Saturday
07.22.2017
2:01 PM
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Spirit of the Wind

A Skeptic's Guide to Therianthropy

I haven’t included questions that I consider specious. What I consider specious is saying ‘that’s impossible’ without a reason why, or saying ‘you’re all delusional idiots’ without a reason why. If you want to see those refuted, look up ‘list of logical fallacies’ or ‘knee-jerk reactions’ and scroll down until you found whichever one you used.


General Questions

Q: What’s therianthropy?
A: Therianthropy is the condition (not in a medical or psychological sense, in the ‘constant state of being’ sense) of identifying on some level as a non-human animal known to science. The reasons for the identification vary wildly. In my case, it’s because the behaviors and urges of a cheetah feel utterly natural and right to me, even though I’m not yanked around on a psychological chain to fulfill them—but I know others who are yanked around like that. Identifying with a non-human animal isn’t enough; someone with a totem animal or who identifies with an animal archetype like that in legend is not a therianthrope (often shorted to therian).

Aside from that, you really aren’t going to get a universally agreed on definition of therianthropy. Hell, not everybody agrees on that definition, though most therians I know agree that it’s at least a fairly accurate descriptor. Since there’s no official dictionary definition of the word ‘therian’, and no medical consensus either, arguing the definition is rather pointless. While it’s safe to assume that that definition holds true for most, it won’t for all. When in doubt, ask.

Because a lot of therians will go on at length about what therianthropy is to them. Or have pages written about it already.

Q: What are otherkin?
A: Otherkin are similar to therians (and, depending to who you ask, are basically a larger group—from a mental and philosophical perspective, not a historical one—to whom therians belong to), but they identify as a non-existent species, usually one with spaience comparable to humans. Their experiences seem to focus more on remembered cultures (whether the cultures are actually remembered is, of course, a matter of opinion), as well as relatively alien thought processes. And when I say ‘alien’ I mean ‘right there in the uncanny valley of thought processes’. Of course, I don’t have much of an uncanny valley for thought processes, I’m trying to put my perspective more in line with that of an average human.

Not all otherkin have biological kintypes. Some have mechanical ones, and some have ones that are spirits or somehow not of any type of material origin we have here on Earth.

Q: What are fictionkin?
A: Otherkin whose kintype takes after a fictional species. They are frequently (and rather unfairly) maligned, which has a certain irony to it given that myth is a sort of fiction, and that if one takes a psychological approach to therianthropy and otherkin there’s no particular reason why they can’t exist.

Of course, many otherkin/therians don’t take a psychological perspective to the matter, which is in my opinion a bad thing if and only if they refuse to consider the possibility of a psychological perspective. The otherkin/therians that do not believe in the existence of a psychological perspective usually either do not believe in fictionkin or believe in a varient of the many-worlds theory which states that every imagined universe exists as a separate universe; ergo somewhere there are orcs running around. According to this theory souls can migrate between univerii, so it’s perfectly possible for the soul of an orc to end up in a human body. While I don’t believe in this concept, I certainly can’t disprove it, and have better things to do than to run around telling everybody who believes in something unproveable that they are incorrect. What would be the point?

Also, I shudder to think of the implications of there being a Cthluhu-universe, of a Warhammer 40k-universe.

Or a Twilight-universe.

Q: Do any fictionkin identify as specific characters from fiction?
A: I know for sure of only two who do; they’ll remain anonymous unless they specifically say I can mention them by name. Both a members of multiple systems… for one (who doesn’t quite fit with my generalized answer) the system is a clearly defined one with headmates, and the other one is in a median system.

As I generally understand it, specific-character fictionkin find the fact that they identify as a specific character a mildly uncomfortable one. Given Rule 34 (if it exists, there is porn of it), and the fact that the creators of a character are free to do all sorts of horrible things to that character, and very likely will, and the sheer ‘weirding-out’ factor I imagine is somewhat inherent in finding this character from fiction that has so many obvious similarities that you just can’t ignore them, I find this more than understandable.

They aren’t carbon copies of the characters, mind. Otherkin and therianthropes aren’t carbon-copies of their types either, thus the same applies to fictionkin. I am not going to be urinating on playtrees anytime soon, thank you very much, and I am and always will be a vegetarian. Like us, though, specific-character fictionkin find the similarities too obvious to ignore or hand-wave away.

