Otherkin are a subculture of people who identify as nonhuman, usually mythical creatures such as elves, dragons and fae. The object of an otherkin's identification is called their kintype. People may feel they are otherkin because of reincarnation, neurodivergence, archetypal resonance, or a number of other reasons. Most commonly, being otherkin is involuntary.
Otherkinity is arguably the largest and most visible alterhuman community. It has a long history, over which it has subsumed other groups such as the dragon and unicorn communities. Some people have also come to see it as an umbrella term that includes therianthropes and fictionkin.
Experiences[edit | edit source]
The following experiences are incredibly common, and commonly discussed, in otherkin circles. Most will experience some or all of these things, however none are exclusive to otherkin, or necessary to identify as such.
Awakening and questioning[edit | edit source]
See also: Questioning
As being otherkin is typically involuntary, people may undergo a realization and subsequent period of exploration. This is popularly referred to as awakening. Most people coming into the community have some idea of what they are, even if only a vague one. Many have experienced shifts, phantom sensations or abnormal instincts from a young age. While some otherkin know exactly what they are straight away, most discover the specifics over time. Common tools recommended for this include journaling, meditation, and studying real animal behaviour or mythology.
Thorough research has been considered an extremely important part of confirming one's kintype for most of the community's history. Many people expect other community members to be able to justify and answer questions about their identity when asked. However, the emphasis on this has decreased with newer generations. Some older community members criticize this trend, believing that it leaves people without the ability to introspect or think critically. Others have stated that the culture surrounding questioning is excessive, harsh and damaging.
Shifting[edit | edit source]
See also: Shifting
Many otherkin experience shifts, periods where their state of mind and perceptions become more like that of their kintype. Starting in the therian community, many people have attempted to define, categorize and list the types of shifts it is possible to experience. A particularly common type is the phantom shift, the heightened experience of phantom limbs.
Dysphoria[edit | edit source]
Some otherkin experience a sense of unease and unhappiness due to the mismatch between their physical body and that of their kintype. One might feel disconnected from their physical body and struggle with this discomfort. Alternatively, some otherkin may only undergo temporary moments of “not feeling quite right” in their bodies.
Species dysphoria has been compared to gender dysphoria, or an unease caused by a mismatch of one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth. Some individuals who experience both species and gender dysphoria describe an overlap in the discomfort caused by the conditions.
Some report experiencing species dysphoria for their whole lives and prior to realizing their identities.
Memories and noemata[edit | edit source]
Otherkin may understand things about their kintype intuitively, or as a result of memories or memory-like experiences.
Memories[edit | edit source]
Some otherkin, particularly those who attribute their identity to a past life, have memories of being their kintype. They may have these from an incredibly young age, or they may begin to surface during awakening. Memories may be episodic (explicit recollections of events), somatic (decontextualized sensory information), or semantic (general knowledge and facts about that life). They may be emotionally charged, and in some cases, even painful or traumatic.
Recovering past life memories has been a preoccupation for many otherkin. Particularly in spaces where spiritual explanations predominate, it has been assumed that most if not all otherkin will acquire them during awakening. The Lostkin Project was one such group that made this assumption, being founded to "bring the Lostkin more fully to themselves". They collected techniques described on various otherkin message boards, such as meditation, energy work, ritual, looking for signs in dreams, and the use of specific crystals. Other groups have focused more on techniques for analyzing and validating memories as legitimate.
Some writers have admonished the fixation on memories and past lives. They have described how easy it is to falsely attribute feelings to past life circumstances or outright fabricate memories. On a broader community level, the trend has contributed to the misconception that having a past life is the only way to be otherkin. Additionally, some have stated that a focus on past lives can prevent a person from seeing the most important part of the otherkin experience - being Other right now, in this life.
Noemata[edit | edit source]
A noema, in the alterhuman community, is any knowledge a person has about their identity. Strictly speaking, memories are also noemata, however this word is mostly used for information to which the word 'memory' does not easily apply. This could be because the noema does not have memory-like qualities, or because the person in question sees their identity as psychological.
