Hokay. Honestly, from the state of my tumblr, we knew this was coming. Herein, I attempt to consolidate and elaborate. This post is a mix of personal and political, as ever.
[moving GIFs interspersed below the cut]
This is probably where I should start, right? How I identify, what I am.
The core of it is:
I shouldn’t have a body.
And I probably shouldn’t be here at all.
Neither of these are pity-seeking statements; they are simply the way I feel. I don’t feel human. Or animal, or mythical. I’m not sure I belong in this timeline or universe. I can build a home here, certainly, and I can do good. But “wrong planet syndrome” lurks at my core.
Where should I be? How similar or dissimilar a place? As what kind of being? I don’t know. And I don’t find this line of questioning fruitful, just depressing. I am here, now, and cannot leave. That’s fine. But being able to say “glitch” makes it better.
(A lot of people tell me, I’m on the vanguard, I’m a pathforger, I’m ahead of my time, I’d find life easier if I’d been born later, I’m so brave to be non-binary and autistic and grey-ace and out. Truly? It’s more that I cannot conceal who I am at all.)
Resonances and Cousins
I relate easiest to sci-fi with bizarre tech and non-humanoid aliens and unrecognizable futuristic cultures. I am always searching for new fiction that actually pushes my mental horizons, and for more like the Geth and Ancillaries.
Other things that have pinged:
- the wind through the trees;
- shapeshifters like Envy from FMA losing any supposed original form;
- kitsune, as shapeshifters walking among humans without being one;
- scramblesuits from A Scanner Darkly:
- characters like John Egbert who glitch across timelines and become wind, and Dirk Strider who glitch out and make robot/AI selves and can’t always tell the difference;
- characters like Houka who can literally become data (and the fragmented visual effect):
- Illyria from Angel, transplanted across time into a human body, puzzled by humanity;
- Odo from Deep Space 9, collapsing into vulnerable goo as base state, thinking himself one of a kind for years;
- A.I. that have embodiment feels and time/processing power dilation and do not simply want to “become human”;
- polymorphs with no true form;
- Vanellope glitching in Wreck-It-Ralph:
But I am not wind, I am earth; I have designated this body as earth-elemental, trying to remember to ground myself in it from time to time. I have a tattoo of yin-yang-yuan, fire-rising wind-blowing water-falling, with the open core that is my skin, earth.
And I am not shapeshifter, scrambler, because what forms would I adopt? And still I would be seen as body, as substance.
I will return to this later with opinions on “causation” and origin and models, but for now the personal reasons:
I am glitchy. I stutter in motion, bump into everything, jerk my hands in stimmy tic-y unconscious ways, twitch my head, spasm my eyelids to the point I have to rub them to interrupt. My thoughts get stuck in loops, I echolale, I have to speak aloud to get unstuck, I listen to one song on repeat for hours. I swap r’s and w’s, I have a one-sided hearing disability that warps dialogue and confounds sourcing where a sound is coming from. I’m autistic and OCD and C-PTSD and brainweird and neurodivergent and differently-wired.
I dissociate and disconnect from my body. It feels like a video game, like autopilot, like a wifi error. I’m piloting an unwieldy control scheme, this avatar is lagging, the response time is bad, and I, me myself my perspective and consciousness, am positioned slightly outside of yet overlapping with body. I’m just an inch or two forward, and maybe above. The damn interface is glitching.
I climb trees and hide under tables to shift my mental scape. I am so happy living in a room with a slanting roof, up a stairway where I have to duck to enter, because they remind me to move around and navigate space and have a body, because I do forget. I’m surprised when people read my shirt or interpret my hairstyle, and I forget that I have those.
I don’t fit in. After about nine months in a new job or school or friend group, people start to question what’s wrong with me, why am I so hostile / why do I have those facial expressions / why don’t I respond to them the way they expect. I’ve been told to “just stop” when I have no idea what I was doing. I’ve been bullied and pressured to quit and written up and fired when from my perspective I have been as honest, civil, and real as I can be.
My memory is glitchy. I forget years at a time, only for an event to resurface suddenly in startling clarity. I go searching to remember something and turn up nothing. The distinction between “did I dream this?” and “did this happen?” is razor-fine. I cannot remember how my ex-best friend and I broke up despite years trying to remember.
And if I am somehow here, with a body, in this human world and timeline with these social mores, it must be an error, a glitch. And so must I.
“Glitch” is true, for the way I am physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, totally. It is not negative, not the way I apply it to myself; it is simply apt and accurate and real. I would much rather people recognize this than pretend I could fit where I cannot.
Art Of and For Me
I return to the same themes over and over when I draw: glitchy mazes, usually. Here’s neck/heart/core, brain, and wrists:
An old friend, Amalgam, drew a glitchy Houka for me:
And one of my partners, Em, drew me as a cyborg/android, which is my avatar for this wordpress blog:
As for writing-as-art, I’ve written human-to-robot stories (as successful transition and as horror/kink), AI emergence stories, a poem on voice dysphoria inhibiting spoken word, and I’ve started a code/glitch body-dysphoria fic which I’ll excerpt here:
There is code beneath your skin.
