Or: How “P-Shifting,” “Biological Otherkin,” “Genetic Otherkin,” and “Physically Nonhuman” All Mean Different Things
Definitional Context: What Does “Otherkin” Mean, To Whom?
While the most basic definition of Otherkin across timespace appears to be “nonhuman in some way” (sometimes, such as in Lupa’s Field Guide to Otherkin and AnOtherWiki, including physically as one of those ways), the present enforced definition (on Tumblr, Kinmunity, etc in 2016) is more like “identifies non-physically as, not with, nonhuman in a serious and involuntary way” (see here, here, here).
This piece addresses only the question of “physically.”
Trans/Non-Binary Context: Identity Words > Biology Words
In my corners of the internet, we commonly talk about trans and non-binary people as being physically their gender, regardless of transition status (or “possibility”).
This is in some ways a defensive maneuver against the common transmisogynist/transphobic refrain of “physically/biologically/genetically [not-their-gender],” which is usually asserted without regard for lack of chromosome testing or the existence of intersex people or the efficacy of medical transition, and often includes some sort of Platonic Essence which can never be changed, as if all cells (atoms? quarks?) are “male” or “female.” Their argument is, “you can never physically change your gender, ever, and I will always call you the gender you were first assigned.”
It is also a defensive response to “male-bodied” and “female-bodied” being applied rather than used as self-descriptors. Calling trans women “male” or even “male-bodied” is, very clearly, the same transmisogynist attempt to discredit their womanhood and raise the spectre of “male violence in women’s restrooms.” It is also applied regardless of social or medical transition, or self-identity.
By contrast, an individual person is held to have every right to describe themself as male-bodied, female, physically non-binary, biologically agender, and any other permutation of words. A person may choose “male-bodied trans woman” and that’s 110% valid. And all of this is regardless of physical configuration.
The way an individual genders their body, is the way we should gender their body.
And in generalizing, we say that people are physically their gender. So if a non-binary person does not specify a “body identity phrase,” we would assume and call them (if we must) physically non-binary until corrected otherwise. This is seen as the safest, most respectful and affirming and anti-transphobic method.
Direct Application: It’s A Nonhuman’s Body, Therefore It’s Nonhuman
When I say: “Yes, I identify as, and therefore am, physically nonhuman and physically nonbinary.”
What I mean is: “Don’t call my body human, or male, or female. My body is mine, and I am nonhuman and nonbinary; therefore, my body is nonhuman and nonbinary.”
What I know is: Certainly, you see my body as human; you also see it as whatever gender. Your perceptions do not determine what my body is. My identity does.
What I don’t mean is: I am not denying this body is what is commonly considered human. I am not making grandiose claims about my abilities, or superior DNA, or secret heritage which I just won’t prove to you but totally could. I am not looking for admiration, to be seen as exceptional, to assert that I am uniquely different and empowered and messianic.
Simply, my identity overrides all other words.
That said, there’s a lot of controversy over the particular word “physical.”
Don’t Use the P-Word: The P-Shifting Problem
I absolutely agree that claiming to be able to physically shift (p-shift; from human to something else and back) is almost always a dangerous, irresponsible claim.
It is used to set up the claimant as an expert, with secret knowledge and abilities. It suggests that others should revere, and supplicate, and beg wisdom from them.
It is used to establish a power dynamic that can extremely easily be abusive, manipulative, and scamming, not only in a financial way but in an emotional way.
It is used to prey on desperate hopes for unprovable magic, and promises proof, later. It’s pretty much always unethical.
It is not used to describe a subjective experience, a change/shift in the way embodiment feels; those are instead termed different kinds of shifts, such as astral shifting or phantom shifting.
Much of the community shuns and shuts down all talk of p-shifting, and this is well-justified by risk level and historical context.
The trouble here is, conflating all words like “physically” with p-shifting misses nuance. Particularly if the claim does not involve shifting or magic or abilities, if someone says “I am physically nonhuman” this does not necessarily equate to saying “I can p-shift.”
Consider someone, unfamiliar with the scam history around p-shifting, who independently coins “physically nonhuman” as an affirming way to describe themself for many well-thought-out reasons (perhaps a history in the trans community, for one). They use this phrase, and are immediately met with giant backlash and accused of being a scammer and dangerous and delusional and not truly kin and not welcome in the community. All over a misunderstanding.
And shouldn’t the primary focus be on the actually being manipulative and seeking power?
Don’t Use the P-Word: The Troll Problem
Another reason for shutting down all signs of “physically” has been the ubiquitous presence of internet trolls and anti-kin mocking us and saying we shouldn’t be able to use computers if we have paws.
Obviously, trolls, and those uninterested in our experiences but simply interested in mocking us, do not care how much we have thought about, analyzed, described, written about, or studied our experiences. It doesn’t matter if we have multiple dissertations on what we mean when we say “nonhuman” or “otherkin,” or “physically.”
