Before we go any further, what exactly is a trope? To quote the website:
Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.
The wiki is called "TV Tropes" because TV is where we started. Over the course of a few years, our scope has crept out to include other media. Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, do their best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.
|Catwoman in Combat Stilettos|
One of the things which I had seen in fiction which really bugged me, is the way the speed of light is variable in fiction. The character turns the switch (or cuts the cable!), but instead of all the lights going off at once, they turn off gradually one at a time in a dramatic or menacing manner. Or the character turns on the lights in the abandoned space station, and they flicker to life in the most dramatic order (near to far, or far to near, as the plot requires). And is this one explored? You bet.
The TV Tropes website succeeds on several levels. First, it is amazingly comprehensive. I recommend typing in the name of your favourite arthouse film or your favourite 80's TV show, and you will find a list of tropes a mile long. Second, it is affectionate, even loving. It's not about criticising the ham acting or the special effects of the work; it's about pointing out how just about every piece of fiction relies on us expecting things to happen in certain patterns. (But special respect is given to works which play with our expectations and violate tropes in clever ways to make things interesting). Finally (and my favourite thing) is that it is always light-hearted and often hilarious, with tropes given quirky and amusing names, and the writing is articulate, well-observed, and wry.
I have spent hours browsing it since I came across it. And I am not ashamed to admit, I discovered quite a few tropes which I was unconscious of, but now see everywhere. Tropes don't "reflect life", I think. They reflect a fictional world we would like life to be. In real life, villains don't have one fatal flaw for the good guy to find at the last minute. Nor do they carelessly let the good guy escape a number of times so that he can show up in the final act to save the day. But, in general, we don't especially enjoy stories where the bad guys win in the end. So I think tropes tell us something very powerful about how people perceive the world.
What's all that got to do with a blog about crossdressing? Well, of course, crossdressing is a popular device in fiction, including film and television. And, I was delighted to find, TV Tropes contains dozens of pages dealing with the subject. If tropes reflect how people perceive the world, I think this reflects the fact that people are fascinated by the fictional representation of people who cross gender boundaries.
|Wholesome: Jimmy Olsen|
Crossdressing characters who are presented in a positive (or at least neutral) way. Frequently presented as attractive (or at least not unattractive), relatively "normal" people as opposed to perverts or sexual deviants.You can see that the authors of TV Tropes have really thought this through. The article presents a huge list of wholesome crossdressers, including some classics such as Mrs Doubtfire, (Robin Williams crossdressing to get near his kids) but also some I had never known of or considered before. It turns out, for example, that Superman's journalist friend Jimmy Olsen was uncommonly fond of crossdressing as a means of fooling the bad guys. Who knew?
The Wholesome Crossdresser may have any type of sexual orientation, but in settings where being straight is considered part of being "normal," one can expect to see the character's heterosexuality explicitly highlighted.
Some permutations of the trope are more or less unique to Japanese works. The Japanese Wholesome Crossdresser is usually well-groomed, compassionate, nice, and above all, so convincing that their "true" gender is only mentioned on occasion, as a reminder to newer members of the audience. There's a fair chance someone will get a crush on them, although this is usually resolved after The Reveal.
The opposite of Creepy Crossdresser. May overlap with Disguised in Drag or its Distaff Counterpart, Sweet Polly Oliver. (If the character wears crossdressing disguises more often than seems strictly necessary, this trope may apply.) Wholesome Crossdressers tend to enjoy dressing, even if only reluctantly, secretly, or subconsciously.
Generally does not overlap with Drag Queen (which is more about "performance" and theatricality) or Transsexual (usually a much deeper and more complicated subject), though there are exceptions.
|Anime crossdresser Ruka Urushibara|
First Law of Gender Bending: Once a girl has been created, circumstances will conspire to keep her a girl.
Not only are male-to-female Gender Benders a lot more common than their female-to-male counterparts, they are also a lot more permanent. One might think that the same Applied Phlebotinum that can change a male into a female should just as easily be able to do the opposite, but that's rarely the case in practice — most characters who try to reverse a male-to-female Gender Bender will learn that Failure Is the Only Option.
There are many reasons for this; even if the phlebotinum is ordinarily reversible, there will be an unexpected Phlebotinum Breakdown, or something else will prevent the character from simply switching the gender-bender into reverse. Perhaps the character inadvertently falls in love with his/her best friend after Jumping the Gender Barrier (the mind is a plaything of the hormones, after all). If there's Time Travel involved, maybe a Kid from the Future turned up to save their life, and the only way to keep the kid from going Ret Gone is to remain a lady (the possibility that they could just have been the kid's father all along is never even considered). Maybe the Gender Bender bestows them with actual superpowers (and no, not those powers) that the character needs in order to protect the earth.
Or to put the above another way, if the work is a webcomic called The Amazing Girl-Boy's Adventures in Femininity, expect the First Law to be enforced. If one episode of a Kid Com called Homeroom Genie involves the Jackass Genie turning Zach into Zoe to teach him a lesson? Not so much.
Other reasons for enforcing First Law stem from Unfortunate Implications and the Double Standard regarding men and women: Women Are Wiser makes for a good gender-equality Aesop. There's also the stereotype that a man being turned into a woman is somehow a demotion, punishment, or loss of status — what better way to start (or finish) a man's Humiliation Conga than by requiring him to wear skirts and a bra while losing that ancient symbol of power under his pants? This is an attitude that even the most feminist Take That against men may support, consciously or unconsciously.
