One of the biggest criticisms of the Otherkin community, both within and without, is the proliferation of what my friend Rialian refers to as “identitykin”. These are people for whom being Otherkin revolves primarily around the identity itself, rather than the application of that identity (and numerous other factors) to everyday life. Identitykin are one of the reasons why the phenomenon of being Other is often mistaken as just another attempt to “be special”.
To be fair, a lot of Otherkin go through a similar phase, especially when newly Awakened. After all, we’ve been introduced to the idea that yes, Virginia, there is sentient life beyond humanity, and that we’re not alone in our feelings of being Other. Hell, I still catch myself getting a little too wrapped up in my identity as a wolf, though I’ve done a lot to integrate it into the rest of my being in the decade or so since I was first introduced to the concept of therianthropy.
One particularly useful tip I have learned through observing others and talking shop, especially with people I really admire within the community, is that sometimes it’s good to incorporate a little (neo)Zen as a balance to that whole identity-woohoo! thing. By this I mean living in the moment, and simply being Other rather than thinking about it, or talking about it, or other conscious acts upon it; the key verb here is “to be”.
Identitykin may assume that this is what they’re already doing. After all, aren’t they wrapping everything in their life around being Other, and living life as a (insert kin type here) would? This also ties into the tendency for some Otherkin to say “Well, I exhibit this behavior, so I must be that type of Otherkin” and, conversely, to say “I am this type of Otherkin, so I must act like this”. Everything gets pointed back to being Otherkin, even when it’s something that “ordinary” humans also commonly embody.
I used to be very identity-focused for a long time, because I really didn’t know how else to be. I spent entirely too much time trying too hard to be more wolfish (and ended up doing some really dumb things as a result). I was dissatisfied because I was stuck in a human body and didn’t have the amazing physical capabilities of Canis lupus, such as the ability to run 25 miles an hour for long periods of time, or keep myself warm with fur that ice wouldn’t stick to. In short, I spent entirely too much time trying to be something and someone else.
That was until I started working with more experienced members of both the pagan and Otherkin communities. The first way I started weaning myself off of the identity fixation was to view myself as a whole being, not just a therian. While many of my traits, preferences and identities are interconnected, they don’t necessarily cause each other. For example, I am a totemist and a pagan, and animal magic is central to my practice. Granted, totemism and therianthropy weave very closely in my life, and there may be some connection there, but I don’t think I am a totemist solely because I am a therian. (I also don’t think that my therianthropy sprang directly from my totemism either, for the record.) There are also certain physical traits that resemble wolfish ones; my body is lean and compact, and I have always walked on the balls of my feet as long as I’ve had the balance to do so.
However, there are plenty of things that have absolutely nothing to do with being a therian. I love salad, salmon, and ice cream. I am a voracious reader, and I prefer nonfiction to fiction. I like long, flowing hippie dresses, and baggy bondage pants with lots of straps and chains (boy-cut, not girl-cut, thanks – I like not having my hips constricted). I have a short temper that I’m working on, and (I like to think) a well-developed sense of humor. None of these things has any direct bearing on my therianthropy, and vice versa. These days I don’t think “Well, I am inquisitive and intelligent because I am a wolf”; rather, I say “I am an inquisitive and intelligent person who just happens to be a wolf (and a pagan, and a kinky person, and a late twenty-something, etc.”.
Eventually I learned to integrate the therianthropy in with the rest of myself. A large part of it involved acceptance of who I am, and then being able to make changes starting from that point, rather than trying to make huge leaps and bounds to becoming someone else entirely. A lot of the identitykin phenomenon is wrapped up in escapism; people use being Other as a way to escape the mundane, boring, unsatisfactory aspects of their human lives. It’s like the newcomers to magic who get so incredibly wrapped up in their personal mythologies that they lose touch with physical reality, and forget that not everyone shares in their mythos. Once I simply allowed myself to be Lupa (who is a therian, and a pagan, and a whole bunch of other things), identity ceased to be all-important. Sure, it’s still a part of who I am, but it’s not everything. And by coming to terms with who, what and where I am right now in this moment, I have a much more realistic view on what parts of myself I can improve upon. I know that physical shapeshifting is impossible in this reality, and that’s okay. I only rarely ever experience species dysphoria anymore; in fact, I very rarely even shift at all, other than feeling like I’m sliding up and down a continuum between Wolf-mind and Human-mind (both of which are me).
And I allow myself to simply be. I don’t worry overmuch about whether or not I’m wolfish enough, or if I have past lives to back up my claims. I don’t regret the phases I went through when these things were a lot more important, but I’m a lot happier and healthier now that they’ve faded into the background, become just a few more threads in the complex tapestry that is Lupa.