People with noemata may feel that they "just know" things about their kintype's appearance, habitat or actions; or they may describe it in terms of being "as if" a past experience caused something, even though no such experience occurred.
History[edit | edit source]
1970s - 1990s: Forerunners, mailing lists and coining[edit | edit source]
Many people consider the Elf Queen's Daughters (EQD) to be the forerunners of the otherkin community. Some time in the early 1970s, the EQD began writing letters to different covens and spiritual groups. Many of these letters were published in early issues of the pagan-focused Green Egg magazine. In 1979 and possibly 1980, the Silver Elves, then known as the Sylvan Elves, began to publish letters similar to the EQD, with a collection published in the book Magical Elven Love Letters. The Silver Elves used a heptagram as an elven symbol, which later became adopted as a symbol for the wider otherkin community.
In 1990, an elf named R’ykandar Korra’ti started the Elfinkind Digest, a mailing list for other elves. However, as Korra’ti made the subscription to the Digest publicly joinable, many people who identified as creatures other than elves arrived. The word "otherkind" was coined to account for them - the "other" part meaning "as opposed to elvenkind".
1990s - 2000s: Moving to Web 1.0, encountering other nonhumans[edit | edit source]
Beginning in the late 90s, otherkin communities began to move onto personal websites, forums and newly emerging social media platforms. Many mailing lists created websites to more stably host content for their communities. After LiveJournal released its community feature, it also became a popular platform for otherkin and other nonhumans.
The House of Chimeras states that this was the catalyst for interactions between these various groups. Websites like Otherkin Resource Center and Shadow's Den also hosted information and links pertaining to therian, draconic, elven, vampire and angelic communities. As such hubs continued to serve as the common ground for these disparate groups, people came to see 'otherkin' as an umbrella term containing all of them. The therian community retained its own identity due to its size, but also contributed massively to otherkin culture in the following years. It introduced the concept of shifting, and many terms were derived from preexisting therian terminology, such as 'kintype' from 'theriotype'.
[edit | edit source]
Otherkin became incredibly active on tumblr starting in 2011, in spite of persistent harassment from trolls. This seemed to coincide with an increased desire for otherkin advocacy: people used tumblr to discuss the possibility of transspecies people being seen the same way as transgender people, and about options for physical transition. The otherkin community on tumblr became so prolific that many outside observers believed that otherkin were entirely a product of "tumblr identity politics".
As more people were introduced to the idea of otherkinity, the community had to contend with drifting understandings of the meaning of the word. An increasing number of people calling themselves otherkin identified with a nonhuman entity - frequently an abstract concept - rather than as it. Debate surrounding this phenomenon in 2014 lead to broader adoption of the word otherhearted (then 'animal-hearted'), and the coining of the word alterhuman.
On February 23rd, 2017, the word otherkin was added to Oxford Dictionaries.
Relationship to other communities[edit | edit source]
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Otherkin are often confused or conflated with other groups - historically furries, and more recently "kinnies". Additionally, many outside sources describe otherkin as transspecies, whether or not they self identify as such. Some otherkin believe the word alterhuman exacerbates this confusion, while others see it as a solution.
People from both inside and outside of the community have drawn comparisons between otherkin and the transgender community. Both anecdotal evidence and survey results point to a higher than average amount of otherkin being transgender. In the past, comparing nonhuman and transgender experiences has been controversial, however it is becoming increasingly accepted.
In the public eye[edit | edit source]
Otherkin have drawn the attention of academics, journalists, documentarians, and regular internet users.
