Here (were, are, will be) Dragons
A particular section of my last article got a lot more attention than I expected: tons of people came out of the woodwork to echo my sentiments on the decline of the draconic community as its own distinct entity. And I'm both happy and sad about that, that there are so many folks who share my feeling of loss.
But it makes you think, doesn't it? So many people still identify to some extent with that label and that community. The draconic label is really the headline case study in a greater pervasive trend of smaller nonhuman circles being subsumed into just ‘otherkin’. It has things to teach us the development of alterhuman communities in general. So I wanted to explore that a little bit more in depth, to take a look at where the community actually went, and to ask: could it be brought back?
Now, when the draconic community was ostensibly at its peak, I was only, like, 12. Too many sermons on stranger danger prevented me from signing up for any forums. But I gobbled up everything I could find outside of a login screen, and it was two articles in particular that really spoke to what I was feeling at the time. Those were What Dragons Are and its sequel, Dragon Definitions.
I sincerely can't imagine where I'd be in my life now if I hadn't read those pieces of writing. That was my Awakening, and it put me in touch, for the first time, with such a fundamental part of my own self that it's shaped everything I've done ever since. It put words to innumerable ideas and feelings I'd had all my life but couldn't articulate with my tween brain. Most importantly, it said to me that other people feel this way too. That was a big fuckin' deal!
It's why the existence or nonexistence of a draconic community continues to be a Big Fuckin' Deal. There are dragons for whom being dragon is a unique experience beyond the typical otherkin one. Not much can be discerned regarding the particulars of this experience, but we can agree among ourselves that fellow dragons also experience it, and non-dragons do not. We need that fellowship, because we need people who Get It.
So if the need for the community hasn't diminished, why has the community itself? I don't think I'm in a position to do a full post-mortem, but digging through the remains of alt.fan.dragons, a few things stick out to me:
There's a damn lot of clannishness. It's very heartening (if a little surreal) to see the webmasters I looked up to in yore trying to start up discord servers ten years later. It's less so to watch them insist that you have to PM someone already on the inside to get invited in. The motivations for this are understandable, but it’s a double-edged sword. The more robust your methods for deterring the out-group, the more in-groupers are gonna get shafted. You're not exactly creating a closed system there, but there's definitely more energy leaving it than is being brought in.
And boy howdy, is a lot of energy leaving it. Lots of promising threads telling me there were new forums, sites, chatrooms linked to now-unregistered domains in posts over a year old. I don't want to call it apathy – it's not on any individual dragon to keep the community going, but there sure seem to be a lot of individual dragons letting their projects fall to the wayside without handing them over, or even really saying goodbye.
Do they not care to adapt to modern trends in internet technology and social spaces? Newsboards and forums are a different, and dying breed of, beast compared to the kinds of social networks and chat clients that dominated the internet ecosphere these days. Microblogging platforms have accustomed this generation to a way of speaking in status updates. There’s no longer the expectation for your communication to be grammatical and content-rich, in fact such requirements are probably seen as excessively anal to most folks. That’s fine – it’s a matter of preference, a cultural difference, and not some omen of the death of intelligent society or whatever. It’s also just not appealing to a lot of people who grew up with something very different.
That said, are they too mistrustful of outsiders now that the alterhuman communities are more visible? I refer you to the mythical archetype of the dreaded ‘tumblrkin’. Reviled for making a mockery of Real Nonhumans, I’ve found in my experience as a server administrator that 90% of these kids (and adults!) are either simply talking about their experiences in a different way than the Correct Terminology Act of 1993 dictates, or aren’t even claiming to be experiencing the same thing and are catching flak from people that think that therianthropy and otherkinity are the only ways to be nonhuman. I sincerely think that most of the friction between elders and youngers is pure misunderstanding – but we can’t reasonably expect most teens to hold a civil discussion, because they’re teens. Better step it up, adults.
