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StephenT [userpic]

(Meta) Thoughts on genderswap fanfic

21st November 2008 (23:36)
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One of the genres of fanfiction I've read about here on LJ far more than I've ever read examples of is genderswap. It seems to have something of an unfortunate reputation.
 

On the one hand, true, you've (apparently) got some deep and serious feminist critiques of gender role stereotyping and the function of social expectations in the conditioning of behaviour. Or in other words, "How would character X's personality and the attitudes of his/her friends and colleagues change if he/she were a woman/man instead?"

But (so I'm told) the majority of genderswap fic isn't like that. Rather, it's a variant of hurt/comfort. Character X changes sex and is distressed and upset, until their friend - who used to be the same sex but is now the opposite sex - comforts and consoles them and then in the last chapter wields the Healing Power Of Sex to either change them back to normal, or get them to accept their new gender. While that's a perfectly respectable plot for a fanfic story as far as it goes, there's a lurking suspicion that it's simply a device being used by writers who want to get their favourite same-sex UST-couple together without actually getting any of that icky gay stuff over them. (Or, more charitably, because the writer believes that the potential couple are so straight-laced that this is the only conceivable way to get them into bed).

However, it's the hurt part of the hurt/comfort paradigm that I find more controversial. From what I've heard, it seems to be the convention in such stories that the person changing sex finds their new body utterly loathsome and repulsive. They can't bear to look at it, let alone touch it. They think they have become hideous... until, of course, their friend convinces them that actually, they're beautiful. (Or handsome. Whatever.)  Now I certainly wouldn't want to argue that such a reaction could never happen. I don't feel particularly qualified to discuss issues of gender dysphoria, due to lack of knowledge and experience, but I certainly acknowledge its existence... but to counter that, I'd argue that in general, genderswap fic deals with TS issues in the same way that most slashfic deals with gay issues - that is, it doesn't. They're separate genres designed to appeal to different audiences.

Which still leaves me wondering how many of the authors of genderswap fic have the same feelings for their own bodies as they put into the mouths of their characters. (Due to the demographics of fandom, I'm assuming that most genderswap fic is written by women and describes a man turning into a woman.) Even more disturbingly, is this what some writers imagine the opposite sex think of their bodies? That a man turned into a woman (or vice-versa) would automatically react with disgust and loathing of his new shape?

This got me wondering how I'd react myself in such a situation, or how my friends would react. Of course, since this is the real world I imagine my assumption would be that I was hallucinating, or that I'd gone completely mad and lost my grip on reality. So, let's talk instead about a world like the Buffyverse, where magical transformations and curses and spells are practically a weekly occurrence. ("I've turned into a man. Must be Tuesday.") Would those characters react with horror and disgust? Or would they be totally blasé about the whole thing? After all, one of the wonderful things about the Buffyverse is that most of the most extreme crack!fic ideas you can think of are actually canon. Including this one. ('Him' and 'The Killer In Me'.)

To be fair, I do think there'd be a fair amount of negative emotions involved even for the Scoobies. Shock and embarrassment, denial and a desire to hide. Looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger staring back at you must be traumatic and disturbing. And there's the reaction of friends, and work colleagues, and the authorities to negotiate; all stressful stuff. But on the other hand, these are resilient people we're talking about. People who laugh in the face of death. Buffy would certainly find some opportunity to use her new form for a bit of mischievous fun. Willow would be filled with intellectual curiosity, and then get angry at anyone who treated her differently now she was a man. Xander would hide in the bathroom from Buffy and Willow, who would both be longing to dress him up in their clothes and put make-up on him. Anya would try to persuade Xander to experiment with gay sex, and if he refused she'd ask Willow to change him into a woman to match her. Giles would say "oh dear" and clean his glasses. Spike would say "Bloody hell" and find someone to beat up to prove becoming a woman hadn't turned him soft.

And after thinking about it a bit longer, I started thinking about all the other issues they'd encounter, and how they'd cope with them. From the obvious ones like sex and going to the bathroom, to what clothes they'd wear, to how people they passed in the street would look at them. And after a while I realised the only solution to all this speculation would be to write fic about it. And so I did.

