I sat lockjawed behind the cool light of my laptop. My fingers furiously loped across my keyboard, synchronised with the words materialising in the Facebook comments section. Yet another netizen has claimed that their girlfriend’s brother’s third cousin’s nephew coincidentally attended the same school where comedian and podcaster, Joe Rogan, had reported that schoolchildren were urinating in litterboxes. Interlacing my fingers behind my head, I leaned back to admire my counterattack.
Deciding to recuperate from the internet troll rabbit-hole, I made it halfway across the room before pausing. I pivoted and hurried back towards my desk. I had decided to bravely go where few other gender-queer people had yet dared to go: The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
An hour into Rogan’s October 11th, 2022 episode, The Joe Rogan Experience had begun to feel more like The Joe Rogan Underwhelming Encounter. The transphobic sentiments of Rogan and his guest, former Representative of the Democratic Party, Tulsi Gabbard, proved unoriginal and puppeteered. Rogan and Gabbard swapped disinformed statistics on detransitioning, non sequiturs conflating queerness with paedophilia, and citations of conveniently unfindable Department of Health and Human Services brochures threatening CPS cases for parents who deny children gender-affirming care.
Rogan then presented a personal anecdote which followed the cabal of politicians—notably Donald Trump, Jr., Representative Lauren Boebert, Senator J. D. Vance, and Christian nationalist-turned-congresswoman Marjory Taylor Greene—who promulgated that schoolteachers have allowed animal-identifying pupils to use litterboxes. According to Rogan, his friend’s wife worked in a school which installed litterboxes to accommodate a child who identified as a cat. Having introduced a bill banning trans women from sports two years prior, Tulsi lapped it up (pardon the phrasing).
Ornamenting the remainder of their chat were words like “crazy” and “insane.” I began to understand the connection to their god’s most recent sacrificial lamb: therians.
While Rogan asserted that a furry was the subject of his yarn (admitting several episodes later that the entire story was false), furries are humans who recreationally dress as and create caricaturised non-humans. In contrast, therians are humans who do feel that they are a different species operating through human form. Although the experience of self is universally multivalent, and despite there being anthrozoological spiritualities as old as humankind itself, this relatively unobtrusive demographic has been subject to recent censure by US political actors.
The Psychospiritual Smear Campaign
For millennia, non-human animals have played, collaborated, and compromised with humans. They have inspired humans so profoundly that we have panegyrized them, worshiped them, emulated them, and loved them as our own offspring. Without the non-human, we would not have our singular, ethnobiological identity nor the many archetypes we have borrowed and acculturated.
Even within the present-day Anglosphere, you feel crabby after a bad day and your partner embodies the fox as they plan your surprise party. The sloth enters your disposition on Sunday morning, and Joe Rogan himself embodies particular parts of the donkey upon hitting the record button. Anthrozoomorphism is trans-spatiotemporal, cross-cultural, and widely regarded by neurobiologists and psychologists as a predisposition of the human psyche. And yet, the therianthropic incorporation of the non-human into humanity is “crazy” and “insane,” falling into the realm of diagnostic pathologies.
Hopefully the reader can note the danger of essentialising harmless, albeit counter-cultural perspectives of the self as something fundamentally “maladaptive” when maladaptation is defined as a behaviour harmful to one’s environment. Over-diagnosing is itself maladaptive; it is harmful to all unconventional philosophies regardless of whether they are truly anti-social. Nevertheless, when interrogating what exactly has been purported “maladaptive” about therians, therian-bashing conceals a more conspiratorial underbelly.
The common definition of maladaptation erroneously presupposes that one’s reality exists within a universal material environment and is not the interceptive perception of external stimuli. In actuality, one’s reality is their internal landscape. Subsequently, maladaptation is really just the asymbiosis of one’s external and internal environments. Balancing nonconformity and pro-sociality whilst also feeling internally syntonic is not definitionally dysfunctional.
Regardless, the concept of mental illness is always socially oriented. If enough people believe that a preacher can talk to snakes and harness the powers of an omnipotent being, it is then integrated into a belief system. Conversely, if too few people believe that Homo sapiens can feel innately akin to non-humans, it is considered delusional. While Christianity and its God have been espoused with the modern manifestations of patriarchy, there are socio-political reasons for patriarchy’s dependency on religious fundamentalism which provide insight into the political purpose of therian stigma.
Superordinating Western Eco-Myths
Therianthropy is judged culturally maladaptive not because therians are anti-social but because therians are trans-taxonomically pro-social. Therians disrupt contemporary eco-hierarchies which sanction God-bestowed human supremacy and dominion over the earth. Made in “His” image, mankind is both biblically and conventionally encouraged to distance their unassailable humanity from the profane via the extant “great chain of being” model (a ranking of biotic organisms’ intrinsic worth). Within this schema, one might make a theological case for terrestrial stewardship at best. At its worse, one slides into anthropocentric entitlement and parasitism.
Ecological apathy has seemingly been reinforced by a nihilistic apocalypticism shared by over 40 percent of the US population. Nevertheless, the survivance (a portmanteau of survival and resilience) nurtured by, within, and for Indigenous communities offers a social ecology of hope and cross-species partnership. To the horseman heralding the Necrocenic dichotomy of “human vs nature,” deeming the non-human as soulful as the human is a threat which must be eradicated.
Instead of reverting to overt ethnocide of the peoples of Turtle Island, politicians must now be more furtive. While First Nation totemism, creation narratives, and non-human sacrality are very different phenomena from contemporary therianthropy and are often bastardised by non-Indigenous peoples, First Nations and therianthropes do share an eco-ontology and a venerative metaphysicality with the non-human animal often lost on and dissonant to the colonial project. In a sense, both groups increase social and phenomenological proximity between the “human self” and “non-human other.” By mordantly trivialising therian metaphysics and undercutting the idea that human animals can consciously commune with non-human animals, politicians proselytize a neo-colonial precept implicitly disparaging Indigenous holism and non-Abrahamic eco-spiritualties.
