Is diversity more than Political Correctitude?

[Ed: This was originally written in a discussion about the vampire
community, but the concepts apply equally well elsewhere]

So, now we’ve seen some examples of “I’m Real, You’re Not” and some
examples of “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” I’ve been thinking about how
to keep this tangle from shattering us the way it does so many
communities, and I came up with three different tools we might be able to

Tolerance – So far, we’ve been pretty good at Tolerance. Tolerance is a
social contract – people come together and say, “Look, I don’t understand
some of you, but I’ll take your word for it that you belong.” It’s an
external framework that we voluntarily plug into in the hope of finding
SOME common ground to build on. Being external, it doesn’t require any
internal cognitive dissonance – Sue can think Ellen isn’t a real vampire,
but just kind of deal with the fact that Ellen thinks she is because
Ellen, like anyone else, probably has some interesting things to say.

Respect – Respect is the most stable and reliable tool for community-
building, but it’s totally different from Tolerance because it’s
completely internal. You respect some people, you don’t respect others.
You can TREAT people you don’t respect as though you respect them, if
you’ve got the personal strength for that sort of thing, but most people
don’t, and write it off as “hypocrisy” because they’ve got so much to
prove that they can’t just let it go. The important thing is that you
can’t just decide to respect someone, any more than you can decide to
love them or hate them, because it’s a feeling. Until someone has
*earned* your respect, you can’t genuinely respect them. Respect is
rare, and rightly so.

So how do you bridge the gap between the inherent tensions of diverse
people practicing Tolerance, and the rarity of Respect?

Courtesy! I know, it seems too simple and old-fashioned to be at all
useful – but it really does have meaning, and could save us as a community
if enough individuals decide to use it. It’s not completely external,
like Tolerance – no matter what community you’re a part of or not, it’s
totally up to you whether to treat your fellows with courtesy. Neither is
it totally internal, like Respect – it’s kind of a programming language
that translates between the machine language of what you really feel and
the outside world with its possibilities for functionality.

A nice perk of Courtesy is that it actually leads to Respect. A lot of
times, Respect is hindered by personal insecurity and lack of information.
But if you get a critical mass of diverse people practicing Courtesy, the
flow of information is unimpeded, and people are more likely to shrug off
the capes & masks and allow as how maybe someone totally different from
them might be for real too.

The Death of the Otherkin Community

Well, that should get someone’s attention. If there is anyone listening.

A year ago you couldn’t breathe without a new mailing list or a new website
springing into existance, and people dropped off mailing lists because they could
not cope with the volume of email.

These days people sign off the mailing lists because there isn’t any mail.
Sometimes literally. Even elven-realities, the list of lists had days
recently when there were no posts at all. This is the list that had to have
it’s posting limit raised because the traffic was high enough it hit the “we
think you are being mailbombed” checks on the list server. There are lists
with 250 people subscribed, and no traffic.

You might say that mailing lists are not a good indication of the state of
the community, perhaps not, but for a long time they have been places of much
conversation, connection and debate. They have been the connection that ties
a widespread group of people into something resembling a community.

What happened to it?

I think I’m beginning to understand how many traditional wiccans feel. They
study and think and work, over a period of years. They live their beliefs.
Then along comes someone who has read one book, generally one of the fluff
pieces Llewelyn puts out, still wrapped in the mindset of the socially
christian community they grew up in, and declare themselves
to be the same as, or even better than, the traditionalists. And people
listen to the book wiccan, because they are outspoken about things they know
little about, rather than the traditionalist who quietly lives their beliefs.

It puts me in two minds about even continuing to run Am I
providing the otherkin equivalent of that fluff wiccan book? Does the
existance of encourage the existance of wannabes who just want a
quick answer and a shiny new label to be non-comformist with a bunch of other
people? Do more resources, more explanations, more details just encourage
the wannabes, so that the actual otherkin take one look at the “community” go
“I am not like these idiots” and go elsewhere?

In my last rant I likened being otherkin to mystery
religions. Not that it is
a religion, but in that it is something that can only really be experienced,
not explained. (If you don’t believe such things are possible, go and explain
“purple” to someone who has been blind since birth).

In another, and vitally important way, being otherkin is not like any form of
religion. You can be initiated into a religion. Sometimes it is just a matter
of saying “yes, I believe this”. Mystery religions take you through the
experience so you understand.

