Community Belongs to No One: A Fictionfolk Essay
I want to walk away with grace. And I don't think the community quite understands that, I genuinely think at this point we skew a little too young to properly understand that. But there's something to be said about categorization, and ruthless documentation of things that don't quite exist, and looking for a word that tells of an identity but does not tell a word about a community.
Because that's the thing, isn't it. When labels get created in the community, there's always one of two reasons, and sometimes both. The first reason is to coin it just to say you coined it, fame and fortune if it ever catches on, and then the only people who use the term are the genderhoarders and label-lovers and those who like making lists of stuff. They're so specific that they don't really make you feel seen, just one more token to add to the pile. The second reason is in response to a need in the community, an answer to a problem that may or may not have ever actually been an issue.
Alterbeing comes to mind - proposed as an alternative to alterhuman - is a label named for approximately three people. The issue it tried to fix was that alterhuman, despite including nonhumans in its twin definitions of "alternative humanity" and "alternate to humanity", implied too much humanity for the coiners, and they swapped out the -human ending for -being. The issue with this is that firstly, very few people saw this to be an issue and the ones who did elected for the older and simpler 'nonhuman', and secondly, the only reason anyone would use alterbeing is if they had the same issues with the term alterhuman. By coining it in response to issues with another label, and building off of it, the coiner accidentally ensured nobody would realistically use it and forever tied it to a label and community they wanted nothing to do with.
Ironically, this issue is the exact thing that caused the current hatred between otherkin and what is still known, derogatorily and rightly so, as the kin-for-fun community. Several alternatives have been proposed: constelic and clicking come to mind, although I pay very little attention to the whole lot of it - and none have caught on. The issue is not their experiences, the issue is their terminology, and simply put, is "stop stealing ours and make your fucking own". This is a well-known issue that so many others have written essays and rants and discoursed endlessly about, and yet somehow, no one seems to have figured out that we do it to each other all the time before any labelled community can get off the ground.
At this point, I recognize no flag that isn't one of the main dozen-or-so queer labels, and care not to even try with more. I also recognize the otherkin banner, which I refuse to call a flag because banner seems far more accurate a term for it. It's never been a flag of pride and extroversion and demand to be allowed to take up space. It's a banner of celebration and recognition, and it should be allowed to be what it is, not forced into something it isn't.
The problem with labels - as soaringesthesia (x) pointed out so very well a few days ago - is that it becomes difficult to feel that they fit when the community holds history and narratives one doesn't feel applies to them. Why would you consider yourself otherkin, when it doesn't simply mean "at least partially nonhuman or fictional" anymore, and instead brings in all the narratives of the therianthropic, vampyre, theriomythic, and the remains of the fictionkind communities? If you do not experience mental shifts and a harkening specifically for the forest, if you dislike having to pin down exactly whether your experiences are spiritual or psychological in nature, if you don't feel like thinking harder than a PhD student about how voluntary your experiences are, if you have no need to seek others out and just wish to exist as you are, why would you bother? What purpose does it serve?
It's hard to square my shoulders, chin up and wings flared, and call myself 'fictionkin' when the word means nothing, the history is gone, and the community is in such tatters that there's no saving it. The other related communities under both otherkin and alterhuman umbrellas left us for dead - and why shouldn't they, all we were was the special little anime lovers who didn't understand what it was to be nonhuman - and the kin-for-fun were the killing blow and the gratuitous dismembering of the corpse. Why would I bother calling myself fictionkin, when I immediately have to add on that I mean it for real, that others who are fictional are my kin and kind, that I am not and will never be human on more than just the surface?
When Sundragon opened their fictionkind dreamwidth, I was hesitant but hopeful. Much as I thought National Nonhuman Park might be good in the early days, it was… honestly, I just didn't vibe with it overly much, and there were too many kids, and I did not see myself looking back at me in the introductions forums. Not even a person I had once been and had shed the skin of. But dreamwidth is the site where old fandom goes, and I come from the mothers that raised me, and it was too reminiscent of the good days of deviantART that I stepped in as a user and thankfully not a moderator, and told myself and my system that I was going to talk.
