Gender bender

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This article is about human gender. For the hardware component, see Gender changer. For the X-Files episode, see Gender Bender (The X-Files).

A gender bender (or one who genderfucks) is a person who actively rebels against, or "bends," expected gender roles. Gender bending is sometimes a form of social activism undertaken in response to assumptions or over-generalizations about genders. Some gender benders identify with the gender assigned them at birth, but "challenge" the norms of that gender through androgynous behavior and atypical gender roles. Gender benders may also self-identify as trans or genderqueer, feeling that the gender assigned to them at their birth is an inaccurate or incomplete description of themselves. However, many trans people do not consider themselves "gender benders."

Genderbending may be political, stemming from the identity politics movements of the 1950s and 1960s, a guiding principle of which is the idea that the personal is political.[1] In his 1974 article, Genderfuck and Its Delights,[2] Christopher Lonc explained his motivation for performing genderfuck: "I want to criticize and poke fun at the roles of women and of men too. I want to try and show how not-normal I can be. I want to ridicule and destroy the whole cosmology of restrictive sex roles and sexual identification."[3]

The term genderfuck started to appear in written documents in the 1970s. Sheidlower cites the definition of the term gender fuck in L Humphreys' 1972 work Out of the Closets: Sociology of Homosexual Liberation as "a form of extended guerilla theatre". Also quoted is Rolling Stone magazine, Aug 30th: "The new "macho" transvestism, called vulgarly "gender-fuck", a curious satire of female impersonation - dresses, pumps, full make-up and beards - Is represented by, among others, three men in WAC uniforms and big moustaches".[4]

Gender binary[edit]

To "fuck with" gender, one must have an expectation to be able to rebel against. These expectations are socially constructed so that it is only acceptable to have one of two genders; this is known as the gender binary. For one to be seen as belonging in a particular social sex category, one must not only have a particular genital makeup, but it also must be confirmed through appropriate gender and sexual orientation presentations. To this end, those that go against the standard conduct, that is, gays, lesbians, and any of those that bend boundaries, are seen as "less than" or "other".[5]

Gender roles are explained throughout life, based on the sex a person is raised to be. These roles have changed over the years but still when asking children in the U.S., even now, who cooks and cleans and stays at home, most will answer with something similar to "the mommy," and when asked who goes to work, drives the car, and watches or likes sports and they will say something to the effect of, "the daddy." For illustrative purposes, these are masculine gendered characteristics as defined in a study by Princeton University: acts as a leader, aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, competitive, defends own beliefs, dominant, forceful, has leadership abilities, independent, individualistic, makes decisions easily, masculine, self-reliant, self-sufficient, strong-personality, willing to take a stand, and willing to take risks. Feminine gendered characteristics as defined by this same study: affectionate, cheerful, childlike, compassionate, does not use harsh language, eager to soothe hurt feelings, feminine, flatterable, gentle, gullible, loves children, loyal, sensitive to the needs of others, shy, soft-spoken, sympathetic, tender, understanding, warm, and yielding.[6]

Although the manifestations will vary, gender roles have been policed since biblical times: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deut. 22:5). Crossing these lines has been interpreted by some as moral transgressions.[7]

Gender bending in practice[edit]

Often, parody and exaggeration are used to transgress gender roles, usually to expose them as artificial.[8] For example, a person who engages in genderfucking may purposefully exaggerate conventional notions of femininity, or masculinity. Genderfucking can also be achieved through cross-dressing and androgyny, both of which challenge and contribute to dismantling the gender binary by separating expression or performance of gender from perceptions of biological or physiological sex. Thus, genderfucking protests gender essentialism. This concept is protested not only through non-normative appearance, but by challenging normative gender roles, characteristics, or behaviors as well – for example, a female-bodied individual who is purposefully assertive and nondomestic in order to challenge the notion of essential femininity. Genderfucking is based in gender performativity: the concept of gender as a performance. It can be achieved through physical presentation (e.g. clothing, hair, makeup, and secondary sex characteristics), as well as behavior. Because much of gender performance is expressed through clothing, in societies where a gender binary can be observed, there is an established, widespread notion that some clothes are “masculine” and should be worn only by male-bodied individuals, and others are “feminine” and should be worn only by female-bodied individuals. Hawkes, sociologist and author, addresses this “dress code” and the opportunity for a resistance: “The universality of [dress] codes and their meanings allows for the [subversion of] the mainstream ‘messages’ they convey and through this to illuminate the existence of alternative [gender] identities.”[9]

