Voluntary, Involuntary, and Nonhuman Identity

On the surface, it seems that nonhuman/alterhuman identities are largely split into two camps: voluntary and involuntary. If you are a wolf otherlinker, then you, in some way, have chosen to become a wolf. Similarly to how someone chooses a profession or political affiliation. If you’re a wolf therian, then you are innately a wolf- in fact it may be assumed that you have always been a wolf whether you knew it or not. In reality, things aren’t so cut and dry for most people. There's a whole debate that could be had here, over whether the fracturing of nonhuman identities is helpful or not, but I’m staying away from the community politics. I don’t feel anywhere near qualified.

In truth this categorization of identity is something that’s kept me from relating to any one label, save for the general label of “alterhuman”. If you’re in the same alterhuman spaces as I am, you’ve probably seen me mention it at least once. I’m just not someone who can confidently call themselves otherkin, or an otherlinker, etc. This isn’t really a bad thing; alterhuman as an identifying term works perfectly fine for me. I don’t feel a burning need to be more specific than that. My identity is technically quoiluntary: sitting in the gray area between voluntary and involuntary, or feeling little difference between them. However, I don’t really use the word quoiluntary outside of essays like this. My ‘types just… are. I am a forest spirit, and an alien. I’d say the only species identity of mine that’s definitely involuntary would be human, for reasons I’m sure you can guess.

Even then, many alter- and non-human folk do not consider themselves human at all. Their bodies, their minds, their lives are not human. Is humanity a choice for me, then? The divide is not so simple. The way I see it, both of my alterhuman identities (and potentially my human one) involve voluntary action born from involuntary feelings, resonances, and experiences. Which is… the way identity usually works, I’d assume, for most people. The idea of even deciding to identify a certain way can be interpreted as a voluntary action.

My spirit-self could easily be an expression of the primal, human connection to nature. Of deep memory, of neural pathways harkening back to a time when we looked up at the stars and through prairies and felt magic. Of our need to like, see a tree every once in a while in order to stay happy. Likewise, my alien-self could be an expression of neuroatypicality. Of mild face aversion, of thoughts piling up in my head faster than I can communicate them. Of a yearning appreciation for nonhuman beauty and sociality. I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary about what I just described, and in fact there are many times where my nonhuman identities feed into and support my human one (and vice versa). I think that someone could have these same experiences and interpret them in a 100% human way, so… it was my choice, then, to be half-human? Maybe, maybe not; this is where we get into the murky parts of identity. When I was awakening as a spirit, there were many times where I felt that I couldn’t be nonhuman, but it just kept nagging at me. The feeling wasn’t always there, but when it was I couldn’t shake it. “I have a strong connection to nature” wasn’t enough. Like describing a color as periwinkle instead of blue, there are nuances that I can only get across by saying, “I am a forest spirit.” No matter where those feelings stem from, from humanity or another life or a fractured soul or brain wiring, being a forest spirit fits best.

My alien-self also operates on this “best fit” model, but from a different angle. It’s a very “this life” thing and exclusively psychological. Both of my ‘types are influenced by furry culture, but alien is much moreso, as I came to the conclusion that I was an alien by exploring the concept of one’s fursona being their ideal form. When I look at art of my sona, I recognize myself in the same way that I would if I were looking in the mirror. I’m sure there are many creatures in fiction that share similar characteristics, that would connect with my desire to cover my face, but right now I can't think of anything that'd work better. Likewise, I choose to call myself a forest spirit rather than a landvættir or a kodama. The conclusions that I've come to are the result of periods of introspection (sometimes lasting months, sometimes years) but I recognize that I'm missing a lot of information. I don't have any vivid past life memories or etc. to support what I say. If something more accurate ends up coming along in the future, then that’s totally fine.

So, there are these aspects that serve as the “base” for my nonhuman identities, and how I interpret them is my choice. But there is another layer of choice on top of that. It’s most obvious in my alien ‘type, since, being my fursona, her design is my own creation. In fact, I’m most likely going to be giving her a small redesign for the sole purpose of better differentiating her from the canon members of the species. I’ve even designed non-canon forms (we’re shapeshifters) that she and others can take, for fun. All very deliberate. But it’s not the markings or the eye color or the other small details that makes me an alien. If I woke up one day as a phils, it wouldn’t matter to me at all if I looked different than the “me” I designed. That design is largely a symbol, a way of communicating myself to others. My forest spirit 'type is similar. I spent the majority of my time with a vague understanding of its shape (four legs, a certain size range…) because I didn’t feel like it was my right to choose what it looked like until recently. It still doesn’t have a definite design, I do like to keep that mutability, but I have decided that it’s at least tiger-shaped. Tiger and forest spirit work very well together, but there’s no way I can be certain that it’s “correct”. In the end it was my choice to connect them and I feel that it’s made a positive impact on my understanding of my alterhuanity. Again, if I woke up one day as a fox-spirit instead of a tiger-spirit it wouldn’t be much skin off my nose. I wouldn’t be losing any core spirit traits.

Being in the middle has always suited me. Many parts of me are liminal, flexible, so it makes sense to stand at the crossroads here as well. Honestly, I don't know if there even is a crossroads, or if we've just created one through language. Everyone experiences non- and/or alterhuman identity in their own ways. But I know that the distinction between voluntary and involuntary is important to some, and I do agree that words such as quoiluntary have their place when describing our experiences. I worry sometimes, because I don’t know exactly how much I’ve chosen, I worry about whether or not I’m “fake”. But then I remember that it doesn't really matter, something intentional can still have a profound impact on one's life. I certainly don’t believe that turning back around and deciding that I’m 100% human because I'm not Definitely Otherkin (which has happened before) would help me any.