It started out going to be a mini-ficlet, and ended up over 13,000 words. :-)  Buffy, of course, was the lucky victim chosen to be genderswapped - it's her show after all. Since I'm a traditionalist at heart, she does indeed get reverted back to her usual sex in the final chapter through the HPOS with a formerly-same-sex close friend. Anybody who's read any of my other fic will have no difficulty guessing who. :-) (Clue: it's not Faith.) I set the fic in early season 7, which gave me the opportunity to write extensive scenes for both Spike and Anya, two characters I haven't written much of before. I even included the first sex scene I've ever written that's het instead of femslash, although since I keep on calling Buffy 'her' throughout the story even when she's male, I didn't avoid that dratted pronoun problem even here. I'll post the first chapter shortly - though having said that, if there's anybody out there who'd be willing to give it a quick beta-read through first, I'd be grateful. Mostly to make sure that Buffy's reactions to things make sense from a character point of view - especially since she's a woman, I'm not, and this is one fic where I think it's really important to get that sort of thing spot on.

Now I've got to restrain myself from writing a director's commentary before I've even posted the fic. I'll probably fail.
 


 

Comments

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:04 (UTC)
Fuffy

Even more disturbingly, is this what some writers imagine the opposite sex think of their bodies? That a man turned into a woman (or vice-versa) would automatically react with disgust and loathing of his new shape?

Clearly, they've never watched the Red Dwarf episode where Rimmer gets breasts and has no hurry getting rid of them.

Xander would hide in the bathroom from Buffy and Willow, who would both be longing to dress him up in their clothes and put make-up on him.

Yes. Yes. Definitely yes.

Buffy, of course, was the lucky victim chosen to be genderswapped - it's her show after all

I was going to point out that at least two of her significant others are less likely to be completely turned off by, shall we say, the sudden presence of an outie where there used to be an innie. Then I read the next bit, but I'm sure it'll be fine anyway. Bring it on!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:41 (UTC)

at least two of her significant others are less likely to be completely turned off by, shall we say, the sudden presence of an outie where there used to be an innie.

Yes, but it's more challenging to write a sex scene where the potential partner actually is put off by the outie - but is willing to, shall we say, work around it for the sake of invoking the HPOS. :-)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:12 (UTC)

I've actually only read one genderswap fic for BtVS and it was Spuffy with Spike changing into a woman (Commence lesbian sex....now!). Honestly, I've never seen genderswap done in a way that interests me, but, then again, I haven't read that many in any fandom.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:43 (UTC)

That's the thing: everybody talks about it but nobody ever does it. (Where "does" = "write").

I can't guarantee my version will interest you either, of course. :-)

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:59 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:07 (UTC)

Posted by: The Anti-OTP (snowpuppies)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:14 (UTC)

This sounds fascinating!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:44 (UTC)

I've been obsessing over it for far too long. :-)

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:27 (UTC)

I dont remember reading any genderswap fic, but it's a very interesting idea - especially with Buffy herself, given that she's so defined by her gender in terms of the way the show's set up (slayers being always female).

What does it mean for her destiny, as well as her relationships, is an interesting one. How would the Watcher's council react...though I guess that would matter more in early seasons. I'd like to see Quentin Traver's reaction :D

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:50 (UTC)
firstslayer

I have to say I've focussed more on the practicalities and day-to-day nitty-gritty than the philosophical implications, although I did address Connor's question to Faith ("Why are you always girls?") in a roundabout and non-comprehensive sort of way. (I think a comprehensive way would also have to include references to healing earth power menstrual lifeforce moon cycles womb magic blah blah.)

I'm not sure if Quentin would be horrified at the breach to tradition, or delighted that finally here was a Slayer who would be sensible and rational instead of flightly and emotional...

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 09:10 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 12:54 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:30 (UTC)

Well, bearing in mind that I am probably the least qualified person to talk about genderswap fics (I've read one, maybe two, but I'm almost certain I quit before the end)...

From what I've heard, it seems to be the convention in such stories that the person changing sex finds their new body utterly loathsome and repulsive.

That's not the impression I had. Maybe I just happened to read out-of-the-ordinary fic, but the genderswappers weren't disgusted by their new bodies. They were male, and found that having their very own breasts to play with whenever they wanted was quite a perk. There was certainly embarrassment at admitting the situation to the Scoobies, because being turned into a girl threatened their manliness (even more so since it's basically slash in disguise, so the swap victim is already defensive about those unmanly gay feelings he has most certainly NOT been having), but the concept and the implications were more upsetting than the body itself.

