Yes, it’s the year 12,017 HE and people are learning to embrace their sexuality again. Whether or not you’re into the whole “labels” thing, many more people are openly considering themselves bisexual, sexually fluid, queer, or “pansexual.”
But, are they right though?
Identity policing is problematic, yeah, but so is a lot of the rationale behind many people’s apparent pansexuality.
To be pansexual is to be attracted to people regardless of their gender, or to be attracted to people of all genders. Note the prefix “pan” here, which means “all.”
“Bisexual” refers to attraction to people of two genders, typically those of your own gender and those of another gender. Some may define bisexuality as the attraction to “two or more” genders, but that may also (and more accurately) be referred to as “polysexuality.” Again, note the prefix “bi” here that denotes a quantity of two.
So where’s the problem?
First, many people assume that bisexuality refers only to attraction to binary genders. However, you could rightfully consider yourself bisexual if you were attracted to a binary and a nonbinary gender, or if you were attracted to two nonbinary genders. Ex: “I am attracted to men and androgynes. I am bisexual,” or “I find both neutrois and intergender people attractive, I am bisexual.”
Secondly, repeat after me: Bisexuality is not inherently transphobic.
Yes, many bisexual people are transphobic. A lot of people of many sexualities are. But bisexuality in and of itself isn’t a transphobic concept.
So a huge problem arises when pansexuals define their distinction from bisexuals as something along the lines of “Yeah I like men and women, but like…I’ll also date trans men and trans women, so technically I’m pan and not bi.”
Trans women are the exact same gender as cis women, and trans men have the exact same gender as cis men. Are you doing the math? Because that totals two genders. You don’t need a separate category for your inclusion of trans people. Furthermore, your implication that bisexual people inherently don’t also date trans people is incorrect.
And as discussed before, not all bisexual people are only attracted to binary genders. But one hilariously ironic thing is that so many pansexual people subscribe to the myth of the gender binary.
Do you proudly call yourself pansexual? And do you also find yourself scoffing at those who don’t identify as men or women?
Then congratulations, you’re fucking preposterous! The pansexual pride flag, shown above, literally includes yellow as a representation of attraction to those outside the binary. Pink for women, blue for men, and yellow for…you guessed it, enbies.
So, to recap, if you “don’t believe in” nonbinary people but you still consider yourself pansexual, you’re probably just a transphobic bisexual. If that’s the case, you can find your flag here.
Assuming that you’re the kind of person who considers themself to be generally open-minded and you want to accept your friend for who they are, there are some things you should be aware of concerning nonbinary identities to help you avoid rude or inappropriate comments and behaviors.
“Does this mean my friend is under the trans* umbrella?”
First, there is no asterisk behind “trans.” While you may intend it to be inclusive or representative of the aforementioned “umbrella,” the asterisk is generally inappropriate and othering. Why? This is because the term “trans” (or “transgender”) is already inclusive. You need not add an asterisk to include those who haven’t transitioned, those who are nonbinary, etc. because those people are already included. The term “transgender” refers to anyone who identifies as a gender other than, or in addition to, whichever one they were assigned at birth. If someone does not fit that category, such as cis crossdressers or cis people who disregard gender norms, then they are not trans and do not need to be included with an asterisk either.
Therefore, the answer to the above question is technically “yes.” Though if your friend specifies that they feel they are not transgender, for any reason, and does not identify with the term, then the answer would be “no.”
In addition to this information, here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Your friend’s preferred pronouns are grammatically correct.
People often erroneously take issue with neopronouns or neutral pronouns with the reasoning that they are “grammatically incorrect.” For starters, this is technically untrue, as English has recognized the singular “they” since the late fourteenth century. Its use to refer to someone of unknown or unspecified gender is far from a new phenomenon. While its use as a specifically nonbinary term is relatively new, this makes little difference. In my personal experience, the vast majority of those who take issue with whether or not singular “they” is grammatically correct tend to do so hypocritically: They often make grammatically errors in casual writing, they use a regional dialect that may be considered (again, erroneously) by outsiders to be incorrect, etc. In other words, those that make these complaints are hardly holding themselves to the grammatical standards that they hold nb/trans people to. Not only this, but few of these people understand how a language forms and becomes officially recognized, and what makes certain grammar correct or incorrect. There’s a high probability that your own personal grammar 24/7 is not stellar, let alone entirely flawless, so don’t fret over the ‘correctness.’ So while it may sound strange and may be uncomfortable to use at first, you should always make an effort to learn and use your friend’s chosen pronouns.
- Their gender is not a matter of debate.
Yes, your friend’s gender is certainly “real.” If you’re only looking to accept them on the basis of “well, people can do whatever they want and call themselves what they want even if its technically not real,” then you need to take a step back and educate yourself further on gender and what it means to be a friend. Not only does your friend likely know themselves better than you do, but it you’re cis (unless you happen to hold a degree in gender studies and human biology), there’s a really good chance that your friend understands the concept of gender a bit better than you do. And that is perfectly fine! No one needs to know everything about everything, but it means that you should respect your friend’s knowledge of themself and gender. Unfortunately, gender is seldom ever discussed in-depth or actually accurately in lower levels of education. So it is important to remember that your eighth grade class on sexual reproduction by no means gives you the qualifications to invalidate your friend or critique anyone’s sense of gender. Not only do you probably not know what you’re talking about, but it is a very unnecessary, callous, and inappropriate debate topic.
- Support and Acceptance =/= Patronizing Comments and Being OTT
By all means, let your friend confide in you if they choose. Use their preferred name and pronouns. Reassure them. Defend and protect them. But realize that there is a difference between being a good friend and ally, and being…embarrassing. If your friend happens to be transfemme, for example, save the “YAAASSS gurl, slay hunny! omg” comments every time they wear makeup or something. Unless that is how you respond to all your friends wearing makeup every time they wear it, in which case I’m not sure how you still have friends. All jokes aside, casual compliments will suffice. Don’t try too hard in being supportive, just be genuinely accepting.
- Avoid Performative Allyship
On a related note, there is a difference between genuine support and the above. Performative allyship is basically anything that serves as a (whether or not you are conscious of it) “Look at how unproblematic I am!” And it doesn’t actually help at all. For example, consistently apologizing to trans/nb people for what cis society has done doesn’t really help anyone at all. All that tells us is that you, for some reason, feel the need to apologize for something you allegedly aren’t doing or partaking in. Don’t go around talking about how you’re so much unlike other cis people, don’t be a social media activist who spouts about how “good” you are, don’t conflate jokes about cis people to actual issues and oppression faced by trans/nb people, don’t demand any awards or good treatment for being a decent human being, don’t claim to be a flawless source of information on trans/nb topics just because you have trans/nb friends, etc. Truly being an ally doesn’t require just a media outlet or an audience. “Ally” isn’t part of your qualifications or identity, so don’t bother including that in every bio on every social media. If you’re an actual ally, we’ll know.
It is also important to remember that your friend is still who they have likely always been, and is just beginning to express themselves better- not actually changing overall as a person. You don’t have to change how you feel or change your relationship to/with your friend. Liked shopping before? Great, you can still do that together! Liked gaming? Yep, you both can still do that as well. Surfing? Go for it.
