A character is subject to a Gender Bender, Disguised in Drag, or Sweet Polly Oliver scenario, and now has to appear in public as the "opposite" gender. Their problem is they haven't had the benefit of the years of acculturation that members of the other gender with "fitting" sex assigned at birth (cisgender) have had, and/or are blind to the differences in social rules for members of the other gender. Hilarity Ensues.
Grammatical gender can complicate things in many languages such as when a character is talking about himself/herself. Adjectives and/or nouns might have different endings depending on the grammatical gender of the antecedent. For instance, consider a sentence like "I'm an excellent driver." The words corresponding to "excellent" and "driver" might change if the speaker is male or female. A few languages (Japanese most prominently) have gender-specific first-person pronouns. English is an unusually gender-neutral language, and thus very forgiving to victims of sudden gender changes (maybe/often motivated by sex changes) and those in need of last-minute opposite-gender disguises. There are even more gender-neutral languages without any gendered word forms or even gendered pronouns, which make avoiding issues even easier.
This is a frequent source of comedy material in works that feature sudden or recent transformations. By contrast, "experienced" Wholesome Crossdresser and Gender Bender characters aren't subject to this sort of comedy of manners — they've had enough time beforehand to learn and prepare, and comedy centering around them generally focuses on exposure, and other characters' reactions.
One common variation involves characters mostly falling for a Wig, Dress, Accent disguise. Even though it's blindingly obvious to the audience that the character is fumbling about in a wildly gender-inappropriate manner, other characters react as if it's just slightly odd.
The Trope Namer, though not an example, is a Joe Jackson song. There's also a film called Different for Girls that ironically features few examples of this trope as its main character underwent her gender transition years before the time depicted in the movie.
Disguised in Drag, Sweet Polly Oliver, and Fish out of Water plots are frequently centered around this trope. Naturally, the Third Law of Gender-Bending mandates these characters be placed in these situations as often as possible. If the character complains about it, someone is bound to respond with Welcome to My World.
Femininity Failure is a related trope that applies if an unfeminine girl has similar troubles when trying to act traditionally feminine. Compare Man, I Feel Like a Woman. Contrast with The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body. A related but very distinct trope is Not Like Other Girls.
- Ah! My Goddess when Keiichi is turned into a girl by Skuld, she isn't able to keep the illusion up very long.
- Matsuri of Ayakashi Triangle doesn't generally try to act any different than from when was he was male, blithely earning a reputation as a tomboy (and just strange in general). Arguably, he benefits from this, as it's why his two new female friends think Matsuri is cool and guys rarely go after Matsuri despite "her" good looks. He still initially struggled with the few concession he does make (keeping the skirt on his school uniform down, using the right bathroom, remembering he has breasts when getting too close to someone) and when he does try to act feminine once (as a disguise), he really overdoes it. One of the odder consequences is that Matsuri remains very casual with his one male friend Soga, unknowingly sexually confusing him and making people think they're dating (or should be).
- Cheeky Angel combines the two approaches: Megumi's aggressive and violent nature is played as comically unfeminine for most of the series, but several lampshades are hung on how well Megumi manages to otherwise function as a girl.
- Chou Kuse ni Narisou: An idol singer disguises herself as a boy and enrolls in the toughest junior high school she can find in the hope of attracting a new heir for her family dojo.
- I My Me! Strawberry Eggs: Aspiring teacher is forced to disguise himself as a woman in order to take the only teaching job he can find.
- The second episode of Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl deals with Hazumu being taught to live as a girl. Then for the rest of the series, the absence of any incidents is used to point out how naturally feminine Hazumu is.
- Maomarimo offers a different take on this trope in that it's mainly focused on how the protagonist's gender bender makes things different for other people, primarily her twin sister and her best friend.
- Inverted in New UFO Baby when Miu has to travel to a Lady Land planet to procure some medicine and is accompanied by Ruu, who is Disguised in Drag. The citizens of the planet makes them go through a series of femininity test, which Ruu passes easily enough, but Miu fails in all of them.
- Played with Nozomu Nozomi: Nozomu, as a young would-be crossdresser, actually wants to experience how things are different for girls but being forced to conceal a spontaneous Gender Bender makes his forays into girlhood just as brief and furtive as if he remained a boy. However, he's still forced to experience how different it is to be femaled-bodied without learning how different it is to been seen as a girl.
