Otherkin

I have occasionally described myself as an alien.

And lately I have spent a significant amount of time on Tumblr (where all genders, orientations, and other forms of identity are accepted and defended, and furthermore, there are new and unusual identities gaining recognition all the time).

So I’m sure some people are wondering what my opinions are on the phenomenon of “otherkin.”

That question encompasses several questions, which I’ll try to answer one by one.

1. How do you define the term “otherkin”?

As I understand it, otherkin are people who experience a feeling of being something other than a human, trapped in a human body.

2. Is it real?

Of course. It’s a feeling, so, if people feel it, then by definition it is real.

3. Is it just a feeling? Or is it really what people say it is?

If you mean being a literal reincarnation of some animal, a literal descendant of some alien, or a soul that some supernatural power literally placed in the wrong body… then, in my opinion, no.

However, I don’t find those ideas any more unlikely than the claims of mainstream religion.

To people who earnestly believe them, I extend the same respect and tolerance that I extend to religious people, as long as they aren’t using it as an excuse to hurt others.

You don’t have to share people’s beliefs to respect their feelings.

4. Is it comparable to being transgender? (In other words, is it the same type of feeling, and of the same strength?)

Without having had both those experiences, I can’t give a confident answer to that.

I’m not telepathic. I can’t know for certain what another person feels, or how strongly.

I can only make guesses based on people’s words and actions.

From observation of words and actions, I’m pretty sure there is a wide variation among individuals, both transgender and otherkin, in terms of how strongly they identify as such.

In both groups there appear to be some who identify with the group consistently and strongly throughout life, and others who identify temporarily and less strongly while they are growing up and trying to figure out their own identities.

Is the consistent-and-strong identification more common among transgender people than among otherkin? Yes, from what I can tell.

The recorded history of the transgender movement gives lots of evidence of transgender identity being felt very strongly, often to the point of undergoing major surgery, and risking one’s job, relationships and even survival for the sake of expressing one’s identity.

There’s less recorded evidence of otherkin going to such extremes.

However, to be completely open-minded and scientific, I have to consider the possibility that this is because otherkin are less common overall, or because they have not had communities that recognized the existence of their identity until the last few years.

And otherkin (or possible otherkin) are not completely absent from recorded history: there is, for example, the 1987 case of the Leopard Man of Skye.

Also, even if the experience of being otherkin is generally much less strong and enduring than the experience of being transgender, that doesn’t mean it is undeserving of any respect at all.

5. Should we demand respect and recognition for otherkin, in the same way we demand it for transgender and gay people? Or would that harm the social justice movement overall by causing people to take it less seriously?

I can see both sides of that. On the one hand, I would find it very hard to argue that any group does not deserve respect and acceptance. But on the other hand, I’m not sure society as a whole is ready to accept otherkin.

And, if otherkin associate themselves with the transgender movement by using some of the same terminology and rhetoric, it’s possible that could cause setbacks for society’s willingness to take transgender people seriously.

Society is starting to accept gay rights, transgender rights, women’s rights, and racial equality. That’s a great thing, and it would be terrible to lose that progress by pushing demands for more acceptance on society faster than it can adapt.

I’m not saying that people *shouldn’t* be ready to accept all non-harmful forms of self-expression at once. I’m saying that, in reality, they aren’t… and, however unfair it may be, the success of all the various human-rights movements depends on society being ready to accept them.

So maybe we need to wait a while, in the same way that we’re not going to start fighting for the right to polyamorous marriage while we’re still struggling to get gay marriage accepted.

But, even if that’s the case, it’s not a question of whether otherkin deserve acceptance; it’s a question of whether it’s feasible at this point in time. I’m all for accepting everyone who expresses their identity without hurting other people with it.

6. Do you identify as otherkin?

I can see how people could get that idea, since my first published book was literally titled “Born on the Wrong Planet.” But no.

As a teenager, maybe even as a college student, I might have identified as otherkin, if I had known about that community. I have even actively described myself as feeling like an alien trapped in a human body.

But that feeling isn’t prevalent enough in my life for me to consider it part of my identity.

