If you're unfamiliar with the terms I am using in this blog entry, I would suggest checking out this handy little dictionary here before reading any further.
I go through intense knowledge seeking phases. I enjoy reading and learning about weird things. Human beings fascinate and perplex me on equal levels, and I like to try and get into head spaces completely foreign to my own generally happy outlook. One week it's serial killers, the next week it's furries, and this week it's otherkin and all of the instense subcultures that come along with it. If you didn't click on the handy dandy little link above, otherkin is basically when someone feels uncomfortable in their human form - kind of how transgendered people feel odd in the body of the sex they do not identify with. However, instead of thinking they are someone else, they generally think they are something else: that is, they believe they are an animal or another humanoid esque species. Wolves or faeries. Cats or vampires. Along with this comes a whole slew of other words that even I don't know the meanings of - things meaning wolf trapped in a human body; words meaning they can't feel sexual attraction unless they are emotionally invested in a person, things like that.
Basically, it's a whole bunch of batshit insane weaboo craziness, and I love it.
Never one to sit back and not form opinions of my own on something, I started reading. And reading, And then I did some more reading. I delved into the darkest recesses of livejournal and tumblr. I read with no judgement. I quirked my eyebrows and tilted my head and scribbled notes. And then I talked to the two people I constantly talk about everything to, and I unloaded my brain. I organized my thoughts. And that, dear readers, is why I am writing this article.
Before I begin, I need people to know this: I am not intolerant to anyone. If you genuinely, truly, 100% believe you are Sephiroth trapped in the body of a teenage girl... well, that's a little weird, but more power to you if you can make it work for you. What I don't like are people who use these things for attention and prey on weak, insecure fans for their own means (this community is rife with money laundering and batshit con artists who think they are vampire slayers, but that's a rant for a different time).
When I first heard about otherkins, I scoffed. I rolled my eyes. I thought, "gosh, these people are such lame attention whores with no amount of social functionality". But then I remembered Mint. And I was humbled.
|A crude drawing I did of Mint, my teenage alter ego.|
Mint was my alter ego from the time I was about 12 to 16. To give you a little background: I was homeschooled from Kindergarten to my Freshman year of highschool. I lived in the wilds of Alaska and my only friends were religiously sheltered homeschool girls who were blinking wide eyed in the light of day. I spent the majority of my time online, dodging pedophiles in Pokemon chat rooms and fucking around on Palace (an avatar chat client). I spent the rest of my time devouring Fantasy novels (I probably read one per day), reading comic books, playing my Nintendo, and watching outlandish amounts of anime (any VHS I could get my filthy paws on, at the used book store or at Blockbuster. Keep in mind this was before anime was particularly mainstream, so getting ahold of it was very difficult, especially for a 12 year old awkward otaku fangirl.)
I was achingly lonely. I did not have the peer interaction most young women of my age had, so my best friends were fictional characters. My best online friend Megan (who I met on Neopets) and I spent hours a day roleplaying our Dragonball Z universe over MSN (we eventually even wrote a fanfiction based off of these intensely in depth roleplays, where I eventually fell in love with and was engaged to Trunks). I remember acute bouts of awkward teenage insecurity about my sexuality because I felt intense feelings for a fictional character in a Dragonriders of Pern roleplay I was involved in that was played by a woman. I thought that if I could feel love and attraction to a fictional male character she was playing, maybe I was attracted to aspects of this woman?
Roleplay was my way to escape. I roleplayed Harry Potter, X-men, Dragonriders of Pern, Gundam Wing, Dragonball Z. I frequented the Yahoo Chat Room roleplaying rooms (I even had my own tavern called the Burning Phoenix Tavern and Inn, which was owned by my ice mage elf named Asta). And from all of this roleplaying Mint was born... and for awhile, Mint was my best friend.
Mint was everything I wasn't. She was beautiful, lithe, slender, talented, and interesting. People were drawn to her. And Mint was an elf (when I was a young teenager I was so fixated with elves that I wanted cosmetic surgery later in life to peak my ears). She was hyper, silly, and whenever I acted like Mint in chat rooms people seemed to like me more. She was an extension of my personality, but by playing her and blaming odd thoughts and notions on her, I was more free to be myself than I ever had been before.
When I finally attended highschool for the first time, I was still very much Mint. I wore elf ears to school a lot (a lot of the incessant bullying I went through was because of this), I channeled her bubbly personality and style of dress (elegant and dark). But as I aged, Mint started to fall away: because I started to become her. All of the personality traits I emulated with Mint I began to adopt... and I truly believe I have this character to thank for my success and the fact that people seem to experience magnetism towards me. Yes, I spent many more awkward years learning how to NOT be strange and socially unacceptable (don't worry, the strangeness never went away), but Mint definitely contributed to me growing up and having the strength to become the woman I wanted to be.
When you're a teenager, you feel like it's you against the world. No one understands you. If you have a rough relationship with your parents, it's even worse. If you live in a small town, it destroys you because you can't find anyone else like you. All you want is to feel unique, interesting, wanted. You want to be someone else, because you have no idea how to be you yet... and that, I believe, is where otherkin comes from.
However, the damaging part of this is the community. I luckily never really experienced anyone else who thought they were also elves, or I may very well still be just as weird and out of sorts now at 23. Communities like otherkin are full of people who don't feel like they quite BELONG, but thanks to the internet they have found hundreds of people who form an alliance of similar thinking. People who stumble into otherkin may not even know they have a wolf trapped inside of their body until they begin to read similar accounts from other angsty teenagers. "That sounds like me!" they think, and they finally find a group of people who accept them. They feel wanted and okay. They fall deeper and deeper, and there are people who turn otherkin against everyone else. It's everything an insecure, damaged person could want: validation, feeling special, being someone you aren't, and an excuse to act any way you want because you have hit a new plane of spiritual awareness.
But perhaps these otherkin begin growing up. They begin thinking: "Well, I'm a grown up now. I don't feel so out of sorts in my own skin. Maybe I like being a human and not a wolf." They voice these thoughts to the community that has helped them through so much. And the community backlashes against them. "It's what they want you to think. You're still a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're being brainwashed by them. Don't leave us. YOU'RE STILL ONE OF US."
And thus, instead of fulfilling the role of aiding someone in growing up in the way it did for me, it enables them to continue to be a child. It enables them to be around damaging people, many of whom have actual mental illnesses and prey upon those weaker than them. Why would these communities want to help others grow up and come into their own? It means they are alone again. It means they - who cannot let go of their delusions - are forced to become self aware, to take responsibility for themselves. And for some people this is just way too much to handle.
I think a healthy dose of make believe can help anyone. I think you should never let your imagination die. Hell - I still put on elf ears every other Sunday and go beat up other big kids with fake swords - and I doubt I will ever stop playing dress up and emulating characters I love. But when it comes down to it, I can differentiate reality from pretend. And the fact that huge communities of people CANNOT or REFUSE to accept the difference is scary, because people trapped in a world of delusion can be incredibly damaging to themselves, others, and society. (I am referring to this story about the "Final Fantasy 7" house, and this story about "Sarah")
There's my rant for the week. If you would like to join the discussion, please comment below. I would love to hear from anyone and everyone on this topic.