Follow TV Tropes



Go To

Gabe: It's not gay if it's an elf.
Tycho: I'd love to know why you have a rule for that.

Male elves are often portrayed as feminine or androgynous, in range from Pretty Boy or Bishōnen to Ambiguously Gay. This is often used to cause dumbfounded confusion on reveal.

Occasionally, elves of both genders will be portrayed as androgynous, but usually the male androgyny is part of a broader tendency to portray all elves as particularly feminine, making the female elves anything but androgynous.

The "no facial hair" clause helps, but it's only a little part of the image — other beardless peoples are immune to this even while wearing braids and beads and being among the prototypes for elves. One of the probable reasons why feminine qualities of elves are played up is the intentional contrast between Elves and their traditional opposites, dwarves, who are basically hypermasculine: stout, muscular, hairy, axe-swinging drunks (which depending on the portrayal may apply to female dwarves as well, if they even have them).

Remember that elves and dwarves contrast along several lines: Slobs Versus Snobs, Harmony Versus Discipline, Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, and especially nature versus technology. Thus it makes sense that races that fit so well into the Mother Nature, Father Science trope would even match the trope's gender implications: elves are feminine because nature is feminine, and all dwarves masculine because technology is masculine. This dichotomy also helps the both of them contrast against the mundane humans, who fit quite neatly between the two on all of these spectrums, including gender expression.

This is a Sub-Trope of Alien Gender Confusion.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • A Destructive God Sits Next To Me: Basically all the boys, but especially Koyuki, and the self-proclaimed demon in the next seat.
  • You wouldn't know that Oberon from The Ancient Magus' Bride was a man until you hear him referred to as the fairy king.
  • Taken to parodic extremes in the ecchi manga Futanari no Elf, which doesn't even have a concept of male or female and the race is populated by hermphrodites. All of which present as buxom women with (mostly) huge penises.
  • Elves in Delicious in Dungeon are almost perfectly androgynous, but this doesn’t cause any problems for anyone except the reader. A number of important characters, including the Big Bad, had to be regarded in English with Ambiguous Gender (leading to mistakes such as the official translation calling that Big Bad female) until someone finally used an unambiguously gendered pronoun to refer to them, often many chapters later. This is highlighted in a one-page Gender-Bent Alternate Universe omake the author drew, in which everyone saw significant changes to their face shape and hairstyles except the elf Marcille, who looked exactly the same.

    Asian Animation 
  • Feng Xi from The Legend of Hei, while Elfin is a general term for supernatural species in this universe, Feng Xi still qualifies for sporting Pointed Ears and waist length hair.

  • Hungarian-British illustrator Victor Ambrus averted this when he drew his version of the Middle-earth Elves of J. R. R. Tolkien. His male Elves are notably masculine, often with lined faces and distinct features, as opposed to the better-known Elf drawings of Allan Lee, who was chosen as the codifier for the movie Elves. Ambrus' version of Legolas should be noted. As a sidenote, his Elves even lack the traditional pointed ears. The "elvishness" is indicated by drawing a kind of sparkles around them, and very bright eyes. His female Elves are distinctly delicate as opposed to the males' more masculine roughness.

    Card Games 


    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Hobbit: Thranduil is arguably the most androgynous-looking male Elf in the franchise, even more so than his son Legolas. While they both share long, platinum blond hair, bright blue eyes, dainty facial features and a slender build, Thranduil has long, thick eyelashes (which almost looks like he's wearing mascara) and a long neck, plus his ostentatious manner of dress (in contrast to his son's plainer style) give the Elvenking a more feminine appearance.

