I remember going to someone’s house with my parents when I was six. Wonder Woman was on. We walked in just as Diana Prince, Wonder Woman’s dowdy alter ego, whipped off her hat and glasses, glanced around nervously and spun. Her hair bun loosened just slightly on the first twirl, leaving a little wisp above her brow. On the second go-round, it bloomed a little more. With the third rotation, a wavy, silken corona surrounded her head. I stood there, agape, as a ball of light bloomed in Diana’s chest and gradually enveloped her. She emerged from the haze as Wonder Woman.
At that moment, something inside of me awoke — something dark, raw and primal.
“Um,” I said. “Why does her hair change first?”
No one had an answer, and the moment passed. But I’ve never forgotten that flash, that ritual dance of transformation. Whether I want it to or not, it forms the core of my sexual being.
The seeds of fetish are usually planted in childhood, so I’ve collected different accounts of youthful sexual awakening to try and explain my own. A few years ago in Montreal, I interviewed a slovenly and unpleasant man for a story that never got published. The guy described, at length, a vacation he took to the south of France with his parents when he was four years old. One day he went to the beach, and among the dunes he encountered more than a dozen men and women having a wild orgy. That moment seared his brain. He later became a swinger.
changes into a superheroine.
In the documentary about his life, the sex-obsessed cartoonist R. Crumb admits that he used to masturbate to Bugs Bunny as a child. On the Internet, I found a tortured monologue by a British woman who wrote that when she was five, her mother took her to a store where Tom Baker, that era’s Dr. Who, was signing autographs. The woman distinctly remembers that Baker was wearing wide-ribbed brown corduroy pants. Twenty-five years later, she suddenly developed an unexplainable and overwhelming lust for men in corduroys.
At last, I thought. Someone whose fetish is more ridiculous than mine.
I’m certain that I’m not the only English-speaking man in his thirties whose first crush was on Lynda Carter, one of the most beautiful women of all time. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart joked that she inspired his “lifelong commitment to masturbation.” Yes, I said to myself sadly when I heard that line. It’s true. Her tits look great when she’s running or jumping, and so do her legs. I admit it’s kind of sexy when she’s tied up or chloroformed. But my Wonder Woman fixation had little to do with Lynda Carter’s physical gifts. If I were turned on merely by the sight of jiggly boobs in a spangled bra, I would have gotten over the fetish years ago. Instead, nothing, and I mean nothing, gets me hotter than when a so-called “ordinary” woman changes into a super heroine.
Other crushes have passed me by, but this one’s stuck. I used to swipe Wonder Woman comics from the barbershop if they contained a transformation I liked. When I dreamt, I would often imagine catching Diana Prince mid-transformation and making her do it over again, just for me. Sometimes, I still have those dreams. I had my first orgasm stomach-down on the floor of my bedroom, watching Diana Prince transform on a thirteen-inch portable TV.
I’ve seen every episode of that stupid show, including the one with the leprechaun, the one with Roddy McDowall as the scientist who makes earthquakes and the two featuring Ed Begley, Jr. I’ve memorized every transformation. Many are horribly done and leave me cold, but there are a few perfect examples, like the one where the Nazis are attacking an airbase and Diana Prince has to run all over the place looking for someplace to change. Finally, she whirls around behind an airplane hangar in a transformation ballet that seems to take forever. The best one is also the cheesiest: Martin Mull, as a ludicrous flute-playing hipster, traps Diana Prince in a chair that spins round and round. I have this on videotape, and I swear that I can see Lynda Carter gritting her teeth, trying not to change until Martin Mull leaves the room. As soon as he does, her glasses whip off, her hair flies loose, and she disappears in that archetypal blast of light.
And in my mind, I’m still always asking, “Um, why does her hair change first?”
It help that I went through puberty in the early ’80s, the golden age of female superhero transformations. There was the Savage She-Hulk, the Incredible Hulk’s cousin, who in daily life was an attorney named Jennifer Walters. If she became upset or angry, her body would be surrounded by a pale green glow and she’d grip her skull with both hands and say something like, “I can feel myself beginning to change. . . It can’t happen now. Not now!” Then the clothes-ripping and muscle-growing would kick in. For a while, I watched Spider-Woman, a corny animated Saturday-morning Wonder Woman rip-off that was bad in every way, particularly the Scooby-Doo-style plots featuring ghost pirates. But to me, it was great. Each twenty-two-minute episode featured three or four transformation scenes; the storylines existed solely to provide timid private eye Jessica Drew with excuses to run away from her friends and turn into Spider-Woman.
