Othering and Otherkin

There’s an urban legend going around that says that furry youth are demanding–and getting–litter boxes in high school bathrooms. I have yet to see any credible evidence that a single such box has been seriously demanded, let alone installed. But that doesn’t stop people from railing against these fictions.

This morning I saw a photo of someone wearing elf ears and saying they were a thousand years old. Yesterday, I saw a video of a teenager who was teaching people how to meow like a cat. I once knew somebody who said he was a werewolf.

At one point in my life, I thought I’d been born on Alpha Centauri.

Lately, these stories have been weaponized against transgender people and more specifically against the idea of transgender people using appropriate bathrooms. But the mocking nature of these stories fails to address the real complexities behind them.

Why would somebody deliberately present or pretend to be any anything other than human?

The most common and most harmless reason it’s that they’re just playing. It’s fun to be a cat. It’s escapist to be an elf.

We watch actors and don’t question their sanity even though they’re pretending to be somebody they’re not. In fact, many actors are pretending to be cats and aliens and elves. We don’t question them, but we question some teenager on TikTok doing exactly the same thing. Worse than that, it’s often the people who complain that kids don’t play enough that are concerned about kids pretending to be cats.

By and large, “furry” refers to someone who knows full well they are human but is pretending to be something else. When teens cosplay Iron Man, adults don’t worry that they think they’re superheroes. Furry dress-up is not significantly different (including the reality that some adults enjoy dressing as animals or as favorite fictional characters and engaging in sexual acts… but that doesn’t mean either furry or superhero cosplay is inherently sexual).

It’s true that there are people who believe that they are in whole or in part something other than human. In the worst cases, this is a characteristic of a mental illness that is otherwise debilitating enough that it warrants professional help. However, in many cases, their belief in their nonhumanness is a coping mechanism connected to societal rejection. The solution to that is not more rejection.

Why would an otherwise healthy person want to believe they’re not completely human? An obvious reason is that they have received a message that being human requires living by certain parameters that they don’t wish to live by. Even worse, they have concluded that their mismatch with what they interpret to be the parameters of humanness is so strong that they must not be human.

I have recently seen a theory that the folk tales about changelings are really about autistic children. It argues that whatever historical truth there is in those stories was about the confusion that parents felt upon discovering that their children were different. In order to keep from blaming themselves, they came up with a story that their child wasn’t even really their child.

Given how certain portions of our society treat anyone anyone outside the norms, especially the neurodiverse, why is it a surprise when some people outside of the norms conclude that they must not be human?

This is not a mental illness, this is a natural result of being given toxic messages about our identity. It is a coping mechanism. If you truly want to help somebody through that identity, the solution does not involve mockery, it involves compassion, starting with accepting the validity of their perception for themselves.

I don’t know that I ever truly believed I was from another planet. I do know that I’d wished it was true, and part of me still does. I was such a misfit, and my parents didn’t seem to want me around. It would frankly have been easier to believe that I was in fact a changeling or, in my case, an alien, than to believe that my parents had brought somebody intentionally into this world just to torture them.

By the way, furries would not even want to use a litter box (at least, not in a public restroom). People who truly believe that they are in part not human are properly called otherkin or therian, not furries. So when people insist that furries are demanding litter boxes, they’re indicating they don’t even have the most basic understanding of this topic.

That aside though, I think it’s important to note that even the otherkin are a mix of genuinely mentally ill people and people who are struggling with deep societal rejection and questioning their own identity. Regardless, though, these people need support, not mockery. If you can’t support them, and it’s certainly not your obligation to do so, at least just walk away without comment.


1 Comment

  1. I feel this one deeply. I had deeply wished for some time in my life that my biological father, who never even knew I existed as he and my mother parted ways before she knew she was pregnant, was elven, not human. Somewhere between Tolkien, Elfquest, D&D and other fantasy sources, I felt that at least a good part of me belonged to something not so cruel, so petty and so careless with the world as humanity seemed to be. The fact that my father was in the United States on an overstay of his Irish visa just helped add fuel to it all, but I’m sure I’d have found other justification if that hadn’t been the case.

    No indeed, I had to come to terms with being fully human. It hurt – it’s not like humanity gives me that much to cling to, most days. However, I have been able to celebrate the genuine marvels and diversity that can be found within the human race in the last few decades. It’s something I have to continually refresh in order to hold hope in our collective “goodness”, but rationally speaking, human beings would have gone extinct long ago if we weren’t at our very core cooperative and socially caring beings.

    Thank you for the opportunity to type all this out. This is the first time I’ve actually put all of this into words since I resigned myself to my humanity.

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