  • The elven men of Herezar in The First Dwarf King look only slightly more masculine than their female counterparts.
  • In Wyrd Sisters an actor who plays a girl too well was asked whether he by chance has some elf up in the bloodline.
  • Parodied in John Brosnan's Have Demon, Will Travel where elves are an entire race of Camp Gays.
  • The two principal characters of the Nightrunner books are Aurenfaie. Both are repeatedly described as pretty, and Seregil disguises himself as a woman without much difficulty.
  • Elves in Quantum Gravity tend to be thin and delicate-looking. Do not mistake this for weak. Elves still fulfill the archer archetype fairly often, and the author does recognize how much strength it takes to draw a decent-to-large-sized bow.
  • In A.R.R.R. Roberts' parody of The Hobbit, The Soddit, Wood Elves and High Elves become Wild Elves and Coward Elves. The accompanying illustration makes it clear that the Wild Elves are based on Oscar Wilde, and the Coward Elves on Noël Coward.
  • Played with by J. R. R. Tolkien. While his elven women are quite feminine, his elven men are stated to be manly. They are handsome but they are also mighty warriors and kings. The fact that he frequently describes male elves as "beautiful" may impart a more feminine image in the modern reader's mind than intended. The Film of the Book makes the male elves (particularly Legolas) look somewhat androgynous. This gets Lampshaded in the extended cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where Kíli mistakes a male elf for a maiden. The History of Middle-earth does state, however, that Elves aren't strongly sexually dimorphic beyond what differences are needed for reproduction, suggesting that the men and women do look broadly the same.
  • In the short story The Fairy Coney-Catcher, the male protagonist is given a boon by the Fey Queen and requests an elven "lass" who caught his eye for his wife. Upon attempting to consummate the marriage, he discovers that his wife is in fact a man. Unsettling Gender-Reveal is promptly averted when he says that he'll love and honor his wife regardless.
  • Played With in Touch (2017), where it's goblins who look like weirdly androgynous humans, to the point where the main characters can never figure their genders out. It's eventually revealed that they're an offshoot race of elves who have No Biological Sex, while the actual elves do. (In fact, the elvish Arc Villains are known simply as "the male" and "the female.")
  • How Not to Summon a Demon Lord: Upon being ambushed by elves, Takuma assumes that they're all flat-chested women until he notices that one of them has an adam's apple.
  • As a joke from his programmers, Mare Bello Fiore from Overlord dresses and looks like a girl, while his twin sister, Aura dresses like a boy.
  • Elves in The Obsidian Trilogy look, to humans not used to them, like a race of identical twins. Even when humans are more accustomed and can identify ones they know and make a reasonably accurate stab at their genders, elderly elves are even more androgynous. They also seem to have the least care for strict gender roles of any of the Races of the Light, being the only one that trains women for warfare, who of course wear the same kinds of clothing and armor in the field as men do.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Elven deities in Dungeons & Dragons are often noted to be "androgynous" in looks; the artist responsible for the picture of chief elf god Corellon Larethian from the Deities and Demigods sourcebook took this to its logical conclusion with a totally FABULOUS rendition (two words: rainbow eyeliner). Which is justifiable, as original lore for Corellon is that they are literally gender-fluid, able to appear as masculine, feminine, androgynous, hermaphroditic, or anything else they envision — a trait that other members of the Seldarine (the elfin gods) may share, depending on edition and setting.
    • Like most things D&D-related, this depends heavily on subrace, setting, and edition. In 4th edition, a "design preview" book on races and classes from the developers stated that they wanted to deliberately avoid this trope, going for slender and graceful but still masculine male elves. In 5th edition, a minority of elves have "Corellon's Blessing"; the ability to voluntarily shift genders at will.
    • The somewhat ambiguously-canon Verdan, a migrant from Acquisitions Incorporated who appeared as a PC race in a 5e sourcebook, also tend to be very hard to place on the gender scale. This is because one of the more consistent side-effects of their chaos-touched heritage is a tendency to spontaneously shift genders at least once in their lifetime, which has basically caused them to give up on gender as a social construct, and also results in their genders tending to look pretty similar.
  • The Elves in Small World are depicted as overly thin, androgynous types carrying baskets of flowers.
  • The Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 are androgynous enough that it's common for humans to have difficulty determining their gender. This is particularly evident with the Aspect Warriors, who discard their identities to embody a particular character representing an aspect of war. Several of these Aspects are distinctly masculine or feminine in costume, but all will accept both male and female Eldar - a Howling Banshee, for instance, is a feminine Aspect wearing armour with Hartman Hips and an impressive Breast Plate, and that remains the case regardless of the gender of the person portraying the role.
  • The fantasy spinoff for Grave Robbers from Outer Space has a character known as "The Way Too Pretty Elf." Technically the character is male, but is so effeminate that cards that can normally only be used on ladies can also be used on him.

