Long before I’d heard the word “transgender,” I was a kid who loved Animorphs.
For the uninitiated, Animorphs was a book series about a group of teenagers who were gifted the ability to transform into animals—assuming they’d been able to touch that animal first and “acquire” its DNA. The sci-fi aspects tickled my curiosity and stoked my creativity, but it wasn’t necessarily the storyline of the books that had me so mesmerized.
It was the transformations themselves.
Every time one of the kids changed into an animal, even if they’d changed into that animal 100 times before, the process was wholly unique. If you wanted to be an eagle, bones might sprout out of your shoulders before being coated with muscles and feathers as your human arms shriveled into nothing. Or, perhaps your arms would become the eagle’s wings. Maybe the transformation would start at your fingertips, or your toes. There was no way to know.
There was a rule within the conceit of the Animorphs books that if you remained in your transformed state for more than an hour (or maybe it was 2 hours?), you would lose your ability to transform, and would be permanently stuck as the animal you changed into. In the third book, one of the five leads, named Tobias, accidentally remains in the body of a falcon for too long, and is stuck that way for the rest of the series. In a number of the books narrated by Tobias, he spends paragraphs (if not chapters) lamenting that his body does not match his mind, and at a certain point, attempts falcon suicide. It is only with the love and support of his friends, who are also shapeshifters fighting a secret alien invasion who can’t trust anyone, that he learns to accept his new body and continue the fight.
Now, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about ways that my body could transform into animal bodies. My favorites were sea creatures, or animals that could fly. If you added up the total time I spent fantasizing about the different ways my body could transform, it could easily total in the weeks, if not months of time.
I loved the idea of my body changing into someone, or something else. I hated my body. It wasn’t my body’s fault, but it kept growing and changing in ways that didn’t feel right. Being a dolphin, or an eagle, or a wolverine seemed preferable. I deeply desired to be something other than me.
Maybe if I’d spoken to a therapist, they could have helped me to interrogate what it was about my body that was making me unhappy, or perhaps what it was about being something else that made me so happy. Instead, I had my parents and the Catholic church, who just made me feel like I was “ungrateful” for daring to wish I was something other than what God had chosen for me.
But even then… I didn’t really believe in a god.
In 4th grade, for the first time, I imagined myself transforming not into an animal’s body, but into the body of a female classmate. I imagined my arms growing slender, the hair falling off my arms and legs, sprouting small breasts, my penis shriveling up and falling off (or sometimes inverting and retreating back inside—again, part of the fun was the creativity involved in making each transformation unique). I imagined her clothes, the cute skirts that she wore and the colorful socks, the headbands she’d wear in her hair. I became her.
I’d never felt so complete.
In my fantasies, I would imagine “accidentally” staying in her body past the 2-hour limit and being stuck. That made me happy, too. The power of these fantasies was so strong that when I finally understood (just last year) that what I’d been feeling was none other than gender dysphoria, I very nearly chose for my name the name of the girl I’d originally transformed into back in 4th grade.
I didn’t have a classmate named Chloe. This name was my choice, after a long and involved search process. I won’t write the name I almost chose, on the off chance that the girl in question reads this blog. She once told me, nearly a decade ago at this point, that she’d been keeping up with my career and supporting me from afar. I doubt that’s still the case, but you never know.
Only after putting all these pieces together did I discover that I am not the only trans person who fell in love with Animorphs. A cursory Google search of “Animorphs + trans” will yield a number of results, from personal blog posts to articles on Vox and the AV Club. It turns out that this year, after JK Rowling revealed her transphobia, trans people came out en masse to tell everyone to throw out their Harry Potter books and buy Animorphs instead, and I am here for that decision.
Granted, wanting to alter your body is not a requirement to be trans. There are plenty of transgender people who are perfectly fine with their bodies exactly as they are, and want only for it to be acceptable for people to dress in whatever they’d like, and express themselves however they’d like.
As much as I enjoyed the process of being in “a girl body” in my fantasies, I’ve also come to accept that my body, as it currently exists, is “a girl body,” by the mere fact that I am a woman and this is my body. It is only the gender gatekeepers that prevent trans people from feeling this way. The people who look at me and say that I look “like a man,” or that I can’t be a woman, because of a certain body part (and we all know which one they’re talking about).
Animorphs gave me the language and ideas to express my feelings in a way that I might not have been able to otherwise. It created a lasting memory that followed me for the rest of my life, until I was finally emotionally prepared to look at it for what it was. I spent years going back to that fantasy, where I could live in a body that would cause the people around me to see me as I wanted to be seen, and treat me the way I wanted to be treated.
So to that I say, thank you, Animorphs. And thank you, K.A. Applegate for writing those books. I don’t know that you even knew at the time how helpful they would be to so many people like me.