From its inception, Animorphs was always a series dedicated to what we’d term social justice today. It featured five kids of various ethnicities trying to save the world from a secret alien invasion, becoming child warriors in the process. But as a product of the 90s, it didn’t focus on LGBTQ+ issues very much. Sure, the protagonists were very young, and author K.A. Applegate might not have been able to get any LGBTQ+ rep through her publishers if she had had any ideas, but the fact remains that a series about kids literally changing their bodies as a weapon of war should have made trans issues front and center in Animorphs‘s otherwise excellent diversity.
Fortunately, in recent years the Animorphs fandom has taken steps to correct this oversight. One of my previous FFs, Bird in a Cage, was a character study of Tobias, arguably the Animorph with the most gender dysphoria. Canonically, Tobias never felt comfortable in his human body, and when he ended up trapped in his hawk morph, it wasn’t his body he missed, but his humanity in general. In that fic, author etothepii explores the idea of Tobias as a trans girl coming to terms with her gender identity. Today’s fanfic broadens the scope of these gender identity issues by changing the gender identity of all the Animorphs. The Word of Your Body is a series of vignettes about trans, intersex, and nonbinary Animorphs that looks at the many social and family issues that the gender-diverse Animorphs have to go through in the shadow of the war.
Trigger warning for gender dysphoria, transphobia, and internalized transphobia in the fic. As Animorphs was originally written in the 90s, this fanfic was written using LGBTQ+ terms that would have been used in the 90s, despite the fact that we no longer use some of these terms today. Please read with caution.
“Judith,” Dad said slowly, picking up the brochure and studying it. “Why are you telling us this? About PFLAG?”
Jude took a fierce swig of water and swallowed it hard. “Because I’m a transsexual too. Like Reuben. I’m not just a tomboy. I want to be a boy.”
Mom took the brochure from Dad, looked at it, and put it back down on the table. “Oh, honey. I’ve lived in San Francisco, you know. You don’t have to be a boy to like girls. If you think you might be a lesbian, I support you.”
“I know what a lesbian is, Mom. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m only 12, I don’t even know if I like boys or girls or whatever. But I’ve known I want to be a boy for years. I’ve never liked being a girl. I don’t want to be called Judy, I don’t want to have babies, and I don’t want to be a little sister. I want to be a brother. Like Tom.” He glanced at Tom, who was watching with raised eyebrows, but said nothing.
“Judith,” Mom said, reaching for his hand. “Being a woman isn’t all bad. I know it’s hard sometimes, but the answer isn’t running off and saying you want to be a boy. The answer is standing up for yourself. I’ve written for so many employers who said no one would read my work if I wrote under a woman’s name. But they were wrong.”
He didn’t take her hand. “Mom, Dad. You should talk to Aunt Naomi about this. She’s OK with Reuben being a girl. She even calls her Rachel when they’re at home. She’d explain. It’s not so bad or different.”
“Your Aunt Naomi has been encouraging that boy’s flights of fancy since he was in first grade. I agree with your Uncle Dan, as nasty as that divorce was – if she had just laid down some rules when he was younger – ”
“You didn’t lay down any rules about me playing with Tom’s trucks and I’ve turned out fine.” Jude looked at Tom, who had been quiet this whole time. “Tom, you didn’t mind me playing with them. Did you?”
“Of course not. Girls who do guy things are cool.” He slapped Jude on the back. “Listen, Judy. You don’t need this PFLAG thing. You should check out the Sharing. My mentor there is this gay guy who might even be as fabulous as Reuben. Guys and girls just hang out and play sports together all the time, and no one cares what you dress like. You’d fit right in.”
Jude’s stomach dropped. Tom hadn’t listened to a word he said. He’d always had Tom on his side, before, when he fought with his parents over what he could wear or what sports he could play. Without him, Jude didn’t know what to do.
Both The Word of Your Body and its companion fic Your Body Is Not An Apology, by author Poetry, take small moments of the Animorphs’s lives throughout the series and use them to examine how each Animorph comes to realize their gender identity and express that identity to their parents and friends. On the one hand, this makes the series immeasurably sadder — in a story about an intergalactic war which tears apart whole species, it seems like too much to also have these protagonists rejected and bullied by their own families. As in the above quote, Animorph leader Jude finds that his own parents are openly dismissive of his feelings, leaving him with even less support than he had in the original series. Tobias was kicked out of his family not because his uncle was neglectful but because Tobias is intersex, and part of the reason Jude and Rachel’s cousin David is so furious at the Animorphs is because some of them have been accepted by their families, whereas he never will be.
On the other hand, the moments when the Animorphs are supported are made all the more sweeter. The Chee are even greater allies to the Animorphs in these fics because they give the Animorphs much-needed beta blockers, Marco’s long-awaited reunion with their mother is far more emotional because she wholeheartedly embraces their identity, and when the war is finally won, the Animorphs make sure that the world knows their real names, not the ones they were assigned at birth. So despite adding to the already-considerable angst of the original series, Poetry’s fic series does a great job exploring the many facets, both good and bad, of what a series of non-gender-conforming Animorphs would have been like.