I am Not One-winged

I’ve been struggling to talk of raven for a long time. It took me years to come to the simple conclusion I actually have no language for birdness, and that it’s not really a me-thing either – it has a lot to do with the culture I (we?) live in. We have a lot of vocabulary and imagery relating to mammals such as Cat (cats in general, not just the domestic species), we even have a term to describe the cat way-of-being, the essence of cat – felinity.
So writing about ‘pard has come easily; but what concepts do I have to describe being raven? I’ve tentatively used “ravenness” in my writings in the past, but who really gets what I’m talking about? There’s a lot to be said but the language is lacking. Not that this issue is unique to being a raven, of course – there are many much more obscure species – and it’s also a matter of who is around to build the language together. I’ve said it before and I think it’s still true for a lot of us, how much you construct things (including yourself) alongside others, not in a vacuum.
For years, a lot of the people I talked to about animal-things were cat-folk, not birds. Sure, there were others too, like the coyote/deer Liesk being an excellent partner-in-crime, and I also have a history of affectionate duos with wolves, but at some point there mostly were these loosely affiliated felines bouncing ideas off each others, and we were prolific in our writings. It didn’t matter so much that we were different sorts of cats because there was a lot of common ground. Sometimes we echoed each other, sometimes not. Yet everything added up to that big “background” of what cats are, a feline tapestry if you will.
I’ve talked to a handful of corvid-people before and I have yet to find any resemblance between each of us. I actually don’t know of many birds; and though I’ve enjoyed our conversations a lot, the bird-person I’ve talked to for the longest, Meirya, isn’t a close relative (rough-legged hawk/phoenix). To put it simply, I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss “being raven” much with other corvidae and I’m not sure our experiences are similar. One of the most corvid-like individual I’ve known actually is a fox-person.
After all, with the great versatility found in corvids, ‘plus the human-coat that might taint our experiences, maybe there isn’t much of a common ground to find. I think “birdness” is probably too broad as a category to define, and I’m not even sure a strong connection to the sky and flying is going to cut it (at least not for the non-flying birds). I’m not even sure how well I relate to that, since to me flight and wings are things both central and that I don’t idealize. Maybe because of the cat-thing or just me in general; practical, down to earth. That’s the way I am.
Ravens are heavy and inquisitive for passerine birds, and sometimes a bit of a paradox; they tend to be wary of unusual sights, yet wild ravens are also known to be surprisingly confident and tame, even taking food handed to them. They aren’t as social as crows and adults prefer to live in pairs in well-defended territories, however they’re sometimes found in large roosts. I’m not much of a social raven, though flexible enough when there is the need. I’m also not really a raven of the North or mountains, playing in the crisp air and rolling in the snow. I’m a raven of the coastal cliffs and forests of the South.
There’s also the fact that I am no storyteller and don’t relate much to the trickster raven of North America (on the other hand, I admit I am fascinated by the Japanese tengu). Simply put, my raven identity isn’t very “trickstery”, or at least not especially so , and neither is my Raven totem (which, I must say, is quite distinct from myself as well). “My” Raven didn’t create the world. I relate better to the Raven of the dead, the divine messenger and prophet of the Euro-Mediterranean. So that puts me further appart from a certain branch of raven-people maybe, thus harder to bond with.
In fact, before any symbolical associations, to me being a raven is being a scavenger bird, and it is a very mundane and concrete experience of reality. It is about the conflict between my human culinary tastes and my corvid interest in roadkill – corpses, dead things. It is about the awkward gait, the sturdy feet and talons, and the fluffy “feather trousers”. It’s about the long, broad, slighty pointed wings with strong muscles suited for long-distances as much as acrobatics. It’s about intimately knowing of the flap-flapping and soaring, of the primaries shivering in the air; the feel of one’s weight in the thermals and wind. Solid, yet flexible.
My body isn’t suited for flight, yet the sensations are deeply rooted in my flesh and light bones; not a dream or fantasy, it is first and foremoest intensely present in the here-and-now. I am not an archetypal corvid nor a bird-in-the-past (I’m not dismissive of these experiences, but they’re simply not mine). It’s simply hard to find the words for most things non-mammal. And whenever I want to talk about the feathers and flying, others only talk about freedom and infinity, and this isn’t what I meant. Then, all of bird is reduced to that part – the wings – as if they were one and the same or the sum of it.
It seems that a lot of people don’t register me as “corvid” though. People offline, because there isn’t such a thing as “corvidness” to describe humans in my language (but there always is felinity; some people have hinted at the birdness, but it hasn’t been as recurrent as the cat-thing). And people online then, because of different reasons. I’ve certainly written abundantly about being a clouded leopard, and not “enough” about being a raven, so that explains some of it. But it has also always been that people don’t give you as much credit as a member of X animal category if that’s not the only side you show. I’ve rarely if ever been asked to talk about my avian aspect when other birds were around. I possibly wasn’t as legitimate, in some people’s mind.
This is my bird manifesto, then: I am not “one-winged”.
I am raven, intensely and constantly. I am no less raven than any raven-person with a single animal side. I am not less feline than any other cat-person. I am not half-corvine half-feline; no halves. I am not a patchwork with missing pieces. I am both feline and corvine, with some “human” thrown in – simultaneously, no shifting, no switching around. No amount of coloured charts, sliding scales or terminology will ever be able to describe this properly. I may experience more certain phantom limbs over others, it doesn’t erase the fact I know, deeply, the complete range of my own identity. All of raven and clouded leopard are hovering over each other in a steady flow of bird-and-cat-ness; full and complete.
It’s tempting to now fill the white of my page with lengthy lyrical descriptions about what it’s like, deep down, being a raven; but I won’t, not here. I won’t because, basically, that’s what I’m asked if I want to prove that I’m a genuine raven. Been there, done that; I took off my website the old raven essay at some point because it felt too constrained – it doesn’t help that I had written it partly in a train and partly in a park as I came too early for an appointment. The writing was something that had to be done, for a reason or another.
When I’ll put it up again, it will flow better, because my quill won’t be as confined by expectations.
The trick is, I haven’t been very motivated to work on it for the past years because writing about your animal sides separately, like this essay was about, is yet another expectation I haven’t been much interested in meeting (anymore). A “purely corvine” essay, with all the negativity the term “pure” may carry, feels too artificial now; maybe it is. Probably not entirely, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write at all about my animality in the past, but I want to question that practice of separating neatly what’s from what. I think, in the end, that it goes back to the same logic that makes your animal sides appear less “legitimate” if there are more than one.
It’s as though “felinity” or “ravenness” came in a finite, measurable amount and that writing about my animal identity without distinguishing the different species in clearly labeled, neat boxes (different paragraphs, different spaces…) would decrease the value of these experiences itself. I am no shapeshifter so I won’t speak for or about experiences that may be more fleeting, but regarding what I know of animality it seems like a foolish belief to hold, and an offensive one at that.
Which doesn’t mean that I’ll never write again about the specific experiences of “ravenness” or “felinity”, but rather, that it should be more of a conscious choice and less of a practice I follow out of habit or conventionalism. And above all, being a feline does not make me less of a corvid – and conversely. That is something that I’ve always felt and known, but that I haven’t said as firmly as I could have (I couldn’t bother with too much justifying when I was more interested in discussing other matters).

Old Fangs

There’s too much Cat in me.
I could say it’s just the way I am, but some days I don’t find this satisfying. I could intellectualize everything, but again I find it too vain.
This has nothing to do with raven, either. I feel the need to stress this because most people in the past have overlooked the fact I am also a raven, and by that I mean as much. Raven is here in my body so intensely, but I’m not as well-equipped to verbalize and discuss it. This goes beyond me as a person, when cat essence is pretty much summarized as felinity and raven essence stays more elusive to us (as much in language as culturally). But my point was, this blurb isn’t about comparisons between the two.
When I say Cat is “too much”, I’m talking about the occurences of felines in my life even though I’m not crazy about them. Things could be different, as much identity-wise as in my spirituality and life; there could have been felines everywhere. But I haven’t grown up with cats, I’ve had various favourite animals that often weren’t even mammals, I don’t try to get closer to wild cats big or small, and the gods I worship aren’t feline gods. I’m not a multiple with feline parts either.
I’m a singlet who happens to be a corvid-feline and has a Jaguar totem, I may know of one other feline spirit and a handful of feline people, but that’s it. I haven’t asked for any of this, nor do I find felinity really more rewarding than other species. Likewise you could look at my art gallery, and outside of the occasional self-representation, you would mostly see different creatures (birds, canines, etc). I don’t obsess over felines.
And then, there is Scimitar Cat.
I say scimitar cat because it feels closest to Homotherium, but it could be some other ancient cat. I did consider the Smilodon family and even Barbourofelis (not a member of Felidae per se). Until I find a substantial enough element to change my mind, I feel scimitar cat is probably the best match; but information is scarce.
Scimitar cat is phantom limbs and alien body and flickering, not like (my) animal identity; it is not on equal terms with clouded leopard or raven. It does not feel like a spiritual thing either, or maybe I simply fail to get the message; everything feels too bodily-oriented anyway, it points to nothing in particular, it just is. A bodily experience. The strong neck and shoulders, the long front legs, the sloping back. The short tail. The canines certainly feel longer than a clouded leopard’s, but I am not absolutely sure to which extent (which is why I haven’t ruled out Smilodon and Barbourofelis entierely). I could elaborate on and on about what it feels like and how much it differs from my animality, but no matter how many adjectives I use to describe it, it will never answer the “whys”.
What is this? And why another cat?
I don’t even know if there’s an answer.
The experience has become pretty mundane to me; it’s been like that for years, so what else is there to add. Scimitar cat doesn’t even feel ancient or out of place to me in this modern, urban setting I live in. No more or less than clouded leopard and raven. Maybe it’s just the way I am, the way I live animality overall. Maybe it’s because I’m not a scimitar cat in the therianthropic sense, and I just feel it occasionally; so no value properly attaches itself to it. Maybe it’s a matter of all of these expectations of what is and shouldn’t be, and that as long as one thing is present in spite of being extinct, then it makes no sense for it to feel out of time.
At least it makes no sense to me; I feel I belong here and scimitar-cat-me as well, indistinguishable from the self. It is very much present and alive in my flesh, not myth nor cold bones. And it is nothing special. There is no sense of pride, and more often than not I just don’t know what to make of it. It makes no point and finds no place in my worldview either. Of course I could turn it into something special and idealize it and sublimate it, and wear it like a banner of otherkin whatever. Or I could declare myself a shapeshifter or metamorph and call this just another skin I can wear. I won’t, because neither would be true to my experience.
I am prone to be introspective and find meaning, but in the end I fail to see the point in Scimitar Cat. Sometimes it bothers me, and I feel there is too much Cat in me; but the rest of time I can only shrug and let it be.

