Neofelis Nebulosa

Summary of what Clouded Leopard feels like, because the old writing needed an update. Technically, I’m always clouded leopard and there is no distinction in how I experience felinity and humanity, but I’ve wanted to keep a short blurb somewhere for others to read about some of the things that are more distinctively clouded leopard.
Clouded leopard is the smallest of the big cats, being part of pantherinae, and pushes leopards’ nervosity and elusiveness to its extreme, seldom seen in the wild. It is appropriately described as ghostly. Secretive. Rare. Clouded leopard is specific – feline, leopardy, and unique, in that order. Its body is a paradox with its humble size and its impressive paws and teeth. My canines are never big enough, because clouded leopard’s are as long as a tiger’s, on a cat ten times smaller. Clouded leopard is a sabertooth very much alive, alive alive. I’m being clouded leopard when I am short and seemingly awkward and my body is a ball of muscles and intent hidden as goofiness. I’m being a clouded leopard when I feel my phantom teeth and ears and so very long tail, when my skin is spotted and marbled with cloud-like shadows and my jaws want to bite your neck hard.
You may touch clouded leopard but never hold it tight. Places you may scratch if you belong to the right category of individuals: back of the head, nape, shoulders, tummy. No touching the ears, face and feet, especially as it reveals the species dysphoria. Eye contact must remain light, non-intrusive. Sounds need to be moderate; crowd-talk is disorientating. Clouded leopard is introversion. Asocial. I’m introverted ’cause I’m a clouded leopard and I’m introverted because of intellectual giftedness, and intellectual giftedness is a raven thing and I’m a raven and clouded leopard. Still there is a need for visual, olfactive, tactile and other stimulations and novelty. Clouded leopard is the going back and forth the mind and body, sensory input, processing, adaptability, awareness, overexcitability. Touch and tongue and taste. Perception and intuition. Depth.
Clouded leopard is about intensity, but not about rage. It can be grumpiness, arrogance, cynism, and sharp edges (but less so than Jaguar). Clouded leopard is a balance of withdrawn and fierce, anxious and playful; it’s a Cat. Clouded leopard walks between worlds, between small and big felines, ancient and modern, natural and supernatural, and as such it is the liminal cat by essence. Clouded leopard is watching as the world goes on from afar; belongs to the deep forest. It doesn’t need anyone, except those who entertain its curiosity perhaps. Clouded leopard likes to be heard, but does not like being the center of attention. It is straight-forward, it does not tolerate nonsense, and it’s putting efforts into what is efficient, and not putting efforts into what isn’t worth it. I am clouded leopard when I’m careful in spending my inner resources, when I’m calculating, when I’m judging.
To me being clouded leopard is about being out in the city at night. The blue hour. Being self-conscious in broad day light and seeking for the shades. Walking in urban settings, as much as walking in the forest. Feeling a kinship with other felines but especially leopards – snow or regular – and jaguars and, maybe to a lesser extent, with ocelots, marbled cat and ancient felines. Being both graceful and clumsy at the same time. Not being the biggest predator-creature-thing out there, and content with it. Shying away from crowds. Rubbing my nose and cheeks against my partner’s shoulders. Amber, musk and sandalwood. Petrichor (“the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell”). Drums and thunder, and bass guitars. That urge to climb everything, anything. The way biting into tender meat makes me feel. And so many other sensations I don’t know how to put into words.
This is my small contribution to the exploration of therian animality, from the perspective of one clouded leopard individual.

Gentle Strength

I have a complex relation to Jaguar. If there is anything like a personal power or archetype for me, it is that. It’s something that I lean torward and something that is me, but not the way I am clouded leopard and raven. Not really. At the same time it is as real and intense.
I grew up as Jaguar. Before living as myself, a clouded leopard and raven Liminal being, I lived as Jaguar for a long time – strong and self-confident down to arrogance, smart, stubborn, angry, unstoppable. Did not accept weakness, did not accept failure. And for a long time, it worked. And people were either fascinated, or clashed very much, but in all case I didn’t care what they thought of me. I went on fabulous adventures and accomplished my dreams and life was good.
And then someday all the pain and abuse and what I went through earlier in life caught up with me, and I developed a severe anxiety disorder. I got very sick and depressed and shut down completely. I exhausted myself by trying to live up to Jaguar standards when it wouldn’t work. I had less and less energy to spare for pretty much everything, anything. Jaguar kicked me in the butt repeatedly for not doing anymore the things I used to be able to do. I hated myself for it, and that felt like I was becoming the opposite of the person I used to be.
Eventually I had to put aside my pride for a moment and try and ask for help. This was so humiliating to me that I had delayed and delayed it again until I couldn’t do otherwise. For the first time in my life I was ready to let people have an impact on my path.
I happened to meet by chance someone with an anxiety disorder who had gone through everything I went through, and had taken the decision I was just taking, and who had gotten better for it. We talked a lot, one night, snuggling against each other on a bench because although it was the middle of summer the weather was so cold. His example gave me hope and purpose. Instead of trying so bad to be the person I was before, maybe I could just too move forward to get better. I had to accept that there was no going back, and that I may be scarred for life, but there was a Future for me.
I realized that I wasn’t in a dire situation because I was somehow weaker or worse than anybody, but because life had been really tough to me – even though I had never wanted to admit it. What I considered “normal” and “okay” for a long time actually wasn’t at all. I realized that it’s human to be vulnerable, and that being vulnerable and accept it actually requires Strength. And asking for help actually may not be important because of what you expect other people to do for you, but because it means you no longer fear to take the necessary steps to get better even when it costs you some.
Everything Jaguar had taught me seemed all wrong. I realized Jaguar nourished some really toxic attitudes towards the Self and Others. Jaguar was destructive rage. Jaguar never allowed for a break. Jaguar never showed empathy and assumed it was in position to judge others. Jaguar’s way was supposedly the only way. I did all these things, but it’s not following Jaguar’s answers that I got better.
It’s by redefining my standards more healthily and allowing myself to be gentle, caring and patient. Accepting that I don’t have all the answers, that since people had a hard time figuring what I was going through, I too had to accept that I could never know truly, perfectly what other people may go through. And all the while, I stopped being so angry all the time. In part because it was a waste of my energy to be angry at myself and others, and in part because I no longer cared about the way other people led their life. Whatever floats your boat. Which doesn’t mean that I can never be critical about some attitudes, but I react differently than I used to.
I think I may have written before about this metal bookmark that Chaos – a duiker/puma animal-person – offered me years ago. It has the chinese for “Strength” and the following quoted from St. Francis de Sales by Ralph Washington Sockman: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength”. When I received it, I was still following blindly Jaguar and could not understand the quote – that was not Strength to me. I had to go through the life-changing experience of developing my anxiety disorder and fight it, in order to know what it meant.
If there’s one thing, other than some compassion, that this disorder has taught me, it is that I am fucking resilient and have all the Strength I need to get on with life, deep down. Pursuing a goal isn’t only about being stubborn and pushing my limits, but also about knowing how to spare my resources and accepting to change an inadequate strategy. That I won’t get very far with my metaphorical car if I never take care of it. That if I take small steps, it’s still better than going backwards. And that if sometimes I have to get worse before I get better, so be it.
I am nourishing a whole new Jaguar now. A Jaguar that has learnt from being clouded leopard and raven. One that drives me to get through what needs to be done and fuels my projects, but without feeding negativity when I decide to do it on my own terms. One that doesn’t center pleasure around productivity but around quality. One that allows oneself to be vulnerable and accessible as part of being Strong. One whose sovereignty doesn’t walk over others. One that controls its destructiveness and toxicity for safer, healthier attitudes and relations.
There is still much left to do, but I don’t have to stress over it anymore. I can just get on with it.

