Gender Misdirection happens when an unseen character is referred to by gender-neutral nouns and honorifics (Doctor, President, Judge), or also nouns generally associated with one specific gender, causing the viewers to assume the character is male when they are actually female or vice versa. The Reveal that they are the opposite gender is generally treated as a surprise by the other characters, and if the twist is done correctly by the writer the reader/viewer should have the same reaction.
This trope loses its subtlety in languages that have gendered definite and indefinite articles or gendered verb forms and adjectives. The use of the character's name instead of pronouns is a major giveaway that this is the case. This is, however, also possible to subvert by using diminutives usually associated with one particular gender (Alex is usually a male short form, but it can also be for Alexandra. Sam can be a short form of Samantha).
See also Samus Is a Girl, which is the same but with a character who has appeared on screen prior to the reveal, and She Is the King, where the character has a title associated with a specific gender, but is the opposite gender the title implies. Contrast with Gender-Neutral Writing. Cast as a Mask may also be used to further obscure a character's real gender, especially if the character is not directly seen on screen such as through a voiceover or Imagine Spot.
Examples May Contain Spoilers.
- In Scrapped Princess, Mauser is referenced throughout the series either by name only or as "Lord God Mauser". Mauser's name even sounds like it would belong to a male. In the end, however, not only is Mauser revealed to be a woman, she looks like a twenty-something version of Pacifica!
- In Bleach, the heroes talk about the rumored Kuukaku Shiba as a guy (not helped by the fact that the name sounds very masculine in Japanese) until they discover proof of the contrary and see that she is in fact a very busty woman.
- In Happy Yarou Wedding, Todou refers to Chiharu, Kazuki's tutor, as being a "substitute mother" to Kazuki. Yuuhi assumes he's a woman because of this ambiguity, but he ends up being a man.
- In the One Piece fandom, Dadan was speculated to be a man, but eventually proved to be a woman. An ugly woman but still a woman.
- Alluka from Hunter × Hunter. Turns out that the second youngest "brother" in the Zoldyck family is a girl (and maybe a transgender girl, it's unclear). Not important to the story, but it had fans in an uproar. Made more confusing by the fact that one of the actual brothers, Kalluto, is a case of Dude Looks Like a Lady, so fans were already used to expecting a feminine looking figure, especially in that family, to actually belong to a boy.
- In Maoyu, Hero comes to the Demon world to search for the Maou (translated as "demonic ruler"), and is extremely surprised to discover that she is in fact a very polite, buxom redheaded woman. Though her title in Japanese is technically gender neutral she's assumed in story to be male until the reveal, and some translations refer to her as the Demon King to keep the ambiguity.
- In Steins;Gate, alleged time traveler John Titor is given a male voice when his online chats are read aloud in the narration, which along with the name disguises that he's actually a female character, Amane Suzuha.
- Also used in regards to the true identity of FB, Moeka's contact and Living Emotional Crutch, since the distinctly feminine tone of FB's texts to her disguises that they're actually being sent by Tennouji Yuugo/Mr. Braun.
- A Certain Magical Index the leader of GREMLIN is only ever referred to as either One Eyed Odin or One Eyed Othinus, named after a male god from Norse Mythology, which makes it quite surprising when she's revealed to actually be female.
- With a name like Clayman, it's no surprise that the main characters are quite shocked to see that she's a woman instead.
- In-universe, Irene Vincent chose the alias "Larry" to disguise that she was a female bounty hunter. When Gunsmith Cats was dubbed into English they apparently missed this and translated her name as "Rally" due to the L/R confusion in Japanese, but the intent was there to have it be this trope.
- In World Conquest Zvezda Plot, the unseen commander of White Light speaks to the agents as a male voice coming from a blank screen. When the commander finally shows up in person, White Robin and White Egret are both surprised to learn that she's actually a woman who used a vocal filter to mask her voice.
- In Dandelion Among Lilies when Kanae's older sister asks if she could come over with someone she is surprised to see it's a girlfriend, not a boyfriend.
- In 1988, British girls' comic Bunty ran a story called "The Seven Sisters", in which a young girl named Emily travels around Victorian England searching for her six siblings, the oldest of whom is named Pat. For most of the story, Emily believes Pat is short for Patricia - and the title leads the reader to make the same assumption. However, in the final installment, Emily and her sister, Mary, meet a young man named Patrick who turns out to be the missing sibling.
- In Ghostbusters (1984), Gozer is assumed to be a man, but appears in the form of a woman.
Winston: "I thought Gozer was a man."
Egon: "It's whatever it wants to be."
- In The Avengers (1998), the head of the Ministry is a man codenamed "Mother", as in the series. To continue the joke, his deputy is a woman called "Father".
- Hitch has characters repeatedly referring to Allegra Cole's "best friend," Maggie, who is a designer. Everyone assumes Maggie to be a female, but when Albert finally meets "her," Maggie's a man.
