Author’s note: This is an excerpt from the current draft of my book, A Field Guide to Otherkin. It’s still a work in progress, but it is scheduled for publication in the first half of 2007. I’ve already contracted it through Immanion Press, who published my first book, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic (May 2006).
This particular piece is from the first chapter of the book, “What Are Otherkin?” I also spend time in that chapter discussing the ideas of identity and definition in relation to Otherkin (ie, how do we define ourselves, and why establishing identity is important and healthy), some information on the Otherkin community as it is today, a brief history of the community, and a bit of information about the septagram and the therian theta-delta symbol – basically an introductory chapter to give context to the rest of the book. Later chapters explore different theories of why people identify as Otherkin (reincarnation, energy resonance, personal mythology, etc.), what the different types of Otherkin are (elves, fey, dragons, etc.), and some suggestions on what to do if you think you?re Otherkin (resources, research, finding others, etc.)
So enjoy, and if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment. Also, if you’re interested, I am still accepting surveys through early November (tentative).
14 August, 2006
A Day in the Life of Otherkin
Otherkin don’t always advertise as such to non-‘kin. We don’t have ‘I am an elf/dragon/wolf’ tattooed on our foreheads (though some of us have more discreet tattoos that are related to being ‘kin); those who dress for their ‘kin selves usually are assumed to be parts of other subcultures, such as pagans, Goths or hippies. Coming out of the ‘kin closet is generally reserved for people who are known to be ‘kin-friendly. In the event that Otherkin come out to people who are completely clueless about us, the reaction can be pretty underwhelming. It’s a rare case when someone actually gets a serious negative reaction (and being told you’re weird doesn’t count). I’ve yet to hear of anyone being forcibly institutionalized, drugged, disowned, or otherwise abused for coming out as ‘kin. The worst that tends to happen is teasing and gossip. This isn’t to say that worse situations can’t and don’t happen, but for the most part they’re pretty rare. (For more information on coming out, please see Chapter -, ‘So You Think You’re Otherkin’).
That being said, most ‘kin lead pretty normal lives. We hold jobs, raise families, have hobbies, and most of us blend into society pretty well. We come from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles. There does appear to be a high proportion of overlap with other subcultures. For example, there are a lot of geeks among Otherkin, which may lead outsiders to believe we’re all wrapped up in anime, technological advances, specialized intellectual pursuits, and we all work in computer-related fields. While this is true for some, keep in mind also that the bulk of Otherkin information is internet-based, and so the community tends toward the computer-friendly. Still, trying to typecast all Otherkin as geeks (or by any other subcultural label) is pretty futile and does a disservice to those who don’t fit the stereotype. Those who are open-minded enough to accept the idea of Otherkin tend to also accept and even embrace other subcultures, but this doesn’t mean that all ‘kin like to buck the system.
So how does being ‘kin affect everyday life’ Not nearly so much as you’d think. Otherkin status doesn’t automatically make a person vastly different from the rest of the world. Usually it’s more a matter of the nonhuman traits coloring the perception. Sa’arine, who describes herself as ‘elvenmix’, relates, ‘It makes too much logical sense as to why I am the way I am. I have not changed who I am; I merely have come to understand why.’ (Sa’arine)
As a wolf therian, if I have a (nonphysical) conflict with a person, I don’t jump on the person and start biting them (which I’d imagine, for those of you who’ve seen me in person, would probably be an amusing, if mildly disturbing, sight). I do, however, very much dislike feeling cornered as any wild animal would. If I feel threatened in any way, physical or otherwise, and I’m alone, I’m going to do my best to get out of the situation’a wolf away from hir pack is not going to do something stupid like take on a neighboring pack all by hirself if sie has the chance to get away instead. (Animals have much better senses of self-preservation than a lot of humans.).
Often the perception isn’t even that dramatic. Being Otherkin doesn’t necessarily mean exhibiting traits that are wholly alien to humans, but that the nonhuman viewpoint colors the perception of the person, affecting what choice the person makes in regards to a specific situation. Casteylan and Arhuaine, who are two elves in a multiple system, simply have different opinions of this world:
This is one of the areas in which Arhuaine and I are completely different in opinion. She hates this world, I love it. To me it’s a great adventure. After spending the last 600-odd years tramping about in the mud, being wet and hungry a lot of the time, it’s nice to be able to stroll down to the shops to get food. I love the technology, the toys. We live in a city now, which Arhuaine hates but tolerates for practical reasons, but I love the buzz and life here. It may not be my world, but I’m certainly going to enjoy it while I’m here. Also the job we have now is mine. Arhuaine had drifted from one job to another and hating [sic] them all. About 3 years ago she started looking for something new, and put in loads of applications with local agencies. One that came up was telemarketing, working in a callcentre. She knew she’d hate it, but wanted the interview practise anyway. Within ten minutes of seeing the place she knew she’d not be able to stand it, so she ducked out and left me fronting for the rest of the interview. And I aced the interview and was offered the job on the spot. It turns out that I’m a natural at sales, I love the job and three years on I’m still there, on the promotion ladder and earning very nice bonuses. It is very much my job; Arhuaine takes no part in it and since I’ve been working there I find that I’m fronting a lot more than I used to.