At five (radial symmetry, center of the num pad, limbs on a starfish; digits on a hand), you scratch at it, the lines glowing blue through the thin membrane holding you together. It spills out wrong, color shifting too human, a clichéd “we all bleed red.” Outside of you it loses meaning anyway; stops whispering.
Your lips explain the perfectly childish accident to painstakingly maternal ears, and you learn to keep your code inside your cell walls.
Lots of things about this body are wrong. Having a body at all. Being visible, being touchable, without intention to manifest. Needing to worry about appearance, and having it change. Being called “human” even by those who know all the above.
I’m not alone in linguistic dysphoria. I have the vocabulary I do from articulating myself as non-binary, and as grey and quoi and so on. At one point I even toyed with and invented glitch pronouns, which have a wonderfully glitchy-stuttery quality to them both spoken and written. They are somewhat less than practical, but some of my dearest comrades have used them and it has meant the world to me.
I’m not even alone in incorporeal identity, and “conceptkin” like me do exist despite skeptics who wonder where our souls are (spiritual paradigm) or if we are serious/lifers or aesthetic/fad-trenders. Which segues nicely into politics….
Now I want to talk about the less immediately personal. About the ways we define nonhuman, otherkin, who is allowed to access these identities and the support/community behind them, the reasons we give, the language we use, the frameworks and paradigms we work in.
On “Physically Non/Human”
Although the most basic definition of Otherkin appears to be “nonhuman,” there is considerable resistance both to claiming nonhuman and, more, to saying “physically nonhuman.” It seems to me that the enforced definition is more like “identifies non-physically AS, not WITH, a nonhuman in a serious and involuntary way” (see here, here, here).
I respectfully disagree. (And also…the above are why I prefer “nonhuman” to “otherkin,” as a matter of fact.)
The argument around “don’t identify as nonhuman” is one, that it’s a negative identity, and two, that it minimizes and denies our humanity. For point one: I have identified as “non-binary” for almost a decade, now, and it suits me far better than genderqueer or even neutrois. I have also identified as asexual-spectrum for slightly less, and as neuroAtypical and neurodivergent, all of which could be said to be based around “not” being (normal).
In fact, my ex-therapist once told me that I could not have a healthy identity if I structured it around absence (what I am not) rather than presence (what I am). I believed him at the time, and struggled to figure out what I was. The thing is? This didn’t help the process at all; it just added a false pressure. And there are many, many reasons why I have settled back in ambiguity (read the whole series at the link) — most of all, that it’s more useful. Safe to say I am far from convinced that a negative identity is less valid than a positive one.
Edit: Academics are even publishing papers on this now (being asexual, atheist, single, childfree are the here-studied).
Point two: Actually, I want to deny “my” humanity. I don’t have a “human side.” I live with humans and love them, I’m fond of them; I don’t think I’m better (or worse) than them; I’m aware of how people perceive me, and of my bodily limitations — but none of this equals me “being” human. To me, the entire point of using nonhuman is, yes, to say “actually, I’m not human. At all.” A person? Yes. Worthy of respect? Yes. But a human, no.
Onto the question of “physically“:
I deeply appreciate Rannirl Windtree’s words on “Here. Now.” The overemphasis on “we must all acknowledge, at all times, that we are indeed in human bodies” is…tiresome, and invalidating. Specifically as it is coupled with “those who think they are physically nonhuman, are likely delusional (and need help, and may not be really otherkin/nonhuman).” (This is…concern-trolling and othering of people who experience delusions.)
I understand that this is likely a defensive maneuver, adapted to the many anti-kin who suggest we couldn’t use computers if we were physically nonhuman, and that we are deceiving ourselves (and are delusional, and need help). Plus, a response to physical-shifting scammers, who aim to convince newbies that (for a fee, or for an apprenticeship) they can be taught to change their bodies and become a physical-animal-wolf, for example. And it is a simple but effective response to those, yes.
But the way it then has become incorporated into definitions, and the rigidity which hints that anyone who says “physically,” is at odds with my experience and setting.
In my corners of the internet, we talk about trans and non-binary people as being physically their gender, regardless of transition status. This is in some ways a defensive maneuver against the common transmisogynist/transphobic refrain of “physically a [not-their-gender],” which is usually asserted without regard for lack of chromosome testing, and often includes some sort of Platonic Essence which can never be changed.
So when I say “yes, I identify as physically nonhuman,” what I mean is: Don’t call my body human. My body is mine, and I am nonhuman; therefore, my body is nonhuman. Certainly, you see it as human; you also see it as whatever gender. Your perceptions do not determine what my body is. I am not denying this body is what is commonly considered human. Nor am I making grandiose claims about my DNA or heritage or abilities or whatnot. Simply, my identity overrides all other words.
Edit: See also this longer essay on the subject.
This is a philosophy and paradigm and framework that not all share, I know. Rather like my definition of choice (we choose our identities, but not our feelings), and my thoughts on prescriptive definitions. But it’s jarring when people interpret my words through their understandings without asking for clarification.
