If you’ve been in the community for longer than, say, a year, or just visited the otherkin tag on Tumblr for more than a minute, you’ve probably seen just about every reason under the sun used in an attempt to justify a non-human identity. People claim shifts, connections, coping mechanisms, shapeshifting, magick, reincarnation, fashion, childhood experiences, and some other rather outlandish things to prove that they are, in fact, otherkin. But you know what? I don’t care. At all. Nope. I don’t care if you’ve experienced every kind of shift there is, act like an animal to cope with trauma, feel the biggest connection anyone’s ever felt to this animal, dress like it every day, acted exclusively like it as a kid. I don’t even care if you can bend the laws of physics to your will and actually shapeshift into this creature because- and I really hate to break it to you, but none of those things make you a therian. Sorry.
Alright, maybe that’s a bit extreme. None of those things inherently make you a therian, I should say. The point I wanted to make was that there is only one criteria you absolutely must fulfill to identify as a therianthrope: you must identify as a non-human animal. Yes, that’s it. You don’t have to shift, or feel a connection, or feel you were reincarnated. You don’t even have to be some sort of magical shapeshifter. In fact, most of what I’ve listed actually has nothing to do with therianthropy at all. It might be related to you identifying as non-human, but it most certainly has nothing to do with whether or not you identify as non-human in itself. Let me briefly go over each and explain exactly why that is.
- Shifts. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “but Calico! Shifting is an integral part of therianthropy! What do you mean shifting doesn’t make you a therian?” well, I hate to break it to you, but not all therians shift. Yes, there are in fact therians who do not experience mental shifts (most often they are vacillant), and there are therians with no phantom limbs or sensory shifts or dreams shifts. So how could they possibly know they’re therians without experiencing all of this? Simple, they identify as a non-human animal. On an integral, personal level, they do not identify as a human being, shifts or not. How they figured this out without the shifts is up to the individual, but shifts don’t necessarily make a therian, they’re just a common side effect of therianthropy. Not to mention, there are non-kin who can experience shifts, I’m afraid we’re not in some exclusive shifting club. It’s more than possible for non-therian multiples, people with totem animals, other-hearted people, etc. to experience shifts. Not to mention phantom limbs, a term more commonly associated with amputees than therians.
- Connections. Oh boy is this a huge pet peeve of mine! You can feel connections to animals all day long, but I promise you it absolutely, positively, 100%, does not make you a therian no matter how hard you try. “But Calico! I love wolves so much! I feel so connected to them, I act like them all the time, I wish I was one, I hate being a human, I want be a wolf!” well buddy, that’s great and all, but it’s got nothing to do with therianthropy. Instead, pal, what you’ve described is other-heartedness. You can read all about that in Renata’s lovely essay on the subject here and another great essay by Marz here.
- Coping mechanisms. I’m really going to have to tread lightly with this one because it’s one of the most controversial things in the community right now and I’m not really looking to go pissing people off. Copingkin are a matter of opinion, but I’m gonna be straight up and say that pretending to be an animal because it helps you cope with trauma is not therianthropy. It just isn’t, and you can’t just go adopting a term that’s been around for decades and stretch it to fit what you’re experiencing. Look, if someone wants to claim to be Ash’s Butterfree because it helps them cope, that’s just dandy, but it isn’t therianthropy. Therianthropy is not something that is chosen, it’s just something that is, it’s a part of one’s identity, you can’t just make it up to help you cope.
- Physical Shapeshifting (P-Shifting). It’s not possible. Sorry.
- Magick. Doesn’t really have anything to do with therianthropy at all. Worth looking into if you’re one of those people who thinks they might be a therian because you have a strong bond with nature and things. You might find the community more suitable to your interests.
- Reincarnation. One of the most common spiritual reason one claims for their non-human identities, reincarnation is often what kin believe causes their therianthropy, and that’s great and all, but reincarnation on its own doesn’t quite constitute therianthropy. If you were a komodo dragon in a past life, okay, but what makes you feel like you’re a komodo dragon now? If the life didn’t leave enough of an impression on your identity/soul to make you still feel as if you identify as a komodo dragon now, it’s not relevant to therianthropy.
- Fashion. I can put on cat ears and a tail all I like but it’s not going to make me identify as a cat. Lots of therians choose to dress like their theriotypes as a form of expression, sure, but on its own it too is irrelevant to determining whether or not you identify as non-human.
- Childhood experiences. When I was a kid, I used to pretend to be a dog all the time, and it was a lot of fun and I was good at it. I wasn’t good at it because I identify as a dog, though, I was good at it because I owned two dogs and dogs are literally all over the place so my impressionable child brain got pretty good at copying it. While it’s worth looking at in regards to determining theriotypes, childhood experiences alone do not necessarily make you a therian.
I do wish to point out, though, that though the things I’ve listed here are not enough to constitute a non-human identity on their own, that doesn’t stop them from being valuable research tools and things worth looking into in determining your identity. While things like shifts, past lives, and childhood experiences may definitely be signs of perhaps a non-human identity, the point here was that they are not the sole basis to go off of in coming to a conclusion regarding your identity.
Now that all that’s out of the way, you just might be thinking I’ve eliminated just about every way of determining theriotypes, that I’m just being a mean old gatekeeper, or whatever else, but I promise you that’s not the case. The definition of therianthropy has been so distorted and manipulated that at this point it’s become virtually unrecognizable in many places such as Tumblr and FaceBook. However, it’s important to remember that, as I’ve said, the definition of therianthropy is merely identifying as a non-human level on an integral, personal level.
How does one go about that, though? How on Earth can you tell whether you identify as a human or not? Well, the same way you would go about determining any other aspect of your identity: research and a ton of introspection. You can read my essay on strategies for determining one’s theriotype here
, and Shmi’s essay with a few more strategies on the subject here
If anyone has anything to add, wishes to point out mistakes I've made, or has any questions about what I've written, please don't hesitate to let me know.