    Video Games 
  • Baldurs Gate 3:
    • Astarion, the high elf rogue origins character, plays this trope very straight, being a white-haired pretty boy who's very concerned about his appearance. He even admits that he uses his good looks for seduction.
    • Gloriously averted by Halsin the wood elf druid, who is a large muscular hunk of a man who looks like he just walked out of a cologne commercial or a romance novel's cover. He is quite possibly the least effeminate elf to ever appear in a video game.
  • Blood elves and high elves (but not night elves) in World of Warcraft. Joked about at length, including the blood elf male flirt, "don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?", and Johnny Awesome being mistaken for a girl and called "Jenny" by a character in Hillsbrad. To be fair, though, this is a Downplayed Trope, as male blood elves only look effeminate in comparison to the other mostly hypermasculine males in the game, especially their allies in the Horde. They were more so in the beta for Burning Crusade.
    • One of the quests from the Cataclysm expansion involves playing through a tale from an orc who describes how he supposedly chased Deathwing on his motorcycle while driving around with a "hot babe." You get to choose which one of those hot babes gets to hop into his sidecar for the chase and one of them happens to be a male blood elf.
    • The Legion expansion adds the Nightborne, a faction of elves who hid from the Sundering by isolating themselves from the rest of the world with a protective magical shield. Dark-skinned and white-haired like the drow elves, the males can often be hard to tell apart from the females. Many players have argued whether the Nighthold raid boss Star Augur Etraeus is a male or female.
  • While not all Elezen in Final Fantasy XIV are feminine in appearance, Alphinaud deserves a special mention for the fact that he looks almost identical to his twin sister Alisae, not helped by the fact that they (Initially) wear virtually identical outfits, as well. This is lampshaded in the Flavor Text for the Wind-up Alisae minion, which states that they're simply Wind-up Alphinaud that were rebranded after changing the color of their hairbands and nothing else.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Bisexual elf Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins mentions this as the reason he and other elves were chosen as assassins. Most humans found them pleasing to look at, which increased the chances they'd be successful in their jobs. Zevran himself is a prime example of this trope at work - drunken dwarf Oghren even comments that Zevran's got "small breasts for a gal".
    • Similarly, Fenris of Dragon Age II. He's more masculine than some examples, but between the lean elven body model and pretty face, he hits the Pretty Boy mark. It's even lampshaded by Hawke's uncle Gamlen if a male Hawke romances Fenris.
      "So, you're into elves, huh? I guess I don't have to ask which one of you's the girl."
    • The character creator in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It is entirely possible to make a male elf with an extremely feminine face. Though due to the limited choice of two voice actors, the main difference of which is accents, your Elfeminate Male Inquisitor will still have a male-sounding voice.
    • Averted for male Ancient Elves like Abelas or Solas. They have much more definitive masculine facial, skeletal, and muscular characteristics. This is because it turns out they are ancient elves from before the Fall of Elvhanan and the entire race becoming a Slave Race.
  • Pillars of Eternity: Aloth the elven wizard fits this trope, having a slim build, smooth face, long hair, and refined tastes. This gets him teased by some more manly companions, especially Durance. Ironically, Aloth has a Literal Split Personality who is a woman. Double-ironically, she's even more manly than him.
    Durance: So, do you spend all your time hiding behind skirts? Or do you just like to wear one?
  • Elves in Majesty are androgynous-looking, tend to have Gender Blender Names, and have voices somewhere between tenor and contralto.
  • Lieutenant Yaha of Drakengard 2 is a Camp Gay Depraved Homosexual who is obsessed with party member Urick to the point that he gave up his ability to feel pleasure for the ability of charm. He spends his boss battle making creepy remarks towards both Urick and Nowe.
  • More-or-less averted in Rift: Although smooth-faced and clearly intended to be attractive (even if Kelari are a bit eerie-looking), elven men are too sinewy and rawboned to be called Pretty Boys.
  • Zig-zagged in Dwarf Fortress. Elves are nothing but a lowercase 'e' on the screen due to the game's ASCII Art graphics, so they don't really look very effeminate. However, their leadership positions are titled "queen" and "princess"... even when the elves in those positions are male.
    • This trope is played completely straight by community fan work, though. As shown in the page image, fan artists have a habit of portraying all elves as girly, tree-hugging, pansy hippies... albeit with one MAJOR exception.
  • Tera: High Elf males are Bishounen to the point of looking girly, just without breasts.
  • The two commentators Jim the Vampire and Bob the Ogre in the Cyanide adaption of Blood Bowl: Jim mocks Pro-Elf teams by pointing out that if he didn't know better he could have confused them for an Amazon team. Bob replies that this is silly since he's never heard of anyone fearing an elf.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, Nords hate the races of Mer and see their reliance on fancy weapons and magic in battle as effete and unmanly.
  • Leaf from MySims is a male rockstar elf with a single pierced ear and refuses to ever have facial hair of any kind.

