Dear Fellow Trans People: Lay Off Otherkin
They’re not our enemies, and by treating them like they are we ally with our real enemies.
Ever since tumblr got popular the Internet has been a veritable cornucopia of aversion fads, which have gotten more varied since most everyone got tired of making fun of furries. Otherkin are a popular choice; so are multiple systems, which much of this post applies to as well.
If you’re not familiar with otherkin, here’s a crash course: people who consider themselves to be a species other than human. Could be an animal, could be a mythical creature or what have you. That’s pretty much it; that description is deliberately vague because it’s a broad term. Like any other identity, there’s huge variation among otherkin. Some people pursue body modification, such as ear pointing or tongue bifurcation; some don’t. Some live in a way similar to the being they identify with, such as having a large pet bed; some don’t. Some experience dysphoria, some don’t. I’ve linked to a good introduction at the end of this post.
Somewhere around 2007, someone observed otherkin and popularized “transspecies”. That’s the earliest instance of this use Wikipedia has, but I’ve been told it was used earlier. That word typically goes over with transgender people like a lead balloon.
Note: I’m using “transgender” instead of “trans” from here out to avoid confusion.
Some in the transgender community say it’s appropriative, and maybe it is a bit. When people who identify as otherkin talk about dysphoria, potential for physical steps towards transition, or how opposition to their identity is based in biological essentialism the same people say they’re appropriating transgender terminology and experiences — that otherkin are trying to stand on our shoulders, to exploit our hard-won rights and access and respect.
Partially this is respectability politics — the idea that the best way to win rights is to prove that we’re not that different, that we can conform to patriarchal norms just like everyone else. It’s “passable” transgender people and “straight-acting” gay men. Respectability politics says we’ve spent decades proving ourselves palatable to the patriarchy, and we don’t want these people who haven’t (otherkin) ruining our progress.
Ultimately, we say otherkin are unequal; we say their identities are not real.
I say “we” because this was how I thought up until fairly recently. It’s a fairly common opinion among the transgender community. I think a lot of it comes from unfamiliarity; I got over it the way most people get over most things. I found out some people I respected a lot, and people I loved, were otherkin and, well, you know the rest.
Transgender people have a long and storied history of being thrown under the bus in the name of respectability. Gays and lesbians threw out trans people to say they’re just normal people not those gross transsexuals. There’s a section of the transgender community (often known as HBSers) who claim they’re real transsexuals, not like those fake transgender people who don’t want surgery or don’t have a stereotypical binary presentation. The HRC told activists at the Prop 8 Supreme Court ruling to take down a transgender pride flag because “marriage equality is not a trans issue”. And now we have transgender people invalidating otherkin.
The right to self-determination and all its attendant rights — to define our own identity and experiences, to experience the world the way that we are most comfortable with, and yes, the right to bodily autonomy — are not rivalrous. We lose nothing from other people gaining these rights. And only patriarchy says they are excludable — the same patriarchy that says transgender people are excluded from these rights.
Throughout history and throughout our lives, particularly as lgBT people (yup, other way from usual), we’re forced to prove our legitimacy. We’re born this way; our brains are different; sex isn’t the same thing as gender; yes doc here’s the letter from the last prick I had to convince. These are used to prove our legitimacy, even though some of them are problematic or questionable statistical analysis and none of them are reliable enough to be diagnostic (the only diagnostic of identity is how we experience it). We perform for the gatekeepers, not just for access to medical treatment but also to society.
We do this, essentially, at gunpoint. Patriarchy encourages us, often forces us, to prove ourselves a worthy minority. But at the same time it’s our responsibility to, when we can, recognize the harm our actions can cause and choose carefully.
It’s time to stop scrabbling for rights by trying to legitimize ourselves to the patriarchy, which often requires we turn around and point out we’re more legitimate than others. It’s time to stand up and say “we are because we know we are,” because any proof but our own experience leaves us open to attack and will be wielded against people without that proof. Fellow transgender people, look at what you’re doing and look at how people have done it to you. When we delegitimize others’ identities and experiences to shore up the validity of our own, we make ourselves agents of the patriarchy.
We perform as the gatekeepers.
Our experience of self, including identity, is not empirical. It’s true that there is no observable, measurable, empirical underpinning for otherkin identities.
But ultimately, the same is true of transgender identities — even the best correlations are only points of interest. Our enduring rights hinge on the ability to define our own experiences and our own identities.
Who are we to question others’?