I've never read a fic with a female turning male, but I would expect a female to have a worse reaction to the actual man's body - partly because girls aren't quite as enamored with boy parts as vice versa - but probably less of a self-confidence issue because I think there's more tendency to call a girly man gay than a manly woman.

I agree with you that most of the Scoobies would probably be up for experimentation (with either same sex or opposite sex partners).

After all, one of the wonderful things about the Buffyverse is that most of the most extreme crack!fic ideas you can think of are actually canon. Including this one. ('Him' and 'The Killer In Me'.)

Haha... true. I think it's probably telling that Willow isn't freaked out about being a guy - she's just freaked out about being that guy. (And why do I feel like your next genderswap fic will be a Willow/Kennedy from that episode? lol)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 00:57 (UTC)
cameron-explaining

You've read more genderswap fics than I have, then. Though maybe my impression that disgust is the common reaction is mistaken or exaggerated, though - I freely admit it's based on hearsay.

having their very own breasts to play with whenever they wanted was quite a perk
Even if they turned into a heterosexual woman? (Or would that be cruel?) :-)

Thanks for the insight into the possible female attitude to acquiring a male body... in the story I kind of went with horrified fascination as Buffy's initial reaction.

your next genderswap fic<.em>

I haven't finished writing this one and you're already planning out the next for me? ;-)

Anyway, now I've done genderswap, and I've also done fpreg, and wing!fic... so my next story would have to be, I don't know, curtain!fic?

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:21 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:36 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:41 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:44 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:17 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:27 (UTC)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 04:03 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 12:56 (UTC)

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 11:50 (UTC)

Posted by: Two legs good, four legs okay (nothorse)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 15:27 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th November 2008 11:10 (UTC)

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 09:12 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 12:58 (UTC)

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 19:45 (UTC)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:30 (UTC)
faith S4 puppy

This ^ = relevant to my interests.

"Impossibly Delightful Flesh" has been the gold standard for a long time. I'm counting on you to raise the bar once again.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 01:43 (UTC)

There's a gold standard?
I'll have to read it. Hope you like my atempt too...

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 02:04 (UTC)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 03:59 (UTC)

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 04:17 (UTC)

Genderswap's never interested me much, possibly because I already know how to pee standing up (you learn useful stuff at Girl Scout camp.)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 07:40 (UTC)

Yeah, I've never really understood why other girls thought that was hard...

(Girl Scouts FTW!)

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 11:48 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:22 (UTC)

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 17:45 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 12:59 (UTC)

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 09:07 (UTC)

There are so many Girl!Xander fics out there, mostly in Spander fics. I'm not fimiliar with Man!Buffy fics, only read one that was Spuffy, but in the same fic Anya and Tara turn into men as well and Xander and Spike turn into women.

I've recently written a gender swap fic with Xander turning into a girl as a curse from Anya after he had ditched her at the altar. To be honest, I can't see Xander being happy about turning into a girl. Someone as insecure would never take it well, which is why I wrote Xander hating the whole thing, never getting used to it.

It depends on the character you're writing... now if it was Spike, he'll take advantage of the whole experience *grins*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:06 (UTC)
xander

I think the best clue to Xander's reaction would be 'The Replacement': he was certainly pretty driven to end the situation, but even then he was capable of relaxing and joking with his non-evil twin once he knew things were being sorted out. Really, I think anyone in such a situation would have mixed feelings; part of them would hate it, part of them would be interested in discovery.

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 14:04 (UTC)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 10:46 (UTC)

Hi Stormwreath.

Just some quick thoughts (because an enormous amount of work is waiting for me, wails)about genderswap fictions:

genderswap stories in fanfiction are probably not very different from these produced in other artistic genres. They also probably can be related to much older traditions of reversal of social values like carnivals where genderswap is currently used as a disguise.

Under the guise of contestation, they present in reality very conservative traits:

- the genderswap is always presented as the disruption of a natural order (think about the use of magic in fanfiction as the cause of the gender swap).