- Otoboku - Maidens Are Falling For Me: Mizuho is forced to attend an all-girls school in disguise to fulfill the terms of his grandfather's will
- Subverted in Ouran High School Host Club, as Haruhi has already started using the masculine "ore" by the second chapter (much to the chagrin of Tamaki).
- Princess Jellyfish features Wholesome Crossdresser Kuranosuke, who's been in this game for many years, to the point where he's a natural at pretending to be a cool hipster girl and even his male-clothing wardrobe is very feminine. And yet he still peppers his speech with the very masculine first-person pronoun 'ore'. The humour, however, comes from Tsukimi's hugely conspicuous attempts to distract people from it, despite, ironically, drawing the audience's attention to it.
- Ranma ½ plays with this trope. On one hand, Ranma has no "feminine modesty" because he was raised to be a manly man. On the other hand, he's just savvy enough to take advantage when indulging in ice cream, candy, and other sweets that might carry an "unmanly" stigma. Plus he's savvy and shameless enough to charm waiters into giving him free food just 'cause he's a cute girl. In one episode, this trope was gender-flipped; he suffers a concussion and starts to think that he's primarily female. Hilarity Ensues because he temporarily forgets how to act like a man.
- Played with, and ultimately averted for the Once a Season Dragged into Drag episodes of the Slayers anime; most of the situations that Gourry is thrown in in the first season did not require the gender-specific Japanese Pronoun gap and most of the dialogue that occurs during it and the second season is gender-neutral. In the second season, Zelgadis manages to get around the aforementioned gap with polite speech and a less-formal introduction. Given that the series is a comedy, feminine gestures weren't required, and in the third season, Gourry is in a mermaid getup for less than two minutes, so nothing applies there.
- Early in Earth X, it's revealed that Thor has been transformed into a woman due to Loki's meddling. Thor remains in this form until the end of Universe X. During the comics' run, this involuntary switch causes Thor continual difficulties; she keeps saying things like "I'd sooner kiss Hela's lips." (Loki finds this remark very amusing.) Before long, other characters are lampshading it with sexist remarks like—"You're a woman now, Thor. We don't say things like that." It's not clear whether this is a Shout-Out to the mythological example below, but it seems likely.
- Green Lantern: During his "Warrior" days, Guy Gardner was once briefly transformed into a woman, and various hijinks ensued. He for instance found it very difficult to cross his arms with his voluminous bosom in the way.
- In Justice League 3000, Guy Gardner's personality is injected into a female body. He's not exactly thrilled about this.
- Early issues of Mantra dealt with this as Lukasz adjusted to being in Eden's body (and to suddenly being a single mother).
- Played for drama in Runaways, where Xavin, a Skrull prince, confidently declared that their natural shapeshifting abilities would allow them to change gender easily, in order to entice the lesbian Karolina into a marriage. They soon realized just how difficult it was to meet human standards of femininity, but by that point, they'd grown to genuinely care for Karolina and became afraid of losing her if they weren't sufficiently feminine.
- In All of Me, Edwina's soul gets trapped in Roger's body, with her controlling the right of the body and him the left. However, when Roger gets knocked out, Edwina finds herself in control of the entire body. In an attempt to stop anyone noticing anything strange, she starts acting in what she thinks is a masculine manner, including scratching, spitting, and standing with legs wide apart. She does this while appearing as a lawyer in a courtroom.
- As mentioned in the header, the film Different for Girls contains no direct examples of this trope, however the title stands as ironic commentary on how the protagonist's long-accomplished gender transition made things different for everyone else in her life, represented by her sister, her Noble Bigot trying-to-be-understanding brother-in-law, and an old high school friend caught between his latent homophobia and his obvious attraction to her now that she's jumped The Gender Barrier.
- Subverted by Mrs. Doubtfire, whose acting career (especially his specialty in voice acting) enabled 'her' to pass quite well and the illusion is only occasionally spoiled by the main character's hatred of the new love interest in his ex's life. It also helped that he wasn't trying to portray a young/sexy woman (as that probably would have raised more questions), instead acting as a world-traveled, wise grandma-type character.
