Rhia is queer, trans, and nonbinary. They are also otherkin, or an individual who identifies as nonhuman on a non-physical level, according to the Otherkin Wiki. Rhia’s otherkin journey goes back to the late 2000s, when they were first active in otherkin online spaces on phpBB forums (a free, open-source message board), webrings, LiveJournal, and Myspace.
These days, Rhia relies less on dedicated otherkin groups and more on close-knit, smaller spaces on Discord, group chats, or Twitter. Some of the initial reasons they gravitated to the otherkin community changed, too, after they underwent a gender transition and learned about living with ADHD. But even if it’s taken a backseat in their life, Rhia is still a dragon. And the radical queer spaces they hang out in online have been nothing but accepting, in part because these communities are “unapologetic weirdqueer,” or queer communities that radically challenge what it means to have an identity.
“I found myself exploring gender alongside the other aspects of my identity during my deep time in the [otherkin] community—I think if I had the vocabulary, I would have called myself genderfluid at the time,” Rhia said. “I do think that my early comfort with being ‘weird’ made it a lot easier to find acceptance in other ways to be weird. I find in general that I feel accepted and understood among most trans people, because most of them are familiar with gender-specific forms of dysmorphia and other similar common experiences.”
Rhia’s partner brooke has a similar story as a queer, polyamorous, transfem agender, and plural otherkin who kins (or identifies with) horses, as it told the Daily Dot. In brooke's case, it originally explored identifying with womanhood before exploring its non-human identity. And like Rhia, brooke found acceptance in queer spaces partly because marginalized people share a sense of comradery in experiencing marginalization.
“When I started actually taking steps towards [gender transitioning], it felt like there was something missing. I kinda felt like I had left one gender box and just went into another. And sure, this box was a bit more comfortable, but it still wasn’t for me,” brooke said. “I started examining my relationship to gender and identity in general and kinda identified the lingering dysphoria/dysmorphia was a result of this... uncomfiness with being read as human, which led me to start questioning my humanity in the first place.”
Rhia, brooke, and other otherkin are unmistakably challenging what it means to have an identity, let alone a body. In a time when gender is no longer considered a rigid construct but a fluid identity subject to change, “unapologetic weirdqueer” online spaces for millennials and younger Gen Zers make far more sense than strict, traditional social norms. The internet, in particular, fosters weirdqueer spaces by giving otherkin the opportunity to experiment with their virtual physical appearance and meet others who are either like them or support them. This, brooke said, coincides with a growing feminist movement called Glitch Feminism that explores how “virtual spaces can help us escape” the rigid norms and rules forced onto physical bodies IRL.
“Glitch Feminism is not gender-specific—it is for all bodies that exist somewhere before arrival upon a final concretized identity that can be easily digested, produced, packaged, and categorized by a voyeuristic mainstream public,” the term’s coiner, Legacy Russell, wrote for the Society Pages in 2012.
As our understanding of identity and bodies changes, otherkin are at the center of the fight. At stake is not just otherkin but the fundamental right to create, foster, and earn respect for self-determined identities regardless of society's approval. For people like Rhia and brooke, that future rests in unpredictable moving parts: trans acceptance, emerging digital cultures, growing skepticism toward the reigning social order, and a growing political rift between liberal and left-wing members of the kin community.
Together, these parts spell a chaotic, unpredictable future for the otherkin community that says just as much about its members as it does for outsiders looking to create a better society.
“Like, just between all of these other ways of existing that a lot of us were never told about or told were explicitly wrong/incorrect,” brooke said, “who's to say i'm not a horse?”
The history of otherkin experience
Many people have never heard the term “otherkin” before, let alone met someone who’s a part of the otherkin community. The term "otherkin" originates from an April 1990 post by Darren "Torin" Stalder on the listserv Elfkind Digest. Stalder invented the term as a shorthand phrase for various supernatural, otherworldly, and fantastical kintypes (or identities), such as dragons, elves, and angels, according to WikiFur.
Today, "otherkin" is treated more like an umbrella term for all kintypes, according to the Gender Wiki, although not every person within the kin community necessarily identifies with the term “otherkin.” Additionally, many outsiders erroneously use "otherkin" when they mean "therian." The term "therian" refers to those who identify with animal kintypes, such as wolves, foxes, rabbits, and other creatures. These identities (along with many others) run parallel to each other and may overlap, so for simplicity’s sake, this article refers to experiences outside of normative human identity as “kin” experiences within the “kin community.”
