Categories: Entertainment

Why Hidden Genderbend Love Stories Are The Best Romance Trope

By now we’ve heard of all kinds of romance tropes. Enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, fake dating, grumpy & sunshine, etc etc. But allow me to explain why gender-bending romances are the best romance trope. 

While several of these cliches are found in the genderbend trope, genderbend goes beyond the idea that love is solely based on gender. More importantly it explores concepts related to identity, sexuality, societal and cultural pressures, and breaking stereotypes. Especially when the love interest doesn’t know about the switch at first. It shatters any preconceptions about love that we thought we knew and redefines love in a transcendent yet modern view. 

Genderbend also demonstrates the most accurate portrayal of “love triangles” at least in Twelfth Night and other Twelfth Night adaptations. It’s also the closest we got to queer romances in mainstream media (especially back then, but things are starting to get a little better now). 

The romance, comedy, and drama genres are where the gender bender concept is most commonly used, but it can also show up in other genres. Also usually we find this trope as women dressing up as guys, however, there are also times when the men will dress up as women.

Here are some recommendations of the genderbend trope in film, literature, and shows:

*all taglines and descriptions credit via Wikipedia, IMDb, GoodReads, MyAnimeList, and MyDramaList.

Examples in Film

Mulan (1998)

image via Google
image via Google (Mulan 1998)

Genres: Animation, Adventure, Comedy (*Not Romance)

To save her father from death in the army, a young maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China’s greatest heroines in the process.

Mulan is probably the most well known and popular film/media on this list, but I have to add it since it was also one of our first encounters with the trope. Besides, her relationship with Shang, and the fact that he was attracted to Mulan both as a man and a woman, is the main reason why I’m including this film.

Note, I’ve also heard many fans refer to this genderbend trope as the “Mulan-esque” or simply the “Twelfth Night” trope. 

She’s the Man (2006)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Sport

When her brother decides to ditch for a couple weeks, Viola heads over to his elite boarding school, disguised as him, and proceeds to fall for his school’s star soccer player, and soon learns she’s not the only one with romantic troubles.

This contemporary adaptation, which was based on the original Shakespeare play, gives the narrative a contemporary spin and places it in a high school context. 

Twelfth Night: Or What You Will (1996)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

Shakespeare’s comedy of gender confusion, in which a girl disguises herself as a man to be near the count she adores, only to be pursued by the woman he loves.

This film is the most accurate adaptation of the original Shakespeare play of the same name, and it captures the irony, suspense and emotions of it all. Most famous for characters catching feelings for one another, but this time it’s all gay, until it’s not? (if you read it, you’ll understand) 

Since the playwright is short and entertaining, I sincerely advise you to check it out for yourself if you like the gender-bending trope. It’s also one of his few works that actually has a happy ending. 

Some Like it Hot (1959)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Music

After two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

For most people, including myself, if it weren’t for Marilyn Monroe I probably never would have discovered this masterpiece, so I’m glad I did. It’s one of the funniest and genius screenplays out there. It also puts a twist that the woman is the one who always dresses up like a man in the genderbend tropes. Men can also dress up as women!

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

image via Google

Genres: Comedy, Drama (*Not Romance)

After a bitter divorce, an actor disguises himself as a female housekeeper to spend time with his children held in custody by his former wife.

Technically not in the romance genre, but I just had to include it because Robin William’s performance was way too iconic not to mention.

Tootsie (1982)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

Michael Dorsey, an unsuccessful actor, disguises himself as a woman in order to get a role on a trashy hospital soap.

Yentl (1983)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Musical, Drama

Rebbe Mendel is a single father who teaches the Talmud, a sacred text of Judaism, to the boys of his small Polish town. Behind closed doors, he also instructs his daughter, Yentl, despite the fact that girls are forbidden to study religious scripture. When Yentl’s father dies, she still has a strong desire to learn about her faith — so she disguises herself as a male, enrolls in a religious school, and unexpectedly finds love along the way.

Victor/Victoria (1982)

image via Google

Genres: Comedy, Music, Romance

A struggling female soprano finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life.

