I’m just as human as everyone else here, unless someone invented AI and didn’t tell the rest of the world. And yet, I still call myself dragon as well. Why? It all comes back to identity.
As I said in my previous entry, quite a few people’s self-images are simply idealized images of their physical bodies. They tie themselves very tightly to the here-and-now. Separate themselves from their body, and they would still take that general form. Just so I don’t have to keep typing “idealized self-image” over and over, I’m going to borrow a term I came across elsewhere and call it their soulshape.
Then you have furries. Excluding those who simply enjoy the art, a lot of them take on a furry persona aka fursona. For some, this is simply the above example, but with an animal head, tail, fur, and sometimes wings. Sometimes the animal(s) chosen is because of some attribute assigned to that type, such as foxes being sly, or wolves being loners or pack animals. Other times, it’s just because they like some aspect about that kind of critter, such as a snow leopard’s overly fluffy tail. Still, for a lot of them, if you ask them to picture themselves in their mind’s eye without any further detail, you can bet their mental image is their fursona. It may have been a conscious decision or unconscious reactions due to using it all the time, but gradually a lot of them make it part of themselves, of their identity, over time.
You can probably thank the internet in part for that. As it grew, people were able to meet and talk, in real-time, without any physical representation of themselves other than what they may choose. Before that, you could only interact with others in meatspace, and there you were stuck with what you were given at birth. Now however, thanks to cyberspace, you can represent yourself however you wish, allowing formerly hidden facets to be displayed and come to light.
With the ability for identity to be more fluid and not forced into a single bodyplan, more outre combinations began to show up as well. One well-known example is the race of chakats, created by Bernard Doove. His race of tauric felinoid hermaphrodites(wow, that’s a mouthful) were created in their entirety originally by him, complete with a culture of sorts as well, and a lot of people dove into it with a will. No doubt some were for sexual reasons, but there are a lot of “chakats” out there who recognized that it was a good representation of how they felt about themselves(setting aside the felitaur portion of things). Human representations of hermaphrodites usually either fall into fetish material or “uncanny valley” territory, but furry provides an outlet for those who do feel themselves as both male and female, and a pre-built framework such as the chakats provides a handy tool for that sort of thing. There’s also other bits of their culture as well, such as the multi-tiered approach to relationships that a lot have found fitting, and have adopted for themselves.
Then there are those who have gone a step beyond even that in their exploration of their identity: therians and otherkin. Where the furries are usually human+, ‘kin tend to identify as non-human, period. Whether that be a wolf who was reincarnated as a human, or an elf who was simply born in the wrong body, or simply a person with a dragon spirit along for the ride in your body, they all have that aspect in common: their physical body has nothing to do with who they are, apart from acting as a filter.
To use a computer analogy, most people run Human OS on Human hardware. Furries run a furry shell over Human OS on Human hardware. ‘Kin run <whatever> OS on Human hardware.
Needless to say, this causes a lot of drama and confusion, as the masses who may not grasp the concept point and laugh, saying they’re stupid because if you look at them, they’re obviously human! This then is fueled by the ‘kin in question flatly denying it(because as far as they’re concerned, they aren’t), leading to much trolling on the human side, and much wailing about “evil humans” and “fursecution” on the ‘kin side.
Not all ‘kin, however, renounce humanity and try to separate themselves completely from it. There are plenty of well-adjusted ‘kin out there who do acknowledge that they’re running on human hardware, regardless of how well it fits their soulshape, to mix terms and metaphors. They just tend to be less noticeable than the more vocal “humans are evil!” crowd.
Then there are also those who use otherkin/therian as another mask, rather than the taking off of one that the idea suggests. Typically these are younger folk who have had a troubled life of some kind, and are trying to find a way to run away and hide, They come across the concept, and then you end up with the “OMG I was a dragon in a past life that was a king and a wizard, and every night I must fight secret astral wars against the hordes of Chaos to prevent them reaching the real world and I’m the only one who can do this because I’m super special awesome!” Just, no.
