I wrote a blurb about the centrality of “shifting” in the community and other stuff, with the intent to get it off my chest and move on, but it sparked more discussions on another matter: gender & animality, how we frame this and whether it’s okay or not to draw parallels between therianthropy and the trans* spectrum of experiences. The comments I received helped me articulate my thoughts better on the subject [of gender; not of the original article] but I mostly realized that I feel annoyed at a general trend found in places such as Tumblr regarding this specific issue – this critique isn’t aimed at my commenters, whom I know personally and their motivations for the most part.
Otherkin and therians on Tumblr are a pretty mixed up bunch, therians being understood as a category of otherkin instead of something on its own. I personally do not identify as otherkin at all, so it’s put me in an uncomfortable position at times, but for the sake of simplicity in this writing I’ll mostly refer to just “otherkin” when I actually mean “therians and ‘kin individuals” (which admittedly is rather mouthful to state).
The situation can be summed up as follow:
Many otherkin have compared their experiences of being Other, including species dysphoria, as similar to trans* experiences of gender and body dysphoria.
Some non-otherkin trans* individuals caught that on Tumblr, and reacted negatively to it, calling it appropriation (and also often finding otherkin identities ridiculous if they discovered the concept for the first time).
Some of those who were both trans* and otherkin reacted – how one can appropriate themselves? Some trans* otherkin experience being Other similarly to being trans*. Some others experience it differently. In any case, it was not non-otherkin’s business to decide whether or not their identities were legitimate and how they should describe their experiences.
From this, more cis & trans* otherkin suggested that it’s okay to draw parallels between being Other and being trans*, but only if you are both, otherwise you don’t really know what you’re talking about and you might be offensive to a category of people or another. The main concern still is that cis otherkin might be appropriating trans* issues, and there’s uncertainity about how to avoid that.
Then a suggestion to find a solution for this: “trans* otherkin must discuss the issue between themselves”.
This is where things become tricky.
Firstly, it is idealistic to expect a consensus between trans* otherkin on the subject of “is otherness or animality similar to gender identity?” because it depends on individuals – as we’ve seen, some trans* otherkin find similarities between the two, and some others don’t. No majority should stand on a pedestal and say they hold the One Truth on the matter, denying the right of another category of trans* otherkin to speak up and say anything different.
Secondly, and quoting some of the discussions I had with Tsu on the matter, I know the suggestion that “trans* otherkin must discuss the issue between themselves” comes from the idea that “the only people who can speak about the fairness of using a word (or a group of words/ideas) are part of the community who the words belong to”. So yes I’ve seen some individuals, cis and trans* alike, on the subject of whether it’s okay or not to draw parallels between trans* and otherkin, step in to tell others that “this is not your decision to make”.
My point is that sometimes, the people who say “that is not your decision to make” are precisely making a decision that is not their to make, either.
Yes, I want my thoughts on being both an animal-person and a trans* person to be heard. I agree that I don’t want people to make decisions instead of me. Yes, I agree it feels awkward at times, offensive at most, when people compare their otherkin experiences with being trans* when they are not trans* themselves. It’s also offensive to me when non-otherkin trans* people declare that being otherkin really isn’t like being trans*, when they know shit about being otherkin.
BUT. And this is a big one. The problem is that in this debate, people have started equating being trans* with being gender experts; they have forgotten that everybody has an experience of gender identity. Nobody fall outside of it, even if that identity is agender. It does not mean cis people know what being trans* is like; it just means they are their own gender expert.
A cis animal-person could say “well, I’m cis, I do identify with the gender I was assigned at birth, and I don’t experience any dysphoria regarding my anatomical sex, but that’s the point: I feel that it’s totally different for my animality. I feel I was assigned a species in the social or symbolical sense, and that this species does not fit my identity. I experience dysphoria regarding my biological species. I know what it feels like when what I’m assigned and what I am is congruent, but my animal identity is different”.
This is just one example and your mileage may vary. The concept of gender does not belong solely to the trans* community, nor does the experience of dysphorias (which can be quite diverse).
I feel it is important to make a distinction between on one hand drawing parallels between two abstract concepts to show a point or describe your experience – concepts that belong to no one specifically – and on the other hand drawing parallels between other individuals or personal experiences that are not yours. Saying you have your own experience of gender or dysphoria is not appropriation; appropriation happens only if you’re making suppositions and personal use of something (words, concepts) you’re not intimately familiar with.
Last but not least, I want to adress this question: who in the first place said that trans* otherkin need to discuss the issue of otherness/gender comparisons? And more importantly, who does it benefit?
I’ve mostly seen the suggestion come from individuals who are not transgender. I feel that when people say trans* otherkin must discuss the issue, it’s often not us who are deciding by ourselves that we need to discuss it. It’s the otherkin community that is pushing the issue on our plate, and some trans* otherkin may take on the mission to answer the problem; but it’s not really our problem. I’m writing this big blurb on animality and gender, and I’m loathing doing it. I want to discuss the issue for itself in my own terms, and that includes being able to talk about animality & gender without having to answer other people’s current interrogation on “can cis people talk about animality in parallel with gender?”.
I certainly don’t want to write about this topic just because it has been increasingly uncomfortable for cis otherkin to discuss gender & animality together. Look, I’m sorry if you’ve felt uncomfortable on the subject, but if you’re cis you need to sort out this issue of privilege for yourself too, instead of putting the onus on trans* otherkin to take the hard decisions. (Especially if, as I put, it pushes some trans* otherkin to make choices and statements that supposedly apply to all of us. I don’t need anyone to police my life.)
It is precisely privilege when a majority pushes their own priorities and questions onto a minority. I don’t want to be made feel like it’s my duty to answer these questions anymore.