Therianthropy, Otherkin, Alterhumanity: The Normie’s Guide
A while ago, I got an opportunity I had dreamed about since I was in my teens. I was able to speak at a large company about a particular topic I never imagined I would get to speak about.
So that’s how I wound up at a gigantic tech company giving a speech about being nonhuman, about being a fox.
It was one of the best moments of my life.
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When I was young, I used terms like therian and otherkin. Today I use the term “alterhuman” or nonhuman. Most people don’t know about the first two terms, and those are familiar with them are often not familiar in a good way. , Otherkin prompts the thought of ,“Wait a minute, isn’t that that, thing from Tumblr?” You probably think of pictures like this.
Maybe the word “Cringe” comes to mind. Or “Crazy”. You may think this is something from Tumblr. Maybe you have some other pictures, or words from an interview, or etc that pop into your head.
You don’t probably think of any of the pictures below
You probably don’t think of any of the people living their lives who identify as nonhuman. You likely think of memes and Tumblr and cringe.
Or you think that this is inconsequential. So what if people don’t take otherkin/therians seriously?
Who’s being hurt by that?
Well, we are.
And the fact that people don’t take otherkin and therians seriously is part of the problem.
While some of this is maliciousness, I think a lot of it is ignorance. Most people don’t even have a starting definition for therianthropy or otherkin outside of the harmful misconceptions mentioned above. And those people who are malicious, have worked hard to keep it that way.
So let’s change that, how can someone be nonhuman anyway? What does therian/otherkin even mean?
Well, you’ve found your resource.
The Normie’s Guide To Therian, Otherkin, and Alterhuman
Well when you get down to it there’s about two ways people view this, technically three. Psychological, Spiritual, and “I don’t hecking know”
Oh wait did I forget the definitions?
Oh I did? Ugh, fine. I hate definitions.
Therian: “Modern Therianthropy is an identity phenomenon categorized by a deep integral or personal belief that an individual is in some way and to some degree, a non-human animal” according to the Therian Wiki
Otherkin: Otherkin are the above but with elves, kitsune, gryphons, dragons, etc. Some people consider Therian to be a subset of the term Otherkin. Kind of like a square and a rectangle. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. So some people would say that all Therians are Otherkin, but not all Otherkin are therians.
Alterhuman: This is a new term and the term I prefer.
Nonhuman: What I call myself
So, back to
Views On Non-humanness:
Some people are solely believers that being nonhuman is caused by a psychological phenomenon in the brain or in the body. What causes someone to have certain interests? What causes someone to have a specific sexuality? Who knows. There’s probably a root cause somewhere there but, it’s how people are. Some people are gay, some people are straight, some people are pan. Some people are trans, some people are cis. Some people have a specific favorite colour. Some people prefer dogs over cats or cats over dogs. There’s probably some sort of brain reason for all of these, but at the end of the day the why is usually not considered as important as the effects. Who we are affects how we navigate the world.
Other people believe that they are spiritually nonhuman, that they are a reincarnated animal, that their therianthropy/otherkinness is a result of a spiritual practice or in conjunction with such. Oftentimes the belief that one’s therianthropy/otherkinness is a result of spirituality can play a key part in an individual’s religious or spiritual practices. For pagan therians/otherkin, they may include their nonhuman aspects in their rituals and try to form pagan communities with likeminded individuals. Some therians are devout Christians and believe their therianthropy is a gift from God. Still, some people’s belief is independent of their religion just “I was a wolf in a past life, now I’m a human shaped wolf, and I’m Muslim but that doesn’t have anything to do with the wolf thing.” followed by shrugging.
By the way, nobody believes they can actually physically turn into an animal. That’s a myth.
You might notice that these two beliefs, though they can be very different, have something in common. They both come to the same conclusion “I’m partially or entirely nonhuman. I’m a human who turns into a fox. I’m a fox who was reborn a human. I’m not human, I’m an anthropomorphic fox and were the technology available, I would look like one.” Some therians/otherkin say they’re part human, others say they’re stuck inbetween, others identify solely as animal. I’ve even heard of some who say “I’m human, I’m just a therian.” It’s a weird place, being stuck inbetween. But at the end of the day we are what we are.
Experiential (What Is it Like?)
In my case, a fox!
“Well how does believing you’re a fox, what does that mean for how you navigate the world.”
Well, my experience of the world is different than your experience of the world. For one, you (possibly) don’t feel a tail. But I do. It started when I was in middle school and has continued to this day. I feel a tail, in my case constantly. And when I look in the mirror, I see two things. I see myself, my physical human self, what I objectively look like. And then I see what my body and my brain sees, what I have seen since then. I see the me that actually is me. White fur that I dye purple, a muzzle, cute pointy ears, a long tail, paws instead of hands and feet. That is how I experience myself, that is how I’ve experienced myself.