And while it may take some time to get used to a name change or using different pronouns, and it may be strange to get used to an overall different appearance/presentation if your friend chooses to start HRT, it shouldn’t be anything that makes you generally uncomfortable. It may seem weird at first, but the more you dwell on the transition of your friend rather than go about a normal friendship, the weirder it will seem. Things will only be awkward or uncomfortable if you let them be.
Furthermore, however difficult or strange things may feel for you at first, remember that it is far easier to support someone during transitioning or be the friend of a nonbinary person than it is to actually come out or begin transitioning yourself. Your friend may have already felt very uncomfortable and dysphoric before coming out or transitioning as well, so remember that it is best to keep their feelings in mind.
I have discussed the topic of rewilding many times previously, so if you are unaware of what is meant by the term “rewild,” perhaps read either Rewilding: A Radical Approach to Environmentalism? or Towards a Better Understanding of “Progress” first.
However, if you are already acquainted the community, you are well aware of the intense social justice movement that has been at the core of true rewilding. Rewilding groups have long since served to give indigenous peoples a valid voice, to help white people acknowledge their potentially racist views, to give women a stand, and to confront toxic masculinity. Seldom does one come across an anti-civ or anarcho-primitivist without also encountering radical feminism.
In other words, a large portion of rewilders or “hunter-gatherer wannabees,” are self-proclaimed Social Justice Warriors…and proud of it. After all, racism, sexism, and classism are all problematic results of civilizations. These must therefore also be abolished, along with civilization itself.
The reality of many of these people, however, is that you’re unlikely to find a more ironically harmful sanctimonious group in any other area of activism. How? Let’s break this down.
More women are harmed than empowered
If you’re a victim of sexual assault or harassment, you might want to steer clear of these groups. They will frequently equate deforestation to rape, or virtually anything they deem harmful to rape. And content warnings? Ha. Women with PTSD have obviously never existed…especially not from rape! (sarcasm).
In addition, though well meaning, you will often be valued as a woman before being valued as an individual. For example, do you have some interesting point to add to a conversation that is irrelevant to gender? Prepare to hear “I appreciate the input of a woman” before you hear “I appreciate your unique perspective.” And if your gender is for some reason undisclosed, you can always increase the validity of any argument you make with “As a woman,” or “and this is coming from a woman!” despite the actual content of your argument.
Science is an enemy, conspiracies are valid.
While you might gain some respect as a scientist if you loudly and frequently remind everyone you’re a woman, you’ll still have a fair chance of being equated to a rapist man.
Any science relevant to medicine is automatically “Big Pharma” propaganda, any science relevant to the origin of humanity is probably racist colonial ideology, any science regarding nature is probably imposing on the spirits of wildlife and the spirituality of indigenous peoples.
Science is regularly condemned for sexism, animal cruelty, and racism. And while not all of these criticisms are invalid, the overwhelming proposed solutions are (i.e “fuck science.”)
There is also heavy use of cherry-picking, wherein problematic scientists from the (18)eighties are regularly cited as examples to the faults of science, but virtually no one takes note of up-to-date articles or analyzes currently active research facilities and practices. Essentially because there is an idea that any information we have on past scientists is 100% verifiable, but any information on modern science (or scientists) must inherently be false information meant to disguise the truth…that is, unless the information reveals more problematic practices or beliefs.
But mainly, I want to discuss one grievance I have in particular: Transphobia. And, not surprisingly, how it is hurting everyone.
First and foremost, supporting a minority group means supporting all of that group and not just those it is easy to support, not just those you agree with politically, not just those you’re friends with.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter how many Nazis you want to punch, you’re still not anti-racism if you blatantly refuse to address the fact that transwomen of color face some of the highest murder rates in predominately white nations. We’re only four months into 2017 and at least eight trans WoC have been murdered already.
You say Black Lives Matter. You update you profile picture to say that you stand with Standing Rock. You call out Stormfront. You address the growing white supremacy among Asatruar/heathens.
But I haven’t seen a single person outrage over these murders. In fact, I haven’t even seen anyone briefly mention any of these women.
Where’s your allyship now? Does the gender of these women somehow negate their skin color? I’d love to say something along the lines of “Please explain, I’ll wait” but if anything, I’ve learned from these various rewilding micro-communities that you can’t wait for hypocrites to address their own hypocrisy.
Let me know when you not only know what “DAPL” stands for, but who Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow was. Let me know when you not only know who Trayvon Martin was, but who Ciara Mcelveen was. Until then, fuck off because you’re still very much your average white person.
And yes, these rewilding communities tend to be primarily composed of cishet white men regardless of how socially progressive they claim to be or how humble they try to be. So I suppose you can only hope for so much when you think of a group of radical feminists founded and composed of the above.
Here, you’ll find assertions that there is more to a woman than tits and a vagina whilst transwomen are invalidated because of the genitalia they had at birth (regardless of whatever their physical anatomy may be currently, although this is irrelevant).
Here, you’ll find claims that gender is a social construct that results from patriarchy, alongside claims that transwomen cannot be women because of “biology” (which is an evil science anyway, right?)
Here, you’ll find criticisms of the illogical standards of beauty women have been held to, while gender non-conforming ciswomen are also criticized for not embracing their femininity (which has to look like dresses and makeup, according to some).
Here, you’ll see the “it doesn’t matter that she was raped and is someone’s mother/daughter/sister, because she is SOMEONE period” signs with commentary that includes how women are women because of motherhood and nurturing.
And in addition to the above, you’ll see transwomen invalidated because they cannot have children or breastfeed. As though infertile women are just men, as though women who have had to undergo hysterectomies are just men, as though women who have every right to have NO interest in mothering are just men.
You’ll find the literally just false idea that misogyny only ever affects ciswomen. And despite the large number of ciswomen who claim to have never experienced misogyny and don’t need feminism, these rewilders will say it applies to all women. Yet when a transwoman has tangibly experienced misogyny and pleads to be included in feminism, they will either cover their ears and eyes or go from radical feminist to misogynist themselves in less than five seconds.
Rewilding groups are meant to provide education and be a safe-space for minorities. But there is virtually no appeal. I, being an AFAB person, find no comfort among these people. I, being a victim of sexual assault, feel no safer around these people. And yet they have the audacity to claim to genuinely care for people like myself. Funny how that works.
Another significant complaint: Ableism
Science and scientists in general will be called “eugenicists” insultingly. Eugenics is bad, they say, because it has been used as a tool of racists. It isn’t just PoC who are targeted, but they’re evidently all who matters. In fact, a PoC (who had no photos of themselves, but asking for proof of their ethnicity would’ve been racist too), who was a member of one such group recently posted about “fake genders” that the eugenicist scientists were now recognizing. And yet, being queer was legitimately once considered a mental disorder. Trans people are still erroneously considered “mentally ill.” And the mentally disabled were one of, if not the primary target of eugenics. While the vast majority of people today wouldn’t dare suggest culling society of PoC, far more people are perfectly accepting of abortion of fetuses that may be born disabled (even if they’re otherwise aggressively pro-life) and of “putting down” or euthanizing mentally ill people. “Rehabilitation costs money, and extra care requires too much energy” is commonly held sentiment in regards to the existence of the disabled.