Kasi Frost is a fox, an elf, an object, and a doll/robot along with "blends” of these identities together who uses nouns instead of pronouns (“we don’t [use pronouns], it doesn’t, the fox doll prefers nouns, as they better illustrates itself, ourselves,” Frost told the Daily Dot over Telegram). Frost, who is a hypnotherapist, is an advocate for “self-work for species dysphoria,” and uses hypnotherapy for “alleviating stress and other challenges” related to species dysphoria and does “speaking, teaching, and advocacy work in professional venues and other informal supportive venues.” (A running theme in kin communities is the crossover of trans terminology, which is not a coincidence: There’s a strong connection between trans and kin experiences in “the realm of dysphoria and dysmorphia,” brooke told the Daily Dot.)
“What I would want new folks to know [is that] otherkin is another identity and subculture that is valid, diverse, and profound—and just as integral [as] many other spiritual, cultural, or other movement[s],” Frost said. “What we see, feel, perceive, and know for ourselves and who we are is the strongest driver for our passions and wellbeing, [although we] may be different as compared to those who assume a more typical self, no less valid or less by any margin.”
There are many common misconceptions around kin experiences that are incorrectly propagated by outsiders. Despite media sensations depicting otherkin as young, cringey teens who are unafraid of howling at the moon in parks, kin folks are acutely aware of their physical bodies. Many are antagonistic to respectability politics; most just want to live in a society that lets them be their authentic selves.
The internet has provided a bastion to many otherkin, but it’s also provided an endless supply of harassment. While some offensive memes have been laid to rest thanks to social justice's emergence on social media, memes targeting otherkin abound across the political spectrum because kin experiences are considered just a little too strange to avoid scrutiny. To the right, trans people are just gender otherkin; to the left, alarmed trans people defend themselves by distancing their identities from otherkin experiences and making fun of them. Know Your Meme documents the otherkin community's lengthy history as the internet's punchline as far back as the 1990s, with memes like “Fuck you, I’m a Dragon” emerging at the community's expense.
The meme, often shortened to an acronym, “originated from an otherkin argument on LiveJournal.com," Know Your Meme writes. "LiveJournal user StarBlade posted an entry in the debate section regarding Otherkin, [and] 'Fuck you, I'm a Dragon' became the defensive cry of many of the Dragon otherkin in the debate. Now, the phrase can be used in any situation; however, it's typically still used in its traditional form."
While FYIAD is an old school meme, “otherkin” are still mocked in the same vein as they were decades ago. It begs the question whether otherkin will be able to find social acceptance anytime soon—or if they should even try.
Is public acceptance worth it?
In the mid-2010s, trans rights experienced a “tipping point,” or “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire,” as Malcolm Gladwell writes. There may not be an otherkin tipping point yet, but things are starting to shift. Growing acceptance for transgender people has challenged society's assertion that normative human cisgender bodies are the default. Glitch Feminism follows in its footsteps by encouraging the creation of new, virtual identities antagonistic to oppressive systemic control. And as the trans community has seen more mainstream cultural acceptance, so have trans otherkin within radically queer parts of the trans community.
Meanwhile, increased acceptance for the furry community (which is also predominantly queer) has in turn yielded more welcoming attitudes toward the otherkin community. Frost credits the “expansion of what sexuality and identity is” within the queer and trans community as introducing “another way to connect and better explain ourselves that are often more inclined to having an appreciation of who we are as kin.”
“It is often people who have experienced repression and other impacts on their authentic selves that are more receptive to learning about and accepting the identity of others,” Frost said. “We can be our authentic selves best when we are supported by others who do not take identity for granted in other profound ways, and hold that as a core value; the trans community does not take this for granted.”
These changes are small, but they signal a new direction for the otherkin world: validity, possibly from underground acknowledgement to public recognition. But reaching public acceptance is a difficult fight because a person who identifies as other-than-human surpasses the "boggle threshold," or the line individuals draw "that separates the plausible from the ridiculous," Georgetown University digital anthropologist Devin Proctor wrote in a September 2018 study.