It’s completely understandable that folks have wanted to distance themselves from the easy targetability of “physically nonhuman.” Decontextualized, it makes a handy weapon and refrain for those looking for reasons to ridicule us.
Still. I don’t believe that “the trolls might pick on this as extra-funny” is a sufficient and good reason to abandon something.
Particularly something that some of us might find incredibly valuable, and integral, and part of the whole reason we feel and are nonhuman.
Physicality as Origin: On Biological, Genetic, and Theories of Otherkin
There are at least 30 theories of otherkin origin. The most commonly cited on Tumblr are “spiritual” and “psychological,” which could themselves be broken down into different, more specific theories. In Orion’s Directory alone, there’s physical, experiential; hereditary Berserkers; biological vampires nature/nurture theories in Swedish; ancestry theories in Russian; discussion of body language as inherently different, if not physical body.
Kinspeak lists many, including biological and genetic, and suggests similarities to eye color, body type, and hereditary mental illness, as well as differing brain structure (overlapping with some neurological or psychological theories). And some of us don’t care or give up on reasons.
Rannirl Windtree speaks in “Here. Now.” about how “otherkin” was coined by elfkind for now, and having non-human bodies, here, now, not in past lives:
“I don’t object particularly to the use of the term otherkin by reincarnationals, if your past lives sing so strongly to you here and now that it has a noticeable effect on you, fine. However, if you are refering to yourself using the term, the least you can do is stop telling me, and those like me, that I don’t exist.”
Windtree is also clear that this is not about superiority or special abilities or a claim to grandiosity; and that this is a theory and belief and not hard provable science.
This demonstrates that, from the creation of the word “otherkin” (and before), there have been and continue to be those of us who involve the physical in our identity as nonhuman.
I suggest theories do not need to be provable to hold meaning, and that holding physical theories to a higher scientific standard misrepresents the nature of their meaning to us. Of course we do not all need to agree, or find each others’ theories plausible. But so long as no one is leveraging themself above others, surely their personal experience deserves respect and acknowledgment as valid and true.
Again, I urge: Shouldn’t the primary focus be on shutting down actual claims of superiority and special status and power?
I may expand on this more later, but for now:
- “physically nonhuman” != “delusional” (see all the reasons above how someone might identify as physically nonhuman)
- delusions != “needs help” (or “causes significant impairment/distress,” or “hasn’t already seen plenty of Certified Medical Professionals etc”)
- delusions != “should not be looking to nonhuman/otherkin community for support and community”
- delusions != “has a fundamentally different experience from non-delusional otherkin/nonhumans”
- delusions != nonhuman/otherkin identity is related to delusions
- it’s related to delusions != it’s less valid while (or after) it’s happening
Basically the only thing “delusions” tells you is…that person experiences delusions. It tells you nothing about the rest of their experience, their identities, their “functioning level,” their history with mental health professionals, their “health,” or their “appropriateness” for the community.
And constantly pointing to “well some people are delusional” as a way to dismiss unconventional views, such as the idea of physical nonhuman identity…
…is relying on the trope that people-who-experience-delusions are unreliable narrators who do not deserve to be listened to on an equal ground with (oh-so-rational) people-who-don’t-experience-delusions.
And yes, that is a specifically ableist trope, and one of the most dangerous, and one that can be weaponized by other disabled and/or mentally ill people. It is the reasoning behind disbelieving mental health survivors who report abuse. It is the reasoning behind “that’s the illness talking, not the person.” It is the reasoning behind the conflation of “delusions” with “zero grounding in reality” with “could axe-murder all of us at any moment.” It is the reasoning behind institutionalizing people for life “for their own good” and “to protect society.”
Ableism is institutional and societal and pervasive. It is actions and legislature and cultural attitudes and constant media about dangerous ~crazy~ people, far more than it is one person on purpose who would gladly admit to hating disabled people.
There is history here and it is ugly and awful, and do not think for a moment that dismissing someone as delusional does not conjure up all of this institutional violence to mental health survivors.
Conclusion: Assumptions, Verboten, and Seeking Context for the P-Word
When a phrase isn’t very specific jargon like p-shift – when it’s something anyone could easily recoin, across time and distance, like how so many people have put together the word “asexual” – it doesn’t make sense to treat it as a way to target abusive, manipulative, power-hungry dangers.
It especially doesn’t make sense to attack without explaining your axioms. To immediately condemn someone, based on their word choice, interpreted as shorthand for an idea, which is associated with being a dangerous scammer…without ever explaining the connections, but holding them as self-evident? Of course people under the weight of that can’t figure out how to explain themselves so they’ll be heard.
Otherkin and nonhumans will always be deeply diverse. There will be those of us who don’t understand how others who are so different lay claim to the same identity and community. And there will be jargon and cultural knowledge and in-jokes, and scammers and abusers and trolls and self-defense.
I hope, however, that we can try to understand when people are sincerely well-intentioned with a different perspective and vocabulary.
And I hope we can remember that not everyone comes from the same context.