Category Archives: Otherkin

Johnston—On Having a Furry Soul

On having a furry soul: transpecies identity and ontological indeterminacy in Otherkin subcultures

by Jay Johnston

[Johnston, Jay. 2013. “On Having a Furry Soul: Transpecies Identity and Ontological Indeterminacy in Otherkin Subcultures.” In Animal Death, edited by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and Jay Johnston, 293–306. Sydney University Press.]

Points

  • The paper “examines the use the concept of the ‘animal’ is put to in the con­struction of Otherkin (Therian) identity and the ramifications of this figuration for conceptualising animal and human ontology. Does an Otherkin presence paradoxically require the erasure of the ‘animal’?” (294).

Otherkin: Fluid Definitions

  • “one of the delights of Otherkin subjectivity is the destabilisation of the real-fiction binary their concept of self proposes. Sharp distinc­tion cannot be drawn between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’. When considering Otherkin engagement with the ‘animal: this is not purely a case of an imaginary relation” (294).
  • Johnston calls this Otherkin subjectivity transpecies identity
    • “This term is employed to represent a fluid subject position that questions normative categories including concepts of species and dimorphic concepts of gender. Further, transpecies identity undermines the categorical distinction of ‘human’ and ‘animal” (295).
  • “The role of the imagina­tion (not in the sense of derisory fantasy but as a significant epistemolo­gical tool for recognising and relating to one’s own species alterity) and creativity are privileged as modes for communicating with the other as­pects of self and for working with the Otherkin subjectivity in everyday life” (297).

Tracing the demise of both presence and absence: Derrida’s différance

  • Derrida for complete dummies like myself (this is not part of the article; it is for me and/or the hypothetical-etherial readership this comps blog does not have)
    1. Saussure says signs and signifiers have no inherent meaning—meaning only comes from their relation to one another (which is completely arbitrary)
    2. therefore, difference comes before meaning
    3. to stretch this beyond language—différance comes before Being; in other words, there exists an alterity to you before you do
    4. BUT this isn’t possible, because it is alter to what? A thing that is not yet a thing can’t be negated.
    5. Says Derrida—there is no identity that “is itself” by virtue of its being.
    6. What we mistake for “presence” is the “trace” of différance in articulation between existence-nonexistence, past-future, sign-signifier, self-alterity, etc…
  • This is all well and good to think with, but it leads to gems like this:
    • “This différance is a constantly erased trace, ineradicable but forever bey­ond the grasp of known presence (or absence). Paradoxically, this trace presences – without presencing – the other: radical alterity. It is a mo­bile, impartial interface that undermines the logic that proposes the dichotomy absence-presence” (298).
      • gross

Meeting the animal-other

  • “How can we conceptualise the Otherkin’s ontological rela­tionship to their Other? Does such a conceptualisation enact a death of both the ‘animal’ and the ‘human’?” (300).
  • A lot of animal rights discourse is modelled on women’s rights discourse, but this does not necessarily result in the re-inscription of a predictable dualism (male-culture/female-nature) onto species rela­tions. Indeed, the question of the ‘animal’ offers serious challenges to such normative logics” (301).
  • Derrida’s animot—half animal, half machine that is “Neither animal nor non-animal, neither organic nor inorganic, neither living nor dead … This quasi-animal would no longer have to relate itself to being as such” (Derrida quoted on 302).
    • “Is this also the ontology of Otherkin? A subjectivity, which in its multiplicity, pushes on the boundaries of prescribed human ontologies (neither process nor substance; but something betwixt and between)” (302).

Transpecies selves and the life—death of the particular

  • “In conclusion, a series of disparate relations remain. Paradoxically, while challenging the boundaries of the human, Otherkin identities simultaneously desire to maintain the definitions and borders given to animal and human in dominant discourse: otherwise the construc­tion of their own difference (from the ‘norm’) disperses. Can such a proposition of human-animal identity be proposed in a way in which radical difference is not elided?” (303-304).
    • “That is a proposal of Transpecies identity where ‘Other’ ceases to be the operative word: for it is always ‘other to what?” (303).
  • “Although it has been noted herein that Therianthrope subjectivity can be read as em­ploying a universal concept of the animal that does not ethically take into account radical difference (an alterity not premised upon the hu­man or dimorphic concepts of gender), it is equally evident that the questioning of the human and of normative identity categories that the subculture embraces is valuable. It is a more complex, creative and re­spectful approach to subject identity than that which is currently found in normative anthropocentric discourses of the human” (305).
    • “To consider oneself inherently and ontologically betwixt and between species is per­haps not so much pathological as political” (305).

