Soulskins

Soulskins

By Kusani

I am a lioness. It’s natural for me to say that now, secure in who and what I am. A lioness-woman. Not wholly any one thing. I’m an animal person – I’m not just an animal in a human skin, and I’m not just a human who really likes this animal. I’m both. I’m a new breed.

I wasn’t always this comfortable in my own skin and identity as I am now. My childhood and young-teen years hold much the same story as many other animal people – wanting to play as a not-human, wandering the house on all fours, huge attachment to animals, spending a lot of time in the woods, and making all the sounds and expressions of a not-human. A lot of therians that I knew at one point reported that, in order to fit in with schoolmates and family members and society at large, they had to suppress their animalistic actions. No more growling, or hissing, or what have you. Walk flat-footed. No headbumping or nuzzling or whimpering or mewling.

In sixth grade, I had read Raptor Red, which is my favorite dinosaur book hands-down. I spent my days that year as a raptor person. In school, too. My arms were bent and held close to my chest, and my extra two fingers were tucked against my palms, and I walked on the balls of my feet with my unseen tail stuck out straight behind me, and my head bobbed, and my body was tilted at an angle that was, somehow, balanced by my nonexistent tail. My parents never told me to act normal. My friends got used to me. My teachers never disciplined me for causing trouble, because I was still smart and sociable. Just because I was a raptor at the time didn’t stop me from still being part-human.

I never learned to not act as I felt. And I don’t know why not, but no one ever mocked me for it. I’d bare my teeth and growl, and refer to my long nails as claws, and my hair as a mane or as fur, and no one cared. My ears move, just a tiny bit – I can move the right one alone, or both together. So I got used to flattening my ears (by moving them backwards), or pricking them. I can also do an ear-flick with the right ear. No one cared! It was awesome.

There isn’t a ‘but’ to this monologue. Even before I found out what therianthropy was called, and that there were others who were like me, I was able to strike a functional, expressive balance between animal and human. I never had to repress that part of me. So I never did.

The difficult part came when I -did- discover therianthropy. It all made so much sense and I was just gleeful to know that others felt like I did. It had never bugged me to be the only one like me, and I had never questioned my sanity for how I acted, but it was still really awesome to think of people who knew where I was coming from.

So where’s the difficulty? Well, in my voracious reading of every bit of “were” material I could come across, there were a ton of indications that people have one primary animalside. Some rare ones have two or three, but a lot of “regular” therians scoffed a bit at these people.

So what the hell was I? In my life, I’d been a panther (black leopard), a wolf, a raptor, and a horse. Those were the animals I acted most like, and they had come in stages – dogs/wolves when I was very young, then horses (and sometimes deer), then raptor and panther kinda came at the same 9-years-old-ish stage.

I observed and analyzed myself. I looked up and learned about the most likely animals. At that stage in my life, I was very strongly a loner – nevermind that I was a bit miserable being that way. Wolf had been one of my favorite animals for years, and I felt a lot of kinship with them. Cougar, surprisingly, came up as a very close match to me, but I kept having issues with, somehow, wanting to make my cougar-self melanistic – which is insanely rare with cougars.

At various times, I decided I was a black leopard, a wolf, and/or a cougar. For about a year, I went back and forth, genuinely trying to figure out what the hell I was. For the majority of that year, the latter half at least, I decided I was mostly cougar, but also a bit of wolf. (Melanistic cougar, and grey/timber wolf.)

It didn’t fit. The identities made me restless. I kept searching. I knew something wasn’t right. Despite my whole-hearted love for and kinship with Cougar and Wolf, I didn’t think I really -was- either of them.

I had not considered the bigger cats – jaguar, lion, or tiger – although I was fairly certain I was feline. Lions and tigers were too mainstream, too well-loved – I didn’t want to be something so popular. (Popular in the general public’s eye, at least – I knew wolf therians are by far the most numerous, and I also hesitated on ‘being’ Wolf.) But, I decided to investigate even the more unlikely options.

Lioness wound up sounding more and more correct. At that time in my life, I was a loner through circumstance, but digging deep enough found that it wasn’t my first instinct, nor would it ever be a choice. To make a long story short, lioness was my closest fit. And so I adopted it as my identity, still wary of being wrong yet again.

The months and then years proved lioness to be the best fit of them all. I identify rather seamlessly with lioness now, to the point where I am blatant about self-identifying as lioness, even to those who have no knowledge of or interest in therianthropy. I’ve never stopped being animal-expressive, and to this day, people just get used to it. I don’t get weird looks or many questions or any insults or teases. This is probably because I know when a situation calls for a professional or a neutral attitude/act.

So there’s my story. I’m a lioness, and I don’t claim to be any other animals.

Here’s the kicker. I don’t believe that souls have genders or species. I believe that a soul is a part of all life that flows through all that exists – my soul is just a part of the Universal Soul. And as such, I am not separate from anything, nor could I possibly be an animal-soul in a human body. My soul has no race!

So then, what is therianthropy? Why am I an animal person if souls don’t have species and I’m wearing a purely human skin?

I believe in reincarnation. Many lives, many experiences. And it’d be silly if my lives were only constrained to one species. I believe my soul has tried on many, many different skins – as well as being a part of a big Whole, some of whose other parts are wearing various skins as I wear my human one.

My soul’s favorite skin is lioness. It enjoys the human one, but it remembers the lioness one, and connects with other parts of the Universal Soul who wear lioness skins, and that becomes a strong part of its own expression and characteristics. This means I am a lioness-woman.

This does not mean that my soul has no fondnesses for any other skins. Wolf is very, very close to me still, and I strongly identify as Wolf sometimes. But what does that make Wolf to me? A second animalside? My “furry” self? (I see the difference between non-creepy furries and therians as being, well, voluntary. Furries choose an animal to express themselves because they like it in some way; therians -are- that animal instinctively, beyond conscious choice. So I have often wondered if I consciously choose to identify with wolf, which – by my terms – would make me a wolf furry. Not that I actively label myself as that – too much bad rep.)

So if I’m a lioness-woman, what’s Wolf? What’re Jaguar and Cougar, who are also extremely close to my spirit and my heart?

Things get fuzzy here. I am an animal person. I’m a lioness-woman. I’m a soul expressed through a body but who is still linked to the Universal Soul. So am I also a wolf-woman, or is my affinity to Wolf somehow different, other than being less immersive than my affinity for Lioness?

Questions, questions. I’m not sure I even need to define it. I portray myself as a white wolf. The snowy tundra is as much my home as the blue-skied savanna. I can howl as easily as I can roar. A thick white pelt is as familiar on my skin as a smooth tawny one. Pack dynamics are as familiar as pride arrangements. I might be more lioness than wolf, but does that mean wolf is any different than lioness in its relation to me?

This line of questioning and lack-of-definition (meaning shape-definition more than dictionary terminology) has been in my head for, literally, years. I brought it up with my sister last night because she has the same sort of duality as I do – ironically, the reverse. I am primarily lioness and she is primarily red wolf, yet I’ve always had a wolf connection and she a feline one. More ironically, my wolf-connection is to arctic wolves, who are radically different than red wolves – and her feline-connection is to cougars, who are radically different than lions. We expounded on this and neither of us came up with a sure answer.

But really, it doesn’t matter what I call it, or how others look at it. I exist as I am, and that’s perfectly good enough for me.