Arhuaine confirms this with ‘I am extremely happy with that arrangement. The less time I have to spend in this world, the better I like it.’
Indeed, the differences in perception can be frustrating. Some Otherkin dislike modern society partially (or wholly) because of how being ‘kin affects the way they view that society. A badger therianthrope named Mud Paw expresses her feelings on her environment in regards to her being ‘kin: ‘It does affect my career, home and socialization choices. I cannot be in a career that is heavily dependent on working with people in any way…My home is very uncomfortable most of the time…I wish I had the ability to just go live in the mountains and live off of the land, though that [is] easier said than done.’ Other people, though seem to have integrated being ‘kin with being human; Kaijima says:
I have stated on a number of occasions that regardless of what I called myself – Otherkin, therianthrope, dragon, or nothing at all -it would not change who I am and the way that I think’It’s difficult for me to single out any particular way in which being what I am affects my life because it is my life. I live in a culture engineered by human beings on a world populated by human beings; so as you might expect, I do a lot of the things any other human being does. I think that identifying myself as I do, has led me to desire a more objective look at human culture and practices that might be otherwise taken for granted. It has also led me to look at the ideas and the ideals of concepts such as transhumanism [a movement that supports using technology, medical and otherwise, to enhance the human body and prolong the lifespan].
Emma, like many ‘kin, allows herself time just to be her wolf-self: ‘Just because of the tradition I go out howling every full moon. I’m not really affected by it, but it feels good to have an evening set aside for being wolf’. Many ‘kin find such periodic releases to be good ways to keep the balance between Human and Other.
Some Otherkin have had other people pick up on what they are without any outward signs, something that many of the survey respondents reported. While most often this happens with Otherkin and children, adults may also notice something ‘different’ about someone who is ‘kin. Knife-Smile says that:
Humans, though, react the most to me. Some are repelled, some are attracted, and some just sense me and don’t know what the hell to do about it. In high school, one of the few people willing to talk to me said people saw me as ‘a force of nature’ (direct quote). I’ve also been likened to a storm, even though all I typically did was show up, sit at my preferred computer, do my work, and leave, pretty much speaking only when spoken to. Certain types of people are definitely drawn to me, and not all of them have much in common with me. So my contacts and friends are fairly diverse’ they can always tell something is ‘off’ about me, and some of them can make very accurate guesses with very little information. I don’t know if that’s because I broadcast particularly powerfully or if they’re particularly receptive. No way to really be sure. But it happens, unquestionably.
While some Otherkin have difficulties relating to humans, some get extreme reactions from animals. A large portion of the survey respondents (give percentage here) replied that they either were able to do things like approach animals safely that most others couldn’t, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, seemed universally reviled by animals. A few stated that they got both reactions at different times, but never just a neutral one. Faolan Ruadh has one possible explanation for this:
Animals tend to treat me differently than they do most, and have since I was very young, according to my folks. My mom in particular speculates that it’s a biochemistry thing- I smell different. I think it’s simply that my respect for animals translated to behavior toward them that they did not perceive as threatening, and that as I got older, I learned to communicate with them on their terms via posture, movement, and tone of voice. It’s not telepathy- more like learning a foreign language. Other people tend to sense me as “different”, though their reactions to that vary significantly.
The latter mirrors my own experiences; I have worked with animals, particularly dogs, most of my life, and have learned quite a lot about the vocal and body language of canines in particular, which helps me out greatly when dealing with them. However, these should not be taken as ‘proof’ of being Otherkin, as non-‘kin may also experience consistent extreme reactions from animals.
Sometimes it is the microcosm rather than the macrocosm that is problematic. Species dysphoria is feeling displaced in a human body when you feel you should be in an entirely different, nonhuman one. One therianthrope, named C. ‘Defilerwyrm’ Sims says: ‘I’ve never felt right referring to myself as human…I’ve always felt wrong in human skin, felt there’s something else to the equation.’ In the case of the Shards, the collective name of people in one particular multiple system, different members of a system may have different reactions:
We are, by and large, not terribly comfortable with this body because it does not match what we feel like perfectly (in some cases, at all), but in absence of a means of resculpting this body at will, we deal with it. The body still has glitches: Bad joints, muscles that cramp up, misjudging reach of arms because they are shorter than we are used to, bad vision (nearsighted, with astigmatism, though rather good night vision), sensitive hearing (very loud noises cause the body to involuntarily double over because our control channels were disrupted by sensory overload). (Shards)
While full dysphoria is relatively rare, it is not uncommon for ‘kin to experience periodic bouts of ‘not feeling quite right’ in their bodies. This may manifest as something as simple as momentarily expecting a limb to move or look differently, or catching a glance of yourself in the mirror and seeing a human face where you were thinking a different one ought to be. Meirya, an avian therianthrope, describes how a mental shapeshift can bring about a different perception of the physical human body:
Sometimes the legs join in, too, making walking difficult, awkward. On the toes now, because the foot is shaped wrong; balls of the feet is right is natural is normal, and it’s not the balls I’m walking on because this is the foot’s sole, what do you mean I’m on tip-toe’ Legs like the arm-wings, disproportionate, turned wrong, they’re supposed to fold this way, and it’s not supposed to be so long from this joint to that, and it’s supposed to be longer from that joint to this. Toes curl, become claws; agitation rakes the earth, or the insides of wrong-fitting shoes, clenches as if to grasp tree limb or skittering mouse.