Continue reading Johnston—On Having a Furry Soul

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Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet 

graduate thesis by Eric Stephen Altman

[Altman, Eric Stephen. 2010. “Posthum/an/ous: Identity, Imagination, and the Internet.” Thesis, Appalachian State University.]

Points

  • based mostly on online written materials, as well as 10 interviews
  • an English department MA thesis
  • looks at Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin as three fandoms with three similar aspects
    1. emphasize an online avatar that represents identity to members
    2. engages in fan fiction
    3. has a sexual, fetishistic component as a prominent feature
      • “The object of this thesis is to engage in and describe three different communities that engage in community behavior that deviates from and challenges mainstream culture. Each of these communities is primarily based on the Internet and their members consistently identify with an identity that is not human. These communities often express discontentment with their human body or existence and instead idealize the conception of another state of existence. Interestingly enough, many members justify their beliefs by stating that they must have once been the creature that they identity with so, believing their past lives to be the one where they were once happy and accepted, as opposed to the sham of their human existence” (7).

By describing Otherkin as a fandom, Altman misses the boat completely

  • the piece references the furry subculture along with Otherkin & Otakukin as if they were comparable levels of identity
    • the problem= Furries identify with a non-human entity; Otherkin/Otakukin identify as a non-human entity
    • this leads the author to treat Otherkin identity as a fundamentally fictional construct, which is not the case to Otherkin
    • “Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction” (33).

Altman gets close to describing Otherkin belief as a valid religion-like system by linking fandoms to mythology and religious structure:

  • “The devotion of fandoms to media is a new kind of mythology. Fans have the opportunity to adhere themselves to a system of fundamental guidelines that appeal to them, and these moral and societal edicts are transmitted through the narratives that are crafted by media and literature. The heroes and saints of religion are transmitted within the narrative of popular culture, and archetypes of mythology continue to define the way in which the viewer experiencing the media understands characters … A key difference between fandoms and religions is that fandoms are inherently outside of cultural hegemony” (41).

But then falls prey to the fandom construct by viewing Otherkin personal histories and narratives of awakening as genres of fan fiction—governed by rules, but completely fictional:

  • “if I were to endeavor to make a persona in the Otherkin community, I would have the nearly limitless horizons of fantasy literature and media from which to draw inspiration. I could easily craft a creature that defies all logical sense, but under the loose framework of fantasy, could indeed be completely plausible; if I establish enough background and history then my idea could be “believable” within the context of the fan community” (63).

Since the Otherkin belief system is based around the cultural productions of a fandom, it is an alternative ontological choice the members have made rather than a true belief system

  • “trappings of humanity isn’t so much an indication of the fandom’s sanity so much as a critique of a world that discarded them; humanity hasn’t worked, and so therefore the alternatives are explored” (89).
  • This is not necessarily true or false, but the fact that Altman starts from the position of a fandom precludes any exploration of ontological possibilities and does not take the participants of his research seriously.

Abstract

The Furry, Otherkin, and Otakukin are Internet fan subcultures whose members personally identify with non-human beings, such as animals, creatures of fantasy, or cartoon characters. I analyze several different forms of expression that the fandoms utilize to define themselves against the human world. These are generally narrative in execution, and the conglomeration of these texts provides the communities with a concrete ontology. Through the implementation of fiction and narrative, the fandoms are able to create and sustain complex fictional personas in complex fictional worlds, and thereby create a “real” subculture in physical reality, based entirely off of fiction. Through the use of the mutability of Internet performance and presentation of self-hood, the groups are able to present themselves as possessing the traits of previous, non-human lives; on the Internet, the members are post-human. The members no longer need to suffer through the society of humans around them: they can reclaim their past lives and live out a posthum/an/ous existence

Continue reading Altman—Posthum/an/ous

Robertson—The Beast Within

The Beast Within, Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement

by Venetia Laura Delano Robertson

[Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. 2013. “The Beast Within: Anthrozoomorphic Identity and Alternative Spirituality in the Online Therianthropy Movement.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16 (3): 7–30.]