Cross-dressing and androgyny[edit]

Cross-dressing would be a form of genderfucking because the purpose is to "fuck with gender" roles and presentation. Androgyny is not specifically genderfucking, but it can be considered genderfucking if someone is being androgynous on purpose, but is more of a sign of genderfucking since many people who are androgynous may not make a conscious effort to look so.The origin of the word “androgynous” is from the Greek androgynos: “male and female in one; womanish man; common to men and women”.[10]

There have been many famous people who have been accused of cross-dressing and many famous people now who are androgynous. The Rock star, Prince (musician) was very well known for his cross dressing or androgynous look.

Shakespeare used cross dressing in his performances. Over the centuries some readers have posited that Shakespeare's sonnets are autobiographical,[11] and point to them as evidence of his love for a young man. With this said, Shakespeare had characters in his writings that were considered cross-dressers. The four of the five main female characters in his plays were seen as women who cross dress as men or boys; Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It, Viola in Twelfth Night. Genderfucking is seen through many forms of life. One of these forms is Drag.


Conchita Wurst, a bearded drag queen

Drag shows are the performance of gender using music and dress to accomplish a specific look. To accentuate the traditional “feminine and masculine” characteristics that society has decided that makes a person female or male.

"In order to understand the differences and similarities between gay male drag queens and female-bodied and transgender drag kings and bio queens, we consider how the personal gender and sexual identities of drag performers affect and are affected by their gender performances in drag.[12]

A typical drag performer is a person who “impersonates” a member of the opposite sex/gender than their day to day identified gender/sex. The performer dresses to accentuate the gender they are portraying. The makings of a Drag King or a Drag Queen.

A faux drag performer is a person who performs as the gender they identify as in day-to-day life. For instance a female bodied person who performs as a drag queen is a faux queen or the other way around for a faux king.


Literature, in particular erotica, is another method that has been used to explore genderfuck scenarios. The basis of the literary genre of genderfuck is that it's unimportant whether someone is a man or a woman during the sex act. Doris Libetseder points to Carol Queen's short story The Leather Daddy and the Femme, where a lesbian femme uses a strap-on dildo to have sex with a gay leather daddy as a fitting example of the genderfuck genre.[13]

Non-political genderfucking[edit]

Genderfucking is not always a purposeful political standpoint. According to Butler, gender is something that is performed; it only holds cultural significance to the extent that this is ascribed to it. Despite the gender binary roles society imposes, there are many ways for individuals to express gender variation and not all of them are intentionally political radicalism.[14] Further, in 1995 Tamsin Wilton argued that:

Gender-fuck is not intrinsically radical – otherwise gender-benders such as Boy George, Prince, Annie Lennox, David Bowie etc. would not get away with it to the extent that they do. A politically aware gender-fuck – such as that of RuPaul or (to a limited extent) Madonna – gets much closer to radicalism, but it is only by incorporating a critique of gender as an axis of power that playing about with gender signifiers can be more than wickedly entertaining[15]

Judith Butler and gender as performance[edit]

Judith Butler is one of the most well-known theorists regarding the idea that gender is something that is performed by individuals. Her concept of gender performativity is the idea that people choose to perform gender in a context in which we are given very few socially acceptable choices, but can be explained as being similar to what actors do in front of the camera. Due to the importance we place on the belief that men need to act like men and women need to behave like women, it is often believed that gender is an innate attribute and not a social construct. In her article Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, Butler explains that if gender is something that sexed bodies assimilate to in order to follow the societal codes of what is appropriate behavior, then those actions can be conceptualized in different ways to allow more flexibility for individuals. In the same article, she asserts that in U.S. culture, the gender binary and its strict social repercussions against those that act against the "normal" script, this script is policed by harassment, parental pressures to fill expectations, and peer influence. All of which are a way to guarantee that the culture will repeat itself from generation to generation.[14]

Judith Butler's theory about gender roles and their social implications and need for reconstruction is more fully developed in her book, Gender Trouble. She argues that the limited acceptance of variation in gender roles does great harm to individual expression. With the limited options for both men and women, there is little room for their combined forces, because men are constantly focused on becoming the financial supporters of their families which leaves women with the sole option of being the maternal expert she is expected to be. This idea excludes the masculine women or feminine men from being acceptable parental figures for their children because it may lead to a child growing up and conceptualizing the world differently.[14]