The Ghostly Cat

Meirya contacted me two months ago about Beyond Awakening’s prompt on animal myths and archetypes, searching for my writing on clouded leopard folklore from 2006 – and I knew I wanted to join in and post something, but I had done a lot of research on clouded leopard and feline folklore since then and simply updating the old thing wouldn’t suffice.
So I gathered my notes and this has been sitting on my desktop for over a month as some kind of messy patchwork. I kept changing my mind and wanted to include more and more sources, as it appeared to me that I didn’t want to repeat my old essay too much. Instead, I wanted to talk about one’s clouded leopard symbolism as much as highlight the research process itself and explain why and how framing “what is clouded leopard” in a wider context has helped me better understand it.
I’ve voluntarily put the mainland and insular species of clouded leopards – neofelis nebulosa and neofelis diardi – on the same level because there is no evidence so far that they’ve been treated as distinct animals in South-East Asia even in countries that were acquainted with both species (such as Malaysia). I believe the two to be close enough to be treated as the same symbolical entity for this essay’s purpose.
In Search of the Clouded Leopard
The materials about clouded leopards are very scarce. The animal is seldom seen in the wild, making zoological studies more difficult, its lore widely unknown by the Western world and seemingly ignored as well by most of “lowland” and urban Asia. We can suppose that it’s not because it doesn’t exist; it’s highly possible the tales simply aren’t widespread and nobody has ever gathered the data to make them available to foreigners. There actually are less stories known about animals such as the clouded leopard as they are about dragons and a number of other mythological creatures. I rarely talk about raven even though it’s an as much important part of my identity, both because it doesn’t translate as well into words (which is ironical for an animal that is so much tied to language), and because the information and lore are common enough that I don’t obsess over them.
What is there left for animal-folks like myself when there is such a lack of information about who we are in whole or in part? The first answer is UPG, of course, our own as well as that of others we know. I’ve already written before about the raw experience and symbolical significance clouded leopard has to me, and I once knew someone who called herself a clouded leopard. We wouldn’t discuss this much at all, though. In fact most animal-people don’t bother sharing their experiences (which is fine), so I dropped my expectations: being a clouded leopard is no guarantee that we’ll relate to each other – if we ever meet, that is. Maybe it’s the raven part of me that makes me more vocal, maybe we really are a rare and elusive bunch, just like in the wild.
A second option for research is to make it broader. Through my studies, what I came to understand more and more is how there is no meaning without context. I’ve read a lot about jaguar lore because Jaguar is my totem, and my own UPG made more sense as I learned about the animals and cultures jaguars were connected with. You can’t understand Jaguar fully if you don’t know about animal symbolism and social structures in Meso-America, past and present. You can’t understand well his role in shamanism if you don’t know about the magic, medicine and religion there, in other words the more general spiritual landscapes Jaguar usually works within. It’s not just searching about “everything that has Jaguar”, it’s about what seemingly doesn’t have Jaguar as well, to provide a larger picture and contrasts.
At some point, as I was still deep into my jaguar readings, it came to me that I needed to stop complaining about the lack of clouded leopard stories, and start researching animal lore in South-East Asia. Symbolism rarely if ever replicate itself perfectly across the world so I wasn’t expecting to find clouded leopard serving as a miniature jaguar in South-East Asia. However I thought that by reading materials from and about the very diverse societies of South-East Asia, especially relating to other animal myths and folklore, maybe I could infer pieces of informations about clouded leopards or understand why they are virtually unheard of when they are physically present.
I must stress that this writing isn’t an academic paper and I don’t have the money right now to fly to several countries on the other side of the planet and do comparative fieldworks over the following 10 years, so this is very much an incomplete first draft. I’m also not fooling myself into believing I can get to know whole societies just by studying a bunch of papers.
I’ve had to face a number of pitfalls common to actual researchers, including the following. First, we have to rely on accounts we know have been translated from several languages – as an example, from a local dialect to a more widespread language of South-East Asia, and then to Dutch and/or English later on – so some aspects may have been lost. Secondly, context is very important in stories (who’s telling them to whom and for which occasion); when presented with data gathered by another person we often lack this. South-East Asia is a culturally diverse and historically complex area, and I’ve tried to keep this in mind as much as the scholars used here as references have. Last but not least, not all animal tales follow the same interpretation: many of them are to be taken as metaphors to reveal aspects of the human society and hardly revolve around the actual animal. We must remember that they’re stories told by human people to other human people for certain purposes.
This is not to say there is less value in mythology and folklore [than biological facts or therian UPG] to learn more about animals and archetypes, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article. My point is: each way of doing has its bias and may lead to different answers. On a somewhat different note, I don’t believe that the mythical and therianthropic versions of an animal are one and the same (though I acknowledge the two can overlap to some degree and that sometimes the former can lead to the latter). I don’t want my words to be misunderstood as “totemists and therians are essentially the same beings”, or as though one raven person must be like the Raven from the myths to be a legit raven, and so on. This isn’t congruent with what I’ve learned.
Biological facts, UPG and lore are not interchangeable ways to reach the same conclusions. They’re different sources that can be used to help cross-check information as much as highlighting differences. They can work together but we must not mistake one and its results with another’s. I would not advocate for a superficial analysis of animal symbolism, which would be misleading at best, so this has to be done carefully. In order to keep this writing reasonable I did not include most of the background information that I used regarding anthropological analysis and methodology as well as the South-East Asian region, but for further reading I did indicate a list of some of the references used in this article.
Of Spirits and Kings
Now I’m past the disclaimer part, I can say that knowing jaguar symbolism has helped me better studying tiger symbolism, and in turn both gave me insight about clouded leopard. I haven’t drawn a definite conclusion – more like a general trend – so everything I’m sharing is to be taken with a grain of salt.
Tigers and jaguars have a lot in common. Both big cats are impressive predators sitting at the top of the food chain; because they can hunt most creatures, they are known as the “masters of animals” as well as the “rulers of the forest” in their respective habitats. This power extends from the natural world to the realm of the supernatural as they are often favored as spirit-helpers and associated with protection (of sacred places in particular) as well as fertility. The Siona people (Ecuador/Colombia) believe that dead shamans become spiritual teachers, and their Huaorani neighbours (Ecuador) believe their ancestors to be the children of a jaguar and an eagle, and that their shamans and elders can turn into jaguars. Of course we can also mention the highland Mexican nahual (soul companion), the Mexican tonal (shadow spirit) and the Mayan uay (spiritual alter ego), which often were jaguars; Tezcatlipoca is also associated with jaguar essence, as well as – among other concepts – rulership, divination, sorcery and war.
This close relationship between shamans, ancestors, jaguars and spirits is similar to what can be found in South-East Asia regarding the tiger.
Indeed, there, the tiger is often considered by the community and shamans as a spirit companion who is as much a spirit-helper as an ancestor. In the Malayan Peninsula in particular, the tiger spirit was a dead shaman who would become the spirit-helper of his successor. Some shamans can also assume a tiger shape in their lifetime, but that could as well happen to other virtuous and powerfully spiritual people such as Muslims, usually as a reward after their death, as believed in Northern Sumatra. In this region, most holy men’s graves were guarded by tiger spirits, which were thoughts to be either the spirits of the deceased or sent by Allah. Reports of were-tigers also abound, such as in East Java. Tigers were often considered, alongside crocodiles, as guardians of human villages (while on a higher scale the symbol of the civilized world and state was more likely to be another creature such as the water buffalo).
As a protector of the village, the tiger was seen as a peaceful prey-sharing partner, driving away as much other predators as the wildlife attracted to feed on the fields, and causing no harm to its villagers as long as they followed the customary rules. As an ancestor however, the tiger was very much a strict disciplinarian who inspired a great fear. Guardian of the law and father of the community, he would not hesitate to punish his “offspring” if the latter had broken any rule, thus acting as a moral force. There used to be trials in Java where people would be judged by a tiger, who would kill the guilty person and let the innocent live. Interestingly, this description of the tiger as a severe guardian and spiritual elder is similar to my own UPG relating to Jaguar.
Speaking of UPG and spiritual experiences as an animist: I was amused and surprised to find that one of the reasons tigers can be refered to in kinship terms isn’t solely related to the belief in tiger ancestors. Indeed, Indonesians would rather call a tiger thought to be nearby “grandfather” or “grandmother”, “father”, “uncle”, “older brother” and such as, out of respect or fear. Honorific titles were also used (“great lord”, “Your Reverence”, “chief” or “prince”). This also seems to be the case for the jaguar to some extent. The point being: during a journey in early 2009 I was directed to a clouded leopard spirit refered to as a “prince”, which I found a bit strange as a title, wondering what it could mean – until I found the above references about honorifics. Though it could also be an actual sign of ruling power over something, I guess; in my experiences, the clouded leopard spirit was not only associated with the forest but also dreamwalking, travelling and protection in the otherworlds.
This experience also echoes on a symbolical level the Rukai legend of the clouded leopard who led a hunter-warrior and its people through the mountains – a place commonly associated with ghosts and other spirits – to the region that would become their homeland. Some versions indicate that the clouded leopard turned into a person after this – hence becoming an ancestor to the descendants of this group – and a house was built at the spot. Here the cat served less as a spirit-helper and more as a founder and literal guide for the tribe in a way not dissimilar to the widespread South-East Asian place-founding myths involving other animals, usually buffalos or nagas. In one legend from East Java, King Tawan Alun rides a white tiger who directs him with a voice to the location of his new capital (incidentally, the voice also called him “grandchild”). According to one of the King’s descendants, the family lines are still guarded by this tiger spirit nowadays, which also is a manifestation of their shamanistic powers. In Java, where the tiger has disappeared, the leopard (panthera pardus) sometimes has taken on his role as a guardian spirit.
However, the association between rulers and tigers in South-East Asia does not seem to mirror further that of jaguars in the Americas.
While there seems to be a link between strength and tigers, kings did not turn into tigers as much as they mastered them, hence reinforcing their power over the rest of the natural world. For the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, the jaguar represented much of the qualities admired in the ruler, adequated with the warrior figure. There is a strong association throughout Meso-America between warfare, elites and the jaguar. In South-East Asia, the tiger was often defined as unpredictable, rude and aggressive, while the “kingly power” had the connotations of refined, aloof and cool, traits usually associated with the water buffalo. Buffalos were also known to be the founders of states and kingdoms in myths, and linkened to culture through agriculture. Tigers, on the other hand, were very much part of the Wild – not as much a chaotic world per se as one that obeys different laws than that of humans.
At the time of colonization, the people in Java and Malacca saw the Dutch and Englishmen as tigers because of their coarseness and misbehaviour. There are a number of accounts of ritual tiger/buffalo fights at the Javanese courts dating back from this time. Possibly once symbolic of the superiority of civilization over nature, we can assume that the ritual fights became a representation of local resistance against colonizers. As a rule, the buffalo usually won by horning and crushing the tiger, while the Javenese would express disappointment if the winner was the tiger – a fact that was known to the European. A rumor suggested that the Dutch made the tiger-buffalo fights illegal for these political reasons, though this remains unconfirmed.
As a side note – as if this article didn’t contain enough disclaimers! – it is important to keep in mind the fact the different populations found throughout South-East Asia were often very much in touch through various contacts such as commercial exchanges, thus animal parts and symbolism sometimes travelled outside of the actual living range of the creature. Also, there has been a growing pressure through the last decades from the officials onto the highland, often nomad populations so that they settle in the more lowland villages with an agricultural way of life. Consequently, symbolism and cultural practices in one group may influence another, or be lost completely through assimilation. In regards to the tiger symbolism in Java, where it is known to be virtually extinct, it is worth noting that the urban populations’ tiger symbolism consist of both the tiger village beliefs and the Court ones, mixed with some European influences.
Masters of the Forest
Another difference between tigers and jaguars is their association with forests.
The perception of the forest in South-East Asia vary between rural and urban people, and among individuals themselves as well. Overall though, it is a liminal place of power and transformation, ruled by different laws than that of human people. Like mountains, forests are thought to be the abode of the spirits and gods, and thus considered dangerous places which often require the local spirits’ permission to cross. In Indonesia, wooden hills were often favored as a site for the founding ancestors’ graves, a space further apart from the edge of the village (in Sundanese, the word for “forest” and for the grave of the common ancestor is actually the same).
On a superficial level of course both tigers and jaguars are thoughts to inhabit and rule over forests and forest spirits – though they occur in some other biomes as well – but on a closer examination we learn that natural tigers did not live so much far away from civilization. In fact, although a higher density of human population coincides with a lower density of tigers, the densely tropical forests devoid of human activity also used to lack tigers. This is because the animals they prey upon are mostly ground-dwelling, large animals that will thrive where the forest is less dense and the ground less covered: the forest fringes, often maintained or created by human activity. Tigers are rather bad climbers and will not hunt arboreal species, unlike the clouded leopard whose smaller size, lighter weight, flexible ankles and longer tail (used for balance) make much more efficient at this.
Tigers regular sighting and association with the protection of villages and cemetaries thus become more understandable: the tiger belongs or belonged to the world between men and the forest, and between men and the spirits, more than the remote areas of wilderness – contrary to the clouded leopard, which is said to be very secretive, even more so than the already rather elusive leopard. It then also appears probable that the highland populations of South-East Asia (such as, it is worth noting, the Rukainese from the clouded leopard tale, who lived in the mountainous area of Taiwan ), populations that also happen to be more often than not hunter-gatherer societies, were or are more likely to be familiar with the clouded leopard, a true master of the remote forest areas, than the lowland populations living from agriculture and who’d be more likely to integrate the tiger instead as part of their cosmology.
Like the clouded leopard, the jaguar is described as “reluctant to cross the mad-made edge between forest and village”, an attitude that seems rather un-tiger-ly. The jaguar is very much seen as living a solitary life away from civilization, when tigers (and maybe to a lesser extent, leopards) were known to prowl around human dwellings or even enter villages on regular occasions – this is still the case for the leopard in Africa nowadays. Although a tiger roaming in the village could be seen as a rupture in the normal (human) order of things, as this could be a sign the spirit-ancestor was to punish a villager for breaking a taboo, and taboo breaches were disruptive of the customary law and order, it was none-the-less a well-known occurrence.
We can thus visualize a spectrum of liminality for the big cats in relation to humanity, with the human village on one side and the forested mountains on the other: tigers belong to the forest edge, nearest to human centers of activity, while leopards are usually placed further away (but not always). Jaguars and clouded leopards are more withdrawn, with the clouded leopard being especially avoidant of human activity, and the same could probably be said of snow leopards, which are thought of as elusive creatures as well. Variations may occur within species too, as we can imagine the clouded leopards of the mangroves as less withdrawn from human people (who often use rivers to travel), than those living deep in the rainforest, and the latter perhaps less rare again than the clouded leopards of remote mountain ranges (as an example: Nepal, a region snow leopards share with them).
This idea of clouded leopards belonging to the most marginal areas of an already liminal place – the forest – reinforces my own clouded leopard symbolism as the liminal cat by essence, which is a point I’ve already detailed before. As a feline very much described as in-between the small and big cats, and considered to be the closest living cousin of the extinct sabertooth (ie. standing between ancient and modern cats), he does possess a noticeable array of liminal qualities. My own UPG also associates him closely with the otherworlds, and it is possible that the clouded leopard share the tiger and jaguar’s relation as ancestors, gods and forest spirits for other highland societies than the Taiwanese Rukai. The Bornean Dayak were known to use clouded leopard pelts for war costumes, but I have no other evidence for an association with warfare (well, outside of the clouded leopard guide that accompanied the Rukai warrior, but I’m not sure that makes enough clues).
One or more liminal qualities though does not guarantee the creature to assume a trickster role (an usually very liminal figure), and I haven’t read about any sign that any of the big cats, including the clouded leopard, were tricksters. In South-East Asia, in fact, that role is played by other animals such as the mouse-deer (kantjil), sometimes called chevrotain, a small ungulate and common prey of the clouded leopard that actually isn’t a true deer. Their name comes from their small size, as they count among the smallest ungulates of the world; the Asian species do not exceed 8kg. They also – much like the evolutionary-ambiguous clouded leopard – place themselves in-between other species: on one hand non-ruminating ungulates like pigs and hippos, and on the other ruminating ones like antelopes and deers. The mouse-deer is a popular figure of Indonesian folklore, tricking many of the fearsome beasts of the animal reign such as the crocodile and tiger, and he also served as a mediator between the asian leopard and man.
The tiger is also known to be tricked by other creatures such as – unsurprisingly, as developed in the article – the buffalo. These examples, I hope, show a point regarding how animal symbolism is closely related to one another and to the human world. Trying to draw meaning from the lore without any knowledge regarding its cultural-specific context can be quite misleading, and UPG cannot be mistaken with actual facts. However when data is so scarce, we sometimes aren’t left with much else than suppositions as well as our own imagination to try to piece together these stories about the animal-part of our identity. In researching convincing evidence from other animal and popular folklore, though, I’m hoping to draw a plausible sketch of what clouded leopard could be, at least until someone (or myself someday perhaps) can record the actual stories of the clouded leopard for others to share.
Some references:

  • Boomgaard, Peter. “Frontiers of Fears: Tigers and People in the Malay World, 1660-1950”. Yale University Press. 2001.
  • Hutton, J. H. “Leopard-Men in the Naga Hills”. The journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 50 (Jan.-Jun., 1920), pp. 41-51.
  • King, Victor T.; Wilder, William D. “The Modern Anthropology of South-East Asia”. Routledge. 2003.
  • McKean, Philip Frick. “The Mouse-deer (Kantjil) in Malayo-Indonesian Folklore: Alternative Analyses and the Significance of a Trickster Figure in South-East Asia”. Nazan Institute for Religion and Culture. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 30, n°1 (1971), pp. 71-84.
  • Saunders, Nicholas J. “Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas”. Routledge. 1998.
  • Saunders, Nicholas J. “Predators of Culture: Jaguar Symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites”. World Archeology, Vol. 26, n°1, Archeology of Pilgrimage (Jun., 1994), pp. 104-117. Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
  • Turner, Terence. “Animal Symbolism, Totemism, and the Structure of Myth” in “Animal Myths and Metaphors in South America”. University of Utah Pres. 1985.
  • Taube, Karl; Miller, Mary Ellen. “The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya”. Thames & Hudson Ltd. 2007.
  • Wessing, Robert. “Symbolic Animals in the Land between the Waters: Markers of Place and Transition”. Nazan Institute for Religion and Culture. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, n° 2 (2006), pp. 205-239.
  • Wessing, Robert. “The Last Tiger in East Java: Symbolic Continuity in Ecological Change”. Nazan Institute for Religion and Culture. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 54, n° 2 (1995), pp. 191-218.
  • Wessing, Robert. “The Sacred Grove: Founders and the Owners of the Forest in West Java, Indonesia” from the 10th Annual Conference of the Société d’Ecologie Humaine, ‘L’homme et la Forêt Tropicale’, Marseille, Université de Provence, 26-28 November (1998).

