Recently I’ve witnessed a new phenomena in the online community; that of diagrams as a visual means of describing one’s therianthropy. This emerged due to yet another dispute over what “contherianthropy” and “shifting” actually means and entails.
My opinion on this new tool is that it’s as beneficial as people choose to make it. If creating a diagram makes you think harder about your own personal therianthropy and brings some new insight, or merely solidifies previous assumptions, then awesome. If seeing a diagram helps you understand someone’s therianthropy better than if they’d typed out an explanation; great again. Tools should be useful; that’s their entire point. Some people have argued that the tool will be abused, but I think we’re all in agreement that anything can be abused by those people who do not take therianthropy and/or the community seriously. Over all, I get the impression that people are largely for, or ambivalent, about the use of diagrams.
My concern, however, is not the diagrams themselves, but the response to them. I’m witnessing two common responses:
1/ the belief that because so many people are responding to the diagrams, more so than they did to personal essays, that the diagrams are somehow a superior dialogue in the area of “shifting” discussions.
2/ people seem to be incredibly personally invested in their diagrams, far more than the usual artist’s love for their work, and become very defensive in the face of ANY dissent; be it polite, or “mocking” (I use the term lightly here, and I’m specifically referring to a joke chart someone made that she thought people would enjoy, and which caused quite the little drama).
My personal belief in regards to the first point is quite simple: people are responding better to diagrams then personal essays because a/ they’re easier to make, as long, well-thought out essays on something as complex as personal therianthropy can be quite challenging and time-consuming, and b/ people respond better to simple shapes and pretty colours. That’s largely human nature, right there, folks; combined with our slacking Western educational systems.
As for the second point, my view is more controversial, and I’m sure it will cause quite a stir (if anyone actually reads here). I believe that the people who are so attached to their diagram and become so defensive in the face of ANY dissent over the use of it as a tool are fundamentally insecure in their therianthropy. My reasoning for this conclusion are twofold:
Firstly, I believe that anyone who can not see the funny side in making diagrams of something as complex as therianthropy in MS paint either lack a sense of humour or are taking the issue too seriously. So why WOULD someone take a diagram so seriously? Well, diagrams can quickly becomes symbols. In this context they’ve become symbols of one’s personal therianthropy, and any perceived attack against that symbol could be taken as an attack against that person. But why would a person even consider a dissenting opinion over the use of what is only a TOOL to be an affront to their person? That brings me to the second point; they are insecure about their therianthropy, and the diagram is something solid and real to which they cling (even if it’s a subconscious clinging). After all, when we’re sitting alone typing out long essays on how we feel inside so many doubts arise; is this imagination? is this really real? am I just mentally abnormal? is therianthropy even a real phenomenon? what makes something a real phenomenon anyway? etc. In the face of so many doubts most people will feel insecure in the conclusions they’ve made about their therianthropy, as (it seems to me that) few people are capable of remaining resolute whilst simultaneously recognising and honouring their doubts.
With a symbol, like a diagram, that seems ‘real’, which can be observed by the eye and felt on the page; well, that’s much easier to cling to and believe in than the ethereal notions in your mind.
And this leads me onto the terminology debate going on right now. Why? Because I feel that most of this pissing over who gets to be called what, and why we apparently NEED, or don’t need, new terms is all about insecurity again. EVERYONE feels secure with a nice little box to fit into, instead of perhaps having to accept that they don’t, and will never, fit into a pre-defined title, therefore always having a necessity to explain their personal thoughts and experiences during introductions and other such discussions. Similarly, I feel the terminology issue is a mistake. It seems to me that the latest issue has developed because of the so-called “abuse” of the term ‘contherianthropy’. What I fail to understand is how we correct the abuse of one term by creating another one. Similarly, some people have expressed the angry opinion that contherians do not “deserve” a special title, and that there SHOULD be no special titles other than the umbrella heading of ‘therianthropy’. So where is the logic, pray tell, of these same people demanding the creation of a new term?
Well, the new term is for them.
And here we come back to insecurity. Some people, from what they have stated, clearly feel that others are viewing contherians as somehow “special” or “more were” than therians who choose not to take that title and/or do not experience the contherian way of being. Now, why on earth would the opinions of people who clearly don’t understand the term (evidenced by them seeing it as somehow “special”) matter to someone who is secure in their therianthropy and/or their place in the community? I genuinely don’t understand why it will. Nor do I understand how we fix the issue surrounding this misunderstanding of contherians by merely creating a new term. The new term does not address the issue that some are claiming it will, nor CAN it.
Some other points of contention discussed by some people have been that a/ terms put forth before were dismissed as being “stupid” despite having quite wide support, whereas this new term has relatively little support but is going ahead anyway, and b/ everyone was for the other suggested terms that were denied, so why can’t they support this new one?
To address these concerns lets take the example of the term “cladotherianthropy”.
Cladotherianthropy was coined as a way to explain, in one word, that the person in question felt they were a therianthrope connected to an entire genus, or family, of creatures, i.e. instead of feeling as if their phenotype (singular) is a wolf, they feel a connection to the entire canine family (plural). This term, in origin, is more like that of “polywere”, which describes the state of having more than ONE phenotype. Cladotherianthropy was fiercely rejected in some places for two main reasons: 1/ they didn’t believe ANYONE deserved a special term because the ones we had were perfectly adequate (read: people were satisfied with the current terms), and 2/ there could be no such thing as cladotherianthropes even though cladotherianthropes within the community described their experiences in identical ways as ‘accepted’ therian groups (read: people had prejudiced opinions against the phenomena).
In my opinion, therefore, cladotherianthropy was rejected not on a TERMS issues but one of BELIEF. Certain people who tend to have influence in regards to the implementation of terminology decided cladotherianthropy was bogus, and so it was never ‘allowed’ to be an ‘official’ term. Of course, there are still people who use the term today but it is not accepted in the ‘official lexicon’.
To address the second point, I personally believe that cladotherianthropy appealed to those people who fit its description and had previously felt so alienated. These people didn’t just feel like they lacked a term or means of explanation, they felt worried about expressing such a ‘strange’ idea, and finding a term for it that could be accepted by the community would, therefore, assist in their acceptance by the community. Similarly, the use of the word ‘cladotherianthrope’ was much easier in discourse than writing the paragraph or two needed to explain just HOW one might be connected to an entire genus or family of animalia. Simply put, cladotherianthropy appeared useful at the time to those who it applied to.
In contrast, I think this ‘new term’ does not have the same support because it’s not putting a name to a group that has felt left out or ostracised by their experiences; they’re naming a group who have experiences that DO deviate from the ‘main’ categories, but not to the degree that those experiencing such deviation have felt at a loss to describe themselves in a way everyone can understand. Similarly, and as I have said above, there is such confusion about terms at this point in time that adding another one seems unfavourable to many.
As a conclusion, I’d also like to add that, in my personal opinion, this borderline obsession over terminology is detrimental to the community as a whole, and the people who behave this way. By focusing so much on terms and sub-categories, diagrams and charts, we’re doing one of two things: we’re dumbing down the community by continually assuming that all the new people need simpler and simpler means of explanation in order to “get it”. As far as I can tell, the ‘real’ therians, the ones who really care, will find their way clearly even without help, and those who are clueless or here just for fun will not respond to even the most kindergarten explanation.
But, more detrimentally, we’re moving away from what really matters about therianthropy; not terms, not simplified explanations, not bickering about who is ALLOWED to be called what, and who is SPECIAL enough to be called that; no, being a therianthrope is about finding a way to live as what, and who, you are. Finding a way to be an animal in a human world.