It’s Just a Fetish, Right?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s gender dysphoria.
When I was 18 years old, I discovered my most secret, shameful fantasy written out in plain text on the Internet. It was a short story I came across while using the family computer to search for anything related to gender transformation, a fairly typical routine at the time, and it perfectly captured the kind of magical scenario I’d been dreaming about for years.
My perfect fantasy was titled Shortcut Through Ovid, by someone called The Professor. It was about four college guys on a road trip through Oklahoma. They get lost, wind up in a town called Ovid, mysteriously transform into an archetypal family — dad, mom, and two kids — and settle into a peaceful existence in small-town America. The guy who becomes the mom is the only one who notices anything has happened, and the story is told from his point of view. He fights the change, refusing to accept that he’s now a wife and mother, but eventually learns to appreciate his new life.
I was entranced by this story. It was like my own personal wish fulfillment fantasy. I read the transformation scene over and over. Then I printed it out on paper because this was 1998 and computers were too big to fit in your pocket, and there was no way I was going to get caught reading that story in the living room. I took the printed sheets to my bedroom, where they kept me awake for several nights. I didn’t know what I was feeling as I hid under my blanket, reading and rereading those pages, but I knew I liked it. And I wanted more.
The Internet, as always, was eager to oblige. The website where Ovid was hosted, a place called FictionMania, was overflowing with thousands of fantastical gender transformation stories, almost universally about men becoming women. They were all indexed by keywords, character age, type of transformation, and any number of other attributes. Dozens of new stories were being uploaded every day by enthusiastic amateur writers.
My teenage mind was completely blown away by this treasure trove. No longer did I have to scour television shows and library books for rare gender-bending elements. It didn’t take long before I made a daily habit of checking for new submissions, combing through the archives, and rereading my favorite stories. I was hooked. This was my version of discovering Internet porn.
And porn it was. The stories were often explicitly sexual. The indexed keywords included things like sissification, blow jobs, latex, bondage, hypnosis, french maids, and pretty much any other kink you can imagine. It was blatantly obvious I was browsing a site full of wanking material. Even if most of it was not to my taste, the fact that the stories I did like were hosted here meant they were clearly intended for the same purpose.
By this point I was already wondering if I might be an autogynephilic transvestite fetishist (terms I’d also learned about online), and perusing the FictionMania catalog quickly dispelled any doubts. It was a porn site, and I was getting aroused by it, which meant this was definitely a sex thing. I had a fetish for gender transformation.
As much as I hated admitting that to myself, there was no denying the evidence right in front of me. All I could do was try to keep it hidden and under control. I spent the next 20 years treating my fantasies about becoming a woman as a shameful sexual kink.
It wasn’t a difficult secret to keep. In fact, believing I had a fetish actually made life easier. I could take this thing I didn’t like about myself and externalize it into something that was afflicting me. I could ignore it, fight it, or indulge it, but it was always an “it”, a thing that was not me, and keeping it separate allowed the remainder of me to live an otherwise normal life.
In my younger days, I was often forced to confront the physical reality of my gender — clothes, puberty, roles & expectations, etc — in ways that were uncomfortable and confusing. I coped with that reality by experimenting with clothing, disassociating from my body, fronting masculinity, and various other mechanisms that did not involve my penis. It was exhausting work. Shortcut Through Ovid, and the thousands of other stories, drawings, and captions that followed, provided a more efficient way to cope with those confusing feelings.
Reading transformation fiction allowed me to quickly bypass uncomfortable reality in favor of magical fantasy. Turning my feelings into sexual urges made them easy to purge. Whenever the distracting thoughts arose, I could simply read a few stories about men transforming into women, get aroused, have a brief moment of release, and then move on with my life.
And for 20 years, that’s exactly what I did. See a girl wearing nice shoes and feel a disconcerting sense of longing? Read some stories. A night out with the guys pretending to care about beer and sports? Read some stories. Bored and don’t want to be alone with my thoughts? Read some stories.
At the same time, whenever I allowed my so-called fetish to enter the real world via brief episodes of furtive crossdressing, it was frustratingly not sexual at all. I would try on a skirt or a pair of shoes, admire how feminine they made my legs look, and perhaps start to get an erection, but then I’d see how ridiculous I looked in the mirror and be filled with shame and self-loathing. It was not sexy to feel like a gross pervert.
Hating myself and not understanding why? Read some stories.
I knew about transgender people. I knew that gender transition was possible in the real world. But I didn’t want to live in the real world. Whenever I found a transition timeline video, I might watch with interest, but then I’d always end up feeling sad and guilty. These were real people just trying to live their lives. I didn’t like thinking about actual human beings. I needed my fetish to be abstract. I needed text and artwork. I needed fantasy.
The kind of transformation I wanted was not possible in the real world. Aside from the obvious problem of magic not existing, it was only in fantasy stories that people changed gender in a way that seemed acceptable to me.
The characters I read about didn’t just become women. They were always changed by some external force, usually against their will or out of necessity. They never asked to be women, but it happened anyway, and their lack of agency meant they weren’t responsible for their own transformation. They could always point to the wizard or the wish gone wrong (or in the case of Ovid, a mythological court judge handing out life-changing decrees) and say they were merely being affected by circumstances beyond their control.
That was the real fantasy — that not only could I magically transform into a woman, but I wouldn’t have to admit, even to myself, that I wanted to be one. Someone else would make it happen. Someone else would be responsible. Someone else would relieve me of that shame.
Of course, you know how this story ends.
Treating part of yourself like something separate means you can never be a whole person. Despite a successful career and loving family, I felt increasingly distant from everything and everyone in my life, emotionless, apathetic, never satisfied, as if watching myself and knowing I should be happy, but unable to experience it. Gradually I started to wonder, after exhausting all other options, if maybe my fetish was the reason. I thought about the people in those transition videos. I learned about hormones and their effects, how they helped some people like me alleviate their depression. I found a therapist. I met others like me. A few years later, I’m living as a woman.
A month after starting hormone therapy, I stopped reading stories. Almost overnight, they all started to seem kind of ridiculous. With the clarity of a reduced libido, and no ready mechanism to purge the distracting thoughts, I began seeing gender dysphoria where once there was only sexual arousal. As the months went by, I realized I still wanted a feminine body even when the idea did not arouse me.
Gender transition in the real world can seem impossible. Our bodies feel like inescapable destiny, and transgressing social norms can have severe consequences. One way to cope with the cognitive dissonance of wanting something so seemingly impossible is to convince yourself that you don’t really want it — that the desire you’re feeling is actually something much less consequential — a hobby, an interest, or as in my case, a fetish.
If you’re reading this, you might be asking yourself the same question I did. Is it really just a fetish? Unfortunately I can’t answer that. I can only speak to my own experience and offer a bit of guidance.
Gender transition is possible, but it will not come from outside ourselves. It requires honest introspection, difficult decisions, awkward conversations, and the willingness to assert your own identity and accept the consequences of doing so. It will take time and money and pain. You may lose friends and family. Your body will never be perfect.
But as someone who has done the hard work, I can tell you it was worth the effort. It’s a long road, and it is indeed full of costs and imperfections, but for the first time in my life, it feels like I’m really living. I have emotions now. I feel joy and sadness. I experience the world in first-person.
It wasn’t just a fetish. It was a coping mechanism. And there’s nothing to cope with anymore.