Gender Bending in RPGs gets a bit of a bad wrap, the horror stories of 40-50 year old over weight bearded men constantly playing the plucky, flirty, slight (dare I say) whorish teenage girls are bad enough. Adding to that though what the internet has done, actions that have led to such things as "There are no females on the internet", and contributing to the staggering amount of people who seem to believe that gays, bis, lesbians, and transgendered do nothing but f--- all day, and really it's not a surprise that Gender Bending has such a bad wrap.
However, like most things, there is a good side to gender bending. A worth while way to do it, and done right it can both be a lot of fun, very relaxing, and dramatically improve your abilities as a player, a GM, and just as a character developer. It's useful enough, that it is one of the the few things i have regularly recommended to players - both male and female - in games I have run when they have been having problems coming up with a character. So, that being said, read on for some of the ins and outs of gender bending in a table top RPG.
Benefits of Gender Bending
I figure I'll start off with some of the good aspects of Gender Bending in an RPG, and right off the bat the biggest thing it has going for it is expanding your horizons as a player. People have a tendency to stay in their comfort zone, only playing one of a few character types. This can lead to stagnation in their play, or an inability to get out of a funk in playing because their brain is bored with what it knows and wants something new, but just isn't capable of escaping that comfort zone. In this instance, and in many others, gender bending is a good first step to breaking the mold. How many of your characters are your gender? If you didn't say "all of them" than this article isn't going to be much news for you, but for the rest of you think about it. You swap the gender, now even with the same back story certain things change a bit, you're a bit more out of your comfort zone even while still being able to keep everything else the same. Combined with some other changes to your norm, and you can end up far outside of that comfort zone, and be able to really try something new.
Along with improving your horizons, gender bending can just make you better at making characters, and through this make you a better GM. Experience in making characters of both genders, and playing them, will only help in other creative endeavors. Need a female NPC for something in your game? Well, luckily for you you have some experience trying to play one, experience from when you could focus entirely on that. The same is obviously true for girls playing guys, and either way the wider the variety of characters you play, the easier making other characters will become for you. Especially when you are GMing and just need to pull a character out of a hat immediately.
The Most Important Thing
Now, there is one really important thing to keep in mind when Gender Bending, and this is for personal safety. But before you try it, make sure that you are comfortable. By this I don't mean in the comfy chair at the table, but I mean that you are comfortable with your group, and you are comfortable with where the game is being played. Nothing is going to turn you off from the character faster than being out on a limb, especially one that many people view as embarrassing, while being uncomfortable. If you don't feel secure with the group, maybe that group isn't the place to try it. Same with the location, if you don't feel comfortable playing a guy or girl because the venue is public, then don't do it.
If you are curious about gender bending (nothing wrong with that either) but don't have a group or venue you feel comfortable. Try online. I can guarantee you that lots of other people are doing it there, and you are safe and secure in the privacy of your own home. Not to mention all the tons of advice you can get while doing it.
It is vitally important you are comfortable with the idea of what you are doing. If your Role Play brain isn't comfortable, oh well that's fine. But if you are not comfortable with the idea, you need to find somewhere safe to do so. Keep yourself comfortable in other ways as well. A lot of people have issues with gender bending because they don't feel right playing someone who is interested in (wo)men when they themselves are a (wo)man. The answer to that is wondrously easy though, if you aren't comfortable with the idea that your character is attracted to men, don't have them be attracted to men. Understand that in doing this you are taking a step back towards the cliche gender bender (for both sides of the equation ladies), but that is secondary to you being comfortable with the character so you can actually getting some benefit out of the whole experience.
Doing It Right
Alright, we both knew this was coming. Especially with the intro this piece has. There is a reason that Gender Bending has a bad reputation, and that reason is that so many people don't do it right.
For guys, well I'm sure I don't have to go into details but many tend to play loose women who are led around by their crotch from bed to bed, sleeping around and otherwise not exactly being the best example of women in the world.
For girls, it can be remarkably similar - which was surprising to me when I realized it - particularly when when playing homosexual men. There is a reason for the statement "Fangirls ruin everything" after all, and it shows up a lot with females depicting males online.
Other problems are just general anatomy issues, and other things that come down to the fact that playing a different gender is just so different. So how do you do it right?
First off, respect your character. I mean it. Treat your character with respect. This is vitally important when just getting started. Sure having fun is all well and good, but treat your character with respect. Play them like you would want to be treated. Don't have them just go sleeping around, don't make them easier than breathing. Treat them with respect, portray them as a full person with wants, needs, fears, and turn offs. Enjoy the character, but treat them with respect. Even if the people around you (online I mean) as being a gender bender, they're more likely to help and respect you when you are treating their gender with respect. So be mature about it, and respect the character.
Secondly, don't be afraid to ask for advice. Again, this is more important in Online RPGs, but odds are there are a few real women or men around on that game, so ask them for advice. Ask if they'd mind playing with you and helping you get things done right. You can't imagine how big of a help this can be, especially when it comes to writing style and word choice for online games and properly conveying the other gender. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there is one right way to play a gender, just that you can do a lot worse than asking someone who is that gender for advice on doing it.
Thats About It
That actually is the biggest stuff to keep in mind when doing it. Oh sure there is a lot of little nuance stuff, but those are different for everyone. You really want to remember to be comfortable with where you are trying it (if table top and unsure, ask the group if they'd mind helping you give it a shot), and to treat the character with respect. These are the two biggest things, aside from that it really is just a matter of developing experience and getting better at taking on different roles inside of your head.
Online wise, it is always a cool thing to hear when people don't believe you are gender bending. It means you are playing the character right and a surprising number of people are good at picking out the benders from the real people.
Like always, the important thing is to have fun with it and just let it flow. Who knows, maybe you'll find a whole new way to enjoy role playing.