“Machine Animality” by Emi; June 22, 2021

One of the more recent topics plaguing the non-human community lately has been the ever-present comparisons of ‘otherkin’ and ‘therian’ and how they intersect, if at all – something which has caused a lot of hostility and unneeded aggression between individual clusters of otherkin and therians alike. Some people define therianthropy as more experience based, relying on animalistic experiences to determine one’s animal self and using community-driven discussion to further personal understanding. These same people would often then describe otherkinity to be less experience based and more reliant on personal identity and perceptions of the self, lacking those nonhuman behavioural traits to some degree and instead focusing on identity. In my own opinion, the communities are pretty diverse between their individual clusters (ie. Amino, Tumblr, Facebook, Werelist) which makes it hard to accurately say what is the true inherent nature within them both. The question of ‘what is the difference’ has led to another debate that has been just as prominent for many years now. Those seeking differences between therians and otherkin may use the ‘animal vs non-animal’ argument, a somewhat popular idea that seemed to have been brought about by a particular forum (my history may be incorrect, so do feel free to correct me!). The theory usually goes as follows: therians identify as animals, specifically those from Earth, whilst otherkin are more fantastical and less ‘animalistic’ (for example, elves and demons). This raises questions from those like myself who feel they are caught in the middle, stuck between two worlds. Why are Earth species only permitted to identify as ‘animal’? What of dolphins and great apes who share culture like many fantasy races? Why does a dragon who acts like a winged monitor lizard not count amongst non-winged monitor lizards? The term ‘theriomythic’ exists as a sort of bridge between communities and somewhat helps to provide a sense of belonging, but even then, it feels like a wastebin taxon for the Other.

As an animalistic creature not from Earth I find myself to be very personally invested in these discussions. What makes my situation slightly more complicated is I technically classify as ‘fictionkin’ despite not using the term for myself, so whether I am ‘theriomythic’ or ‘therian’ is often out of the question depending on who I am talking to. What makes this a little easier is the fact that my more spoken-of animality is a biological beast made of flesh and blood – it is easier to describe me as an animal when I function and present as one, even if alien in form. The same cannot be said for my predacon side, the aspect of me that fluctuates in dominance and provides my more bestial urges. Whilst I have been aware of my predaconian side for almost as long as my banshee side, I haven’t been nearly as vocal about it. At the time of my ‘coming out’ as a mountain banshee the community atmosphere was far less accepting of the weird and the unusual so I found myself experiencing judgement and even harassment. I blame this mostly on my inability to handle pressure and the fact I chose the worst possible community hangouts to be vocal on, but even still, that experience left a mark on me that the abnormal and the ‘other’ are not welcome. It was easier than expected to get mostly young mammalian therians to understand my experiences due to the fact I am just an animal, but it has been much harder as a predacon. Whilst my experiences are as firm as my banshee ones, there was something preventing initial discussions and instilling seeds of doubt near immediately: the machine aspect of the predacon species.

Predacons are, in the most basic terms, giant alien robot dragons. In slightly more descriptive terms, we are giant alien robot dragons who can transform into giant alien robot humanoids. It doesn’t help that we are found in the famous franchise ‘Transformers’, making this also a candidate for fictionkin labelling. Based on my own personal experiences in different community spaces, the minute you describe yourself as ‘robot’ and ‘fictionkin’, your chances of being taken seriously dwindle. This is why learning to communicate and reason has been a godsend. On a surface level, I may be taken to be ‘fluffy’ or going through a phase, but my identity and related experiences are not things you can fully understand on that surface level. Much like how you don’t get much information about someone’s personality when they tell you their nationality, you won’t know much about me if I simply introduce myself as a ‘dragon robot’. You need context, reasoning, and at least a sprinkling of logic to actually get what I mean when I say that. Having mental illnesses that make things difficult has been a massive hurdle when trying to put my thoughts and feelings into easily understood words, but I try my best and attempt to give my reasons when it is relevant. Unfortunately, not a lot of people give me a chance to provide that.

When attempting to discuss my experiences in the past, I have been told to stay out of spaces I ‘don’t belong in’. Even if the topic of conversation is something I believe I can add to, I have been ignored and sometimes even told to stop using ‘therian terminology’ to describe my experiences. Whilst this rarely happens nowadays, this was yet another negative experience that leaves me nervous to engage with ‘real therians’. From a human point of view, the first impressions given by the use of ‘machine’ and ‘robot’ tends to imply a non-animal or even an object, something unthinking and unfeeling and running on code and batteries. Despite this, I still engage in therian circles more than I do otherkin ones for the very simple reason that I can relate to therians much more than I can to otherkin. The argument that both communities are ‘fundamentally the same’ just doesn’t feel true for me based on my personal experiences with the two and leaves me feeling like an outsider amongst those many would consider ‘my kind’. I cannot say it is due to ‘experience vs identity’ or ‘animal vs non-animal’, but at the same time, I can. It’s a weird paradoxical feeling that can be very difficult to put into words and, having seen the aftermath of people trying to put their thoughts to paper, I feel very reluctant to share my own thoughts. Luckily for you and unfortunately for me, I am a very vocal beast who never learns when to shut up.