There isn't much in the way of interaction - introduction posts get a few comments, and I try to comment on everything non-prompted and a few prompts when I get the chance, but it's… peaceful. It's peaceful, and it gets us to think, and it feels like a bulletin board at the bottom of the ocean. I see myself reflected back in the waters.
Sundragon coined two terms, fictomere and fictionfolk, for similar but diverging reasons. Fictomere solely because "fictotype/c'link/hearttype/hearthome/your fictional identity of some kind" needed a good shorthand… the exact reason both 'otherkin' and 'noemata' were coined in the first place. It will never be used as a term to identify as, best for prompts and for questionnaires and open-ended introductions. It's perfect for the job it's been asked to fill, and it needs no ornamentation, no coining post past a simple definition if context was not enough, no flag or banner or symbol. A term brought forth because there was a linguistic gap asking for a bridge, and it does well.
But fictionfolk. And here is where I am joyful and pissy at the same time, because fictionfolk is not a name with any history, and yet, it has all the history it needs. When Sundragon started using it, he used no coining post or banner or symbol, and it didn't need it: it was what it said it was on the tin, fictional folk of all kinds and shapes, fair and foul, all that mattered was that your existence bridged the gap between the story and the reality and allowed the two to blur into a consciousness.
It felt like a word I could wear upon my arm and not feel as a brand. Fictionkin, much as it has been my label for almost a decade and the identity I've held high, feels like a brand across the skin, scarred more and more with each kin-for-fun spitting in my face and every greymuzzle growing too tired of the discourse and taking down all of their works and walking away and every pointless argument.
Fictionfolk was none of that. You can recognize easily that fictionfolk includes copinglinkers and fictionkin and those with hearthomes and fictives and some authors and soulbonders and everyone who has recognized that there is a story here, and they are within it, they are a part of it. I could bring it with me outside the community and it would be understood. I wouldn't need to bring ten pages torn from the Chimaeras' Library just to explain it, the word itself tells you what I am. And if asked, I don't need to add any disclaimers from the community or any discourse or any acknowledgement at all. I can just explain… me. It is not a label or a community or anything of the sort. It's just a name for an identity, a name for me, a name that tells you everything you need to know in three short syllables.
Of course, if I've learned anything from the community, it's not to expect too much. Yesterday, someone went and made a coining post for the entire -folk suffix, coming just shy of another pointless flag and symbol nobody will recognize or use. They said that while they would not say they coined fictionfolk, because it existed for a few months prior, they would claim ficfolk and otherfolk and all other sorts.
I am a Devil, I am a mass murderer with hereditary evil raiser syndrome, I am a soldier who hears equal amounts of gunfire and tinnitus when he closes his eyes. To that person, who I blocked and do not care to name… I do not approve, and you do not get to claim the shorthand of a name that never belonged to you.
I will not shorten fictionfolk, when speaking for me. The only symbols I will ever need are a compass rose and a key, so I may find my way and be able to open the doors through which I need to pass. You do not get to say you are the founder of a community, because there is no community, there is no council or pillars or unified, agreed-upon existence.
When I pass through this world, like a natural disaster or a star or a ghost or a person, you will know me for fictionfolk, and fictionkind if you press with pawprints under your shoes, and a Devil and so much more without. I belong to no community save for the ones who will have me as I am, as I will continue to grow to be. I do not claim ownership of anything I have not written my name upon, and I will not wear any banner but my own magical signature.
The fictionkin community is as dead as a still-breathing corpse. Believe me, I know. I watched it die and my efforts to save it were not and could never have been enough. I will hold it close to my heart as I continue upon my journey.
The names I wear are solely my own. They need no central explanation, only what they mean to me, and what they mean to those who also use them. I claim nothing but what is mine.
Maybe, one day, there will be a fictionfolk community, risen like a phoenix. If I am hopeful, and the world answers that song. Come that day, it will belong to no one, and to everyone, and on that day, I hope I am there to witness it.