You can, as always, argue cause until heat death sets in and elementary particles are the only thing floating around. No amount of arguing, however, will change the fact that these people do exist, which makes the controversy that sometimes surrounds them rather absurd.

Q: Do therians and otherkin have any unifying religious/spiritual beliefs?
A: No. I myself am an atheist who seems to lack the capacity to believe in the supernatural. I know of many other atheistic therians and otherkin, including those who don’t believe in anything supernatural.

Among those who do believe in the supernatural, religion varies wildly. I know a Catholic therian, a fire worshipping feline, a bunch of neopagans, several Jews, and one or two Muslim therians. I’d estimate maybe ~60% pagan/neopagan, ~20% atheist/agnostic, and ~20% Judeo-Christian.

Relatively few are social conservatives, though, in my experience. In part this is probably because I spend most of my time on the Werelist, where the helpstaff is mainly non-heterosexual, transgender, or both.

Q: Why?
A: No one has any idea why we’re the way we are—or, at least, no one has any idea that isn’t simply speculation. Hypothesises range from imprinting to reincarnation to something related to autism. But ultimately, we don’t know. We may never know in our lifetimes, though I expect that won’t be the case. But even if we do know for some, we probably won’t know for all, and in a similar vein we can’t disprove the non-empirical explanations. We can prove that they aren’t necessary, but we can’t prove they aren’t true.

And if someone says they do know, absolutely know, and say that you should believe them, they are badly mistaken. Some individuals do hold bizarre creedal notions, where one has to have X metaphysical quality to be a therian or otherkin. I have never seen such individuals offer a shred of logic or reasoning behind this dogmatic exclusionary policy—and I expect that their reasoning is mostly circular.

On Theriotype/Kintype

Q: Many animals have similar behaviors. How does one differentiate between similar species?
A: The default answer is rather simple—one doesn’t. There are cladotherians (therians whose theriotype is a clade), and when you get into theriotypes such as ‘moth’… I’ve never seen someone say ‘moth’ and then say ‘Madagascan sunset moth’.

I attribute it to a rather simple fact: Some clades have more obvious behavioral diversity than others. For example, coyotes have different behaviors than wolves, which have different behaviors than dogs, which have different behaviors than maned wolves. But if one examines weevil species, scientists have to use their genitalia to tell them apart (and still can’t agree). A layperson is not going to be able to tell the difference behaviorally, or even accounting for phantom limbs, between two similar species of weevil.

Q: Why are most therians wolves? Wouldn’t this indicate some sort of wish-fulfillment?
A: This is actually two questions, and I’ll answer each in turn.

Firstly, we don’t know that there are actually more wolves (and the surveys I’ve seen done on the Werelist don’t indicate ‘most’ therians being wolves; about as many are felines of some sort, and there are a bunch of oddballs including dolphins, otters, a salamander, a sea slug, fruit bats, various assorted canines, a thylacine, and avians). We just know that there are more in the online communities we have access to; I highly suspect that the actual number of therians is far higher than the number of online therians, and has a more even distribution of species. The first part is fairly uncontroversial; while [I recall Laycock estimating the size of the community at about a few thousand], most therians/otherkin speak English, simply because the communities were started by English speakers. Who knows how many therians/otherkin there are that speak Chinese, Swahili, Arabic, Russian, or even Spanish? Most therians and otherkin would agree that one doesn’t have to know the term therian or otherkin to be a therian or otherkin.

Hell, they could even have parallel communities.

It’s also important to remember that wolves are fairly social beings. They may simply have a greater urge to be with those like them than some other theriotypes. Another possibility is that wolves are closer to humans in behavior, so it takes less of a deviation from the norm to be a wolf therian (this also works from the point of view of identity). And, of course, therianthropy is subjective to a small degree just like species is. Moreso, in fact, because there are even fewer perfect little species boundaries for behavior and human concepts than there are for DNA and anatomy. Sometimes it's distinct enough to draw a definitive conclusion, sometimes it isn't. Those it isn't very exact for often refer to themselves as cladotherians.

Second... which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who's to say that the reason a wolf therian was so obsessed with wolves wasn't because, after all, they identified with them and shared some of their behavioral traits?

Q: Could therians have been influenced by pets?
A: Quite possibly. I myself have lived with cats my entire life, and I’m a cheetah therian. But this can’t completely explain therianthropy; I’ve met dolphin therians and I’m unaware of anyone who has pet dolphins. For that matter, cheetahs are noticeably different in behavior than domestic cats—for example, in prey selection and social structure. So something else is clearly going on. Doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by pets, just means it isn’t the only thing making us therians.

