Species Dysphoria

Species dysphoria [dis-fohr-ee-uh] is the experience of dysphoria (depression, discontent), sometimes including dysmorphia (excessive concern over one’s body image), associated with the feeling that one’s body is of the wrong species. Earls and Lalumière (2009) describe it as ‘the sense of being in the wrong (species) body… a desire to be an animal.’

Outside of psychological literature, the term is common within the otherkin and therian communities (people who see themselves as partially or entirely non-human). The phenomenon is sometimes experienced in the context of sexual arousal to the image of one’s self as an animal. ‘Species dysphoria’ is also used informally in psychological literature to compare the experiences of some individuals to those in the transgender community.

In a 2008 study by Gerbasi et al., 46% of people surveyed who identified as being in the furry fandom, (usually defined as a person with a strong connection with some sort of animal), answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Do you consider yourself to be less than 100% human?’ and 41% answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘If you could become 0% human, would you?’ Questions that Gerbasi states as being deliberately designed to draw parallels with gender identity disorder (GID), specifying ‘a persistent feeling of discomfort’ about the human body and the feeling that the person was the ‘non-human species trapped in a human body,’ were answered ‘yes’ by 24% and 29% of respondents respectively.

As described by those who experience it, species dysphoria may include sensations of supernumerary phantom limbs associated with the species, such as phantom wings or claws. Species dysphoria involves feelings of being an animal or other creature ‘trapped in’ a human body and so is different from the traditional definition of clinical lycanthropy, in which the patient believes they have actually been transformed into an animal or have the ability to physically shapeshift. However, some cases that have been labeled as clinical lycanthropy actually seem to be cases of species dysphoria, involving persons who have no delusion of transformation but instead have feelings of being in some way a non-human animal, while still acknowledging they possess a human form.

Keck et al. propose a redefinition for clinical lycanthropy that covers species dysphoric behaviors observed in several patients, including verbal reports, ‘during intervals of lucidity or retrospectively, that he or she was a particular animal’ and behaving ‘in the manner of a particular animal, i.e. howling, growling, crawling on all fours.’ Keck et al. describe one patient as a depressed individual who ‘had always suspected he was a cat’ and ‘laments his lack of fur, stripes and a tail.’ Except for the persistent feeling of being feline, the patient’s ‘thought processes and perception’ were ‘usually logical.’

A group called the ‘Equine Dream Foundation’ was formed to investigate the possibilities of species transformation, calling for ‘morphological freedom’—the right or ability to modify one’s body—for all. They have a website and online community forum.

In 2007, Los Angeles artist Micha Cárdenas created Becoming Dragon, a ‘mixed-reality performance’ in which a virtual reality experience was created to allow a person to completely experience life through the eyes of a dragon avatar in the virtual world, ‘Second Life.’ After the performance, Cárdenas reported that ‘some of these people call themselves Otherkin, and feel deeply, truly, painfully that they were born as the wrong species, that they are foxes, dragons and horses. I would refer to them as transspecies.’

In ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ the traveler meets the Houyhnhnms, a society of talking horses. Gulliver comes to admire these wise horses, while feeling repulsed by the local feral humans called Yahoos. This stirs feelings of misanthropy in Gulliver. He describes his conversion into a horse by means of emulating their culture, although he remains physically human.

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