(Especially since I’ve managed to surround myself with friends and loved ones who are as alien as me. It’s easier to feel that I fit in on Earth, if I carefully pick the elements of Earth that I get to spend time with.)

Sometimes a lizard is just a lizard?

Another reposted old blog post, from November 18, 2006. Yet another bizarre dream, and some psychological thoughts.

*****

Forget Freud and his book of what things mean in dreams. Yes, dreams have symbolism, but it is different for every single freaking person.

The other night I had a dream where a lizard symbolized an aloe plant. Seriously. In the dream I had a couple of pet lizards that kept running around and getting their tails cut off in various ways. Like, I tried to keep them in my locker while I went to work, but I closed the locker on their tails and accidentally cut them off. I suppose they must’ve grown back, because they got cut off a lot of other ways too.

But the point is that when they lost their tails, the tail stump wasn’t red, it was translucent green, like when you cut a leaf off an aloe plant. And then when I woke up, I noticed that my aloe plant had fallen off the shelf and was lying in a big pile of dirt on the floor. I mentioned it to my husband, who said that it had fallen off the previous day, but I hadn’t noticed it and he hadn’t gotten around to telling me.

So I must have noticed it subconsciously, and my subconscious mind was trying to let me know that my aloe plant was in trouble. Except instead of telling me directly, it had decided to symbolize it with lizards getting their tails cut off.

I have no idea why it chose that particular symbol, except that I dream about lizards a lot, and I also have a lot of dreams about pets suffering horrible fates due to human neglect or stupidity. (I suppose that has to do with the fact that I had a lot of pets as a child, and some of them did get hurt or killed because of errors on my part.)

Freud said that dreams use symbolism because there are things your mind can’t handle thinking about directly. Supposedly almost anything sexual was in this category– which is stupid, because people think about sex more than they think about anything else, and I’d certainly rather think about sex than think about lizards losing body parts. I personally think that dreams don’t symbolize for any good reason, they just do it because they’re confused and mix things up with each other.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence. But in any case I’m not asking Freud what it means when lizards lose their tails in a dream.

How I gained some understanding of feminist views on rape (Trigger warning!)

For a long time, I got depressed every time I read the comments on articles about rape culture and how to stop sexual violence.

Of course it’s normal to get depressed reading the comments on any article. (I am eternally thankful to my pet starling Sirius, for perching on my mouse hand and pecking at my scrolling finger whenever I’ve been sitting at the computer too long!)

Rape is certainly not one of the more pleasant things I could be reading articles about, and articles on gender politics of any kind are bound to get inflammatory discussion in the comments. Read them, and you’re going to end up seeing some viewpoints that are so opposite to your own that they drive you crazy. It’s a world of roiling conflict in there.

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Portrayal of sexual violence in one of my short stories (Trigger warning!)

In my short story collection “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” I have one story called “Ardent,” which is set in the same world as our science-fiction novel “Kea’s Flight.”

As warned in the mini-introduction on the page preceding it, “Ardent” is a dark story, portraying the descent into madness of one of the villains of “Kea’s Flight.” And it may bother some readers that it contains what appears to be a scene of attempted rape, from the point of view of the aggressor, who is undergoing a mental breakdown and losing control of his actions.

Even as a woman with openly liberal political views, I know I’m taking a risk by having a scene like that in a story. Every day I see more and more articles online complaining about rape being used as a plot device, giving the impression that many people don’t find any fictional depiction of rape or attempted rape acceptable.

And because of the nature of my story’s depiction, I’ve been feeling some concern about the possibility that people might interpret the story as an expression of support for rapists, a sympathetic account of what it’s like from the rapist’s perspective, or a statement that rapists “just can’t control themselves” and are “driven” to commit the crime.

This is obviously not what I intended, but I understand the complaint, and I’d like to do what I can to explain why I wrote the scene as I did. First, a clarification of exactly what the scene entails. (Possible triggers and spoilers after the cut.)

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Prejudice and promiscuity, and my own fictional archetypes

I’ve been thinking with some concern about two issues relating to my webcomic “Abby and Norma.”