Q: Do therians/otherkin want to alter their bodies?
A: Depends. I don’t particularly (though I wouldn’t mind having retractable claws), but some do, because they have some sort of body dysmorphia (and this comparison isn’t just made by me, it’s made by people who have gender dysmorphia), so they would see a value in altering their morphology. Obviously they wouldn’t be able to go all the way in all cases (for example, there’s really no way a sea slug therian is going to be able to shrink their body down to the size of a sea slug), and different therians/otherkin would have different levels of desire to change their body. Many have no urge to alter their body.

Since there’s no good rational reason not to allow this, and a clear benefit to be gained by allowing it, the rational thing is to allow it. The only arguments I’ve seen against morphological freedom are appeals to emotion and/or tradition, the belief that it is immoral to change one’s body once one has gotten it, and the belief that we would all turn into the Borg or Cthulhu if we allowed it. None of those I consider convincing. Obviously it would have to be a regulated field; that doesn’t mean it should be outright banned.

Q: To what extent do therians/otherkin act out their urges?
A: Depends. Even for a given therian/otherkin, level of control can vary—mine is much lower when I’m in pain (thankfully I don’t find most static electricity all that painful), or irritated, or exhausted. It also depends on personal preference and the surrounding environment. When we’re alone, or with those who understand and accept us for our therianthropy/otherkin-ness, we can let it out more. Because if I acted out my feline urges in public, I would most likely be ostracized and have little men in white lab coats show up.

That may change, eventually, and given that I refuse on ideological grounds to defend society’s norms if they don’t make rational sense, I would be quite delighted to see such a change. And the norms of society often do not make rational sense; a restriction on therianthropic/otherkin behavior is (in the vast majority of cases) simply unjustified in a rational argument, and lies on appeal to tradition and appeal to emotion. Both of these things are lousy arguments, each of which can be used to defend actions that a rational person would consider horrific.

My view isn’t universally popular, of course.

Q: Why do therians/otherkin remain in the shadows?
A: Two primary reasons, ignoring that many therian and otherkin symbols would only be obvious to people with prior knowledge.

First, because almost every single time we’ve ever tried to make ourselves more popularly known, or even allowed it to happen, it comes back to tweak our tail in some way. Most of this can firmly be blamed on the media sensationalizing us; they are relentless, and I know of people who truthfully decided that it would be best to strategically give in to the assholes. Our forums have repeatedly been stalked by ZigZag (after being told to buzz off multiple times), some idiots who were going to put us in the same category as BDSM practitioners for shock value, and various other individuals trying to interview us. Most of the time we’ve been able to at least mitigate the damage.

Second, because a lot of people actually do hate us. Given human predilections for going after that which is perceived as deviant, it really isn’t that much of a stretch to say that being outed as a therian (especially if one took a spiritual/religious view of it) would really suck. The experiences of some minors when their (fundamentalist Christian) parents found out tends to back this idea, as have the experiences of a few others who were outed to larger groups.

Eventually this may no longer be the case. I hope it is fairly soon.

On Science

Q: Can therianthropy/otherkin be disproven?
A: Sort of.

It’s easy enough to disprove the notion that humans can have behaviors of other species that aren’t normally human behaviors, at least on a conceptual level. It isn’t going to happen, because it’s a completely ridiculous notion (taking into account everything we know about human psychology), but it could be done on a conceptual level. In a similar vein, you could show that therians/otherkin are externally the same as the general populace. But I don’t expect that to happen either.

It’s impossible, on the other hand, at least with current technology, to reach into someone’s brain and tell them that they aren’t experiencing things that they think they are (and that gets into the question of to what extent believing one is experiencing something can make one experience it—placebo effect and all). And matters of identity aren’t really things you can disprove with current technology either.

Q: Can therianthropy make predictions about ethology?
A: No. If therianthropy is due to psychological/neurological reasons, there’s fairly little reason for accurate predictions to be able to be made regarding ethology—there’s no mechanism ‘transplanting’ behaviors from animals to humans.

If therianthropy was due to spiritual reasons, even leaving aside the innately non-scientific nature of it, therians are not carbon-copies of their theriotypes. There would, I imagine, be blending, and telling which behaviors were the product of blending would require technology that bordered into magitech.

