Monthly Article: The history of voluntary identities, and where we can go now
When we talk about being nonhuman, and especially on being otherkin, we often reflect on our early childhoods, on how, at some level, “we always knew.” I like to tell the story of how, at three, I told my mother I wanted to be a popular cartoon robot when I grew up. But when we tell these personal truths, we often forget another, equally important one: sometimes, we don’t start as nonhumans. We become them. To quote the Silver Elves, two among the many elves who were openly nonhuman during the 70s and who became the roots of the modern otherkin community in particular, “being an elf is always about choice… [T]hese elves think that we are elves principally because we have chosen to be so.” (Magical Realms of Elfin, 3-4)
The idea that we can become nonhuman — in identity, in attitude, and in self — is not new, although it wouldn’t matter if it was: in embracing choice, it’s important to remember that we also must embrace the choice of forging new paths and finding new viewpoints. But unfortunately, for almost as long as individuals have been becoming nonhuman, there have been those in the community who oppose this personal freedom. Many today deeply want to be nonhuman, but are turned away by the assumption that the lack of choice is a monolithic otherkin experience, and that all individuals are either otherkin or wholly human.
The reality, though, is that the nonhuman community not only can but must embrace the role of choice in so many of our lives — be we otherkin, alterlink, or just content in saying what we are without any particular qualifiers. Our shared experience of nonhumanity is what brings us together. When we choose to embrace choice, we choose to embrace a bigger, more vibrant nonhumanity, one with room for both our conventional ideas about nonhumanity and entirely new one.
It is difficult to talk about choice-based communities without talking about the copinglink community. Often disparaged as “tumblrkin,” copinglink refers to those who actively nurture an identity as other for the purpose of coping with the difficulties of their life — often, though not always, traumas associated with ableism, transphobia, and other forms of oppression. It is probably the best-known choice-based identity term, coined in 2015 by tumblr user who-is-page out of frustration with the conflation of voluntary identity and otherkin identity; however, the term has been criticized for an excessive focus on the coping portion of the identity, for being coined by someone who did not engage in chosen identity, and for seeming to view the idea as less serious or important than otherkin identity. This has resulted in the use of other terms, like otherlink and alterlink.
The last of these criticisms — the viewing voluntary identity as a game, while otherkin identity is serious business — is probably familiar to anyone anywhere in the alterhuman community, which has always struggled with creating hierarchies. In truth, the reason or source behind an identity can’t prove how important it is to the person who carries it; there are voluntary identities that underpin people’s whole lives (the aforementioned Silver Elves, with their choice-based perspective, have been living openly as elves since before the term otherkin was coined!) and there are involuntary identities that serve as little more than a footnote. Not all alterhumans are nonhuman, not all nonhumans are otherkin, and whatever we are, we need to stick together — it’s not like those who oppose us sweat those details. We’re all in it together.
But voluntary identity goes even beyond the alterhuman community. Although not all members of the voidpunk community consider ourselves alterhuman, the same basic concept applies: the choice to reject humanity, or to accept the inhumanity pushed on us. Many in the transhuman community seek a mechanical or digital life, even though they have no context for the machinekin community. Anyone who has been in the Renaissance Fair scene will have met people who buy season passes, who go as the same fae or elfin being every day, who try to embody the essence of that character they become even when they aren’t at the fair, who run in-character Facebook pages. Few of these people know what otherkin are, let alone alterhumanity, but that doesn’t stop them from finding joy in letting go of humanity for a while. It’s not about why they take on their nonhuman roles; it’s about the fact that they do.
And that’s the essence of it: It shouldn’t matter to you why I’m a machine, or why I’m an ooze, or why I’m a gnoll. It shouldn’t matter why anyone is anything. Do we ask humans why they’re human? Do we ask our pets why they’re cats, or dogs, or fish? We accept things for what they are, until they’re marked as other or weird by society. Then we pick apart the exact details, looking to prove our legitimacy — but in trying to be accepted by “normal”, human people do, we often accept their arguments against some of us to prove we’re the “good” ones. We cannot succeed by creating little nexuses of acceptable nonhumanity; we have to make nonhumanity itself acceptable.
What does a world look like where we don’t question each other’s legitimacy — where we let ourselves decide the importance of our own identities not based on the why but on how they feel? What is a world where we can become what we’d like to, regardless of the purpose? Even for those with involuntary identities, there is often a process of embracing one’s nonhumanity and becoming more nonhuman by centering that portion of the self: of bringing things into one’s life that remind them of their true self, of learning to induce shifts, of meditating, etc. And these things are important! There’s an incredible energy in actively choosing to embrace one’s own nonhumanity, whether or not you chose to have it in the first place. When we support those choices — when we support all choices — we create a community where we can be our most authentic selves.
This month’s article was written by Marron, one of our volunteers, and voted on by our Patrons. You can write for us by applying through our volunteering page, and decide what ideas we tackle by pledging $5 or more a month.
Posted 2020-01-06 23:00:54 GMT