Gender and childraising[edit]

According to Susan Witt's recent study, children generally come to their first conclusions about being male or female from their parents since typically they are the first people the child relates to and the nature of the relationship is intense. Besides parents giving children gender specific clothing, toys, and expectations, there are often many subtle messages about what is acceptable or not regarding gender. Witt's study showed that children that grow up with more androgynous gendered parents are more focused on achievements and typically have a better sense of self.[16] Conversely, in cases of gender nonconformity, when a child exhibits gender performances that are atypical of their prescribed gender role, Kerry Robinson reports that a parental figure may respond with hostility.[17] According to the Official Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics, people who do not conform to the gender binary are often subject to abuse from society, from within the family and within their community. Types of abuse range from physical and sexual to psychological abuse and are not associated with homosexuality alone.[18]


Annie Lennox[edit]

Singer-songwriter and political activist Annie Lennox began her career as lead singer with The Tourists in the late 1970s. In The 1980s she fronted synthpop the band Eurythmics but has focused on solo work since the 1990s with the exception of an album and tour with Eurythmics In 1999. The Spin Alternative Record Guide described her in 1995 as "Gender-fuck goddess Annie Lennox."[4]

The Cockettes[edit]

The Cockettes were a psychedelic drag queen troupe, founded in San Francisco In the late 1960s. According to the journal Maledicta in 1987: "Real transvestites and transsexuals are... embarrassed... [by]... The gender-fuck Cockettes and such (in dresses and beards)."[4]

It's Pat[edit]

Pat, a character from the television show Saturday Night Live, served as the basis for the movie It's Pat. The sketches and film feature an androgynous main character, Pat. People are unable to determine Pat's sex, including one male who cannot determine it after having sex with Pat, while stranded on a deserted island.

Rocky Horror Picture Show[edit]

Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the movie, Rocky Horror Picture Show, is a male bodied person but wears lingerie, clothing, and accessories thought to be feminine. The character also wears make-up. In one of the songs featured in the musical Dr. Frank-N-Furter sings, "I'm just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania."

New York Dolls[edit]

The New York Dolls are a rock band who formed in 1971 and had a protopunk sound. they broke up in 1977 but reformed in 2004. Their genderfuck is generally viewed to be quite subtle.[4]


The American singer-songwriter and artist Phranc began her career in 1978 with punk band Nervous Gender. In 1985 Village Voice wrote: "Part of Phranc's appeal is the genderfuck of her sweet feminine voice coming from such a masculine frame."[4] She later worked with queercore band Team Dresch.

Boy George[edit]

Boy George a highly androgynous musician, and was part of the English New Romanticism movement which emerged in the early 1980s. He famously stated, "I can do anything. In GQ, I appeared as a man."


Prince (musician)[19]

Marilyn Manson[edit]

Marilyn Manson

Grace Jones[edit]

Grace Jones

Lady Gaga[edit]

Lady Gaga is very specific in what she wears and even states that, "But in a sense, I portray myself in a very androgynous way, and I love androgyny."[20]

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence[edit]

The charity, protest and street performance organization Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was formed by gay men in 1979, originally using nuns' attire and high camp to draw attention to social conflicts in the Castro, San Francisco. Currently they fundraise for AIDS and other LGBT causes and promote and educate on safer sex issues. The Cambridge Guide to American Theater identified them as one of the "more anarchic uses of "gender-fuck"... [which]... "parodied traditional drag".[21]


WisCon, the world's oldest and foremost feminist science fiction convention, sponsors an annual "Genderfloomp" dance to "seek to explore and expand our concepts of gender via dance party. Gender play/blurring/queering/drag, both in dress and manner, is highly encouraged but hardly required".[22]

In fiction[edit]

In fiction, the term gender bender may refer not only to characters modeled after real-life gender benders, but also to characters who undergo changes in their physical sex – magically or otherwise – throughout the story. A work of art which challenges gender roles or features gender bending may itself be referred to as a "gender bender."

