Alt+H
The Alterhuman Media Project

I Am Elf


First impressions are important. What first impression do you give someone of your alterhumanity? This is a question I have to ask myself repeatedly, since Alt+H is my job. 'What do you do?' inevitably progresses to 'what's alterhumanity?' and 'so what are you?', but an elevator or a hairdressers appointment is not the time or place to get into exactly which 17 anime characters one identifies as.

Why not?

Well, in my specific case, there's a lot to go into. Not just in terms of diversity of 'species' but in the myriad ways they relate back to me. I'm not just otherkin or just fictionkin or just 'hearted. And even within those identities, I'm prone to atypical experiences, semantic boundary-breaking and weird interdependancies. Basically, it's a big old mess.

A deeply personal mess, at that. The process of my self discovery has taken me... literally upwards of a decade by this point. Ten years of frantic research, midnight existential crises, getting blackout drunk and watching Yu-Gi-Oh! - you know, soul searchy stuff. The quest for self knowledge has lead me to some of my most vulnerable moments and I'm not about to share that with the Tesco delivery guy.

So for a five minute conversation, you don't just have to water down what you are but also why and how. But all of it is important! Especially in my case where, even if i'm never going to see the person again, them thinking of me as human is a major point of dysphoria. it's for both my sake and theirs that i need to figure out what about my alterhumanity is important to convey up front and which word
most serves that.

Elf, so far, is the best compromise I've found.

You know what an elf is, right? Most everyone does, fantasy fan or no. They're pretty ubiquitous in the human collective consciousness, and whether your mind turns to Legolas or Taako or those little Keebler dudes, you're envisaging the core idea that I'm trying to convey. 'Elf' is something which wears a human face, but isn't. 'Elf' is also short enough to fit in a twitter bio.

That's the biggest thing that it conveys for me, the core of my alterhumanity in general: superficially homo sapiens with some fantastical differences. Physically, bodily, I'm just as deeply entrenched in this human existence as anyone else. Mentally, culturally, and spiritually, I'm on the outside, looking in. And elf can be both of these things at once. I prefer it over other dual-nature fantasy archetypes like, say, the lycanthrope, because of this. It's almost paradoxical that trying to express just how far removed from humanity I feel, I've chosen something so almost-similar. In this way, elf is like the uncanny valley of fantasy creatures.

That being said, I have to admit there's an element of respectability to it. 'I feel like an elf inside' is a lot more palatable to the average person than identifying as a "subhuman" animal or an "outlandish" fantasy creature. But it's not that I want to make myself easy to digest - when I have five minutes to make or break the concept of alterhumanity to someone, I'm just trying to get my foot in the door any way I can. Despite what we wish, most people can't have a radical idea front-loaded onto their brain like that. So we take baby steps: as the marketing advisors would call it, elfhood is my loss leader.

And it is very much something I can lead with, on a visual level. For me, presenting as something I specifically identify as has always come secondary to just looking not human. So, I'm the proud owner of some latex ear tips which, while subtle, make a big difference to my profile, and I'm looking at getting some blackout contacts next. Some fangs would be nice, perhaps, and a little bit of contouring goes a long way too. It's all very minor - yet again we find that elfhood takes the familiar sight of a human face and subverts it just enough to inspire something fantastical.

Now, you may be thinking that pointed fangs and abyssal eyes don't sound very elf-like. This is when I say with a wry smile, ah, but I'm a dark elf. A much less familiar concept to the average person but you can probably guess from the name what it means. If someone's curiosity is piqued enough to ask about that subtle detail, that's my window to invite them down the rabbit-hole of further discussions about my alterhumanity.

Because, I confess, just 'elf' doesn't quite cut it either. The public image of an elf is that of purity, serenity, more-than-humanity. That's all well and good, but it's not really me. I'm messy and feral and downright monstrous sometimes. An elf, yes, but... dark. And if elves in this self-metaphor stand for the human perception of the fantastical, then dark elves are the reality: more flawed, less romanticized, more whole.

So that's one of the reasons I prefer to align myself with the elf's more shadowy counterpart. The other big one is that it just feels more correct. Stripping away all the narratives and metaphors and meaningful correspondences, drow and kaldorei and dunmer feel more like family than eladrin and quel'dorei and altmer. All the comparisons in the world don't mean anything if in my heart I don't feel like an elf - which I do, but the dark elves especially are my elves, their culture is my culture, their face is my face.

That caveat is particularly important because identities shouldn't have to mean something. A lot of nonhuman folks have the problem of trying to convince people that they really do consider themselves to be so, and it's not an analogy for another part of themselves or a role they take on or whatever. In a perfect world, I'd still probably have the issue of condensing my identity into something suitable for a five minute conversation, sure, but without the added stressor of which word can I say that'll make them take me seriously?

But first impressions are important, and once you've made the right one, you're usually good. So either we meet once, and the taxi driver or delivery guy or friend of a friend of a friend goes about the rest of their life having met an elf that one time, or a relationship progresses to the point where I can elaborate on the rest of the stuff. I'm happy with being an elf, for the most part, and that's the important thing. That finally, I'm introducing myself when I introduce alterhumanity to people. Not an approximation, or a half-truth, or a facade, but myself: an elf.

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