- While discussing Some Like It Hot, a movie reviewer asked Tony Curtis why his "Josephine" was so much more feminine than Jack Lemmon's "Daphne". A laughing Curtis explained that he was so scared to be playing a woman (or a man pretending to be one) that his tightly wound body language could be read as demure and shy, traditionally feminine traits, whereas Lemmon, who was completely unbothered and "ran out of his dressing room screaming like the Queen of the May", kept much more of his masculine body language.
- Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: In chapter 11, Huck disguises himself as a girl when he goes ashore hunting for information about what has transpired in town while he's been on the river. His disguise, which includes a face-concealing bonnet, could have been successful, had Huck known how to behave like a girl, but Mrs. Loftus, the woman he tries to deceive, sees through him quickly and tests him. For example, she tosses a ball of yarn into his lap to see whether he knows how to catch things in the skirt of the dress he's wearing. He doesn't — he claps his legs together, as he would need to do to catch it while wearing pants, instead of spreading his knees to make the skirt form a pouch.
- The children's novel Bills New Frock has Bill wake up and find himself a girl. Bill finds no difference. None at all.
- Surprisingly averted by most of Jack Chalker's Gender Bender characters, as Chalker tended to rely on the The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body instead. Different for Aliens, now...
- The exception is Chalker's The Identity Matrix. When the newly gender-bent protagonist experiences a lot of these moments before she's given False Memories by a Government Conspiracy—only to experience it all over again from another perspective when her old, male memories are reloaded on top of her now thoroughly female persona by La Résistance two years later and she finds her former male persona's motivations and thought processes inscrutable.
- Robert A. Heinlein's novel I Will Fear No Evil, where an aging billionaire has his brain transplanted into the body of a young woman, is a long exploration of this trope.
- One of the Jiggy Mccue children/young teen stories, The Toilet of Doom. The titular toilet is a website where, if you feel your life has 'gone down the pan', get someone in the room who's got it better, and hit the F key. Hilarity and mild Squick ensues when the protagonist accidentally tries this with his female second-best friend Angie. Suddenly, the pair wake up having swapped bodies overnight. The trope comes in when they hilariously try to adapt to life as the opposite sex, let alone learn all the behavioral nuances of each other they'd never noticed. Surprisingly, after a couple of days swapped, they find that aside from a couple of glitches, they are kind of perfectly suited for life as the opposite sex (said glitches mostly involve Angie-as-Jiggy beginning to hoard cushions, which thrills his mother). Some of the mishaps they encounter:
- Boys have to be more careful with trousers. ("The free extra attachment got caught in the zip!")
- Having to watch when the only exposure to the naked female body you've had is sex education class.
- Angie getting abnormally aggressive from a mixture of Jiggy's muscle tics, testosterone, and Angie's infamously short temper.
- Learning how the opposite sex walk and move without having paid attention before.
- Finding an uncanny knack for opposite-sex sports classes.
- Averted in The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Tip, the boy protagonist, spends the entire book searching for the lost Princess of Oz only to discover near the end that he's the lost princess. While he expresses some initial reservation at the thought of becoming a girl, it's mostly because he wonders what his friends will think of him. After he becomes Princess Ozma nothing more is ever said about her backstory even though the princess is a very Girly Girl. Given that it was a children's book published in 1903, it's not surprising that there wasn't much examination of this trope.
- Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment
- Polly recounts learning to walk like a boy: girls only swung their hips; boys swung everything in what she concludes is an attempt to look bigger and fiercer. Since she spent several years serving in a pub she has experience and is able to give tips to another Sweet Polly Oliver.
- After the entire squad is revealed to be women, they discuss how men suddenly began speaking and listening to them differently. Polly muses that if she were openly female and carried a sword, a man would try to take it from her.
- Ironically they later need to disguise themselves as women in order to infiltrate the enemy stronghold. Their CO decided he has to be the one, and he is the only actual male amongst the entire squad. More ironically, this is because the girls have "male" mannerisms, like constant scratching, burping and farting, and swearing. The CO decides that they'd have no hope to ever pass for women, and takes the job for himself. When they later try to infiltrate as women the guards attempt to seize them believing them to be men in disguise. A quick bit of exposure convinced them otherwise. Their CO on the other hand made it in without any problems.