For a non-essentialist understanding of animality

When animals do something that we like we call it natural. When they do something that we don’t like, we call it animalistic.
Weinrich, 1982

This has been sitting in my notes for over a year and I still don’t know exactly how to write it down properly. If this article sounds too abstract, well, it’s alright; we all come from different backgrounds with different interests, and I’ve read too much whatever-ology for the past years.
My ponderings here have to do with the questioning of essentialism and universalism by post-modernism applied to animality, and if this was a thesis it would be hundred pages long and provided with sources and a bibliography for further reading – but this is just a little blurb to sum up my thoughts on the subject, as imperfectly explained as it will be. I think about concepts and social representations a lot because that’s one of my task in daily life, my field. It wasn’t the case when I first read about the concept of “therianthropy”, but the more years passed and the more I found principles that went unchallenged by most animal-people and that I disagreed with. One of them is what we put behind “animality” as an identity.
The idea of animal identity as something we’re “born with” goes entierely unchallenged by the vast majority of animal-people. Even when there is an acknowledgement that human beings are a mix of social construction, biology and other often vaguely defined parameters, animality is always understood in an extremely traditional way as an “animal nature”, something that characterizes, well, animals, or the margin of what makes human beings, and never something that is also shaped by our cultural/mental representations. Animal-people tend to think of “animality” as something that makes them more like “other animals” and less like “humans”. I may be faulty of that as well, as found in many of my past writings, but I’ve shifted positions a bit by having a closer look at what we mean with those concepts and why.
It is because I often feel “in-between” that I have more opportunities to challenge such concepts, because I don’t believe in a lot of “either/or” paradigms. It’s not just a matter of theory, of reading and thinking too much; it’s about my concrete experience and what works for me. If it doesn’t work for me or other individuals I might witness, then it’s not a universal rule. Gender-wise, there is the fact I don’t fit into the male-masculine-man VS female-feminine-woman traditional opposition. Regarding what makes up “animality” as well, the classical definition makes no sense to me: there is no distinction or opposition between the human, corvine and feline part of me, and they don’t properly fit into a binary system of animal-instinct-nature VS human-reason-culture. My academic background and personal ponderings led me to question this paradigm, as much as the the animal-inborn VS human-learned opposition found in a lot of animal discourses and taken as facts.
We human people haven’t been able to prove the existence of races, finding more biological differences between members of the same supposed “group” than between people of different origins. We haven’t been able to unveil what makes us men and women, finding that this was not just a matter of hormones, and not just a matter of chromosomes, and not just a matter of socialization, and by having control over those parameters we haven’t been able to predict successfully what would become some people’s gender identity. If these are found to be scientifically untrue, and if I can agree on that matter regarding topics such as gender and race, and the many facts science is uncovering about how other species function and are similar to us, then wouldn’t it be hypocritical of myself if I didn’t re-examine what is, in the end, animality?
Reading about ethology made me realize that animality can be understood very much on two different levels, just as gender in the academic field: on a first level, that of ordinary language, where you talk about genders (which are not unique) as sets of traits used to define and distinguish feminine from masculine; and on another level, when gender (singular) is used to analyze the power struggle and oppression between men and women. It is gender theory that helps understand how genders are defined and enforced as a norm; not pre-existing “natures” or “essences” in ourselves, but a system that constantly re-affirms itself on many levels of society.
So, on one hand, animal-people commonly use animality to define a set of traits we relate to individual species and we think of it as a “grid” that models or filters our experiences in a specific way depending on what animal we are; there would be many possible animalities, in fact. On the other hand, I think animality can be a concept and tool that helps us questioning the (unequal) relation between humans and animals – that is, animality is not a thing (pre)existing outside of humanity, but the result of the social/symbolical removal of humanity from the category [animal]. Biologically we’re still animals, but humans think of themselves as more, better and/or other than that, and animality describes this something that they want to move away from.
This is what French ethologist and philosopher Lestel develops in an essay: animality does not define the reality of animals but something more complex: how human people relate to animals. To paraphrase him, it actually is common to both, as humans are animals too, but animality is what human beings black out through the erasure of body, of their desires and feelings, in contrast with the valorization of the mind, spirit and faculty of reason. Instincts, fear-or-flight reponses and other traits we associate to animals are actually as much ours, but they’re not acknowledged as so (when they are, they’re seen as minor, lower traits in regards to what really makes us human). I do not agree with this hierarchy, and I don’t believe there even is such as thing as a single universal “animality” common to all creatures bare humans, considering different nonhuman animals have as little to do together (or as much) as humans have with the rest of the animal reign. There are no more similarities between an ant and a crocodile than between a man and a raven; perhaps even less. There only is a multiplicity of beings.
Therefore, when you come to recognize certain patterns are found as much in human people and in animals, there can be no opposition between humanity and animality. Animality does not define the animal, it simply defines the set of traits that humans possess and want to distance themselves from in a world where humans think of themselves as superior. Traits associated with humanity such as dialects, cultural specificities or behaviors are found in several species of mammals or even birds – as an example it is the case for laughter or for obsessive/compulsive behaviors like excessive cleaning and plucking. What we animal-people used to define as “animality” actually is “nonhuman animality” at most, and even then it’s as difficult to define what makes up a specific animality as it is to define what is the “essence” of a specific gender (like “man” or “woman”). There is no such thing in our genes, and the definitions vary in time and space depending on which culture you ask and the context.
At most, animality may only be the product of our senses, the way we perceive the world, and what makes an animal’s animality different from another would only be the variations in receiving and processing those informations. In that regards, animal-people would be much closer to other humans than many would like to admit.
The traditional nature/nurture/culture paradigm isn’t known to work so well as we study it more and more. There isn’t such a clear opposition as we used to think and different aspects mesh with each others quite intimately. What it means isn’t even that they are distinct yet intricate aspects, but that some traits actually belong to several categories at the same time. Following the train of thoughts I developped earlier, animality neither strictly belongs to nature nor nurture or culture. We’re not simply “born this way” as animal-folks just as women aren’t just born as such (Simone de Beauvoir, Monique Wittig). We don’t develop one sexual orientation straight out of the womb, either. And before anyone feels insulted in a way or another, I think it’s important to understand that it does not mean we aren’t real – we’re animal-folk and this experience is valid, legitimate and intense.
It is still something beautiful and magical that comes from someplace deep in ourselves. And there is no paradox in accepting this and the fact we aren’t some sort of exception to the animal world. Chimpanzee Sarah was able to easily distinguish and classify pictures of apes and humans in those two categories with no mistake, and straightaway she would put her own picture in the human group. Anthropologist and natural historian Virey wrote, over a century before Simone de Beauvoir, that we are born monkeys and become men (or rather, humans). Seeing the patterns we discover between different species as well as the fact we, animal-folk, also exist, I think this goes as far as one is not born but rather becomes human – or doesn’t: we’re born monkeys and we may develop the proper pattern for “human beings”, or we grow into… something a bit different. Raven-people, coyote men and women, and leopards and horses and foxes. Animal-people.
We can’t determine that this animal-identity is inborn, but it’s there and it’s real. And we need to accept there is “construction” and “shifts in paradigm” as well even in what we consider to be the animal part of us. Think of the big number of people who go from being very regular shifters to occasional or even very integrated animal-people once they come to terms with their animality. Their experience was valid, and is still valid, yet it changed over time. I sincerely doubt it has anything to do with “nature” and “biology”, rather than it is a “processing” thing that happens in one’s headspace once a shift in perception can take place, such as getting more comfortable with one’s animal identity, or making room for it in one’s worldview and life, or something else. This is about identity and mental representations, not DNA; it probably wasn’t written in one’s genes that they would go from being a shifter to something else, yet the change happened at some point of their life, and nothing there is invalidating the authenticity of their animal experiences and identity.
I guess I’m just saying… All this discourse we hear about being whatever we are today straight from the womb (or prior to that), I think it keeps us from seeing things differently and from challenging some views that can be hurtful for others. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about “women’s nature” or an “animal nature”, I think we should really question ourselves about that and what we mean, before we talk about such matters; before we invisibilize another category of people, or make it as though one experience is more real or legitimate or universal, or whatever. And I don’t want this to be misunderstood and taken as an excuse for wishful thinking, either, though I don’t have to deal with the consequences. You know what I mean, I just said “we”, but as soon as I finish writing an article, I just go on with my life. I try to get through my pile of work; I go outside, run some errands. I’m out in the concrete world.
This is just me doing what I do, going back and forth between experience and thought, back and forth between solitude and other people; translating. Putting it up. Going on to something else. Rince, repeat.