In the event that this was proven to be incorrect, then therianthropy would even stranger than it already is. And it is very strange.

Q: What if therianthropy/otherkin had differing causes, even among themselves?
A: So?

It doesn’t matter. What unites us isn’t that we have a certain mutation, that we imprinted on a different species, or any of the other hypothesises of how we came to be. What unites us is a set of common underlying experiences. That’s what’s important. My peers—I don’t care how they came to be what they are. What matters is that they are now.

If a group of people had experiences that were basically the same as Asberger’s syndrome (or any of various other neurological/psychological conditions like syntheasia, dissociation, antisocial personality disorder, PTSD, et cetera), but had n different fundamental causes, they’d be unlikely, in my opinion, to arbitrarily separate themselves into n different communities based on the fundamental cause. There wouldn’t be much point—they’d almost certainly have to cope with the same problems in everyday life, the same unique experiences that give them a unique outlook, et cetera.

On The Community

Q: Is it just me, or are most therians non-gender conforming, non-heterosexual, or both?
A: While I haven’t seen formal studies, I highly suspect it is not just you. A substantial minority are transgender, far more than the percentage you’d normally expect. Same with bisexual, homosexual, asexual, pansexual, et cetera therians.

Why these unusual numbers? Well, it does seem to me to back the views of some therians that it’s related to some sort of abnormal ‘mental wiring’; the number of therians that are transgender would seem to further this notion. As far as sexual orientation… that is difficult to say. It may be that sexual orientation is somehow influenced by therianthropy—most animals aren’t exclusively heterosexual.

Q: Why do so many therians write essays?
A: Can’t know for sure, but I think a variety of factors are at play here. Before getting into details, though, it’s important to recognize that not everybody does. I know many who haven’t; they simply haven’t felt any particular need to. That aside, it does seem like an unusual number do, even accounting for those (like me) who write a large amount of material.

First, as I mentioned in the first question, not all therians mean the same thing when they’re talking about therianthropy. I don’t mean the same thing as many other people I know. In part that’s because our explanations differ, but it’s also because our experiences differ. Take me, for instance. I have ironclad control over most of my behaviors. I have free will, and could theoretically choose to never express a therianthropic behavior again (with perhaps the exception of snarling when in pain). Now, this would suck. Cheetah behaviors feel right and natural to me; doing them makes me feel happy and fulfilled, and I have an urge to do some of them. Don’t know why, but I do. And I have the same amount of control over pretty much everything. Even some of my emotions.

Other therians don’t have the same control I do. So if we’re going to understand each other, we need to explain how our therianthropy expresses itself, and how we and it interact. Knowledge breeds understanding, at least in this instance. It also breeds peace and tranquility; how many arguments could be avoided if both parties truly understood what the other one was saying?

Second, it may well be a cultural norm. Most therian websites include such personal essays, and I know of many forums that have places set aside for posting them. And many of the more prominent therians and otherkin in the online community have written personal essays of some sort; one might consider it some sort of tradition. In part that tradition is probably due to the fact that at various times, various ideas have not been well-received in the therian/otherkin communities, so they provide a sort of ‘record’ of people who are no longer around and actively participating in discussions as frequently as some of the rest of us.

At the same time, as Akhila pointed out when I brought up this point, it can’t only be a case of a social reward. Over the years, various members of the therian community have become socially withdrawn from the main social groups (the Werelist, Wulf Howl, Therianthropy.org, the Weresource, et cetera), and continue to write essays. Nor is there a punishment; most therianthropes don’t write personal essays, and there is no shame or loss of face associated with not having written them.

[. . .] it is more of an internet widespread practice. Like other subcultures, we do like to keep records of our own history, tracks of what has happened or has been said. Moreover, there is a specific motivation to develop resources for self-help (hence the large number of FAQ and other guides). This is because we have specific needs that are unmet in the outside world (like, finding peers). And lastly, there may be a minority of individuals who want to establish themselves as important voices in the community (gain of social status). From what I’ve seen for the past decade, I think these are the main reasons for the establishment of personal websites in the therian community.


-- Akhila (used with permission)

Objections

Q: Aren’t you delusional?
A: A delusion is a perception that is demonstratively wrong. While a very, very few therians/otherkin hold to genetic causes for their status as such, the vast majority either hold to psychological or untestable spiritual hypothesises. For the most part, the psychological hypothesises given boil down to ‘we’re weird’.

