= The "Other" Guide to Cutting the Crap =
Which isn't to say that one should never get involved with online groups, because chances are you may meet some of the most worthwhile friends and comrades in your life through them. You'll also probably meet (or at least view, if not interact with directly) some of the most vapid, delusional and infuriating individuals that you'll ever swear about behind their backs (at very least)....unless, of course, you're very good at ignoring emotional and organizational disorder around you.
The more "alternative" communities are more likely to have excessive pretense and poserage and delusions, just because A., there's not a firm consensual standard of "reality" or "truth" to even start with, often.....and B., there's the common assumption (w/ both material and members) that if it's non-mainstream it must automatically be good and trustworthy. Afterall, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," right?
Well, wrong (even if the mainstream were yet a definite 'enemy'). There are a lot of things to watch out for online as soon as you go hunting for kindred spirits and further self-knowledge, and it behooves every self-respecting andermensch to be on their guard and know what things are credible and what aren't -- yes, even here.
And so, seeing as otherkin is by far the most alternative area currently/so far, and the most notoriously prone to outright wankerage/bullshit.....we present:
Section One: The Group Mission Itself
[look in "Moderators" section for more about the visual appearance of groups]
I'm going to start off with a basic principle here.....don't trust extremes either way. There's no room for personal self-confidence or further delving-for-one's-past in a group that tends to regard being otherkin as just a state of mind or a 'personal belief system' (narrowly subjective-skeptical), and there's no room for logic or appeals to relative credibility in a group that accepts everything and everyone at self-proclaimed face-value (uncontrolledly subjective-gullible). Groups that are intent on mutually finding out what's actually and objectively true are going to be somewhere between that, and generally will state their philosophy and method up front, hopefully with a combination of tact and pragmatism. Assuming that that's what you want, of course.
So far as otherkin goes, here are a few sample questions:
Does the group description put strong emphasis on a specifically religious or moral interpretation (e.g., 'fallen angels' as being rebellious/punished and needing to find their way back to God; therians as being either depraved/lacking humanity or (the reverse) as needing to set themselves against humanity per se; vampires as comprising a definite faith or master-race, etc.)?
Is the group presented as a place for mutual learning and exploration, as a place where the "elders" instruct the newbies and rank is enforced, or as a social group with no particular agenda atall? Does the description imply that the members/admin of the group already know all that there is to know about their species/type? (Or, does it carry across that they know very little about it, but will nonetheless be defensive/dogmatic about what they do think they know?)
Are any up-front bans on flaming and argument reasonably put, or just framed in such a way to suggest that no challenging or doubt/questioning is permissible and that surface "peace and harmony" is always to be maintained at the expense of debate and getting to the truth of things (or even commonly tenable ground)?
How insular does it look? Is it "Bethany's Pretty Sparkly Fairie Fellowship, Girlz Only Pleaze"? If it is a specifically-restricted group, does it seem like there's a good reason for it? How long of an application/probationary process does it imply for an applicant to gain status/full-member rights, and does that seem in keeping with the tone and scope of the group? Making it perceptibly "too hard" or "too easy" for you to join uninvited may be a sign of either too much or too little control exercised by the moderators once you're inside.
If an otherkin group has been around for several years and has fewer than 10 members and/or a very low posting tally on its calendar, then it's probably not a very useful group, or else its scope is only limited to a few people. If a group is extremely large and active and well-established, it may be great for socializing but suck for trying to carry on a serious conversation (much less a really serious one...).
How much of a commitment do they want? Do they demand a certain level of posting no matter what, like some roleplay groups? Do you feel like they're in it for the maximum popularity-&-activity statistics rather than the quality of the 'community' aspect itself? (This is kind of a touchy topic for me, seeing as I have a really hard time getting some people to post atall once they join, even though I've made it clear that my topical groups aren't one-way newsletters. Still, I make allowances for people who do bother to talk to me when they can, and I'm definitely focused on quality as preferable to mere quantity.)
Proportionately, I've heard that up to 90% of the members in online groups tend to be lurkers -- seeing as there are places I tend to lurk myself, I think that lurking is defensible in many situations, especially that of "There are too damn many people here already, so why should I throw in something that'll never be noticed anyhow?" In smaller groups, though (40 or under), it's a lot less of an excuse, and if you A., went to the trouble of filling out an application to get approved as a member, and B., know that the purpose of the group is definitely to share opinions and knowledge from a personal stance, then there's no principled excuse for hanging around and saying nothing. Just the excuses of life getting messy, with which any sane moderator will have some forbearance. Mandating at least a post a month from everyone in a group of 200 or over, though, is a bit greedy, and it really does nothing for the actual content level save to keep things statistically busy.
