[TAE] The Fine Line of Explaination

Monday, August 25, 2014

One of the questions that I’ve gotten fairly regularly over the years, is how do you go about explaining a thing like therianthropy or otherkinism to someone with no frame of reference, without sounding crazy?

I’ve done a lot of experimenting with this, over the last decade. And I will be honest – with my method of explanation, I’ve only encountered a negative response a handful of times. Generally, it isn’t even an openly negative response so much as an “Okay then,” kind of response. The person grudgingly realizing that while the concept may sound a bit weird, I sound far too sane while giving my simplified explanation to actually be crazy. Therefore they find themselves giving credence to the idea, simply because of the way I come across.

The explanation that I generally use goes something like this:

A therian is a human being who has a very close, personal connection with a specific type of non-human animal. It doesn’t matter if the animal is currently living, or extinct, and in some cases even if the creature is mythological (though those people tend to prefer the term “otherkin” to therian). The connection is a deep, intrinsic thing, to the point that there is at best a blurred line in that person’s identity – human on the one side, non-human animal on the other. This duality of human and non-human is what it means to be a therian.

I’m very careful with my body language while I explain. I make sure to meet the person’s eyes, to hold myself in a confident manner – the same way I would while discussing a scientific principal, or a historical fact. The point is to get across to the person who doesn’t understand that this is very real, and something experienced by a large – if hidden – segment of the population.

At this point, it’s all about reading the person’s body language. In my experience, there are generally three reactions. The first (and most common – at least if my sample can be believed), is fascination and a desire to know more. This is usually indicated both with interested body language, and with an actual inquiry – such as “so what animal is it for you?”

Another fairly common response is shock – but not a negative way. I usually find out later that this is the result of what I described resonating with the person. After all, before we all heard the term “therian,” none of us had a word for what we are. The most common belief across the board of all therianthropes and otherkin is “I thought I was the only one.” In this case, you’ve opened this person’s eyes to realize that they are not alone, and perhaps helped them start their own path of self-discovery.

Indifference or outright violent disbelief is the third – and least common – of the three primary responses. This can be indicated by everything from a shrug and an “oh,” to open disbelief or even a sarcastic comment. However, the important thing to remember when someone presents this response, is to not rise to the bait.

I know, it can be very hard. A sarcastic comment on the heels of you having basically bared a piece of your soul to someone feels like a slap to the face or a knife to the gut. But you can not respond in anger. If you do, you risk destroying your own validity. Scientists that react viciously when their theories are questioned or scoffed at don’t generally end up changing any minds in the long run. And that’s what you have to remember – the person knows what it means now, whether or not they believe it.

The truth is, you don’t know what’s going through their heads. What questions or realities you’ve opened them up to by giving them this information. Perhaps reflecting on it later, they’ll have a personal realization – or even see the signs of it’s truth that they’ve witnessed by knowing you previous to knowing why you acted the way you did.

My wife has come to read subtleties of my expressions that I wasn’t consciously aware of doing, and that she didn’t notice until after she found out about me being therian. I perk up my ears when interested in something, and there is a completely different motion I make with them when I’m angry or embarrassed.

I didn’t realize for the longest time that when my phantom ears react to my emotional state, my physical ears were moving as well – but they do. I’ve since seen video evidence. It’s subtle, and something that’s easily missed if you aren’t looking for it. But like anyone who lives with non-human animals for any extent of time, human beings naturally begin to read other species. And once my wife knew I was a wolf, suddenly little things she’d been noticing about me since we first met in person made a lot more sense.

Now, my wife was not one of these doubting reactions – honestly, I’ve never experienced a doubting reaction from anyone except people who didn’t know me very well. By the time my therianthropy was mentioned in an essay or an art project while I was in college, my professors and classmates had already experienced weeks with me. Finding out I was therian, and what that was, answered more questions for them than it gave.

The important thing to remember when describing what being a therian means to you is to approach it as if you’re defining a scientific concept, rather than an intangible spiritual sensation. People react well when new information is presented with a voice of authority, experience, and knowledge – without an edge of defensiveness. Basically if you can deliver the explanation in such a way that it’s clear you believe it and see nothing wrong with it, then the person you’re explaining to will psychologically respond well to the information and move on.