And as mentioned earlier, there are few accommodations for those who are neurodivergent. No content warnings on posts or discussions, and certainly no “trigger warnings.” No or few clarifications of sarcasm in case anyone involved lacks the ability to pick up on sarcasm and differentiate it from normal speech.
Oh yeah, along the lines of insensitivity to women who have been raped by the callous equation of environmental destruction to forcibly engaging in sex with an unwilling person there is the equation of civilization/industrialization being a product of collective mental illness or that the average person (who doesn’t want to leave civilization) suffers from psychosis.
One could also argue that the rewilding movement in and of itself is purely ableist due to its rejection of modern medicines that depend on industrial society, and what with how industrialization in medicine is part of what is keeping so many people alive at all. This is something I have seen briefly refuted once, but the idea is reasonably still there.
So in other words, these communities often don’t genuinely care about people per se, but rather their ideology and anyone they can use or exploit to further said ideology. If women see civilization as inherently patriarchal, they will further the movement. If more PoC want to return to “pre-contact” states of existence, they will further the movement. Trans people and disabled people simply don’t fit it here, they’re useless…or worse, a threat.
Although, there is a humorous aspect to all of this. Despite the numerous shitty people with shitty illogical opinions that tend to dominate these communities, queer people are still here. The otherly-abled are still here.
I’ve been, in various degrees of activity, involved in rewilding groups for about five years or so. I never once would have thought other trans people had any knowledge of the existence of this movement, let alone had any interest. I never once stumbled upon an openly trans person. It wasn’t until I became more active in trans support groups and trans-friendly spaces that I found others who had experiences with some of the same exact people I observed in these groups. In fact, I vaguely mentioned some transphobia I came across by one prominent member of the rewilding movement, and someone messaged me afterwards knowing exactly who I was vaguely referring to.
Trans people can be feminists.
Trans people can be radical environmentalists.
Trans people aren’t always white, and can experience racism.
Trans people can be a part of this movement, and have been, without many knowing. Many of these trans people I contacted later have actually worked with specific people in such groups and organizations, and yet I doubt that if any of these rewilders happen to read this, that they have been aware they’ve worked with trans people before.
So regardless of any passerby’s opinion on environmentalism, or social justice, or the existence of queer people….it is worth noting that many people in this particular group are in fact hypocritical and potentially dangerous. This isn’t an argument on the validity of the rewilding ideology or feminism, but merely an observation that the social justice involved therein is hardly social justice.
I previously mentioned in Why I Left the Wiccan Faith the concept of “breaking up” with a religion and why. This concept might also now have to apply to this rewilding subculture, as like a scientist (cue laughter), I change and grow with more information. And a lot of information is slowly raising up a red flag over these groups.
A post that has been making the rounds on Facebook by a woman named Patricia expresses her disappointment with the, for lack of a better word, slutty appearance of other black women. She goes so far as to claim that “they feel compelled to walk around half naked, showing their bodies and see nothing wrong with it is because it was beaten and forced upon them during slavery.” And proceeds to claim that “before we were put on those slave ships, we never expose our bodies.”
Essentially, all these black women who attempt to disregard an out-dated subjective moral stance by general society are only doing so because white people forced their ancestors to. Makes sense, right?
Not really. In fact, not even remotely. Why? Let’s break this down (and explain how it itself contains its own racism)
- So white slave masters forced women to strip, so the descendants of those women also want to expose their bodies? Okay, and do you have proof that every single “slutty” black woman’s ancestry shows slavery? Humans are not dogs. It is quite literally impossible, biologically speaking, for a woman to have any inherent behavior just because something happened to her ancestors. That isn’t to say the actions of the past do not still affect us, but that is because racism is a modern issue as well. Racism is still relevant. Those that do anything allegedly because of white supremacy aren’t doing so because it once existed. It’s because it still does affect people in 2017. In fact, research has shown that the more subtle a form of prejudice or discrimination exists in society, the greater the impact it has on the target group cognitively. It isn’t enough that slavery is over.
- “Slave masters made us strip to humiliate us/punish us.” Did you look at a painting and just guess that? Or do you just ‘feel’ like that makes sense? OR did you actually use historical reverences and first-hand accounts? Yes, there is no question that slave masters humiliated and punished slaves. And yes, white men would rape slaves as a form of control. Sexuality and dominance had a very disturbing significance in relation to slavery, so it actually makes sense to assume that this was why many illustrations of slave women show their bare breasts. But is it the only factor? Of course not. Men were also largely bare in many of these instances, so why is there no supposed inherent black male slutiness? Well for starters, this lack of clothing often was used for slave masters to inspect the physique of the people in question, to see what work (if any) they were deemed useful for. This also allowed easier access to the skin for physical punishment. Female slaves often had their breasts exposed to sexualize the women and make them uncomfortable,and to perhaps increase the chances of sexual assault. But while this did occur, it isn’t true of every female slave. What about the descendants of the females slaves who didn’t have to expose their breasts? Are they the modest women we see today? Unlikely. If it was far more common for female slaves to be paraded around in the nude than it was for them to dress modestly, wouldn’t that mean that virtually all black women in the US are these immodest women? Is that not a bit of a stretch?
But easily the most blatantly incorrect and ironically Eurocentric of Patricia’s claims is that “before we were put on those slave ships, we never expose our bodies.” In saying this, Patricia not only reveals her ignorance of history, but she reveals her disrespect of fellow contemporary African women. She erases centuries of history of African women. She shows shame in the very ancestors that are responsible for her existence. How?
This is a family of the Twa peoples of Africa. This is no painting from a history book. It’s real, modern life. The Twa are a group of the Pygmy* peoples whose history dates back several centuries. Hundreds of years before the existence of “African-Americans.” Before many Africans were uprooted. See that woman and two lovely children? Now show me the white man forcing them to dress like this. You can’t. But the worst thing is, is that there is an effect from racism on these people. But you cannot see it here. They’ve experienced genocidal violence, cannibalism, eviction from their land, and more. And for what? So that they will dress modestly and settle into society as accountants or electricians or whatever other fantasy that the surrounding areas want. This is not who they are, it is not who they have been and it is not what they want. They would prefer to continue their proudly indigenous lifestyle (that, yes, includes being topless *gasp*) that to be robbed of their cultural identity just because some white cultures across the seas find them offensive.
“A ‘Pygmy’ loves the forest as she loves her own body” -MBENDJELE SAYING
Guess who else never left Africa, and whose traditions predate much of foreign slave-trade history? These proud Himba women. Still modern. Still not forced to be this way. And still enjoying their rich African heritage. That is of course, when white tourists aren’t stopping by and looking at them like they’ve arrived at a freak show. Or when all the men and boys are being forced to live to go to the cities to try in vain for jobs that they wouldn’t need, if they were just left alone. Or when foreign people aren’t introducing drugs, alcohol, and junk food.
As you can see, indigenous Africa isn’t all just white little churches and dresses from 1950’s America. If you are a black women, you most definitely had ancestors at some point in history who exposed their bodies long before white man even knew what Africa was. And why? Because their cultures, yes…plural, don’t always perfectly mirror the standards of Western civilization. And they don’t need to. The African peoples who cover themselves head to toe are just as African as any of the people listed here. You cannot just generalize all black women outside of Africa and say with certainty that no ones ancestors happened to be like these people. And if they did, all the more power to them!