I have been in therian groups since around 2014, maybe late 2013 at the earliest. I found myself on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, Kik, and offline communities – all of which had different vibes and different practices but still carried some familiar genetics that made them all ‘therian’. The same could be said for the otherkin groups I found on the very same social media platforms (no offline ‘kin groups for me, I’m afraid). Each sub-community I encountered had a basic inherent ‘aura’ but a variation that set them apart from the others in the nest. It reminds me of the way evolution as a theory is simply described: a single lineage changing through minute mutations over time into the forms needed to survive. A species may be classed as a single entity, but each individual may have genetic markers that set them aside from the rest of their kind. I find our nonhuman communities to mimic this. So what are the otherkin and therian ‘species’? I still don’t really know. I do find that the therians I have engaged with have been more focused on the nitty gritty, the inward soulsearching, the deep community discussions and the embrace of animality. On the other wing, otherkin I have spoken to seemed more spiritually inclined with a focus on life, memory, relationships, and more personal interpretations of the self. They both have experiences and identification that make up the basis of their community culture, so I cannot believe that either is an exclusive trait. That being said, I find therians to be far more interested in the how’s and why’s. Therians seem more likely to ask questions and probe you for more information about your animality, sometimes even grilling you, which tends to result in very lengthy and thought-provoking discussions about why they feel they are nonhuman. Whilst otherkin do exhibit this as well, I personally have found therians to be far more inquisitive in this manner.

When you combine initial judgment with the sometimes intense questioning, it can be difficult to open a discussion with therians about how you relate to them despite being a machine from another planet. The basics of predacons are too foreign and too alien for most to find relatable, so conversations tend to end quickly and without diving deeper. I feel like now is a good opportunity to explain what I have come to understand is a ‘hot take’: my belief that machines like myself can experience therianthropy. Thinking of machines may conjure up images of 1s and 0s, wires, specialised programming, CPUs, and man-made artificial intelligence with no true ‘self’ – perhaps that annoying old ‘attack helicopter’ meme even comes to mind – but in my experience advanced machine life is fairly comparable to advanced organic life. Breaking us down into the simple descriptions that usually prove our differences can actually bring us closer together. For example, we both require energy to function. We need a fuel source that is compatible with our body components. We both could have sensory apparatus for visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and perhaps even gustatory stimuli. We have electrical signals within powerful processors to help us analyse data and respond to it. Depending on our species, we could both have the ability to indefinitely store the data we collect for future use. We may have various ways of replicating our body or repairing faulty body components. Perhaps we even share body plans with a head, limbs, a body, and a behind. In these simple descriptions that only really explain the basics you could imagine organic life as ‘meat robots’ and robotic life as ‘metal animals’. Picking only the differences we have and using them as a reason to prevent discussion feels counterproductive. Using only the above examples, we could share our similar experiences and how we deal with them on a day to day basis with relative success – why does it feel like we can’t?

I am fortunate that my mechanical aspects are heavily bestial in nature despite the initial appearances. Predacons are essentially the dinosaur equivalents of our homeworld, long extinct and often depicted as ferocious monsters. We hunted other mechanical lifeforms for energy much like an organic predator, and processed the remains internally just like a wolf or a bird. We had a food chain, habitats, differing traits and behaviours akin to species. We had eyes, ears, a nose, fingers and even a tongue – whilst they may differ wildly in form and function to mammalian organs, they feel no more foreign than the eye of a housefly is to the eye of a cat. Our species would engage in territorial disputes to protect our food sources, communicate through body language and vocal displays (amongst other things), experience self-preservation instincts, produce waste products from our consumption, and many other animalistic traits that some may ‘defend’ as being strictly therianthropic. The predacon is essentially the non-organic equivalent of a large carnivorous predatory animal – the machine element is inherent, yes, but it does not wholly define my experience. I am more than my metallic armor plating and my internal wiring – I am also a beast who bleeds and feasts like any other.

Finding a home in therian circles is often slightly anxiety-inducing. I still worry about being cast away by the people I identify with and worry that I will be refused a chance to speak like I have been before. I am told I am too foreign for most therians, and yet I am too beastly for most otherkin. I am too modern for most theriomythics and too instinct-focused for most fictionkin. I often wonder what I am: an object? A machine? A monster? An animal? A mix of all? I sometimes feel like there’s an unspoken pressure to ‘pick one’ and truthfully I really struggle to do so. A predacon does not usually question his existence as a predacon, so when he does, it is a very unusual and difficult affair. Our species is more likely to grunt and move on to the next activity, accepting the current moment and the next meal as the only things that really matter. Admittedly even this can be tough to embrace despite it being so innate within me. Whilst I am now far more confident in my predaconian nature and happily live out my life – embracing my experiences, my memories, my instincts – I still hope that the human nature within me can also find some satisfaction. It is hard for someone as anxious and as paranoid as myself to really dive into a vocal community and establish some sort of communication, but I think doing so has improved not only my ‘spiritual’ health, but my mental health too. I also use my own experiences to avoid surface-level judgement and instead ask those who are Other what they feel, how they feel it, and what it means to them. The more meaningful conversations I’ve had recently have happened with creatures I never would have thought I could relate to. I wonder if people see my ‘machine’ the same way I see their ‘mammal’ – with a shrug and a ‘not like me so not worth the time’ – so instead of basing my assumptions on the surface-level traits, I find enjoyment and intrigue in the more personal and detailed aspects through questioning and debate. I love reading about the processes behind someone’s identity, how they came to the final conclusion, how they cope and survive in a world built for upright-standing primates- huh…I guess I may belong here after all.