- The body swap segment of Night Watch (Series) has one with Olga trying to give Anton a quick primer on how to behave while he is borrowing her body, finishing with a comment that it is a good thing the timing worked out in such a way that she didn't have to teach him about dealing with the menstrual cycle. Anton's reply is hilarious in deliberately showing men's perceived ignorance on the subject. He says that, like every other TV-watching man, he knows that you hold a tampon in your fist and pour dark blue liquid on it (Anton's reply was cut out from the English translation). Even with this crash course, Anton doesn't quite manage since his body language is still distinctly masculine. However, no one suspects that an attractive woman might be a man (except Zabulon, who figures it out using magical means), but one woman at a restaurant does point out to her husband that "Olga" and Svetlana are obviously a lesbian couple with "Olga" being the butch one.
- The title character in The Saga of Tuck averts this in the beginning, as Tuck is so scared of discovery when his girlfriend dresses him up that he acts like a demure, shy young girl. Later, as other women in the story sharpen his imitation, this trope is lampshaded. Some girls who admit they find dresses and makeup intimidating also lampshade this.
- In Song of the Lioness quartet, the main character Alanna experiences this... but not when she disguises herself as a boy, since she started that when she was quite young. No, the problem occurs when she later "pretends" to be a noble lady. Her friend immediately recognizes her, even at a distance, since no 'lady' would walk like that.
- Bosom Buddies relied heavily on this trope in early episodes. By the second season, most of the main characters were in on the "secret," and the focus was often more on generic "buddy comedy" situations than on crossdressing per se.
- Emerald City: Tip has to struggle with being in a girl's body after reverting to his natural sex, when Mombi's potion wears off, and still identifies as a boy. At a tavern, he doesn't understand why people keep staring at him, before the waitress tells him to cover up his breasts unless he's advertising himself.
- On Family Matters, when Laura went to buy her first car, she observed that boys got deals she wouldn't normally. She disguised herself as a boy to see if that would get her the same treatment a real boy would get. She got a quick course from Steve Urkel in how to behave as a boy, and returned to the dealer. It started out working, but her disguise broke down at some point... only for her to discover that girls have their own means of manipulating the price should they choose to use it.
- In the Farscape episode "Out of Their Minds," Rygel runs into this problem. He's stuck in another male's body (Crichton's), but he is not used to a humanoid body. When he has to relieve himself, he does not know how to hold it and then has to get instructions on how to go in the corner.
- Lalola: A Gender Bender dramady from Argentina centres around Lalo, a Handsome Lech who is under a witches curse that has turned him into a woman (Lola.) Much of the comedy and reactions from other characters comes from Lola trying to adapt to the cultural 'rules' of femininity, under instruction from Grace. Especially early on Lola, even when dressed in very feminine clothing and makeup, tends to have very masculine body language, has no idea how to wear heels and always sits with her legs in male fashion (either wide apart or with with the ankle of one leg resting on the other knee.) she also manages to mix up her Gender pronouns a few times to in-universe bemusement.
- Life with Boys: After Tess complains at a Halloween party how easy boys have it when it comes to dating, a witch transforms her into a boy and says she will only be transformed back once she gets a girl to dance with her. Tess quickly discovers that boys have their own problems when it comes to dating.
- "Emily" Howard, the crossdresser character in Little Britain, is a variant of this. Most of the time the problem is that his ideas on how ladies are supposed to behave dates from the Victorian times, but occasionally he'll slip into very male mannerisms and speech patterns (e.g. when repairing a car engine.)
- Quantum Leap had Sam jumping into women's bodies in multiple episodes. As with all leaps, Sam still perceived his body as his own and not the body of the person he leaped into. (It always took the reveal of looking into a mirror or reflective surface to tell what he looked like this time.) Only others saw him as his leaped-into persona. He therefore didn't have to deal with any of the biological aspects of womanhood (usually) but still had to deal with the social aspects. In one such episode, "What Price Gloria?", he uses the inverse to his advantage to strike back at his leapee's sexist, womanizing boss: the leapee is a stunning blonde woman, but Sam manages to convince her boss that "she" is really a man by describing in gleeful detail a number of uniquely male experiences that a woman could not possibly have had, such as what it feels like to be kicked in the groin. The Unsettling Gender Reveal that ensues is pure Schadenfreude.