Some groups do actually seem to be more about visibility and statistics and putting their proprietary fingers in everywhere they can, rather than making sure what they offer is of any real and constructive benefit to those who join. In such cases where they're attractive venues nonetheless, I suppose the saying "Render unto Caesar" applies...give 'em lip-service, if that's what they're demanding. The real contacts and friends are likely to be found between the lines and cultivated off-group rather than trying to get acquainted in the public threads. It's like a large and definitely-mixed party -- if you want to actually talk seriously/deeply with anyone, you find a quieter corner to go off in, rather than fighting the noise level directly, as deep topics tend to get easily swallowed up and/or derailed and enervated in groups of large quantity and much surface-socializing.
But again, if you like a lot of that, don't let me stop you from enjoying it. That would be wrong and antisocial of me (albeit impossible -- I can't stop you from going anywhere you want to go :-|). Whatever I say about groups, there'll likely be someone willing to contradict me and say that I'm being too much of a perfectionist, and that no group can possibly live up to my standards. These aren't standards, though -- they're just things to look at if you're thinking seriously about walking into a place that someone else has already set up and gotten populated. Consider it an overview of possible terrain, if you will, and on the understanding that we are often more territorial creatures than we'll casually admit. If you're the type to keep your back to the wall, an eye to the door and a revolver poised under the table, then you already know what I mean. If you're just indiscriminately "looking for new friends", you've probably stopped reading already...:-|
As I mentioned before, a lot of groups (and websites) of the "alternative" type seem to think that anything on the fringe of thought must therefore be true, and that everything mainstream or accepted-by-the-establishment is totally false, and they show it by what they choose to bring up. There is typically no rational criticism given to (or in) articles on things like.....oh, the Annunaki, or Atlantis/Lemuria, or a host of other things -- because of the mutual split between the scientific/academic "establishment" and the paranormal/occult "establishment"....they just don't deign to touch each other's stuff. So, the best measure of an article's credibility is how much support it can find bipartisanly -- reaching across the aisle instead of just building "truth" upon "truth" that has never been tested outside the circle of initiates.
As my Abnormal Psychology prof told us, primary sources are always what you should go for...the further something gets from its original findings or accounts, the more likely it is to be inaccurate, mistranslated, misinterpreted or overgeneralized. So beware of things that assume and pile on top of "tradition" instead of going to what was actually said/done/believed about things, especially considering the vast quantity of classic "pseudoscientific" works that have been published and then elaborated on ad infinitum. A note to the wise, though....myths, folklore and religious scriptures are never primary sources in themselves, and always require a more acute level of interpretation than that which is "directly recorded"....things that have been transmitted and interpreted and retranslated through the centuries always have to be considered in light of the cultures and histories they came from, rather than being treated as absolutes in and of themselves. Sorry, 'People of the Book' -- no religious exemptions here.
Here's a definite 'fuzzy" area....how do you evaluate what people are saying about themselves and their experiences, to be able to tell if it's real or just the oft-cited "wishful thinking"?
Here's one rule-of-thumb: Give uncertainty the benefit of the doubt. A firsthand account with occasional uncertainty, vagueness and visibly trying to fit things together is more reliable than one with no doubts whatsoever, seeing as the latter might be a full-blown delusion enabled all the more by being in a "supportive" environment. And if you doubt the polished account and have the cojones to say something about it flat-out, just ask how precisely it was arrived at...soul-histories do NOT just spring full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus, and anyone who is possessed of half the integrity and maturity that they pretend to have online will take the time to fill in some of the blanks between point A and point B...and if they aren't, then maybe you'll have (*gasp*) made them think about their own reasoning.
Rot 2: Names are not universal and unchanging, and to cite them as if they were definite and only have one proper form and language (usually the conventional modern one) is generally a sign of ignorance/parochialism. Sometimes past names will "surface" and need to be translated to see if they correspond to any extant/known language...this is a good reason for studying languages/linguistics/etymologies, and/or for having contact with people that you know you can turn to for assistance in terms of language and historical perspective.
And profuse 'canon' namedropping is not a sign of trustworthiness, either. If a person is citing a memory that occured in a particular time and cultural place -- or lack/prehistory thereof -- then it would seem off to me if they used proper names and forms that did not belong to there. This is a big issue with angels and demons especially, seeing as their "true names" tend to precede human language anyhow, and the names that they are majorly known by are all either Hebrew epithets (descriptions, basically), Greek or Latin translations of the above, co-opted/"demonized" names of pagan deities, later-generated magickal combinations, or systems drawn up by theologians. Thus, I tend not to take anything that's obviously drawn from "traditional" angelology/demonology (or fiction based upon it) as being necessarily so, because the Biblical tradition tends to force interpretations in a literal way that obstructs further exploration.
[Oh, and also...Dracula was not a vampire, so anyone who refers to him as an "ancestor" is a bit misled. Prince Vlad III of Wallachia was a virulently homophobic-&-puritanical paranoid tyrant (some Romanians think that was a good thing, btw) who just happened to expand even more sadistically on the nasty tricks he learned from the Turks in order to maintain control over his kingdom, wage effectively-intimidating war, and punish his fractious nobles. Get off it already...it was only a novel, a stageplay and several bazillion movies, not a real account.]
Rot 3: Do these people actually have a sense of history when they write about their own pasts/species? Or, if they don't, is that lack of knowledge at least believable for who/what they say they are? Do the details make sense when they have them? Again, here's a point at which honest uncertainty can be far better then mistaken confidence....admittedly, not a whole lot of the people one finds in otherkin groups are college majors in history or paleontology or earth sciences or zoology, or cultural anthropology or mythology and folklore (for the things that science doesn't have proof of existing), but that doesn't mean that they aren't able to use the resources of the internet to look things up and get some backup for what they say is really so. Particularly if it's applying to them.
Rot 4: If they claim to know everything for certain and in every case, they probably know a lot less then that. "Always" and "never" are probably words to watch out for, as they are rather sophomoric (the word means "wise-stupid") usages. If you don't like dogma in religion, you won't want it from otherkin either....moderation and circumspection bespeak more experience and thought, until one has had the opportunity to find out conclusively. I don't know whether it's absolutely possible for therians to p-shift in this life, for example...but I have reason to believe that there is the possibility, and I am not going to retract that belief in possibility for the sake of presenting a unified front with every other credo on the subject. There could also be a virus for sang vampirism...it wouldn't be the whole explanation, I'm sure, but it could possibly exist...so, there's another absolute-negative verdict I refuse to sign onto.
Rot 5: Do they generalize a whole heckuva lot according to species? In some cases, "mundane" or "Muggle" is a very useful term, as it denotes not just a species but a mindset. Vehement overuse of the other/human divide, though, is hardly useful to those of us who don't/can't deny the existence of our present human nature, or at least its physical condition and the need to interact somewhat-functionally with its mentalities and structures in order to survive in this life. I don't hate humans per se -- I hate stupid overspawning humans. And there are different kinds (and individuals) of each kintype, too, so treating them all as if it were always textbook Gangrel (for Therian) vs. Ventrue vs. Brujah vs. Toreador vs. Nosferatu is....really really stupid and childish. People are themselves, no matter what species they are, and you probably don't want to get involved with people who base their otherkin identity on a strict separatism from humanity. (On the other hand, mind, you may not want to get involved with those groups who accept everyone/everything, every faith and its reverse, even avowed naysayers, into the room...they're apt to be too busy pleasing everybody and trying not to let anyone step on anyone else's toes to actually keep constructively "on-topic")
Rot 6: If they're actually demanding that you believe/follow/react to things as if they were literally true and dictated the nature of your interactions....such as, if someone said something that added up to more or less "I was allyour enemy 40,000 years ago on the side of evil and the battle's still on, beeyotch"....then I'd say they had serious psychological issues. And that's whether or not it were actually true. :-|
Rot 7: Actually, this one is something positive...so far as credibility goes, if you actually see people talking about having shared memories and being able to corroborate each other's personal accounts or 'true forms' or energy-profiles via psychic projection/mindmelding, that's actually not so farfetched as you might think. Apart from the individual expression of self-questioning and exploration, it's one of the strongest signs that people are investigating their identities in a rigorously scientific manner, despite its slippery nature of subjective experience and consciousness. It also means you just might get an honest evaluation of what you're sending out.
Fine place to segue, right? Okay....if you're reading this so far, you're probably pretty serious about understanding your kin-ness, and are not just lookin' for a place to hang out and reprise the social dynamics of highschool. Some people are, though, and some people are looking for even more than that in the way of pathological neediness. It pains me to see good groups and good ideas get bogged by this sort of behaviour and its pretensions (or actual delusions), and so I present this list, which may well be added on to for a good long time, for the sake of both warning to newbies and advice to those who may thereby (perhaps) learn to be less of a social phenomenon to be warned against in the first place....
Leeches, aka 'Trolls'
There are many good online articles on the subject of "trolls" (the non-kin kind) in groups, though the most extensive one on the subject is addressed just to group owners and assumes a bit much as to their qualities of discernment and ability to be fair. If you're not in charge of the group and there's a troll/bullshitter/con-artist/leech in it, you might have a hard time in tangling with it, because some trolls are very good at playing on the sympathies of other members, as well as appealing to the group-owner's pet principles as an excuse.
Seeing as otherkin groups are so very fringe and require so very much interpersonal tact/respect....trolls will use that as an excuse to suck up the lingo (whether they're really otherkin or not), get the attention of the group by any means and feed on it, say outrageous/offensive things to get a rise out of people -- but under the guise of their own "personal belief system" so that it's not polite to challenge it -- and try to attack and smear the motives/character of anyone who does call their bluff or try to get them off the attention-juice they're hepped up on. They're very tricky things, and sometimes you can't trust the moderator/s to handle the situation without effectively punishing everyone who gets involved. I call 'em leeches because they suck up specialized/"in-the-know" information and then suck up attention/emotional energy, as well as sucking up the energy of the group from everything else that might be validly going on. You can sometimes spot them through these signs, taken from a couple of the more notable cases I've run into:
= Extreme enthusiasm on first joining; trying to fit in and learn from the group and be everyone's best friend; sob stories/confessions; overemphasis on self-improvement -- not that that's a bad thing in itself, but some older/more reserved members in a group will note these attempts to come across as really-really sociable and sincere, and will see them as being 'inappropriate', 'overkill', 'unseemly', or simply 'TMI'
= Extreme-but-embedded belligerence on joining; announcing an agenda or stating who/what they are and (in effect) daring anyone to challenge them; stating their history as an interspecies or moral conflict that is still going on, is instinctual, and can only end in the utter annihilation of one side or another -- like I said, even if it's true, it's still pathological to hold onto it as inexorable, much less to bring it up in mixed company
= Getting visibly 'turned on' and hyperactive by the group energy and/or distress around controversial subjects such as violence, death, revenge, or whatever their personal area-of-obsession happens to be....this is akin to getting drunk, and those who are sensitive to energy/feeding will see it as an addictive surge because they're getting so much of what they like
= Abnormally swift/multiple "awakenings" (as in, within days) and claiming to understand/embrace their new identity/ies and (this especially) now have solidarity with all others of that kintype...if you can actually see them "collecting cards" that fast, chances are it's not for real and they're only trying to establish themselves as belonging to the group for the following purpose....
= Chiding/berating other members for not being 'loyal' enough to their fellow kin; taking any criticism of their attitudes or assertions as being betrayal/persecution; accusing others of not being "openminded" enough; inpugning others' motives as bent on harming them
= Sudden shifts of attitude from defensive to submissive; 'showing belly' to others while accusing them of persecution/malice; trying to nuzzle up to their challengers and disarm them with asking for advice; 'playing innocent' as to the implications of their previous activities/posts, and accusing others of having 'started it' in the first place
The main pitfall of otherkin groups in general is that they tend to have no consistent and functional standards of rationality for interacting within them, and that provides an easy loophole for leeches to enter and demand both credibility and courtesy while offering none to others. Many groups prohibit 'flaming' -- but the offensivenesses that leeches post as 'personal beliefs' often slip under the radar, and therefore the person who questions their (embedded) attitudes is generally the one accused of flaming, even by other members who are simply naive and not-that-perceptive.
The best thing to do if you spot a leech is probably to let it dig itself into a hole and get booted by its own actions (and if you can trust the group-owner, a word that way might help), but there's the big chance that others may be feeding it and enabling it in the meantime, giving it enough attention and status to start causing a rift within the group. It's at such times that I've wished I had the means to instantly tell everyone else in the group to shut up, stop feeding it, and let me at it with the ginsus till it runs away to find other free meals -- it's bang-up entertainment so long as people keep their fingers out of the duel (and even if not, depending on one's tolerance for strife :-|). Or one can openly suggest that Such-and-Such should be ignored -- though this may still be considered a sign of "attack" and intolerance, even if one doesn't actually specify the reasons why Such-and-Such is undeserving of the group's attention and indulgence.
When such directly-confrontational therapies are not enabled, the next-strongest sign of social displeasure is find a viable topic with which to talk pointedly around the leech in question, particularly engaging those people whom you know to also be irritated at that person. BUT, one must remember two things:
-- The topics must be substantial and not mere "What does everyone think of the weather?" fluff. Actually, it's best to start out with a personally-based conversation that can be enlarged, rather than issuing a transparent all-call of a "campfire question", as those are easily and often ignored for the greater excitement of getting into a melee.
-- In conjunction with the above, I have to reiterate that one must make an effort to create tacit solidarity with the other people who have been visibly bothered by the leech's actions, if it's gotten that far. This is especially important if one is a group owner or moderator, as it is very easy to distance and insult members by not giving them a clue of 'moral support' to go on and trying to bulldoze over the troublesome subject wholesale. If you agree with someone covertly, let them know it by interacting with them openly and congenially, even if you are self-obliged to maintain an official policy of not taking sides and not disparaging anyone's contributions. If you're not in a position of official status in a group, this is a chance to show some initiative and maybe get some positive off-group conversation as well, as every longtime online denizen has their own tales of leech or garden-variety troll to tell.
(Unless they're one themself, in which case I'd strongly advise against humouring them with off-group attention -- with the worst types, even flaming only encourages them and swells their ego, or whatever passes for an ego in the negatively-delusionary kind...)
Apart from that pseudo-indigenous cybercreature, there are other types and behaviours you may want to keep an eye out for, according to whether or not you can tolerate them:
These are those members who profess to know everything and always have to have a word in to reinforce their status as acknowledged "experts" in the group, whether or not they have any technical authority. They state things as axioms or textbook definitions at least 90% of the time that a question is asked, they refuse to acknowledge the presence of anyone else who has a working intelligence, and they generally tend to append their full craft name / title / affiliations / official degrees of mastery / etc. to underline their presence as SOMEONE WHO KNOWS. And their usenames are generally a tad overwrought, too, not that that's any warning sign when it comes to online communities.....best thing to say, I suppose, is that they're generally a bit sophomoric, and that it's likely more fruitful to pay attention to those who have more thought-out content and less stage-costuming to what they present.
Vampire Drama Queens (VDQs)
The abbreviation is included as alternative, because of course it's not just vampires who have these types among them.....it's just easiest to demonstrate with them because it's such a well-known genre. They always have customized signatures (not that there's anything wrong with that), they have a habit of Capitalizing Things of Great Importance, employing variant (tho' misleadingly similar) spellings or baroquely alternative terms for all the basic things/concepts of the field -- um...blood, vampire, ally, discretion, stuff like that... -- in "public"/"mixed" otherkin company rather than just in the specialized groups that use those as a matter of code. So, it's basically like shoving your cult's mysteries in other people's faces, or like a Roman Catholic telling everyone at an ecumenical prayer meeting that they all need to start saying the Rosary of St. Such-and-Such (without even explaining it, of course)....just a tad pretentious. And really, for these people it serves about the same function as a typical church does, to give that self-assurance, sense of belonging, hierarchy, and a certain haughty insularity...so no, I don't think that the religious allusions are atall out of place.
And then, of course, there's the drama.....purported enemies, death-threats, allies, people "under my protection"....actually, those are often signs of being flat-out delusional. No, I don't think "delusional" is a forbidden word, either. Some people are rather off the deep end when it comes to taking themselves seriously, and if you think they're a bit young for fighting such drastic struggles you're probably right. Those things tend to require at least a partial college education, or at very least some serious martial arts/weapons training on all applicable planes. :-|
No, not like that general admonition....hell, I roleplay myself, and it's one of the best things in the world for bringing out your real selves and soul-history, as long as you don't take everything too literally. I mean the people who assume (somewhat like the VDQs) that the whole world operates (or should) on the same consistent terms as the RP/fictionverse they're used to, and will try to implement that set of protocols and terms and the like onto whatever group setting they're introduced to. Which, even among roleplayers only, is not polite...and neither is aggressive roleplaying in a non-RP forum. Real roleplayers know this and respect the terms of interaction...and seriously, folks: If you can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality, you really shouldn't be otherkin. ;-)
Yes, yes, yet another new term....and no, it doesn't mean non-kin lusting after some hot Therian ass. What I mean is the gushing-schoolgirl effect applied to one's own kintype, so that one can't pass up an opportunity to say how wonderful it is, how happy and healthy you are now that you've accepted/embraced/awakened to it....okay, fine. Just great and peachy-keen, but if this is still going on in someone who's been "awakened" for years, then I think it may be time to tone it down a bit. The most gracious example of a species is the kind of person who neither gushes incessantly about their difference and how special it is, nor denies stolidly that there's anything to it atall. Real "modesty" (and social grace) isn't downplaying oneself so much as it is a decent sense of perspective.