So what about historical Africa then? The great civilizations? Well surely there was no way a woman ever exposed her skin! Wrong.
“…some of the archaeologists who unraveled the story of the Sun Pharaoh had difficulty accepting what they found and became highly critical of Akhen-Aton and Nefertiti. “‘Brought up in an environment of Victorian and puritanical notions, they condemned these entrancing figures of Egyptian history because they discovered that not only the Pharaoh and his wife but also their children and officials went around with too few clothes (transparent at that!) or no clothes at all, that they practiced nudity in the royal palace, in the royal gardens and swimming pool, that they loved physical beauty, valued good food and wine, and led a frankly joyful existence’.”
What was that about skin exposure not existing before the slave ships arrived? Hm…
African history is full of women who dressed in a variety of less-than-your-idea-of-modest ways. This wasn’t the result of white people (ha, like they could be responsible for that much diversity in cultures). It’s purely African, purely human. To look at this history and all these variety of people with shame or disgust is to be ridiculously shallow and indicated nothing more than your lack of true values. Not theirs.
But anyway, does it really matter if white people actually were responsible for this alleged epidemic of black slutiness? Well, let’s think about it. Things white people definitely aren’t responsible for: Nudity. Things white people definitely are responsible for: Crusading around the globe to erase indigenous culture and force people to convert to Christianity (often at gun point and/or threat or rape). Hmmm. Yet there appears to be an issue many people have here with nudity, because of their Christian values. Interesting. Patricia claims white people want black women to be overly sexualized, but white people have most certainly instilled the idea into everyone’s heads that there is only one good way to be: Capitalist (contrary to the vast majority of indigenous cultures), monogamous (still contradictory to many indigenous cultures), Christian (contradictory to virtually every indigenous population), and the list goes on and on. Let us also not forget the plethora of other indigenous POC currently facing hardships due to racism who also still have and have had nudity or skin exposure in their cultures as well. May as well say white people created the moon, if they are responsible for that much of human global culture and all of human history.
Have you ever asked: “Are my values really mine, or were they too enforced upon my ancestors?”
But to conclude, the REAL reason anyone is any amount of “slutty” is because this is the United States** (or other area) where we have the freedom to be. Confidence. The primal beauty of courting. Self-love. Enjoyment of what it means to truly embrace humanity. The way YOU respect YOURSELF doesn’t have to align with every other woman in existence. Because just like Africa, women too are diverse with a variety of different beliefs, values, and traditions.
*”Pygmy” was once a derogatory term but is now preferred by many of these tribe members.
**Not everyone is here in the US, obviously. But many of the black women I knew personally were. If she wants to refer specifically to her own black ethnic group or nationality, that is fine (albeit still inaccurate). Yet now many black American women feel their self-love is a shameful result of dark American history, and that isn’t okay.
***Yes, not everything white people do is bad, not all of white history is bad, POC history has faults too, etc. This all is beside the point, and everyone is aware of this already.
In the modern and ever-progressing world of science, we’ve discovered ways in which it is possible for two biological females to produce a child without the use of a man’s sperm. Along with a modern perspective on gender and feminism, we’ve seen women running for presidency to plumbing to computer science and more. So why do men even still exist? Would it not, logically of course, be more productive for a society to now ‘prevent’ men? In some nations, women already outnumber men, so it might be an easier transition from a male inclusive world to a male exclusive world than we thought. Saves time, at least?
I’ll go ahead and take my chances with assuming that, so far, someone has been offended and thought “this is so sexist!” And trust me, I understand where you are coming from. You probably should be questioning my intent of this post. But I assure you, it isn’t sexism. I am merely pointing out a reality.
The reality is that around 1.7% of children have been born “intersex.” This means their physical anatomy, hormone levels, and chromosomes in consideration do not match either “male” guidelines or “female” guidelines. They fall out of our binary concept of human sex. Yes, 1.7% is a small percentage. However, it equates to roughly 119,000,000 people. This means that about 1 in every 1,500-2,000 babies are born with genitalia that require a specialist to help determine the sex of the baby (even though these babies are the minority, as many more infants are born with subtle or internal sex differences).
Yet, instead of accepting or embracing this harmless occurence, we’ve considered it a repulsive disability. We’ve historically put these people as performers in freak shows. We’ll force expensive surgeries on people to “cure” them.
- “They’re already a minority anyway.” It being relatively rare justifies this? But…men are outnumbered in some nations too. Is the frequency of occurrence so significant to warrant an entire exclusion of a sex of people?
- “They’re gross/unappealing.” I’m sure lesbians could say the same of a penis, but again, should be really be considering men useless because of that? Clearly not everyone is lesbian though. And not everyone has the idea that intersex people are disgusting. Furthermore, many intersex people have subtle internal differences- you wouldn’t be able to tell if someone was intersex or not. I cannot burn every shoe store that sells Crocs just because I think they’re disgusting. So what could possibly give anyone the idea that preventing an entire group of human beings based on the same concept is rational or anything less than extremely egotistical?
- “They’re broken/a mistake.” Anyone could say the same of any other sex as well. Imagine, now that men are obsolete, attending a birth wherein instead of blue It’s a Boy! balloons, you see weeping family members. Instead of hearing “Congratulations on bearing a healthy baby boy!,” you hear “I’m sorry to inform you, but your child has been diagnosed as heterogametic. It’s an XY. The penis can probably be removed, but…” In fact, there already historically have been similar attitudes towards the births of females, due to them being economically less valued or not permitted to rule in a monarchy, or for other reasons.
And while people can continue to deny the reality, with at least some level of logic remaining visible to some people, that being transgender or queer is a choice, there is literally no question no matter how hard you pretend otherwise in this case. Most of us are aware of the fact that being queer isn’t a choice, but all of anyone with even a minute amount of sense knows that no one can choose the hormones, chromosomes, or anatomy they were born with. Sure, continue annoying everyone with “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” posters. But it’d be quite a stretch to start saying “It’s Adam the penis-having, XY heterogametite and Eve the vagina-and-breast XX homogametite, nOT ANYTHING ELSE EVER!” That’s akin to protesting anyone with blue eyes because you think Adam and Eve had brown eyes, or protesting anyone who uses the internet because Adam and Eve couldn’t back in their day. Hell, why not start naming every boy Adam and every girl Eve because it was only ever them who ever mattered…ever. (Oh, but….not everyone is born a boy or girl!)
If intersex people do exist, and they do, maybe instead of getting upset, we could finally acknowledge the persistent fact that sex is not binary, but it in reality a spectrum. The only thing that results in these illogical attitudes towards intersex people is the completely unneccessary expectation of sex to be binary. But clearly, it isn’t. I can expect a rose bush to grow where I planted any given random seed, but that by no means ensures that a rose bush will grow. So why throw a fit when a coleus grows instead?
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting a daughter, or looking forward to finally having a son. The issue arises when you can only love your child if it results in the expected daughter or the expected son. The issue arises when you abuse, neglect, or disown your own child over this mere expectation.
