In May thousands of people watched a documentary called The Secret Life of the Human Pups. The film accompanied Spot and friends (men who dress as dogs) as they travelled to a beauty pageant. Its appearance came just a couple of months after the publication of Being a Beast, a book in which veterinarian/barrister Charles Foster describes living in the wild as a badger, fox and stag. The protagonists of film and book may have little in common but they share a desire to escape the narrowness of being human.
People who identify as other than human have been described (and describe themselves as ‘animal-people’, ‘lycanthropes’, ‘therianthropes’ and, most recently, ‘otherkin’. Together they have a history stretching back to antiquity: witness the fabulous beasts which embellish the margins of medieval manuscripts. It was in the course of researching the role of monsters and monstrosity in Renaissance Europe, and the ‘animalesque’ affinities of 16th-century Portuguese witches, prosecuted by the Catholic Inquisition, that researcher Pedro Feijó (MPhil History and Philosophy of Science) decided to lean into the worlds of those who, half a millennium later, inhabit the borders of animality and the margins of humanness.
Feijó embarked on an exploration of people who are more, or other, than human – and how such people have been perceived and treated by those around them. “We have witnessed, in the last half a century, an explosion of politics grounded on new identities, and on their overcoming. People have been experimenting with and transgressing the limits of what it means to be a woman, of what it means to have a gender, a sex, or a sexual orientation,” Feijó says.
“Across the western world, individuals and collectives are defying our identity as organic beings, in contrast with mechanical ones, and exploring cyborgism. Social movements of trans and disabled people started questioning what it means exactly to be an able body. The neuro-diverse and BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder – people who would prefer to be ‘disabled’) have followed in the same footsteps. I thought it would be worth exploring the worlds of those who clash with one central dichotomy: humanity and non-human animality.”
Feijó’s essay Doctors Herding Cats: The Misadventures of Modern Medicine and Psychology with NonhuMan Identities offers a fascinating insight into questions of identity and how they have been mediated. There is no shortage of tales and testimonies about people becoming animals. “The Biblical King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, roamed the land for seven years as an ox and countless other tales turn on human to animal transformations,” writes Feijó. “During the 18th century, accounts of lycanthropy were left behind as the European Enlightenment movement classified them as irrational and obscure. But people who belong to a kind other than the human seem to have sprung from the blind spots of modernity, and have grown strong and visible for the last four decades.”
Story continues at: Transspecies