Fifty shades switched

As part of my writing on Fifty Shades of Grey I’m thinking about gender and other aspects of social identity in the novels. I thought it would be interesting to see what the book read like if these aspects of characters were changed. Here is what a gender switched version of the first meeting between the two main characters is like:

I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office.
Double crap – me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Ms. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me, helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow – she’s so young.
‘Mr. Kavanagh.’ She extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright. ‘I’m Clarissa Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?’
So young – and attractive, very attractive. She’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper-coloured hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.
‘Um. Actually – ‘ I mutter. If this woman is over thirty, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in hers and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
‘Mr. Kavanah is indisposed, so he sent me. I hope you don’t mind Ms. Grey.’
‘And you are?’ Her voice is warm, possibly amused, but it’s difficult to tell from her impassive expression. She looks mildly interested but, above all, polite.
‘Andrew Steele. I’m studying English literature with Ken, um … Kenneth … um Mr. Kavanagh, at WSU Vancouver’
‘I see,’ she says simply. I think I see the ghost of a smile in her expression, but I’m not sure.
‘Would you like to sit?’ She waves me toward an L-shaped white leather couch.

Interesting questions, I think, include:

  • What is striking about this version which isn’t in the original, and vice versa, and what does that suggest about our common understandings of masculinity and femininity?
  • What kind of woman and man do we imagine Clarissa and Andrew to be (compared with Christian and Ana)?
  • What impact would other changes have on our reading of the text? (e.g. making it a ‘same-gender’ relationship, having the student as the dominant person and the rich CEO as the submissive, switching the backgrounds such that Ana has the history of abuse and adoption rather than Christian, or altering other dimensions such as age, class, race, body-type, etc.)?


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Meg-John (MJ) Barker (they/them) is a writer, zine-maker, collaborator, contemplative practitioner, and friend. They are the author of a number of zines and popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including graphic guides to Queer, Gender, and Sexuality (with Jules Scheele), and How To Understand Your Gender, Sexuality and Relationships (with Alex Iantaffi).



  1. Cassian

    26 October

    Something I’m noticing is that I haven’t read the book and don’t even know the characters’ names or occupations, but I am mentally struggling to read the narrator as male and the manager as female. I keep doing a double-take at the pronouns. I just cannot seem to read the clumsy character as anything other than female, or the calm, polite, contained and gentle nature of the manager character as anything other than male. My brain is just stuck in that shape.

    • megbarkerpsych

      26 October

      Really interesting Cassian. It reminds me of that ambiguous cartoon they used in some psychology experiment of a woman and man in a doctor’s office and people always read the man as the doctor and the woman as the patient.