[X-posted from Birds of a Feather]
human bodies are
temples for the human soul
cages for the birds
(swanblood, Nonhuman Haiku)
I find this haiku beautiful, and at the same time I feel conflicted. I wonder: is it really so? if some bird-people don’t exactly feel trapped in their human body, would it mean to others that they aren’t real birds? I have the experience and self-confidence to know better, to not let others’ words alienate or diminish who and what I am. I know this isn’t easy for everyone though, which is why I do not like making too definite statements about identities.
I used to be different, but I like to think I changed for the best. It’s okay if someone’s experience of being raven or clouded leopard isn’t exactly like mine, it does not mean they aren’t valid experiences. It only means that I don’t relate to them. And vice versa – it isn’t because one’s experience of being bird or feline differs from the norm that their therianthropy is unvalid.
I remember a recent quote from the nonhumanlibrary:
“Jack London writes amazingly vivid descriptions of Nature in all of his books, my favourite being The Call of the Wild.
Which is, naturally, a call that all of us feel, hm?”
Although it probably wasn’t the poster’s intent, such statements, as timid as they may be, end up restricting what it’s like being a “therian” or “otherkin”, excluding a category of individuals altogether.
What about people who identify as domestic animals or others folks who don’t feel such a “call”? Invisible, forgotten. And invariably I wonder “what even IS being wild?”. Is it living remote from human spaces? What about birds who live in urban settings but don’t let people approach them? What about common ravens, who can be extremely shy in the wild and extremely tame right after they get caught? Or is it about a lack of socialization? But animals such as ravens and wolves have social rules of their own.
More and more, I tend to think of “wild” as a human qualificative for everything they want to distinguish themselves from as humans, just like “animality”. It’s not something that exists on its own, it only exists in relation to humanity’s standards, in human heads, to set them appart from other animals or from the animals they can control. Beside, wouldn’t it be a bit appropriative to define oneself as “wild” – I’ve seen such a claim, that animal-folks must be “wilder” than non-therians – when they grew up with a roof above their head and many of the commodities human folks can access?
I think “wild” is merely a bad substitute for something else, like the feeling one does not belong with most human groups, or that one feels out of place in urban spaces, and such as. I understand the homesickness of someplace alien to “civilization” (another anthropocentric and ethnocentric concept). I understand the aches. Supporting a misconception is one thing, essentialism is another. I feel it can be harmful to imply that “all of us [who are therians] experience the Call of the Wild, naturally“. Because it isn’t true.
Animal-folks who are still questioning may be misled to deny who they are because they can’t find any statement that doesn’t erase their own experience. Just like “shifting” used to be mandatory to be a legit “were” in the past, many animal-people seem to have difficulties to depart themselves from an idealized version of what is supposedly “being animal”. By suggesting that this call is an experience common to all animal-folks, it translates as “if you don’t experience it, you’re not an animal-person”. Or alternatively, that you aren’t as much as others, ie. you’re a sub-therian.
I feel conflicted about some things I read from other avian-people, such as the yearning for the sky and flight. On one hand, I feel that I should be able to fly; there’s the phantom wings of course, and some undescribable sensations. On the other hand though, it does not define “bird” to me, and I don’t like it when other people reduce “being a bird” to “flight”. That’s why I’ve said little on the subject; I don’t like putting the emphasis on that part of my raven experiences.
Judgemental people might say that I’m not a bird as much as others, or that it’s because I’m also a feline – a flightless animal – and that it means I’m not a “pure” bird. In reality, there is more to “raven” than just the clouds and wind. This isn’t just about my experience, either. Many birds are primarily ground-dwelling, such a pheasants and other galliformes. Additionally, there are many birds that do not fly at all. From emus to penguins, from cassowaries to rheas, including some grebes and cormorants, these doesn’t even include the plethora of extinct birds and prehistoric relatives that were only or mostly terrestrial, such as terror birds.
Not all bird creatures belong to the sky, in part or in whole. Not all animal-people are “wild” animals nor feel trapped in a human body. It doesn’t make us less *anything* than others. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about the sky, it’s just I also wish there would be more talking about the rest.
First of all what I feel is “avian”
Not like the idealized:
Doe-eyed greeting card doves, perfect blonde cherubim and seraphim on Christmas ornaments, American eagles keeping solemn protective vigil over the interests of rich men in suits, gentle internet gryphons holding tea-parties
But like the bird I know through my pets and my interest in biological history
Ruffled, neurotic, temperamental, beady-eyed and alien, beneath the feathers a reptile running at a warm-blooded pace
(crowgoblin, excerpt from “On tengu-ness”, 2004)