Updated: May 2
There's only so far you can go with 'identity', even for an elf. Biology is real.
Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pixabay
One of my most embarrassing secrets is that I used to be an elf. My name was Highspirit, and I belonged to a 'holt' (community) of elves largely resembling Kent State University.
My friends and my fantasy world came courtesy of Elfquest, an underground comic book series-turned-self-published success beginning in the late 1970s by artists and storytellers Wendy and Richard Pini. The comics were then bundled together in a series of graphic novels and detailed the survival stories of gorgeous, fat-free elves and their battles for survival including trolls and, occasionally, hostile and not nearly as attractive humans.
What we and other fans elsewhere did in pre-Internet days when we only encountered each other at fan shows, was to create our own make-believe holt, write stories and create artwork centering around our elven lives.
The elf in the self
I'm quite sure I would have gotten universal WTF? looks from anyone if I'd tried to claim I was really an elf.
Outside opinion doesn't stop 'Otherkin', people who identify as creatures other than humans. The term itself was first coined in 1990 although it was defined as an adjective in the 1981 Middle English Dictionary as "a different or an additional kind of, other kinds of." Um, okay.
A few 'otherkin' I've known included one of my 'elven' college friends who was also a 'furry' (anthropomorphic animal). And at a medieval re-creation event in Baltimore (because my college buds and I were also members of the SCA), I met someone who considered himself an Anne Rice-style vampire. While my furry friend seemed clear on the boundary between real-life and his online furry fantasy world, as we all were with our elven and medieval personas, the vampire dude seemed fairly convinced he was a vampire, even though he lived by day and didn't drink blood. He claimed he could project--I don't know, some sort of silly-ass mind woo--that prevented him from showing up in photographs.
Elfquest fan art by one of my elven college buds who'd rather remain nameless. I'm the busty chick on the left bearing little resemblance to what I actually looked like. The artist confessed in email this week that he'd identified as a hobbit as an adolescent and that it was an example of exploring a role "not based in empirical reality (as a parallel to how some modern adolescents now question their gender identity) in the struggle to define their individual identities as adults." Elfquest art copyright Warp Graphics, Inc. Elfquest, its logos, characters, situations, all related indicia, and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved.
It's one thing to play a role, and another to know when it ends with objective reality.
I think about us non-elves, the few 'furries' I've known and the wannabe vampire when more opinionated members of the trans community fight against the simple scientific fact: Biology is real.
'Immersive fiction' and trans culture
It's hard to imagine how controversial it's become to state that people who menstruate and possess vaginas are biologically female, however they identify. Or that a person with a penis is a male, however we might treat her.
We argue over semantics and language, and anyone who points out biological reality gets called ugly names. Yet one's body doesn't care how you 'feel' or 'identify'. It makes no difference if you feel like a woman trapped in a man's body or vice versa. What it knows is that you get woodies when you're sexually excited, or menstruate once a month, maybe even get pregnant.
If you were born without the corresponding equipment you're not going to have a baby. Maybe someday.
Feelings and identities are real, but they're not scientific. Not yet, anyway, as science struggles to define and understand both, as it does with human consciousness.
Meanwhile, we're left to argue, debate, and cancel each other over two labels that have served humanity for millennia, as evolutionarily, all organisms' roles are to co-create their own. Our biological equipment is how we've been doing this forever.
As someone who has adopted multiple personas over the years, but not 'identified' at any significant level with any of them, I'm comfortable with treating people as something other than what I think they are. Crossing sex is a well-documented human experience in many times and places, and today we can take it much farther.
A recent book by Kathleen Stock, Material Girls, centers around gender-critical feminism and transgender rights, and presents an idea about how the two sides - biology-is-real vs sex-and-gender-mean-nothing - can perhaps come together. She calls it 'immersive fiction', the notion one can hold beliefs around something that isn't real, or two contradicting one another.
In other words, you can accept someone who identifies as a woman even if they've still got their OEM intact. Stock compares it to a legal fiction, which reconciles opposing concepts in law, so one can hold two opposing concepts without a lot of mental drama.
Historian and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that creating and believing in fictions are what impelled our hairy apey ancestors to leapfrog ahead of all other species on Earth to ultimate world domination, and uses the example of a legal limited liability company as a fiction we accept as real.
He points out we believe in money which mostly doesn't exist since 90% of what we 'have' is what records and computers say we do, since banks are allowed to loan $10 for every real dollar in their coffers. The fake money system works well, as long as we don't all ask for the real stuff all at once as in a financial panic; then, chaos ensues.
An otherkin elf tells it like she sees it in Merry Moderne England (2018)
Transfolk should be taken seriously, but they can't force everyone to believe their subjective reality. Or even their truth. Not everyone believes the world is round, either.
However one feels about the definition of 'sex' and 'gender', the core reality is we can't change our genes and we especially can't force belief changes in others. Just try convincing an anti-vaxxer they need to get the COVID series.
We can, however, live in peace with a little compromise and understanding on both sides, like accepting the 'immersive fiction' that while Debbie was born a man, she now lives and identifies as a woman. Not everyone will accept her, but welcome to the human race, where no one is accepted by all.
The fiction isn't how the person feels or identifies; feelings are real, but beliefs aren't always.
Until about fifteen years ago, we accepted a universal understanding of what it meant to be 'woman' or 'man', 'female' or 'male'. With the exception of a small fraction of people who were born 'intersex'; we understood what woman, man, female, and male meant.
Public figures like J.K. Rowling get publicly excoriated, 'canceled', and called the foulest, filthiest names by people claiming to be women but behaving an awful lot like misogynist, entitled men. It's hard to believe a transwoman is an actual woman when the first response out of her mouth is a traditional male gross insult--the 'c' word.
All for stating that the genes you're born with you take to your grave.
It's fiction to state otherwise. Millions of years of human evolution are indisputable. So's a good DNA test.
There's a long-established history of human beings crossing sex long before surgery could render 'man' and 'woman' far more literally. You can go almost all the way, but you can't change your genes.
What we can all refute is the idea that biology is destiny, that we're slaves to our origins. As humanity and science progress, older ideas fall by the wayside. Marriage is no longer as important as it once was to ensure the paternity of the children; we now have incontrovertible DNA tests confidently stating who the father is; fifty years ago it only proved a particular man wasn't the father; if it was positive he 'might be'.
We no longer have to procreate if we choose not to. We can alter our bodies if we don't like our nose, our breasts, our hair. We can now even become surgically altered to be the opposite sex if we choose.
What we can't do is force people to accept our identity.
It's all part of transhumanism, which explores how humans change and one day will change even more about themselves with science; Vocal's creator Dr. Mehmet Yildiz has written about this here and elsewhere.
In the meantime, perhaps we can stop quibbling about minor details like who can menstruate (female bodies) and spend more time exploring how we can work and live together regardless of what we privately believe.
After all, if you have a friend or relative on the far side of a political ideology and you love them anyway, you're already comfortable with 'immersive fiction' and accepting people you disagree with.
Just don't ask anyone to deny science. Biology is real. So are feelings. Let's deal rather than fight.
When I'm not wondering whether a transhumanist future can enable me to fly with real wings, an upgrade from the large manmade wings utilized by 15-year-old Holly in my favorite science fiction story The Menace From Earth, I help women reclaim their power on my website Grow Some Labia.