The Self-made man and the Predator

“Identity only exists divulged in a public space where an other is watching. It is, for us, first read through appearance and action.” – Alain Erhenberg

A bit of context
This is about animality, especially feline animality or felinity, as well as ethics. Mostly it is about how they intersect, and pondering over integrity and social issues as an animal-person and my own self-realizations. The following is a collection of thoughts that were gestating since 2005 but that I finally developped during the year of 2010.
There is no definite conclusions that I draw, more like a pattern I sense through the prism of my personal experience as a trans and animal-person. Of course there is a part of criticism in this writing, especially self-criticism, but this essay is more like a tool for self-awareness, to reflect on what makes us who and what we are. How I processed these realizations was non-linear and made possible because of the specific experiences and teaching I went through, so I’ll try to give you a bit of context.
The shift from musings about being a raven and clouded leopard to ethics wasn’t a sudden one. It went from descriptions of personal animality and how Jaguar fits into this as a totem, to thoughts over being a predator and scavenger in a human world, which is less species-specific. The subject was brought up in various animal circles in the past and it made sense with who I was, though nowadays they’re not categories I find very relevant anymore, at least for myself. Thinking about how animality impacts my relations with other people led me to ponder over my goals and my ethics, as well as my place in the universe. As a general answer, the details of my worldview usually make sense simultaneously with several aspects of who I am of which animality only is a part, but I lost interest in disecting everything in details.
But there is more to all of this, strips of thoughts I could only piece together years later because of the exercise of reflexivity I’ve had to make in my current field and which helped me distancing myself a bit from what I was doing and talking about, here, and what we were discussing and doing as animal-folks, as trans people, and such as.
The basics
I do not believe we are pure entities living separately on our own planets with no influence nor feedback. At the same time, I do not believe this makes our individual experiences less valid, as if somehow “being oneself” should only be about building who you are from scratch (as if it was possible). I do not believe our fate is set in stone, that we can’t escape certain things – destiny or determinisms – and at the same time we do come from some place and our past experiences shape who we are today. I think that to most of us who differ from “the norm” in some way, like-minded people play a key role. It doesn’t matter if we interact with them, if we’re withdrawn from it all or if we’re very community-oriented, the fact we know they exist, that we’re not alone, and what they do, it changes us in a way or another. To me, finding other animal-people to relate to and, specifically, cat-people like myself, was almost perfectly symetrical with getting to know other trans people and starting my physical transition. There was the discovery of like-minded companions on the same sort of journey I was on, as much as understanding it’s not because we share this trait or supposed identity in common that we all get along. Roads split, sometimes forever, sometimes only to reunite later on.
Both the animal and trans communities share a lot in common (I mean “community” as a large network of various people, and nothing more; there is no organized, united community with a single set of tenets). There is an important “creed” present in both communities: the concept of empowerement. Back then when I was a part of this, it found an echoe in me because I was already walking my path with similar values. I think empowerement and self-guidance were especially exalted both among cat-people and among the FtM individuals I socialized with at the time, many of whom didn’t recognize themselves in the larger community they supposedly were a part of. It is through the more radical trans circles I was in that I became familiar with reclaiming, DIY (“do it yourself”), and in which ways I was privileged and disprivileged. Studying sociology then made it more solid, precise, and gave me other tools to sharpen my critical mind (including towards the discipline itself and other institutions).
Among both trans people and animal-people, the individual identity has always been at the center of attention. Everybody is encouraged to develop their own subjectivity and rejoicing in what makes them both unique (ie. different from other people), and similar in a community of “shared experiences” (trans people, animal-people). Many times someone or another would stress that nobody can tell us what we are, and that we can make our own rules for ourselves. We’ve been our own guides and nobody could decide of our fates. We’ve strayed away from the mass of “mundane people”. We’ve become gender outlaws, pirates, warriors and explorers, we’ve called ourselves transpecies, humanimals and modern-day were-creatures. We’ve been on journeys or conquests to our true selves to unfold the treasures we had inside. We’ve wanted to walk our own roads and make our dreams come true, no matter where we came from; we’ve made a rule of seizing opportunities and reaching for the stars.
We’ve wanted these actions and risk-taking – the risk of being ourselves, instead of being what others wanted us to be – to live our life to its fullest and get closer to something authentic, some kind of truth in existence: we’ve wanted to be free, free from any community and from society at large, free from their many constraints upon who we were. We’ve wanted to write our own destiny.
This reflects a lot of values seen among the animal-people who identify as solitary predators; this will, this attitude, the aura of boldness emanating from it (real or perceived), they are the main aspects of the predator’s mind, and though it can be declined differently depending on the individual, the core of it is rarely disputed. What can be discussed is “why we’re big, scary animals”, however we rarely question “what makes a predator” because there is some kind of unspoken definition – a common “representation” of what it is, a bit in the way of an archetype. The predatory mindset also works with the implicit exclusion of the prey mindset and people we relate to it – the mass, the followers, who could be anyone non-predator. Liesk is one of the rare counter-examples when, in one of his writings about being deer in the light of the prey/predator dichotomy, he said “all species are designed to survive; […] deer works to fix his vulnerability”. Prey animals aren’t “mindless drones”, deer’s behaviors “arise because deer has what it takes to live”. Moving on to my next point, I think it’s a common idea that as feline and such animal-people we share those predatory traits because of – possibly among more reasons – our nature as predators, something seen as internal force. In other words, this aggressive take on life is ours because it reflects who we are inside: our essence as cat-people, the particular expression of our animal-identity.
I include myself in all of this because, well, I’ve been a part of it. I’ve written a lot about what being a cat (as a general feline) is to me, and it involves a great deal of straight-forwardness, self-confidence and drive in life. Being a cat to me is about standing up for oneself, because I see felinity in the light of my specific experience of being a clouded leopard – a solitary feline and not a pack animal such as lion or wolf. Additionally, Strength – as a requirement to be who you are – plays and important role in my life and ethics, and it’s a trait that I also link to Jaguar as a totem or archetype. Even though I do not think less of prey animals, maybe my mental imagery was close to the next person’s regarding prey animals, which is about linking them with food consumption and cattle, and cattle with the anonymous mass of people – society in general – we predators, with an aggressive outlook on life, somehow distinguished ourselves from: people who we understood as passive, easily influenced by external input, and not taking responsability and actions to hold the reins of their own life.
What am I trying to say about animal-people and this “predator identity”? All of this, all of what I described, actually is the common imagery shared with the mundane Western society we live in regarding how individuals should lead their life; it doesn’t come from our “animal nature”, even though this is a tempting explanation for many. Though before telling you more about that I need to say that my initial train of thought was solely about how to balance my felinity or “me-thing” along with my ethics.
Introspection as a start
I more or less subscribed to the idea that my outspokenness was very much a part of my identity as a feline. No matter if I’m actually blunt or if I’m simply read as blunt by some people, I related it mostly to being a cat and predator. It’s not that it’s not the case anymore but, as always, “it’s complicated”. As I wrote earlier those aspects of who I am and how I interact with other people make sense simultaneously through several filters, and animality is one of them. So the gist of it is, my increasing awareness of privileges, disprivileges and oppression have led me to ponder on my ethics: how to balance integrity, straight-forwardness and, overall, being who I am [especially as a cat-person], along with empathy and a safe environment where other people won’t feel oppressed (for a wide definition of oppression and violence)?
The basic train of thought here is that I follow my version of the Golden Rule; among other things, as I don’t want to be the subject of violence and oppression, I feel that it’s only fair I start with myself and work toward being a better human being. I guess it’s similar to “be the change you want to see in the world”.
So this was my dilemna, as someone with a strong character: how to stay true to myself while not hurting others? This is something I’ve discussed in private circles recently; how I don’t want to invalidate other people’s experiences, because they’re personal and at most I can only read them as similar or unfamiliar, but how in spite of this some people may feel threatened anyway, as an example by random statements I make about my worldview even though they apply solely to myself; or worse, how they may feel unsafe not because of something I’m saying or doing, but because of something they’re expecting from me and that I’m not giving (such as validation). I do not want to always add a disclaimer to everything I say (“this isn’t about you”), though on various occasions I end up doing just that.
I believe strongly that while I must take responsability for my stuff, people also need to take responsability for their, and that includes keeping our expectations and insecurities in check.
It’s not useless that I work towards diplomacy and compromises, and communicating in a way that isn’t hurtful to the people around me, and I’ll keep doing it; but sometimes things do not depend on me, and I have no control over other people’s insecurities. In the end, I’m bound to push some people away, because of the things I can’t compromise about because of my ethics and integrity, and because at times it’s not possible to be both honest and not trigger people’s sensitive spots. I do my best but when I have to choose between being oneself and avoidance/lies, I’m compelled to go for honesty. I find that avoidance is more a convenient excuse than a respectful silence because the latter doesn’t fix issues, which is what a polite, gentle confrontation would.
I thought this issue was only a personality thing, and maybe a dilemna between Jaguar and clouded leopard in my path. While both are felines, Jaguar energy is well-known for having a distinctive aggressiveness and cutting others appart, whereas clouded leopards are more secretive and quiet. Clouded leopard is and isn’t a big cat, and appears as non-threatening in comparison; in some places, there are bigger predators above him such as leopards and tigers, so existing does not equate being the apex predator. Being authentic does not mean performing more or better or being an over-achiever, and to make your own way it is not mendatory to push other individuals away. Clouded leopard is a predator, still, but it is more about this Gentle Strength that I aim for and that I favor as a driving force instead of an aggressiveness that would crush others, often unvoluntarily, and could sometimes hurt myself as well. I can express violence and cause harm, but does that mean I should do it when I feel it?
This is how I’ve tried to balance both of those aspects in my life: the Strength, the integrity and sovereignty, on one side; and the rudeness, the aggressiveness, the destructive rage, on the other. They are an integral part of myself, this isn’t about something more “me” and something that isn’t. However it is my task to find a happy medium, in encouraging one and controlling the other, or transforming the latter into the former.
Thinking beyond the personal
It’s at this point, as part of my academic work and research, that I came across two books by the French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg: The Cult of Achievement and The Uneasy Society (from 1991 and 2010 respectively). At first glance you wouldn’t think of animality when reading his works, but quickly enough the links between the predatory mind, cat-people, trans-people, the exaltation of self-confidence and self-guidance, and his own points became ridiculously obvious. What I and other animal-people had always thought as an individual traits (caused or enhenced by our animality) actually reflected the modern social expectation individuals were pressured into fulfilling.
In those books the author explains how autonomy and individual achievement have become the values by which everyone has to live nowadays; in the Western world, professional sportsmen and businessmen are the new heroes, models who go by an entrepreneurial way of life and whose success can only be attributed to their own efforts. You read or hear about their “success stories” everywhere in the news and Internet. In this context, competition only seems fair, and individualism is closely related to equality. This mindset has spread to all levels of society and is the apology of neo-individualism: as much in their public life as in the most private spheres, people must strive to be flexible, self-sufficient, find their own place in existence by themselves as well as make Someone out of themselves individually and socially through their own actions: “To success is to appear as an initiator, which means making the self and possessing a past produced only by themselve, which hasn’t been passed down as an inheritance or through filiation; in other words, there is a close connection between success and forgetting one’s origins.” This is the American Dream and Self-Made Man.
This argumentation is dealt in details through The Cult of Achievement, while The Uneasy Society develops this train of thought further in a comparison between the American and the French concepts of autonomy, individualism and egality to re-contextualize depression and the modern-day anxieties through their analysis by the psychiatric field. Basically, the main point of the author is that self-loathing and depression as they appear today are connected to the social expectations of Being Someone and making one’s own success come true. When this pressure becomes too hard, when people feel they can’t achieve those goals (or can’t afford it), then comes the self-loathing and depression.
I cannot show you how that relates to ethics and animality without explaining it a bit better. I’d translate the whole book if this essay wasn’t getting so long already so I’ll keep the most meaningful parts:

“The first [major difference between the USA and France] is the importance and value both individualisms give to autonomy: the concept of independance divides French people and unites Americans. […] The second difference is that the personality or Self occupies in the US the same position Institution has in France. Over there, the concept of self is an institution whereas in France it appears as a desinstitutionnalisation. […] Americans constantly refer to the concept of opportunity, which doesn’t exist in our tradition. When we hear this term, we relate to it negatively as we consider Americans are utilitarians and materialists. We also associate it with another concept we connote negatively, as it is identified with a weak State and poor protection of public interest: liberalism. Liberalism and utilitarism associate themselves for us again to materialism and conformity, so many concepts the French see negatively.”

For Americans, personal success is closely related to community building. Personal assertion and self-reliance, which means both independance and self-confidence, is the key to the american alliance between the public and private spheres, and they relate to the concept of self-governance both for the individual and for the State. Equality is closely connected to achievement in the concept of equality of opportunity: “this is about giving to the most vulnerable the abilities to seize opportunities in order to enter the competition and accomplish themselves through success. Opportunity and competition go along achievement and equality, outlining the specific face of american individualism.” Later on: “In France, we put the emphasis on equality instead of autonomy, but the meanings given to those concepts isn’t the same as those given by Americans: equality relates more to protection than opportunity, and autonomy is valued as independance and not competition.”
Of course with the diffusion of liberalism worldwide, the different definitions tend to permeate more and the dichotomy isn’t so set in stone; it gives interesting challenges for the French as a nation which Americans do not have to deal with, and this is the source of many misunderstanding in the way we deal with present social issues in our respective lands, but this isn’t the point of my writing.
My essay is not about comparing France and the USA, but the different definitions of autonomy and equality serve as a background to explain what this predatory mind’s about and my relationship to it, so to speak.
Ethics and the predatory mindset
As I pointed out earlier, this [usually feline] “predatory mindset” that I described a couple of paragraphs ago is, word for word, the definition of individualism – the american way. Values such as self-guidance, self-confidence and empowerement, were exalted not only among animal-people and trans people, they reflected modern values in society at large. The conquest of autonomy, the emphasis put on taking responsability for oneself and one’s subjectivity, all of those values aren’t specifically predatory, or at least they’re not especially animal. The predatory mindset exalted in animal-people is not a path straying away from the mass [the cattle, the prey people]. The predatory mindset is the path of the mass, the values shared by Western societies at large, that we usually call (neo-)individualism and that everybody must suscribe to.
Unsurprisingly, the aspect of living one’s life as a predator that I’ve wanted to distance myself the most from, such as aggressiveness and competition, and that somehow conflicted with my ethics, are related to the aspects of individualism connoted negatively in the French culture. When I worry about the conflicts between asserting oneself and oppressing others, it is not dissimilar with the French tension between liberal entrepreneurship (the American individualism) and the protection of common interest (equality the French way). Whether or not individualism is hurtful for our society is a debate that I may have taken to an individual level when I’ve been pondering over how to stay true to myself and walk my own path without hurting other individuals. This has made more and more sense as I was surrounded by individuals who discussed privileges and our ethics as activists or researchers.
Of course the correlation between “the self-made man” and “the predator” is not to say this mindset can’t be an authentic expression of animal identity, and that being fexible and self-confident and all those positive traits never have anything to do with being a cat for cat-people. As I put previously, I do believe it’s related to felinity in my own worldview, though it’s not solely related to this. I guess this is where I’m getting at, again; that I find some parts of myself make sense simultaneously under different lights, and that additionally there isn’t necessarily a clear difference between supposedly individual traits and the values that are shared by the social context we live in. Perhaps being feline is one of the things that made me more responsive to calls to individualism, or at least there is a connection somehow.
I know it’s more flattering to envision ourselves as detached from the mass and always in control of our own life, settings our own goals, and pretending our identities emerge from nothing but our own decisions, instead of acknowledging where we come from and that we may also fit in a broader social context. It’s usually more empowering to say “I’m doing my own thing” rather than “I’m doing what everybody else is trying to do”, but here the thing is that everybody is trying to “do their own thing” and claiming it only as theirs, and they fail to see the pattern. Relating to this, I find interesting and fairly ironical that some of the animal-folk who claim they feel so detached from humanity could actually show the most mundane attitudes in that.
What I learned from this
Now, I don’t believe we should all take the opposite direction, as if doing what others do is something that always must be avoided (the “ultimate rebel” attitude). I think empowerement, responsability and self-guidance are positive ideas and tools, and I too want to achieve my goals in life and be myself, free from peer pressure – as an animal-person, as a trans-person, and so on. However in all situations I want to remind myself “what are the costs”, not only for myself but also for others around me. If I see myself as a winner in life, a predator, taking everything I can get with no afterthought, who are the losers? I agree with other critics of individualism that there is a risk, with this logic, that any failure we witness is going to be blamed on the individual, like this must be a personality thing and not brought by a social context and other factors. If people seemingly fail to seize the opportunities around them, it’s supposedly always their own fault. I personally think it’s much more complicated than that and I don’t believe we’re all equal regarding opportunities (we do have privileges and disprivileges).
Additionally, of course, an individual cannot simply be defined through the prey/predator lense, and a feline is more than just a predator, and being predatory itself may be more complex than we think. This essay’s definition works on a symbolical level, such as aggressivity not solely or not necessarily being about asserting oneself socially but also persuing one’s goals, a kind of drive in life; but regarding animals in the wild there’s a lot left out. As an example, predators aren’t immune to fear and “flight” reponses. I’m only talking about mental or social representations and what people ascribe to, and there are many variations of this among animal-folk with probably a bunch of people who fall outside of it as well.
The point actually is that “everybody is different” and “we’re walking our own roads” is a general pattern of the modern Western society that has spread over the last decades and that everyone is following. It is sometimes extremely difficult to get acknowledgement that we may also be doing what’s expected of us and – how convenient – our personal ethics and worldview actually are well-suited for the society at large we live in, and/or our group of peers, and it is difficult for people to recognize this precisely because it goes against this belief that we do our own thing. This is individualism after all, putting the emphasis on subjectivity and refusing to acknowledge our original make-up – social/cultural, biological, and others.
As for myself, questioning the self-made man or predatory paradigm only is one more step towards better ethics.
I do not want to be an over-achiever; I don’t want to blindly buy into ambition and the quest for perfection (especially not at the expense of less privileged people). I want to be myself and do what I want in life, but I don’t want to do it carelessly and get caught in a pattern of produductivity with winners and losers that ends up othering different people. I want to keep on working on my personal projects, take actions, be determined and proud of what I’m doing, but I also want to value humility and be non-intrusive and just… clouded-leopardy, I guess. Quiet, respectful, observant, speaking up when I feel the need. Believing in the necessity for both empathy and boundaries. Gentle Strength. Standing for myself firmly but also not cutting others appart; and not fogetting that sometimes things fall outside my responsability.

By Night

It’s easier to sit and write about worldview and symbolism than about animality itself – the raw experience of it, vivid, overwhelming. A worldview constructs and shapes itself with verbal language better; how can you make someone understand what it’s like to be an animal-person in your daily life, is it even possible?
More and more, I’ve let myself drift into the sensations and stream of humanimal perception and thought, without wanting to hold it back, without having to wonder how does that translate into words for others to read. Often I just want to be in the here-and-now, and not face the blank of the page or the brightness of the screen. There are other places to be, other things I want to do, so much instead, at this moment.
I like the city by night. I feel the most inspired and awake. What is it that make such moments so real? Is it the chill air and steam around the pale golden lights, the crowd’s murmur in the streets, or the dark buildings towering up against the red sky? Would I still feel the same if the atmosphere was hot and heavy, and the roads full of dust, in a country far away, with different smells and voices and souls?
Is there a limit in how big a city can someone inhabit and belong to? I’ve lived different places with different populations and rythms, and in spite of the oceanic climate, which I find too cold for my tastes, I’ve been the most at ease in the City of Lights. There is something soothing in feeling that whatever direction you take, you can walk without reaching an end to it. I can’t imagine moving to a smaller urban area now. How similar and different other megacities feel like?
I do not like winter. I do not like the cold and wet. Yet I have to admit it’s been grounding me in this concrete experience so strong, because it’s a slap in the face that you’re really a part of the world, and you’re fighting against elements, and alive. The coldness puts me back into my body in the most animalistic way, like when exercizing. Lately I’ve felt as though we were deep into winter (from my mediterranean standards) yet it’s only the beginning. It’s also been raining a lot, and when I hear the drops pourring hard on the veranda’s roof, it fills my heart with joy.
How can you write about cat, about bird, when you’re feeling this? The wide eyes and perky ears, nostrils flared when you smell the wet dead leaves on your front door, breathing the air so crisp?
I got my transportation card last year as I didn’t have one immediately after I moved here. The possibilities it unveilled, I felt like I was holding the world in my hand. I love the subway, our old stations and the rails, and being able to get wherever I want to, just with this little magnetic chip. Since then my urge to travel has been itching ever more – which is a pity because I have no money since I got my chest surgery. But I’ve been happy in my city, getting interested in things I had ignored until then. I discovered there may be clouded leopards very close to where I live, and I need to get there.
There is so much I could be doing now.
My point isn’t that writing is a waste of time – it isn’t. My point is about finding balance between the experience and putting it down on paper. Sometimes you just have to go quiet for a while and just listen. Watch. Smell. Feel. Stop with the near constant babbles and just let yourself be in motion with the stream with no pause. It’s only afterwards that you can choose to detail what you saw/did/felt. You just can’t always be narrating your train of thought, without sometimes letting things sink in.
Ironically, I had known about this for a long time; but I didn’t feel like writing about it or anything else, at all.