Let me make this perfectly clear: There is nothing wrong with asking questions, or even the occasional specific challenge to a person's self-accounting as literally true. But attacking the whole concept itself, within a community that's designatedly about it...I've said it once, twice and thrice and gotten grudging-if-any assent on it, but there's no reason that anyone ought to be tolerated in a group if their primary purpose is merely to attack the belief of all the members in it -- and not even in a civilized manner of intellectual debate, either. Debate is one thing; unmitigated heckling and snideness is another. If you are in a group where the main opinions expressed are those deriding the validity of your identity and attacking your sanity if you defend it, then you may not want to stay in that group...maybe not even if you're quite sure of your own sanity and validity, because it's just a damn pain in the arse to be around.
The Painfully Stupid / Naive
"Um...I met this guy online and he said that he's a real Lycan and he could make me one too, but I had to do things for him first....and I'm going to meet him this weekend but I'm nervous 'cause I'm worried about how my family will react if I get furry around them...."
"If I give you my soul, would you make me a vampire? And then do I finally get to kill all the people I can't stand?"
"If you're an Elf, then what are you doing in civilization? Shouldn't all the Cold Iron be killing you? And what are you doing eating meat??? *wrinkles nose in disgust*"
"You can't swear and have sex and be a real Angel...O:-)"
"That one character there...that's really me -- or I'm him, whatever. That's really my life story in an alternate dimension where everything really is anime, and it leaked through into this one because that's the way writers get all their stories...but I'm the real original in this world..."
"I don't remember having any past lives, so I therefore can't have had any. And therefore they must not exist for anyone else either."
"Oh, I'm not really human at all, because I have an Angelic soul and not a human one...O:-)"
"How can you be a Dragon and not go around wanting to kill humans...>:)...?"
"I am a Demon chylde of darkness, Belial is my master, and I can never ever give in to the weakness and temptation of human feelings, otherwise I will never be able to help him destroy the earth and all of humanity."
"MM.....I'm a new Witch and I want to get this seriously hawt boi in my class to fall for me and stop looking at all the other gurlz. Do you have some good spells for that? BB!!! <3 <3 <3 "
The ignorant and unwary, the over-literal, the foolish, the dangerously-impressionable, the moralistically-inverted....you know them, you've seen them, perhaps you've even been them. Don't just shun them, if they're already in the same crowd where you are. If you think you have the words and the logic ready, talk to them....try to get them out of whatever mental box they're in, and see if they have it in them to think for themselves, and about things like probability and ethics and common sense and...well, the way that life really is, even if it's a bit strange.
And with some of these things it might be almost the way that you're thinking it, but not really, or not completely...but if you never meet anyone who's willing to talk about things in-depth with you or bring up multiple possibilities (pun partially intended), you can go on all your life taking everything you read online or hear in a forum as literal and unquestionable truth, without even considering that it could be something else, a different slant or a very-close semblance rather than the exclusive thing itself. Reflections rather than definitions, facets and clusters rather than total-and-exact identities. Not everything is what it looks like at first glance, or even in terms of the most-popular belief on the subject...but how are you going to figure it out for real without a little calm self-evaluation and/or conversation outside yourself, a little willingness to look deeper?
Some people, and particularly the younger, seem to be ready to give up whatever they have of real individuality as soon as they figure out they have a larger identity they can claim and pride themselves on, and with that give up all semblance of applying logic...okay, that's if they had it in the first place. And the fact that being otherkin is becoming such an intensely popular (if much-derided) trend doesn't help either. There are wanna-bes, there are wishful thinkers -- they might be 'other' all the same, who knows, but they're going about it bass-ackwards if they try to fit themselves into a mold rather than figure themselves out as a whole person.
Personally, I didn't even consider that I was otherkin myself atall until after I'd resigned myself to having been nothing more "special" than human in any lifetime. If you can get used to who you are first, what you are will make a whole lot more sense when it comes to you...and the same with others. Free words of wisdom.
Honestly, you may or may not be able to spot these, apart from the fact that most "leeches" are mentally and/or emotionally quite ill, and may even share that information up front as a display of communal trust. We all have our personal problems and conflicts, most of them discreetly shared or managed...but at what point are these problems serious enough that they become a matter for real intervention and/or referral?
The one thing that I deplore about the "otherkin" community vis-a-vis psychology is that it's often mentioned that people may need professional help -- but without having any bridge to offer it to them. If being other (or maybe not) is a tangible part of "who you are", then how can you honestly go to a counselor and leave it out of the interaction, out of all integrated consideration with everything else that's a factor in your life? -- but then again, where are you going to find a therapist or counselor who knows enough about otherkin and the like to not want to have you committed or medicated to the gills for something that isn't a real problem?
We can't have glib answers here, not when the media thrives on mental pathologies anyhow. What we need are intelligent and knowledgeable -- and humble enough -- people to serve the community as "in-house" online counselors and mentors, and to strike that balance between credulity and skepticism that the otherkin community as a whole has not yet found -- i.e., most groups in themselves will not be able to help this with discreet (or not) peer pressure. We need professional-level counselors, and we need to train them apart from any prejudicial agenda or faction within the community, and with the discretion to know when they are uncovering the truth constructively and when it's better to refer a case over to the mundane psycho-medical establishment -- until we have our own "kin-friendly" psychologists in the public sphere. I have it in mind to use one of my own groups to start this as an endeavour, because I know that there are many well-educated people who would be far more of an asset to the otherkin community in a counseling role than they are allowed to be as mere members -- so check back here [to Anderen_FAQ] for updates on that.
One cannot always trust the people in charge of groups to notice when things are going awry within them. Sometimes the moderator can be your worst enemy, especially if they fit into any of the above categories themselves....or find them amusing to have around, or think that everything will solve itself given either time or the official closing of all controversial threads. Past a certain point of actual visibility as such, of course, because sometimes groups are too big for their moderators to recognise what's going on in them -- or the moderators are just not as sharp as the dimmest person actually involved in the dispute.
One has to remember that people start and run groups for many different reasons, and their reason for having a group may actually be at total odds with your reason for choosing to join one...or stay in one, at any rate, because I know that most of us probably do start out just wanting "community" in general, and haven't got an appreciation for reasonable selectivity within that category. There are also groups whose mods are perhaps too intent on discrimination...but luckily enough, if you don't like that type in the first place then you're not likely to make it into their club. Unless they invite you, of course, and there's another can of worms to handle. Their motivations may be naive; their intelligence (comprehensive or applied) may be lacking; they may be as pompous an absolutist asshole as any of the "experts" or "Elders" in their membership, or moreso, and they may easily take the word of others that they trust as friends over that of the relatively-disinterested but articulate mere-member. Oh, and they're not immune as a class from being vicious, defensive, offensive, demeaning, petty, or absolutely bonkers.
Seeing as there are (gladly) no restrictions on who can start their own group, there are also (regretfully) no higher authorities that one can turn to for appeal if an owner is making a mess of their project, unless it's actually an arguable TOS violation...and that's just to get things shut down as a whole, not actually improve anything.
So.....how does one deal with things that the owner doesn't care about? If they encourage them openly, that's one thing, and an easy enough choice to leave altogether -- but how do you decide whether the owner is actually aware that there's something going on, or whether they're willing to do something about it? Admittedly, I've generally jumped into matters of asshattery directly rather than going to the management from behind/below -- but then, I already had it fairly figured out by then that the owner was not looking, was not observant of the situation atall, and that their response time would be glacial compared to A., engaging the generally-offensive member myself in single (if only!) verbal combat, or B., appealing to the intelligence/ethics of those members who were active enough to see what was going on. Undoubtedly, the proper-procedural thing to do in each case would have been to go straight to the owner....well, guess what, I had no assurance whatsoever that I could trust the owner. They simply weren't playing the part at the time.
And there's a good point, really -- owner/moderators have a vested interest in checking out members beforehand, inquiring about their interests and motivations and such (afterall, spammers are scum and perpetual lurkers are virtual deadweight to real discussions)....but really, the members, even prospective ones, have an equally-valid right to check out the moderator and see that they're on the level and can be trusted, corresponded with, and (if needed) appealed to as a person with a basic sense of fairness and justice. If a group is too big to do that, then I doubt you'll have any recourse so far as personal disagreements or accusations -- it'll either be "Everyone shut up now and the next person on the topic gets expelled" or "Everyone involved is hereby expelled." Though, that also happens with groups that are too small to warrant such a cursory review of member affairs. There really are no guarantees, unless you have (or can make, despite their modliness) a personal acquaintance with the owner, that you can trust them to hear you out in any given situation that may arise....and in this area, there are very many things that may arise.
