in that situation — her portrayal is emotional in a large sense. It works. It seems odd to say it, but when Juli’s playing, she’s often playing a large part of herself, which is odd to say of a happily married woman playing beach-bums in chainmail ūüôā
She plays guys so well that one of her characters inspired one of my favorite characters to play: Tye, who is very much in that ‘lopsided grin bright blue eyes’ mold.
Dave H
Dave is all about subtle body language. He’s created… lesse, three four female characters (out of six total?) for one or another of my games, and what I take out of almost all of them is that he puts a lot of effort into the subtleties conveyed visually by a character. His chinese cat-girl looks like a chinese cat-girl, and is quite different, visually, then Della, a sort of slightly-cherubic Beru-with-a-blaster pistol newlywed adventurer he runs for some of our Star Wars stuff. His portrayals are always carefully considered, and the more complicated the scene, the more he thinks about how the character in question would react. This is a very different method than Juli, but it also works, and it’s great fun to catch his little ‘tells’ that he’s planted here and there.
Dave G
Dave’s played a few women either in games I’m running, playing, or both. His portrayals are a great contradiction for me: he’s very comfortable playing something of a ham in these situations, and his female characters are always a little over the top. I don’t necessarily consider them sexist — I guess I’m curious to know if women do, but I think someone would say something if they did — in some ways it’s the same question that’s raised in my mind when I see a woman playing a ‘flaming’ gay man. The contradiction? he’s playing a… almost a parody (but a parody that certainly exists in literature and other media), and I like more honest characterizations, but he plays it so well that I still enjoy it. Does it work? YMMV.
Initially, I didn’t list Margie as one of my cross-gender players. Then I realized that, of the six games I’ve GM’d with her in them, she’s played four male characters. I had to wonder what it meant that I forgot. Upon consideration, I think it comes down to this: each of her characters have certain important characteristics, but none of these key character bits hinge on the sex of the character (understandably, Dave H approaches his character concepts in a similar way). In her case, the sex of the character is merely part of the whole picture.
Riiiiight. Jackie’s obviously not one of the cross-gender players. She plays women because she finds strong female characters interesting. Males aren’t. The reason I mention her here is that her characters do exhibit some of the polarization one sometimes sees in cross-gender characters: professional virgins with no interest in romance, or very sexually aggressive characters.
Well, I’m not going to sit back here and just point fingers at everyone else now, am I?
Me as a player
I’ve only come up with one character that just seemed to ‘need’ to be female. That’s Sarah Parker, aka “Bombshell”, the team-leader and group ‘brick’ for Dave Hill’s super’s game. She’s sort of an amalgamation of Fairchild and Alias (the TV show, not the comic), and as such, there was a certain… sensitivity that I needed in the character that seemed to be female in nature.
I doubt I pulled it off in the flesh. I didn’t do the sorts of female tells that Dave does, I wasn’t ‘in’ the character the way Juli is, and Sarah’s not a vamp, so using Dave G’s technique was right out — I suppose, like Margie’s characters, most of the femininity of the character was in my head. (When you can lift 170 tons, there isn’t a lot of waifishness to portray.)
Also, people just don’t look at me and instinctively use the female pronoun set.
I’d love to write the character. I think she’d be a tremendously interesting and fun protagonist, and I think my wife would like reading her. Who knows?
Mostly, though, I play males, and frankly I think I play them better, so that’s what I lean towards. There you are.
Me, the GM
I think I’m much more successful (not perfectly so, but better) with the female NPCs. I’ve always been happy with Fiona from TiHE (though she was rarely played), and I’m currently pretty happy with Nayda in Prince of Alderaan.
Scene: Nayda has amnesia due to a combination kidnapping/drug overdose. Group has arrived at the apartment of a guy who claims to be a recently-abandoned ex-boyfriend of hers. Stepping into the abode, they are greeted with discarded food wrappers, dirty clothes, and a scent that could only be described as funk.
Nayda: (whispering to others) I know I’ve never been here before.
Keema: I thought you had amnesia.
Nayda: I do, but I know I’ve never been here before. [significant glance around the room]
I think Lori (playing the only female character in the group) finally started to understand Nayda at that point, and I think I started to get a third dimension into the character. Maybe. We’ll see.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had a pivotal female character in a story that I’ve written (I end up playing them much more in RPGA stuff). Maybe my preference for male characters just carries over.
I’d really like to be able to play the virgin/sexpot dryad from Cort’s ACNW game as well as he does… that would be my ultimate goal. I’m not there yet.


  1. Oh sure, talk about everyone else but me and Rey. No, we’re not feeling left out, not one bit…….. hee hee
    I agree with your observations though, although I’ve never seen Dave play his cat-girl

  2. Well, you and Rey don’t really play cross-genders (the only one of yours I know of, I haven’t seen you play, and the only one of Rey’s I’ve seen was on a Mud), and by the end I was getting to lazy to talk about the ‘normal’ players.
    Yeah, you and Rey are the ‘normal’ players. Heh.

  3. Normal? Ummmm OK
    On the other hand, I would love to see Lori play her gay pink paladin idea, or better yet Rey play it.

  4. Oh thweetheart!!! You would love him!!! He’s all noble and everything. Even has proficiency with a purple whip!!
    Hee hee

  5. Eh, normal is boring ūüėČ
    I love the gay pink paladin, and in case you were wondering, the purple whip looks very tasteful next to the pink.
    Hi John!!!!

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