Points

  • Therians (along with Real Vampires and Otherkin) are part of the postmodern project of re-enchanting the West
  • The Internet provides a perfect space for this re-enchantment, as it affords all of the necessary elements of what Christopher Partridge calls popular occulture—”a melting pot of Paganism, Esotericism, Jungian psychology, folk medicine, modern superstitions, and paranormal theories” (8).
  • Also, “the hypermediacy of cyberspace promotes the appropriation of spiritual concepts into“open-source” belief systems, such as Neopaganism, that advocate creativity and individualism” (9).
  • “Therians believe they have non-human (hence super-human) souls, unique metaphysical properties and abilities (animal-human auras, shape-shifting capabilities, memories of past lives), and are immersed in the language of magic; hence, constructing a Therian identity is indicative of new modes of self-sacralization” (11).
  • breaks down the “tenets” of therianthropy: internally based experience; awakenings; and shifting (mental, phantom, and physical).
  • “Though it is not religious in the traditional sense, Therianthropy is an eclectic ontological position system that draws upon myth, magic, and both main- stream and subcultural media to reify a self that is other-than-human” (24).

Abstract

This paper will introduce a little-known online phenomenon: the socio-spiritual Therianthropy movement. Therianthropes are individuals who identify as part human and part non-human animal in a biological, mental, and metaphysical capacity. Therianthropes have, in essence, an anthrozoomorphic identity that draws upon the spiritual and supernatural associations of the animal kingdom. I discuss Therianthropes as animal-human “shape-shifters” to highlight the sacred and liminal identity these individuals have formulated through their engagement with “popular occulture.” Therianthropy, as both a web-based community and an identity, exemplifies the postmodern bent of new spiritual directions in the re-enchanted West. KEYWORDS: Therianthropy, animal, shape-shifting, identity, popular occulture” Continue reading Robertson—The Beast Within

Robertson—The Law of the Jungle

The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement

by Venetia Laura Delano Robertson

[Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. 2012. “The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement.” Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 14 (2).]

Points

  • Therianthropy exists as part of a larger occultic miliieu – which “encompasses superstition, folklore, the New Age, popular culture, conspiracy theories, and Jungian theory, to name only a few ingredients in this spiritual melting pot” (259).
  • Describes in detail the beginnings of AHWW
  • Includes a discussion of grilling—“the process of interrogating and challenging new members to ensure that they sub- scribe to the accepted view of Therianthropy and will therefore be serious contributors to the community” (269).
  • Frames Therianthropy as liminal in nature
  • Doesn’t seem to think an anthropology of Therians would be possible

Abstract

The Therianthropy community is comprised of individuals who profess an other-than-human identity, in particular an animal identity. Existing almost solely online, this socio-spiritual identity group experiences tensions between the individual and personal gnosis, and the community and communal consensus, when it comes to evincing the epistemologies, that is, knowledges and ways of knowing concerning Therianthropy. By examining how themes of authority, belonging, and both group and self-acceptance are played out in the discourse and activity of this movement, implicit modes of initiation and rites of passage can be envisaged. These modes are vital for the success of this movement, as they continuously solidify a sense of group and individual identity through the clear designation of an in- and out- group. Yet, the Therianthrope is held up as a liminal figure, an other than human being who resides in a sacred, interstitial state. This is the essence of what is thought to separate Therianthropes from other humans, and what makes this identity group a challenge to traditional conceptions of initiation and rites of passage. Keywords: animal-human; identity; online community; other-than-human; Therianthropy.” Continue reading Robertson—The Law of the Jungle

Grivell et al—An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community

An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community

by Timothy Grivell, Helen Clegg, Elizabeth C. Roxburg

[Grivell, Timothy, Helen Clegg, and Elizabeth C. Roxburgh. 2014. “An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community.” Identity 14 (2): 113–35.]