And there are variations too, there isn’t just one nonhuman experience. Some of us don’t experience tails, some of us experience them when scared or shocked. Some of us find the experience of being the only nonhuman (that we know of!) in our workplace or school or restaurant to be deeply concerning, and we focus time and energy into learning to make those feelings go away most of the time. The nonhuman experience is, like most experiences, vast and varied. Some of us have a nonhuman shape that doesn’t map well too a body. Some of us wish our bodies mapped more to our shapes.
Phantom Limb Syndrome
What I describe above is commonly called phantom limb syndrome, which is something that most often comes up when one talks about amputees. I want to take a second to talk about that here. Here’s a brief display, although whether you believe in the last two panels is up to you.
A Brief Aside and Some Scientific Papers:
I’ve read the descriptions of amputees experiencing phantom limbs, and I don’t believe that what many therians experience is the identical experience as that. But I also know therians who describe a nearly identical experience. And it’s not just amputees who experience phantom limbs. Transgender people report them too. So perhaps the term needs to be broadened, perhaps we need separate terms? I don’t know. And this piece isn’t the space for that discussion.
But the most common anti therian argument hinges on phantom limbs. And I think that has been thoroughly debunked. Numerous scientific studies show that anyone can be made to feel phantom limbs, although in my opinion these seem to be of a lesser quality than those experienced by amputees, but I’m not aware of a study comparing amputee phantom limb experiences and non amputee phantom limbs in terms of vividness. But there are lots of studies that prove that phantom limbs are not exclusively restricted to amputees.
And not all therians experience phantom limbs. But a lot of us do, and it’s a bit hard to say “I’m not a fox” when I experience claws and ears and a tail and they’re all very distinctly fox. I feel like what you see in the picture above. (minus of course, the artistic license used in most paintings, although it is quite flattering). What am I supposed to say about the above being what I see and feel when I look in a mirror?
But phantom limbs are not the only way in which therians experience the world.
Put briefly, a mental shift is any shift from minor to major away from “Human” thinking or behavior and towards “animal” thinking and behavior. This of course assumes a binary that not all people have. It’s more like a 3D plane where some people are static points and others move dynamically.
Put more simply:
If you annoy me at work I will grunt under my breath because over many years I have drilled into myself that that is the noise to make, and most times it’s not a hard noise to make.
If you annoy me at home after a long hard week of work and it is 1 AM, I will do a full throated growl at you and it likely won’t be my choice.
Now some people say that this is a move towards instincts but I disagree. I do not have the instincts of a fox or a wolf. I have instincts and mental patterns that I say map most closely to my perception of werefox or werewolf. This does not invalidate me being either of these things, it just means admitting reality.
My animalistic behavior is not a one to one map with the animals I identify with, nor does it have to be for my experiences to be legitimate.
But it does affect how I act. And yes, just like fictional werewolves, I can lose control. I can become overwhelmed. This happens very rarely, and there is nothing in the DISM-V you can map it to. But it’s a real experience, and just like in those fictonal settings, it is misunderstood.
Here’s how it happens for me. Probably about once a year, I will start to feel, decidedly different. Maybe I’m overwhelmed. Maybe it’s been a great day and I’m completely satisfied. I know there are triggers for this, when I was in a particularly stressful time of my life it happened once a month, but I also know that it just happens.
(When I was a teenager, it happened nearly every night, there’s a word for this period and it sounds ridiculous, it’s called awakening. And yes, it makes puberty even worse.)
So I start to feel different, and my perception starts to change in ways I can’t describe. The human part of my brain shuts off. I lose my ability to speak. I lose my ability to walk. I lose my ability to read or to understand things outside of a limited scope.
But I still know things. I still have a sense of self. I still know that that voice that tall person is Liz , fox like Liz, am safe with Liz. Liz is mate. Liz is good. Liz is safe. And I know that big covered object. big warm feel good things and soft things is where sleep. and i know that big wall with shiny handle need shiny handle open. but i don’t know that paws shiny handle grasp open?
Things change, and mostly I just want to sleep. And so I do. I curl up, and I listen to the noises in the night, and I wake up feeling like I’ve slept the best sleep I’ve ever had.
This is what it’s like for me to become a fox.
This can be a very hard and very personal thing to talk about. And a lot of people just don’t.
And they don’t need to. It’s not your right to know this part of our lives.
But I do wish that more therians and otherkin felt comfortable talking to their partners about this, because believe me, it is stressful for everyone when someone finds out because they walk in on their spouse in a mental shift. I have heard of one woman who, after an argument with her boyfriend, stormed out of the house. She ignored the warning signs because she regularly downplayed them, went Jaguar, and nearly got hit by a car. It’s not uncommon for humans to experience something like this in their lives. She nearly got hit by a car because it was dark and she wanted to get away from what had been a passionate argument with a person she loved.
