“The Plasticity of Otherkin” (6/7/ 2021)
To clarify, in this writing I’m using “plasticity” to refer to changes that can occur, particularly psychologically, in the experience and/or identity of being otherkin (and related identities). This does not mean that such changes are by conscious choice (though maybe they can be in some cases) nor that they are easy to occur (in which plasticity as a definition can denote “easy to mold” but I’m not using it that way, this is instead something at least more similar to how it is used in neuroscience with the ability of the mind to change). It is generally accepted by otherkin that being such is an involuntary thing and that being otherkin is essentially permanent and life-long from whenever it begins.
It used to be a very common belief and ‘standard’ in the therian and otherkin communities that one must be born as therian/otherkin and any belief to the contrary was treated as invalid, sometimes with people stating that an individual always was therian/’kin from birth but just didn’t know it until later in life. Eventually such insistence calmed down in these communities, seemingly from people who adamantly spoke against that ‘norm’ and offered reasoning as to why it isn’t an invalid belief, myself included amongst those who spoke against it (specifically in my “Becoming a Therian” writing). There also tends to be a lot of people in the otherkin community who believe their own otherkinity is due to spirit-based reasons, and some of those people (though seemingly less so anymore) believe that such is the case for othekin in general. With that, they tend to believe that one’s spirit is anchored to a human body at or near physical birth and thus that the spirit (and therefore their nonhumanity) would be a part of them from birth. Which is a fine view to have but it certainly isn’t the only legitimate one and fortunately many otherkin in the community now accept other views including psychological ones.
When it comes to the debate about whether otherkinity can be voluntary or if it is only involuntary, I feel kind of grey about it, undecided as to which ‘side’ I take because, really, I think my view is somewhere in-between. I do hold that otherkinity/therianthropy are not choices in a simple sense nor that one can easily or quickly become ‘kin/therian or easily lose being such. But that doesn’t mean I view it as strictly “involuntary”. The matter is more complex than a simple black-or-white definition of “otherkin are only such involuntarily”. I totally get why these identities and experiences are viewed as involuntary, but to those who feel they fall in that grey area or to those who want to dive deeper into this concept instead of taking it at face-value–well, that’s why I’m writing this piece. It has just never sat right with me that otherkin-is-involuntary is treated as some factual truth that can’t be questioned.
So to start off, I’ll cover the concept of ‘becoming otherkin/therian’, though much more briefly than my essay I mentioned. It appears most common for someone to essentially have always been ‘kin/therian, from birth, but it does occur sometimes that an individual will develop their nonhuman identity and experiences at some point later in their life, after early childhood. A person’s sense of self and their personality can change quite significantly between their baby or toddler years and their near-teens, teenage years, and into being an adult. I, personally, can’t track back my nonhumanity to before I was 11 or 12 years old–a very critical changing point in my development as an individual and who I have been since then. Actually, I can even date back my monster-heartedness to early childhood but not my otherkinity. So why would I just assume those experiences were there when I can’t so far find the evidence to believe such? Just because some other people want to believe that every otherkin had to be such from birth? That’s not a good enough reason for me. That crucial pivot point of my life at 11 to 12 years old changed me in many ways as an individual, and causing me to develop my otherkinity was a big part of that. I don’t know *why* exactly my otherkinity developed, and when in particular certain ‘kintypes developed enough that I would now consider them ‘kintypes, but it did.
The mind is a plastic thing, with the level of plasticity dependent on various factors, including but not limited to: age or stage of life, social factors and influences, trauma and stress, and learning, among other things. And with that, the Self is also similarly plastic. It’s easy for people to take for granted the Self as being static because most of the time it develops so slowly it’s hard to notice the changes until one looks back at their memories or other people’s memories of them to find contrast to who they are at present and at different points in their life. The Self does have static, or at least mostly static, aspects, and the extent of such varies from individual to individual, but it also has aspects that can and do change on an individual basis. So it calls into question this concept of a “true self” that one’s otherkinity is a part of. I do believe that otherkinity is a deep, integral part of who someone is, that it is part of one’s Self. However, that Self can and does change over the course of one’s life, so why can’t one’s otherkinity necessarily change with it, including to the extent of either developing or losing whole ‘kintypes or their otherkinity entirely? That doesn’t mean that such happens by choice, let alone by some superficial kind of choice.
But what of people choosing to gain or lose a ‘type? Copinglinks and otherlinks are essentially experientially the same as otherkin and fictionkin with the key difference being that ‘links are formed voluntarily–by choice–unlike how otherkin are believed to form. Yet there can be a grey area here, in that some ‘linktypes may develop in such a way as to become completely involuntary, regardless of whether the individual with the ‘type likes it anymore or not. And the question is whether these now-involuntary ‘linktypes could be considered ‘kintypes? Personally, I think they can, but that it’s ultimately up to the individual experiencing such to decide if they feel otherkinity, fictionkinity, therianthropy, coping/otherlinking, or whatever fits their experiences and identity better. It’s not up to other people to decide for them, and that does not make the matter insulting or disrespectful of otherkin and related or types of ‘linking. I believe that it also is possible to voluntarily lose one’s otherkinity, though I figure it is very difficult to do and would likely take an extensive time to complete, along with it quite notably changing core aspects of the individual’s Self, including in ways the individual couldn’t predict. As to whether anyone has done such, I don’t personally know, but I would like to see the communities open and respectful of the concept, at the least.
I’ve known of people before who have lost one or more therio-/’kintypes over time, not that they were actually “just wrong about being those ‘types” but that they felt they legitimately lost them for whatever reasons. And I believe that such can similarly happen to the individual’s full nonhumanity or fictionkinity, even if it may be a rather rare occurrence. And that’s, as a concept, okay. The individual has the place and right to believe they lost that part of who they once were, whether they wanted to or not, whether they even liked that part of them or not, and they shouldn’t be shamed, disrespected, or insisted they are wrong about it because of it. These cases, in my opinion, aren’t ruining these nonhuman and fictionkin parts of alterhumanity, despite how some people may act like they are. It’s especially problematic if these people do exist and for any of them their loss of their nonhumanity or fictionkinity is a bad, emotional part of their life. Or even if they consciously chose to lose such, their reasons behind making that choice could be surrounded in rather negative parts of their life and previous self, so people shouldn’t be making them feel bad about it because others are viewing their experiences as “invalid”.
The point to all this is that otherkinity and related are still highly subjective things and we are learning more about the vast diversity in the experiences and identities of such over time, so our communal knowledge needs to remain open to certain extents and willing to let that knowledge grow when new information emerges. Otherkin is not necessarily a for-life static thing in various ways and we need to be more careful to view it not through a black-or-white lens but through a whole spectrum of possibilities before we decide what exactly is set-in-stone about it. And doing this does not render the definition of otherkin meaningless.