Points

coming from psychology

interviewed five self-identified Therians online

found three patterns throughout interviews

  1. journey of self-discovery—mental shifts and phantom limbs occur in self-reflection that implies good mental health
  2. transspeciesism—interviewees made links to homosexuality and “coming out” as a part of Therian identity as well as to transexuality in that they did not feel they belonged in their bodies
  3. the “Therian Shadow”—the “animal” represents immature, uncivilized, and shameful behavior patterns in Western culture, so those behaviors are repressed, doing particular damage to the psyches of Therians. This creates the internal Therian Shadow, based on Jungian psychological archetypes. Therians mitigate this by asserting that they are “in control” of their theriotype behaviors.

Abstract

Therianthropy is the belief that one is part nonhuman animal. Opinions vary in the academic literature as to whether it is a mental illness or a spiritual belief. Although believed to be rare in the Western world, the development of a Western online community of therians who largely have not come to the attention of the academic community suggests that it is not well understood. In this study, five therians were interviewed about how the adoption of the term therian impacts their identity. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, three themes emerged: (a) a journey of self-discovery, (b) transpeciesism, and (c) the therian shadow. The personal discovery and acceptance of therianthropy appears to be a gradual development process. Strong parallels were made totransgenderism. A desire for public acceptance was expressed by the respondents. ”

Continue reading Grivell et al—An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of Identity in the Therian Community

Kendall—Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back

Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back: Identity and interactional tensions on LiveJournal

by Lori Kendall

[Kendall, Lori. 2007. “‘Shout Into the Wind and It Shouts Back’: Identity and Interactional Tensions on LiveJournal.” First Monday 12 (9). http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2004/1879.%5D

Points

based on two years of participant observation research on Live Journal w/ 26 interviewees

found they LiveJournal communication causes certain online-specific tensions, four in particular:

  1. private journal vs. public performance—the diary-like format of LiveJournal conflicts with the fact that posts are public, but attention to audience concerns can make posts seem less genuine
  2. efficiency vs. audience management—LJ users find the platform a convenient and efficient way to get information to people, however, it becomes necessary to control their presentation of self to different groups, undermining any of the efficiency gained
  3. control vs. connection—the posting model leads to a type of communication that is more declamation than dialogue
  4. autonomy vs. the desire for comments—When posts that represent their users’ live fail to get enough comments, users are tempted to post things that would get comments, rather than post what they would like

One interviewee mentions being Otherkin, but the topic is not addressed in the piece

Abstract

The use of LiveJournal to create personal journal–style weblogs exposes issues concerning identity management and audience control. Tensions exist between (1) notions of diaries as personal and private vs. the recognition of online journals as public and performative; (2) the efficiency of blending one’s social contacts into one audience vs. the ability to provide different self–presentations to different groups; (3) the desire for personal control of discourse vs. the desire for connection to others; and (4) values of individualism and autonomy vs. the desire for feedback and attention.

Continue reading Kendall—Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back

Probyn-Rapsey—Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder

Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al

by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey

[Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. 2011. “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al.” Society & Animals 19: 294–301.]

Critiques Gerbasi et al on a few points:

  • while they work to define “furry,” the study does not try to define “human”
  • elides the controversy surrounding “gender identity disorder” diagnosis, thus legitimizing and furthering the pathologization of non-normative sexualities
  • does not address animal studies and “humanimal subjectivities”
  • gives subjects the choice of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual to choose from (more normative sexuality), and does not include respondents who choose other types (pan, omni, a, demi, etc)

Abstract

This is a response to an article published in Society & Animals in 2008 that argued for the existence of a “species identity disorder” in some furries. Species identity disorder is modeled on gender identity disorder, itself a highly controversial diagnosis that has been criticized for pathologizing homosexuality and transgendered people. !is response examines the claims of the article (and the design of the study itself ) and suggests that the typology it constructs is based on unexamined assumptions about what constitutes “human” identity and regulatory fictions of gender identity.

Keywords furry fandom, gender, gender identity disorder, sexuality, species identity disorder Continue reading Probyn-Rapsey—Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder