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EXPLAINER: Have you heard of therianthropy?

by Gaby Agbulos

“THE biggest sign I was a therian was how I would cry in my sleep about being human, and how awful it was.”

If you’ve been on TikTok recently, you may have seen people dressed up like animals jumping around in forests, howling like wolves while wearing tails or masks. Or perhaps that’s just my For You page in particular. 

If you have seen these videos, then you’ve unknowingly stumbled across a growing community: the therians. 

A therian is a person who identifies as an animal – a non-human. They feel that spiritually, psychologically, or however else, they are animals. 

One’s animal identity (their theriotype) may differ, but there is one thing they all share in particular: they are often misunderstood by society. Why? Because they do not – and cannot – identify as human.

Explaining the lingo

Before we dive into this topic, here are some terms commonly used by therians that you might not know of yet.

  • Therianthropy – The belief that you are a non-human animal. The most common theriotypes are wolves, cats, dogs, foxes, and coyotes.
  • Theriotype / theriosideThe species of animal a therian identifies as. They can identify as any animal, even extinct ones. Some identify as only one theriotype, and others who have more than one; these are called polytherians, though this is rather uncommon. One can also identify as a mythical animal, referring to themselves as theriomythic.
  • AlterhumansA term used to refer to someone who does not identify as human. This is not limited to therians; fictionkin, factkin, choicekin, and the like exist.
  • QuadrobicsAn activity often done by therians wherein they move on four legs the way an animal would. Included in this are walking, trotting, running, and jumping.
  • Phantom limbs – Experiencing sensations in limbs or parts that do not actually exist. Therians, for example, feel that they have paws, tails, wings, horns, and the like.

Discovering their identity

For 20-year-old Katya, being a therian is something you cannot start as, just as one does not start as straight, for example. She refers to those newer to the therian community as people who have been newly awakened and are looking for a way to better connect to their animal side. 

As a child, Katya always felt a deep connection with dogs and wolves. She would often display animal behavior, wherein she would bark, growl, chase things, or play like a dog would.

However, she only awakened when was 13, after watching a video about therians online. 

She said: “I was completely enamored; as soon as I knew the word ‘therian,’ I knew I was one. It just fit exactly how I had always felt.” 

As she grew older and started to gain income, she started buying more therian-related gear as well.

“You can’t choose to be a therian, it’s part of your identity,” she explained. 

“If you identify as an animal other than human, you’re a therian. That’s just the way we were born. Therians can’t choose who or what they are.” 

15-year-old Tora, on the other hand, realized they were a therian as soon as they first learned the word. They were, however, in denial about their identity for a long time. 

They’d always been fascinated with animals, even as a child. When they were younger, they’d find themselves holding their hands to their chest and squeaking and sniffing around in class like a mouse or would run on all fours, kicking and butting things and proclaiming that they were a bull.

Once, while hanging out with their friends, they told them: “I think I’m a cat.” 

Their friends only responded with laughter, saying that that was stupid: they weren’t a cat, they were human. This wasn’t how Tora felt, however, and their feelings would only solidify after stumbling upon a TikTok video of a therian walking on all fours, wearing paper masks to look like animals. 

While they may have hated these videos at first, viewing them as cringy and stupid, they would come to admit their identity to themselves two months later.

In time they started to learn more and more about their theriotype, growing more comfortable in acting like it, and running on all fours. 

“There aren’t really days I feel like I don’t want to be a therian,” they said.

“I think it’s a great gift that I feel this way! It’s cool, and I have a lot of fun, [and] humans are boring and weird.” 

A therian’s daily routine

Contrary to popular belief, a therian’s day is much like any other human’s. 

Katya, for example, spends her day going to school, taking a nap, going to the grocery, hanging out with her friends, then going to work. It’s something typical of any college student. 

She does, however, also do quadrobics from time to time. There are also moments wherein she experiences “shifts.” Here, she feels more animal than she does human, and during these periods, she finds it harder to do normal human activities such as speaking, or walking on two legs.

Tora’s daily routine on the other hand is like any other high school student’s, but instead of doing their homework when they get home, they instead set up their phone to film TikTok videos – if they feel like it, anyway. Sometimes, they run around on all fours, but sometimes they don’t depending on their mood. 

Photos from Katya’s TikTok (@d0qbite)

Not the same as furries

The main thing you need to know about therians? They’re not the same as furries. Perhaps the sole thing they have in common is the animal aspect of their identity. 

Flordeliza, another fellow therian, explains that furries dress up as animals. Still, they don’t believe they actually are animals, whereas therians spiritually believe that they are the animal or theriotype that they identify as.

“Therianthropy is an identity; you don’t choose to be a therian,” Tora explained. For them, it’s something that you’re born into, while they see being a furry as a hobby or akin to cosplay.

“[Furries] choose a fursona, or [a] character they want to be and act out that character.”

Tora further stated that therians are not zoophiles, otherwise known as people who are sexually attracted to animals. They clarified that they find zoophilia to be disgusting, whether it be in the therian or the furry community.

Dysphoria and bullying

There are many struggles to being a therian, whether it be internally or externally. 

An external struggle experienced by many therians is that of bullying, whether it be online or offline. 

Tora and Katya have both been the receivers of rather hateful comments on TikTok. Flordeliza has even faced abuse in real life after she wore her therian gear to school; her peers pulled at her tail, and her mask got wet, among other cruel acts.

Meanwhile, one such internal struggle is that of dysphoria – a feeling of unease caused by the mismatch between one’s identity and what they were born as. Some therians have this feeling, but it is not universally experienced by each one.

Tora had always hated being human. Even as a young child, they would experience great discomfort with themselves.

They shared: “My body felt too small; I would get phantom limbs with my whole being. I felt muscles that weren’t there: large paws that would’ve been too big for my frail 11-year-old body, cat ears, a tail, even wings, horns, and spikes down my spine.” 

When they got their braces off, they recalled admiring how sharp their canines were, even gnashing them together in the mirror and running their tongue over them, feeling a sense of power from these particular features.

As a working student, there are times wherein Katya sees being a therian as extremely inconvenient, especially when she’s shifting. 

“It’s really frustrating, and I wish I could just be a normal human,” she said. 

In her bouts of dysphoria, she feels deep sadness, anger, or dread that she is, in a sense, fundamentally wrong. Her body starts to feel uncomfortable, and she finds herself wishing she could tear her skin apart – to be free from her human body.

“I don’t think I ever wish I wasn’t a therian, but I wish it was easier to be one while living a ‘human’ life.

All about respect

I’m not going to sit here and pretend as if simply interviewing these people has helped me to fully understand their feelings, but there is one thing that I do not: it is not difficult to wrap your head around the concept of being kind. 

You may not understand therianthropy, or you may not even like it. 

I don’t know how I feel about the matter, but there are aspects that I understand about it — perhaps ones I even find comfort in. The feeling of belonging, for one, and the constant itch of never quite feeling like yourself. In my opinion, however, what I say concerning this does not matter, just as a man’s opinion on women’s rights does not matter, or a white person’s thoughts on POC hardships do not bear any weight. 

In the wise words of Katya: “If it’s not hurting anyone, it shouldn’t matter. We’re just creatures in the world trying to live our lives in peace, just like you, [and] just like every other being on this earth. Try to be kind, even if you don’t understand.”

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