So if the first paragraph disturbed you, you have no reason to not be disturbed by the erasure and abuse of intersex individuals.
Regardless of whether you are in favor of social progression or not, transgender individuals and the overall concept of identity has reached more publicity than it has it the recent past. As with any marginalized group gaining more representation, there has been backlash such as protests over keeping certain people out of restrooms.
Some people are tired of hearing about what they have deemed “political correctness” and the “social justice warriors” that encourage it. Largely due to the fact that within a few years, people have gone from being encouraged to accept concepts sexualities like bisexuality, to being encouraged to support the existence of multiple genders. And now, presumably, people are being encouraged to support the existence of “otherkin,” those who do not identify as human.
This concept has also been erroneously referred to as “trans-species” and has been speculated by
some many to have originated on the blogging website Tumblr as a means to discredit or mock transgender identities. While this is verifiably false, and I will go into more detail on that further on, there are some issues present regarding the rights of transgender people and the existence of ‘otherkin.’
The first issue is that many people, otherkin or otherwise, often equate and compare the two, and falsely so. This has only caused not only more backlash against trans people, but also against otherkin themselves. Otherkin or not, we cannot ignore that a transgender and an otherkin identity have significant differences. This is true even if they do manage to have some similarities.
One of the most significant differences between the two is that transgender identities are serious. They are relevant. Sure the definition of “gender” may be vague to some and debated (unnecessarily), but all in all genders are a human thing. A person can have an actual gender. If someone walks up to you and says “I am a man,” they are a man. Simple enough.
This is not the case with species. Species is an entirely physical thing, with no misunderstandings or cultural implications that prove otherwise. If a person walks up to you and says “I am a frog,” it is likely going to leave you confused.
Gender is relevant. It involves everyday life: Pronouns, dating, legal documents, etc.
There are no additional species you can add to your drivers license. There are no pronouns that correspond to species.
Furthermore, transgender identities can concern medical issues, and are practical. It makes sense to transition if you are transgender and you choose to do so.
You cannot transition to another species. This would not in any way ever make sense. Transitioning to another species is completely impossible insofar as modern science goes, and would likely end badly 99.9999% of the time even if it were possible. If you changed species, you would drastically alter your daily life, more so than anything else would. You likely would not be able to survive at all, having been raised as a human. You would not likely be accepted by other members of the species that were born into that species. And you would likely wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. If we should not even release pet store-bought feeder crickets into a lawn, then there is absolutely no way releasing humans-turned animals into the wild to live as a completely different species would ever be condoned.
Other significant differences to consider are the experiences of the two. Otherkinity does not have a uniform experience that goes with it, nor does it have a set reasoning behind it. While the cause of gender dysphoria is largely unknown, there is no set experience of otherkinity for which to search for a cause. A person can be otherkin for reasons ranging from psychology to spirituality to family traditions. There is no singular thing that could cause an identity that has such diverse explanation behind it, unless otherkinity itself was broken down into smaller groups and rationalized that way.
One misunderstanding with the experiences is with that of dysphoria. While it is true that many people experience gender dysphoria and many otherkin experience species dysphoria, it is important to realize that species dysphoria as a concept and as an experience is not ultimately tied to otherkinity. Many people who identify as otherkin for psychological reasons cite species dysphoria as an explanation. However, many otherkin who identify they way they do often experience species dysphoria but do not use it as the reasoning for their identity, but instead use a spiritual explanation. And then there are those spiritual otherkin who do not experience dysphoria at all, as well as psychological otherkin who do not experience dysphoria. To make matters more complicated, there are those who experience species dysphoria but do not associate with otherkinity in any way.
“NO, the difference is that transgender people are real and otherkin are a joke. THAT’S the difference!”
Now I am sure someone who has stumbled across this has thought something along the lines of the above quote. So now I will clarify on the history and ‘reality’ of otherkin.
For starters, denying the existence of something just because you do not “believe” in it does not make it go away. I do not believe in Christianity, yet Christians still exist. I do not believe in reincarnation, but that does not change the fact that there are people out there actually considering themselves to be a fox in a human body because of it. Whether or not you respect a group of people or believe in the reasoning behind their identity, they will still exist and continue to perceive themselves in the way that they do. You could say “otherkin identities are not logical,” but not everyone is logical, and being illogical does not make you disappear entirely.
As far as otherkin literally being a joke, this is a completely false assumption made by those who do not bother looking into things that bother them. Otherkin did not pop up by some ‘troll’ on Tumblr to make fun of transgender people.
The modern otherkin community has its roots loosely in a neo-Pagan group known as The Elf Queen’s Daughters, which was established before the mid 1970s. From there, another neo-Pagan group known as The Silver Elves arose, which directly influenced the existence of the modern otherkin community. All of this was happening long before the existence of Tumblr and the unfortunately widespread ‘hobby’ of “internet trolling.” From these groups of people, who largely identified as humanoid mythological creatures for spiritual purposes, came two separate groups of those with nonhuman identities: In 1994, therianthropes, those who identify as nonhuman Earthly animals; and draconites/draconics, those who identify as dragons came about. As of the last half decade or so, however, those who identify as dragons are simply referred to as “otherkin,” “dragonkin,” or “mythkin,” and those who identify as real animals are referred to as “therians.” The modern otherkin community was initially largely spiritual, but has since included many more of those who consider their identity to be psychological, philosophical, or experiential.
All in all, otherkin were completely unrelated to transgender issues (as the should have been) until their presence on Tumblr, wherein the assumption that they were the joke of a transphobe popped up, and when younger, ignorant individuals began solidifying this assumption by actually calling themselves “trans-species,” and/or callously equating the two when they discovered the concept on Tumblr alone. In addition to this, unsurprisingly, many pseudo-otherkin accounts were created by others specifically with the intent on making otherkin into a transphobic joke, hence the presence of “toastkin” or “chairkin” Tumblr accounts and the phrase “sexually identify as” often accompanying those identities, along with ‘nounself’ pronouns like “che/chairs/chairself.” Whether or not these people aim to simply discredit otherkin or to further transphobia, they are certainly neither real nor relevant to actual gender identities or otherkinity.
“Actually, neither are real. There’s no proof, so there actually is no difference!”
…And I am sure someone reading this has probably thought this as well.
This goes back to the fact that disrespect or dislike for, or disbelief in someone or something does not mean it does not exist.
That aside, identities are not necessarily something that can be proven or disproved. If someone legitimately sees themselves a certain way, no amount of not believing them will change their self-perception. The causes and explanations for an identity, however, are another story…sort of. For example, if someone identifies as a dragon because they believe in an alternate universe where they are a dragon and their soul (or whatever) got switched with that universe’s version of themselves, that may very well be disproved by science one day. If we gain scientific evidence that shows there is only one universe, we will know this person’s logic behind their dragon identity is invalid. If we gain scientific evidence that souls and any variation thereof does not have any physical existence whatsoever, we will know that an identity reasoned with reincarnation is using an invalid explanation. Certain explanations for self-perceptions and identities can be false. If someone says “I am a wolf because my mother was a wolf,” this is clearly biologically impossible and therefore not a valid explanation for why they see themselves or consider themselves the way they do. This is more likely to be a delusion rather than a reason or explanation.
