We all have problems, right? We look in the mirror and see a fat , ugly idiot. But you know what? For most of us, we’re at least seeing the correct species in there. Imagine what it’s like to unfurl your wings in the morning, bat the sleep out of your eyes with your tail and lumber over to the mirror only to find that the face looking back at you isn’t a dragon at all?
That’s a fact of daily life for otherkin. The term was coined in 1990 by a person on an early message board for the type of fantasy fan who actually identified as an elf or orc, and it stuck. Into the umbrella term, though not strictly correct, we can throw therians, which are those people who identify as animals, from the popular wolves and lions down to sparrows, jellyfish and other more mythic creatures.It’s tempting to dismiss this as teenage soul-searching (or, depending on seriousness, a genuine neurological problem), but the fact of the matter is that otherkin are multiplying. They’ve found a spiritual home for themselves on Tumblr, where they can scour tags, follow the posts of others with similar experiences and generally benefit from the idea of a real community.
You can see what’s going on, broadly, by searching ‘otherkin’ on Tumblr and clicking a few blogs. Take, for example, a blog called Individual Otherkin, where otherkin with slightly less common identifications can go for moral support
“Any aliens here? Or… ooh, using that word is always weird for me. Just people who know they come from somewhere ‘out there’? Sort of a rabbit-moth feeling over here. Long soft ears, long soft antennae. At home in cities and bright lights and stars. Never met anyone who understood,” a shy anonymous otherkin asked the blog owner. “I suppose I count. But I’m more monster-kin as my type only exists on a dream level,” is the response.
It’s all pretty batshit if you’re coming into it with no context, but there is a very important aspect of the community’s internal theory that’s bringing more controversy than necessary to a group of people doing nothing other than saying “no one understands me” on a personal blog. Either through increase in the numbers involved in discussions or exposure to already-existing discourses on Tumblr, otherkin have now decided that the kind of thing that legitimises a trans* person is also the kind of thing that legitimises them. Which is dangerous.
The idea, in very broad strokes, is that if a person born male can identify as female and be accepted by (the sounder aspects of) society as female, there is no reason why a person can’t simply believe their way into being a lioness trapped in a human female’s body. Trans identity is fragmented because of a privileging of self-identification over society’s traditional groupings, and that’s where otherkin strike. “Include us in your struggle,” they seem to shout. “We are oppressed too.”
Only, obviously, a male to female transgender person who lives as a woman has a little more invested in struggle than theoretical internet support. You’re not going to be beaten up on your way home because you internally identify as a whale. A transgender woman called Lyn makes a good point on her blog Trans Quest: “If we’re found out to be trans, some medical insurance places raise our premiums without covering our medicines. We’re denied housing, we’re denied jobs, we’re denied a place in society.”
“I think they have every right to do what they do. They should be able to meet up, have their communities, think what they want about their ‘spiritual past’, do whatever it is they do. What they should NOT do is try to compare their spiritual quirk, and how people ‘don’t get them’ with people suffering from a physical incongruity between their gender and sex.”
But they do compare it, of course. Part of the problem is that the otherkin community assumes good faith about 99% of the time, thus undermining itself. Recently, a blog surfaced that was ostensibly run by a piece of toast. The bio includes the following statement: “My mother appliance said I’m beautiful and well done, I believe her. Got problem with that? Then fuck off you cis homo cunt.”
But the questions keep coming. “Why would you be sad to see toast get eaten? I mean, like, what else is the purpose of toast, but to eat?” meets with the deft answer, “That’s like saying all a female human is for is sex. Good job genius.” Now, a (human of any worldly cynicism at all is going to conclude that this piece of toast is just trolling the entire otherkin community. But as the blog rolls on, fielding challenges and genuine questions and reposting pictures of half-eaten toast as if it was lynched, the question is begged: is there even really a difference between trolling and not trolling when all you’re doing is claiming to be toasted bread on the internet?
Edible Problems Butter Side Up
The blog of Crumb, a 20-year-old piece of toast that also, coincidentally, identifies as deaf-mute and a Belieber. The Hipster Runoff of otherkin blogs.
The reference source for all things relating to otherkin. The wiki proudly maintains Wikipedia-esque standards of factuality and nonpartisanship, which can lead to some strong levels of cognitive dissonance when reading about the homeworlds of Tolkien-inspired elves.
Tumblr in general
In the first page of results for ‘otherkin’ today: a tutorial on making a unicorn horn, a screed decrying the fact that people born human are referred to as ‘people’ rather than ‘beings’ by default, a recently awakened gargoyle-kin and a plea to carnivorous kin not to eat humans.
Illustration: Fuchsia MacAree