On Being Non-Human: Otherkin Identification and Virtual Space Open Access
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This dissertation examines digitally-mediated identity and community construction through the lens of the Otherkin, a group of several thousand people who identify as other-than-human. They recognize their biological humanness, but nonetheless experience non-human memories, urges, and sensations. I argue the Otherkin characterize a larger shift in body-identification that is underway in many industrialized countries, away from bounded, biologically defined bodies and toward a more plastic, negotiable type of embodiment I am calling open-bodied identification, evidenced in growing numbers of people identifying as trans*, nonbinary, fluid, and neurodiverse.Otherkin experience can be understood as a form of animism, yet it arises out of a post-Enlightenment paradigm that rejects the infrastructural elements needed for animist thought (e.g. magic, spirits, kinship with natural elements). The industrialized West simply does not have the cultural vocabulary to comprehend the virtuality that is animist experience. What it does have are the virtualities of language and of Internet technology. Therefore, departing from conceptions of the body as disciplined citizen-subjectivity or an embodied politics, I approach the human body as a media platform, mediating a Self. I offer the theoretical and heuristic spectrum of virtuality—a sliding situation of being-in-the-Internet, between poles of the corporeal and the digital—as a way of tracing this Self-mediation, and through the virtualities of Internet space and language, I propose an experience of animism that is legible to the West, because it is articulated through its own tools.The Otherkin experience an incongruence, i.e. “misfit” in the relationship between their corporeal bodies and their Selves, so they turn to Internet technologies to facilitate an “alignment” between the two. This dissertation traces Otherkin engagement with the techno-virtuality afforded by the Internet, along the spectrum of virtuality—through chat forums, personal blogs, 3D virtual worlds, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, and Reddit—troubling conventional notions about our relationships with the virtual, our understandings of the Self, and what it means to be a human. Analyzing the Otherkin use of these technologies sheds light on the ways in which we all work to understand ourselves through the animist virtuality of the Internet.