Academic research[edit | edit source]
The first paper published on otherkin was Danielle Kirby's Alternative worlds: Metaphysical questing and virtual community amongst the otherkin, in 2008. The paper served mostly to introduce otherkin to academics in general. Subsequent academics treated otherkin primarily as a religious or "quasi-religious" phenomenon. They also typically described therians as a subtype of otherkin, even in papers specifically about therianthropy. Other common themes in research included:
- the role of the internet in enabling the otherkin and therian subcultures
- how otherkin and therians form their identities and justify their legitimacy
- what otherkinity and therianthropy represent about society's attitudes towards the nonhuman
As of recently, more papers have begun to view nonhuman identities through a narrative identity lens. Contemporary researchers have criticized the past conception of otherkinity as religious. More attention is being paid to the experiences of individual otherkin and therians, rather than looking at the whole community as a phenomenon. This has included more attention on shifts, phantom limbs, and awakening, as well as non-spiritual reasons for identifying as nonhuman. Researchers have also advocated for larger sample sizes in future studies.
House of Chimeras states that academic inquiry has been "very positive and welcomed" by the community. However, some people have questioned the methodology and conclusions of some research. The strong early emphasis on otherkin and therians with spiritual narratives has been particularly criticized. Some otherkin and therians have written responses to specific papers, including Devin Proctor's We are Spirits of Another Sort and On Being Non-Human; and Nikky Jackson's Alter-humanity An Examination into other than human individuals.
Media[edit | edit source]
In 2013, the documentary What!? I Think I'm An Animal was released. A segment from it in which Naia Ōkami states that "on all levels except physical, [she is] a wolf" became infamous as a meme after it was posted to Vine. The show was received almost universally negatively by otherkin and therians, and has been held up in the community as a warning of the dangers of talking to the media.
Public reaction[edit | edit source]
Outsider reactions to otherkin have been predominantly negative.Joseph P Laycock theorizes that negative reactions are because of the threat they present to the predominant social order:
"This anger seems to be inspired not by the deviant claims of the Otherkin but by the fact that they are able to find support for their beliefs and present a potential threat to the dominant nomos. A single individual with a deviant belief can be dismissed as a mental illness. However, when a community adopts a deviant belief system, substantially more effort is required to subjugate its worldview."
References[edit | edit source]
- Miaren Crow's Daughter. "So… You’re Awake?"
- littledrummerenby. (October 31st, 2015) "Okay, no, I need to talk about this."
- Mod Badger. (January 15th, 2015) "Figuring Out One’s Kintype"
- Elinox. (February 17th, 2012) "Flights of Fancy & Imagination Being Real"
- bitcheshavebirthdays. (November 11th, 2016) "I suppose, for us (as a system), questioning has never been the opposite of reinforcing validity [...]"
- The Flock of Changes. (March 21st, 2019) "Honestly, I’ve had shit I’ve wanted to write on the problems with how “questioning” in the kin and therian communities is structured ..."
- Lupa. (2007) "A Field Guide to Otherkin" Megalithica Books.
- Clive Baldwin, Lauren Ripley. (August 7th, 2020) "Exploring Other-Than-Human Identity: A Narrative Approach to Otherkin, Therianthropes, and Vampires" Qualitative Sociology Review Volume XVI Issue 3. University of Lodz.
- Naia Ōkami. (2016) "2016 Otherkin Community Survey"
- Lupa. (2007) "A Field Guide to Otherkin" Megalithica Books.
- Who-is-Page. (June 3rd, 2019) "Dysphoria; A Personal Transgender, Otherkin Perspective"
- Xenia. (September 2nd, 2015) "Not of this world: An otherkin primer" Spiral Nature Magazine.
- Rani. (November 21st, 2020) "Anonymous asked: what are kin memories?"
- Alyannael Shadowalker. "Remembering – When Waking up hurts"
- The Crisses. (2001) "Otherkin FAQ v 4.0.1"
- "The Lostkin Project"
- "The Lostkin Project : Techniques"
- seriousotherkin. (January 15th, 2016) "Anonymous asked: Is there a way to tell if your memories are actually memories or not?"