So, to answer this with a question: Can you demonstrate that I am not weird in the way I have described (If you immediately were thinking ‘he has the burden of proof’, see below.)? If not, I suggest you come up with another argument. If so, I eagerly await your explanation of how you are, from an Internet connection, able to psychoanalyze me, what your qualifications for doing so are, and what color shirt I am wearing.

Q: But you don’t have any proof…
A: Not in the scientific sense, no. But we aren’t asking for you to believe us so much as not harass us. There is a difference. I don’t particularly care what you think. I do care what you do, and what you say. No, we can’t prove scientifically that we exist, yet. No one’s done a survey of therians and otherkin and shown that we behave in the ways we say. But it isn’t that much of a stretch to say it’s possible (given that there are people who behave like animals and not at all like humans known as clinical lycanthropes, it’s fairly reasonable to say that perhaps there are people who behave in the way we do), and so we ask for your courtesy.

It really isn’t that much to ask you not to insult us.

Q: But you’re dangerous to young people!
A: That isn’t a question. That’s an exclamatory sentence.

Q: But you’re dangerous to young people, right?
A: The general philosophy behind this question, near as I’ve been able to determine, is that therians/otherkin are basically engaged in some sort of fantasy delusion world, and also will give people bad advice. Let’s deal with each in turn.

Firstly, this is not a ‘fantasy’. We are saying that we are odd. Some individuals have complicated explanations for why we are odd, but these for the most part follow their own logic, aren’t known to be blatantly false, and also don’t wreck the lives of the people who believe them, so I don’t care. I have no reason to; I only care when they start arguing that other people should believe as they do, or when I find their explanations interesting enough. I see little reason anyone else should, unless they believe that any irrationality is bad, period.

Second, the episodes of bad advice. Yes, it sometimes happens. Someone in the therian/otherkin communities gives someone really fucking stupid advice. This also happens in literally every other subgroup of people, except the subgroup called ‘people who don’t give other people really fucking stupid advice, ever’, which is a ridiculously small group. We try to police our own, and make sure people don’t get away with telling vulnerable individuals to do bad things, just like every other community. I am also unaware of any actual evidence that the problem of bad advice is more widespread in the therian/otherkin communities than in any other community.

Q: What about all the ex-therians/otherkin?
A: When I’ve heard about these individuals, they were usually harassed until they renounced their identity; I recall one individual saying something along the lines that she knew someone who was ‘quite rightly’ harassed for their identity as otherkin until they renounced it. There’s a reasonable conclusion here, and it’s not that therians/otherkin are somehow ‘faking it’ (where, I must iterate again, ‘it’ is ‘being odd’), it’s that a few individuals were bullied to the point where they only felt safe by renouncing their identity.

Even if they are genuine, given something as diverse as therianthropy/otherkin, I don’t doubt that there’s more than one cause. Perhaps they were able to somehow train themselves out of therianthropic/otherkin behaviors (and it would be training—you don’t magically snap your fingers and eliminate behavioral trends), and somehow eliminate therianthropic/otherkin urges. Doesn’t mean all of us can—and given that rearranging your mind can be expected to have nasty side-effects, at least for a time, besides being a great amount of trouble, I see little point in doing so.

All the ex-therians/ex-otherkin I’ve seen are either claimed and not actually shown to exist or people both illogically and rudely ‘suggesting’ (i.e. irritating anyone who won’t block them) that because they turned out to be wrong, all of us are wrong as a result. Same thing with ex-multiples. Whether these individuals are aware that not only are they not the center of the universe, but that the idea of ‘prove one person wrong about them having it, prove everybody wrong about having it’ would result in cancer, hemophilia, autism, Asberger’s syndrome, the common cold, antisocial personality disorder, obesity, and every sexual orientation (ever) not existing.

Generally these people seem to suggest that science and/or religion says that therianthropy/otherkin is impossible… despite the fact that I’m unaware of any compelling arguments in regards to science, and my response to the religious angle is the same as my response to any religious individual trying to force it on others.

I also like to note that there are therian scientists and (local) religious leaders. While this doesn’t by itself prove anything, it certainly does suggest that these individuals found no contradiction between therianthropy and science or religion, respectively. I’m aware, of course, of the ability of humans to hold two opinions on a matter at once (as well as the fact that this is borderline appeal to authority), but consider the fact relevant enough to mention nonetheless.