Let me preface this entry by saying that I am an active Tumblr user. I’ve been on the website for a few years now and it has certainly opened my eyes to many things. Tumblr is known for fostering online communities, allowing practically any type of subculture to reach out to members. I know that there are countless subcultures on Tumblr that I’ve never heard of before, but after researching I stumbled upon one that I’m surprised was entirely novel to me. For my entry I want to discuss the community of otherkins: people who believe they were born in the wrong body.
Max Read states that:
An otherkin is a being born into the wrong body. Not just with the wrong parts, but as the wrong species: people who identify as otherkin believe that they are a wolves, or elves, or really any kind of being, born into a human body.
Naturally, I was fascinated. Read goes on to interview Eric Draven, who identifies as both an otherkin and a fictive (someone who believes they are a fictional character in a human body). He told Read that in past lives he believes he was a dark elf and a Deku Scrub (a creature from The Legend of Zelda video game series). According to Read, this community of otherkin has existed for 30 years now, first emerging in the 1990s. Read discusses the difference between otherkin of the past and otherkin today, the main one being that today many otherkin use social justice methods to defend their community. In the early stages of the community, most identified with these non-human selves in a more spiritual way. Today, however, members of the community make the provocative claim that they are no different than people who are transgender – clearly something that has caused a good deal of backlash.
After discovering the basics of the otherkin community, I decided to explore it firsthand. The Tumblr page ‘Kin Speak’ serves as a resource page for otherkin who wish to communicate with each other anonymously. Despite the page being inactive for a year, it is still ripe with personal accounts from people in the otherkin community. Many people send in submissions about their personal experiences as being a part of the otherkin community and facing everyday life. For instance, here is an example of a typical posting:
The poster did not specify what non-human form she identifies as, yet she expresses the idea of the people of this community reaching out to others like them for guidance. She seeks help from her community because clearly she cannot reach out in her real life world. Many users will like the posts and sometimes comment with advice. A common theme on the page is members posting about their confusion over their identity.
This posting shows an example of this confusion and the response of the community. The poster explains what they identify as and goes on to seek out acceptance from the community. I feel that this post exemplifies the search for identity that is practically the crux of the otherkin community. The users answering the poster’s inquiry are taking the matter seriously, offering suggestions and advice within the realm of the otherkin. Another common type of posting consists of someone who talks about discovering that they are an otherkin. They commonly talk about how they had always felt like either a certain animal, fantastical creature, or fictional character and that upon discovering otherkin were able to identify with the members. These posts are met with acceptance and support by the otherkin community.
Perhaps the most fascinating postings on the page, however, were those of people who decided to leave the community. Being doubtful seems to be a prevalent part of the community, a lot of members questioning whether they are otherkin or what the different components to their identity are. Many people talk about the difficulties of being an otherkin and facing their everyday lives. However, the most shocking post that I discovered about a person leaving the otherkin community is as follows:
Up until this point, it was easy to make a joke out of the otherkin community. When I first discovered it, I talked to my roommates about it and we laughed, wondering how a person could possibly consider themselves to be a cat, a mermaid, or a video game character. Which, I’m sure is the instinctive reaction for most people not a part of this community. I’m a very open-minded person and always try to embrace these different subcultures but was having a hard time doing so with otherkin. However, once I read this post, my sympathetic side kicked in. It is clear that this person went through a difficult time once she or he decided to leave the otherkin community. Not to mention the mental illnesses that were previously going untreated. And yet, this person is still reaching out to the community to help anyone that is experiencing the same thing. The person has not rejected the community but still embraces it because she or he understands. I find that an interesting aspect of this post in particular is the comment left that reads, “as I’m eating dinner for christ’s sake.” The air of acceptance that permeates most of this Tumblr page does not exist here, the original poster’s integrity responded to with rejection.
My search brought me to a few personal Tumblr pages dedicated to interacting with the otherkin community. Whenever people questioned their identity or changed/modified what non-human species they were, they were usually received with praise from other members and encouragement. However, that is not the case once the otherkin community is brought into question by outsiders. On a board dedicated to the Furry community (people that dress up as life-sized animals) was a discussion about the difference between therians and otherkin. Therians, which is argued in this discussion, are people that believe they are part animal while otherkin believe their soul is that of another being. The discussion is met with a great deal of hostility toward therians and otherkin, however. Users call these groups “batshit” “retarded” and generally reject the notion, believing that they are just people who want to escape reality. I do find it ironic that this backlash is coming from a Furry forum, a subculture that is often intermingled with otherkin and therians.
Quite possibly the worst place of backlash toward the otherkin community is on Tumblr. There are a lot of trolls found under the otherkin tag, people using otherkin specific tags and then openly mocking them. These people are looking for the retaliation from the otherkin community, hoping to get a rise from them. Many postings are also accusing the otherkin community of escapism and not facing the real world. Some people argue that otherkin use their identity to justify abusive behaviors and to refuse medical treatment. Instead of facing issues, they hide behind these masks.
Personally, what I find to be most disturbing about the community is that they compare themselves to people who identify as transgender. They feel that they go through the same struggles and discrimination that people who are transgender face. It is offensive to the transgender community to offer such a comparison. Some people in the otherkin community will even go so far as to speak out against transgender community for not accepting them, which is then responded to with backlash. This does not settle well with me. I do not find it fair for this community to compare its struggles with the transgender community, a community which has a long history of facing oppression. Not only have they faced oppression, but they have faced it in real life.
Yet, in Read’s article, he offers a description that is important to note:
Being otherkin…[is]about being marginalized, ignored, laughed at, and oppressed.
This analysis makes it easier to sympathize with the otherkin community. When you get down to the bottom of it, the otherkin community is no less different than other subcultures on the internet. The idea of not fitting into the mainstream and rejecting the values that it holds is found in the otherkin community. Many of the members face bullying and scorn, especially on the internet. The problem with the otherkin community being brought to the public eye is that the majority of the reaction is mockery. Yet it seems as though a good deal of the members are misguided people, often times people suffering with mental illnesses. It seems to be a form of unhealthy escapism, which begs the question – what are their real lives like? I’m not sure what to conclude from this research. However, I do know that through it, my opinions have changed. Instead of seeing otherkin as something to make fun of, I see them as people who are struggling to find an identity and a community. With otherkin, they are able to find a type of family and people who they can relate to and form a connection with. It may in fact be a connection they would not be able to make in the real world. The way I’ve always looked at subcultures is that as long as they aren’t harming anyone, then who am I to judge? And, hey, maybe they’re on to something – my younger self would have definitely enjoyed the idea of being a mermaid, after all.