In contrast, female-to-male gender benders are not only less common, but are typically resolved quickly and easily, ultimately reinforcing the woman's original femininity. And since Beauty Is Never Tarnished, the very same forces aiding the restoration of her gender will work against him restoring his.
And of course, since Most Writers Are Male and All Men Are Perverts there's just that much more pulchritude to go around if she gets restored and he doesn't. And if the gender-bent man refuses to act in gender-appropriate ways, then who cares? Everyone loves a good Tomboy! (Nobody likes a good Sissy.)
|Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap|
I think the article does a good job of explaining the reasons, such as gender ranking (men are "better" than women, but women are prettier to look at). Let's move on to the Second Law.
Second Law: Any character, after being gender bent, will come to enjoy their new gender more than their old gender.
A fictional character that gets his or her gender bent often becomes gradually accustomed to life as a new man or woman. Eventually they likely will experience an epiphany: that they are better off in their new gender than they ever were in their old one. This is the Second Law of Gender Bending, where a gender bent person would, if offered a chance to revert to their former gender, turn it down because they have come to enjoy the benefits of the change.
The epiphany typically takes one of two forms:
-A reluctant admission, either because they've changed too much to return to the way things were or are loath to admit the enjoyment they get from their new lifestyle.
-A jovial acceptance, where they quickly discover how much fun life is after the gender flip, and they never want to go back.
|Forced to be a schoolgirl|
I think this trope is so popular in TG fiction because it removes one of the main obstacles to crossdressing: personal responsibility. We choose to crossdress, but it might be nice to have some sort of "excuse", because some people might consider our motivations to be unpalatable or questionable. A fictional scenario which coerces us to do what we most want to anyway is a powerful one indeed.
As you can see, I think most TG fiction is contrived and unreal. It serves only one purpose. The best sort of TG fiction is where the crossdressing is enveloped within an actual plot. When this happens successfully (and it's rare), you get an absolute knockout story, such as The Crying Game, which is popular with mainstream as well as transgender audiences.
Third Law: Any gender bent character will either embrace or be subject to all of the stereotypes associated with their new gender.
Characters who change gender will adopt "gender appropriate" dress and behavior. Most of the time, this means dresses and makeup for a man turned woman and aggressive and macho behavior for a woman turned man. Frequently rationalized as being due to the characters having stereotypical views of gender roles, particularly when the character in question is depicted as being in need of a gender equality lesson.We can see an example of this above in the Jimmy Olsen image, where not only is he a girl, but a knockout, who is immediately the subject of vocal male attention. We can also see examples of it in Quantum Leap, where Scott Bakula's character sometimes "leaps" into the bodies of "real" female characters and has to act as if he were actually that woman.
Like the second law, this trope typically manifests in one of two forms:
-A masquerade wherein the character is forced by circumstances to adopt stereotypically masculine or feminine attire or behavior, sometimes under duress. (This is especially the case in "Freaky Friday" Flip or similar plots where the character becomes a preexisting person of the opposite gender and must maintain the pretence.)
-The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body, wherein the character simply cannot resist adopting stereotypical attire or behavior due to irresistible compulsion, latent desires, Mind Control, biological imperatives, or all of the above.
More sophisticated applications of this trope will often try to find common ground somewhere between these two extremes. It may be as simple as characters wanting or needing to be treated "like a normal person" and thus adopting stereotypically "gender appropriate" attire and/or behavior to conform with their perception of the new roles they've been forced to adopt.
Since most gender benders are male-to-female this frequently results in scenes where the newly minted "girl" is confronted with all of the "requirements" of his new gender, which can include skirts, hose, makeup, high heels and other trappings of femininity which, while common, are by no means mandatory in real life.
|Curiously attractive: Patrick Swayze|
So I challenge you to come up with a law of your own! For it to be a law, you need examples.
To get the ball rolling, I propose Vivienne's First Law: A crossdressed male will be forced to use his fists in a sticky situation, to prove that, no matter how feminine he looks or acts, he is still a man underneath.
Examples include Patrick Swayze's character in To Wong Foo, as well as similar scenes in Priscilla, and Sorority Boys. And at least one episode of Quantum Leap. All the best laws have exceptions, of course, and Sean Bean evades his obnoxious male aggressors with his wits in the wonderful Tracie's Story.
What I find disappointing about this law is that a crossdressed male should not have to use masculine solutions to his problems! When it comes right down to it, he looks like a woman, walks and talks like a woman, and wishes everyone would treat him like a woman, or even believe he is a woman, but he is still prepared to use aggression and violence in a manly way. To me, this is a blatant example of gender ranking. A woman could never get out of that situation safely; only a man could. Is that really a message we agree with?
Please feel free to provide examples or counter-examples of anything in this article, or to suggest laws of your own. Who knows? Maybe TV Tropes will codify them into "law" on their website!
Addendum: 25th February 2014
Vivienne's Second Law: Any man who unknowingly kisses (or almost kisses) a transgender woman, will, when he finds out, have a meltdown or a bout of homophobic panic.
|Horrified: Ace Ventura|
What disappoints me about this law is that a man is initially attracted to someone, sometimes enough to get very intimate with them. When he finds out that the person is actually a genetic male, he becomes suddenly terrified that he might be gay. Unable to deal with the consequences to his self-esteem (because nothing could be worse than being gay!) his former attraction turns to revulsion, and sometimes aggressive revulsion. As the audience, we are supposed to sympathise with the poor fellow.
This law is about homophobia and transphobia, played for laughs. Let's hope examples become rarer in the future.
My thanks to Heather Colleen for sending me the Tammy front cover image.