Authored by Vilte Baliutaviciute, MA, LPC, a member of the IntraSpectrum Counseling clinical team.
What does it mean to identify as human? Or not to? It’s not a question that gets asked much by the average person. But since at least the 1960’s, several communities have banded together around the concept of being other-than-humankind. While terminology has shifted back and forth over time- therians, otherkin, alterhumans- the general principle is the same: having some atypical relationship to humanity. What does that mean? How does that relate to other identities? And what does it imply for a person’s mental health? This blog hopes to answer these and other common questions
What is a therian?
“Therian” is short for “therianthrope”. It means a person who identifies integrally as a nonhuman being, such as a wolf, polar bear, or even earthworm. While the two communities historically emerged separately, it has a lot of overlap with the “otherkin” community, which includes any individual that identifies as nonhuman (e.g. as an elf, dragon, or even fictional character).
Do you mean like a furry?
Close, but not quite! Furry is a fandom, just like any other. It includes anyone that enjoys the art of anthropomorphic animals. Some furries might dress up in costumes or attend gatherings, just as some readers of this blog may have painted their face for a sports event, or worn cosplay for a convention. Of course, there is overlap- a community where self-expression as an animal is welcomed will attract people who identify as nonhuman, but most furries identify as fully human.
Is this healthy?
Generally speaking, yes! Nonhuman identity, like other facets of identity, tends to go through a developmental period (usually in adolescence) and stay stable throughout the lifespan. Some research suggests a possible overlap with other forms of neurodiversity, but the identity itself is not inherently pathological. Most clinical and sociological research on therian and otherkin communities agrees: this is best approached as diversity, not deficit. Someone can have a rich, well-adjusted life while still identifying as a bear or kobold.
Are you making fun of transgender people?
Short answer- no. Long answer- not even a little bit. There is little actual competition between the needs of transgender folks and the needs of otherkin/therian folks. In fact, many therians and otherkin are trans themselves! The exact statistics vary from survey to survey. But in one study of the furry community, 11% of self-identified Otherkin and 14% of therians identified as transgender, compared to 3% of the general sample. Transphobic arguments about identifying as an attack helicopter or kitty litter in schools are bad-fath arguments (or wholesale myths) meant to fearmonger and distract. In the times before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, polygamy was used as a slippery slope argument against legalizing same-sex marriage. But the polyamorous and LGBTQ+ communities are not inherently at odds, and in fact overlap significantly! Likewise, therians and otherkin are not a threat to the trans community- many are trans themselves, and both communities could be enriched by solidarity.
Why would a therian see a therapist?
Many reasons! Some might want a safe space to explore their nonhuman identity, same as for any other label. Some therians and otherkin face specific harassment, bullying, or distress over identifying as nonhuman. Some might have no problem with their species identity, and seek therapy for completely unrelated reasons such as struggling with depression or anxiety. No matter what, everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome in the therapy room as their whole selves- tails and all.
This blog is authored by Vilte Baliutaviciute, MA, LPC, a member of the IntraSpectrum Counseling clinical team. IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, identity, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support, please click here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.