Causations and Origins
The most commonly cited “types” of otherkin are, at present, “spiritual” and “psychological.” I have found many many people who are spiritual otherkin, and several who describe themselves as both/a mix of spiritual and psychological, but I have yet to find more than one or two people who are psychological-only. And in fact, I have not found a single definition of psychological otherkin identity written by someone who was not a spiritual otherkin, aside from Liesk’s essay.
Instead, I found a list of over a dozen theories of causation, including neurological, dissociative, and archetypal, but not psychological. I also found the suggestion that there are multiple psychological causation theories, which makes sense to me. And Lupa points out mythological, metaphorical, and physical theories, from what I can gleam through citations in Orion’s Directory.
It’s interesting to me that, even though my neurodivergence and disabilities (and non-binariness and aceness) are all reasons why I feel Other and am Othered, I do not resonate the writings I have found on neurological causation, nor psychological. The best I can say here is, I get queasy about relying on a speculative-Scientific theory or a “minds interpret things funny” theory, when I have such a strong experience. Nature/nurture seems simplistic at best. I suppose that’s also true for my non-binary identity.
For that matter, would “because of how I’m treated as Other” be “social marginalization” causation?:
Being nonhuman, not as a metaphor, but because being human in most definitions means that I’m supposed to be either male or female, and have brain patterns that look like that of an average human person, and I don’t know what that should be like. So in that regard, I’m not really human. – Ahkila
This whole piece resonates, and it feels like part of my puzzle but not the sum total.
Also, even though I have spiritual beliefs in energies, timelines, and magic, whenever I try to cross them with my being nonhuman, it feels forced. They don’t seem to coincide for me. (And, since I don’t believe in souls or reincarnation, nor do I have past memories, the spiritual theory is not resonant for me at all. Astral limbs, similarly — I have too many limbs already!)
I wonder about room for folks who simply don’t care about causation. I would count myself mainly in that camp, and I’m not alone. We’re here now, with similar (and dissimilar) experiences. I of course recognize that getting to talk about past lives can be very important for those who have them. But surely we can talk about our current experiences as well?
“That’s nice, but I need to know the real reason why you feel that way” — as though feelings need to be justified before they can be empathized with or accommodated. […] For me it’s an uncomfortable truth that I had to learn to accept, because my life made more sense once it did. – Feathertail
Metaphorical and Literal
Saying we are X animal is just the most simple, closest way to explain how we feel; that our behaviors and mental patterns and so on look like what we (yes, we as people who live in human bodies and human societies) think these animals are. – Akhila
I arrived at calling myself a glitch because it worked as a way to sum up a bunch of things about myself, and convey the right expectations. It started as something of a metaphor, being “just like” and “as if” and “as.” It condensed into “am,” and at some point became both a story I tell others to explain myself, and a truth about how I experience myself.
Yes, I am literally a glitch. I am a glitch. But it still works as metaphor, and I don’t think the metaphor is lesser, either. It is simply another facet. It is still a way of being nonhuman, being glitch, being ‘kin. I do not think metaphor is automatically ‘hearted or ‘linked’ or non-‘kin. This is…difficult to explain.
It does not bother me if the metaphorical explanation is easier for people to grok. (What does rankle is when people try to dissuade me from it because it’s “too negative” or “bad self-esteem.” What. No.) And it remains useful, in conveying some truths about me. It is…trickier, with literal. I suppose I don’t trust anyone will ever, truly, literally, see and think of me as I see and think of myself. Simply because that is very hard to do even for a short period of time. And I mess it up myself, like I mess up my own pronouns. It’s okay. As long as people respect that it’s important to me, they don’t have to have some deep, perfect, PhD-level transcendent understanding.
…And Having Fun
Obviously, I value talking about our experiences, and how they affect us, and the politics of gatekeeping. But there’s plenty of room to have fun, too.
Whether it’s a “really, reality?” moment, or (yes) enjoying glitch aesthetics, writing au’s or character meta, reveling in getting out of guilt-trips by their wording, humorous text posts and/or sweet sweet memes…
…I like talking about glitchiness and incorporeality. It’s fun. It’s silly, and affirming, and laugh-despair, and comfy-relax, and hopeful and bright. It runs the whole gamut of emotions and experiences, as well it should.
I’ll leave off with a ramble I drafted about “identity”:
Identifying myself as [identity] is sense-making, is truth, is communication, is establishing ground rules and expectations and interaction parameters. It declares affiliation, and some possible patterns, while opening up an avenue of thought and inquiry that might otherwise have been hidden. It creates a path (and a non-path).
It’s yet another tool in attempting to connect wholly, exist wholly, to unite in/consistencies and carve space for past-present-future self/ves.
Sometimes an identity is a foot in the door, a wedge to open up a conversation, a way to start saying “we need to talk about (sex / touch boundaries / attraction expectations / the way you interact with my body / what words you use).”
Sometimes an identity is a search term, a signal beacon, a flashlight and starter explorer kit.
“Identity” encompasses so very much. I hope we can remember that it encompasses fun things too.