I cannot take you through the experience of being an elf.

I could dress you up, and give you latex ear extensions. It wouldn’t make you
an elf.
I could talk philosophy and perspective. It wouldn’t make you an elf.
I could teach you magic and glamours. It wouldn’t make you an elf.

I can’t show you how. I can’t tell you how. Just like you cannot describe
purple to a blind man, and you certainly can’t show him.

What has this got to do with community?

A community is made up of people who have something in common. The community
is labeled by that commonality. The business community is made up of people
in business. The gay community is made up of people who are gay. The jewish
community is made up of jews. The otherkin community is made up of…

Well, actually I couldn’t tell you.

My community is made up of a very small number of people. People I have had
raging flamewars with. People I have doubted, cursed and occasionally called
unpleasent things. People I have loved. People I have hated. People who
understand the things there are no words for.

The people on many of the mailing lists, websites and so on. I can’t talk to
most of these people. Not that they are not good people, though probably some
of them aren’t, or that they don’t believe what they say. But what they are
and what I am are two very different creatures. I don’t think I can apply the
same label to both and have it continue to make sense.

So what’s the otherkin community? Three hundred people who don’t talk to each
other on a mailing list? was started as “Harmony and Dischord”
– a place for filtering
out the wisdom from the detailed discussions on the various mailing lists and
keeping it for posterity. Along the way it gained a role at facilitating
connecting people together. I’ve liked to think of it as a community
website, a resource. I don’t know who it’s serving anymore. Is it just a
mouthpiece for my personal rants? That hardly deserves the name

I don’t think there is an “otherkin community”. I don’t think there can be
without a solid definition of what otherkin means. On that road lies
flamewars and politics. I have no interest in going there.

The otherkin community is dead. If it were anything more than the fevered
imagination of the hopeful and isolated to start with.

That leaves just you and me.

If you are passing by and find something here of interest or use. Drop me a
line. Pull up a chair. Offer your thoughts. Maybe we have something in
common. Maybe we don’t.

Me, I’m taking my own advice.

“Cherish what you are. Not what you were. Not what you might be. Be
yourself. Learn what that means.”

As for “It’s a website, not a bible”.
Find your own truth, I can’t tell you mine. All I can do is live it, and see
who else dances to the same beat.

You wanna dance?

Compassion and Non-Interference

One can have awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering without
concluding that it is one’s God-given right to step into that person’s life and rearrange it according to our own standards. judgments and desires.

It is not compassionate to substitute one’s own will for the free will of another. Unless the person is a child too young to understand or mentally incompetent to make decisions at all, it is egotistical in the extreme to believe that our decisions are better for hir than hir own. Contrary to your premise, allowing someone to do as sie will does not mean failing to notice sie is in distress and to *offer* help and advice. It means allowing the person to take from that help and advice what sie chooses to take, and it means coping with the fact that we might not have all hir answers.

We cannot know, from within our own limited perspective, what another person needs to learn or experience for hir own higher good. What may appear to be very bad to us may in fact be very good for the other person, for reasons we cannot fathom.

It is not compassionate to cripple someone by making hir believe sie is
incapable of doing something for hirself and only with our help will sie succeed. Far too often, I’ve seen people claiming to “serve” someone, when, in fact, what they are really serving is their own self-importance at the expense of the other’s self-esteem. Again, this doesn’t mean that one cannot or should not *offer* a word of encouragement or a hand up. It means that any “service” should be offered in a way that empowers the person one would help, not in a way that perpetuates hir sense of helplessness, failure and incompetence. It means allowing the person to refuse our help, regardless of
how foolish we think that refusal may be. Maybe the person needs to learn how to do it all by hirself, without any help from anyone. Maybe just the offer of help is enough to help hir succeed. Maybe a failure is a doorway to a whole new world of wonderful possibilities. Regardless, it’s hir choice to be served by us or not.

To deny another person the right to live according to hir own free will, to find hir own Truth, or to learn what sie has come here to learn because we believe OUR way is better, wiser, more morally uplifted — THAT is “reprehensible in the extreme.”