The Bestialising of the Queer
In addition to the belittling of therians, politicians employ an anticipatory cultural anxiety around therians as a machination against 2SLBTGQIA+ peoples. The object of their reactionary fearmongering typically references impressionable youths but is directed at parents, guardians, and those who wield the most power within the American nuclear family. The repeatedly refuted disinformation spread by right-wing media about litterboxes for cat-identifying students in gender-neutral public-school bathrooms instantiates the ways in which feigned concern for the axiological and even eschatological “safety” of minors intersects the concepts of gender queerness with therianthropy.
Turning kinship with the non-human into a psychosocial pathogen has been instrumental in associatively demonising queerness’s promotion of multidirectional freedom. Both therians and queer individuals permeate closed systems and lateralise the hierarchy persistent within the United States. While therianthropes offer intrinsic worth to the non-human animal—a paradigm which threatens the nearly $200-billion USD per year animal agriculture industry and the shameless molestation of flora and fauna for expendable resources—queer individuals similarly grow between the faults of the pyramidic hierarchy, entering into and dysregulating a concealed landscape of misogyny and chauvinism.
To combat therians undermining the conservation of hierarchical conventions, a cycle of interrelated violence is furthered. Syllogistically, the promulgation of therianphobia undergirds speciesism—the dogmatic belief in human primacy—which offers the basis for dehumanising and “denaturalising” the queer human. In a depressing irony, the natural—the queer—is deemed irregular, sinful, and useless. Queerphobia reinforces the disposability of the non-human animal and re-perpetuates the profanity of therians to the point where misguided parents phone their local school board to denounce classroom litterboxes.
I had the privilege to video chat with June, a non-binary therian studying Environmental Sciences at an American university. As June’s theriotype is a cat, I was especially curious to hear their perspective on the public-school litterbox rumourmongering. After an eyeroll which felt like it took up the whole screen, June emphasised that they had never heard of a therian asking for theriotype accommodations in public spaces.
“Therianthropy is deeply personal,” June stressed. “It doesn’t preclude us from using services made for human biology. I don’t get why politicians are comparing a non-existing scenario to an existing one.”
As June points out, human physiology is irrevocably static. ‘Species-affirming care’ is a non-issue; even when dysphoria is present, many therians can very functionally hold both their humanness and their animality. Conversely, gender-affirming social, psychological, and medical care maintains the bio-evolutionary flexibility of gender whilst reasonably helping to enhance discrete human features—not entire taxonomies.
Draining the Abundant Social Ecology of Disability
The therianphobia weaponised to undermine indigeneity and queerness is also advantageous for targeting the disabled and neurodivergent. Disability rights obligatorily acknowledge the moral neutrality of difference, whilst encouraging communalism, the need for the State-sponsored aid, and the recognition that free-market competition is inherently exploitative and unjust.
When sensationalising an incontrovertibly false narrative around therian’s needs, other identities’ needs are minimised. A slippery slope fallacy ensues, whereupon requests for reasonable accommodations for those with different abilities and perceptions are not only seen as unnecessary but as dangerous to non-disabled students.
It is no coincidence that neoliberal politicians’ newest scapegoats are over five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism. It is also uncoincidental that rhetoric mocking species dysphoria has been introduced concurrent with the nationwide push to include dysphoria-alleviating care within the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is also curious that the shaming of identity-based adjustments in public spaces would predominately impact Indigenous and Black folks who have three times the disability rate of their white counterparts.
Within cultural capitalism, both disability and neurodivergence are often framed by deficit narratives that are similar to the ones told of the degenerative queer and the infantile Indigenous. While disabled people are often deemed as economically burdensome and an impediment to societal productivity, neurodivergence (especially autism) is considered lacking in either or both emotional and intellectual quotient. In actuality, autism adds heterogeneity to mammalian experiences, increases the possibility for lateral thinking, and multiplies the retention of long-term memories.
A recent study correlates autism with non-dual and physicalist thinking. In societies where institutionalised dichotomies are wedged between the mind and the body, nature and society, man and woman, the holy and the earthly, the autistic brain insists that the conscious collective supervenes the singular. Like therianthropy, disability and neurodivergence inspires the collective to demand ways to thrive though an integrative social spirituality.
Overall, the magnificence of transgender existence is that it embodies the infinite, not the infinitesimal. The neurodivergent is the deeply imaginative, not the insipidly conventional. The Indigenous is the intuitively transcendent, not the institutionally constructed reductive. Corresponding to and with queerness, indigeneity, neurodivergence and disability, therianthropy empathetically and psychically taps into the beauty of the recessive gene, the synchronicity of mutational resilience, the acuity of consciousness, and the abundance of our planet’s polymorphic lifeforce.
Just as God iterates as many times as there are those who feel spirit, so too does identity differ to as many beings who can consciously perceive it. Still, the ability to live closest to the energy which ruptured of a single photon 13.8 billion years ago is terrifyingly intimidating to those who seek to limit limitlessness by gatekeeping the divine.
Despite the richness of interbeing that these aforementioned demographics offer the West’s emaciated notion of humanness, those who have written these neo-colonial rules insist that impoverishment is somehow sanctified—that it’s considered less psychiatrically troubling to create inequity than it is to feel a shared beinghood with another species. The inherently intersectional attack on therians reminds us that our desire to expand the commons, to freely perceive multiplicity, to redress trauma by playing with the abundance of spirit, and to honour both our inner and outer communities is as doctrinally intimidating to the keykeepers as it is requisite to our survival.