David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Prince… all of them are or were great professionals highly recognized worldwide for the quality of their songs. They were also seen as eccentric because of their costumes or their search for an androgynous appearance. They have the characteristics of gender benders , a concept that we will discuss throughout this article.

Gender bender: what is it?

The term gender bender refers to a person who reveals herself/himself against gender roles and stereotypes and the binary system they establish , and this break with them is actively shown to the public.

The manifestation of such gender role defiance can take place in countless ways. One of the most common is to show roles and behaviours attributed by gender roles to the opposite sex. Another of these (and probably the most visible on an external level) is the use of clothing or appearance that is either associated with the other sex or uses elements of both , achieving an androgynous look in the latter case. It is also usual that both ways of expression are given, as drag queens or drag kings do.

The gender bender may be trying to generate social change through their behavior, as a movement or activism. However, it is important to keep in mind that gender bending does not have to be a radical activist stance, and can be merely a form of self-expression or even an exploration to forge one’s own identity independent of the opinion of others.

Gender bending as a social movement

Although not in all cases, gender bending (the tendency itself and the gender bender being the person who practices it) can be understood as a form of social movement and activism .

In this sense, a protest is being made against gender roles, which are excessively restricted and tend to exclude those who are not limited to them. A greater desire is being expressed for freedom to be as one wishes to be, being able to be and express oneself freely without being restricted or constrained by patterns not chosen by oneself and without discrimination or social criticism.

This activism usually acts in a vindictive but peaceful way, sometimes acting through parody and theatricality to express the artificiality of the gender construct. As we have indicated, elements associated with the other genre are usually used, although non-gender and androgeneity or the mixture of characteristics linked to each of the genres may also be sought.

It should also be borne in mind that this type of activism occurs in societies with a binary system and gender roles like ours, but not in other cultures that even recognize a third sex or identity in a traditional way.

Differentiation of other concepts

Despite the fact that gender bending is a type of reaction to gender stereotypes that is associated with the LGTBI population , due, among other aspects, to the fact that this group has had to fight against discrimination and defend the right to sexual and identity freedom, in reality it covers and is aimed at the entire population.

In fact, this relationship often leads to the identification of gender bending with other concepts that, although in some cases they may have some connection, it would be incorrect to consider them as synonyms.

Confusion with sexual orientation

First of all, gender bending can be considered as a reaction to gender stereotypes , regardless of the sexual orientation of the person in question. This is because sexual orientation marks the sexual preference and attraction towards people of a certain sex.

Thus, although socially it has been considered linked to homosexuality or bisexuality, the truth is that a gender bender can have any kind of sexual orientation, many of them in fact being heterosexual. And conversely, any person or dependent on their orientation can follow or fulfill gender roles.

2. Transsexuality

Another aspect, which in fact he often identifies with when selling benders, is transsexuality. But in this case too the identification between both concepts is not correct .

Transsexuality implies the presence of identification with a sex that is not the one we were born with, not necessarily implying a rejection of gender roles (although most transsexuals must face stigmas linked to these).

Likewise, gender bending does not have to mean feeling in the wrong body .

3. Cross-dressing: not always a means of expression of the gender bender

Finally, there is the concept of transvestism, perhaps the one most socially linked to the gender bender. It is true that one of the ways of expressing the rejection of gender roles and stereotypes is through the use of clothing, accessories and makeup linked to the opposite sex, or by mixing styles typically considered male and female.

However, not all people who dress up do so as a sign of social activism or to break with stereotypes, and the gender bender may show his or her break with gender roles in other ways beyond their dressing up (for example at the behavioural level).

Appearance in multiple contexts

We have started this would be talking about different singers who have marked and been relevant in the collective imagination and who on more than one occasion have used androgynous looks as a mode of expression.

This is because the world of music in general generates figures and icons that are easily recognizable by everyone. But gender benders do not only exist in this field: actors and actresses, writers or playwrights have introduced or represented this dispute or break with gender stereotypes.

In any case, it should be noted that partly because of the poor social consideration that until a few years ago many people from this group have had options different from those established by tradition, they have not been able to freely express their way of seeing themselves, in addition to often being ignored, marginalized and even persecuted .

Although gender bending as a movement did not begin until the 1960s, this does not mean that the concept behind it is not something that has been talked about over the centuries.

And not only in reality, but also in many works of fiction, cases of gender bending can be seen. It is said that even Shakespeare introduced in many of his characters some kind of mention to gender stereotypes or roles or to the fact of acting in a way attributed to the opposite sex.

Bibliographic references:

  • Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Construction: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory (PDF).
  • Butler, J. (2006). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 1st Edition. Routledge Classics.
  • Lonc, C. (1974). Genderfuck and Its Delights. Gay Sunshine, 21.