I don’t believe in a vacuum regarding identity. We construct ourselves alongside or in opposition with other people and things, though we’re not immediately aware of it. Sometimes it’s opposing the animal and human, nature vs culture, sometimes it’s opposing some animals to other ones – feline is not canine. Serpent is not mammal. Sometimes it’s even more specific. But at some point there is the Other, it’s not just about ego. Denying this is denying that the world shapes you more than you control who you are. And you shouldn’t feel helpless nor be afraid; rather, you should face it and study it to understand it. It’s only once things make sense that you can reappropriate them and have more control over your path.
I am a clouded leopard. I act like one, feel a tail, paws, teeth like one. I am not a clouded leopard because I sound like one, vaguely, when looking into animal symbolism. First I am a transboy and clouded leopard, and then I find meaning and correlations; I didn’t pick either, it’s not about attraction to a pre-existing concept or getting the closest thing to fit a personal theory. It’s what I am in the first place, period; I didn’t sit to ponder “how does my life translate into this?”, at some point the pattern jumped to my face. Then comes research and thinking and I find words and sense – or more questions. First the concrete experience, raw, intense; last the essay-writing on ponderings about archetypes. When I’m writing about this, what I’m saying isn’t “this is why I am X” or “this is what being X is all about”. I am saying “this is how it (experience) make sense to me (with my personal representations and history)” and this only is a tiny bit of my thoughts and life as a clouded leopard. To me being an animal is more than metaphorical.
There is Clouded Leopard with a capital C, and Raven from myths and tales. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes we don’t; sometimes I’m nothing like in the animal folklore. Sometimes my personal folklore is nothing like the actual animal – because there is no clouded leopard in Paris, for example. But other times like now I can talk about what clouded leopard and raven are and it is both experience and archetype. This is how identity works after all, with mental representations, personal history, imagery and symbols and other sorts of imprints in your psyche – something that grows with you, not some finished product you’re born with. So there is my idea of Raven and it is influenced by my own experience of raven, my totem, mythology I’ve known, people I’ve met and the actual animal. It’s not a sum of the existing folklore relating to Raven.
Even Jaguar, “my” Jaguar, may not be the same as yours or some culture’s Jaguar. I am not a jaguar but I’ve met Jaguar, experienced it since childhood and have researched; unconsciously I constructed my own perception of what “jaguar” is, and this is what I talk about when I use the word “representation”. It’s also a totem, but maybe as a kid Jaguar worked instead of the lack of clouded leopard folklore and feline model around. Perhaps if I had been told cloudypard tales instead, Jaguar’s role in my life would have been lesser. But I was a jungle kitty, felt Jaguar-Warrior/Hunter by my side, read on mythology and metaphors, and everything made sense. Still does nowadays, as a clouded leopard and transboy (see my Jaguar essay). This is not a thing I can erase to replace with something else, be it Clouded Leopard.
Clouded Leopard is not a Warrior. Clouded Leopard is both Traveller and Hunter, in this order. Which is why it is not interchangeable with Jaguar and both complete each other well. Clouded leopard is fierce but it is not a true fighter, most of time – achieving goals is more a matter of patience. Clouded Leopard doesn’t share Jaguar’s rage; both are differently intense, and they also work differently. Control: Clouded Leopard is about control directed towards the Self, Jaguar’s directed outside – not so disciplined about feelings. When it comes to anger and frustration, Jaguar is more harmful to others, obsessive and therefore self-destructive, while Clouded Leopard is more balanced – self-control, which sometimes can also be self-destructive when it’s solely about repressing. I felt Jaguar’s overwhelming rage and had to learn how to channel and use it by myself; but His discipline in other domains may inspire me.
Clouded Leopard is about balance because it is in-between – modern and ancient, small and big. Tense but not frighten. Fortitude rather than fearlessness. Sometimes elusive but not magnificient. Showing trickster traits, yet not being a feline Coyote. Half-saber-toothed, yet alive. Perhaps it’s easy to be a Mediterranean clouded leopard then; Horace said in medio stat virtus. Being a clouded leopard is being a liminal cat. Being both cat and corvid is being an liminal animal. Being both human and animal is being a liminal being – and so is being a traveller, oneironaut or trans person.