Herding Cats: A Model of Distributed Leadership

How do you recognize leadership in a community that is inherently
highly diverse and geographically distributed? Traditional models of
leadership don’t seem to map well to the Otherkin community. In large
part, the Otherkin community is composed of highly individualistic people,
many of whom have a distinct dislike for traditional authority figures.
When you combine this with the sheer geographical spread of the
community members, the resulting situation presents serious challenges
to a traditional model of leadership.

To make things even more complicated, in my experience the
Otherkin community doesn’t have leaders per se. A sociologist
observing it would see elders, mentors, teachers, and healers: those
people that will take on a leadership role, but don’t have the sort of power
or authority that so often goes hand in hand with leadership. For the
of this essay, I’ll refer to those people as elders.

Leadership in the online Otherkin community reminds me very much
of the development effort among Open Source programmers. In both
cases, the aim and collective goal is development. In the former case,
it’s a handy piece of software. In the latter case, it’s development
of the self. Both require an eye for detail, a good slice of time, and
the work and insight of several people striving for a common goal.

This sort of model of shared growth and development is common to
many non-traditional communities, from programmers to polyamorists to
Pagans. Those who actively appear to be seeking power without putting
time and effort into the community are often ignored or even avoided.
Others who choose to take a more active role in the community without
the power-trip aim are better thought of. If they relate well to
others in the community, provide informed guidance, and give freely of
themselves and their time, they earn respect. Eventually, they come
to be regarded as elders. We don’t necessarily want to grow up to be
just like them, but we admire their insight, the work that they’ve put into
both personal and community development, and the helping hand they provide
when needed.

Elders seem to be elected by public acclaim more than deliberately
seeking out the position themselves. Many of them avoid the spotlight.
They earn respect through their actions. There are no age barriers to
being an elder — the people that I would consider Otherkin elders range
from 20 to 57. Here’s a brief summary of the common threads I’ve seen
in the many elders of the community.

1) Them as does the work, gets the credit. Consistently, the members
of the community who are constantly volunteering and giving of their
own time and efforts are the ones that earn popular respect. These are
the people who are out there organizing gatherings, developing web sites,
coordinating conventions, and administering mailing lists. Work gets
noticed. Good work gets noticed more. Believe me — we do appreciate

2) One Kin elder that I know has a wonderful quote in her .sig line,
to the effect of “Elders are defined by how often they get called at
three in the morning.” This must have been a wry observation based on
personal experience; I know I’ve certainly called her in the middle of
the night for a shoulder to cry on or to share a sudden insight. Most
elders are unselfish enough to help in an emergency, even if it is 3
AM. (Of course, this shouldn’t occur every day. That’s not
leadership; that’s sleep deprivation.)

3) Cooperate, don’t compete. Most of the elders I know are all too
happy to say, “In my opinion” or “I think” rather than “It is this
way”. Sharing and personal insight are valued, and those who believe
that they have the only mainline to the Truth are usually not well
respected. Another common thread I’ve noticed is that elders are
generally quick to acknowledge and compliment the contributions of
others. Those who are out there for an ego trip are usually not well

4) Listen. The last and perhaps the most important characteristic of
the Kin elders I know — they’re great listeners. They’ll let you
express your problem or concern as clearly as you can, and then offer
an opinion if it’s wanted, or sometimes just sympathy and love. This
can make all the difference.

Perhaps the most shocking thing to those accustomed to more
traditional models of leadership is that there is no one main leader.
Ask any Otherkin who he or she looks up to in the community, and
you’ll get a list of names, not just one answer. The talents and the
schedules of the many Kin leaders overlap, and they seem to be happier
that way than being the Grand Poobah. Personally, I think that’s all
to the good.

Blurring the Lines

There is a certain bias in the occult community concerning fantasy. I
understand it, for I have it, too. When someone speaks to me of an idea or
concept, no matter how potentially valid, if it turns out that their source
of inspiration was a novel, a movie, a game — then I am less inclined to
listen to anything else they have to say.

And yet, as my career has taken me deeper into the publishing industry,
I’ve learned a few things. These things were revelatory at first, although
I suppose they really shouldn’t have surprised me. But then, our culture
as a whole has another ingrained bias, and that is to view someone who has
done something such as write a book or a movie or put out a CD as someone

They lose their existence as people like you and me, and instead become
this Concept. We subsequently tend to perceive them as being above us or
less flawed than us, more educated, more credible — they are suddenly a
Name, an Important Person — they must live in big houses, do great things,
and they are somehow exempt from the same hopes and worries and needs and
fears that we go through day by day.