Surpassing the boggle threshold is a necessary step to reach a mainstream tipping point; to get the public on your side, people have to believe you deserve respect. Queers, leather kinksters, polyamorous lovers, satanists, feminists, and nudists have all, at one time or another, found (mixed) acceptance over time as they've crossed over the boggle threshold. What makes these identities valid but the kin community implausible is not science but changes in reigning social beliefs.
Proctor argues the otherkin community relies on a "scientisitic self," or a part of ourselves that "deploys scientific theories, facts, processes, and methods to help rationalize" a "subjective experience or belief." In his research's case study, one otherkin Facebook group upholds "strict definitions of otherkinity" which define how otherkin exist and what their identity entails. This is partially how the community's administrators create a sense of meaning: They curate the identity's boundaries through logic and reason.
"The larger significance of Otherkin scientistic selves is that, through their construction and the creation of boundaries from within and without, we witness how groups (and the people within those groups) can carve out a space within which their own experiences—however seemingly irrational—can be apprehended," Proctor wrote. "Where they can render the unthinkable recognizable."
Per Proctor's study, kin communities have a mature, nuanced logic to who they are. This logic serves as the core foundation to stories about what it means to be alterhuman, or "a category of personal identity which encompasses identification that is alternative to the common societal idea of humanity,” according to the Therian Wiki. This does not mean kin are not "real" but that they have their own communal histories. Every identity has one: The United States has a historical narrative. So do furries, New Yorkers, Red Sox fans, and diehard Half-Life players. In each case, narratives state who belongs within the community and why.
But what makes kin communities mature, nuanced, and logical is that they have reasonable boundaries that let participants explore their nonhuman identities while protecting community members' physical and emotional safety. For instance, the Facebook group in Proctor’s study resists the claim that otherkin can experience actual, physical shapeshifting. If stories are structures that help us better communicate our lives to others, self-moderating narratives helps marginalized communities foster empathy and validity from the inside while better conveying their needs and demands on the outside.
However, an umbrella community may have different narratives, including some that are in conflict with each other. Queer rights activists and gay assimilationists, for example, have radically different perspectives on public sex's role in the LGBTQ community. In the same way, otherkin, therian, and alterhuman folks can find themselves ideologically opposed in all ways except building a society where their identities can be treated as real, valid, and worth serious thought.
In order to be accepted, the kin community has to figure out how it can build awareness and acceptance. But not everyone is on the same page about how to gain their rights.
Two paths to acceptance
Given the kin community’s close ties to queer and trans people, it’s no surprise that plenty of kin rights activists have deeply radical politics. No better example exists than those advocating for alterhumanity.
"Alterhuman" is a phrase that encompasses otherkin but has many different meanings, depending on who you ask for a definition. Alt+H, an advocacy group "dedicated to increasing awareness and acceptance of alterhuman people," encourages a loose definition: "You are alterhuman if you decide to call yourself alterhuman." Alterhumanity overlaps strongly with kin experiences, but just as “otherkin” isn’t synonymous with all kin types, “alterhuman” is not a universal term that all non-human persons identify with.
"There are a lot of distinct communities that are considered alterhuman by their nature," Alt+H writes in its FAQ. "Otherkin, therians, otherhearted people and selfshapers are the most notable of these. Some communities exist on the borders of alterhumanity, or otherwise partially intersect [...] the whole point of the label is to be as permissive as possible."
Alt+H encourages education and compassion for people who are alterhuman and lists a resource section for information on the community. There's a guide for mental health professionals working with alterhuman clients. The pamphlet also encourages medical professionals to avoid pathologizing alterhuman experiences, stressing that "few if any" are "inherently harmful or clinically distressing." A second guide on species dysphoria is under way.
"Most alterhumans function well in their daily lives and find community and meaning in their identities," the guide notes. "Those who struggle often have other factors contributing to their issues, such as a poor home environment, poverty, discrimination for other identities, or mental health problems."
In a world increasingly interested in labeling and categorizing marginalized people, "alterhumanity" as a concept is "a conscious rejection of definitions," as one alterhuman wrote in 2016. Even the term itself is non-universal; not everyone in the otherkin, therian, and related communities identify with alterhumanity, nor should it be treated as a de facto term for anyone who identifies outside of human experience. The only unifying factor behind alterhumanity is that its members identify as alterhuman.