Is capitalism so crushing that every major player in the draconic community is busy with more pressing life stuff? Websites need continuing time, money and effort invested in them. I can afford to code and host a website, but I live in a country with free higher ed. That’s kind of a luxury these days, and I imagine making those expenses for a part of your identity that ‘doesn’t really affect my real life’ isn’t too high on the priority list.
It wouldn't surprise me if it were a little bit of all of those. As far as I see it the common element that unites these problems three is really just that of a generation gap. On the off chance that an old fruit sees this, I'd be grateful to hear more from their perspective of things.
Oh, but if I’m one of the people lamenting the loss of these communities, why haven't I done anything about it? Isn’t it dragon nature to seek and preserve knowledge? Ask not what your community can do for you, and all that.
Well, sure. I'd like to think that we as modern dragons are already more community-minded, greater-good kinda folks – especially since the majority of the conversation I'm writing this in response to happened on mastodon, which (I feel) inherently appeals to that particular kind of folk. It stands to reason, then, that between the lot of us there's the motivation and resources necessary to build new draconic communities, and to make them last. That's the important part, and the part we're failing at right now.
Which, honestly, could be said of alterhuman communities in general. How many old, dead otherkin forums can you name? If you’ve been around more than a decade, it’s probably a whole bunch. It’s the same generalized issue of old stuff dropping off the internet and nothing rising up to replace it. It’s actually arguable that this incorporation of smaller nonhuman communities is the otherkin label’s attempt at staying afloat for want of that. That’s not great, of course, but could we really be doing better? What does a successful, survivable community based on an animal identity even look like?
I think there’s a lot to be learned from studying our dear cousins, the furries. The furry fandom is huge. How come? Why doesn’t it fall prey to the same issues above?
Well, reason number one is in the name. It’s a fandom; its function is the consumption and production of content. In this way, fandom is self-sustaining. When we deal in more abstract stuff, ideas and identities with no obvious function, it’s harder to form a community around that. People are more drawn to furry over otherkin like people are more drawn to Bill Nye than Descartes.
The fact that furry has an offline presence, too, helps immensely. It makes it a lot more ‘real’ to a lot more people. I can completely disengage from the internet should I choose to just by not opening my browser, and there goes all of my connection to the otherkin community. I can’t do the same to remove the furry fandom from my life even remotely as easily – and even despite my best efforts I’ve seen a fursuiter wandering the beach at the end of my street once or twice.
And don’t even get me started on the media presence. A lot of contemporary entertainment is very, very furry. Animal characters abound, but animal identities? Not so much. Even when there isn’t a human in sight the characters still tend to be allegorical, referential. Every film, show, book, that I can think of that approaches a nonhuman protagonist with identity issues specifically about their nonhumanity has them wishing to, and frequently becoming, human by the end of it.
This is all part and parcel of the fact that, realistically, furry started mainstream and got niche. It’s much harder to come out of left field and cement yourself in the collective consciousness from there.
It’s also just plain older. The history of furry fandom can be traced as far back as the early 20th century in the form of the ‘funny animals’ story genre. That’s a big leg up on otherkin’s 25 years of existence. So that could mean that the disappearance of communities in this case isn’t indicative of some health problem, and is just a natural consequence of the subculture’s newness.
Did the furry community go through a stage of growth like this? It’s hard to say without a level of detail that I feel is outwith the scope of this article, but at the very least one can conject that just like we’ve experienced a transition away from forums and usenet boards, so too did furry go through a shift when the internet came about to usurp MUCK and BBS.
How does the difference in the level of technology contextualise this? Another thing that occurs to me is that the lowered barrier for entry to forum and website creation might mean that people end up less invested in their projects. In the era between the invention of the computer and the world wide web, using a computer was such a novel and complex task that setting up even a simple mail server was a herculean task. And then you had to actually maintain the thing. It was a big commitment at the time.
I think that all of these issues and more contribute to the relative current vivacity of the furry fandom compared to otherkin. The answer we seek to the case of the missing communities is: maybe we just haven’t hit our stride yet.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be forward thinking and put intent into our community building. There’s plenty of incentive for forming new, smaller sub-communities right now. Off the top of my head I’d personally love to see a community for people who are nonhuman by way of mental illness or other neurodivergence. I’d love a more dedicated median system community. I’d love to see more spaces specifically for people who experience species dysphoria and legitimately consider themselves transspecies.
