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April 21st, 2008


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03:34 am - The otherkin community & my quest for belonging
After shadowmorphic's utterly amazing visit, I've thought about becoming a part of the otherkin community and how it was different for me than anything similar I'd ever experienced . I'm very much not a "joiner", and so I always looked for a sense of community and belonging in the company of like-minded people (for various definitions of like-minded), rather than among the people I was simply going to school with or working alongside. However, as I discuss at length here, I'm fairly shy in that I normally have great difficulty meeting people or interacting with people I don't know well. Nevertheless, I'm also an extrovert who finds being around people I'm comfortable with exceedingly energizing and wonderful.

In my teens and early 20s, I regularly encountered the idea that all one really needed to do to find comfort and happiness was locate and join the appropriate social group – reading a goodly number of romantic fantasy novels in this same era only served to solidify this impression, and so I tried. My first attempts were with SF fandom. At SF cons and SF book discussion groups I met a number of interesting people, but only a very few actual friends, and even in books discussion groups or SF club meetings with between half a dozen and 20 people, I always felt like an outsider and I ended up disappointed and unsatisfied most times that I went to such meetings and events.

I briefly tried the queer & bi community in grad school, and had even less luck – some of this was clearly because the diversity of people is so high, and the rest can be explained by the fact that I was in LA at the time, and if you aren't both beautiful and rich, the LA queer community wants absolutely nothing to do with you.

My next attempt at looking for community was in the neopagan community – I trained with a coven in LA, and was close to my teachers, but definitely (as it should be) as a student and not a friend, and I never particularly connected with anyone else in the coven. I watched a number of the other students become close friends with one another, but it never worked for me. After that, I explored the wider pagan community in LA, San Diego, and Portland, and found that on average I had even less in common with the people there than the people who had been in the various SF groups I had previously attended, and that I was even less likely to find people I connected with in the neopagan community. I've avoided neopagan events and groups for around the last decade and will almost certainly continue to do so, in large part I've never met anyone who has become a friend solely or even mostly through contacts I made with the pagan community. So, while I definitely consider myself to be a neopagan, the overall pagan community offers nothing to me.

My next attempt was professional. When I became a full-time RPG writer, I started going to gaming conventions again. I found a very nice group of people through my friend and then colleague byzantine_ruins, but other than these people (a number of whom are reading this), who were far more a group of Geoff's friends, than any subsection of the RPG industry), I didn't particularly connect with anyone else and was largely as comfortable as I was in many RPG industry parties solely because I could borrow Geoff's social skills and use him as an ice-breaker and an introduction. In 1999, I went to GenCon without Geoff or any of the various Pittsburgh and related people and had an impressively miserable time, because I did not have anyone to serve to buffer my shyness. Despite knowing more than a dozen colleagues who where there, I felt impressively alone. My experiences in few similar events went no better, letting me know that this too was a failure in terms of finding a community I felt actually comfortable in. My very brief foray into the polyamorous community went no better.

By the late 1990s, I had largely decided that either the idea that people can find a community of others where they feel comfortable and at home was entirely a myth, or at minimum, that I was not something that I'd ever find. Then, in 2004, I started going to otherkin events – first to a meet-up in a nearby restaurant, and then going to Walking the Thresholds in Pennsylvania. In these events, I felt at home in a way that I still find difficult to describe or explain. After the first few minutes in any such event, my shyness almost completely vanishes and I feel as comfortable and relaxed as I do in a group of people who I all know well. In addition, I have met more than half a dozen people who I regard as very close friends (despite the unfortunate fact that most of them live much too far away). Since that time, I've gone to otherkin gathers of various sorts in various settings and the comfort remains a constant. It has nothing to do with the presence of certain specific people or the size of the group. It's simply true that in a space where everyone identified as otherkin, I feel at home.

Some of this comfort is likely due to the flexibility of identity implicit in the otherkin community, since I find this sort of flexibility to be comfortable and familiar given both some of the oddities of my personal spirituality and several of the people I'm close to, but it's also considerably more than that. There is something about the general social dynamic – which is simultaneously touch positive, accepting of a variety of different metaphysical worldviews, and more than anything, accepting of (and often set up with the expectation of) a fair amount of social awkwardness. I'm told by people who have been in both sorts of spaces that the furry community offers a somewhat similar environment, and if there was ever a furry event nearby, I might well give it a try, just to see how I reacted to it.

