So after Peachette was added to New Super Mario Bros. U for the Switch port, the Internet was rightfully bewildered. Toadette turning into Peach? What? Why? How? What does it mean?
Also, it was found that Super Mario Odyssey had concept art of something called the Koopa Cap where Bowser possesses peach so??? um???
So, first off, there’s a lot of extremely lewd art out there, and I’m not going to die on a hill for the male gaze or whatever. I’m also kind of committed to the notion of Bowser as a “heel”, as in, within the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario and all his friends and enemies are performing; Peach isn’t in danger, and Bowser isn’t trying to hurt anyone. They’re putting on a fun show.
What I do want to talk about critically is the notion of “gender-bending”. This term basically always refers to a character, either male or female, being “swapped” to their binary counterpart. (This usually doesn’t play around with non-binary or gender non-conforming identities.) Bowsette being in the discourse puts another spotlight on this concept that has been around for a long time. A lot of the time, people on the further left/progressive/etc. spectrum have criticisms for this concept, and I sympathize with them, but I also have been a fan of such art for a long part of my life and it gave me a place to explore my identity.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard is against the term “gender-bending” itself. The argument is that “gender-bends” always represent gender as externalized and that it implicates that gender is equivalent to sex characteristics. A “true gender bend” might be the exact same character design but with a different internal identity. I agree with this, but at the same time, if gender is performative as many people also believe, it makes some sense that a “gender-bend” would manifest as external expressions, right?
I haven’t actually heard this criticism, but I can see it immediately: a lot of “gender-bent” art (sometimes called Rule 63) is pornography of male characters represented as female characters. Like I said, I’m not going to defend the male gaze. However, I don’t think pornography is devoid of value or meaning. Many trans people use pornography that plays with gender as an outlet for their identity. (I’m more familiar with the trans woman end of this, but I’m sure this applies to trans men out there!) Sometimes its used as a coping mechanism, both unhealthy or healthy, or a place to express fantasies.
For me, “gender-bending” and similar practices, both in fanart and in pornography, played an essential part in discovering my identity. I think it helped me understand gender as something that is not a prescribed category applied to someone immutably, it’s definition is fluid and subject to change. It’s not fixed, it can be moved around. This perspective, I think, helped me come to terms with my own identity by revealing to me that my gender was not a permanent assignment at my birth.
So obviously, there’s a lot of elements about this issue that I haven’t talked about, so I’m really curious to see if people have different ideas about this practice, and Bowsette herself. This narrative is also, as I’ve said, extremely influenced by the male gaze in a way that I feel should be pushed back on. The vast majority of Bowsette art is drawn for male consumption. Still, I can’t help but still be excited it. Like, yeah, it can be pretty egregious, but I can’t help but see: Bowser as a buff trans lesbian queen? Sign me up!
What about you? How do you feel about Bowsette? How do you feel about “gender-bending” in general? Let me know!