Ah, I should be sleeping. Or, failing that, writing, or reading. But first:
Lately, there's been discussion on WereList
about the news coverage of these teenage "werewolves"
forgiving discussion, for the most part; I suppose therians have a healthy tolerance for "weird." (I think these kids are adorable, for the record; I'd love to meet them.) But what's struck me in the discussion is the people who relate experiences of being in similar stylized teenage "packs." One-time furries in the community tell similar stories. They go like this:
A person discovers, joins, and grows attached to a group of people who imitate animal appearances and behaviors, but over time notices that for most others, the imitation is playand for the individual, it's less like imitation and more like freedom of expression granted to innate personality and behavioral traits; it's meaningful
. The individual begins to feel out of place in the group, and may leave or expand beyond it. The realization of this deeper, more meaningful connection may be a critical step towards the discovery of therianthropy.
And I, I had a remarkably similar experience with Second Life.
I don't remember when or how it happened, but I remember how it felt
when I discovered that cat ears and tails were a "thing" in SL: it was warm, it was right, it was intimidatingbecause it felt like it would make my inner desires (at the time, I thought that's all they were) externally visible, which is frightening. I worried over will I, won't I for a little while, but not too long; by my second month in SL, pictures begin appearing of me with ears and tail. At the beginning I told myself it would be a sometimes thing, a costume, but that didn't last long either. By my fourth month, I felt naked without my ears and tail; by my fifth, it was a costume when I went without
All of this was a "neko" look, a catgirl: human body-shape, human skintone; feline "accents," let's call them: ears, tail, whiskers, slit pupils eventually, paws a time or three, stripes a time or two. My usual look turned out to be something like this:
and I became more attached to that image of self than my own physical body and, despite the fact that I've now been away from SL for about a year, remain so.
But I noticed pretty early on that the prevalence and subculture of nekos bugged the hell out of me. Oh, it seemed wonderful at first: other catpeople! other cats
! But it became increasingly clear that I wasn't like these other nekos. It was a pile of little things: most nekos had four ears, wearing their cat ears as if they were startlingly lifelike accessories, while I went to pains to conceal all trace of my "system" ears; neko was as much as style as an attitude, and I wasn't drawn to the stray cat/grunge look; nekos would meow at each other and purr like it was a gimmick, and their behaviors were feline clichés, unrealistic and overdone.
Meanwhile, in my fourth month in SL I picked up a quadruped cat avatar. It was an ugly little thing, but the best option out there; I wore it rarely for the former reason, but loved it because as "catgirl" had become "self," "cat" had become "inner desires"I thought it was joyful wish fulfillment. A year later I found a different, much more realistic quadruped avatar. It was a great improvement in every way save that while my first av had been the size of a housecat, this one was the size of a wolf. Again I wore it rarely because it wasn't visually ideal; again, I loved it. That av looked like this:( One picture. )
And I wrote of it, at the time:
But my real joy is finding open, natural locationswhere I can run through the field, hide among the grasses; open wooden floors where I can lie under the slanting sun; places where my avatar size doesn't matter and I can lose myself in the body of a cat.
It is like coming home.
It was in that same month that I went from viewing therianthropy as a fascinating concept to adopting it as a personal label. I'd haunted the fringes of the community for some time, and what I'd read resonatedbut it seemed a little too weird to apply to myself. Goodness only knows whyI know I'm weird, and it'd be a failed effort to avoid saying so.
My discoveries via Second Life were massive contributions to my journey. I'd been familiar with the furry fandom for years, but the aesthetic didn't appeal so I never grew attached to that concept. So it was through SL and the neko subculture that I discovered that people could portray themselves as animals. It was through my gradual divorce from the neko subculture that I discovered that these silly little catbits were, to me, not silly: they were visual expressions of the self I felt inside. It was through my attempts to branch out into other forms of visual feline expression, forms that were more extreme and realistic, which were not connected to a subculture, that I realized that the self I felt inside was not just a woman with cat earsbut simply: a cat.
My avatar in SL was always an avatarmost visible in the fact that it's a black cat, where I think my "real" coloring is lighter, maybe ginger, probably not black. But I adopted it as part of myself precisely because it was wish fulfillment: it was a way of getting a little closer, idealized and inaccurate but still closer
, to the self I should be. My catgirl av, part human, part cat, is the best example: it's an unrealistic, arbitrary amalgamation but it's also a compromise, a midpoint between the cat within and the human without, and so despite its inaccuracies, impossibilities, and the fact that it may look little my physical form as human or cat, it became an image of me
I was compelled to record all of this because yesterday I wandered through some of my old outfit shots from SL
, and since then I've been mourning the loss of my tail. Some therians have phantom sensations, the feel of paws, tail, muzzle, fur, some animal part that the human body doesn't have but the animal within should; I don't. Instead, I feel an absence: a sense like homesickness for the body and body parts which I do not have. SL was my outlet, and perhaps that's what I felt when I first realized I could have a tail, ears, in game: "Oh god, finally
. It won't be real, but it will be better than nothing." Sims is, for a dozen reasons, healthier and happier for me than Second Lifeit's more creative, less obsessive (no, really! until you've played SL, you just can't image), miracle of miracles it doesn't often lag, and there's still pretty pixel clothes. But in Sims there is no me, cat-bodied and scratching behind an ear, human-bodied but still with a full, fluffy tail swishing behind. Nika's similar but not the same. And I miss it. I miss the twitch of ears to nearby sound, the tingle of brushed whiskers translating space, the balance and beauty of a well-groomed tail, the real purr rumbling deep, the lazy catscratch, the golden sunspots, the flow of four legs on the ground. I never had that in SL, but I had something like itand I don't have any of it, now.