In any case, the entire dynamic of the various otherkin gatherings and meet-ups I've been to has been slightly different from every other social spaces I've been in, sufficiently so that I can end up cuddled next to and talking happily up to someone I've just met, or where I can introduce myself to two people I overheard talking about a RPG that I helped write and end up with two very close friends – two events that I cannot ever imagine happening in other any social space that I've been in. Given that I've experienced similar levels of comfort in gatherings or meet-ups which shared no members in common other than myself, it's clearly the overall community and local social norms (which are to a large degree shared over the internet) rather than the presence of any individual people.

Going to these gatherings and meet-ups has definitely helped with my confidence level in other social situations, but only to a point. I went to GenCon 2006 and I was not particularly unhappy. However, while I had a finely honed professional front firmly in place, and used a multitude of techniques for dealing with social awkwardness, all that merely meant that I was not actively unhappy and that I rarely felt painfully awkward. I in now way felt comfortable there and the only time that I actually enjoyed myself was the time I spent talking with jhkim in the hotel room we shared.

I've made similar efforts of various sorts and have repeatedly seen that in otherkin spaces I feel at home in a way that normally only occurs in the presence of close friends. Also, the odds of me meeting people who I can become close friends with in otherkin spaces is vastly higher than in other social spaces (where such meetings effectively never occur. That doesn't mean that I didn't also find some people who I dislike. Also, there are occasionally the problems inherent in any space that is almost exclusively home to freaks, the damaged, and the damaged freaks (which of course, also raises the obvious question of which of these categories I belong in). There is even the very occasional person who is sufficiently non-functional to be obviously mentally ill. However, the general environment causes my shyness to largely vanish. I have found a community where I feel at home in a way that a decade ago I would have considered completely impossible.

In any case, I am curious to know what those of you who are either familiar with the otherkin community, or who have found a similar home in other communities think makes a particular community work so well for someone.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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Comments:


From:nancylebov
Date:April 21st, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
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I've only been to one otherkin event (Faeriecon in Philadelphia last year), and liked the atmosphere a lot. Someone who's been involved in faerie for a long time told me that otherkin take responsibility for the emotional tone of their events, which I find fascinating. My primary social group is sf fandom (especially print sf and conventions), and the primary virtues there are intellectual--people have a very solid grasp of "Ooooh, shiny fact! and that reminds me of another shiny fact!, and a lot of them know what a logical argument is, but they're much more apt to let the emotional tone be whatever it turns into, or at most keep it from going bad rather than have an emphasis on keeping it good.
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From:dancinglights
Date:April 21st, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)

nifty!

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otherkin take responsibility for the emotional tone of their events

What an interesting way of putting it. I never thought of it that way in words, but it's true. In fact, I never thought about other people who hold events *not* doing that. Then again, many of my community experiences have been like John describes of himself....
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From:heron61
Date:April 21st, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
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That's a fascinating observation, and as I think about it one that seems to ring true. Of course, the obvious question is why this is true in otherkin spaces and not in more general pagan or SF geek spaces.
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From:amberite
Date:April 21st, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
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This is a good question, one that I'm examining a bit now because I *have* felt pretty darn comfortable in general pagan / geek spaces at various points in my life, and I think it's that there's some kind of overriding concern with "being an adult", quotation marks intentional, and certain of the things that people do when they want to come off that way. Like emulating their parents & being too worried what other people will think of them to even talk about things like emotional tone.
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From:heron61
Date:April 22nd, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
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There's an emotional guardedness that's common in US culture that I often see in force even stronger in many SF & pagan events. It seems to me that this is true because many people there are often as concerned about not looking foolish or childlike as they are with having fun. In most otherkin space, this is largely absent, and it seems absent by design rather than accident. Part of otherkin space seems (to me at least) to be about having the ability to be more emotionally open than elsewhere, with the primary limitations on emotional expression being those of basic politeness than the typical restraint (and the often combined cynicism, distance, and reserve) common in most other social spaces that I've encountered.

In short, it seems that people in otherkin spaces are significantly less afraid of looking foolish or excessively strange. Perhaps it's because they are closer to the social mainstream, but I've often seen that in pagan and SF geek spaces, many people seem more concerned about not looking foolish or excessively strange than they would elsewhere.
From:nancylebov
Date:April 22nd, 2008 10:47 am (UTC)
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Maugorn was the one who told me about "taking responsibility for emotional tone".

As for why other groups don't do it, one possibility is that it's a new idea. Even the otherkin who are doing it apparently don't generally have words for it. If it's a new idea, it takes time to spread.

Other possibilities are that people don't realize it's important or don't think it's possible for people to make a conscious choice about it.