The above quote also follows the logic that despite there being reason for believing in something’s existence, it does not truly exist until confirmed with scientific evidence. This is irrational. If we followed this logic, we would have to insist that no human had ever experienced love up until oxytocin and/or vasopressin were discovered (and we were made aware of their role in human relationships). But considering the fact that pair-bonding ceremonies have existed for centuries in various cultures, that many of us humans seem to be so fond of monogamy, that mothers have not been murdering their infants left and right for no reason, that love poems and courting have been around for centuries, that we cry when our family members die….all of these things and more have suggested the existence of love. Regardless of how well it was understood scientifically and regardless of the fact that it, in and of itself, was not considered to have any singular physical or visual existence. It was known to exist because we experienced it and people documented it. Perhaps someone who has never been in love would have no reason to believe that it existed at all, if it were not for others recounting their own experiences.
Experiences that may or may not explain an identity can be the same way. There may not be a singular, solid scientific explanation for gender dysphoria yet, but this does not mean that it does not exist at all. The fact that there have been suicides due to some peoples inability to cope with gender dysphoria, the fact that many therapists and psychologists diagnose people with it, the fact that concept of “transgender” has existed in multiple variations throughout history in a variety of cultures, the fact that in around 30BC Philo of Alexandria described it, and many more occurrences and situations all repeatedly suggest that gender dysphoria does exist whether or not we can explain why.
Species dysphoria, understandably, is more complicated. It makes sense for it to be a much less commonly experienced phenomenon. However, the fact that there are a plethora of individuals who have been documented to have reported this experience for decades suggests it is a real experience. Lying on the internet is one thing, creating a satire account to further your own opinions on a group of people is another…but these things do not persist for entire lifetimes. That “toastkin” Tumblr account is a Tumblr thing only, and will be active for at most…three years? But these otherkin who have reported these feelings to their family members since youth, these otherkin who have confided in therapists about it, these otherkin who still experience it after having identified the way they do for decades are not simply making it up for ‘shits and giggles.’ It is not a joke to them. It is a real part of their real life that they deal with. And yes, these people exist. Looking for young otherkin on Tumblr will only ever find you young otherkin on Tumblr. Only looking for Tumblrkin (or fake otherkin accounts created by trolls) will only ever find you Tumblrkin. Otherkin exist off of Tumblr, though because I have stated before that these identities are irrelevant socially and not legally serious, many otherkin stay away from mentioning their identities on social media because they have virtually no reason to. Those who do tend to stray away from Tumblr for obvious reasons, especially those who have been in the communities longer and are older.
In regards to the identity without the experience of dysphoria, again, there cannot exactly be proof to begin with. These identities can be akin to an opinion of one’s self, a feeling, and yet again, self-perception. These things do not require “proof.” If you feel ugly, you feel ugly but you may not be aware of the psychological and cultural reasons as to why as soon as you feel ugly. If you look in the mirror and think “Eww, I am ugly” you are likely not thinking “How unfortunate is it that due to human biology we are hardwired to find symmetrical faces appealing, and mine is slightly lopsided. I am ugly!” If you perceive yourself to be a funny person, you do not necessarily need proof. Of course some people may disagree with you, just as many people disagree with the logic behind an otherkin identity, but you may still think of yourself as funny nonetheless…just as otherkin will proceed to be otherkin despite people disagreeing with the logic behind it.
Overall, when it comes to otherkinity, keep your knee-jerk reactions private. Otherkin know they are not literally not human. In the definition of otherkin itself (“Identifying as nonhuman being on a metaphysical, integral level for reasons other than delusion”) it clarifies this. In fact, many otherkin reject the idea that otherkin identify as nonhuman, but that they have a nonhuman identity within their human one. They do not reject humanity. In any case, there is no need for a “otherkin rights” movement, there are no petitions to add a different species to legal documents, there are no species pronouns anyone is asking you to learn, they are not asking to get away with socially unacceptable behaviors, they are not even asking you to acknowledge otherkinity, and there is no otherkin pride parade. There is nothing, because it is unimportant, insignificant, and irrelevant to you. Acting like it is a big deal is what makes it a big deal.
Being otherkin essentially does not matter. Your gender does.
While in the year 12,016¹ it should be no surprise that a nation or peoples’ level of industrialization is not indicative of their intelligence or evolutionary status, many people still currently make this mistake in regards to indigenous peoples.
The traditionalist Christian Amish people may be seen as radical in their literal interpretations of the Bible and their rejection of electricity and many other modern conveniences, but they tend to be a respected group of people. Seldom do people enter Amish Country with the intent of ‘converting’ them to a more modern lifestyle, or attempting to force them into a different way of thinking. While many find the Amish lifestyle and culture to be somewhat odd, it is nonetheless seen as a valid lifestyle choice. A significant amount of people even express an interest in converting and actually joining the Amish.
And that is not a bad thing. However, the story takes on a much different tone when the people in question are indigenous tribal peoples. They are still often referred to as “primitive” or “backwards.” Many people feel personally offended, as can be noted on nearly any Facebook post made by the organization Survival International, by the lifestyles of non-industrialized indigenous peoples, and leave comments that express that a tribal lifestyle is equatable with child abuse, or that by advocating that these Native people should have a right to choose their level of industrialization we are insisting that everyone else give up all technology (which falsely implies indigenous peoples lack technology to begin with), or comments that suggestion criminalization of ‘offensive’ tribal customs.
Scientifically, it is known (and obvious) that Amish people are not a human subspecies; they are not biologically inferior. Their lifestyle and beliefs may be criticized, and rightfully, but they are normal human beings. This is also true, yet less commonly realized, of tribal Natives. The idea that a group of people who choose to live a different, notably simpler lifestyle, are somehow less advanced is therefore referred to as an “Amish Error” because it can be disproven using the more commonly recognized Amish people, or because someone may not judge Amish people in the same manner.
So let me address a few misconceptions, pseudoscientific statements, and problematic notions:
Modernity: The first misconception is that many citizens of first-world countries equate their lifestyle to modernity. Industrialization is as modern as an Amish lifestyle, as they both currently exist. Just because something exists elsewhere in the world, it does not cease to be a part of modern life. Ongoing activities are all modern, regardless of when they were developed. Many people make the mistake in saying “In modern times, women are no longer oppressed.” These people fail to realize that time is not restricted to a location. “Modern day” Iraq is very different from “modern day” United States,” which is very different from “modern day” Amazonian rainforests. Our societies are contemporary.
Health: One of the biggest misconceptions regarding indigenous peoples is their health and welfare. Many people tend to associate the phrase “tribal people” with images of starving African children, filthy people, and sickness. I have heard on more than one occasion advocacy for forcing tribal people into civilization because it would be a “gift” preventing entire tribes being wiped out by plague and children dying from easily preventable diseases. I discussed this previously as well in an earlier essay, Towards a Better Understanding of “Progress”. The fact of the matter is that the best way to prevent these communities from perishing by way of disease is to avoid them. More than anything else, outside contact disturbs their health. Want them to not get diseases and die? Then its safe to say we should not be forcing them into large groups of people (civilization) who carry bacteria and viruses that, while harmless to those in particular nations, could easily kill them. Why bring them somewhere with foreign diseases to vaccinate them to these foreign disease when they could simply have their land be theirs with little chance of deadly foreign disease reaching them? These people have hygienic practices and generations of natural immunity. Post-contact is when these people are most vulnerable to annihilation by disease.
