The following is something that I have been wanting to discuss for over six months now. It has taken me a long time to find the right way to explain the topic, and in terms of content it happens that every time I come close to completing it, I discover more relevant information. Fortunately for me, a reader of my blog asked me about this matter, which I hinted at in the postscript to one of my previous posts, and I was thus forced to put it down in words. As such, I finally found myself with the basis for a blog post on the topic.
This is a matter which I have been thinking about for quite a long time. Many people with BIID, or who spend time in BIID communities, are probably familiar with the frequent comparisons between BIID and GID. It’s been suggested many times that maybe BIID and GID are one in the same thing, just different variants. As inconclusive as those discussions normally are, I found it hard to accept that they could not be the same thing – after all, I was able to take the DSM-V criteria for GID and replace “gender” with “disability” and then fit almost all the criteria myself. But yet, how can gender identity and disability identity have anything in common?
And then I found the key. Or rather, I experienced the key first-hand. When my BIID involuntarily went away, I found myself with another identity-mismatch. Not a mismatch of my non-disabled body to a disabled identity. And not a mismatch of a male body to a female identity. This was something different.
Three kinds of identity mismatch
Therianthropy is, basically, identifying as a particular kind/species of animal (most commonly wolves, for some reason). It gets more complicated, as most people who identify as animals, or “therians”, explain their identity in spiritual terms (reincarnation, having an animal soul, and such like), although there are some who consider it to be a psychological thing, as I believe it to be. So here we have it:
- Gender Identity Disorder = mismatch between one’s physical body and one’s gender identity
- Body Integrity Identity Disorder = mismatch between one’s non-disabled body and one’s identity as a disabled person
- Therianthropy = mismatch between one’s human body and one’s identity as an animal
And the people surrounding these three different identity mismatches all have some things in common:
- “Pretending” activity as a coping strategy
- People with GID call it “crossdressing”, where they wear clothes usually worn by people of the desired gender or alter their appearance to match people of the desired gender
- People with BIID call it “pretending”, where they use equipment used by people with the desired disability or temporarily restrict their bodies to allow only the level of functioning of people with the desired disability
- Therians call it “shifting”, where they use meditation to voluntarily take on a mindset close to that of the desired animal or to voluntarily experience phantom limbs (e.g. ears, face, tail, etc.) matching the desired animal
- Inability to function properly with the physical body when under stress (there doesn’t seem to be a good parallel with GID here – perhaps because having the “wrong” body impairs functioning almost exclusively during bathroom or bedroom activities)
- People with BIID may struggle to use their legs (if they desire to be paralysed or to have a leg amputation) or their sight (if they desire to be blind) and so on if distressed
- Therians may take on a mindset closer to that of the desired animal or experience phantom limb sensations if distressed (usually referred to as “involuntary shifting” to distinguish it from voluntary shifting, which is pretending behaviour)
- May enjoy “role-playing” as the desired form
- People with GID may role-play as someone with the desired gender in certain games/activities or represent themselves online or to friends as having the desired gender
- People with BIID may represent themselves online or to friends as having the desired disability
- Therians often enjoy role-playing games or casual interaction involving behaviours or activities appropriate for the desired animal, and may describe themselves or refer to themselves as being the desired animal online or to friends
So basically this means that Gender Identity Disorder, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, and Therianthropy pretty much mirror each other. Thus my hypothesis is that they’re really all different variations of the same thing: a disorder involving some kind of mismatch between one’s identity and one’s physical form – in this case gender, disability, and species.
Multiple identity mismatches in one person
It also seems that people who have one kind of identity mismatch are also more likely to have another kind. I have observed that the frequency of GID is significantly higher in people with BIID than in the general population. I have observed the same in therians – many therians identify as a different gender to their physical gender, or identify as an animal of a different gender to their physical gender (for example a female human identifying as a male tiger). I have even met online one therian who has BIID. Together this suggests that someone who has one form of identity mismatch is more likely to have or develop another form of identity mismatch, suggesting that some people are more prone to identity mismatches in general.
I also believe that it is possible for the kind of identity mismatch experienced by a person to change. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I no longer have BIID (that is, I no longer identify as a blind person) but do (instead?) have a different form of identity mismatch. In my case, this is Therianthropy. What caused this change I have no idea, but I now identify as a wolf.
Correlation with Autism
There also seems to be a significantly higher frequency of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome both in people with BIID and in therians (around 1 in 10 – I’m not sure what the case is regarding people with GID), suggesting that Autism may be a contributing factor to a predisposition to identity mismatches – although I’m not sure what the exact mechanism behind this would be, it may be that
- people with Autism have a weaker connection to society, and are thus more willing to do things that society would look down upon such as adopting an alternative identity
- people with Autism have a weaker connection to society, resulting in a weaker sense of identity and a greater chance of adopting an alternative identity
- people with Autism do not “reflect” from those around them, meaning that they develop their identity on their own rather than by observing how others perceive them
- the apparent correlation is due only to people with Autism being less held-back by what society would generally think of their identity mismatch and are thus more willing to talk about their identity mismatch
Parallel pretending communities
In addition to the three kinds of identity mismatch that I have explained above, it should be noted that there are also three communities of people who “pretend” but do not identify as what they are pretending to be, and who pretend only for enjoyment (please note that this doesn’t make them any less legitimate or give anyone a place to make fun of them). Specifically, these are:
- Crossdressers – people who wear clothes, use makeup, or style their hair in ways typical of the opposite gender (usually for sexual reasons)
- Disability Pretenders – people who use equipment used by people with a particular disability (sometimes but not always for sexual reasons)
- Furries – people who create animal or anthropomorphic (animal with human attributes, such as walking on its hind legs or using modern technology) characters and then dress up and behave in ways appropriate for those characters (may occasionally be sexually-orientated)
This is not particularly related to the topic of identity mismatches but is worth noting as it connects gender, disability, and species in the same way that the aforementioned kinds of identity mismatch do.
This is an important matter which should be taken into careful consideration, as it has not been put forward in this manner before. Not only has little to no scientific research been done on the therian community, but everyone who has hypothesised before about a link between Gender Identity Disorder and Body Integrity Identity Disorder has failed to include Therianthropy, probably due to a lack of knowledge. As someone who has previously experienced BIID and now identifies as a wolf, I am in the unique position of being able to observe the striking similarities between the two and put forward enough information for proper research to be carried on hereafter. For as long as only GID and BIID were being considered, it was easy to ignore the similarities, over-emphasise the differences, and discard the idea of them being different forms of the same thing; now, with three (and possibly more) different kinds of identity mismatch in the picture, it becomes a lot harder to ignore the fact that these are all different variants of the same thing: a mismatch between one’s identity and one’s physical form.