Really, if you want to know what an owner/moderator is like before you even join a group, look closely at how they set up their group's frontpage or website -- because that's likely to be either their direct doing or at their dictation/approval. The way that things are said, and what prejudices may be gathered there (lack of knowledge itself is more difficult to tell, when starting out in the field); what is deemed necessary to be said upfront atall (re "flaming", drama, argument and disagreement); the vagueness or solidity of the group purpose; even the effort that has gone into making the site inviting in and of itself, which one may analyze as the willingness of the owner to look beyond their own ego-needs to the actual attractiveness-to-others of what they themselves are offering (or at any rate, of making their ego attractive on the surface...). Lack of customized group decor entirely these days generally means you have a very inept or very unconfident owner, who will not be up to the task of running a group of any size. Likewise, the verbal presentation is telling -- ineptly ungrammatical or over-grandiose at the extremes, and balanced and personably articulate where most capable of actually dealing with other people, i.e., their own members. If it looks as if the site design has been fielded out to someone else, or to multiple people, chances are that the bureaucracy is too big to get through to them anyhow.
Which doesn't mean that one should not join large groups atall -- I know, it's easy to get that impression, since I find them to be rather un-useful for actually getting to the nuts-and-bolts of whatever one's trying to find out by more than an online article or checklist or such. It is good to have a larger scope of community, and to be able to meet new people and interact with others in a larger and perhaps-IRL scenario....I think that IRL meeting should be an ideal anyhow for any size of group, as that's the social atmosphere that we generally lack the most in our home lives. But as regards the much-larger groups and their online workings, I'd just say 'Don't trust them too much' -- unless you're quite lucky and find a smaller kindred circle right off the bat, you're not going to have the chance to be that serious about things, because personal journeys get swallowed up in the crowd, unless they already have a clique (or a claque) that responds. Which I already mentioned previously, but it does bear repeating.
In my personal opinion, the Very Large Groups are for finding kindred individuals amidst, and for reinforcing one's perspective of "others like me", but the smaller groups are for finding real communication and 'family' within. A Very Large Group that asks the most personal sharing and involvement of you is probably vastly overestimating its specific value in your life, or anyone else's for that matter, except those who have truly gotten their social foothold and friendships there. And it is a very good idea for groups of any size to constantly/regularly be re-evaluating their reasons for being what they are, and even inquiring how they can be better than what they are, rather than merely maintaining and defending the same old order of things. Anyone who takes on the role of a group owner in this area must have a sense of purpose in order to keep their group going as anything more-than-incidentally useful to its members and their own lives
I've been invited to a lot of different groups of all types, and joined a lot, and left a few on less-than-pleasant terms. Usually this was because I thought the group deserved to be better than it was -- I admit, I have a moderator's instincts running rampant in me, regardless of who's officially in charge. If I think a group's central idea and mission is good, I'll speak up in defense of it when I see issues...if I don't, I'll just leave and not even try to put in a word. Or not join in the first place, which saves a whole world of trouble....
I'll admit it, I'm used to being alone rather than putting up with people that make my hackles rise. Being alone, whether physically, socially or just internally, is something that we all experience as part of the way we are, and the often-acute differences we feel between ourselves and the rest of our surrounding society/ies. It can be a familiar friend and refuge, or a soulcrushing adversary -- or both by turns. Which is why we want the social interaction and involvement that we do have to be worth it, and not just to recapitulate the 'way of the world', let alone at its most immature and petty and ignorant.
Especially within the otherkin population, all these online groups and communities and messageboards appeal to our deepest needs for companionship and for recognition of ourselves, in all our deepdark and darkbright and sometimes-really-complicated personal diversity. But they don't always give us what we initially hope for -- or what we really need -- much less eliminate all the strife and irritation and misunderstandings and bad attitudes of the outside/"mundane" world. So I do hope that this rather-critical overview gives a good start as to how to avoid/navigate the most questionable situations and find the sincere ones, for all of you that are basically true in heart and just looking for that strange-familiar place to be yourselves afterall.
[latest update: 17 January, 2007]