What do you think of when you hear the word “catkin”? The first thing that comes to mind would be this, right?
Well… you might be surprised to learn that the word “catkin” has an alternate meaning. And yes, it has to do with cats.
In the past, I have written a few guest posts about cats who do unusual or human things (Working Cats, Cats with Jobs and Agility Cats). So this time, I thought it might be interesting to turn things around. What about humans who do cat things? Yes, they exist. And I’m not talking about people working in rodent control or people who sleep a lot.
Let me introduce to you the Otherkin. The word sounds as if it comes straight from a fantasy novel, and indeed the concept is fairly bizarre. The Otherkin are a community of people who believe they are animals trapped in a human body. They are transspecies, so to speak. They should have been born as a wolf. Or a horse, or a cat. The word “kin” is added to whatever species the human identifies as. Therefore, people who identify as cats are called “catkin”.
It is a fascinating idea, but what do you do if you decide you are catkin? As far as I know, there is no way to medically transition into a cat. So how do you express your “cattiness”? Would you start meowing, eating cat kibble and sleeping curled up on top of the aquarium? As it turns out – yes, that’s exactly what catkin do. I don’t know how successful they are in these things, but they try. They incorporate cat behaviour in their daily lives, they wear cat ears and a fake tail. They dress up and engage in role play, go on internet forums and talk to others like them.
Otherkin sometimes feel the sensation of phantom limbs, as if they are supposed to have a tail or wings. They may claim to have special abilities, such as night vision or enhanced hearing. Some people have surgery or tattoos to look more like their chosen animal. In some cases, this kind of body modification is taken to extremes, like in the case of Stalking Cat, the tiger-man, or Tom Leppard, the leopard-man.
I suppose most Otherkin can’t live like Tom Leppard did: practically in the wilderness on a remote island. I assume they are limited by having to do human stuff like go to work, do grocery shopping or make polite conversation with their in-laws. I mean, you can only take this so far without people thinking you’re certifiable. To give you an idea of what it means to live as a cat in a human world, watch this video of Nano, a Norwegian catkin:
The last part of the video, where she is interviewed together with her friend, hints at the existence of a much wider Otherkin-world. Yes, there are different types of non-human identification. Animal-identification (also called therianthropy) is only a small part of it. There are people who feel they are mythical creatures like dragons, fairies and unicorns, or even angels, vampires and werewolves. Fictionkin identify as a specific fictional creature, like Luke Skywalker or Pikachu. There are plantkin, who identify as trees, flowers or grass (yes, really), alienkin and spacekin, who claim they come from outer space… Some even feel they are several people living in one human body, who can each also identify as different creatures. This is called a multiple system.
At this point in my research, my head was spinning. Wearing cat ears and a tail seems positively tame next to claiming you’re a multiple system who identifies as a rose bush, a black hole and Hermione Granger. Where does all this come from..?
Watching the following video made me understand this a little better:
I find this video strangely touching. The derisive subtitles bother me. What I see is a lonely, very young girl who struggles to find her place in this world. Life and the modern world can be hard to deal with, especially if you don’t totally fit in. We all know what a relief it can be to escape into a fantasy world. Ridicule and verbal abuse is uncalled for.
Judging from what I have read and seen, I don’t think Otherkin identification is a mental disorder. Rather, it’s a coping mechanism that some people use to temporarily check out of a sometimes harsh reality. Melted Snowflake (an ex-Otherkin) addresses this in the following way: “When you try to convince yourself of a lie, there’s that voice in the back of your head that says “you know this isn’t true.” (…) Most otherkin “think” they are nonhuman in that they have gone to great lengths to convince themselves that they are.” In other words: some people have a very rich imagination and are good at believing what they want to believe. Most of them are teenagers or very young adults, and they grow out of this as they learn how to deal with reality.
What do you think? How far would you take your love of cats? Would you actually want to be a cat? And if you are an Otherkin, I would be very interested to hear from you!
Meow! From Tarnegolita at Pet Zoo Shiller
P.S. If you’d like to read more, here are a few links:
Dutch expatriate, mother of 3 boys, freelance translator and pet zoo keeper in a kibbutz in Israel.