This is the translation of an article by Olivier Clairouin published in May 2014 in the French newspaper “Le Monde“. I, Akhila, am not the author of the original text. I stayed faithful to the original at the expense of style. I translated the awkwardness of the text as is; I did not seek to improve the article. Thanks to Dinictis and Khamaseen for proofreading.
On blogs and forums, thousands of them gather around one certainty: half human, half dragon, elves or… rabbits, they were born in the wrong body.
Since kindergarten, Camille* has known this: she’s not entirely human, she’s otherkin. Like many others, she’s had a strong feeling that a part of herself came from a fantastical creature such as an angel, an elf, or, in her case, a phoenix.
Morticia is a therian. She’s never felt comfortable in her human skin and she firmly believes a part of her is animal: “I don’t necessarily think I’m an animal deep-down, but I don’t think I’m completely human either”, she explains. She confides that she feels much closer to rats than to her human peers: “I growl, I bite, I munch food like a dog would”.
Teenage craze? Not necessarily. Camille is 39 and works as a government employee in the French administration. Morticia is 23 and a management assistant for an American NGO. Although most otherkin and therians on forums mention ages roughly between 15 and 24, it seems that all age ranges are involved.
It must be noted that otherkin didn’t wait for Animorphs or the vampire fad in movies to see the light of day. Purportedly, the concept appeared in 1972 when the first elf groups were born (Elf Queen’s Daughters, the Silver Elves) and the term itself became popular in the 90’s with the creation of the first mailing lists that gathered elf-identified individuals (elfkin) and other creatures as well.
In 1993 the first place of exchange for therians was created, followed one year later by a website catering specifically to people close to dragons, dragonkins. (All of these dates and references can be found in a “timeline” developed by some members of the otherkin community.)
Nowadays, one can dig around and find a good number of blogs (such as here, here, or here), dozens of mailing lists, chats, forums (WulfHowl, OtherkinFellowship, The Werelist), encyclopedias (AnotherWiki), and even physical gatherings. Although noticeably smaller than its American counterpart, the French community still has some meeting points such as the Howl of Silver Wings forums, the therian and otherkin forum for French-speakers, or the Château Blanc.
All testimonies agree on one thing: Internet played an essential role for every therian and otherkin, giving them the possibility to get in touch with people who experienced the same “feelings” and allowing them to put a label on these. Many posts and guides can be found to help internet users narrow down their research and define what their “theriotype” or “kintype” is exactly.
24 year old wolf-woman Amy explains through e-mail:
“As cliché as it may sound, I’ve always felt “weird” or “different” from others. I stumbled upon a forum where members discussed otherkin and similar topics. I felt a very strong connection to others when I read their experiences.”
Same story for Morticia for whom “Internet played a great role in these influences. I spend most of my free time online, immersing myself in various subcultures, in the furry fandom [community for fans of anthropomorphic animals] as much as among the therian communities”, she claims.
In spite of the overwhelming dominance of wolves and dragons in the field of alternative personalities, a great many species are represented within the community, and sometimes coexist inside the same individual – each of which, a possible reflection of a former life. As an example, an internet user on this forum claims to be a wolf, a demon, and a samurai all at once.
So be it. But how does it manifest itself exactly?
Shifts, Telepathy and “Astral Travels”
In an article from 2001 about an elfkin group, Village Voice understood the phenomenon as a direct offshoot of the 80’s New Age movement. The interpretation is shared by Danielle Kirby, one of the rare sociologists – if not the only one – who has addressed the topic. In a 2006 essay available online, this researcher from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology draws a parallel between the convictions of therians and otherkin and a form of neopagan belief:
“As an interim classification, the Otherkin fit broadly
within the ideas encapsulated by the neo-pagan movement and
religions of re-enchantment, although it needs to be stressed
that such a classification is only general. To construe this group
as specifically neo-pagan or techno-pagan obscures the focus of
the participants. The Otherkin’s relationship to paganism should
be seen in terms of a shared body of knowledge rather than of
similar intentions or practices, although individual participants
may or may not adhere to some form of pagan belief.”
As outlined by Danielle Kirby, there is no rite or practice common to otherkin, properly speaking, as the focus is much more on personal experience. However there is the shared belief in a number of things such as reincarnation, astral travel, “shifts”, auras, or telepathy.
Herolie, a 25 year old French person who identifies as a winged unicorn (and who introduced herself as an indigo child – a person with particular psychic or mental powers -, which illustrates the New Age legacy), claims she could envision her second nature through astral travel, a sort of trance where she could see the animal she was in a past life. “Travel” being considered out-of-body experiences, she explains on a webpage where she answers the questions of visitors.
In a post published in November 2011, a woman under the name “BellaDona Saberhagen” presented herself as a former otherkin and detailed how one of her dragon friends had to regularly consult a shaman to “clean up” his aura which would “get dirty” over time, especially after tough times like romantic break-ups.
Camille, our 39 year old phoenix-woman, says she can use a form of telepathy. When asked how the gift manifests itself concretely, she explains:
“It’s very different from what you’d imagine from movies. You don’t hear voices (good thing, that would freak me out!), but you perceive emotions and feelings […]. There are other peculiarities for which I lack a term: I can guess how movies end, how books end, I can figure the outcome of a situation.”