  • The light novel, anime and manga series Kampfer, features a main character who switches from male to female by a magical bracelet.
  • In Orlando: A Biography, an influential novel by Virginia Woolf published in 1928, the protagonist lives three hundred years and in the middle transforms from a man into a woman.
  • A historical and well-studied example of "gender bending" in English narrative is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
  • The manga and anime series Ranma ½, features a main character who regularly switches from male to female due to a magic curse.
  • The manga and anime series Soul Eater, many of the main characters go into a magical book with each chapter being one of the seven deadly sins. In "Lust" each person is "gender bended" to test their temptation of the opposite sex.
  • In the anime version of Sailor Moon, the Sailor Starlights are able to change their gender, being male in their civilian form and female in their senshi form.
  • In the novel The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, characters have neutral sex for most of their lives, but take on either male or female characteristics when in heat (kemmering).
  • In Neil Gaiman's comic, The Sandman, the character Desire is gender-fluid, and can become male, female, both, or neither, depending on the situation.
  • Early examples of cross-dressing in films include A Florida Enchantment (1914) directed by and starring Sidney Drew and Mabel's Blunder (1914) directed by and starring Mabel Normand.
  • The X-files episode Gender Bender, features a series of identical, sexually-oriented murders, where the killer appears to be both male and female, changing gender after experience of intercourse.
  • The film Zerophilia is a romantic comedy about a young man who discovers he has a genetic condition that causes him to change gender when he's aroused.
  • In Futurama, in the eighth episode of the second season, Bender wears a pink tutu with a shirt that says "THE GENDER BENDER".


  1. ^ Elisa Glick. Sex Positive: Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Politics of Transgression. Feminist Review, No. 64, Feminism 2000: One Step beyond?. (Spring, 2000), pp. 19–45.
  2. ^ Christopher Lonc. Genderfuck and Its Delights. Gay Sunshine 21 (Spring 1974).
  3. ^ Quoted in Bergman, David (1993). Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-87023-878-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Sheidlower, Jesse (2009). The F-Word. Oxford University Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 0199751552. 
  5. ^ Card, C. "Adventures in Lesbian Philosophy". Google Books. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Prentice, D; Carranza, E. "What Women And Men Should Be, Shouldn't Be, Are Allowed To Be, And Don't Have To Be: The Contents of Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes". Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  7. ^ Garber, M. "Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety". Google Books. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Wilkinson, Sue and Celia Kitzinger (1996). "The Queer Backlash". In Bell, Diane; Renate Klein (eds) (1996). Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed. London: Zed Books. pp. 375–382.  Quoted in Weedon, Chris (1999). Feminism, Theory, and the Politics of Difference. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. pp. 74–75. ISBN 0-631-19824-5. 
  9. ^ Hawkes, G. (1995). "Dressing-up – cross-dressing and sexual dissonance". Journal of Gender Studies 4(3): 261–270.
  10. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary: androgynous". Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Lee 1900, 55
  12. ^ Rupp, Leila; Taylor, Verta and Shapiro, Eve (June 8, 2010). "Drag Queens and Drag Kings: The Difference Gender Makes". Sexualities 13 (275): 278. doi:10.1177/1363460709352725. 
  13. ^ Leibetseder, Doris (2013). Queer Tracks: Subversive Strategies in Rock and Pop Music. Ash gate Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1409472035. 
  14. ^ a b c Butler, Judith. "Performative Acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory". Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  15. ^ Wilton, Tamsin (1995). Lesbian Studies: Setting an Agenda. Routledge. p. 109. ISBN 0415086566. 
  16. ^ Witt, Susan D. "Parental Influence on Children's Socialization to Gender Roles". University of Akron School of Home Economics and Family Ecology. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  17. ^ Robinson, Kerry. "Tomboys and Sissy Girls: young girls’ negotiations of femininity and masculinity". International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  18. ^ Roberts,Rosario,Corliss,Koenen and Austin, Andrea L.,Margaret,Heather L.,Karestan C.,and S. Bryn. "Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth". Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Journal of Pediatrics. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  19. ^ Kaufman, Scott Barry. "From George and Lennox to Gaga and Lambert: Androgyny, Creativity, and Pop Culture". Psychology Today. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  20. ^ Walters, Barbara (2009-12-30). "Lady Gaga: 'I Love Androgyny'". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  21. ^ Wilmeth, Don B. (2007). Cambridge Guide to American Theater. Cambridge University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0521835380. 
  22. ^ Official description of Genderfloomp dance

See also[edit]