Secondly, life expectancy in the vast majority of tribes is lessened only by infant mortality, and not exponentially. In other words, No, indigenous peoples do not have an average lifespan of 40. Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine at Bristol University reports that the general health of most isolated tribes is “extremely good,” and that following contact “the incidence of severe stress related disorders and mental health conditions will increase very, very rapidly.” Contacted and integrated indigenous populations such as the Innu or Australian Aborigines are reported to have very high rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression that were previously unknown to them. Jo Woodman, a senior researcher at Survival International reports that “their food systems are complex, self-sufficient and deliver a very broad-based, nutritionally diverse diet.” And because many isolated tribes are still largely hunting and gathering societies, they lack the issues that are found to arise from agriculture, which anthropologist Jared Diamond describes as “a catastrophe from which we have never recovered.” These agriculture-induced issues include increase in diseases, weaker bones and teeth, smaller brains and shorter stature, and a heavy dependence on low-nutrient density/high-carb crops.
Child welfare: Many people cite “barbaric” customs regarding youth as a reason to force Natives into a “civilized society.” Many of these customs are mere guesses or assumptions (as rarely does a person cite a specific custom found in a specific, actually existing tribe). However, there can be genuine concern. Yet many of these people fail to realize that many normalized practices of many “civilized” nations could rightfully be considered abuse. Many who are concerned that there may be barbaric rituals or practices involving tribal children may have circumcised their own son, or may use corporeal punishment, or leave their child left alone crying- all without a second thought simply because these things occur among us and not a foreign, strange society. These people usually fail to acknowledge that bonds between indigenous communities tend to be much stronger, that bullying is virtually unheard of, they emphasize sharing and “we” rather than “I,” and that physical violence against children even in form of punishment is largely taboo.
Religion: Many people feel the desire to “rescue” indigenous peoples by bringing them into a civilization that can teach them a better religion. Of all the reasons to uproot a community and cause chaos, this is the probably the least logical. The overwhelming majority of religions have no basis in fact or reality, and therefore certainly should not be imposed upon anyone. Even if it is, in best case scenario, well-intentioned, the results are not very good. More churches do not make up for more diseases and other issues that arise when outsiders, such as missionaries, make contact. Ensuring that someone does not go to hell is not worth eradicating centuries of a culture, or a part of a culture: Ancestral beliefs.
On the other hand, some atheists have posed a similar argument. That these indigenous communities are held back by their seemingly bizarre beliefs, and that we can provide them with better education in a civilized setting. First, the idea of completely erasing an ancestral belief or attempting to “fix it” with our lifestyle is very imperialistic. It does not make sense to forcibly change a group of people so they can have a subjectively better life. Indigenous communities are taught all that is necessary. If they were lacking desperately needed knowledge, they would have either obtained it or died off by now. The knowledge we need to thrive in our lifestyle is not the same as what they need. Teaching them all that we know would be irrelevant at best, and imposing if nothing else. These people will not die if they do not know calculus, but they can suffer or die if their identities are taken from them, if their worldview is crushed, and if they lose ancestral knowledge of land, and if they lose their lands.
Conservation: Indigenous people have been accused of being detrimental to the environment, leading to many being evicted from their ancestral homelands. Being falsely seen as poachers, many have been forced to starve. In the worst cases, anti-poaching groups funded by conservation organization World Wildlife Fund have terrorized and abused Natives. Yet,the world’s most biodiverse areas are home to many of these tribes. These tribes thrive in these areas, and these areas thrive with these tribes. Indigenous communities have lived in harmony with their environments for centuries, long before “conservation” was ever heard of, or necessary. No individual dependant on an industrial civilization will ever be living more sustainably than an indigenous individual would be. Being removed from nature does not mean we do less damage. Not being able to directly see the consequences of our lifestyle does not mean ours has less impact. Indigenous peoples face the worst effects of our lifestyles and of any damage to the environment at all. Virtually every part of life in tribal communities is organic, used entirely, and self-sufficient. In no way does it make sense to evict those who care for their environments the most, whilst allowing tourists into these regions. Yet this is more often than not the case: Those who have cared for the land for generations must be kicked out because they might hurt the environment, but if you’re a foreigner you can pay to come here and shoot a lion and they use that money for conservation.
Overall, even if what we view “progress” to be is truly progressive, we should not feel the need to enforce it upon anyone. These indigenous communities do grow and change with time, and if they chose to integrate, that is fine. But when so many groups and individuals are not only speaking out against it, but actively running and hiding from it, we should leave them alone. They will make their own advancements and do what is best for them. Afterall, they know themselves and one another better than we do.
¹Not using the Anno Domini (AD) numbering, instead using the Holocene Era (HE) calendar
It has been suggested in the Pagan community for those of us who are not Native American to use the word “patronus” as a substitute for the phrase “spirit animal” to avoid cultural appropriation. This was the catalyst for a debate on whether or not the usage of the phrase “spirit animal” was racist. The largest portion of which happened on the website Tumblr, and could be summarized as:
- Using the phrase “spirit animals” is racist if you are not Native, and is stealing from Native American cultures. Use the word “patronus” instead.
- No, it is not racist. The concept of spirit animals has existed globally, in numerous cultures. Native American traditions and practices vary from tribe to tribe, and they do not all have a set “spirit animal” concept. You are judging Native culture by media which incorrectly portrays Native American spirituality. In real life, spirit animals are not real. They are a thing of entertainment, and New Age spirituality, not real cultures.
- [New person] No, I am Native American, and spirit animals are a very real part of our culture. Claiming them only furthers oppression via cultural appropriation. The concept of spirit animals exists globally, but is most associated with Native cultures, and appropriated from us, not the other cultures.
- [Conclusion] Yes, so all non-Native should say “patronus” instead.
It has become quite common across the internet for people to refer to fictional characters, actors, memes, and just about anything humorous as a “spirit animal.” Many Native American individuals have taken offense to this, as it trivializes their spirituality and culture.
Now, as someone had already mentioned, the concept of “spirit animals” and animals having or themselves being spirits can be found in several different indigenous cultures worldwide. So why is this specifically offensive to Native Americans? This is because, as stated, people know “spirit animals” to be a thing of, or associated with, Native American cultures. Those who so often toss the phrase around casually likely cannot name any other specific culture with “spirit animals,” and is probably ignorant of Native American cultures overall (associating “spirit animals” with them, but not knowing much else.) Similarly, when people post online about having a spirit animal, often accompanied with it is reasoning specific to a Native American tribe (“My spirit animal is a wolf because it says in Lakota legend that…”) or simply with Native American art.
My issue here is when it comes to those who are not Native American, but who still may practice their ancestral religions are told to use “patronus” as an alternative.
Here, on one hand, we have people trivializing Native American spiritualities referring to anything online or anything that strikes their fancy as a “spirit animal.” And on the other, we are now opening up the possibility for the trivialization of other traditional spiritualities or Pagan beliefs by using a word that is almost solely associated with the fantasy series Harry Potter.
