Fanfiction Fridays: Bird in a Cage by etothepii

Some of you may remember Animorphs, a series which was all fun animal transformations on the surface and all war crimes and child soldiers when you got deeper. It’s been one of my favorite series my whole life, and so I periodically search AO3 and the trash fire that is FF.net for new fanfic, hoping that someone will someday write me the fix-it fic of my dreams. Though I haven’t yet found that, I have discovered that as our civil rights dialogue has advanced, particularly online, more and more fanfiction writers have been applying it to their fanfic. And Animorphs, which was about a multicultural and multiethnic group of kids working together to save humankind from alien invaders, is a particularly meaningful story to which to apply some of this social justice.

animorphs headerWhen Animorphs was written in the late 90s, Western society’s understanding of trans issues was fairly low (or nonexistent). Now, though, there are more trans people out in the public eye than ever, and subsequently, people are slowly starting to believe that there can and should be trans characters in fiction as well. It’s a long road to more actual canon representation, but in the meantime, no one can stop anyone from having all the trans headcanons they want. Though today’s fanfic is short, it’s a fantastic example of what I’m talking about.

Trigger warning for body dysmorphia and internalized transphobia after the jump.

I looked away under the guise of straightening some of my feathers. <I guess I just never really liked being Tobias the human. I never felt right.>

“But you still morph human sometimes,” Rachel said. “We saw that movie the other week. I thought you had fun.”

We did. I had. In the dark theater, with just Rachel sitting next to me, the movie on the screen, and a bag of candy shared between us, being human hadn’t been so bad. Going human was worth it, more than worth it, if that was what it took to go to a movie theater with her.

<I did. I like watching movies with you and going to dances. But that’s because morphing human’s the only way I can do it. It’s just that if I could, when I morphed human I wouldn’t be– > I stopped talking. Saying it would make it real.

“Wouldn’t be what?”

I hesitated. My secret, my deepest secret, the one I had worked so hard to make sure no one knew, sat on the tip of my tongue, closer to the surface than it’d been ever since I’d last gotten smacked upside the head for hinting at it. Fear choked me. I was already a freak. I didn’t want to be even more of a freak. I didn’t want her to be disgusted with me.

Rachel watched me, patient. But I couldn’t say it.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me,” she said when I didn’t answer her.

I felt a sudden rush of love towards her. That was what decided it for me. I loved her and somewhere, part of me wanted her to know. If it didn’t, I would have lied when she’d asked, the same way I did whenever anyone else teased me for spending so much time as a bird instead of a boy.

<Don’t tell the others,> I warned. <I don’t want them to know.>

“I won’t,” she promised solemnly. She stuck her littlest finger out and shook pinkies with an invisible hand. “Pinky promise.” It looked funny, but I knew she was dead serious. She would guard my secrets with her life, the same way I guarded hers.

Even after making the decision, it took me a minute to work up the nerve. <If I could, I wouldn’t be a boy,> I finally admitted in the equivalent of a thought-speak whisper.

Rachel didn’t understand. She tilted her head slightly. She wore a puzzled frown on her face as she tried to work it out. “What would you be instead?”

I told her.

In the series, Tobias has always been the outsider of the group thanks to his being stuck in morph—during the group’s first battle, he morphed into a red-tailed hawk and didn’t morph out within the required two hours, and though he later got his morphing ability back, his “normal” body is now that of the hawk forever. So it makes a certain amount of sense, from a writing standpoint, to add another layer of more realistic body dysmorphia on top of that. In Bird in a Cage, Tobias is reimagined as a trans girl who is still coming to terms with her gender identity. She tells Rachel, her fellow Animorph and girlfriend, that she never really felt at home in her human body. To her surprise, Rachel accepts it, and the two of them start figuring out how Tobias can live more comfortably with herself.

animorphs tobiasAdding Tobias as a trans character to Animorphs’ existing diversity is great, but it’s also honestly a surprise to me that it took so long for a fic to capitalize on the fact that the Animorph morphing technology could work really well with trans issues. Tobias can absorb the DNA of anyone she touches, and the first thing she does is absorb Rachel (with her permission) so that she can have an idea of what it’s like to exist as a girl. But since it’d be kind of creepy to exist as Rachel forever, Tobias learns how to perform the Frolis maneuver, which allows her to mix and match the DNA of many different humans so that she can create and morph into a female body of her own.

Though I’m cisgender and can’t speak for the trans issues in this fic, the coming out part of the story read as extremely realistic to my personal experience, and I could honestly read another thousand words about Tobias and Rachel learning to adjust to their new transgender norms and unlearning their transphobia. Unfortunately, the story is only about 3k long, but every word of it is great. You can check it out here on the AO3!


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