"Alt+H started as a Tumblr blog mostly with the motivation to get people using the word ‘alterhuman’ at all," Alt+H organizer and co-director mordecai told the Daily Dot. "I was personally moving away from ‘otherkin’ because my understanding of my identity was becoming more complicated than the community really made room for, even if the word technically fit. The co-founder (who isn’t part of the project any more) never really felt right with the word in the first place. We guessed, I would say correctly, that a lot of people were in similar situations."
Alterhumanity is an important part of not only the kin community but the online queer community, too. One popular alterhuman group includes those who experience plurality, which subreddit r/plural’s FAQ describes as "an umbrella term encompassing a phenomena in which multiple consciousnesses coinhabit a brain and body." Some plurals have multiple systems, or "a collection of entities sharing a body." At times this can look like the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, but not always. Plurality, like other alterhuman experiences, varies from person to person.
Plurality has become increasingly visible in niche online queer spaces as more plural queers have come out about having multiple systems, each with their own personalities, interests, and sexual desires, including none at all. But plurality has barely reached mainstream awareness in online queer spaces, let alone offline ones, and so very few queer outsiders are ready to vocally advocate for plural rights. Nonetheless, plurals share a common fight with the kin community due to discrimination. As r/plural argues, "the bulk of the public believes that plurals are unstable, dangerous, or otherwise 'mentally ill,' when in reality, even a [dissociative identity disorder] system is far, far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else." Stop The Stigma, a Texas-based 501(c)(3) mental health nonprofit, calls this "one of the most common misconceptions," as "most people who struggle with DID are not violent or disturbed."
Alt+H is a radical antidote to these problems. The organization is fundamentally "against capitalism, fascism, and those who preach tolerance of ideologies which are themselves intolerant," and its work primarily centers the most marginalized within its own spaces. The staff engages in transparency around its research, including public records on its expenses and crowdsourcing feedback on its draft of a species dysphoria guide. When Alt+H was criticized for engaging in respectability politics by deciding which communities were and weren't alterhuman, the group not just reversed its decision but publicly explained the problems and apologized. Its community is a textbook example of Glitch Feminism in action.
"We joke among ourselves that all we’ve done in four years is make one pamphlet, but it’s important not to devalue the ‘soft’ achievements. We’ve had countless people tell us that Alt+H’s community spaces gave them the confidence to take their own identities seriously," mordecai said via email. "We’ve had mental health professionals reach out to us about how they were better able to help their alterhuman patients because of our resources. We’ve started conversations about species dysphoria and the word 'transspecies' that have legitimized those ideas for many people. We’ve contributed a lot to the destigmatization of mental illness’ role in alterhumanity, particularly with regards to psychosis. We’ve warmed a lot of people up to the idea that there can be choice in identity, and that that’s OK."
If Alt+H styles itself as a radical organization for alterhuman rights with an emphasis on anti-hierarchical governance and radically left-wing political beliefs, then the Freedom of Form Foundation is its more mainstream cousin, not unlike LGBTQ lobbying organization the Human Rights Campaign. The Freedom of Form Foundation strives for institutional support while researching issues such as morphological freedom, or the ability for people to change and tweak their physical biology as necessary. Under this approach, hormone replacement therapy, biohacking, and stem cell therapy can be considered three pioneering forms of morphological freedom.
"The Freedom of Form Foundation seeks to address the systemic adjustments needed through policy and research," Vice President Dan Davies told the Daily Dot via email. "By having the right data and studies to hand, we can provide policymakers and educators the tools they need to make smart decisions to the benefit of morphological expression, which will have far longer lasting impacts in the preparedness of society to accept morphological freedom and to embrace it as the virtue it is."
The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity that began as a "collection of different furries, otherkin, therians, and others interested in morphological freedom enabling technologies," Davies told the Daily Dot. These groups came together after concluding that they could only gain advocacy, donors, and investors if they worked to connect with researchers and operated within the complicated bureaucratic world of corporate, financial, and government entities.
