I wrote this on some blog in response to the idea that therianthropy and otherkin identities could be a product of Western societies, which in the debate was also used as a point to imply they were not real, valid experiences.
I usually ignore these kinds of discussions because I don’t feel I have to justify who and what I am to anyone. It is, ultimately, only my own business if I identify as an animal, and I do not tolerate in my vicinity anyone who believes it’s okay to police others about their sense of self. However this time I wanted to debunk some misconceptions about the “constitution/construction” of identities, because the pseudo-scientific theoretical demonstrations some try to use against therianthropy are just inane.
One cannot just twist the concept of social constructionism; I mean obviously people try, but it simply does not work like that. Regarding socio-historical context influencing how individuals are constructed/constituted, there’s plenty of literature on the subject. On authors who write specifically about mental phenomenons that are more widespread in Western societies, from the top of my head I can think of Ian Hacking about Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder, and Alain Ehrenberg about depression and neurosis in general; this isn’t to say that mental illnesses are entierely social constructs, but if you read these authors you can get a glimpse of how the socio-historical context may also lead to what appears like an increase of the populations affected by those.
On a related note, there’s also more and more talking about how medical technologies and media exposure in the 20th century have brought trans* paths of life into the realm of the “possible” and “reachable” for gender questioning people. To put it simply, when people know something exists then they are more likely to view their experience under this light and use that concept or term about themselves.
Now, the belief that one may be an animal at heart, or have an animal soul, is nothing new in regards to human history; but I’m not going to take that road because I don’t believe something necessarily has to exist in the past to be valid in the present days. I can take therianthropy as its own thing, a recent phenomenon with its subculture starting from the early nineties (and otherkin dating back to the seventies with the Silver Elves). Few surveys have approched these populations, it seems to have been mostly online studies, and thus there are some bias from the start such as who can answer these surveys (ie. primarily English-speakers and people with an Internet access).
That said and ignoring the bias, does therianthropy/otherkin seem something more typical of Western societies? Yeah it could well be. But does that also mean therianthropy/otherkin identities are delusional, “fake”, and that they can be “undone” in anyway?
That’d be akin to say that trans* people or individuals who suffer from depression are making it up – not that I think of transidentities as mental illnesses, that’s not the case, and I also am trans* and neuroAtypical. We know that these populations are not “seeking attention”, or “comforting themselves” with some fancy quirks. Maybe there is an actual increase in X population; maybe X population is just becoming more visible or that some condition is better diagnosticated. Maybe it’s Western societies putting the individual at the center of preoccupations, and many people having more time and resources to think about their own self.
Still, these people who have atypical identities, or suffer from certain disorders, have valid experiences. They’re not “making up” who they are, or what they feel. They may be partially or even entierely a product of their time, yet their experiences are still real. People go to shrinks or seek medication, or surgery and such as, because of very real phenomenons that affect their lives (such as dysphoria for a part of the trans* population). Many therians experience supernumerary phantom limbs, which is a phenomenon that is known to the scientific community already. It’s not merely wishful thinking, even though delusion may also exist among self-declared therianthropes.
And I won’t even enter into the debate of “are these nonhuman perceptions actually like the experiences of the animal”. We don’t have the same biology to start with, I don’t think anyone reasonable is denying they have a human body. But similarly to how Quil put it in one of his writings, saying we are X animal is just the most simple, closest way to explain how we feel; that our behaviours and mental patterns and so on look like what we (yes, we as people who live in human bodies and human societies) think these animals are. We can’t know exactly, entierely how it feels being an animal that is not human-bodied, because we lack the practical experience. However even if we can’t know if a human wolf’s experiences are totally identical with that of a nonhuman wolf, we differ from “human-identified humans” in ways that can’t be ignored.
Lastly, we don’t know what causes therianthropy, but given the incredibly high percentage of people in the therian/otherkin community who also are trans*, or on the autism spectrum or with other neuroAtypical conditions, there is very probably more patterns to this population than cultural ones. Regardless of the fact however, I would like people to remember that constructions aren’t less real or effective than what we consider innate traits – and as science has started exploring it in the past decades, there isn’t such a clearly cut nature/nurture divide in the first place.