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Otherkin are people who claim to be spiritually or mentally non-human. The term can either exclude or encompass those that identify as animals that have verifiably existed on this planet (called therians), but always includes everyone who identifies themselves as something other than human, including mythological creatures, extraterrestrials, and inanimate objects.
Otherkin have been called one of the world's most bizarre subcultures, and a "quasi-religion" that "largely only exists on the Internet". Although Otherkin beliefs deviate from the definition of religion (in that otherkin belief is independent of belief in a higher power), they share religion's primary interest in the unprovable.
History and subsets
The otherkin subculture grew out of the elven online communities of the early-to-mid-1990s. The first recorded use of the word "otherkin" appeared in July 1990 and the variant otherkind was reported as early as April 1990. The word "otherkind" was initially coined from the word "elfinkind", to refer to non-elf others who joined the communities.
Therians are a similar subculture, identifying as animals of species that have verifiably existed on Earth. Otherkin usually consider therians to be a subgroup of otherkin, though some therians prefer to distance themselves from otherkin.
In 1994 the term "therianthropy" was just coming into use because some felt lycanthropy was wolf-centric and wanted something to include other species. "Therian" and "thrope" are shortened versions of "therianthropy" and also came about into common use around 1994-1995.
Fictionkin are people who identify as either fictional characters or members of a fictional species. Most otherkin are incredulous of them. Conversely, fictionkin are widely accepted by soulbonders. Otakukin are people who think they are reincarnations of fictitious characters from Japanese anime, manga, and video games.
Like some other otherkin, some fictionkin also explain their existence with reincarnation, believing that fictions have been realities in other dimensions. This of course strongly implies that original fiction writers do not really deserve the credit for creating their characters, leading to some interesting discussions around copyright law and intellectual theft.
At least some otherkin are just pretending to have an animal side, and they know that they're human. For them it is just another niche subculture revolving around what is essentially playing pretend. But others genuinely believe in things that don't make sense.
Body dysphoria and other-limbs
Some otherkin suffer from psychological discomfort due to feeling trapped in the wrong body. Reportedly, some even experience psychosomatic symptoms of sensations in non-existent wings, tails, and other body parts.
Much like a fundamentalist Christian claiming to see angels, some otherkin claim to experience bodily dysphoria and even to feel the existence of body parts that aren't really there. It has been argued that the use of terms like "phantom limbs" in a frivolous manner is offensive to amputees and transgender people. Some use "meta-limbs" and "other-limbs" as alternative terms.
Scientific American describes supernumerary phantom limbs (SPL) as being an even rarer condition than Body Integrity Identity Disorder (in which people want to have one or more of their limbs amputated as they feel these limbs do not belong to them), and that it usually occurs following a stroke. Mostly this feels much the same as the phantom limbs of amputees — an illusion, from which sensations sometimes emanate. In a small number of cases patients report that they can also see, feel and use the limb. This phenomenon has not been investigated thoroughly, because there are so few reported cases.
There is an overlap with the extreme body modification subculture; numerous cases exist of people getting extreme plastic surgery to resemble the animal or monster that they identify with or as.
“”One person even said their toes were swelling up and turning color, and that they itched and ached. So many people said "shifting!" and I actually bothered to look those symptoms up and found a thing known as chilblains which is a form of athlete's foot I think, and guess what? That chick's symptoms match chilblains to a T.
Physical shifting or p-shifting is when otherkin physically shape shift into their kintype. This is of course impossible and dangerous. Symptoms of illnesses are ignored as they may be signs of p-shifting. Thankfully, most otherkin know that p-shifting is impossible, and they warn children against it. Unfortunately, many young otherkin are falling for the myth that p-shifting is possible.
If it wasn't blatantly obvious, otherkin beliefs are strongly influenced by culture, rather than by actually being an animal or mythical creature (now or in a past life).
- Most otherkin with real-life-animal kintypes identify as those that are perceived to be "cool," "majestic," "cute," etc., or symbolic in Western (or Japanese or First Nations) culture, such as wolves, foxes, coyotes, big cats, dolphins, or eagles. Real animal otherkin rarely identify as insects, nuisance animals, parasites, crustaceans, or single-celled organisms, although these make up the majority of known animal species.
- Similarly, those who identify as mythological beings, species, or races, focus tends to be on those that are perceived as mystical and/or aesthetically appealing, such as dragons, elves, fae, angels, mermaids, and so on. For example, Japanese Kitsune and Celtic Cat sìth tend to be more popular choices from their respective cultures than, say, the bald and monstrous Umibōzu or cyclops-esque Fachan'.
- Even then, more import is given to romanticized or culture-influenced versions of said species rather than folklore (e.g., angels that are beautiful humans with wings as if plucked from a Renaissance painting, versus the angels that are described as multi-winged monstrosities "covered with eyes all around, even under its wings" in the book of Revelation).
- For those who identify as real animals, experiences and feelings are often colored by the person's perception of the animal. For instance, wolf otherkin may talk of being "alphas" or "omegas," or being fiercely devoted hunters. In real life, however, the concept of "Greek letter" wolf hierarchies has long been debunked and studies suggest a good number of freeloaders in larger packs. We don't truly understand the animals and their thought processes enough to know how someone can identify as one of them.
Confusing otherkin and trans people
Otherkin are often confused with transgender individuals, despite the fact that the two are in no way related, and that transgender people are supported by both science and law.
A few otherkin themselves are known to make the comparison, however, and many of them claim to be engaged in a "civil rights struggle", while critics contend that they are delusional or mentally ill.
Many modern reactionaries argue that, if we accept trans people, then we must accept otherkins. This comparison is a clear example of the slippery slope fallacy.
- See the Wikipedia article on Body dysmorphic disorder.
- See the Wikipedia article on Species dysphoria.
- Otherkin Wiki
- Vice article on otherkin
- Lancaster, Geoffrey; Massingham, Lester (2010). Essentials of Marketing Management. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0415553466.
- Kirby, Danielle (2009). "From Pulp Fiction to Revealed Text: A Study of the Role of the Text in the Otherkin Community" in Exploring Religion And The Sacred in A Media Age (editors Christopher Deacy; Elisabeth Arweck). Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0754665275
- Dawson, Lorne L.; Hennebry, Jenna. "New Religions and The Internet: Recruiting in A New Public Space". Essay published in several books:
- Lori G. Beaman. Religion and Canadian Society: Traditions, Transitions, and Innovations. Canadian Scholars' Press, 2006. ISBN 155130306X
- Lorne L. Dawson; Douglas E. Cowan. Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0415970210
- Lorne L. Dawson. Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader. John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 1405101814
- Otherkin Timeline: The Recent History of Elfin, Fae, and Animal People
- Therians Against Merging Terminology. felkes.tumblr.com
- Intellectual property posts
- http://dieantrim.tumblr.com/post/22830385453/kanishtaa-naijuuk-what-does-it-even-fucking-matter (broken link)
- Scientific American. April 14, 2009. The Mind-Body Problem
- The problem with P-Shifting Just another otherkin
- Physical Shift Therian Wikia
- Why Physical Shifting is Bollocks The Green Wolf Tumblr
- A revised Otherkin FAQ
- What is Physical Shifting?
- MacNulty, et al., "Nonlinear effects of group size on the success of wolves hunting elk." Behavioral Ecology.
- [Gawker.com: "From web.archive.org Otherkin to Transethnicity: Your Field Guide to the Weird World of Tumblr Identity Politics"].