Also, it's risky. You guys are making it work, but if it isn't honestly and competently done, it could be a very unpleasant sort of bullying. One thing that sf fans are apt to avoid (for good and ill) is being exclusionary.

It seems consistent with the idea of faerie for otherkin to innocently and almost unconsciously achieve something which most people would think is impossible and which actually is more dangerous than it looks.
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From:frameacloud
Date:August 31st, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
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Pardon me for commenting on an older post, but a link brought me back here, and I'm intrigued. How does a group take responsibility for the emotional tone of an event?

All I can imagine for that is carefully-chosen background music, and an agreement to guide conversation into positive topics and away from negative topics, and possibly some magic/prayer arranged beforehand to bless the event. In Japan, it's considered bad luck to mention death and misfortune at weddings and other special events that ought to be happy. Is it like that?
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From:heron61
Date:August 31st, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
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What I've seen largely involves at least some people being actively aware of the immediate emotional tone and working to reduce any problems. This can range from anything to talking to anyone who appears sad or left out (and IME, swiftly leaving anyone alone who does not wish to interact with them) to working to reduce conflicts by providing third (or more) points of view in arguments. Unlike what I've seen in most of geek culture, where conflict causes those not involved to leave people alone, in otherkin events, it attracts attention and you generally have people working to help work it out, while also attempting to make certain that everyone has a good time. It's a remarkably difficult process to describe, but it's also (generally) very effective.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:April 21st, 2008 11:17 am (UTC)
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I've been in the otherkin community since 1998 and the pagan community since 1998. I had a fairly easy time getting along in both environments. I am learning about gender fluidity from people in the otherkin community, which is something the pagan community does not recognize outside of queer spirituality groups like the Radical Faeries.

I find the Otherkin community to far more broadminded than the general pagan community. It has helped me be aware of issues I had not considered until two years ago (trans and other gender issues).
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From:heron61
Date:April 22nd, 2008 02:00 am (UTC)
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I find the Otherkin community to far more broadminded than the general pagan community.

Most definitely. Most pagans that I've spoken about any sort of multiplicity issues with consider the entire idea to be way too weird, and many of them are profoundly ignorant of trans issues and not all that interested in remedying this ignorance. There are certainly many obvious individual exceptions, but as a whole I've not been particularly impressed with any version of the pagan community that I've interacted with.
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From:heron61
Date:April 22nd, 2008 02:06 am (UTC)
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I've largely set up my life so that I have only the most minimal in-person interactions with people that I'm not comfortable with and at least somewhat close to - the life of a writer suits me exceptionally well. The most surprising thing about going to otherkin events is that I typically regard events where there are between 10 and 100 people, most of whom I don't know as fairly stressful places where I either stick very close to the people I know or end up meeting at most one or two people who I stick very close to through the entire event. The strangest and most wonderful thing for me with otherkin events is that this is profoundly not true for me there. I don't fully understand the reasons or mechanisms involved, but I greatly enjoy the experience.
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From:heavenscalyx
Date:April 21st, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
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I've been puzzling over this for a while now. I've fallen out of my long-standing affection for game stores and most SF conventions, as well as Pennsic, a gradual event that has been painful for me because I started to feel aimless and anchorless.

The lesbian community has never felt very comfortable to me because of my geek factor. As you say, the diversity is high, and the geek culture is tiny. I have met a number of women I like very much, but there's this large chunk of my life they just don't understand and never will, so it's hard to have conversations with them. I have to discourse on common ground, which, depending on the woman, may be fairly limited. ("So, is this house strawbale or cob?" "So, the meat eaters are grilling out over there, and we're feeding everyone else. I think we've got half a dozen vegans here, in addition to the twenty or so vegetarians; is anyone gluten-intolerant? Yes? Well, crap." "I think we need a group to talk about this subject that came up in that other group." "Where, pray tell, is the shitter?)

I have never felt comfortable in the pagan community because I have a) been a solitary practitioner for a large proportion of my pagan existence, b) major issues about participating in group ritual, and c) a possibly erroneous feeling that, as a Dianic practitioner, I would be as disliked/argued with as I am for my transfriendly beliefs in the radfem community. My current coven is a loosely organized group of my nearest and dearest, who all understand and adapt to my oddities.

The best experience I've had thus far is WisCon, which is why we're driving out to Madison again this year. A lot of feminists, a visible proportion of people of color, queerfriendly atmosphere, a high shared geek factor, a high shared academic geek factor, and a high chance that at any given moment, any SF&F or literary cultural reference you drop will be recognized by a passing person, if not the person with whom you are conversing. A lot of folks are my age or older, and therefore, a lot of the youthful stupidities and dramas so common at other cons are reduced.