- Michelle Belanger. (March 23rd, 2001) "Cryptoamnesia and Past Life Memories"
- Rani. (December 9th, 2018) "Otherkin =/= Past Lives"
- Tirl Windtree. "That life isn’t This life"
- Poppy. (June 18th, 2021) "NOEMATA: Background, definition, and use"
- Poppy Hapalopus (aestherians). (May 25th, 2022) "Noemata are not exclusive to those with psychological beliefs ..." Comment on "Anonymous asked: Can other alterhuman experiences (otherhearted, synpath, etc) include having memories?".
- mord (vagabond-sun). (April 30th, 2020) "lucifer-and-chill replied to your post “from the creators that brought you Semiplural Pronouns…”"
- Orion Scribner. (September 8th, 2012) "Otherkin Timeline"
- The House of Chimeras. (August 10th, 2016) "What is the Otherkin Community Really and Why Is the Therian Community A Huge Part of It"
- Max Read. (September 6th, 2012) "From Otherkin to Transethnicity: Your Field Guide to the Weird World of Tumblr Identity Politics" Gawker.
- aqua-aureum. (June 25th, 2014) "on ‘as’ vs. 'with’"
- bitcheshavebirthdays. (June 26th, 2014) "I identify as my kintype." Comment on "on ‘as’ vs. 'with’".
- Malchior (phasmovore). (September 26th, 2014) "This will probably be my last post on semantics for a while..."
- Megan McCluskey. (February 24th, 2017) "Oxford Dictionary Proves It's Totally With It By Adding 'Squad Goals,' 'Yas' and 'Drunk Text'" Time.
- Daniell Kirby. (2008). Alternative Worlds: Metaphysical Questioning and Virtual Community Amongst the Otherkin. Sydney Studies in Religion, Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Sacred.
- Laycock, Joseph P. (2012). “We Are Spirits of Another Sort.” Nova Religio, 15(3), 65–90.
- Asher S. de Sadeleer. (2016). Articulating Non-Humanity: Discourse Analysis to Discover The Otherkin Community. University of Groningen.
- Dr Devin Proctor (2018). Cybernetic animism: Non-human personhood and the internet. In Digital Existence. Taylor & Francis.
- Dr Devin Proctor (2018). Policing the Fluff: The Social Construction of Scientistic Selves in Otherkin Facebook Groups. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 4, 485–514.
- Natalie Bricker (2016). Life Stories of Therianthropes: An Analysis of Nonhuman Identity in a Narrative Identity Model. Lake Forest College.
- Jay Johnston (2016). On having a furry soul: transpecies identity and ontological indeterminacy in Otherkin subcultures. Animal Death, 293–306.
- Stephanie Shea (2019). IDENTITY AND BELIEF: An Analysis of the Otherkin Subculture. University of Amsterdam.
- Baldwin, C., & Ripley, L. (2020). Exploring Other-Than-Human Identity: A Narrative Approach to Otherkin, Therianthropes, and Vampires. Qualitative Sociology Review, 16(3), 8–26.
- Stephanie Shea (2020). Exploring Other-Than-Human Identity: Religious Experiences in the Life-Story of a Machinekin. Religions, 11(7), 354.
- House of Chimeras (liongoatsnake). (September 28th, 2017) "What Academics Are Saying About the Modern Therianthropy Community"
- Citrakayah. (March 2012) "A Laycat's Review of "We are Spirits of Another Sort"" (Archived version)
- Arethinn aTinderel. (May 2020) "Marginalia Upon Devin Proctor's "On Being Non-Human" (2019)"
- Wolf Van Zandt. (January 2020) "Academic Review: Alter-humanity An Examination into other than human individuals, Nikky Jackson (2019)" Therian Nation Volume 1, Issue 1. pg. 13-15.
- Zac Crellin. (June 7th, 2020) "The Girl Who’s A Wolf “On All Levels Except Physical” Just Remade The Iconic Vine On TikTok" Pedestrian.
- Laurence Parry. (April 30th, 2013) "Video: 'What?!: I think I'm an Animal' documentary released" flayrah.
- The World Religions & Spirituality Project. "OTHERKIN" Virginia Commonwealth University. (Archived version)