One is the simplicity and one-dimensionality of some of the minor characters; their tendency to serve as cardboard cutout counterpoints to Abby’s arguments, and whether I should just let them be what they are, or try to build them into something more complex and interesting, if not realistic.

The second is one particular facet of that simplicity: the sexually promiscuous nature of Abby’s enemy Cathy.

The term “slut-shaming” has gained a lot of ground in recent years. People are becoming more and more aware that the world is cruel to those who have many sexual partners. Promiscuous women are labeled as “sluts” who have no self-respect. Promiscuous men are generally treated better, but still not great: they’re often seen as sexist “womanizers” who have no respect for their partners.

These characterizations are, of course, unfair, though they’re based on grains of truth. It’s totally possible to have lots of casual sex and still be careful, responsible, and respectful of everyone involved. Sex is perfectly fine as long as you’re honest about what you’re getting into, and considerate of other people’s happiness and well-being. It’s true that many promiscuous people break these rules, but that doesn’t mean promiscuity in itself is bad.

Certainly I didn’t intend for Cathy to be a slut-shaming stereotype. As I’ve said before, the character of Cathy is a mixture of all the things my school-age self found distasteful in other students. And back when this mixture was being formed, I had little or no knowledge of slut-shaming. In fact, in my own personal high-school and college experience, the very opposite seemed to be happening.

Maybe my view was warped by my social difficulties, but to me, in school, it always seemed that having a wildly active sex life was considered normal, and that I was considered a loser because I didn’t; because I focused my attention on nerdy, uncool things like art, writing and schoolwork, instead of sex. Everything I observed in high school and college indicated to me that being a slut was cool, popular– all the things I wasn’t.

I don’t remember ever seeing any slut-shaming. Maybe I just couldn’t recognize it, or maybe it wasn’t common in the state I grew up in or the schools I went to, or maybe the popular kids never did it around me. But I do remember a lot of virgin-shaming, aimed at me and other geeks.

Back then, the only social distinction I really saw was the distinction between nerds and non-nerds. From my perspective, the girls who had one long-term boyfriend, the girls who had a different boyfriend every month, and the girls who had one-night stands every week were all blurred together. To me, they were all just “the girls who looked down on me for having nothing.”

I realize that they probably didn’t look down on me as much as I thought, at least not for that reason. But at the time, I had a very long memory for all the moments when it seemed as if they did. I felt as if sluttiness was the prevailing world order, and I was the downtrodden underdog who dared to consider my grades more important than my sex life.

When I learned the word “slut,” it felt like a weapon of the resistance, a way for oppressed geeks like me to fight back against the insanity that was considered normal. It felt like learning that I could use the words “sheep” and “conformists” to insult those who followed social rules. I didn’t feel that I was oppressing sluts, I felt I was rebelling against their oppression of me.

Of course, being who I was, I didn’t actually go around calling anyone a slut. For the most part I stayed buried in my books and drawings, ignoring and ignored by my so-called peers. But sometimes I thought dark thoughts to myself about the popular and promiscuous. The word “slut” may have made its way into some of my internal rants.

I did eventually outgrow this simplistic hatefulness. As I grew up and built a more diverse and sophisticated circle of friends, I began to distinguish between promiscuity and virgin-shaming. I learned that people are complex, and not everyone who sleeps around is a nerd-abusing cheerleader or jock. But somewhere inside me remained the old, simplified view, the traces of how my schoolgirl mind had divided the whole world into geeks and antigeeks.

And even once I knew better, Cathy rose up out of those ancient feelings and took her place in the comic, because the feelings were too old and ingrained to stay out of all the things I created. The more I write Abby and Norma, the more I realize that Cathy is not like any real person I know, and that some people might even be hurt by her portrayal of promiscuity.

Cathy is evil not because of her slutty ways, but because she tries to force them on others, insulting and belittling Abby for not being slutty like her. She is what I used to think all normal students were like, back when I was in school and trying to figure out the world.

Abby is often a caricature of me, expressing opinions that are exaggerated versions of opinions I have or used to have. Abby’s mom is a caricature not of my own mother, but of the annoying traits of some other mothers I’ve known. Likewise, Cathy seems to be a caricature of non-autistic students, taking some of the things they occasionally do and exaggerating them to ridiculous extremes.