The area in which I live is populated mostly by militant Christian republicans. Several people have expressed a genuine fear of expressing their Pagan beliefs, worrying that they might be physically assaulted or disowned if they did so. I personally hear aggressive statements concerning numerous groups of people (including but not limited to: Transgender individuals, women, POC, democrats, and gay males) on a daily basis. Yet many of these people enjoy aspects of Pagan beliefs and cultures because of the fantasy aspect (e.g Magic The Gathering, Harry Potter, Thor and Loki featured in popular media). It would be difficult enough stating that I am Pagan, without referencing something they already have engraved into their minds as fantasy (the idea of a patronus).
Therefore, I perfectly understand why many Pagans I have come across refuse to describe their “spirit animal” as a “patronus.” Because those who truly do recognize themselves to have “spirit animals” are not doing so in relation to Native American cultures. Their use of the phrase is separate altogether.
It seems to me that there are a variety of issues here:
- Cultural appropriation: Non-Native Americans claiming they have a spirit animal and using Native American cultures as justification for the belief.
- Cultural insensitivity and racism: Throwing the phrase around carelessly, with no regard to its real meaning or origin, or knowingly disregarding the concept as “fake” but referencing it anyway.
- Insensitivity to non-Christian beliefs: Not taking the idea of “spirit animals” seriously in context of Native American spiritualities, and equating modern Paganism with fantasy.
- A combination of the above.
I think “patronus” is a great substitute for those using the phrase simply to describe something with which they are affiliated or enjoy, as this is not relevant to anyone’s spirituality or culture, both of which should be taken seriously.
Otherwise, I have encountered many Native Americans (such as the one whose words were paraphrased above) who have a word in their own tribe’s language that describes a “spirit animal.” A possible solution then, when using the concept seriously, is to use the word of your specific tradition or spirituality instead of “spirit animal.” One Native American made a post stating that they were uncomfortable with the phrase being considered appropriation of Native American culture because “spirit animal” is not the phrase that is used in any of their languages, and that, in essence, non-Natives who genuinely do have a spirituality or practice with a “spirit animal” concept have only their languages to choose from, leaving many people with the phrase “spirit animal” and no alternative that can be used seriously.
But is that the case? Well, it depends on how you define “spirit animal” and why.
As mentioned multiple times previously, there is no universally agreed upon concept of “spirit animal.” What this is, and their functions, vary greatly from culture to culture, and religion to religion. The majority of non-Native American people I have come across who believe in spirit animals claim that it is a concept that they were not taught, nor is it a part of an ancestral spirituality, but rather a seemingly logical spiritual belief that developed simply by feeling/intuition or by reflection. Typically, a spirit animal was considered to a be a spirit within someone who guides them along the right path in life. Other times, a spirit animal was considered to be the animal species with which you most relate. And finally, “spirit animal” was occasionally equated with “theriotype.”
So, those of you non-Natives considering a “spirit animal” to be an animal you feel very connected to, or your own spirit as an animal, might actually fall into the category of “therian” or “animal-hearted.” Which, unfortunately, is often taken less seriously than most other Paganesque spiritual concepts. It may not only describe you better, but may also prevent you from misrepresenting or disrespecting Native American cultures.
In the end, if you are not intending to take the concept seriously and are one of the many who call any given celebrity your “spirit animal,” then the term “patronus” would be better suited to you, as it is already associated with fun and fantasy rather than any established spirituality. If you are using the concept seriously, using a word specific to your tradition/belief would likely be taken more seriously than the phrase “spirit animal” and would avoid cultural appropriation. Otherwise, I sincerely hope that the use of the phrase will be reclaimed and eventually taken seriously in regards to Native American spirituality.
“Studies show cows have best friends, just like humans…”
The above statement was read in an article that was shared on a Facebook page that promotes veganism and the destruction of meat industries that I had been following. This type of statement is far from uncommon in writings that encourage animal rights. Scanning posts on Instagram alone from animal rights activists (ARA) frequently cite the intelligence, sentience, and compassion found in other species as reasons to allow them autonomy.
- Animals are intelligent
- Animals only kill because it is necessary
- Animals show compassion
- X is a brave animal
- X is a majestic animal
- X is such a beautiful animal
Generally speaking, many of these writings contain a great ignorance of ethology. In other words, the way other species’ minds function does not seem to be of great concern or interest in these posts, and it is simply assumed (sometimes based on false observation) that an animal does x for y reason, or possesses some desirable quality (e.g compassion, altruism, intelligence). Whether or not there is any scientific or factual basis for believing this is not relevant, as it is more often a matter of faith.
My question is, why do any of these things matter? When people take these things into consideration with a perhaps more scientific approach, they often agree: Grant rights to species that genuinely do show compassion/intelligence/etc, but this often leaves very few species with even remotely close to equality with humans, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. This leaves thousands of other species continually disregarded, and only furthers the phenomenon sometimes referred to as “speciesism.”
Ultimately the reason for this is that humans tend to value other species with a sort of Aristotelian “chain of being” logic. We define what are commonly human characteristics as “good,” and therefore any animal showing such human characteristics is worthy of respect. Certain characteristics are in fact more prevalent (or only present) in humans, such as intelligence. However, intelligence as we see it is often defined specifically to suit humans (and certain humans, at that) thereby making it a “human characteristic,” when in reality, species with much simpler minds than our may possess what some individuals logically consider to be a type of “intelligence.” Yet logically, intelligence is not a highly relevant factor in the success of a species, so why consider it “good” to begin with? Snails get along just fine in life, without causing any significant ecological problems, playing their role in life, and not suffering from many ailments that we do, though we are the more intelligent species.
All things considered, it is not logical to value a species based on any cluster of characteristics. Value a species for what it is, not for how much of yourself you see in it. And refrain from defining undesirable animal behaviours (e.g infanticide, incest) as “bad” in relation to nonhuman species. An organism that regularly acts outside of human social norms is not doing so because it is “bad.” Our morality and our cultures are a product of us and should only be relevant to us. Why hold other species to our societal standards? Such would be illogical.
The same “chain of being” logic responsible for furthering speciesism also leads to a sort of “kingdomism.” Animals are superior to plants, which are superior to fungi, which are superior to bacteria. This is illogical, because this thinking again relies on the valuing of certain abilities and characteristics that are, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant. All organism depend and rely on one another, therefore creating some hierarchy is redundant (and in and of itself very human-focused, as no other species have been concerned with such a ranking system because there is no natural need for it.) Humans also vary widely in that not all humans possess the ideal qualities that are often listed as to why animals should be respected (e.g those who are mentally disabled, those who are physically disabled). Not all human beings show a certain amount of intelligence, or compassion, or even perceive pain equally. Then we get into the fact that, according to common ARA logic, disabled humans are now on par with nonhuman species, which is ableism at best.
If you are to truly appreciate nonhuman life for the sake of appreciating the nonhuman, it is hypocritical to justify doing so because the nonhuman life in question is “human-like” or admirable by human standards. Much of the appreciation for nonhumans is really the enforcing of human superiority under a new label, which is quite unfortunate.