People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special

So I look around for more on “the otherkin community.” I find a piece by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw from a few months ago. I read.

When she was 9 or 10 years old, Jessie read a book that would change her life forever: Julie of the Wolves, a story about a young girl who bonds with a wolf pack to survive in the Alaskan tundra. It precipitated Jessie’s realization that she identified as a wolf herself.

“I could certainly see a case being made that I latched on to wolves because of some difficult times in my life,” Jessie told me. “I saw family in them, I saw protection and familiarity, and I saw an escape from what I was dealing with in my life.”

Plenty of kids are obsessive, but for Jessie, her love of wolves became a lifestyle and a spiritual experience, including “phantom shifts,” or episodes where she felt the physical characteristics of being a wolf.

“I would prowl my room late at night as a wolf, usually when I was restless or agitated. This was comforting to put myself into another place. Whether this is mental or spiritual, I don’t really know. I still do a version of this to this day, and I know it’s felt like both. I’m diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety, and there are many days where putting myself in ‘wolf mind’ helps to relax me.”

Now, see, all of that is consistent with its being fantasy, and I’m all for fantasy. I was hugely into fantasy as a child, and I’ve always felt slightly sorry for kids who weren’t into it.

But actually “identifying as” another species goes beyond fantasy, and yes I think it’s risible in adults.

If you truly believe that you’re not human, people on the Internet will probably be the first to know. That’s where the term “otherkin” first sprang up in the early ’90s, in quiet little online culs-de-sac dedicated to those who believed they were dragons and elves. To someone who thinks of him- or herself as otherkin, the issue is one not of mental illness but of freedom of expression.

There’s ambiguity there. Truly believing you’re not human is not quite the same as thinking of oneself as not human – “thinking of oneself as” is the same as pretending.

But hey – it’s not harmful, it’s just first world special snowflakeism.

You don’t come to the conclusion that you’re a dragon without a certain amount of self-examination. Many otherkin are aware that some outsiders think they’re delusional. The psychiatric professionals I contacted for this story, however, were surprisingly forgiving.

Dr. Marc D. Feldman, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and inventor of the term “Munchausen by Internet,” told me that otherkin didn’t seem like a good fit for mental health treatment.

“People in advantaged countries like to think of themselves as especially complex, colorful, and special,” he wrote in an email. “The otherkin phenomenon certainly reflects this first-world preoccupation. But it isn’t illegal, doesn’t victimize other people, and isn’t a form of mental illness (unless people become delusional about it), so I don’t see a particular need for ‘treatment.’”

Just so. As I said, I’m all for fantasy…but that doesn’t mean I can’t find some fantasies funny.


  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    That makes lots of sense to me. I can grok this because, as a child, I was seriously into several fantasy worlds. Doubtless my congenital depression/anxiety combined with a household in poverty and violence fed my fantasy world (that is not to say that it must be so for others).

    There was a period of a few years when I was absolutely convinced I was a reincarnated American Indian, and after that that I was a boy born in the wrong time and actually had some real, spiritual place in the late 19th century (yes, I know, this is obvious and funny now given my hobbies). So convinced that when I was done with the books that inspired these fantasies I went into a profound depression and grief. To this day I haven’t told my mother what was behind this; it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to talk about.

    It’s easy for me to understand this emotional attachment. But that doesn’t make it “real,” and it doesn’t mean the rest of the world could be expected to treat it with gentle, tender care and concern.

  2. John Horstman says

    But it isn’t illegal, doesn’t victimize other people, and isn’t a form of mental illness (unless people become delusional about it), so I don’t see a particular need for ‘treatment.’

    Hrm. This is true per se, but it’s also the case that the several people I know and have known (yes, it’s a small, biased, and anecdotal sample) who identify as being actual magical creatures (in part) are also ardent peddlers of woo ‘medicine’ like acupuncture, reiki, chiropractry, and homeopathy, which very much does harm people. Assuming that there is, in fact, a demonstrable correlation and my social group is not an aberration among those that contain Otherkin, the Otherkin belief may still not be causative, only indicative, but I do suspect it is strongly associated with behaviors that are actually harmful to both the person zirself and others.

    Still, as a social constructivist, I don’t really find this any stranger than any other identity someone might adopt, including those that are normative (for that matter, “human” is a socially-constructed categorization – just look at debates over fetal personhood or where to define species boundaries in the evolutionary record for some edge cases that demonstrate the construction of the categorization in realtime).

  3. Pen says

    Where does the thing in the title about advantaged countries come from? Whatever else this is, it’s a cross-cultural phenomenon, only expressed and interpreted in differing ways.

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