Just One of the Guys (1985)

image via Google
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, Joyce Hyser, Sherilyn Fenn, 1985, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Genres: Romance, Comedy

Terry feels discriminated against when the summer jobs at the Sun Tribune go to two guys. She decides to do something about it. She dresses like a guy and gets a haircut. Will students at the other high school notice? Girls notice “him”.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

The world’s greatest ever playwright, William Shakespeare, is young, out of ideas and short of cash, but meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays.

Examples in Books

The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce

image via Google

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Adventure (*Not Romance)

The Song of the Lioness is a young adult series of fantasy novels published in the 1980s by Tamora Pierce. The series consists of four books: Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lioness Rampant.

Disguised as a boy, Alanna strives to achieve her ultimate ambition: to become a knight. Her determination wins her powerful friends in the palace. But court life holds unexpected dangers. Something about the magician, Duke Roger of Conte, terrifies Alanna. Soon she will face a challenge that will test all her skills…

This book series is probably the most famous and got many people into the trope in the first place. Its brilliant written characters building unique relationship dynamics is what makes this series so timeless. Even till this day, many fans would recommend them. 

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (2021)

image via Google

Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

I would honestly say this is the closest story so far for a Mulan Twist where she falls in love with a woman instead, and it’s pretty great.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee (2015)

image via Google

Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Romance 

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. 

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (2019)

image via Google

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

Examples in Shows

This includes TV shows, Korean dramas, Chinese dramas, animes, and mangas (which is usually where the prior three originated from).

Ouran HighSchool Host Club (2006)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

Haruhi is recruited into the Ouran Host Club after breaking a vase.

Although the members already knew about her true identity as a woman early in the show, it was still fun exploring love and relationships with other characters.

Hana-Kimi (2006)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

A girl disguised as a boy enrolls at an all-boys boarding school.

The series is originally a manga but later got adapted into many live television shows, including the most popular Kdrama of the same name.

Ranma ½ (1989)

image via Google

Genres: Action, Romance, Comedy

Ranma, a 16-year-old martial artist, turns into a girl when he’s wet with cold water. Luckily, this problem is reversible. A hilarious series about love, battle of the sexes and lots of martial arts.

Ranma ½ is an 80s anime classic however I’m not sure if this anime counts since the characters in the show don’t really genderbend, at least not on purpose. Instead it’s a curse and all of the characters must learn to adapt with it. Although, the predicaments and irony of the situations that the characters end up in are quite similar to typical gender bender tropes. 

Coffee Prince (2007)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

An irresponsible bachelor pretends to be gay so he can avoid blind dates arranged by his grandma. He hires Eun-chan to be his lover, not knowing that she is actually a female.

This show is one of the genderbends tropes in kdrama because the confession between the two main love interests occurs before the gender reveal. Allowing for a more efficient exploration of sexuality and gender since the male character does indeed fall in love with what he thinks is a “man” and accepts it. In most other shows, the love interest learns about the secret early and is mainly about the two characters hiding it from everyone else while slowly growing closer together. 

You’re Beautiful (2009)

image via Google

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Drama

The management company of the idol group A.N.JELL insisted on adding a new singer to the group as the lead vocalist; Tae Kyung’s voice was damaged.

This show begins with a very comedic setting with a nun being told to impersonate her twin brother in a band so that he doesn’t lose public face. However, this kdrama is definitely more cliche in terms of how kdrama shows usually turn out, with the dynamic and relationship between the two main love interests being no different if she hadn’t tried to hide the fact that she was a woman. Since her identity was revealed early on, it’s more about the two learning about each other, rather than focusing on the complexities of genderless love.

Oh My General (2017)

Genres: Romance, Drama, History

During the Song Dynasty, a mighty female general accomplishes the unthinkable. When tragedy befalls her family, Ye Zhao dresses like a man and takes the place of her father in the Chinese military and rises to the rank of general.

This show is probably the most similar to the ancient Mulan legend, with a woman posing as a male general and the drama that comes from that.

Well that concludes my list of recommendations. I hope you were able to find a new film, show, book, etc that you love! 

Thank you so much for reading! Comment down below what’s your favorite genderbend story or anything that I may have missed.


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