Social Needs

Once upon a time I wrote an essay about my social needs. Then came another one. They’re not up anymore, but the gist of it was: we’re not meant to get along.
They were lengthy rants, a bit overdramatic, and actually not so different from the rest of my archives from around that time. Words with cutting edges, honest and straight-forward, but without measure. The thing to know is that in spite of sounding rather blunt, I am not cold-hearted. It’s easy for me to speak my mind and push people away, but I take no pleasure in hurting other’s feelings. In being honest about my preference for loneliness and territorial habits, I ensure I can stay in peace, but I also do it out of sincerity because I despise lying and pretending – and I avoid breaking my own rules at all costs.
Some of the people I know have told me that my outspokenness has made them uncomfortable. I know it’s pushed them and others away, I’m not oblivious. I see the tip-toeing around me, the reluctance, the silences in some instances. I notice it when I’m fled from or when I’m sought for approval (or just for the companionship of like-mindedness where my words and opinion matter as a peer, which is fine). What is frustrating to me is that I value being true to oneself, self-determination, not letting others deciding who and what’s good or bad instead of myself, yourself; and speaking one’s mind if called to. Why would some people care about disappointing me, when the disappointment only comes from the fact they care too much?
I care for my friends, and it’s sincere interest in how they’ve been and what they’ve achieved, instead of a dramatic “carrot and stick” policy about what they’ve said or done. My honesty is less harmful than this and more beneficial to long-term friendships, and it’s too bad if it scares off people. I’m straight-forward and no-bullshit, and this is me, and this is cat, and that is all.
This is what disappoints me. Hypocrisy. Letting others determine your opinions, your priorities, your values and who you associate with. The over-carefulness, the hiding, the lies. Speaking one thing, and acting another. The silences when scared. The pretence, the display and posturing, out of fear as well. Being manipulative. Seeing me as a threat, or seeing me as a mentor, instead of a companion. Holding onto my words to validate oneself – even by choosing the diametrically opposite stance, it comes down to the same thing. Putting up oneself as a strong-willed, self-confident, self-determined person, not because this what one is or strive for in their life, but because this is how one wants to be seen. Similarly, people who are interested in any subject, especially political subjects, not in themselves but for the social benefit they grant in certain circles.
Yet I am able to re-contextualize the attitudes I witness and I soften my heart, because only few things are done out of pure maliciousness. I have high standards for who I associate with but they’re much higher when it comes to me – I forgive friends more than I forgive myself. And the more they open-up, the more I forgive, because it takes Strength to assert onself and fight one’s fears, and I respect this more than most things. I respect people who have Strength in their life, not crushing Strength that belittle others, but gentle Strength such as in the famous quotation from Saint François de Sales (who also said other very wise things regarding being who you are and fear). I respect truth and its imperfections, rather than pretty lies.
Regarding animal words I’ve read about territoriality and social needs, I sometimes find it looks less like “this is who I am” and more like “here’s a proof of my animality”, which are two different things. At most what it shows of someone is how important it is to them to prove everything, get validated about anything (which goes back to what I was saying about caring too much about what others think). I looked back at my old essay on social needs and personal space, questioning my own motives, but I realized I hadn’t mentionned animality in the first place; that wasn’t the point, actually. Because my essay was genuinely about how I function as a person, a note left for whoever might want to use the “contact” button of my website back then.
Writing about social needs and how to approach me will always be something little related to animality because, simply put, my ability to get along with people has more to do with the values we share than anything else. This is also why I am not seeking to associate myself solely with people who are [insert category or identity here] no matter if it’s animal-related, gender-related, sexuality-related, interests-related and so on. I am not interested in being with people to always agree together; I value being able to understand where one’s coming from so it doesn’t matter if we disagree, so it doesn’t matter if we have very different lives.
Sure, I am territorial and introverted and it expresses in its own way as an animal person, but they aren’t aspects of my personality that are solely animal or that are impairing my life (social and otherwise). They’re traits a lot of people share, actually, and I’m not sure my situation is really worse than theirs. Even if I require little social contact to remain happy, no matter how territorial I can get physically, I’m not going to blame it on the cat or corvid. They are the form it takes, the snarling instead of cursing, the hackles raised and the way I move. It doesn’t take to be feline to be introverted, nor corvid to be adaptable.
If I were to write something solely about territoriality, I wouldn’t sound very different from any other introverted person who needs a lot of time alone to reload from socializing, and who can feel disconnected from certain human conventions. I don’t find asocial animal-folk terribly different from other asocial people. So right now instead of talking about what supposedly distinguishes me from others, I prefer writing about what makes me click with them.
This essay actually reads backwards.

The Liminal being

Ultimately, it all comes down to liminality.
Because I’m an animal-person, between myth and reality, both poetic and mundane, symbolical and raw, both feline and corvine. Because I’m raven, and Raven is mutifaceted enough in itself; and clouded leopard, both ancient and modern cat, stretching between felis and panthera, dwelling in the liminal setting that the forest is – between sky and earth. Clouded Leopard is the liminal cat by essence.
Because I’m a trans-person and androgyne, not quite male nor female, a bit of everything, or completely other. Something else at the fringes of what most people know, as surreal as legendary creature, and as true as anyone else. Altering my body to reflect my mind, walking my own path and re-interpreting what it is to be a man in this world. And I am not the only one.
Because I’m a synesthete and an artist, an oneironaut and dreamwalker, a spiritual and feral person, because I belong to the Mediterranea of crossroads and boundaries, and because I deal with more than one language on a daily basis… the list goes on and on. In short, because in most areas of life, my place, role or perspective is ambivalent and I cross a lot of different boundaries.
This can work for some people; but most folk only are liminal in a specific context or at a certain point of their life, and it doesn’t go beyond that. And I’ve read writings about liminality, some of which I related to, and others that – in my own perspective – only superficially grasped the concept. This isn’t a way of saying some are valid and other aren’t: I’m saying we often experience liminality in a way or another, whether is it through sickness, travelling or being queer; and as such, there’s a myriad of ways to be liminal, and I want to expand on my own, because this is a central point in my life and worldview.
What I’m trying to explain more precisely is how deep this can get, and what it’s like when so many aspects of yourself are related to liminality. I wrote about the Traveler archetype years ago, because I was getting closer to this realisation. A lot of symbolism in this fit, but it does not suit me completely because my (liminal) being translate in being a Traveler, and not the other way around – alternatively some people may suscribe to the Shapeshifter archetype primarily or secondarily, in relation to liminality.
Moreover to be a Traveler first and foremost, I would have to journey physically on a more regular basis than I’ve been allowed as of late in my life – right now I especially suit the symbolical and spiritual meaning of the word, by the way of physical transition, dream-walking and such as. I am driven to expand my liminal experience across countries eventually, though. In any case, until now this Traveler archetype was a way to circle around the core of my life and being through various metaphors, until I found in Liminality itself all the elements I was trying to describe. I am a liminal creature. Which is to state, not solely an single or two aspects of who I am, and not as a temporary state.
The reason I insist on this aspect is because I’ve read a lot of beaufitful, lyrical writings about liminality, but I’ve never seen much about what actually comes hand in hand with Liminality to me: Strength. I thought for a while about what makes me click more with certain people than others when it comes to this subject, and what I found is that invariably, when the person has so much personal background connected with it that it becomes an essential part of who they are, then the problématique of “being strong” arises.
Of course Strength and its different variations is something central in Warrior, Hunter and such archetypes, but here I am simply talking from a “Liminal being” perspective.
So, why do I say Strength is such a big component of liminal individuals? This is something obvious to us: the more liminal aspects you have to deal with (characteristics, defining traits, identities…) the hardest it is to find your place in a world or the other, because you always end up in-between. If you think of it from the animal or gender perspective: you are challenging a number of rules and norms, and you have to make or find your own answers in order to be at peace with who you are, and it’s complex to be identified, understood and accepted as such.
This is vastly different from being liminal in one specific context or domain, or over a limited amount of time, where elsewhere in your life you still belong to a sphere or another, like solid basis you can rest on – even though there is a whole spectrum between that situation and the Liminal archetype itself. As a liminal being on the other hand, your main perspective is that of an outsider because you are generally marginal whatever the context is. This means there is no domain in your life where you do not have to fight in order to exist, if you choose so – playing the chameleon and hiding is another alternative, but while there is no direct confrontation, it can be equally exhausting.
Therefore, for the Liminal Being, existing and staying true to who they are is a matter of Strength.
Sometimes it conflicts with the local norms, other times it’s simple and easy. Being liminal is about balance between who you are and how to function in this world, and regarding other people there’s a lot of work involved in translating the extremely personal, non-binary, norms-challenging concepts of the liminal being into something others can wrap their mind around. Being liminal is about making the best compromises to stay true to oneself while operating in any situation and context. Mastering those abilities is the key for us to making Liminality work without it becoming too much of a burden.
There is a lot of ways society enforces its laws over individuals, and the people who are the most aware of this are those at whom this pressure (I’d say violence) is directed. This is why to me Strength and Liminality always come hand in hand, at least for liminal people who do preserve their identity and integrity as liminal beings: they have to be strong, by essence, because they do not fit in; and surrending to a side or the other – and therefore conforming with something specific – makes them lose their ambivalence. Such individuals therefore cease being liminal at this very moment. This is to say it is possible to compromises a lot with the self to avoid social and emotional turmoil, and most people do to some degrees, but it may only push them further from liminality, and from themselves as well.
However this isn’t to say liminal people lack flexibility and that liminality validates the binary system, quite the contrary; balance isn’t a matter of solely two aspects, but society in general is binary and this is why people may seem to variate between only two categories. Liminal people serve as example to push boundaries and make seemingly opposite aspects co-exist and work together in a coherent whole – a liminal identity isn’t about a lack of consistency, nor it is about indecisiveness. It is defined by its position relatively to a definite system in a specific time and place, which it questions. Without break-rulers, the world would be stagnant and there would be no evolution over the course of history. Deviants, outlaws and such liminal people can fulfill this role. However this isn’t because they don’t ascribe to certain rules that they don’t have their own.
I am, like many others, a very structured individual. I’ve been brought up in an environment where I was explicitly told that I was to become a self-reliant individual able to think by myself. I understood very early not all “given rules” work at all times, and that somes could never work for me. As the individual I would grow up to be, it would become necessary that I either conform to the world around me, thus giving up about the whole self-reliance thing in order to repress myself, or find the ability to make my own place and exist according to a slighty different set of rules even though it would mean I would rarely be in peace with society. I chose to walk my own path.
This is not to say I’m the ultimate rebel – I’m not. But because of who I am – that is, Liminal – and as I don’t want to give up on this, I need to be Strong in order to take it all, and if I’ve lived up to this very moment as you are reading me, knowing all the fucking crap I’ve been through, even though for a long time I didn’t consider myself “strong” because I wasn’t the way a Warrior seemed to be, I can tell you what it’s really like and all the fucking Strength you need to keep being. Liminality isn’t just about beauty and musings and self-ponderings; sometimes it’s just about fighting (back), survival and self-reliance. A lot of people seem unaware of this, because they marvel over the magic of it all and don’t get the bigger picture, unless they experience it themselves.
This is the price to pay and I won’t surrender – in spite of everything, to me living up to my standards and staying true to myself is clearly worth it… even when it is as challenging as Liminality. What seems like a very theorical or metaphorical affair is real life to me. I am getting tired of writing over archetypes and metaphors, because this never show integrally how real or substantial or tangible it is. It resonates with the deepest, most primal and practical aspects of who I am, in my daily life and choices, as much as into my brain.
Not simply part of a personal mythology, but living liminal in flesh on a daily basis.