Things to avoid are the stereotypical “weeaboo” type explanation, such as “It means my soul is the soul of an animal!” or “It means I’m a wolf on the inside!” That sort of declarative statement does exactly what we’re trying to avoid in these situations – it makes the person making the statement sound…well, a bit odd, to put it the nicest way possible.

Now let me be clear – there is nothing wrong with that being what it means to you. But they didn’t ask what it meant to you – they asked what a therian is. They’re looking for a broad, general definition – not your personal feelings on the matter. If someone walked up and asked you “what’s a dinosaur?”, you wouldn’t respond by describing only one type of ancient reptile. A Stegosaurus or a T-Rex doesn’t represent the idea that’s meant to be gotten across by the term “dinosaur.” Instead, you’d say something like “Dinosaurs are a large and varied group of ancient reptiles that lived millions of years ago across the globe, and are now extinct.” You only go into details if they ask beyond the initial question – and even then, you don’t volunteer information beyond what is asked.

In this way, the therian community can slowly begin to crawl out from under the stigma we’ve faced as a group that “originated on the internet,” and slowly disassociate our terms from those of Furries and other fandoms. There’s nothing wrong with fandoms. The problem is that…well, therianthropy isn’t a fandom – it’s simply a state of being. Something you are, not something you like.

I hope that, in time, if we can begin to describe ourselves in ways that lean toward scientific description and avoid over-eager exclamations of our personal beliefs rather than overarching facts, we will reach a point where saying “I’m a therian” will be greeted with an interested, “Oh? What species?” rather than a confused “A what?” Or worse, “Oh, one of those crazy internet werewolves.”

Because we aren’t crazy. We’re just us. And how we as a community explain that to those on the outside is exactly what can make that clear.

12 Comments

  1. Eileen Ward says:

    Perceptions that can help satan to convience people their souls do not need God much less a Savior whom God sent to save the soul of all mankind. Belief in that perception will continue to make the person always look for ways their ‘animal’ ways or instincts prove they are therian, otherkin or whatever. Little kid cries and as you look at him, he happens to be looking toward you and you firmly believe that he saw a wolf… not that he may have pinched his finger or any other reason. Perception. Too bad it take people away from caring more about how to work on being a better human and work to actually make the world a better place. Mother was in a mental institution for a complete emotional breakdown when I was in 9th and 10th grades, back in the fifties, and was subjected to electric shock and heavy drugs. There was a woman in there who was totally convinced that she was a spider. Do you believe she should have been convinced nothing was wrong with that? You have no idea the extent people will ‘let go’ of the human life their parents gave to them and the soul that God Almighty gave to each of them. Souls belong to God unless satan can convience the person to choose whatever else to dissuade them that they are other that human. Enjoy your life. Believe God Almighty and share His love for everyone.

    1. Tygerwolfe says:

      Well, first let me address the overall concern here: that telling people that are functioning properly in society that an experience they have that I share is perfectly valid is somehow leading people away from God when I never at any point mentioned religion, nor does it have anything to do with this – any more than being born autistic or transgender does.

      I actually firmly believe the opposite – I believe that God created therians as they are for a reason. The reason is as unique as the individual – in my case, it’s to share with others my experiences and to eventually bring my unique perspective to the paleontological community that studies the time period and creatures that I feel this connection to.

      I think of therianthropy as a gift from God – and there are quite a few Christian therians that believe exactly as I do. There is even a forum dedicated to the topic that can be found here: http://werecat.proboards.com/

      As for the woman your mother encountered in the mental institution, it’s entirely possible that her experience was valid. However, if she used that experience in a negative way – detrimental to either herself or those around her – then perhaps it was less therianthropy and more an actual delusion.

      The difference between a delusion of being an animal and the experience of therianthropy is quite simple – if it’s a delusion, the individual will be unable to function in society and will experience nothing but negative impacts from their feeling. Whereas non-delusional people experiencing similar feelings that last their entire lives – regardless of upbringing, isolation, friends, schooling, or religion – are what I am talking about when I speak of therians.

      Given that the experience happened in the 1950s, when someone who was transgender would ALSO be institutionalized for their feelings, I can’t really claim one way or the other whether the woman’s experience was therianthropy or a delusion – not without knowing more about her. The world was not in a place to accurately reflect what is now considered an actual medical issue – how could it possibly be accurate when examining an issue that is just as much mental and spiritual as medical?