I think it may come down to something as simple as these people speak my language. Everyone else needs a certain amount of translation before something comes out of my mouth.
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From:heron61
Date:April 21st, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
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I enjoyed Wiscon when I lived in Madison, but it definitely helped that I knew most people in the local SF community (Madison being small enough for this to be relatively easy). However, beyond that the inherent feminism and liberal tone was very pleasant and a nice antidote to to the low-level but often somewhat pervasive reactionary attitudes found in many sectors of SF fandom.

I think it may come down to something as simple as these people speak my language. Everyone else needs a certain amount of translation before something comes out of my mouth.

That is an excellent definition of community and one that I completely agree with. That's in large part what the otherkin community is for me.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:April 21st, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
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The PNW seems to have a remarkably good Otherkin community. I think you'll really enjoy Company of Others--it has that comfy, friendly feeling you describe (you'll probably know most of the people going anyway). The nice thing about Otherkin-in-person as opposed to Otherkin-online is that in the former group, the drama rate goes WAY down--the only weirdness I've seen has been from that one, ah, "special" individual at Backspace that one time. Not that there's never any drama of the usual s/he said, s/he said variety, but those 'kin who seem willing to come out in person tend to be more balanced (since they don't feel the need to hide behind the 'net for protection).
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:April 21st, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC)
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I stay off the Net forums for my own protection! It's not as easy to filter out the ones who can't be trusted online as it is in person.
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From:amberite
Date:April 21st, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
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Looking forward to it. By the way, I can't seem to find the website for the gather even when put in quotes. How about I build one, or at least host any existing website somewhere findable? *raises helpful hand*
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:April 21st, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
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It's located at http://www.thegreenwolf.com/kingather08.html. I searched for "'Company of Others' otherkin" on Google and got the link to last year's page, so perhaps a link to this year's.

I'm not that crazy about having a big, flashy page, mainly because I don't want random yahoos registering (since it's only $25). If it stays low-key, there are definite advantages.
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From:amberite
Date:April 29th, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
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Just leave the location info off the site, and say you don't want random yahoos registering; when a real attendee registers, forward the info, if a random yahoo registers, refuse the transaction.

I think it'll make the gather a better place if more of the right people know about it, and there are better places to refuse the wrong people than on the informational level.

But I wasn't thinking of setting up big neon signs, just thinking of maybe putting "company of others" in the site name. As in, I could host a mirror at companyofothers.chaosbutterfly.net and just make it a bit more accessible that way...
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From:pompe
Date:April 21st, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
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Excuse a probably extremely stupid question, but just what is "otherkin", definition-wise?
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From:heron61
Date:April 21st, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Hmm, the wikipedia entry is surprisingly non-dreadful, if short. Combine that info with some of my ideas on this subject, and some further thoughts on this idea, and you have a good picture of what I think it is. Other opinions differ.

Of course all of this falls into the category of "Unverified Personal Gnosis" (a lovely and remarkably useful term).
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:April 21st, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
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The Wiki article only recently became nondreadful, because the editors sharks at Wikipedia decided to stop saying the topic wasn't important enough for an article. I'm waiting to see how long it is before someone decides to argue (again) that because my book doesn't have a crescent moon on the spine, that it doesn't count as a reference.
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From:waterfire741
Date:April 24th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
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Having only been peripherally involved and only in the past two years or so, I must say that I fit in much better in the Otherkin social round than any of the others, even the metaphysical ones. Personally, it seems that Otherkin are much better at living a metaphysically-integrated lifestyle than even the Pagans, which is a positive.
Otherkin seem to, in general, take to heart the old saying "Positing Infinity, anything is possible."
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From:heron61
Date:April 25th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
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Personally, it seems that Otherkin are much better at living a metaphysically-integrated lifestyle than even the Pagans

Most definitely. Whenever I used to mention any truly odd metaphysical stuff to most pagans they either look at me funny or try to explain it away as either northing important/real or something "better-left-alone".
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From:shadowmorphic
Date:April 25th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
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I hear you. The otherkin events are generally the only place I make friends and lovers. Not the SCA, or the geek or the queer or the pagan or the healthnut circles.

Damn shame that so many otherkin are batshit nuts. It would be nice not to have to weed through that ;)

I know exactly what you mean about the touch and boundaries. I don't realize how much I need/miss it until it happens again.

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