On the appropriation of trans narratives by therianthropes

I’ve never been active on otherkin forums so I cannot speak for otherkin and will only refer to the therian community. I’ll use citations a lot because I believe it is important to frame this article as part of a larger debate among therians (and beyond) about animal identity; I want those who have contributed to the discussions over the years to reclaim their stories and feel empowered by their participation, rather than let non-therians define instead of ourselves what we mean by the words we use.
Therianthropes are people who identify in part or whole as nonhuman animals; who feel they are some kind of nonhuman animal inside, instead of or along with being human. As I am writing this, there has been a lot of discussion on some websites about the differences and similarities between the transgender realm of experiences and therianthropy. This has been especially true on Tumblr, where a small part of the social justice community has reacted negatively at the use of words like “transspecies” and “species dysphoria”, calling it an appropriation of transgender terms and experiences.
I am writing this essay in order to summarize my views on the issue, and I speak from the perspective of a white, middle-class, neuroAtypical, transmasculine therianthrope with an anxiety disorder. I’m also a grad student in the social sciences but this isn’t a scientific paper; the answer to the question “why not?” is “because I have too much academic work on my plate already”. Beside, I’m not a native English-speaker.
For clarification: I use the term trans not as a short form for transsexual or transgender, but as an umbrella term also inclusive of genderqueer, gender fluid and other non-binary identities. I will refer to non-trans people as “cisgender” or “cis”, a term used to fight against the idea that trans people are abnormal and that “non-” should be the norm. Cis people are individuals whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
First I want to dispel the myth that words such as “transspecies” and “species dysphoria” emerged from animal-people and otherkin dabbling in social justice on Tumblr. “Transspecies” can be traced back with certainty in the therian community to at least the late 90’s, when the famous social platform simply did not exist. Going through the archives of the usenet group Alt.Horror.Werewolves, the birthplace of modern therianthropy, you could read these comments:

There are many diverse individuals on this newsgroup who hold a link to therianthropy: the different kinds of shifters, the trans-species folks {animal in a human body}, and those like yourself with animalistic characteristics.
The Wind King, 1997, AHWw.

For many people, there is no separate “animal side,” they *are* the animal. […] Others within this category are “Transpecies” even “Transgenders” or both.  This is a case of “Oops, wrong body,” where said person feels they were intended to be born into a different existence, be it another species or another sex.
Jakkal, 1998, AHWw.

Before I did a search on the web, I didn’t know what words to use to explain my feelings. I used to use the term “transspecies”, taken from the term transgendered.
Red Dawg, 1999, AHWw.

I’m aware that some of these are simplistic explanations of what transness is and I address that point later, but it is interesting to note the early use of “transspecies” as one possible variation of therianthropy. Further indication that “transspecies” was in use before Tumblr can be found in other websites and news groups, as with the following citation – which by the way illustrates that some therians had already engaged discussions and critical thinking about the intersectionality between therianthropy and other subjects, namely ethnicity:

The community [ethnic_kin] is for the discussion of the intersections between ethnicity and Otherkinism, therianthropy, species dysphoria and transspeciesism. Anyone with deep interest in both is welcome to join.
Raki, 2004, LJ community “Therianthropy”

Body dysphoria is defined as the feeling of unhappiness, anxiety and discomfort with one’s body, and generally a symptom of a body dysmorphic disorder. Species dysphoria, then, can be understood as a type of body dysphoria/dysmorphia related to one’s physical species. Prior to the growth in popularity of the phrase “species dysphoria” in therian communities, there had been numerous statements relating to being an animal mind or soul “trapped in the wrong body”. A couple of examples:

I wake up every morning and face a form that does not feel like me.  I suppose it is bad enough for people who are too thin or too heavy – they can often remedy the problem with a change in diet.  It is worse for someone who finds themselves to be the wrong gender – there is surgery. What do you do if you think you are the wrong species?
Coyote Jack, 1994, AHWw

many of us again feel that we were born in the wrong body and were meant to be animals instead of humans [this is no more insane that the plight of your average transgender–they feel they were born in the body of the wrong gender]
Windigo the Feral, 1996, AHWw

Likewise, the results of a 1995 AHWw survey were reposted by Ashikaa; they indicated that out of 25 participants, 28% felt they were “born into the wrong body”. In 1997, 56 answered the poll and, according to Utlah, 50% said “Yes” when asked about being born in the wrong body.
Because people have lacked the language to describe their therianthropic experience to others, the parallel with trans narratives has offered a way to better explain therianthropy to those not familiar with the concept. It would be tempting to assume that therians who use this terminology are appropriative of trans stories and leave it at that, but things are not as simple.
First we need to define appropriation: generally understood as cultural appropriation, it is the taking of cultural expressions, beliefs or artifacts from an usually marginalized group by a more privileged collective or individual. Frequently, it involves the misunderstanding and misuse of terms and practices that are taken outside their contexts.
To demonstrate that therianthropes are appropriating trans narratives, we would need to prove that therians constitute a privileged and distinct group from trans people; and that they are misunderstanding the language they’re using. Outside of the fact that this is taking therians as one homogeneous group with no intersectionality with other issues whatsoever, it is overlooking something essential: the fact that trans people themselves have always been present in the community. Windigo, quoted above and one of the people who used “transspecies” the most frequently in the archives of AHWw, defined himself as “a windigo–a male windigo at that–in a female human body”.
I’ve corresponded for years through LiveJournal, Dreamwidth and other sites with a good number of trans therians like myself, among which Liesk (author on “The Marsh”), Ozen (who owned the domain name “”), or Merf (aka “Mamma bear”). Quil, whom I got to know in 2004, also is one of us; on an essay no longer available on his website he wrote:

My mindset is a mix of leopard and human. Physically, however, I am human and only human. Maintaining my leopard instincts in a human world is a tricky thing. A therianthrope/were/transspecies/animal person is human plus animal. Most people aren’t.
Quil, 2004, in “Two Viewpoints”.

Emphasis is mine. Here we can see “transspecies” as one of several valid alternatives for “therianthrope”. I too suggested that “therianthropes could be called transpecies” (sic) in a 2005 comment on LJ. We’ve also suggested body dysphoria as an experience distinctive of some people’s therianthropy:

That evidence, though, doesn’t say to us “This person is really an [insert animal here.]” That evidence says merely “This person really does act like an animal, and probably really does think like one, too.” You take that evidence, and you take your body dysphoria, and you can prove therianthropy. Not scientifically, certainly not, but you can prove it to yourself.
Quil, 2006, in “Animality Defined”.

And because Liesk had already eloquently addressed the issue of language in defining who and what we are, I feel it is important to remember his contribution to the larger debate:

I can describe a male as having XY chromosomes, testosterone as the dominant sexual hormone, and possessing both primary and secondary male sex characteristics. But this cannot begin to describe what a man is, how a man is different from a boy, what the nature of masculinity is, and the various ways in which male-identified people, in all of the bodies and sexes they come in, regard themselves and their gender. As a male whose body nowhere near fits the physiological, hormonal or genetic criteria, I must seek the latter interpretation. This again falls prey to the question of language and how it applies to the real world. If gender is a construct, to what degree can we allow it to affect our lives, and how can be build sexual identities as human beings that bring us fulfillment and (here it is again) a sense of self?
There is little here that does not apply to being animal inside as well. Since we are clearly not physically the animals we feel we are, we must look to redefine our approach to animalness and species. How we approach this, in fact, gives further definition to who we are.
Liesk, 2006, “Seeking the Self and (Hardly) Making Sense of It”

Since the 2000’s, trans and genderqueer therians seem to have become increasingly more present and visible than in the general population. In a 2011 poll about sexual orientation and gender identity on the Werelist – one of the most popular therian boards – where multiple choices were allowed, out of 148 voters nearly 19% said they were “Gender Fluid”, above 7% identified as “Transgender” (the category included both MtF and FtM transgenders and transsexuals), while over 16% of participants voted “Other Gender Identity” (some individuals, for instance, identified as neutrois, bigender and more).
Trans animal-people are real. We had been exploring animality and gender through art and writings since long before Tumblr’s social justice warriors found out about therianthropes and tried to teach us what being trans is about.
Back to the “realness” of therianthropy and species dysphoria, about fifty people answered a 2013 poll by Jarandhel on the Werelist that asked “do you experience significant, regular depression or discontent due to your body being human?”; 56% of replies were positive. A genderqueer participant pointed out that the data may be skewed because there was no option in the poll for “experience species dysphoria but not depression”, which is what would better match his and some others’ experience. Several individuals reported that they did not feel depressed per se but that they felt disoriented by their human body and its “mapping”.
Not every therian experiences species dysphoria, feels like they were born in the wrong body, or would modify their appearance to look more like their theriotype; not everyone identifies as “transspecies” either. But the data gathered when therians are asked about how comfortable their are with their human body also depends on how the question is phrased and not solely on the diversity of individual experiences.
Whether it was worded in terms of species dysphoria, “true form” or “wrong body” narratives, one topic that has been debated over and over again since AHWw has been that of surgery and body modifications to make oneself more comfortable with their human body or look like their theriotype:

So far, I’ve three tattoos and one pierced ear. Both the tattoos and piercing have special meaning for me, related to my wereness […] Would I get other, more radical body modifications, if they were someday possible? Fangs, claws, real fur? Heck yeah. Sign me up now. 🙂
KatmanDu, 1997, AHWw

Yes, it would be cool to have things like dog-like ears, pointy teeth, claws, etc. etc. But until I could get over my twitchiness around plastic surgery, and until I could be absolutely guarenteed of zero further health problems from the surgery, I would never do it.
Dinogrrl, 2003, LiveJournal community “Therianthropy”

Personally, I suffered from severe depression related to [therianthropy] for about 30 years, and at times stood home from work because of it. I never thought about surgery, though, because even if that were remotely possible it would be inadequate compared to actually being in an animal form. […] I’ve learned to cope better as I got older […] I can’t think about that all the time or I will be depressed and dysfunctional.
Claycat, 2009, the Werelist

in my case, if physical transitioning was possible for therians and I had the chance to do it, I’d think about it logically and decide not to. I’m sort of the therian equivalent of genderfluid, so a permanent transition isn’t going to help much. […] But some therians would give anything to transition and never look back.
Blue Sloth, 2012, (transgender resources, in “Comparing Therianthropy to Being Transgender for Illustrative Purposes”)

Similarly to what is found among trans people, the wish for surgery may be moderated by other factors such as potential health issues, how realistic it would look, and whether or not one would actually have the body of the “real” thing [species, gender] after physical transition – and that isn’t even delving into monetary concerns, though a lot of time people did not discuss potential costs of species surgery and such as, because they were highlighting the lack of medical options in the first place.

Unlike with people who are transgender, there is no transition that I can go through, no injections, no surgeries, no real help to turn to. […] There are no therapists dedicated to species dysphoria, no organizations, no medical or other mental help doctors or facilities. It feels like you are completely and utterly alone.
Anuolf, 2009, the Werelist

Individual experiences may differ from one another. Animal-people may use “dysphoria” to cover a wide range of realities, from severe depression and suicidal thoughts to the more fleeting feelings of discontentment with one’s species – but trans people are no different in that regard, sometimes mentioning dysphoria as a core component of their transness, sometimes simply talking of days they feel more or less “dysphoric”. I’ve seen people claim that therians can’t experience dysphoria because identifying as another species “is not possible”, because it is “stupid” – but this is no argumentation. A more adequate question maybe would be, are “species” entirely outside of the realm of social constructs and personal identity?
There seems to be a general agreement nowadays that gender is a construct, while sex is a neutral fact of nature (and, likewise, species) – but the truth is, what constitutes a “sex” has been subjected to as much socio-historical variations as “gender”. At times, male and female bodies were considered part of a same spectrum, at times they were considered to be two distinct species. Concerning today’s medical practice, it is as much arbitrary to decide that sex organs measuring under 0.9cm must be female and those above 2 or 2.5cm must be male. What about everything that falls in-between? Other categories of individuals are completely dismissed; it is difficult to argue that science is being objective and factual on this matter.
Pushing the idea further and as a provocative paper, Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote “The Five Sexes” to question the idea that only two sexes would be biologically correct (indeed, the existence of many forms of intersex variations show the wide range of natural occurrences of other sexes than the traditional male and female). Obviously, the author was not advocating for an actual revision of science from two to five sexes – but her proposal was meant as food for thoughts.
Likewise, species is not an issue that is solely biological either. It has been discussed whether chimpanzees and bonobos should actually be classified within the human genus Homo, seeing that they share 98% of their DNA with us (99,4% in another study). Conversely, some scientists have argued for the inclusion of humans in the Pan genus. However, the inclusion of other types of hominoids in the same genus as humans would force us to reconsider what exactly is “human” – as for now a human is defined as a member of our genus “Homo” – with consequences both on how we classify our extinct ancestors and on whether human rights should be applied to other species.
We should also keep in mind that in the past the humanity of some people was denied and some groups were considered closer to nonhuman animals than humans. What constitutes “humanity” has been subject of centuries of philosophical debates, and the boundaries defining “human” has always been rather blurry and shifting depending not only on scientific progress but also on cultural and historical contexts.
There was a time where gender dysphoria and the desire to alter one’s sex was considered a delusion, which justified the use of intensive prolonged psychotherapy to supposedly “cure” trans people. I don’t think we should dismiss too quickly the experiences of a category individuals just because it pushes further than our usual boundaries. It’s important to acknowledge how serious and undermining species dysphoria can get for the people who experience it; it is not a mere whim:

I feel an overwhelming desire to be my theriotype physically. […] It is extremely debilitating, with it affecting my every day life. There has been days where I can’t do anything more than sit and mope or sob uncontrollably. I’ve played hooky from work more for my species dysphoria than I have for an actual illness […] It feels like a horrible joke is being played on me.
Anuolf, 2009, the Werelist

Being otherkin caused me extreme dysphoria and contributed greatly to my depression as a teenager. I do feel it affects every aspect of my life. It’s fundamental to who I am. I really do feel like I fake being human (and I’m not very good at it). Meanwhile, I had strong feelings about my gender only twice during my teens (including 18-19) which is… confusing… I do have dysphoria now, but I’ve gotten more used to it.
Edge, 2012, (transgender resources, in “Comparing Therianthropy to Being Transgender for Illustrative Purposes”)

i just feel physically sick and awful because my body needs to look like that. my hands need to be talons. my hair needs to be feathers. and i want it to be realistic. […] just, fuck you all, THIS IS A FUCKING MEDICAL CONDITION for me, it does negatively affect my quality of life, i don’t care if it looks fucking stupid to you or you “grew out of wanting to be an animal when you were 5”, i don’t give a fuck because whether it looks stupid or not, THIS IS WHAT I FUCKING NEED.
ninmenjuushin, 2012, on Tumblr

We’ve seen that not only a part of the therian community seems to genuinely experience feelings of dysphoria/dysmorphia regarding their animal identity, but many animal-people actually have a first-hand experience of gender dysphoria or trans identity as well. Claiming that the therians who discuss their animality in terms of transspeciesism are appropriating trans accounts of selfhood actually is erasing the existence of trans therians and silencing their voices.
I am tired of being denied the right to compare my experiences of being trans and therian together, especially when it is argued by people who aren’t both in the first place. If they don’t experience both conditions, no legit comparison can be made. At the same time, I also want to warn against trans therians who play the gatekeepers for all of us: there is no single answer to the question “is being trans like being therian”. For some trans therians, the experience is similar in some respects; for certain others, the two have nothing to do together. There is no consensus between us because it depends on individuals, therefore there is no definite answer on the subject.
I’m going to paraphrase myself from an earlier essay, but I think one of the problems in this debate about the use of gender metaphors to discuss animality, is that people have started equating being trans with being gender experts. Only, everybody has an experience of gender identity and can say for themselves if they feel dysphoric or not. It is perfectly okay for cis animal-people to say “I don’t experience significant dysphoria regarding my anatomical sex, I identify with the gender I was assigned, but that’s the point: I feel it is the opposite for my animal identity, like I was assigned a species in the social sense and it does not match”.
Some people have felt offended by the concept of therianthropy and “transspeciesism” because they have failed to make an important distinction: there is a difference between drawing parallels between two abstracts concepts like animality and gender on one hand, and on the other comparing the social reality of trans and therians together. There is no arguing that trans people face specific forms of oppression, including institutionalized ones, and that it does not mirror the experience of therianthropes as these have no public recognition (which doesn’t mean that therians never get trashed for being different, either). However the concept of gender does not belong to trans people specifically; what belongs to trans people are their own identities and struggles.
So to summarize: equating the struggles of trans people with that of therians is problematic; comparing gender identity and animality is usually fine; comparing trans experiences and therian ones are okay if one is both trans, therian and not making generalizations about others.
Regarding the debate on the “appropriation” of dysphoria by animal-people… again trans non-therians do not own the term and have no right to command who can and can’t use it. A couple of pertinent quotes:

I’m trans, human, and you’re a stupid fucking asshole.  Stop trying to “protect” my identity.  If trans people are so fucking bent out of shape by others saying “dysphoria” maybe let them step up to the plate and talk about why, because I’m looking at the word saying dys- means “bad or ill” and phoria “bear, bearing, to carry” not, “A word trans people use to describe themselves hands the fuck off.”
bestthrowawayevah, 2013, on Tumblr

the term “dysphoria” is used in a wide range of communities, not just in terms of gender […] The eating disorder community uses it a lot, along with the lesser known “body dysmorphia,” and so does the body positive movement and even some communities that don’t use it to refer to identity so much as a feeling of displacement.
Khamaseen, 2013, on Dreamwidth.

Beside body dysphoria, “species identity” is commonly found in therian narratives. In my 2004 introduction to therianthropy, I defined therianthropes as “people whose species identity does not match their biological body.” On, Kusani – who defines herself as a “human-male cat-female weird-ass genderfuck” – used the metaphor as well in her own “Introduction to Animality” (2009). In my 2006 writing “Animal-people Folklore”, I wrote about the invisibility of other-than-human existences in society: “[individuals] can call themselves gender-variant, but species-variant people don’t exist. We all are homo sapiens and there is no word for species identity, and no pronoun for animals.” My more recent articles mention the concept as well, and Liesk has been using it since at least 2005:

Like I’ve said before, I identify with each of my species — I identify with humans, I identify with deer, and I identify with canines, individually. But they have to be together to represent my species identity. “Canis dichotomus sapiens” works for me because it shows them together. They’re ‘ingredients’ of the whole here.
Liesk, 2005, in a LJ comment; emphasis mine.

Outside of the therian community, at least one research paper has used “species identity” before, concerning the furry community:

Furries are humans interested in anthropomorphic art and cartoons. […] Dichotomous responses (“yes” or “no”) to two key furry-identity questions (“do you consider yourself to be less than 100% human” and “if you could become 0% human, would you”) produced a two-by-two furry typology. […] One-quarter of the furry sample answered “yes” to both questions […] This type of furry has certain characteristics paralleling gender-identity disorder. To explore this parallel, the furry typology, and the proposed construct of “Species Identity Disorder” needs further research.
K. C. Gerbasi, N. Paolone, J. Higner, L. L. Scaletta, P. L. Bernstein, S. Conway, and A. Privitera, “Furries from A to Z (Anthropomorphism to Zoomorphism)”, Society and Animals 16, 2008

It should be noted that some furries actually identify as therians, and conversely some therians participate in the furry fandom. Furry and therianthropy are not one and the same, however. Although the paper did not mention “species dysphoria” specifically, “species identity disorder” is very reminiscent of the idea.
Of course species dysphoria is generally not acknowledged as a mental illness in the DSM, and claiming to have species dysphoria would be considered self-diagnosis. I could argue that some therians have sought therapy for a reason or another and told their therapist they identify as animals; and that some of these professionals labelled the experience naturally as “species dysphoria” or “transspeciesism”. This is true, but I don’t want to go that road.
The DSM actually does not meet unanimous approval from professionals or from the “mentally ill”. Many transgender activists have asked for the removal of the transgender condition from the psychiatric nomenclatures, as it is not a mental illness. As a transman, I’ve fought for the right to decide for myself who and what I am without being subjected to the authority of a self-proclaimed expert. I knew I was trans before any doctor told me their opinion on the matter; it is not because at some point of history trans people appeared in the DSM that we are real. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what my gender identity is, and I’m certainly not going to help doctors own the right of labeling myself and other therians as species dysphoric.
No matter how rare “species dysphoria” is in the scientific literature, it is useful to us therians to describe a set of experiences and feelings. Why would some cisgender and trans people claim that trans identities are not a mental illness, that only trans people have the right to label themselves as trans, and yet use the diagnostic of gender dysphoria to assert gender-variant people as more real than therianthropes? This is quite a paradox.
It is very important to remember that if trans people had not used self-determination and self-diagnosis in the 50-60’s and on, insisting to their doctors that they would need hormones and surgery to get better, then they would certainly not have had results. For people who want to know more about this, I strongly advise to read Meyerowitz’s book “How Sex Changed – A History of Transsexuality in the United States”. If trans identities have become more legitimate and accepted, it is because trans people themselves and their allies (among which a few doctors but not only) actually have fought for it against the will of the global medical community.
So is self-diagnosis necessarily problematic? I don’t believe it is. As Tsu – author of the writing “Birdtistic” on having autism and being a swan – has put it, “do some people make mistakes in self-diagnosis? Of course, but a lot of doctors make mistakes in diagnosis too”.
What is problematic with the “wrong body” narrative of trans people is that it has become mandatory to deliver in order to gain access to physical transition, because it is the story doctors want to hear, assuming that all trans-people experience dysphoria and trans identity the same way. Likewise, one issue with applying “species dysphoria” and the “wrong body” accounts of animality to therianthropy would be if it becomes the only legitimate way to experience it – but so far people have usually insisted on the fact that neither species dysphoria nor some other experiences such as shifting are mandatory to be labelled a therian.
I believe that the growing number of visible trans therians in the 2000’s and on, with their alternative accounts of animal identity, have helped in some respect the larger therian community to explain their therianthropy more in terms of identity and perceptive experiences, instead or along with other explanations such as the spiritual ones (simultaneously, the visibility of neuroAtypical therians and the discussions on atypical neurobiology also played their part). While there had been infrequent uses of parallels with gender identity since the apparition of the online therian community, they remained isolated cases; terms like “species dysphoria” and such did not gain that much popularity until trans therians and their allies became more visible and vocal in discussion groups and personal websites. More and more, non-trans therians have found this framework relevant for therianthropy and have too used the language of gender (and of social justice) to discuss therian matters.
Never has this exploration of animal identity threatened trans people and our access to health care*. Therianthropes simply do not have the power and means to discredit trans identities. Rather, it is non-therians who have repeatedly tried to discredit therian identities, claiming that they are ridiculous and worthless by presenting the concept of therianthropy as insulting to other minorities (who “struggle with real issues” sic). The logic here would be that therianthropy is not a real phenomenon; but we saw it is. The actual issue is people trying to be gatekeepers about who can experience what and what is real, making up hierarchies.
*Of course I’m aware there has been one conservative article written about transspecies and transgenders mocking the two, and it could be argued that therianthropy is used as a way to criticize transgender people and their supporters. However with an examination of the rhetoric used I think it is clear that it is not the existence of therianthropes that caused such hostile view of trans people, and folks have not waited for therian visibility to dismiss “gender theory” entirely. More importantly, history should have taught us that the right answer to the hate of minority groups has never been the hate of more marginal minority groups.