There were many, many more. I never liked Batgirl and Supergirl much, because all they had to do was take off their clothes and reveal the uniform underneath; there was no explosion, no drama. I much preferred Spider-Man’s friend Angelica Jones, whose body was enveloped in flame as she transformed into Firestar.
There was a minor Marvel Comics character named Ms. Marvel, who would appear whenever her spunky alter ego, feminist magazine editor Carol Danvers, suffered mysterious migraine headaches. I also liked The Mighty Isis, another cut-rate Saturday morning Wonder Woman clone whose magic amulet transformed her from nerdy science teacher Andrea Thomas. A little later, I became fond of She-Ra, Princess of Power, whose transformation scene was always the same — probably to save on animation costs — but still sexy the first couple of times.
It’s taken me almost thirty years to come to terms with these fantasies, which at once bring me more pleasure and more shame than anything else in the world. Why this, I always thought, and why me? As a kid, I told no one about my desires. Many years later, I read an interview with Phil Jimenez, who now writes and illustrates the Wonder Woman comic. He said he used to imagine spinning around like Diana Prince and trying to turn into Wonder Woman. Many of his gay friends had the same fantasy. I never spun myself, and I never wanted to become someone else. My fantasies were far more intricate and ludicrous.
I would imagine catching a super heroine in the middle of transforming. I’d then blackmail her into being my girlfriend. She would be forced, by obligation and love, to transform for me in private, even to transform during sex itself. Now Phil Jimenez has revealed that in an upcoming issue, Wonder Woman will lose her virginity. This development has the comics world in a tizzy, but I’m nonplussed. I want him to bring back Diana Prince. There hasn’t been a transformation in a Wonder Woman comic in nearly two decades. Who cares if the Amazing Amazon is getting laid? I want her to look around expectantly, with a thought bubble over her head saying something like, “I have to find a safe place to change into Wonder Woman!”
Oh, yeah, baby.
Say it again.
Over the years, I’ve searched for some mythological explanation for the erotic appeal of transformation, with little success. I did discover that Filipino mythology prominently features something called a mutya, a magical object that women can ingest to give themselves incredible powers. I suppose there’s something erotic about that, though it might be hard to get sexed up by Narda, an ordinary Filipino woman who transforms into Darna, the Wonder Woman of the Philippines, when she swallows a magical stone.
Beyond my initial childhood experience, I’m left with only haphazard theories. Maybe it’s the same reason that conservative-looking women appeal to me: by hiding their sexuality, they highlight it. But then, I’m excited by magical change even when the woman isn’t homely or uptight.Maybe the transformative moment resembles the instant, usually early, in every romantic relationship when you realize that some sort of sexual contact is inevitable. Suddenly the veil comes off, the lips part and power courses from your partner to you. Or maybe there’s just something about the image of a beautiful woman contorting her body in ecstasy while bathing in a glow of warm light that calls an orgasm to mind. All you have to do is make the connection once, and you’re hooked.
I don’t know. But I do know that I felt shame; it followed me even as I entered adulthood and began to have a more normal sex life. During dry spells, I’d start thinking about superheroines again. I couldn’t help myself. When I was twenty-two, I found myself stuck in a small town in Indiana for a couple of months with a bad job and no friends.
I called a phone-sex line.
“What are you into?” said the operator.
“Um,” I said, “I’m really into superheroines. How they change.”
She started to laugh. “So what?”
“So that’s my fantasy,” I said.
She kept laughing.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m going into a phone booth. And my tits are getting real big . . . ”
She was making fun of me.
Then there was the summer I was living in New York.
One night I was lonely and horny, so I went to a comic-book shop in the East Village, bought a half-dozen superheroine titles from the ’70s and early ’80s, took them home and had a passionate session. When I was done, I was so ashamed that I tossed the comics down the incinerator chute. A few years later in Chicago, I found half a dozen episodes of Spider-Woman at a sleazy video-rental and cellphone store. I gave the guy behind the counter twenty bucks, took the tapes home and locked myself in my room for the weekend. When Sunday came around, I felt dirty. I took the videos out to the alley behind my apartment building and smashed them with a hammer.