In otherkin circles this is known as fluff, and the degree to which its tolerated depends on the community. Most of this type will move on after a few years, as they realize that they’re merely running away from themselves, rather than trying to truly examine and reveal who they are. There are always those who after shaving all the fluff off still find that the shoe fits, and they tend to become the second type I mentioned as they re-integrate themselves.
It all comes back to identity. Everything I’ve discussed so far is just labels, and as I said in the previous entry, labels are dangerous. Again, however, that’s something better discussed as a topic all its own, so I won’t get into it here either. The point I’m trying to get at however, is that our soulshape is a major part of our identity, like it or not.
Bringing it back full circle, where does that leave me? Yes, I’m human, but like some of the examples above, my soulshape is not. When I close my eyes and try to picture myself, I have to work at it to imagine my human body, and a much easier time picturing the dragon you see in various places on this site. When I look in the mirror, I know it’s me, and my mind tells me it’s me. Yet, it doesn’t feel like me, if that makes any sense. It’s a part of my identity, my self, but it doesn’t feel as significant as my dragonself.
Maybe a little history will help. Years and years ago, when I was younger, I had gotten into furry, but I had yet to come up with a fursona. I, like a lot of others, liked wildcats and wolves, but neither really fit. The I realized or came across the idea that foxes were halfway-between the two. (It also helped that I considered myself somewhat smart, and foxes were known for being sly.) When I finally started venturing out online, I combined that with a ranger character I had created for my representation out on the interwebs.
The RP portions fell away pretty quickly, but the fox part stuck, and stuck with me for several years. Still, like I mentioned above, it was generally my physical self with fox head, tail, and fur. (I sometimes even had a tendancy to base the fur color on my hair color, since I am a redhead.) Then, I encountered Second Life.
My first fox avatar was fairly cruddy, as things go, but over several months I fine-tuned it to be closer and close to what I then considered my soulshape, even if I did not see it or consider it such back then. Once it was all exact however, it still did not feel… complete. Then a friend of mine introduced me to ‘taurs.
I then experimented a bit with them, to the point of creating a chakat character. I basically asked myself if I was going to be a chakat, what would I be? Once the newness wore off however, it was not very long before I lost interest in the character as a representation and shed it from my identity like a snake shedding its skin as it grows.
When I returned to Second Life, I tried a dragon avatar and found it a decent fit, as I’ve said before. I also met one of my ex-girlfriends at around the same time, and at her request I pulled the fox avatar back out again for a while, to match her black vixen fursona. It worked, but I found it didn’t fit quite right anymore, like trying to put on a pair of old pants after having lost 60 pounds.
Still, I found myself reluctant to give up the fox portion of my identity, as it had been a part of me for at least 6 or 7 years(longer, really), and for all I knew at the time, the dragon stuff might only have been a phase like ‘taurs were. So, I decided to try blending the two.
Using various avatars as tools, I started modding and tweaking, trying to distill it down. Rather than furry crossbreed legos, I was aiming for a complete blend. A clear, perfect facet of myself, an answer to the question “Who are you?”. Looking at the past 7 years, you could say that I’ve succeeded.
Ironically, what started as an attempt to preserve the “foxiness” has in the end almost entirely eliminated it. Honestly, my dragonself is really foxlike in name only, as any features atypical of a Western-style dragon could just as easily be attributed to Eastern-style dragons. I actually find this very fitting symbolicly, considering how I’ve grown up in the Western world but I’ve also internallized quite a bit of the Far East(or at least Japan) as well. There’s other symbolic parallels I could name, but this entry is long enough as it is.
I also know for sure that Second Life is not the cause, as between work and WoW, I basically did not touch SL for about 2 years before returning for a short bit this past week. Even still, I never felt the need to stop representing myself as such in that time, and my dragon avatar still fit like a glove(within SL’s limitations) when I logged in. I am human, but like it or not, I am also dragon.