- Cube 2: Hypercube has many people looking for "Alex Trusk," who is only known by name, as a hacker. It turns out that "Alex" is Sasha, who has been in the hypercube with them the whole time. Also doubles as a Bilingual Bonus since "Sasha" is a common diminutive for people named Alexander/Alexandra in Slavic countries
- Neville's dog in I Am Legend is referred to as "Sam" throughout until Neville yells out "Samantha" when she is injured and infected trying to protect him. The reveal makes the scene extra sad.
- Them! features Dr. Pat Medford, who the characters expect to be a male entomologist, presumably named Patrick, instead of the female entomologist named Patricia. Them! was such an influential film that a great many science fiction films of the era also had female scientist characters with male or androgynous names... sometimes even when there wasn't any actual misdirection!
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and Marcus know that "Dr. Schneider" will meet them in Venice, and expect a man, not the beautiful Dr. Elsa Schneider.
- S.W.A.T. features Chris Sanchez, who was one of the members of the SWAT Team, who was thought to be named Christopher, turns out to be a woman named Christina. Most women named either Christina or Christine (especially younger women) tend to go by either Chrissy, Christy or Christie these days.
- In The Malloreon, everyone just assumes Zandramas is male until Salmissra spills the beans.
- The Quarters series by Tanya Huff often refers to minor or background characters by their occupation "two guards," "a secretary" a few lines before the gendered pronoun is used. The reader then realizes that the guard or secretary to which s/he had unthinkingly assigned the "conventional" gender is, in fact, just the opposite.
- In The Lost Symbol, Langstron assumes that the head of the CIA's Office of Security, Inoue Sato, is a man before meeting her.
- In Otherland by Tad Williams, Orlando Gardiner and Sam Fredericks only know each other through their online role-playing personas, which are both male. Later it is revealed that "Sam" is in fact a girl.
- During the first episodes of Prison Break, we learn that Lincoln was framed for killing the Vice-President's brother. Behind this conspiracy, there's a mysterious unseen and unidentified woman, only heard and usually seen doing seemingly household chores, who seems resolute to expedite Lincoln's execution. Later it runs out that she is the Vice-President.
- During most of the first season of Alias, Sydney and SD-6 run up against an organization led by a mysterious character referred to as simply "The Man." In the season finale it is revealed that The Man was a woman... Irina.
- In Lost, Danielle Rousseau abducts Sayid thinking he was one of those who had kidnapped her daughter. She questions him about her whereabout, but only refers to her as "Alex" and "child." The ambiguity of such nouns were conveyed onto the DVD set foreign subtitles that translate "child" as "son." In season two, we meet a girl who only later is revealed to be Alexandra, her long lost child.
- In The X-Files this was planned for Mulder's new Mysterious Informant Mr. X (after Deep Throat is killed), an actress is even the one providing the silhouettes initially, but this was changed at the last minute.
- Done In-Universe on The Commish, where Tony's new Number Two is a female but his wife doesn't realize that until she meets her, because Tony always refers to her as "Syd."
- In the first Stargate SG-1 episode Captain Samantha Carter is intentionally referred to as Captain Sam Carter so that O'Neill can shoot his mouth off about having 'some new guy' added to his team as she walks in behind him.
- Similarly on Las Vegas, famed Casino Host Samantha Marquez is referred to as "Sam," and thus assumed to be a man by Danny.
- In an early episode of 30 Rock Jack sets up Liz with a friend of his named Thomas, who turns out to be a female named Gretchen Thomas. Jack thought Liz was a lesbian.
- Averted: On the episode "All Mixed Up" of Cougar Town they do a similar thing with Jennifer Aniston's character who repeatedly brings up "Gabriel" while discussing Jules' son. Then it turns out Gabriel was her dog.
- In one episode of How I Met Your Mother Marshall and Barney keep on telling Ted stories about a wild coworker named Jenkins. Jenkins is purported to have done many things, like telling bawdy stories, drinking heavily, and participating in eating contests. Since the show is narrated from Ted's point of view, the scenes involving Jenkins show an enthusiastic, overweight, and middle-aged man (presumably what Ted imagines Jenkins to look like). Of course, later on, Jenkins is revealed to be a young woman, and when Ted replays the scenes in his head with the real Jenkins, they take on an entirely different tone.
- More relevantly, Lily thinks Jenkins is a woman and finds the behaviors amusing when she thinks they're being performed by a man, but Marshall worries Lily will get upset if she finds out that a woman is doing such suggestive things (like removing her shirt in front of Marshall.)
- In the TV series The Avengers (1960s), Steed's boss, codenamed "Mother" (or some variations on "grandma" in translations), is a man in a wheelchair.
- Married... with Children: Al works at Gary's Shoes & Accessories For Today's Women. Al worked there for 20 years before finally meeting Gary and learning Gary's actually a woman.
- The mysterious Big Bad of Utopia is only known as Mr. Rabbit. This is one of her many, many misdirections.