I want to talk about being nonhuman, but not as a different phrasing for “therianthropy” or “otherkin”. I’m going to mention neurodivergence stuff and other concepts that I won’t define here, use your Google sense.
My view of therianthropy generally includes being human, such as we can be therians because we’re human in the first place. Right now and beyond animality, I want to talk about feeling othered and downright alienated to the point that one feels and identify as “nonhuman”. More than that, I want to talk about being nonhuman because one does not fit the definition of what makes a regular human. I don’t want otherkin to jump on this and say “I know how that feels” right away because it is like when I discuss the severity of my anxiety disorder with people and they say “I feel very anxious sometimes too, I get what you mean”. It makes me want to scream.
Ultimately, being a clouded leopard and raven only play a little part in me feeling like I am not human; sometimes it even makes me feel actually more human. I usually insist on the fact that I don’t feel “nonhuman” is a good descriptor for my therian experiences, and this is true. Like I said, today when I’m talking about being nonhuman, it’s not therianthropy that I’m bringing up, although identifying as clouded leopard and raven is one part of it. “It’s complicated.”
Simply put, it is that the sum of my experiences pushes me further away from the average person. It goes beyond simply “feeling different”. It is that I am different in very concrete, basic way. A lot of it ties into being neuroatypical; some other parts revolve around being transgender and having a trans body, and some parts again revolve around having a non-typical body in other ways than trans. There is more to that, but that’s the main stuff. It’s many aspects that add up until is it impossible for me to envision myself as human, or to relate to being human. Therianthropy is only one drop in that ocean.
Additionally there is intersectionality and grey areas between some parts and the others.
Words fail me to simply describe how I see and feel the world around me. I’m not talking metaphors, I’m talking very physical perceptions like synaesthesia and being intellectually gifted and overexcitabilities and feeling overwhelmed and stimming.
I am hypersensitive to light. Ever wondered why my website layout is light font on dark background? This is why. I also belong to that percentage of the population that gets olfactive reaction to [what I consider] bright light; sneezing. I’m also hypersensitive to touch. It’s not just difficult being touched by most in most situations, it also means I cannot get asleep if certain parts of my body touch certain things, like if the inside of my hands are too much in contact with other textures. It feels like the ticking of a clock at the other side of a room in being so “loud” that I cannot ignore it. I am also really specific about the types of clothing I can wear (still because of textures), which makes dressing complicated which merges with the issue of having a non-typical body as well. Feeling certain sensations or hearing certain sounds (like those I describe as “dry”) can be painful and will raise the hair all over my body. Just thinking of what it feels also put me on my edges.
I have a lot of issue with background noise and have a great deal of difficulty understanding speech in certain spaces. Not just at times but always, and it’s not just about noise level alone because people around me don’t experience this. I always feel terrible when I’m invited to hang out in bars with friends because as I’m not a drinker, as I’m not a smoker, and as I cannot make out what they say, I just feel very out of place and unable to engage with others in any activity. It is not related to my anxiety disorder, which is general and not social. It’s not about my ears and hearing, it’s related to overstimulation and processing auditory information. On another hand, I am oversensitive to my own sounds and get obsessed about my own heartbeat when I try to sleep. Sleep in general is difficult with heightened awareness.
Everything is too loud. I’m very sensitive to “loud people” and cannot bear standing close to someone who either make strong sounds or strong gestures. I have a well-developped sense of boundaries and have great difficulties coping with people who will repeatedly cross the borders of my personal space (which from what I witnessed is either larger or more sensitive than the people around me). This is also tied, on a lesser degree, to specific territoriality issues as a therian. Smell also comes into play, and some people’s presence I’m forced to dislike solely based on their type of personal scent. “Fortunately”, I have developed some minor respiratory issues that make my sense of smell less acute than it was, and so I can ignore a lot of signals that I couldn’t bear prior to that.
I could go on and on about sensory input and I didn’t even get to talk about my synaesthesia (my type is grapheme → color).
Then there’s my body type. Prior to transition, I was already considered “skinny”. I want to get it straight that I am not skinny but slim and that my body is pretty healthy (but what if it wasn’t? none of your business). I have an average-to-shortish size with a slender body type and an extremely light skeleton, and that is what disturbs people because it puts me way under of the standard range of sizes; people think I must be unhealthy to have this body type. They have regularly made assumption about my mental health, such as believing that I was anorexic. They’re not really paying attention.
When I started transitioning, things became gradually worse. Physically I was already a rare thing when I fell into the feminine spectrum, but as someone perceived male? It’s also difficult talking about this because I’m not fat and have never dealt with fat-shaming and therefore am not supposed to be subject to shaming and violence regarding my body somehow? Yet I’ve been. Treated like I’m sick, have a sick body and like it gets to be sick to like me. My body type “as male” does not even exist except in fairy tales. This is why sometimes I call myself an elf (not the Tolkien, clean, civilized elves; the supernatural wild wood creatures). So being an elf, in my non-otherkin way, ties into being a non-normative masculine being and being an wood-creature-thing and animal-person.
I really love my body and would not trade it for being a regular dude. But it is difficult being me, and I’ve become skittish about exposing my body in public places because of the negative feedback that I can receive and because of the impression of vulnerability people get when looking at me. Not that I’m actually more vulnerable than anyone, but people sometimes try to take advantage of me based on assumptions from my body type. I have become very paranoid about homophobia and I’ve gotten in trouble before for not being gender-conforming in my looks; people trying to grope my privates to check if I’m really male or female. One of my fears involves being exposed to violence for being a fag, and people finding out that I’m trans, and having the shit twice beaten out of me.
Nowadays I don’t look as androgynous as I used to, and the cops check my ID papers only because I’m male and therefore a potential threat, instead of checking my papers for fun and bets about what’s my gender. I’ve become subjected to the police sort of scrutiny and violence for being a man, and I’ve also become subject to homophobia. Sure, I get some male privileges in the process too, but my life has become more difficult now that I’m a non-conforming male, than when I was a somewhat-conforming female. In addition to that, becoming visibly male meant that I stopped having some privileges like holding hands and kiss in the streets safely, because I’m not straight. Even on my own, people will often perceive me as “gay” anyway.
So here I am, sitting uncomfortably between loving my body type and getting a lot of shit for being what I am. And being this amazing, impossible body, is a part of what makes me feel nonhuman. I feel like I am not human because there is no human like me. Or barely. We’re rare. But even if I find someone who has a trans body, or someone who is androgynous, or someone who is neurodivergent, or someone who is therian, etc etc etc… it is very hard not to feel alone in being all of these things together, that make sense together. Not that I feel a need for companionship, but the loneliness is what makes me feel that I am an extraterrestrial life-form lost on Earth, disguising as human.
I don’t remember if that is Sonne or another person who was discussing being a vampire as being superficially human but alien inside. “Superficially human” is a good descriptor for the type of being I feel I am. Something that looks like a human person and that can interact with human people, but with perceptions and particularities that pushes it well beyond the realm of humanity. Being nonhuman, not as a metaphor, but because being human in most definitions means that I’m supposed to be either male or female, and have brain patterns that look like that of an average human person, and I don’t know what that should be like. So in that regard, I’m not really human. Not as much human.
But that is, most of time, invisible. I don’t want otherkin to tell me that they know how I feel. I know some of them do. I know some people “have it worse” too. But I also know that being therian alone is nothing like what I feel as a whole. It gets to such a depth, when all of your aspects are foreign to the world you live in, that goes beyond simply experiencing species dysphoria. I accept that some people can be like me, but I often feel completely erased by people who jump on one element or two of what makes me “me” claiming they know what I’m talking about. What it’s like being me.
Shut the fuck up.

What Are We Talking About Anyway?

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.