Gender dysphoria also occurs among Otherkin, as some may identify more with the sex (physical) and gender (personality/identity) of their Other selves than of their human selves, particularly if they are reincarnated and still resonate strongly with the Other life. When I first met Solo and Duo, twin kitsune who inhabit the same body, at the Otherkin gathering Walking the Thresholds (2005), I assumed their body was as male as they were. Between clothing, mannerisms, voice, and even energy signature, they passed perfectly as male. I didn’t find out until several months later that the body itself is biologically female. They’re definitely a case in which spirits heavily affect the physical form they inhabit.
Arhuaine says that sometimes sharing a female body with a male soul can lead to the different souls affecting the body and mannerisms individually: ‘[Our] body is female and aged 38. Casteylan is male and when he’s fronting (i.e.; has control of the body) he prefers to present gender as male. Consequently in our outside life we have a reputation for being somewhat genderqueer’. Still, there are plenty of ‘kin whose Other selves match their human selves as far as sex and gender go. And some ‘kin may have had lives in which their sex and/or gender varied from this one, but they still identify with their current lives’ ‘default settings’.
Some Otherkin are not limited in their sex and gender attributes to male or female, masculine or feminine. The Shards run the entire spectrum of sex and gender: ‘Some of us identify as male, some as female. A few identify as sexless or androgynous. The latter categories confess a lack of understanding of sexual dimorphism, by and large.’ For my part, I am biologically female, but I identify as genderfluid androgynous. This means that some days I identify as male, some as female, but most of the time I’m comfortably in the middle ground. It’s not entirely based on my being ‘kin, but that does have an affect on my being rather genderqueer myself. I figure that if I’m a product of reincarnation, my soul itself is a complete blank slate, and any deviation from that results from experiences from various lives, the present one included.
Dysphoria is not a terribly common condition, though; most Otherkin tend to be pretty settled in their bodies. ‘I’m about as comfortable with this body as one can be, I suppose. I don’t see the point of whining about the unique opportunity I’ve been given to live another life here and to experience everything I can in life once again… I treasure the opportunity,’ says Áine, who is Tuatha de Danaan.
While Otherkin are physically human, energetic/etheric/astral/otherwise nonphysical bodies are a different story. The original concept of phantom limbs derived from the experience of amputees who could still feel their missing limbs. While Western medical science generally explains this through sense memory and says it’s strictly in the head, metaphysics explains it as the presence of body parts that are not there on the physical, but exist on other levels. In addition, there’s a difference between medical phantom limb syndrome and the phenomenon among Otherkin, as Faolan Ruadh explains:
My “hackles” raise when I’m defensive or angry, and I occasionally experience myself as “having” thick, blunt nails and paw pads for running and digging when I’m doing those things, or larger ears and a tail when I’m being emotive and social, but I consider those to be things that are also in the realm of human experience or synaesthetic add-ons that my psyche provides to help me make sense of things, not phantom limbs. Actual phantom limbs involve neurological white noise- as a result, they hurt (emphasis hers).
In Otherkin, phantom limbs often consist of body parts that were present in their Other selves, but not in the human body. Wings, tails, and other nonhuman appendages are common, as are variations on body shape, such as wolf ears on the nonphysical form of a lupine therianthrope. While for the most part phantom limbs have a nonphysical existence, there are the rare claims of them affecting physical reality. Occasionally a phantom limb may react to a physical obstacle in the same way that a flesh and blood limb would, and there are anecdotes that involve people (usually children) being able to see ‘invisible’ wings, tails and so forth. Nobody has tried getting ‘kin to consistently make this happen on a formal research level, though I’ve heard of a few who have experimented on their own, having other people touch their phantom limbs while they were blindfolded or had their eyes closed to see if they’d notice. I’d imagine any attempt to run a formal experiment would end up being like tests to prove psychic ability. The people who want to see the glass as half full will point only at the successes, while the half-empty people will concentrate on the failures.
Obviously, the phantom limb syndrome can be ‘explained away’ by skeptics as being, again, all in the head. This is part of why personal experience is central to being Otherkin. You just can’t prove that your phantom tail exists to someone who is of the ‘seeing is believing’ camp. It’s probably best to not try to ‘prove’ to non-‘kin that Otherkin exist by using phantom limbs as the evidence. Chances are the non-‘kin will be wondering just what it is you’ve been smoking. In addition, while those who claim psychic or magical sensitivity may say they ‘see’ your tail or wings, keep in mind that if this occurs after they know you’re ‘kin, there’s a much greater chance that they’re just seeing what they wish to see’or what you want them to see.
(1) If you’re Otherkin and complaining about being persecuted, check out http://www.gender.org/remember/, which is an online memorial for people who have been murdered for being transgendered. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?.
Any unattributed quotes have been drawn from surveys received for the book; details available.