- the genderswap is often treated as comedy and provokes laugh: seeing a woman in the place of a man is laughable, seeing a man in the place of a woman is laughable. So the core message is finally that each gender has to occupy its natural place, they can't exchange them.

- there's an essentialist perception of the identity of men and women. Under their new costume of flesh, the character is still the same woman/man she or he was before the change. The comedic element arise from the confrontation between this essential truth and the new body.

- these fictions generally end with the return of the character to his/ her original state, thus reassuring the reader with a happy ending and comforting the natural order.

Now some genderswap stories will really introduce some element of subversion in this scheme (for example, with the change being permanent, or the character entering a gay relationship... but even in this latter case, social conservatism is not excluded with the characters sticking to traditonnal gender roles) but they are probably not the majority.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:18 (UTC)

Interesting thoughts; thanks for posting them. I definitely see what you mean about the conservatism of the "typical" gewnderswap story. And it reminds me of the criticism of a lot of slash, especially that written by younger women, which is that the male characters react and emote exactly as if they were women in a similar relationship.


seeing a woman in the place of a man is laughable

I think there's a lot about the experience of trying to operate as a member of the opposite sex that would be laughable. Hopefully we've got past the idea that, say, a woman wearing trousers in inherently ludicrous, though...


the character is still the same woman/man she or he was before the change.

That is something I tried to address in my own story, by assuming that male!Buffy still had her memories and experiences of being a woman, but her brain chemistry and hormones had become masculine as well as just the more obvious outward physical traits. Mostly serving to make her even more confused, poor thing. :-)


thus reassuring the reader with a happy ending and comforting the natural order

And making the story conform to canon, at least in my case, because Buffy definitely didn't stay male for the rest of Season 7. :-)

I don't think it's quite right to say that the typical story ends with the natural order being restored and everything going back exactly how it was. Usually the genderswapped person has learned something from their experience that they can carry forward in the rest of their life.

Ususally, of course, it's a realisation that they really do love the same-sex friend who helped them regain their shape with the HPOS, and that they want to continue the relaitonship even now they're both the same sex again... ;-)

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 12:17 (UTC)

I'd link you to a fantastic genderswap fic in which Buffy becomes a man, but you probably wouldn't want to read about her doing that to Spike, so I won't (unless you want me to).

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 13:20 (UTC)

I wouldn't mind having a look at it. I can always close my eyes at the extra-porny parts. :-)

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 16:32 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 23:11 (UTC)

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 22nd November 2008 23:25 (UTC)

Posted by: I write tragedies, not sins (mabus101)
Posted at: 23rd November 2008 20:53 (UTC)

In a hurry...I've been offline a few days, and my friends list goes haywire!

I find this all very amusing...did you read my "Aspects" a few days ago? It's not quite genderswap, but it's close.

I note one aspect that hasn't been discussed here--this is apparently one of a cluster of related "transformation fetishes". Yes, I know, every imaginable kink is out there, but examining how it relates to fandom would be interesting, I suspect.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th November 2008 11:22 (UTC)

I hadn't seen 'Aspects', mostly because I don't often look at the fanfic subforum on 'Buffyworld' (you've not posted it to your journal, have you?). I'll have a look at it.

how it relates to fandom

I can think of a few possible reasons:

1. It's become an accepted sub-genre, and people follow fashion. Certainly a lot of my motivation was "my own take on a subject others have also addressed before".

2. Fantasy (in the genre, not sexual sense) has a strong element of "what if?" People are transformed, or discover new things about themselves, or journey to new lands, or acquire new powers. It's escapism. Fandom just adds its characteristic sexual flavour to everything. It's less "what if I acquired superpowers?" but "How could I use my new superpowers in a sexual way?" :-)

3. For some writers or readers, there may also be an element of being dissatisfied with their own body/gender role/whatever, and so they enjoy reading fiction where they can escape those restrictions in fantasy. Whether that's more or less common in fandom than in the general population is an open question, though I wouldn't be surprised if it were more common here.

Added to the above would be simple intellectual curiosity about such changes. Judging by the comments here, an awful lot of people have wondered what it would be like to be the opposite sex, without them actually disliking being their current sex.


Edited at 2008-11-24 11:23 (UTC)

Posted by: I write tragedies, not sins (mabus101)
Posted at: 24th November 2008 11:43 (UTC)

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