Bowsette and the Internet’s Obsession with Gender Swapping

Content warning: Not safe for work. Discussions of porn on the internet, including rape. If you’re my parents, you should probably skip this one.

The internet has a strange obsession with gender swapping, and the past week has been rife with with it thanks to a Nintendo Direct in which it was announced that Toadette would be a playable character in New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. In addition to being playable, Toadette would have a unique powerup, the Super Crown, which would turn her into Peachette, a mashup of Princess Peach and Toadette.

Things began fairly tame. People began to speculate more about the Super Crown, and it’s powers on characters other than Toadette. The theory became that it turns its wearer into a princessified version of themselves. This theory lead Twitter user ayyk92 to drawing a comic featuring Bowser using the Super Crown to turn into a mashup of Peach and Bowser, that has, for some reason, became known as Bowsette. Despite the fact that if Toadette became Peachette, that means Bowser should become Peacher, Bowsette is the meme that stuck. Regardless, the internet exploded and ran with the concept. Art of Bowser as a princess has spread across the internet like wildfire.

Gender swapping isn’t something new to the internet. In fact, rule 63 of the rules of the internet states this very succinctly. “For every given male character, there is a female version of that character. For every given female character, there is a male version of that character.” Things get not safe for work really fast combining this rule with rule 34, “There is porn of it. No exceptions.” Bowsette covers both of these infamous rules, and did so within hours. I’m not even sure I’d say that Google’s safe search for the topic is safe at this point.

I’m not about to shame anyone for their tastes in porn or other explicit materials. I’m someone who believes that sex positivity is a good thing, and that despite the often misogynistic and transphobic subject matter of a lot of pornography, I believe that there are a lot of advantages to porn and explicit materials.

I’ve known that I was transgender for quite some time, and part of what got me through my years of denial, avoidance, and refusal to believe that I could actually come out of the closet was pornography of a gender swapping nature. Fortunately, there’s a lot of it on the internet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is incredibly misogynistic and rapey. Rarely can you find material that is about a man willingly turning into a woman and living a happier life. Instead, most of the material is about a man turning their best friend into a woman, and then making them super slutty, all against their will and wishes.

Still, the idea of having a magic device that would instantly turn you into a woman is an appealing concept. In fact, one of the questions a lot of transgender people ask someone who’s questioning is “if you could push a button, and permanently turn into the opposite sex, and have everyone you’ve ever known know you as that sex, would you push the button?”

Of course if it were that easy I would have pushed the button, but it’s not that easy. By the time I had accepted that I was transgender I had a life, a family, a career. I couldn’t possibly just transition. Especially not in the midwest, no matter how blue my state might be. That denial of my ability to transition kept me in the closet for many years.

So you might say that I have a complicated history with the subject of gender swapping. The Bowsette meme toes this line between the sort of thing I would have loved to see happen when I was still in the closet, and the gross, misogynistic mess that is the entire rest of the internet.

I love the idea of a magic crown that instantly turns you into a princess. It’s the internet meme version of the button question. I love the idea that in the original comic, Bowser willingly puts it on and becomes Bowsette. I love that a discussion of a magic gender swapping crown has taken over the internet. There really is a lot to love about the Bowsette meme, and honestly makes me wish that Nintendo would take it and run with it as their fans have.

The internet has even gender swapped the gender swap, further proving rule 63, with images of cute, attractive Prince Bowser.

Overall, I was having a great time enjoying the meme and ignoring the rest of the internet where I knew rule 34 was taking place but refused to think about it.

Unfortunately, the internet is also why we can’t have nice things. As good and wholesome as my personal ideals about the Super Crown might be, the internet had go and be itself. The internet took something transgender positive, and twisted it, and warped it, until it was suitably cisgender, heterosexual, and acceptable to the male gaze.

Things hit a tipping point for me this morning when someone in one of the Discord servers I am in posted an image that bothered me on such a fundamental level that I had to blog about it.

The sheer amount of transphobia in one image astounds me. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, because like I’ve already said: it’s the internet, but I can’t help but feel like something relatively wholesome was ruined in one single post.

I’ve already talked about my thoughts on trap as a slur. I don’t think it can actually be reclaimed, and this simple cartoon depicts why in such a succinct way. Chromosomes don’t make a woman a woman. Vaginas and penises don’t make someone a man or a woman. It’s an argument that has been made over, and over, and over again. Being attracted to someone whose outward presentation is feminine when you are attracted to women doesn’t make you gay, even if that person has different chromosomes or private parts than you would expect them to. The whole question is ridiculous to me.

All of this leads me to wonder why exactly is gender swap porn so often misogynistic and rapey?

I’d like to think that a large number of the producers of this misogynistic content are just transgender individuals in deep denial. They create content that is gender swapping in nature, but layered with male gaze, because they can’t admit to themselves that they’re not manly men. These individuals struggle with their masculinity and femininity by making explicit cartoons and stories that explore those features in a way that doesn’t completely out them as transgender.

That isn’t to say some of the people who produce that content can’t just be misogynistic, transphobic, men who like that sort of content, because I’m sure that’s the case too. I’m not going to shame people for the kind of content that excites them.

Regardless, I wish I had a good answer. I can only speculate.

In the end, I really just wish that there was more wholesome content about transgender people and their transitions, even if that transition is magical in nature. I want to see more content that explores “the button question” in affirming ways, that doesn’t get warped  by the greater internet.

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