Founder and president Michael Norsworthy told the Daily Dot that the organization was directly inspired by furry self-expression through fursonas, or furry-themed characters, as well as the "huge and unanswered interest" for morphological freedom seen in the otherkin and therian communities. Norsworthy’s interest in morphological freedom goes as far back as childhood, and it guided his path to a doctorate degree in biological and biomedical sciences from Harvard. It was through his graduate work that he realized the only way to fight for morphological freedom was by "building an institution that could really solve the problem," one that could "specifically develop expertise that I can't, that can advocate for change, and that can influence and inspire people more broadly."
"Now, regarding morphological freedom—I actually don’t think there’s much of a stigma," Norsworthy told the Daily Dot. "I’ve really had only two types of discussions with people about it. The first type is people who are excited or intrigued, who ask lots of questions or immediately start going off about what they would love to do with it. And the second type of discussion is with people who say they’d like it, but suspect that society isn’t ready for it, or who are otherwise critical but still clearly interested."
Not unlike Russell’s Glitch Feminism, the Freedom of Form Foundation believes that the emergence of transgender rights and biohackings movements have set the stage for a far more radical appreciation for morphological freedom. But things differ from there: Where left-wing kin community members like Alt+H’s staff believe liberation can only come from abolishing oppressive institutions and challenging identification as we understand it, the Freedom of Form Foundation believes it can circumvent the scientific, political, and financial obstacles that plague those seeking biological augmentations through institutional access. That means the foundation wants to create and maintain professional connections with the government as well as major financial and scientific institutions.
"We need to show scientists that research in morphological freedom is appreciated, fundable, and impactful. Talking with scientists 1-on-1 reveals there’s a ton of interest here—we just need to bring it out to the level of communities and institutions," Norsworthy said. "We’ve even talked with a handful of doctors, and had really positive conversations. Medical boards often come up as being potential barriers—so one of the things we want to do here is just start having some open conversations."
Glitches in the system
In theory, the Freedom of Form Foundation and Alt+H should be able to walk hand-in-hand. Both are organized nonprofits fighting for acceptance for the kin community through social destigmatization and morphological freedom. But in reality, the two organizations are at odds with each other because they have different ideological goals. In the best-case scenario, they can coexist at odds with each other. But more likely than not, one will supersede the other for influence over kin acceptance.
In July 2019, Alt+H discovered Freedom of Form Foundation board member Matthew "SvarOS" Carbrera had written two Reddit posts defending both the U.S. immigration process and the Trump administration's decision to stay out of the Paris Climate Accords. Alt+H criticized the comments for promoting the Trump administration’s policies amid a growing slip into fascism. After the foundation’s board defended Carbrera’s comments, the two organizations ended their professional connection.
After the Daily Dot reached out to both Alt+H and the Freedom of Form Foundation regarding the conflict, Norsworthy insisted this his foundation "wouldn't cooperate with a fascist system if it came to that," given the foundation is "capable of social disobedience, even though our interactions with regulators so far has actually been quite positive." He defended both Carbrera and the foundation's response, insisting that the conflict was blown out of proportion.
"I believe that this matter goes beyond our organization simply trying to be neutral—which we do generally try to do. Instead, we have been cast as something we are not," he said. "Calling us fascists is extremely inflammatory. What part of equating an opinion about one aspect of border policy (without considering other parts of immigration or humanitarian beliefs Svaros might hold as part of a complete package) with fascism is fair?"
The conflict between Freedom of Form Foundation and Alt+H revealed that even radical political identities that upend our understanding of bodies and virtual space are not immune to neoliberalism, or a liberal move toward conservative socioeconomic and political beliefs that support upholding the capitalist marketplace as it exists. Under neoliberalism, certain actors may seek to join the old order. The Freedom of Form Foundation, for example, is inspired by "collaborative community-charity efforts" that support financial, scientific, and government institutions. If Glitch Feminism celebrates systemic disruptions, then the foundation is best considered a part of the "Nonprofit Industrial Complex," a term that describes the “symbiotic relationships” between major nonprofits, political and financial institutions, and state control over marginalized populations and movements, according to The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.
"Not all nonprofits do bad things, but they do all share certain limitations,” Truthout's Erica West writes. “Nonprofits address the symptoms of a broken system—racist, anti-immigrant policies; lack of access to health care, housing or emotional support—but they do not have a strategy for addressing the underlying disease, namely capitalism."
