The Sexuality of Transformation
by Brock Beard
©2006 Brock Beard -- all rights reserved
Special thanks to TSAT, Transfur, X-Formations, and Doc's Lab, whose submissions inspired these thoughts.
It is my belief that descriptions of physical transformations in literary fiction are invariably sexual, regardless of the intent of the writer. The very act of sexual intercourse can be perceived of as a transformation, a process wherein humans, through the stimuli of fantasy or fetishes, behave differently and participate in unusual acts as a result, essentially becoming more animal-like in nature. Transformation fiction functions in a similar way by using a fantastical stimulus to set off sensations which are described at length, particularly those which are unusual to the person experiencing them, before they build to a definite 'orgasm' where the character actually becomes a new being. However, I do not write this to marginalize transformation fiction as simple pornography, for this is far from the case. Rather, there is an added complexity to written descriptions of transformations in the way that they manipulate our typical response to erotica so that we feel as if we are part of an experience far more complex than simple sexual intercourse. When one closely examines the above parallel between sex and transformation, this, too, becomes more real.
Unlike typical erotica, where human pleasures are described through metaphor, transformation tales use this device literally. The human form in these works is treated like Play-Doh, capable of being manipulated by anyone in any way. The resulting duress which the human body is put through is described in ways that can affect different readers who are influenced by different fetishes. 'Second-skin' transformations, where a material coats a person's body before it distorts their form, may reach leather or rubber fetishists as well as, in the case where the 'second skin' is excreted from the body, those interested in bodily excretions and the power they believe that they possess. Body inflation transformations reach those interested in the obese, closely tied to transformations where the transformed being literally bursts out of the human body as if it were an egg, connecting to those fascinated by fetal life and birth. Transgender transformations are equally present, often in the form of tales where men become the very women they are fascinated with so that they can indulge in female pleasures whenever they see fit. Even the classic werewolf transformation, with its emphasis on bodily distortions and hair growth, exaggerates the awkwardness of human adolescence and the changes of puberty. Plus, many other types of transformations exist, and there are several examples where more than one means have been used simultaneously, enabling just about any sexual being to be drawn to at least one of the innumerable tales.
The stimulus chosen to begin each transformation, as with sexual fetishes, varies drastically from the incredibly benign to the grotesquely dark. While some authors write the cause as either magic or nature, as if the human body were somehow meant to become something else at a certain point, others prefer their characters manipulated by someone else in a manner infringing upon torture by a sadistic outsider while still others write of simply being this outsider watching a transformation happen, a kind of vicarious rape fantasy. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to understand the sexual nature of the latter two preferences, particularly when there are still other decisions that can be made. In the case of the powerful madman behind each change, for example, he or she can wield anything from a potent serum, an ancient curse, or a piece of mystical jewelry to begin the process.
The mental battle during each transformation, though sometimes overlooked in the frequently third-person narratives produced, are nevertheless fascinating in their own right, particularly when the transformation is unexpected by the victim. They often write of the character 'fighting', or trying to stave off the transformation as they try to regain control of their own body, fearing what may happen if they do not. Transformations of humans into other animals, for example, carry the potential of the victim's mind to itself succumb to animal instincts which may drive him or her into the wild. Often, these battles become futile, and there is a moment of 'succumbing' or 'surrendering' to the transformative force overtaking them, another sexual allusion to embracing a strangeness that is inflicted upon their body and emotions. Other times, the transformation is willed to happen by the victim him or herself, skipping directly to the 'surrendering' stage so that the feelings of the becoming are emphasized at an even greater length. In fact, the first sign of the transformation's power is often shown through the degree of 'rippage' it creates, the ability of the transformation force to cause the human's clothes to 'surrender' by tearing into shreds, allowing the reader, through the victim's eyes, to see the event at work more easily. Rippage makes known that the victim's surrendering to the transformation is absolute and irreversible: the victim's body, like their shredded human trappings, will soon be unrecognizable as well, and the disrobed body will likely transform far easier in its natural state. However, since clothes, unlike the victim, are inanimate objects, rippage can be viewed as a catalyst for freeing the victim through transformation: The clothing approved by the human world is destroyed like a set of shackles, exposing the victim's nude body as a symbol of liberated sexuality or 'rebirth'.
