In the preface to the 1957 edition of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges conceptualises the “necessary monster”. The dragon is not an accidental product, he opines, but intentional. The monsters discovered by Borges all share this necessity. They appeal to our condition – to instincts of exploration, of hypothesis. We yearn for these creatures as a child yearns for monsters beneath the bed – with exhilarated caution.
But the narratives of today aren’t found in books; they are produced online, where authorship is collaborative, texts are unstable, and the mythologies of the 21st century look firmly on the immediate moment, not on the past. The necessary monsters of today lurk amongst us – on blogs, on our News Feed, in our notifications; we can ‘like’ them, follow them, reblog them.
‘Otherkin’ is a community of people who believe their true authentic existence is non-human. There are a vast array of otherkin groups: therians are spiritually animals; fictives believe they are fictional characters, whether it be elves, dragons, or even characters from Zelda; and machinekin, from those who think – almost plausibly, after seeing Bladerunner – that they are robots, to those who believe they are shovels. This isn’t to mention multiple systems or headmates: the belief that multiple souls exist in the same body, each living in peace.
Myths of humans as other aren’t unique. Even today there are those in Japan who believe in kitsunetsuki: people possessed by foxes.
What makes otherkin unique is how the community was developed, and what it has morphed into. The first otherkin communities were formed through mailing lists and Usenet. While other ‘90s subcultures were hosting their loneliness on Geocities, otherkin were thriving amongst themselves, mostly hidden from the human-kin outside world.
The otherkin community took another turn when more public, and more proliferate, web platforms emerged, such as LiveJournal, and later Tumblr. The community was exposed and appropriated identity politics; it took a defensive social justice-oriented turn.
While the otherkin were at first more spiritual and religious, defining themselves with metaphysical phenomena of astral planes and reincarnation, the 21st century has politicised the otherkin. Otherkin is self-identification; it is, they advocate, the right of a person to define themselves as they please. Thus, otherkin – along with categories such as transethnicity – are often criticised for undermining the trans movement by employing trans discourse.
Take Roger, interviewed in the book Your Next-Door Neighbour is a Dragon. He speaks of the ‘awakening’, where one realises they are – in his case – an elf, and he knows not due to physical appearance, but due to “personality traits.” Not only is gender a construct, but so is one’s species; otherkin is the necessary monster of a world exploring the limits and scope of identity politics.
It isn’t difficult to see why these communities are regularly ‘trolled.’ Various cases of “otherkin” have been exposed as hoaxes, such as Prince-Koyangi, who was a “transethnic, autistic, pangender, asexual, demiromantic cat” before outing himself.
These trolls are clearly problematic for the same reason that motivates them – a distaste with identity politics. So, while perhaps legitimately undermining otherkin and transethnicity, the troll also undermines queer sexuality, gender diversity, and neurodiversity.
The anonymous and ultimately trusting nature of the internet inevitably attracts trolls. The trolls can be seen as possibly undermining the wellbeing of otherkin by exposing them to ridicule.
The term ‘clinical lycanthropy’ is applied to people who believe they can transform into, have transformed into, or always were non-human beings. Understandably, otherkin tend to reject the disorder, often using the term ‘species dysphoria’ instead, to imply that the true disorder is in pretending that one is human regardless of their feelings.
Indeed, groups such as the Equine Dream Foundation advocate for the right to change one’s body to suit their species identification. Once again, trans discourse is used to justify this; @TumblrTXT once tweeted a user saying “trans privilege is having sex reassignment surgery be a real thing, while nowhere offers ‘species reassignment surgery’ for otherkin.”
There are currently no studies correlating otherkin to clinical lycanthropy, but it isn’t hard to see the parallels. However, the necessary monster of otherkin is perhaps, ironically, a product of the necessary monsters of the past. Children, adolescents, and even adults can’t help but be consumed by the stories of fantasy, of different worlds and different beings; we have all pondered on being someone else, living somewhere else, being able to do something else.
Not all otherkin may be afflicted with a severe psychiatric disorder, but the delusion may be rooted in escapism. In Julie Gonzalez’s Wings, the main character believes his body is hiding wings beneath his skin; he soon changes his name to Icarus. Otherkin may be no different: attempting to explore the limits of the world and their self, escaping the mundane and alienation, but flying too close to the sun and falling from fantasy into hallucination.