Contemporary American sociopolitical upheaval raises larger questions about racism and representation within kin spaces. These questions, not unlike Russell’s “glitches,” reveal racism’s role in the kin community: Systemic discrimination does not disappear just because a Discord server is filled with alterhumans and otherkin.
"In the wake of the Minneapolis uprising, I learned for the first time that many of my long-time alterhuman mutuals were Black, because [many] of them simply did not feel comfortable being openly both at once," mordecai said. "I think we’re going to have to work long and hard to help alterhumans of color feel comfortable speaking about their specific experiences, and even more so to tackle the unique issues they face navigating their alterhuman identities when they’re so violently dehumanized already, but I very much want to make that a priority going forward."
Building a path for the future
Neither Alt+H nor the Freedom of Form Foundation are immune to the nonprofit model's flaws, but money talks. It's easy for the kin community to decide which one is the most marginalized-centered based on what institutions it does (or rather, does not) support. While Frost sees plenty of merit in both the Freedom of Form Foundation and Alt+H, the fox doll warns “it’s plausible” that the Freedom of Form Foundation “or any passionate cause” could “run afoul of the peril of the ‘nonprofit complex.’” And while morphological freedom is a necessary step for alterhuman rights, education is, too.
"My personal concern with Freedom of Form Foundation, and it is more of a respective difference, is that they want to keep things more biomedical, and STEM-y. And I think Alt+H is keeping more openness to subjective transhumanism, and psychology, with an appreciation of morphological and anatomical consideration," Frost told the Daily Dot. "So, yes, I would assist someone in feeling their tail, and it would help them—they may or may not need more help. But if you can at least not be anxious, that's going to help you figure more out."
Alt+H is in agreement with Freedom of Form Foundation regarding the importance of morphological freedom. And to the foundation's credit, it advocates for serious ethical considerations that medical professionals need to keep in mind when helping kin and alterhuman patients embody their authentic truth. These are concerns Frost has in mind, as well; doctors, for example, need to help patients navigate mental, physical, and emotional pain in ways that are not maladaptive. A therian who wants to "only eat mice and cat food, only say meow at all times, and expand on other maladaptive traits" could significantly harm their body, Frost said. But conversely, as a hypnotherapist, Frost isn’t necessarily worried that “helping someone feel their tail" will be a maladaptive morphological change.
"If I showed you how to control pain through self-hypnosis because you have chronic joint pain, what's to say you couldn't do that if you had appendicitis starting?" Frost said. "So, yeah, if I offer certain ways of showing people how to be 'authentic' or dissociate, etc.—it could eventually reinforce the wrong things in the wrong person."
But there is time to figure out these issues: Almost everyone in or adjacent to the kin community agrees broad social acceptance is far away. Some, like brooke, believe mainstream tolerance for the kin community isn’t coming any time soon; Rhia is a little more optimistic but thinks “it will be a while” before we live in an otherkin-affirming world. Even Norsworthy says body augmentation by 2030 is "a fairly tight timeline,” albeit "theoretically possible.”
But as movements like Glitch Feminism grow, kin and alterhuman spaces will lead the way for new understandings of bodies and identities as they are embodied online. They deserve respect, not ridicule. Besides, who hasn’t explored nonhuman identity online before, whether through an anime avatar or a fursona? Theoretically, a tipping point could draw near. But the alterhuman and kin communities will have to figure out what’s right for them or risk fragmentation, not unlike the trans community’s own issues with anti-nonbinary movements such as transmedicalism.
For Frost, the answer is straightforward: The kin community must hold onto to its core values, including supporting people and organizations that “expressly stay supportive of the core of who we are, as our authentic selves, without compromise, and do so in a transparent, ethical, and inclusive manner.” In that regard, it may be organizations like Alt+H that have the kin and alterhuman communities’ best interests at heart.
"I can’t imagine a better future for alterhumans that isn’t better for all marginalized groups," mordecai said. "I maintain that this idea of human hegemony is close to the root of all oppression, and that tackling the issues that alterhumans face necessarily means addressing every form of marginalization. That’s, uh, a big ask. But we’ll get there. In the more immediate future, I’ll settle for guessing that Alt+H won’t be so alone in thinking this is worth fighting for.”