“Ikran tì’i’avay krrä” by Emi; December 2019

Today is the ten year anniversary of James Cameron’s Avatar, a film which changed my life in more ways than one. My journey as a banshee started well before the film’s release in the form of confusing feelings, urges, strange phantom body parts, and more. At the time, I was only a young child – I didn’t know these weren’t what everyone else felt and I assumed I was turning into some sort of mythical sea creature. When I got a bit older, around 8 or 9 years old, I realised I was different and not in a cute quirky way. People would spread rumours about me because of my animalistic tendencies that I still didn’t have an answer for. My best guess at this point was that I was some sort of freaky dragon, and once again, I was convinced I could physically shift. It was a painful time of my life that got even worse considering I’d just moved from Europe to Australia in early 2007.

In comes 2009. I was 11 years old at the time and only just learning to live with my nonhumanity, even if in some unhealthy ways. December comes around and for my younger sibling’s birthday, during the holidays, we went to see a movie: Avatar. I hadn’t heard anything about it, hadn’t watched the trailer, nothing like that. It was a totally new and unseen experience for me. I was completely taken aback by the film – the colours, the music, the People, the animals, everything sort of glued itself to me as a familiar and homely concept. It was so strange and upsetting for me as I still didn’t know what this all meant, and it simply felt like I was alone with this feeling. I felt alienated when I first left after viewing, and the world seemed gray. Pandora lurked in my thoughts and I couldn’t stop drawing the things that I had seen, especially the banshees. As I was an idiot child, things still hadn’t clicked for me yet – I just called myself Na’vi and left it at that.

In the following months I became a bit infamous in my school group for being that one kid who actually enjoyed the film. I had a banshee wallpaper on my school laptop and that alone was enough for people to bully me. I would even learn Na’vi and speak to my friends in the language, and when we would play after school, I would be the tame banshee they would look after. It was always a lovely experience that left me feeling a bit less weird and a bit more ‘me’. Again, as I was young, I didn’t really understand what I was feeling.

Years pass and my obsession (as many called it) was forced under the rug. Not only was I sick of the bullying and having severe mental health issues, I was also unknowingly moving to England in 2013. It was supposed to be a holiday but we never came back, and this sent me on a downward spiral. During this time, I had just decided to call myself a Starbeast (an alien dragon species I created: it had banshee wings, a pronounced chin, two fleshy extensions on the back of the head, and a tail fan). As I grew older, this species changed in my drawings and became the OC it is today. I still feel pangs in my spirit when I see the art I drew, as it really helped me come to terms with myself.

Late 2013 into early 2014, I discovered the therian community. I was introduced by my sibling’s friend whilst on the bus to high school, and whilst his description wasn’t accurate, I still felt a pull to the whole concept. Some research later and I had found what could possibly have been an explanation for what I was feeling. I joined instagram (to follow the friend) and Facebook, and even joined Therian Guide but I never really did anything with the account. At that time I had come to ‘learn’ that I wasn’t allowed to be anything but a wolf or another Earth creature. I understand now this isn’t the case, but at the time, all I ever heard was This Is Real and This Is Not – mostly from young teens who thought nonhumanity was all about past lives and barking. Cue identity crisis that ended up leaving me switching labels like clothing store assistant, unable to find anything that could explain the strange things I felt. The closest I ever got was sea creature and macaw.

In 2014, we had to write a movie review for an English assignment, and lo and behold, the movie that was chosen was Avatar. At first, I was absolutely elated. As we began to watch the movie, however, I realised multiple things.

1) I had remembered the experiences I’d had since youth that I struggled to explain through my various labels.

2) Banshees were alarmingly similar to said experiences.

As I had been learning about shifts and all that, I realised what I felt was in fact related to nonhumanity – it explained so much of my life, and yet, I was still reading and hearing that you had to identify as a certain type of animal or you weren’t considered real or ‘valid’. Being a mentally unhealthy teenager with bullying issues in real life, I decided to completely ignore this whole thing to save my own mind but it just made things worse. I felt so alienated even within the nonhuman community, wondering why I felt these things that everyone was saying could not be felt.

It was only in 2016 that I decided to stop hiding and start taking care of myself. At this point, I’d readed over 1k followers on Instagram and had made a name for myself on there, so I was extremely reluctant to ‘come out’ on that account. So, as a result, I made a new account under the name ‘Nìwan’, called ‘loneikran’. I made my first post, explaining that I was ‘new’ and likely a banshee, and I was actually surprised at the response. I got 100 followers within 24 hours and soon ended up with 600+. People were surprisingly supportive and curious, but many – as expected – were sceptical and confused. Still, I remained confident in my experiences and explained what I felt and thought as best I could. I was very happy to know that people I looked up to started to talk about me positively when I wasn’t around, not knowing who I actually was. I was so happy, and for once, I didn’t feel like I was wrong or crazy.

A month or so later, the first few Avatarkin popped up. None of them lasted more than a month, but I was over the moon to talk to people like me. We had a group chat with a direhorse, a thanator, two viperwolves, and a leonopteryx. When they all went silent, I was back to feeling isolated. Months later, more new Avatarkin popped up, and so started a cycle. Every few months, multiple accounts would either pop up or change to an Avatar one, only to go quiet after a while. By 2017, more than 60 new Avatarkin popped up, and soon, most of them became banshees. Talking with a lot of them had me notice many weren’t educated on banshees at all – one didn’t know what a ‘mountain banshee’ even was, despite identifying as one. It was so bizarre. Some admitted they were lying, others confused cameo shifts with identity, and most just up and vanished. I felt very uncomfortable at this point, and I would on and off hide my banshee side to avoid these trends. I felt like my lifelong identity was being used as a quirky new trait, and I hated it.

The moment I realised I could be a banshee, I had been heavily studying to become the most confident I could be – even today I am extremely intent on ensuring I am what I think I am, and explore every option (including the possibility I am not a banshee, fear not). I keep whatever information I can, have hundreds of images saved for reference, and collected books to help me with my research. I don’t want to claim an identity and then find out later I was misled, so grilling and questioning has gone from an annoying nonconsensual occurrence to a voluntary opportunity to dive deep and evaluate my thoughts and feelings. This is why I’m so confident in what I am – the amount of research, pain, and time it took to get to this point was immense. I looked into every source of inspiration for the banshee, and even looked into animals that vaguely resembled them (ie. moths, dragonflies, various alien creatures). I tried on various labels in the last few years, but none have fit as closely as the banshee.

This whole ordeal has often pushed people to ask: “what if you are just a crazed fan?”. I think about this a lot, actually. The fact is, I may just be a crazed fan. Does this explain my lifelong experiences that began even before Avatar? No, but it’s good to be open to any and all theories. In the end, this is an involuntary identity and experience that affects my daily life and always has – chances are, it always will. If I am a crazed fan for this, then so be it. I am finally happy and I am finally myself, which is more important to me than what others deem my life experience. I am open to the concept that I am a crazed fan, that I am obsessed, that I am ‘taking it too far’ – but that still wouldn’t be enough to fully explain my identity or experience.

Either way, Avatar has shaped my life, somehow even before I knew of it. I am thankful for its existence and effect on my identity, as it has helped give me answers for things I likely wouldn’t have without it. Even if Avatar had never existed, I would still be a banshee – just an unnamed and unknown one, a creature yet to be found. Being such an unusual creature with such specific traits has made it difficult to accept myself and look into myself, so I am thankful that I have an on screen representation that matches what I feel – I know others can’t say the same.

All in all, I’m proud to be where I am today.