The Centrality of Shifting and Related Issues

I’ve stopped explaining the way I experience animality, for the most part, because it invariably leads to discussions about shifting that leave me frustrated. I started talking to other people about how one can be a therian and yet not experience shifts in animality around 2002; as early as 2004 I had thought about and explicitly stated that shifting and some other traits are considered the rule among therians, and that wasn’t the last time I brought up the subject of norms in the community. In recent times too it has been echoed by younger animal-folk that “you don’t have to shift to be a therian”, but the community is still very much shifter-centric.
The problem is that it seems as though most therians cannot discuss their animality without framing it in the context of “to-shift-or-not-to-shift?”.
I don’t like having to rely yet again on gender matters to draw a parallel, but it’s pretty much as though it was expected that all trans people must be genderfluid – but no, the changes in one’s experience or perception of their gender isn’t the be all and end all of gender identity, and some people don’t even envision gender as a spectrum. Likewise, animality isn’t necessarily a spectrum from “human” to “animal” to move along. It may just be something all living beings possess, including humans, with only some variations in its expression.
Well, it also may be, very simply, a human concept that does not have a reality other than in the human eye, but for the purpose of this essay let’s just do as though animality is an actual thing, an essence or pattern we all have that defines us, differentiating animals from each other.
My animality and humanity are the same thing. Or more exactly, my humanity is not simply a trait of me being human; nor the animality is the trait of being nonhuman (the trait of nonhuman beings). I can also say: it’s not possessing “animality” that makes me an animal-person, it’s the fact that my own animality is not a very human one in nature.
That’s the reason I don’t shift: I don’t have a less animal side and a more animal side to shift to. I can’t experience variations of any sort in the intensity of my animality. This lack of changes in one’s animality intensity IS contherianthropy; it’s not, as often misunderstood, that contherians are “balanced” or “half animal” or “50% shifted all the time”. It’s just that there is no human-animal spectrum at all, just one steady humanimal whole, where behaviours are not classified binarily (there may be classifications, but of another nature; not about whether said experience or behaviour sounds more human or more animal, feels closer to one’s animal identity or not).
Having to explain, over and over again, what contherianthropy is/is not was a big part of why I grew unsatisfied with labels and why I stopped using the word when discussing my animality. A lot of people were confused about what was contherianthropy and a lot of people still are confused, the lexicons are full of non-sense, but I’ve lost interest in debating the matter. But the point is that when a word is rendered meaningless by what people make of it, then it becomes useless to describe oneself. When I described myself as a contherian, people often didn’t get what I was experiencing, thinking it was something it’s not. With time also, I became more interested in the detail of how people experience their animality, so I realized that I prefer a longer, personal explanation than the umbrella of a label.
For this however, you first need to get rid of the old models. You see, I used to describe myself as a contherian, which means putting myself on the “non-shifting” end of the shifter’s spectrum. How many other therians out there are also trying to understand themselves through models that don’t suit them? I had to realize that this was just a paradigm framing my animality, and that it was not mine. It was irrelevant to me. Well, it’s relevant in the community, sometimes, because again it differentiates me from most animal-people (shifting therians, ie. animal-people who sometimes feel more or less intensely animal), so in a way I’m part of a minority. But it’s not relevant personally in that it says very little about my specific experience of being raven and clouded leopard.
Another example is how I used to represent myself. Being fond of anthropomorphic creatures such as in furry art, I was used to the standard way to draw one’s therian self or one’s fursona: either in full animal form, ie. “feral”, or with one degree or another of anthropomorphism. Sometimes, and this was especially true for the therian furries who felt more “shifter” in nature, they had two forms, an animal one and one more humanoid. These artworks were supposed to represent our inner self, the shape we felt was the closest to our reality.
For me, being both raven and clouded leopard and accepting my “human coat”, that meant I would draw a mixture of all three species, and call myself an hybrid. I did use this term to describe my animality, and I realize in retrospect that it was quite misleading to other people regarding the way I truely experience therianthropy. Indeed, I don’t feel that, as a therian, I’m a chimera being. As an example, in spite of being both corvine and feline, I’m not a gryphon and I don’t identify as such. Of course some gryphon otherkin may also identify with specific avian and mammal species, but a gryphon is its own unique thing as well, neither exactly bird nor mammal, or rather beyond bird and mammal. The hybrid form that I had chosen to use to represent myself actually didn’t reflect “my reality”, at most it was one possible interpretation of it.
I am exactly bird. I am exactly clouded leopard. That’s what my non-human animality is like, this one thing. It’s not “something else entierely”, an exotic creature that is more than the sum of its parts, like third gender applied to the concept of species. I mean, myself as a transman, I do identify more as “Other” than as a man or woman, and this “Other” isn’t some kind of middle ground between man and woman. It’s the “something else entierely”, a gender on its own.
And this is exactly the way that I do not experience my animality as a raven and clouded leopard. My gender and my animality do not mirror each other at all; my avian-feline animality is not one androgynous peculiar thing on its own. I’m just raven, just clouded leopard – but in one simultaneous occurence, not separately like it is right now in language. Because identity is more complex than that, I guess. A times a bit of a paradox.
So no, I don’t experience my animality as an hybrid creature or as a balance between two aspects, and I don’t experience it as a spectrum between two kinds of animals either, shifting or flickering from one type of animality to the other. My experience of animality escapes diagrams and sliding scales – and in being simultaneous and constant but yet not multiple in nature, it cannot have a proper pictural representation. Which, as an artist, can be frustrating at times, but I’ve learned to live with it.
Why do I feel detailing how I experience animality is important at all? There are two main reasons for this. First, this is in a way a continuity of my “I am Not One-winged” manifesto. I am tired of being categorized in the “other” category instead of just avian or feline, as though I was less corvid or less feline than those who identify as one single animal. My felinity doesn’t make me any less raven than the next raven-person, and my ravenness doesn’t make me less clouded leopard either.
I may better relate to gryphon-people than some other categories of therianthropes, but it only is because our theriotypes share points in common, and not because I am myself this hybrid creature; I’m not.
My second point in this writing is that I want to highlight a fact: the usual paradigms found in the community, such as viewing therianthropy on a human-animal spectrum, or assuming otherkin/therians never identify as “also human”, leave different categories of individuals behind. They narrow down the experience of therianthropy to one specific mold, putting aside those who can’t relate to these representations, and make it seems that anyone who fall outside of them are less therian, less animal – or not animal at all.
Like I’ve been writing on a blog recently, I think when discussing personal therianthropy we are first and foremost talking about animality, and we need to re-think therianthropy and develop our language (language, not necessarily terminologies) so as not get so much trapped into pre-conceived notions of how we should experience this animality*. People can frame their experience in terms of shifting or in terms of human/animal dichotomy later on if they want to, but re-centering the debate over “experiencing our animality” beyond the usual paradigms may be a start to leave the space more open for people who are different.
I want to make it clear that don’t believe the term “shift” and the concept behind it is a bad thing, in itself. I think it can be very useful to some individuals to describe a certain type of experiences. But to put it simply, I wish for people to talk about the expression of our animality in more diverse ways, just like discussions about gender identity don’t only focus on whether or not we are genderfluid or place ourselves on one end of another of some gender spectrum. “Shifting” takes such a central place in therian discussions… Let’s question more the things that are considered “normal” in the community, to really think about it, and about the things we forget to discuss or that don’t have enough space left to be discussed.
*A side note: I feel that looking at therianthropy from a gender theory perspective does help to try looking at things differently, but it’s also a tough issue because is it developping our own language to talk about animality? We may just be mirroring the language of gender studies and trans people. Being trans myself, this isn’t automatically an issue, however some other animal-people may be accused of being appropriative, and, well, maybe there are other ways to frame therianthropy that we need to discover and explore. Hopefully this essay can be one more step to start talking and thinking about that.

"Fake or Real?"

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.

