Transmogrification: (un)becoming other(s)

Nikki Sullivan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Nikki Sullivan, a critical theorist of body modification practises, examines similarities and differences between transsexual surgeries and other forms of bodily modification such as piercing, branding, tattooing, cosmetic surgery, and self-demand amputation. Sullivan contends that all such practises can be considered “trans” practises, and that, conversely, transsexual body modification can be considered simply one particular type of a wider class of phenomena. Sullivan is especially concerned with how, across a wide range of discourses, various critics tend to perpetrate moral judgements about what constitutes “good” rather than “bad” body modification practises that affirm cultural norms, and to disparage countercultural forms of bodily modification. Likewise, she points out how in various critical contexts, body modifications that mark an antithetical relationship to the dominant culture are celebrated while normalizing procedures are condemned. She then surveys a few of the ways that proscriptions emanating within both critical and conventional moralities play out with regard to transgender body modification practises. Central to Sullivan’s argument is her development of the concept of “transmogrification,” usually defined as a strange of grotesque transformation characterized by distortion, exaggeration, and “unnatural combinations.” Rather than seeing transmogrification as a negative process that produces disavowed and abjected monstrous others, she sees it as the expression of a fundamental human condition, part of the process through which we perpetually transform ourselves in relation to an Other. In seeking to articulate an analytics of transmogrification rather than a moral condemnation of the monstrous and strange, Sullivan calls for an “intercorporeal ethics” that recognizes and welcomes our own strangeness as well as the strangeness of others. This ethical practise simultaneously seeks out common norms and modes of interpersonal engagement, and never loses sight of the notion of justice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe transgender studies reader
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780415947084
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • transgender
  • sexuality
  • queer
  • body modification


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