      Also, the experience you’re remembering me telling you about – the little boy who saw me – isn’t at all like what actually happened. I’ll relate the story again for posterity:

      I was sitting on a planter at an outdoor mall, and a father with his little boy walked by.

      The boy stared at me as he walked by, got a BIG smile and said, “Doggy!” He couldn’t have been more than a year or two old.

      I wasn’t wearing anything that had a wolf or dog on it, and I wasn’t even SITTING like a canine – I was just sitting on a planter, waiting for my friends to get off of work so I could drive them home. Nothing about me said “dog,” and though it was an outdoor mall, there were no dogs being walked anywhere around – I both would have noticed previously, as dogs always catch my attention, and I looked around when he said it expecting to SEE a dog somewhere. But no – there was nothing anything like a dog anywhere around – and yet the little boy saw what he interpreted as one.

      I should also mention that as it was late in the evening and most things were closed at the time, I was the only other person around besides the boy and his father as they went past. There was literally nothing and no one else he could be looking at.

      He saw me.

      Children are, after all, much more perceptive than most people give them credit for.

      Thank you very much for your comment and opinions! I enjoy responding to every comment I receive!

    2. Church Mouse says:

      That deteriorated quickly.

      I actually have an issue with this thought. I agree, there are many things that Satan can tempt us with, but it has to be an outside influence. Always. For it not to be would mean that God was not within us.

      So, if from my earliest memory I feel that I am strongly entwined with what I now recognize to be my Therio-type, it only makes sense that God made me like that. There is yet no outside influence for Satan to use to tempt me.

      I can’t speak for you, Eileen, but my God is a perfect and loving God. I have Faith that He made me the way I am because He has a plan for me. To think otherwise, for even a moment, is to question His Plan and THAT is an actual temptation from Satan.

  2. I can identify with the types of reactions that you have received. I seem to base my explanations on whether someone actually seems interested. Body language is a HUGE thing. I’m glad you posted this as that is a VERY common question. 😀

    1. Tygerwolfe says:

      Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. It’s not actually just your ears. Your hair and forehead move sometimes in tandem, and your neck twitches when you’re angry. Like some people get the odd throbbing vein when they’re furious? Your neck twitches, and sometimes it all happens at once, which is kind of when I can tell that it’s time to let you cool off :p

    1. Tygerwolfe says:

      Well, that makes sense, considering that when I do that reaction I’m laying my phantom ears back. And as the phantom ears are closer to the top of my head… Yeah, my scalp would move, I guess. 😛

  4. RedFeatherFalconHawk says:

    I’m not a Christian, but I was raised as one, and know well enough that the only people Jesus judged were the pharisees and hypocrites – in other words, the people who mistreated other people at that time. Why not let your God do the judging if you are a Christian?

    Also, as has been stated, there is a HUUUUUGE difference between being delusional and being a therian. An actual therian can function in society, and outwardly appears to be a normal human being. We go by what we feel about ourselves with regards to our therianthropy – we aren’t influenced by anyone or anything.

  5. CS says:

    I have never understood how people can believe in a wise, loving God and then turn right around and imbue that deity with human prejudices, weaknesses, and imperfections, not to mention self-doubts and chicanery.

    God doesn’t make mistakes. God creates wondrous variety and choices, which Satan works to turn people against. That’s because Satan’s real name is Fear, and fear is a powerful control mechanism that feeds on itself. Giving in to Fear is the real danger to one’s soul.

    Life is not a test. It’s a gift, an opportunity to learn, a chance to experience the divine through tolerance, acceptance, compassion, love, and giving. Lofty aspirations? Uh, yeah–that’s the point, isn’t it?

  6. PrarieFox says:

    I’d really like to call attention to the “outside influence” idea. As a therian who was raised rural, I didn’t have access to things people usually scapegoat for alternative belief systems. I didn’t have the internet, my reading was strictly academic, and I didn’t have access to TV beyond news and weather. Yet, still, I felt from within that I was different. I had this feeling for years before I ever learned a word that I could apply to it. And I know i’m not alone in this.

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