Raw Raven

I will now tell you of my story as corvus corax, with the truthfulness, candidness and yet sentiment of pudeur that I feel suit this aspect of my animality.
I always say I’ve known I’m an animal-person since age seven, but this isn’t accurate. Seven is when I realized that I clearly was one of the Cats, inside, and that most people around me were not animal-people. Seven is the age I played with my dolphin friend as a jaguar, and then with my margay friend as an ocelot, except for me it wasn’t simply a game. On a more recent day though, unexpectedly, some of my earliest feelings of being other-than-human were brought back to my memory.
I remember my mother helping me dress up to go to kindergarten, which in my country is for children age 3-5 (elementary school starts at 5-6, where you learn how to read; except I could already read in kindergarten but I disgress). I had this coat, unlike any other, which I missed so much after I outgrew it, and still miss to this day like a stolen piece of my heart. It was this wonderful and thick, dark grey cape coat made of fleece, going down to my little knees, folding and closing on the front with these conical real horn buttons – which I liked putting in my mouth and chewing on so much.
Spreading my arms, the fabric would unfold and felt like real wings, not a trail like a cloak but an integral part of my body. And so I remember the playground, where we had our breaks, with me running around some of the buildings until I was out of breath, flapping my arms forcefully, and believing so hard that I was on the verge of taking flight; that if I flapped hard enough my feet would lift from the ground and I would soar to the sky into the clouds. Because it was meant to be.
This was Being Bird, with me at the same time performing and being completely oblivious of my true nature – like an unquestionable evidence. And the belief clung onto my soul for so long that even in my years of identifying mostly as an arboreal cat of some sort, climbing oaks and pines and standing there in the sunset, I would tell myself that if I curled my feet hard and long enough, growing up I would evolve them into talons. And so every year until I was ten or twelve I hoped it to be the year I would finally turn into my Self, of which I still have drawings from the time.
I don’t like lingering too much on my urge to fly, both because there is more to a bird than its wings and because I am mostly happy with being human in spite of my nonhuman animality. I do not experience strong dysphoria anymore, even though I would be happier if I could fly. Maybe I quieted the pain down to be able to live; and maybe one day I can afford paragliding to alleviate the itch. In a way, also, I do experience flight, through dreams and journeys in my raven shape. I am a raven of Raven, under the guidance of my kindred – but that is too intimate to write about in depth.
As much as the spiritual cats and corvids, there are the living ones around me. It was not until the recent passing of my grandfather, a butcher like his father was, that I noticed I am not the single expression of what I feel is our familial totem. Watching my father’s side of the family talking and being together, it struck me how raven we are in our similarities: our love of puns and language(s), our sharp tongue and readiness to speak our mind (but less so our feelings), our smarts and perfectionism and, yes, tendency to neuroticism. We are lawyers and magistrates, graphic artists and doctors, engineers or other scientists; add one priest per generation with the occasional wanderlust. We also are – with varying degrees – at times neophobic, prone to anger and anxiety-ridden.
The most animal of my relatives, though, was my mother; in retrospect I believe she probably knew what was up with me. She’d sewed this feline costume made of a sort-of-marbled fabric when I was maybe six, including a cotton-stuffed tail, so I could walk around at home and for the carnival as a Cat. She loved cats and was, in my opinion, most definitively one (it isn’t easy for me speaking of her, bringing back so many fond memories, like the sound of her voice calling out my name when I played in the nearby woods; in fact looking after the adventurous kitten I was). Isn’t it ironic that it’s when she was pregnant of me she developped an allergy to cats; I couldn’t have any feline companion at home until she died of illness in my early teens.
In a way, it’s almost as though I’m felid on my mother’s side and corvid on my father’s side. It sounds silly as I don’t believe specific animal types are passed down through our genes, but in a way it does feel like some sort of heritage, even moreso since certain figures have appeared in my journeys (as an animist). My personal tapestry is that of cat and bird entwined and it is difficult talking of one without the other. Both are behavioural, symbolical, and even spiritual to me. They do not oppose each other, and actually share much in common – like when I hold that chicken carcass in my human hands, cutting and tearing apart the tender meat with my teeth, it is both as raven and ‘pard.
Here ravens are seldom seen near humans – they prefer the remote cliffs and mountains. It’s the crows you see in town, or jackdaws. I didn’t live in the city though; I lived by the forest, a land inhabited by magpies and wood pigeons and boars. I remember my mother telling me of the ongoing war between the magpies and the [red] squirrels, raiding each other’s nest. I remember my habit of collecting pretty rocks and feathers and bones. My favourite findings were the lower jaw of a cat with all of its teeth, and a magpie skull and spine that my parents later threw away when I was not looking. I was fascinated with the dead birds, lizards and lesser shrews that the neighbouring felines would bring. Sometimes I think of our dead rodent pets burried near the house, how if I returned there and dug I could have their bones.
What can I say; this is being raven. It’s not romantic or even really mystical. Most of the time it’s a quiet, serious thing; I’m not a trickster raven of the Americas. Raven is a scavenger and, at times, a predator. Being a common raven is being the heaviest passerine bird around. To me raven is the ultimate, perfect bird-shape; not my favourite bird, but my natural one: it is a second skin inside and beyond human. It is watching both sides from over the fence – distinct from being mammal, but not entierely alien from it either. And being raven is not an ethereal experience. It is something of the senses and feather-quills and talons, and at times the plucking, the gut-tearing, bone-seeking. Intense, raw bird. Corvid.

The Wings, the Sky and the Bird

human bodies are

temples for the human soul

cages for the birds

swanblood, Nonhuman Haiku

I find this haiku beautiful, and at the same time I feel conflicted. I wonder: is it really so? if some bird-people don’t exactly feel trapped in their human body, would it mean to others that they aren’t real birds? I have the experience and self-confidence to know better, to not let others’ words alienate or diminish who and what I am. I know this isn’t easy for everyone though, which is why I do not like making too definite statements about identities.
I used to be different, but I like to think I changed for the best. It’s okay if someone’s experience of being raven or clouded leopard isn’t exactly like mine, it does not mean they aren’t valid experiences. It only means that I don’t relate to them. And vice versa – it isn’t because one’s experience of being bird or feline differs from the norm that their therianthropy is unvalid.
I remember a recent quote from the nonhumanlibrary:

“Jack London writes amazingly vivid descriptions of Nature in all of his books, my favourite being The Call of the Wild.
Which is, naturally, a call that all of us feel, hm?”

Although it probably wasn’t the poster’s intent, such statements, as timid as they may be, end up restricting what it’s like being a “therian” or “otherkin”, excluding a category of individuals altogether.
What about people who identify as domestic animals or others folks who don’t feel such a “call”? Invisible, forgotten. And invariably I wonder “what even IS being wild?”. Is it living remote from human spaces? What about birds who live in urban settings but don’t let people approach them? What about common ravens, who can be extremely shy in the wild and extremely tame right after they get caught? Or is it about a lack of socialization? But animals such as ravens and wolves have social rules of their own.
More and more, I tend to think of “wild” as a human qualificative for everything they want to distinguish themselves from as humans, just like “animality”. It’s not something that exists on its own, it only exists in relation to humanity’s standards, in human heads, to set them appart from other animals or from the animals they can control. Beside, wouldn’t it be a bit appropriative to define oneself as “wild” – I’ve seen such a claim, that animal-folks must be “wilder” than non-therians – when they grew up with a roof above their head and many of the commodities human folks can access?
I think “wild” is merely a bad substitute for something else, like the feeling one does not belong with most human groups, or that one feels out of place in urban spaces, and such as. I understand the homesickness of someplace alien to “civilization” (another anthropocentric and ethnocentric concept). I understand the aches. Supporting a misconception is one thing, essentialism is another. I feel it can be harmful to imply that “all of us [who are therians] experience the Call of the Wild, naturally“. Because it isn’t true.
Animal-folks who are still questioning may be misled to deny who they are because they can’t find any statement that doesn’t erase their own experience. Just like “shifting” used to be mandatory to be a legit “were” in the past, many animal-people seem to have difficulties to depart themselves from an idealized version of what is supposedly “being animal”. By suggesting that this call is an experience common to all animal-folks, it translates as “if you don’t experience it, you’re not an animal-person”. Or alternatively, that you aren’t as much as others, ie. you’re a sub-therian.
I feel conflicted about some things I read from other avian-people, such as the yearning for the sky and flight. On one hand, I feel that I should be able to fly; there’s the phantom wings of course, and some undescribable sensations. On the other hand though, it does not define “bird” to me, and I don’t like it when other people reduce “being a bird” to “flight”. That’s why I’ve said little on the subject; I don’t like putting the emphasis on that part of my raven experiences.
Judgemental people might say that I’m not a bird as much as others, or that it’s because I’m also a feline – a flightless animal – and that it means I’m not a “pure” bird. In reality, there is more to “raven” than just the clouds and wind. This isn’t just about my experience, either. Many birds are primarily ground-dwelling, such a pheasants and other galliformes. Additionally, there are many birds that do not fly at all. From emus to penguins, from cassowaries to rheas, including some grebes and cormorants, these doesn’t even include the plethora of extinct birds and prehistoric relatives that were only or mostly terrestrial, such as terror birds.
Not all bird creatures belong to the sky, in part or in whole. Not all animal-people are “wild” animals nor feel trapped in a human body. It doesn’t make us less *anything* than others. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about the sky, it’s just I also wish there would be more talking about the rest.