- The Star Trek franchise had a few of these over the years:
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Body and Soul" the EMH inhabited Seven's body for most of the episode, resulting in him flirting with a female crewmember and being flirted with by a male.
- A similar occurrence happened in "Renaissance Man" where the EMH briefly took on B'Elanna's appearance and was forced to behave affectionately towards Tom in order to maintain the ruse.
- TOS episode "Turnabout Intruder" in which Dr. Janice Lester, an old lover of Kirk's, forces him to swap bodies with her.
- Deep Space Nine's "Profit and Lace", where Quark becomes a woman for an episode to drive home the gender unfairness of Ferengi society. It's his brother Rom who gives him the body language lessons, much to everyone else's amusement.
- Its appearance in Classical Mythology makes this trope Older Than Feudalism. The Greek hero Achilles was forced by his mother, the goddess Thetis, to hide at the court of King Lycomedes disguised as a girl; Thetis wanted to prevent her teenage son from dying at Troy. Since it was prophesied that Troy would only fall if Achilles joined the invasion, the other Greeks were desperate to find him. Having tracked him to King Lycomedes' court, and figuring that Achilles was in drag, Odysseus went to the court disguised as a traveling merchant. In one version of the story, he found Achilles because he was the only "daughter" interested in the weapons and armor he was selling as opposed to jewels and dresses. In another, Odysseus cries that invaders are approaching the city and Achilles grabs a spear and runs towards the gates instead of running for safety like the other daughters.
- A Norse Myth involves Thor's hammer being stolen by a giant and ransomed for Freya's hand in marriage. The Aesir decide to feign cooperation... by sending Thor and Loki to the wedding disguised as women. Thor, disguised specifically as Freya, is told to keep his veil on and his mouth shut, which he does (Loki, an experienced Shapeshifting Trickster, doesn't need similar instruction). Thor doesn't, however, get the point that a woman wouldn't scarf down most of the wedding feast and drink most of the beer in the least delicate way possible. Only Loki's frantic fast-talking ("She hasn't eaten much recently; too excited, you know") kept anyone, especially the groom, from catching on until Thor retrieved the hammer. He then proceeded to Kill 'Em All. Thor was not fond of giants.
- Many Bowsette comics (long story short, an item that turns Toadette into Peachette in New Super Mario Bros. U was applied by the Internet at large to Bowser, turning him from a giant scaly dragon-turtle into a giant angry horned woman) feature Bowsette kidnapping Peach, not to marry her but because she desperately needs help about her new body's functions. And that' not getting into the ones where she takes off the crown...
- Played with in Eerie Cuties: Poor Ace hasn't yet to figure out that some things are not so different for girls.
- El Goonish Shive gets a few metres out of this one.
- In one arc, Tedd (disguised as his girlfriend) is persuaded to do this to experience how things are different, with some suggestion he does this anyway to test that sort of thing out. Elliot is forced into a little of it, and his duplicate Ellen misses a few cues as to 'normal' feminine behaviour. Then again, she also yells out 'Booyah! I'm still one of the guys!' when left out of a girl-to-girl chat. Ellen has issues.
- Shive tends to put sexual identity and sexuality down to physical things; transformation guns on default "add" heterosexual attraction (i.e. for the sex opposite the one you've become) to your original orientation (so a heterosexual becomes bisexual, and a homosexual becomes heterosexual), because the original purpose of the transformation gun was for assisting breeding for populations low on either sex. The one aversion of this tendency, Ellen-who-was-Eliot, unfortunately wound up looking like an incidence of No Bisexuals, since she'd been the only one and then retreated from that position.
- More recently, Tedd faced a clueless guy ineptly hitting on "her" (while NOT transformed, mind), which was apparently his first experience with the phenomenon. Then he spent a page and change loudly protesting to Grace about the unfairness before noticing that she wasn't disagreeing.
- Given how often Exiern milks laughs out of these experiences of its barbarian hero-turned-heroine, it's not surprising that a subplot about a cure attempt that backfired would end up focusing on the different for girls experiences (skirts, corsets) of the resulting Gender Bent priests...including one who is enjoying herself entirely too much.