Liminal Animal

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

Gender VS Animality

A while ago, on the Animal Lounge, Liesk asked to the tranimal folk out there if being trans was related in any way to their therianthropy, or something along the lines of how does one element mesh with the other. I’ve been Internetless for a few months so as I couldn’t reply at the moment, I thought I’d write an essay on this offline and post it later.
Let’s put this straight: no, for the most part I don’t think there is some kind of meaningful connection between the two things for me, but that’s the reason I want to develop and write this. Maybe this is a try to sort things out in details, dig a little deeper and put onto paper thoughts I’ve mulled over for a while. Another thing that got me thinking is, sure there are a bunch of gender-variant people around, as in people who say they don’t identify much with the gender people slap onto them, and a couple of people who clearly identify as Female to Male or such, but most of them haven’t started transitioning (which is totally fine). So I’m writing this as some kind of entertainment and for the records.
This is where I stand: I am a transguy. Female to Other if you want the specifics, but suffice to say that I was raised as a woman and I prefer male pronouns. I’m not really female anymore and I don’t want to be exactly like a biological man. I identify with the masculine end of androgyny, or the androgynous end of masculinity, whichever. I’ve been taking testosterone since the beginning of 2007, and now it shows enough that I’m perceived as male most of time; generally as long as I want to, but I’m fine discussing gender topics with most people so I easily talk about my transidentity. Things are different than from the time I was out or stealth without passing as a man, and I’ve learned and grown a lot as a person since then.
I’m an animal-person. I shy away from the term “therianthrope” because therians are people who read about the concept of therianthropy and feel it sounds like what they are, whereas I just am a raven and clouded leopard. Felinity is easier to word because it’s unambiguous; ravenness is harder to describe but as much present. Animality’s another identity-thing along with gender, and both are constant enough that I don’t vary in masculinity, felinity or ravenness over time. I guess that’s the only common pattern, unless you take transpecism, trans-identity and synaesthesia together as a pattern for “brain-fucked”. I’m not interested in discussing animal identity with non-therians, so I only tell good friends and mention it once in a while.
I don’t feel my animal aspects have a gender. I don’t have animals in my head that have their own identities, nor do I identify as an animal of a specific sex – I don’t believe I’m a male raven, as an example. Gender identity is one thing, species identity is another. I’m both clouded leopard and masculine, so I may be similar to a male clouded leopard, but outside of mating and raising cubs most cats tend to do the same job in the wild, so I won’t speculate about what feline gender roles are supposed to be like. Maybe I would think otherwise if I identified as an animal that has marked sexual dimorphism, but even if I see ravens and clouded leopards in general as gender-neutral, I don’t think of them as such because I am androgynous, nor do I identify as androgynous because my animals sound gender-neutral.
Besides, androgyny is about being ambiguous, both feminine and masculine, while neutrality tends more towards being non- or agendered; a lack of gender or, arguably, another gender entierely that does not appear on the masculine-feminine spectrum. Everybody exhibit gendered-connoted traits, so like with perfection you can only get close to neutrality, not reach it. We’re not machines.
When I experience the social world, people put gender on the foreground. I would get on the underground train, a clouded ravenpard trans person in a human environment. On the way back the train is crowded and I get pressed against two pretty russian women, kissing and holding hands, who notice me with interest, exchange a few words, probably pondering whether I’m a boy or a butch dyke, smiling and making eyes at me for a long moment. I successively:

1) get annoyed at the crowd in my personal space
2) am reminded I’m French and I don’t get a word of what they say
3) am reminded my gender is less than clear for some people
4) suppose I’m attractive?…
5) “… shit” *Turns head and blushes furiously.*

Ego-boost = +1; social skills = 0.
I deal better with criticism.
Animality exists independently from other’s actions, in what gets my attention, my specific sense of territoriality, my thoughts. People can only act and react to it in a primal and generic way, primate at most but non-feline and non-corvine; and it can be confusing to me. Whereas gender is much more interactive and folk more consciously and aggressively seek for it, for clues to adapt and communicate accordingly (that can confuse me as well). What I’m getting at is that the expression and existence itself of gender is much more tied to the people thereabouts, like invisible ink only showing under a warm lamp; otherwise the script is non-existent. Animality is more like some discreet, obscure form of Braille – ever-existing script perceptible under light as in darkness, but unless people know how to make sense of it, it will only be like any texture and won’t exist as a meaningful message.
Whatever, fuck the 3am comparisons. Anyway, Liesk raised another interesting point asking why he kept stumbling upon female-bodied gender-variant animal-folk, specifically, and where the male-bodied people were. Maybe the answer lies in how most folk’s identity contructs itself – if you know how identity, gender and other mental representations work in society. Biological men tend to construct their conception of gender opposing the feminine and masculine aspect, pretty much. The binarism is more likely inherently stronger.
This feminine/masculine opposition is not so much the identity core of most women-raised people; maybe this allow female-bodied individuals to construct their identity more easily outside of binary norms, and help allowing more fluidity and (self)acceptance of those “different” identities. I know of many more FtMs who are “gender-fluid”, or non-binary in some ways, than MtFs; just like I know more biological women who do not identify with what women are supposed to be like, than biological men not playing the traditional masculine roles, even though they have more freedom and privileges, being the dominant figures of our hetero-patriarchal society. Of course that’s just a general tendency and individuals still vary a lot from each others.
My identity is outside of binary norms, and it translates into my body as well. I do not fit the scientific definitions of male and female. This is a trans body, with its own specificities – and it is my body, no “error” there, no need to victimize myself. I just want to make it better, and better is not akin to a standard male body. If I could have fangs and fur that’d be great, but it’s not possible and I can live without writing angsty poems about it. Transition actually brought some “plus” regarding animality. My voice now sounds more like a croaking purr, and while I kept my light bones, I took some pounds of muscles. My body frame is more feline and bird-like than ever. My short mohawk is both fur and feather-crest. Even though I cannot say animality and gender really mesh together, physical transition affects both.
The Werewolf figure is not the “Other” anymore – this creature of folklore that belongs to canine-people. Without trying, with no warning, I reappopriated it through transition. It meant nothing to me, other than being of some interest in fiction. Now my body’s transforming, covering in hair. It starts on the legs and climbs up my thighs, on the front and inside; the down on my tummy lengthens and darkens imperceptibly more with time. Then the hair spreads from arms to hands, and my jawline and cheeks grow something more of a beard. My muscles increase tenfold, some clothes significantly tighten. Voice gets low and husky, body scents change. Transmen probably are the closest relatives to werewolves together with Canis lupus.
I guess I could relate to were-leopards or bird shapeshifters, since I’m a ravenpard, but really, gender and animality are pretty unrelated to me. The first furry animal-human creature in my at-least-partially-French imagery is the werewolf, the loup-garou, so that’s what comes to my mind and that’s apparently how I articulate the freak part of my identity as a transguy. I could as well have identified as a cyborg of some sort; some trans people have done that. I actually think of it about surgery, but that’s not as strong. Maybe once I get cut on the slab and stitched back, I’ll be a cyborg, or a Frankeinstein monster. For now, without it being therianthropic in the least way, I feel like some kind of werewolf.
Unrelated to the fact I’m a raven and clouded leopard. Unexpected. Likewise I got a bridge piercing as I’ve wanted one for a long time, and wearing it reminds me of what snarling can feel like – I can’t put that into words. This isn’t a gender thing, but another kind of body mod that holds a special meaning to me. I find no real connection between animality and gender, but it seems to intertwine with many other facets of my life.