I don’t know how, or if, I could ever develop her into a more realistic character. I don’t know if “Abby and Norma” is even supposed to be the kind of comic that has realistic characters. But I felt I should write something to shed light on the origins of Cathy, and how the way the world looked to me as a teen and young adult is quite far from the way it looks to people today.

Having a sh!t-in: Why sex-segregated bathrooms hurt all of us

When I was a grade-school kid, having just learned the history of Jim Crow and Rosa Parks and sit-ins, I became inspired to protest segregation in my own way.

I started hanging out in the boys’ bathroom.

To me, dividing bathrooms by sex didn’t seem any less bigoted than dividing them by race. People were uncomfortable using the bathroom in the presence of the opposite sex? Well, in the days of Jim Crow, people were uncomfortable using the bathroom in the presence of another race; that didn’t make segregation acceptable. Sexual crimes happen in bathrooms? Well, so do racial hate crimes, sometimes, but that’s no reason for racial segregation.

No one listened to my arguments. I saw the inside of the principal’s office more often than the inside of either restroom.

At the time, I wasn’t even very aware of transgender issues. I was focused on the ways that segregation hurts everyone. The girls like me who didn’t try to look boyish but always got mistaken for boys anyway. The disabled adults who needed help to use the bathroom, and whose only available helper was someone of the opposite sex.

Have you ever been denied the right to use a public restroom because the restroom for your sex was closed for cleaning? Then you, too, have been a victim of segregation.

And now, in this era of slightly increased transgender awareness, society is finally starting to realize that the issue even exists.

All over the news are articles about transgender people fighting for the right to use the public restrooms intended for the gender they identify with. The struggles they have to go through to fulfill this basic need are heartbreaking.

One issue that always seems to be ignored: This discrimination can be ended only by eliminating segregation entirely.

It’s a simple line of reasoning. If you have a rule that men have to use the men’s room and women have to use the women’s room, then:

1. Having that rule is pretty useless unless you can enforce it.

2. To enforce it, you have to be able to define who is a man and who is a woman.

3. And you have to be able to identify people as men or women just by looking at them, or some other test that can be performed in the moments before they enter the restroom.

Pretty impossible.

You could define it by who looked male or female to you, but that leaves tons of potential for error. I would have been kicked out of the girls’ room as a kid, if it had been based on people’s ability to tell I was a girl by looking at me.

You could define it by the clothes people were wearing, so that anyone who was presenting as a woman could enter the women’s room… but how do you define women’s clothing? Would I not be allowed in the women’s room if I’m wearing a gender-neutral t-shirt and jeans? And how do you tell a transwoman from a cis man who puts on a dress so he can legally go in the women’s room and ogle people?

There was a city that tried to enforce it by looking at the gender printed on people’s state IDs. But this discriminated against transgender people who had not had their IDs changed to reflect their reassignment– as well as people who didn’t have an ID with them.

The only solution is not to segregate the bathrooms in the first place.

Before you criticize this option, and rail against me for desecrating women’s privacy and encouraging sex crimes… take a look at this picture of an actual unisex restroom.

This is a drawing I did from memory, of a bathroom in a local theater here in MN. See how each stall is its own little room, with thick walls, and a door that goes all the way to the floor? See how the common area with the sink is out in the open, so anyone who wanted to harass someone would be in plain view of pretty much everyone?

A unisex bathroom gives you more privacy than a segregated one.

And it solves all the other problems too. It removes the debate over which bathroom you should use when people disagree on whether you’re a man or a woman. It provides a welcoming environment for disabled men who need the help of a wife or mother to use the bathroom, or vice versa. And each stall is cleaned individually, so no one ever has to wait for the “correct” bathroom to be cleaned before they can use it.

If you agree that all bathrooms should be like this, spread the word. Perhaps we can make a difference.

My ostracized childhood self, leaning against the wall in the boys’ room greeting every visitor with “Hello, I’m having a shit-in!” may have been taking the wrong approach. It may have been more a plea for attention than an earnest expression of my beliefs. But I did have those beliefs, and they were on the right track. Maybe someday they will finally be vindicated.