- Highlighted in The Good Witch by deliberately contrasting it to The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body in the form of Roxanne, a formerly male basketball player transformed into a female cheerleader. Roxanne doesn't think of himself as a girl but his new body appears to have come with a full set of built-in female living skills at the subconscious level which cause him some cognitive dissonance every time he automatically does something feminine, like wrapping his towel girl-style the first time he gets out of the shower.
- Lampshaded but mostly averted in the Jet Dream Remix Comic, where the T-Girls are quite comfortable in their new feminine roles... but only because they Took A Level In Girl after comically extensive training in the recent past. Training courses range from "Bikini Training" to "Dance Riflery" and "Gyno-Grenade Gymnastic Combat Training." One story revolves around Harmony's need to pass her final examination in "Feminine Biology."
- The point of the webcomic Misfile. Not only has the main character gone on a semi-permanent Gender Bender, the world has been retroactively changed so that he has ALWAYS been a girl. Ash soon finds out that it's a lot easier to get service in stores, get away with starting fights in school, and so on. The difference in his/her relationship with his/her parents is a chapter all its own. Unlike most examples, Ash finds the Flawless Token aspects just as disturbing as the negative ones because they serve as a constant reminder that he's now on the distaff side of the Double Standard. Taking advantage would only serve to further erode what remains of his beleaguered manhood.
- Gender flipped in Sword Princess Amaltea. After being turned into a guy by a magical spring, Amaltea wonders how the heck guys can walk with..."something" in between their legs getting in the way. Ossian muses that it's a matter of habit.
- An early episode of The Fairly OddParents, "The Boy Who Would Be Queen". After Timmy mocks the idea of becoming a girl so he could figure out the perfect present to get for Trixie Tang, Wanda takes advantage of his wording and turns him into one. After Cosmo and Wanda have a laugh at his expense, he leaves to find the gift, but not before wishing they would switch genders, resulting in Cosma and Wando.
Timmy: Why would I wish I was a girl? *laughs* *changed*
- In the episode "Bend Her," Bender undergoes a sex-change operation to compete as a woman in the Robot Olympics.
Bender/Coilette: I need more lipstick! Much more! Ooh, yeah! That's the stuff! Men love it when you really glob it on.
Leela: No, they don't.
Amy: No way!
Bender/Coilette: Oh, please! Every man wants a tramp. No wonder you girls aren't married. I tell you, men are so much better at being women.
- Another episode featured Leela posing as a man to enlist in the military (and keep her friends alive like she always does). However, the only error she made was slapping her CO for a congratulatory butt-pat. Most of the situation's humor came from Zap Brannigan's "feelings that are weird and deeply confusing".
Zapp: Leela! So it's you I've been attracted to. Oh God, I've never been so happy to be beaten up by a woman.
- In the last part of Neutopia, everyone swaps gender. The guys just use this as an opportunity to get free drinks.
- In the episode "Bend Her," Bender undergoes a sex-change operation to compete as a woman in the Robot Olympics.
- In the short animation Geraldine, a man wakes up to find that he's spontaneously become a girl. The short is about him adjusting to the change. Then, just as he's gotten into the swing of life as a woman (at the altar, no less), he changes back, with as little explanation as the change that started the short.
- A lesbian feminist journalist, Norah Vincent, decided to replicate Black Like Me with gender instead of race and found that men perceived her as having effeminate mannerisms while she was disguised. (The book is called Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man..) She gained a lot of sympathy for the ways in which men force themselves to conform to gender roles as confining in their own ways as women's. She began by being nervous about whether she was acting properly manly but later realized that it helped her fit in because all of the (actual) men were doing it too.
"I passed in a man's world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball."
- This happened to a fair share of folks on the transgender spectrum. While they identify as their gender, that doesn't mean they necessarily "act like" a boy or girl (or know the social differences). This could be because their personality is just boyish or feminine, they weren't raised as their gender, or various other reasons.
- Trans women in transition (from male to female) may notice their sex drive changing from a male sex drive to a female sex drive. Short version: male orgasms are more "flash in the pan" than female orgasms; quicker to build, quicker to go away. In reverse, many trans men have noted that the added testosterone makes them more aggressive and quicker to notice the physical traits of the gender they're sexually attracted to.