However, with nudity and freedom comes the body's exposure to not just sex and, therefore, transformation, but violence as well. Violence functions as an equally significant device in these tales as it also calibrates the intensity of the transformation in question, explaining through the threat of pain what is at stake when the victim either resists or forces their own change. If the transformation is sensual to the victim, sexual intercourse or masturbation may accelerate the transformation to illustrate the victim indulging in the act of exploring their changing body as it stretches and contorts pleasurably. If the transformation is painful, however, darker themes where the victim's blood is spilled, their bones endure excruciating restructurings, and even claws and spikes protrude through the victim's torn flesh may set up the horror of what it would be like to lose control over one's body, perhaps even what it may feel like to suffer a gruesome death. In extreme cases, this violence can extend to the product of the transformation through 'vore', predatory fantasies where the person who transforms into a beast consumes live prey.
As a profound sexual and even violent act with unusual sensations, there is attention paid to the pacing and the flow of the transformation described as well. The transformation's duration increases its sensuous nature exponentially. This is why many writers reject the 'poof' genre of transformations in which the progress of the change is ignored, in favor of recording every explicit detail. A typical change-description begins with the appendages, closely followed by breasts in female characters (or transgendered males), the latter being the most noticeable and the most sensitive parts of the human form. These changes then set off a chain reaction where subsequent parts of the body are changed in rapid (or slow) succession similar to the sensations preceding an orgasm. Although some of these wholesale changes may take place all at once, such an order of cause-and-effect is incredibly important so that it can be understood and imagined best by the reader. Again, as with every other part of the narrative, delivery is everything. It is not simply enough for any fan of this literature to read how a transformation took place as if were written in an instruction manual, for transformation fiction to them is intended to be a mutual experience where the character's tale becomes the reader's merely through reading the words.
When the character finally becomes a new creature, the unusual and erotic sensations of the changing give way to a familiar day-to-day sensations of living as a new creature, like a peaceful reprieve after a long war. Though some of these latter sensations may be themselves sexual, they typically become more innocent in nature as if they were simply the answers a child would give to the question, "what would you do if you were another animal?" Becoming a mythical beast such as a dragon, griffin, or unicorn satisfies one's childish wish fulfillment that tears asunder the boundaries of adult reality, a means of proving these creatures' existence in the profoundest way possible. Transforming into a demon, most popularly a griffin-like 'chimera', can be understood as a yearning to indulge in and explore one's darkest self, if only for a moment, to see what it is like to let it control our actions when no one's looking. Similarly, the curse of becoming a werewolf is romanticized by these writers in a way no different than all human-to-animal tales: as a desired freedom from the restraints human society places on the victim's primal instincts. The transformed body at each story's conclusion is also often muscular and sensual at the same time, forcing the viewer to consider the original human form of the victim as frail and repressed in comparison, weaknesses which are presented as if they have actually brought on the transformation in the first place. However, after the change takes place, there are hints that the character is now entering a 'second childhood' in this new form, one where he or she can use their human knowledge amassed in their previous life so that they can enjoy and embrace this new freer life.
What is further interesting is how the products of many human-to-animal transformations still retain some semblance of a human form such as normal speech and the ability to stand upright. Such 'furry' or 'anthro' transformations, as they are known, have expanded to several species, including, for example, killer whales with human arms and legs. It is as if the transformed being, while now possessing the appearance and sensibilities of a new creature, still desires to have a place in the human world by not entirely abandoning his or her human attributes, a feeling no different than the desire most of us had to 'find our place' in school. It is from such clashes between the extremes of man and beast, difference and similarity, peace and violence, and childlike innocence and unrestrained sexuality, that I believe makes transformation fiction fascinating, for from these clashes readers are forced to question the very foundation of who we are as humans and what our civilization represents.