But afterwards, said person had to coax back a scared Jaguar girl in the middle of the night from across the road.
Debunking The Notion of “But You’re Not a Fox Because”
The most common response to all of this is “well okay, but how are you a fox? You don’t look like a fox. You’re not a fox in a person’s body. You’re not a fox. ” and the short answer is:
If we had the technology that allowed me to physically be a two legged fox I would hit that button before you even finished reading this sentence.
But that presupposes that anyone who identifies as a therian/otherkin/alterhuman but would rather keep their human form is human, and that’s not true.
Look, Fox is a word. Do you actually know what defines a fox? Let’s look at an experiment.
These are both foxes, right?
What if, a scientist announced tomorrow that they had discovered that the “Fox” in Exhibit B had a completely additional organ than the Fox in Exhibit A. Everything else was the same, but Fox B has a, let’s call it a squeedily spooch.
Turns out, there are a lot of “foxes” that have a squeedily spooch, in fact half of what we would call foxes have one. And it doesn’t do anything, and the “foxes” that have one act perfectly like normal foxes.
But technically, according to scientists, they’re completely different species.
Would we stop calling foxes with a squeedily spooch foxes? Would we put “ ” around the word fox when referring to them?
I don’t think so.
So what does this highly philosophical argument tell us?
It tells us that while words have meaning, and they are useful, they have limits of usefulness. And sometimes, we can call something something, without it being the end of the world.
Calling me a fox even though if you see me with your physical eyes I look like this, will not lead to confusion about what this is.
And if you really, really want to be accurate, there’s a word to distinguish this, from this.
Several actually. Therian. Otherkin. Nonhuman…..
But this stuff matters, it really does, and let me tell you why.
So Why Does this Matter?
Because it’s a real thing. It’s a real phenomenon. It has material costs and consequences. There haven’t been studies done on therians, and I think those studies would be different than ones done on say, furries or the like, for a number of reasons.
But I know people who call what they experience species dysphoria.
I know people who massively suffer from species dysphoria, and while we can’t ease that suffering with alterations at the moment, we can give it another salve: acceptance and permission to be one’s self. I have friends who spend huge money on ears that feel good on the top of their heads. I have friends who are continually very excited about stuff like animatronic ears and tails. I have friends who are very, very jealous that I have a workplace I can use something close to what I actually look like as my avatar and not be told “that’s unprofessional”
And I dare you to tell me, a transgender woman, that these people cannot use the term species dysphoria, when I have heard things like “My transition is only half complete” from transgender therian and otherkin.
You may hate that term, if you’re trans you may be preparing to type a comment telling me exactly why that term is incorrect.
But some of the people who tell me this, as noted, are also trans.
“My experience with species dysphoria and gender dysphoria have been so similar that — before I learned more about nonhuman identities — I feared that one invalidated the other. I feared that one of them had to just be an illusory extrapolation on the other. But in meeting other nonhumans, I learned that those dysphorias are both quite compatible — they’re both the feeling that the body you were given does not represent who you really are.”
Then, there are the horror stories. I have heard of people’s parents threatening to send them to psychiatrists or therapists.
Mental healthcare professionals should never be used as a threat.
There’s also the energy drain. Some people like living in the shadows. To them, this is a personal experience, and they have no need or desire to let others know. They handle how it affects their life all by themselves. But for others, they feel they have to hide this. And that’s an energy drain. They would much rather be in a situation where they can be open.
And at the end of the day, there’s really, really nasty stuff like this:
This being back before when people acknowledged that yes, review bombing a restaurant’s reviews can materially impact their revenue, guess who was let go from her marketing internship the next week?
And then there’s the more personal impacts. When I started talking about this on Twitter, I received this heartbreaking message.
Your ignorance hurts us. It really does. It’s hard to explain this stuff to people, there’s a risk of rejection, a risk of social embarrassment and rumours. It can be isolating being the only werefox that you know of in your high school. It can be depressing, thinking you’re the only one.
To many of us, this experience of being who we are is beautiful. I for one, would not even for a second imagine another way of living my life. But it’s also hard. It can be very hard.
And at the end of the day, I feel we have some basics to go over. One final plea.
How to Treat us with Basic Dignity and Respect
Listen to us.
Please stop leaving us out of conversations.
Please stop making jokes about us.
Please stop tolerating those jokes.
Please stop spreading misinformation
Please educate yourselves.
Please care about us. We are here, we are real, and it costs you nothing to respect who we are.
And please, boost our voices. When we write about this stuff, when we ask you to acknowledge us. Please do.
And moreover, acknowledge us on your own. We are here, we are queer. We have been fighting alongside you for decades. Please consider us.