I’d also, of course, love to see the draconic community make a comeback. Just because its diminishing presence was perhaps a natural consequence of a subculture’s youth, we’re not in any way obligated to lay it to rest for good.
With all that in mind, this is what I’ve identified as important features for a healthy and long lasting community:
A respectable corpus: Every interest group has its Cyborg Manifesto, its Myth of Sisyphus, its Zootopia. Even ‘soft’, idea-based subcultures typically have works that can be pointed to which say ‘this is what we share’. For me, What Dragons Are and Dragon Definitions are good candidates for the beginning of a draconic reading list. Of course, I hope that a lot more such work is produced, and that at least some of it can be generally agreed upon as representative of draconic thought as a whole.
Variety: Both in content, as above, but also in people and places. Of course most communities and labels connote some form of common ideology, but within those bounds it’s good to get different perspectives. Or at the very least, new perspectives. If you don’t remain open to new takes on your established ideas, or you don’t welcome new people into the fold from time to time… you’re running a country club, not heading a community. Also, get off whatever single platform you’re on. The space we inhabit shapes the discussions we have, too: there’s a reason I’m posting this to dreamwidth and not tumblr or a forum.
A real world presence: We haven’t reached the singularity yet – I’m pretty convinced that a community still needs to get off the internet at least a little to flourish in our current social climate. Host a convention, or a panel at a convention, or at least like, make a facebook event for a meetup at a convention. However you do it, I think it’s important to forge those vis-a-vis connections. Perhaps among the hobby stores, gamer cafes and gay bars we’ll see a draconic deli joint pop up in the 2020s.
Embracing the mainstream: Just a little bit. The attitude I see among older folks that ‘otherkinity was better when nobody knew about it’ is in complete opposition to the things that a community needs to do to stay alive. Noobs are great, and being able to see yourself in media without having to go looking for it would be great. Talk to people about your draconity lest someone less capable or well intentioned does it for you.
Endurance: Well, duh. I’m not just being needlessly recursive; my point here is that there’s probably some kind of snowball effect. It might be daunting to think about the future of your communities. How could you possibly know what the state of the place is gonna be in a year? Try just worrying about what it’ll be like tomorrow. Then tomorrow you can worry about the day after that. Your space will grow and become more visible and pull in more people if you just keep at it. Have hope, and be patient, even when it doesn’t seem rewarding. Contribute instead of just lurking and waiting for someone else to post.
Speaking of which, it’s time to do my bit. Here’s what I’ve dug up in terms of draconic community resources which I think are worth taking forward for either informational or cultural reasons:
- The abovementioned What Dragons Are and Dragon Definitions
- The Revised Dragon Code – in light of Nokken’s symbol system, I think it’s valuable to remind people that systems like this have existed before; this is one of many.
- 100 Point Draconity Corruption Test – because it’s a bunch of fun and pretty reflective of the culture of the draconic communities by ways of many in-jokes.
- Real Dragons: Trans-speciesism– an archaically worded but still historically important account from Tser, a dragon struggling with species dysphoria.
- Who Am I? - a self-described ‘exploration of fringe thought’ by Baxil which I personally appreciate for its focus on experiences over percieved origins.
- For Dragons – another autobiographical piece, by KaniS, which touches on the need for community.
- And of course, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention House of Chimera’s timelines of the draconic community, from 1993 to 2000 and from 2000 to present.
I really hope that someone sees this and is inspired to contribute to whatever alterhuman scene they’re part of. I refer again to the paradox of the heap: an individual doesn’t make a whole lot of difference individually, but a bunch of individuals make a community. I want to be part of something that’s still gonna be around in another 25 years time, and I will do my part to ensure that, but you have to do yours too. Go forth, and wherever you be, be dragons.