Cross-playing? Trans-rolling? Gender exploration?

Hello faithful readers! Welcome back for your weekly dose of Ask the DM.  This week we explore roleplaying gender-bending.  A readers asks:

I’m in a campaign right now with 4 other people, 2 guys and 2 girls. My DM wrote the entire campaign himself, and all of us PCs are siblings in game. The girls play my sisters and the guys play my brothers. Now, in real life I’m a girl, but in game my character, Klypper, is male. He’s the big brother character, who is super overprotective of his siblings. My question is, how do I make it more obvious while roleplaying that my character is male? I mean, everyone knows that Klypper is a guy, but every now and then
while in character they call me “she” or “her”, and it just ruins the
moment completely. Any tips for cross-playing a PC in D&D?


Playing the opposite gender in D&D (or any roleplaying game for that matter), can be a good deal of fun, and also a big challenge.  The webcomic, One Die Short (starring me), touches on this a bit in one of its pages.  One of the players, Rob, mentions the challenge it presents, and for me this is a great reason to cross-play.  Anyone interested in good roleplaying should give it a shot at least once. 

Assuming we acknowledge the fact that, culturally speaking, there are a number of differences between men and women, we need to take this into account in our roleplaying.  At least one person will probably read this and get pissed off about society and gender roles, and that’s fine.  Culture and society certainly impose roles on both men and women, but we still experience them, and they are still real (whether they’re created or not), so we should reflect this in our roleplaying if we want to roleplay well, and realistically.  There’s nothing wrong with playing a feminine male character, or a masculine female, but this negates the challenge it would ordinarily present, and a good roleplayer continues to push their limits.
Latex Darth Vader Dancing
One problem with cross-playing is that it’s easy to do poorly. We have lots of stereotypes regarding the opposite gender in our minds, and when we use those as the basis for our character we just create silly cliches.  Plenty of gamers are guilty of this when playing their own gender.  Lots of guys love playing the ale-swilling, violent but noble protector of honor and women, because they think it epitomizes masculinity.  In reality, if we think about the qualities that go into this stereotype, we’re probably more likely to find them in some tard of  a guy, getting into fights when he’s drunk because someone called him gay, or said his girlfriend was hot.

A stereotype can still  be useful for informing our roleplaying, but when it’s the basis of it, we just create one-dimensional, almost comical characters.    Despite all this, one thing you might be able to do in order to appear more “masculine” is to actually up the testosterone factors of your PC.  There is of course a fine line between useful exaggeration and comical cliches.  One concrete thing you can try is altering your voice a bit.  But again, it needs to be slight.  Trying to do your best impression of a man, will probably sound silly (unless you’re really good at impressions), whereas a slight increase in the depth and force behind your words, won’t sound as unnatural, but everyone will still pick up on it. 

Since you’re the oldest brother, try wielding your position of power a bit.  Tell your “sisters” it’s dinner time, and you’re hungry, so they’d better attend to their womanly duties and bake you a pie.  Or you can go for more subtly.  Don’t be shy about bringing that power out of the game to help reinforce things too.  Tell someone to get you a drink or something.  Really embody your character and his manhood in-game and around the table. 

Another thing that could be helpful is being more aware when you’re describing your character and his actions.  When you’re telling everyone what Klypper is doing, say “he” and “his” as much as you can.  Even if it feels a little excessive, it will help to further drive the point home for everyone. 

Unfortunately, cross-playing is just plain tough.  No matter how good of a job we do, our fellow players are still looking right as us, and if they’re guys, and your a girl, they will notice your womanly assets whether they’re intending to or not.  They will inevitably slip up from time to time and call Klypper “she” no matter how awesome you roleplay.  Short of duct-taping your boobs down and getting a fake-beard, you’ll probably just have to learn to deal with it now and again.

Best of Luck,
Your totally not sexist Dungeon Master

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You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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