Then came the Internet, and suddenly I wasn’t alone. During one of my frequent keyword searches for “superheroine transformation,” I discovered Alter Ego, an entire website devoted to superheroine secret identities. “This site,” wrote the founder, “is about superheroines getting unmasked by the villain’s henchmen, dowdy secretaries transforming into stunning lycra-clad crime fighters, heroines getting caught unexpectedly while changing into or out of their secret identities and mild-mannered lady reporters being captured and exposed as superheroines.” The site had photo scans of the best transformation scenes from the comics. It had movie clips. It had photomanipulations. It had fan fiction. There was a message board and a comprehensive index of every transformation ever filmed. It was the lost city of gold — masturbation material for life.
Yet still I was ashamed. Here I had found my community, but I didn’t want to talk to anyone. In my view, Alter Ego members were nothing more than pimple-pussed, fat-assed dorks with nothing better to do than jack off to Wonder Woman comics. Okay, so that also kind of described me, but I wanted to think I was cooler than they were. So I lurked in the background.
When the founder stopped updating the site, I considered it partly my fault. His postings on the message board grew increasingly belligerent. Apparently, there were a lot of people like me who went to the site and “used” it but never contributed anything from their own transformation collections. Some of those people apparently got bossy and sent him nasty notes if the site wasn’t updated frequently enough for their tastes. In the fall of 2001, the content was frozen.
I started corresponding with a guy (he went by name of “Fonzie,” God help me) who haunted the site late in its life. He proposed starting a Yahoo! message board spin-off of Alter Ego. He would require prospective members to submit either an original piece of fiction about a transforming superheroine or some scanned transformation photos from the comics. Well, I wasn’t about to provide the first, because I had better things to do, and if I bought a comic, it was usually in the trash within a week.
Instead, I sent Fonzie several emails about my likes and dislikes, going into great detail about my favorite transformations throughout superheroine history. “Wow, you really are a fan, aren’t you?” he
Yes, sadly, I am. But I never joined his club.
With Alter Ego frozen, fresh transformation material suddenly became hard to come by. This She-Hulk site has its moments, for sure, but I found it too geeky to visit regularly.
Then there’s Altawoman, which marks the probable endpoint of this particular fetish. Obviously created by a transformation obsessive, the site bills itself as a showcase for the adventures of “the Internet’s most erotic 3D-rendered superheroine,” but it’s really just a peg on which to hang the most balls-out transformations of all time.
In 3D computer graphics, the site tells the story of Allie West, a slim, bespectacled brunette, who — depending on the current plotline — is either a college student or government agent. Allie discovers that she has special powers which only surface when she’s turned on sexually. When she has an orgasm, a wave of pink light explodes from her vagina, transforming her into a Teutonic blonde goddess with incredible superpowers, like the ability to shoot sex rays from her enormous breasts. To make herself transform, Allie masturbates. Sometimes, when someone takes her from behind, she changes by accident. In one series, “Altawoman Vs. She-Hulk,” both heroines transform simultaneously during lesbian sex. The site is stupid almost beyond imagination, but the transformation scenes are detailed and hot. All pretense has been stripped away. My innocent boyhood fetish has finally achieved the ultimate absurdity of porn.
And it’s a dying breed. The current crop of superheroines doesn’t need secret identities. I’m sure there are teenage boys who jack off to Xena and Buffy, but sexy as those ladies are, they don’t do it for me. The recent, mercifully cancelled WB show Birds Of Prey featured three superheroines, but their idea of secret identity involved changing jewelry when they went out to fight crime. The only place
I can find transformations, other than in my memory and on obscure corners of the Internet, is in anime.
Sailor Moon hit the Cartoon Network a few years ago, and the transformations were pretty good. But they were also repetitive, and I felt more than vaguely pedophiliac watching a fourteen-year-old cartoon girl twirl around naked in space while brightly colored stars from a magic wand turned her into a mystical princess. As far as adult anime goes, I discovered characters like Devil Hunter Yokho, Aika and Cutey Honey, who have wild transformations that would please even the nonbeliever.
As far as I can tell, Aika has a magic bra that begins to spread over her body during dangerous situations. It rips off her clothes and sends her hurtling into space, completely naked and moaning “Ooooooooh!” changing her hair color and covering her in impenetrable body armor. When I discovered that scene on an anime website that no longer exists, I watched in amazement. But then I shut off my computer.
It was too much, even for me.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays in 2003.