- There was an episode of Step by Step where JT Lambert dismisses the idea of female mechanics before sending his car to get fixed by a mechanic named "Sam," who's considered to be the best mechanic in town (and who JT assumes is a guy). It's not until JT meets Sam in person that he learns that Sam is actually a girl (her real name is "Samantha"). JT also discovers that they actually have a lot in common besides cars and mechanics (such as both of them being big fans of the Green Bay Packers)—as a result, they develop feelings for each other and even become boyfriend-and-girlfriend.
- Titus: An episode revolves around Christopher Titus trying to talk his niece out of suicide because she's distraught over her relationship with "Charlie". Come The Tag, it's revealed that Charlie is actually a blonde biker babe (played by a young Riki Lindhome), to Titus's astonishment.
- In-universe one in The Puzzle Place. The viewers, as well as Julie and Kiki, know Jodi's karate instructor Grand Master Li is a woman, but Ben, Leon, and Skye do not. So when they refuse to accept that Jodi is better at karate than Ben even after beating him more than once, they video call Grand Master Li and presume the man she's sparring with is Grand Master Li. Leon's question about if boys are better than girls is answered when the man informs him his female partner is Grand Master Li.
- In Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, "The Company Man", a Master Templar in charge of the New Orleans chapter of the Templar Order that Aveline has been trying to find turns out to be her stepmother Madeline.
- In Metal Gear Solid we hear about Dr. Clark, who turned Gray Fox into the Cyborg Ninja. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we discover that Dr. Clark is a woman, Para-Medic from Metal Gear Solid 3. In this case it's one-half this trope (in universe, since the character who referred to her as man had never actually met her) one part Retcon since they decided to combine what were originally two different characters.
- Harold Berselius, the Hot/Mad Scientist in Tales of Destiny 2, is in fact a woman and chose "Harold" on purpose to surprise people.
- An early subplot in Tales of Vesperia has the party searching for a great mage named Mordio. Upon meeting Rita Mordio, they are surprised to find out they're not only female, but much younger than they expected.
- In Mass Effect, you don't see "Jack", the deadly Subject Zero, until the end of the mission. You've heard a number of people in the nightmarish prison Purgatory refer to Jack in terror up until this point. When you release Subject Zero from the cryogenic cell the notorious criminal's been sealed in as a safety measure, most players were probably a little surprised to find that she's a small young woman in her twenties. Unless, of course, you watched the trailers.
- In Tekken 6, the character Leo seems to deliberately invoke this trope. (It's short for Eleonore/Eleonora)
- The true identity of the Imperator Librarius in BlazBlue turns out to be a female, Jin and Ragna's long-lost sister Saya a fact disguised by the masculine sounding title. Less so in the original Japanese where the title is the gender-neutral "Mikado."
- Persona 5 has the protagonist be contacted by someone going by the name of "Alibaba"; despite the name being an obvious pseudonym, the thieves still refer to this person with "he" pronouns. It's only once they piece what little information they have together that they realise that Alibaba is Futaba Sakura, Sojiro Sakura's adopted daughter. Interestingly, he continues to use this name at other points, and her previous online handle of Medjed is also fairly gender-neutral.
- In Check, Please!, Bitty and the readers are led to believe that the hockey team's manager Lardo is male like the rest of the team due to the hockey players all talking up Lardo as being capable of outdrinking and besting all of them at beer pong. Turns out Lardo is a tiny Vietnamese girl who just happens to be The Lad-ette.
- Zebra Girl: Turns out that Tomie, Jack's Grimoire, is a girl when she takes a physical appearance.
- Season one of Pretty Dudes has Eagle, who is referred to in the first several episodes and doesn't appear until the final moments of the fifth.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Oil On Candace", Dr. Doofenshmirtz is awaiting a visit from his old evil science professor, "the mighty Dr. Gevaarlijk!" No pronouns are used to refer to Gevaarlijk before she appears, and she turns out to be a diminutive older lady.
- Brazilians don't have a gender-neutral equivalent for "Professor". When the episode where Professor Poofenplotz was first mentioned was translated for Brazilian audiences, they used the masculine equivalent. Then the episode "Isabella and the Temple of Sap" reveals Professor Poofenplotz is a woman.
- Batman: The Animated Series: Batman believed the terrorist known as "Red Claw" to be a man until they met.
- Pole Position: The heroes once had to meet a T. D. Russel and were never told if Russel was a man or a woman. After getting rid of two men claiming to be Russel, they learn the real one is a woman.
- What's New, Scooby-Doo?: The gang once went to an amusement park without knowing anything about its owners than their names ("Chris" and "Terry") and their fame obtained by building the park's rides. The gang initially expected both of them to be guys, but it turns out that Chris and Terry are actually both girls (and sisters).
- The season 2 premiere of Wander over Yonder introduced Knight of Cerebus Lord Dominator, who's set up as an Always Someone Better version of erstwhile Big Bad Lord Hater and is only seen as a suit of towering armor until the ending reveals her to the audience as an adorable Psychopathic Womanchild of a Green-Skinned Space Babe. The other characters continue to assume Lord Dominator is male and refer to "him" with male pronouns until she gets a very public Samus Is a Girl reveal in "The Battle Royale," changing the game considerably since more than one of her rivals now wants to date her.