But I’ve met writers now and artists, musicians, even movie-makers. And
they’re just like you and me. They have hopes and fears and dreams — and
subsequently, they have beliefs.

They’re people whose art imitates their life, who can’t help but sneak in
little inside jokes that only their circle of friends might perceive, who
write characters and stories only thinly disguised from the things in their
lives that inspired them.

Their creative efforts are inevitably influenced by their religious,
political, and personal beliefs. And almost always, they draw their
inspiration from what they live, what they know, spinning it into something
everyone else will dare believe.

The revelation for me was that many of these people — especially the ones
who create in the genres that we crave — are just like us — they share
our convictions and our beliefs. This is of course to a greater and lesser
extent for each, and some of them are open about their influence from
magick and the occult (consider Tori Amos and the spirits and faeries she
communes with for inspiration with her songs), while others are using a
creative medium to express ideas that they might not be able to publish in
a non-fiction work (do you have any idea how many 30 and 40-something
fiction writers in the SF/Fantasy genres are Pagans or occultists and
simply cannot be open about this fact because of publicity & marketing
concerns?). But to think that their work does not often seek to express
some truth they hold dear is to be deceived.

I forget who said it exactly, but some pundit declared that all novelists
write stories to proclaim through the veil of fiction those beliefs they
are afraid to proclaim publicly. And it’s quite true. And that’s to say
nothing of those who write both fiction and non-fiction, and simply use
their fiction as an entertaining vehicle to pass on beliefs.

Not that long ago, mention was made of Crowley’s “Moon Child”. This was a
novel, but he also wrote it with the intention of expressing the laws and
theories behind something in which he believed. Dion Fortune, similarly,
wrote novels with the intention of demonstrating her lifestyle, practices,
and beliefs through a fictional medium.

My point in this rambling is that there are many vehicles for truth to be
carried in, and stories are often more accessible to beginners than heavy,
jargon-laden treatises. I would not go so far as to suggest that someone
should take everything written about in fantasy as thinly veiled fact, or
live a game as if it were reality — but I am saying that, if you look in
the right places, you’ll be surprised by the very valid insights you might
see. Stories offer more than diversion — and I don’t think it’s wrong to
admit that and explore what they have to teach.

Reflect on the fiction that you read, the movies
that you watch, even the games that you play (computer and video games
included!). Think of the stories they tell you and what they teach.

Am I Otherkin?

“Am I ‘Kin?” or some variation of it is a question that is asked quite
frequently on Otherkin lists and boards. The thing is, it can’t be
answered. At least by me or anyone else except the person asking the
question. So it is time to turn the question back instead of answering
it. Are you ‘Kin?

Sure, I realize that there are ‘kin out there who can read your Aura or
energy signature and tell you. But there is a problem with that, they
are working off of their own knowledge base. If they haven’t seen your
kind of ‘kin before, or if you are outside the range of what they have
seen before, they may say “no”. It is also possible that you could be
completely human and just happen to fall far enough out of human range
to read as ‘kin to them.

To really find out if you are otherkin takes searching. No, not on the
internet, inside. You have to reach inside yourself and really look at
yourself. This ,for the most part, is an inner journey. You have the
answers, not me or anyone else. If you are otherkin then it is a PART of
you, but you may be the only person able to find it.

The best others can do to help you is to provide pointers. Show you ways
to search inside yourself, tell you how they found something inside
themselves. We can hold a mirror up to you, but you won’t see anything
unless YOU do the looking, and what we see from our side of the mirror
may not be the truth.

Search the websites, talk on the lists, ask questions. But don’t just
take the data in, question it. Examine it. Play with it. Look at how it
makes you feel, act, or look. How does it resonate within you? Does it
resonate at all? Does it makes sense with your own feelings of what you
are. Don’t take a label that someone gives you unless YOU think it fits.
The important thing here is to THINK. Don’t absorb. Don’t mimic or
mirror anyone else. Take every word that ANYone tells you about being an
otherkin with a grain of salt. It is different for everyone, even among
those who have found common memories. Those experiences are filtered
through YOUR being, not someone else’s.

So…Are you ‘Kin? Go find out.

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