Concerning “shifts”, specific moments where human nature is subservient to the “kin” (the other nature), many testimonies can be found about this experience, as well as numerous attempts to establish a typology. Azraël, 18 year old French vampire approached on a forum for French-speakers, describes them as such:
“In my case, it involves better senses and reactivity to my environment (what one may call “sensory shift”), phantom limbs (similar to that of an amputee), a very sharp instinct (such as an animal’s, a predator for me), and sometimes what is commonly referred to in the vampire community as “the thirst” (of blood). Regarding phantom limbs, in my case it is of course longer canine teeth (well, I’m a vampire after all) and more powerful limbs, sometimes claws even.”
Without going as far as necessarily believing in astral travel and the paranormal, most otherkin and therians claim they experience more or less regularly the concrete expression of their alter ego, which sometimes make conventional social relationships difficult. “Taking a crowded subway train during rush hour can be a real pain”, Azraël reveals.
In a message from her blog, a therian recounts how she lost her first job in 2008 because of an unvoluntarily “shift” in the middle of the store she worked at.
If some research is enough to be aware of the number of people following a similar spiritual quest, a part of the community that doesn’t agree much or at all with this mystical version of their situation, and prefers a more psychological explanation, can just as easily be found.
This is the case for people like Twigo (a badger), or Azzio, a young person from Montpellier with an owl and jackal as theriotypes. On her blog, she analyzes with apparent lucidity the origins of her identification to these two animals:
“Therianthropy, animal identity, to me, is pure and simple psychology. A psychological abnormality. I’m not saying it should be cured, I’m not saying it should be eliminated. It’s a support in life, a personal way to hide, to protect oneself, to live fully.”
“Then, about shifts or ‘fluctuations in animality’ (in that the animal becomes more present), I think it is more closely related to certain episodes of some people with Asperger’s. To me, in any case, it involves a rejection of any physical or tactile stimulation, an inability to express myself properly, and a propensity for growling, hissing, and talking gibberish.”
Here therianthropy appears not as an excuse but as a way to deal with certain difficulties in social relationships, some kind of defense arsenal to facilitate self-acceptance and as a way to distinguish oneself. There is no mystical dimension taken into account.
As a 2012 Gawker article explained before (this view is also shared by Danielle Kirby), the concept of otherkin and its derivatives now cover a much larger range of interpretations than at the origins of the movement, with noticeable influence from LGBT rhetorics. “I don’t feel comfortable with the earthly body life/society gave to me, please respect my identity, be it a wolf, an alien or an elf”. This is in essence the argument to be found here and there online.
It is not coincidental if one encounters the terms “species dysphoria“, taken directly from “gender dysphoria”: just like there are people who find their sexual parts and gender do not fit who they really are, there also are individuals who are uncomfortable with their species. These individuals, especially in France, would prefer the term “transspecies” rather than “therian”, as if to relate closer to gender issues and move away from any mystical legacies.
Thus, Morticia considers herself “genderfluid”, while Azzio claims to be androgynous. Her voice betraying her young age, the latter explains in a breakneck pace that, for her, species and gender issues are “inseparable, because I know the thing [in her case, a trauma] that caused a lack of identification with my gender also resulted in not identifying with my species”, which reflects what she wrote on her blog:
“I feel bad because I don’t have a penis. But I also feel bad because I don’t have a tail.”
The most ridiculed group on the Internet?
Fertile ground for bringing the most diverse communities together, Internet is also a catalyst for criticism and troll epidemics, that finds the otherkin and therian communities to be easy prey. Considered by many as a hobby for teenagers who long for recognition, putting forward one’s membership to one of these communities is often subject to ridicule (for example, by displaying one’s deep sense of identification as a bread loaf); it sometimes triggers never-ending hateful disputes (as can be seen in the hundreds of comments under that video) riddled with Godwin points.
Similarly, in May 2012 three teens admitted hiding behind the Tumblr “Prince-Koyangi” for months (the blog’s content has since been deleted) presenting as a “demiromantic asexual autistic transasiatic cat”. The partners in crime claim they created this otherkin parody to draw attention to the absurdity of this community and how its demands weaken those of other groups, like the LGBT community, by belittling their arguments when otherkin put themselves on equal footing with them.
Whatever one might think of this antagonism, it has the merit of attracting attention to one of the main characteristics of these communities – otherkin, therian, transspecies or other – in that they are distinguished by a blurring that allows each and everyone to take for themselves the terms and blend into a subcommunity that agrees with the form of one’s feelings and beliefs. Otherkin define themselves in relation to transsexuals or fursuiters, therians in relation to otherkin, transspecies in relation to therians, etc.
“With such personal and specific ideas, there may be important variations in the way people understand these terms and a personal investment that is therefore just as important”, explains Danielle Kirby. With their fuzzy outlines, these communities have an undisputable advantage: enabling these individuals who feel different to support each other and share their experiences, without impeding their ability to claim their own uniqueness.
* Names have been changed.