  • Alfie: Ailduin, to the point Vera is certain he's gay once she figures out he's male. She's rather surprised to learn that he's not (or at least, not at the moment; elf lifespans are so long that they eventually end up everywhere on the Kinsey scale at some point or another).
  • The Order of the Stick. The creator eventually realized that fans couldn't tell the gender of the team's elf character, Vaarsuvius, and thus made their Ambiguous Gender a Running Gag. We later learn that Vaarsuvius has a "mate" and children who are similarly androgynous — and, since the kids are adopted, we can't even say for sure if the two are opposite sexes. The Elvish subtitles even translate the dialogue to say "Parent" and "Other Parent" instead of "Mother" and "Father."
    • Most minor elf characters follow suit, though we know of one male half-elf, Pompey, and two female elves, Lirian and Veldrina. Around book four we started seeing a lot more elves in minor roles and the majority are just as clearly gendered as every other race.
  • El Goonish Shive poked fun at this too. Subverted later when Justin admits he likes his men manly.
  • In DM of the Rings, Aragorn in particular seems to look at any Elf and think it's a woman, even when they're male. For the most part however he just plays it up to annoy Legolas' (a.k.a. Leggo Lass) player. Even invoked when he's trying to get laid with Éowyn, but the DM doesn't want to because he's having to play her:
    Éowyn: This [Aragorn hitting on the DM as her] is just too weird.
    Aragorn: Oh, come on, you said she was hot! "Tall, slim, and graceful, with golden hair", you said.
    Éowyn: That's the same description I gave you for Legolas.
    Aragorn: Like I said: hot!
  • Drowtales: Played with, where it's averted and seemingly exaggerated at once. The male Drow are masculine, larger than humans, and typically fairly attractive. They seem somewhat effeminate when compared to the Drow ladies, however, who are typically larger and stronger than the males, although still blatantly feminine.
  • In Mindflayed a barman called an elf "missy". That's when we get to know the elf wasn't. Later an idiot paladin made the same mistake three times — the first time another member of the party held Lomylith back, but on the third, this guy had to leave a high tower via the window.
  • Used to point up the gender stereotypes in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: male high elves (who come from a gender-equal race) are swishy, while male drow (who come from a matriachal society) are masculine. However, male high elves are still manly enough to be jealous as all hell of a drow who "slept [his] way to this position".
  • d20monkey has "the description of that elf NPC." Discovering that the elf is male rather... surprised Brett.
  • Averted in Dubious Company, the sex of the elves in the series are easily distinguishable, except for Elly. He is mistaken as a girl at least once by everyone, and consistently by Marty. Tiren cursing him didn't help matters either.
  • Looking for Group: Done very specifically with Cale, but, in an aversion, not with elves as a whole. Note, that this is barely apparent to the readers, if at all.
  • Elon and Rolan of Ears for Elves are both somewhat feminine, in particular in hairstyle. One has girlish bangs and ponytail, while the other has narrow braids in his long hair and multiple earrings. Tanna also asks whether someone calling "princess" is referring to Elon, much to his annoyance.
  • Tales from Somewhere: Nandiel, the elf in the party, is mistaken for a woman during their introduction.
  • The Handbook of Heroes lists this trope as one of two reasons to avoid romance with elves. Also, after Wizard's Gender Bender, Fighter is unable to tell the difference.

    Web Original 
  • Fredrik K.T. Andersson (the author of Pawn) has a mostly-NSFW series of drawings about adventures of "the bard who knocks up every critter in creation" (though evidently was too drunk at the time to remember half of those... encounters). Elves are the only beings with whom he has some problems: he needs to be told that the beautiful elf he was flirting with is a he. Also, he didn't realize for a long time that the (rather Stripperific but also flat-chested) female elf in their party is a girl.
  • Dwarf Fortress Fan Art: "A common mistake when dealing with elves."
  • Tales of MU subverts this in the case of half-elf Steff, who is genderqueer and presents female. To humans and most other non-elves, she comes off as beautiful and feminine. To elves, she looks awkwardly masculine, like a bad drag queen.
  • Critical Role implies this is a case with Half-Identical Twins Half-Elf siblings Vax and Vex through official art and a bit where when asked what his sister looks like, Vax just pointed at himself.
  • In Acquisitions Incorporated, the group makes the occasional joke revolving around this trope mentioning how Aeofel is fey, how they have a "don't ask don't tell" policy, or how Aeofel is a pretty boy. Wil Wheaton (Aeofel's player) for his part embraces and defends the trope.
    Chris: Hey Wil, do you want the Elf [figurine] that looks like a girl, or the Eladrin that looks like a girl?
    Wheaton: I want the— Listen, here's the thing about elves: Elves are the Eladrin's hillbilly cousins. So I'll take the Eladrin that looks like a girl, thank you very much, because we deserve to look and feel pretty.
  • Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG has quite a few examples:
    1207. There is no such thing as "ambiguously elven".
    1218. Elves do not have to go to the bathroom in groups.
    1418. The Elvish language is not just English with a hell of a lot of lisping.
    1474. The concept of puberty is not alien to the elves.
    1689. 1/3 of the elf homeland's GDP does not go to hair care products.
    1720. Contrary to popular opinion, the girdle of masculinity/femininity does have a noticeable effect on elves.
    1932. I will stop telling people the elf is openly fey.
    1953. A lifetime subscription to Cosmo is not an elven racial bonus.
    2030. Elves do not get a racial bonus to the skill Trade: Interior Design.
    2373: The name for a group of elves is not the fagot.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Ambiguously Fey, Androgynous Elves