“First of all what I feel is “avian”
Not like the idealized:
Doe-eyed greeting card doves, perfect blonde cherubim and seraphim on Christmas ornaments, American eagles keeping solemn protective vigil over the interests of rich men in suits, gentle internet gryphons holding tea-parties
But like the bird I know through my pets and my interest in biological history
Ruffled, neurotic, temperamental, beady-eyed and alien, beneath the feathers a reptile running at a warm-blooded pace”
crowgoblin, in “On tengu-ness”

– Akhila

Norms, short-term history and the collective memory.

[Originally posted on Beyond Awakening.]
This “essay” stems from musings I posted in private elsewhere and which have suscitated interest. I had been reading various websites and blogs from the latest wave of otherkin, and found the recents developments thought-provoking sociologically speaking.
When I first was around in the therian community, the norm was animal-people complaining about body-dysphoria and phantom limbs, or talking about how much nonhuman they felt or how difficult it could be to adapt/accommodate everyday’s life. The norm was the spiritual take on therianthropy (such as animal souls in human bodies), the discussions also were more spiritual in content, and forums that hosted a non-spirituality-centric view of therianthropy were a minority. In fact, they were about two active back then: the Werelist, and the Awareness Forums (note: at this point it was SO/TO/WAG, joint boards for Shifters.Org, Therianthropy.Org and the Were Artists Guild).
And now, we see a return of this take on things, only with an activist twist and more empowerment (as well as different media); and it’s cool to see this actually.
However, the overall short time – even if you consider our “community” started as recently as 92′ – where other voices had spoken up to say “this isn’t my experience of animality – here, I’ll write about what it feels like to me”, that time where some people dared talk about (non-pathological) mental therianthropy, or about animal identities that didn’t find immediate origins in past lives, or about having their animality functional and integrated into their daily life?
That era of the therian community seems to be perceived as “the norm”; maybe it now is in some places (the most influential? the largest?), but as I’m pretty reclusive I wouldn’t know first-hand. What is problematic in this understanding of the community, however, is that many people seem to not have any idea of how much criticism talking about this stuff could raise in most groups, at some point. There is a great deal of confusion between some attitudes that took place back then and other behaviours that they’re criticizing in the now, with no regards to historical context, and this fosters an innaccurate understanding of both the community’s timeline and the intents of certain groups of people.
I will take as an example my own writings and similar personal websites from the early 2000’s.
It bothers me a bit when I stumble upon certain present-day criticisms, and feel that because we used to say X or Y, we are thrown into some same big bag of “anti-fluff extremists” that are seemingly the norm nowadays. It make it as though websites like mine or Quil’s or others were law when, really, only a certain sort of people or circles were into that, and most of the community either didn’t know of our existence, or didn’t agree with us, or they did to some extent but saw us – as individuals, voices – as a threat for their authority, or they had more reasons to not appreciate our involvement on forums very much (for those of us who did post, because some others fully embraced their marginal status and have never involved themselves in communities).
We weren’t necessarily kicked out of a place, as most times it was much more insidious, such as the practice from the people in the place (thus who kept the legitimacy to speak) to question one over and over until the person backed down, shunning their views and self. So many people didn’t feel safe around those places and would give up trying to explain their point of view, or were reluctant to register and post at all, because they didn’t want to go through this hassle of always having to “prove” the legitimacy of their experiences. Many have gone offline now, or moved to blogging or other ways to express themselves.
The validity of my own animal-identity was questionned directly and indirectly for many reasons, such as the fact I identify as more than one animal, the fact that for some time I identified more with a taxon than a single species, the fact I don’t view my animality as spiritual in nature (even though I can be a spiritual person), the fact that I had no sudden “awakening”, the fact that I don’t experience “shifts” in animality, and so on and such as… Even the fact that I wasn’t a native English-speaker got me in trouble a couple of times (especially on the Crossroads or WereNET’s IRC prior to that).
So at the time I was quite the oddball, and people like myself were a minority or hidden, more controversial than anything – not the norm.
I originally created the writing group Animal Quills because it wasn’t possible to discuss certain matters elsewhere. The topics were frown upon on public forums because we didn’t fit the norms of what’s supposed to be a “true therian experience/identity”. Or in the later period, many people would participate with 101 types of comments and detract from the discussions, and other thought-provoking contributions wouldn’t be brought up anymore. Many of us eventually stopped trying, as it wasn’t possibly to discuss the things we were interested in on the boards. Others just went on with their offline life.
I have personally not supported the widespread use of “awakening” to describe one’s process of discovering their animality – not only it can be misleading for newcomers that it’s so reminiscent of the holliwoodian werewolf transformations, but there also was the implication that one’s awakening marked the start of people’s therian identities. I’m also not fond of shifting categories and a number of other labels. To the newer wave that feel they are “reclaiming” these words, this make me sound like one of the elitists or extremists maybe, even though I have no qualm against the actual experiences behind these words.
But I’ll tell you what. These words are the ones animal-people who constituted the majority used against another category of animal-people to disprove the latter’s identities. They reinforce the shifter-centric, werewolf-centric mainstream idea of therianthropy, actually erasing certain categories of animal-folk, such as the non-shifters, people who didn’t experience a drastic epiphany, and so on. For us, it can be a conscious choice not to use these words because we don’t want to support that practice of erasure, and the point back then was also to show it was possible to talk about animal-identity without using a shifter-centric ideology and such.
The norms of the community were quite tangible when a newcomer – who didn’t know of all the “rules” of the community beforehand yet quickly got an understanding of how things were supposed to work there – was brave enough to create topics such as “am I a real therian if I don’t experience shifting?” or “am I a real therian if I didn’t have a sudden awakening?” and so on. Because these experiences were believed to be mandatory in order to be real, and the widespread terminology reinforced that idea. Other experiences were silenced – until enough people begged to differ and spoke up.
So, what part of a generation of otherkin may see as reclaiming certain words nowadays, I see under a totally different perspective and I know I don’t want to rehabilitate some terms, because to me it feels less like reclaiming and more like the norm coming back again, the community returning to a shifter-centric point of view, et caetera. These folk may use our old writings as a basis to illustrate the “old ways” to better discard them, but they’re not setting themselves apart from a “us=community”, because we were never a truly integrated part of the community to begin with. Even though some of our ideas have apparently lasted, even though we left our mark somehow; I was not the norm when I was around.
The point is, people who belonged to this era? We were never an homogeneous bunch, and individuals like myself were more controversial than anything. What happened later, the lack of tolerance some have shown based on old writings they’d find inspiring, I’m not accountable for. I don’t agree with everything I’ve said in the past either, you know. I can take responsibility for myself and say “yeah, I used to be that person”; I cannot, however, answer for the actions of everyone who use past essays and rants to normalize the bashing of others.
It is ironic when a minority seemingly becomes a majority, even though it’s a common pattern for groups – opposing others to distinguish themselves and exist.
However, mistaking what we did when it was akin to “counter-culture” in reaction to the community’s norms, with the groups of people who are actively enforcing ideas as norms now (I do not support this practice)… well it’s a bit anachronistic, and disrespectful regarding what we actually accomplished. It erases as much parts of personal histories as a part of the therian timeline when people who were silenced spoke up. I remember countless hours of heated discussions where we’d raise points which were “out of the norm” back then, and it was nothing like the sort of hegemony some new-generation writings make it sound now.
This isn’t an actual rant; I hope to offer a perspective on the evolutions of “norms” (or the perceived norms), and some musings to chew on about the community’s memory. I don’t consider myself that old or wise, but I find it’s important to keep talking about these matters so that they don’t go forgotten, and to help correct a distorted view of this community’s history.