I had a conversation with a friend yesterday (after ve had talked to a few self-identified ‘kinnies’), in which we came to the conclusion that what people refer to as ‘kinning for fun’ is something both of us experienced as kids. ‘Kinning for fun’, however infuriating the name is, is related to roleplaying, but it is different. It’s also not that serious, but it is kinda serious.
‘Kinning is a form of pretend play, related to, what’s in child psychology referred to as, elaborated role play (with a break between ‘role’ and ‘play’). It’s a kind of play in which children act out scenarios, pretending to be fictional characters. It’s a kind of play that’s very important in identity formation.
But ‘kinning’ is more than just pretend play. It’s a thing many people went through in their adolescence, which involves recognizing your own personhood and personality, and realizing what kind of person you want to be, and what defines a person. It also involves more outward-directed thoughts: Realizing what you like in other people and what kind of people you want to be around.
I have not been able to find any academic discussions of this concept, but I know for a fact that it’s something I've done with my friends. We would watch or read or play through a piece of media, and afterwards we would (not fully consciously) decide which friend was most like which character, and would then half-jokingly refer to each other as that character.
Or as a different example, when I was 13 and had just heard of therian packs, my friends and I would discuss which roles we would have in a wolf pack and how we would look as wolves for a few weeks in a row. Though we didn’t pretend-play in the way younger kids do, it was definitely a related experience.
This aspect of getting to know yourself as a unique and complicated person is seemingly common, and can be a very important stepping stone into adulthood.
All this is not to say, though, that the fun of assigning characters or animals or similar roles to oneself and one’s friends just stops in adulthood. Plenty of people refer to themselves and their friends by D&D classes or fandom terms. I suppose even personality types are an extension of this. The main difference is how little room there is to explore these kinds of role assignments in adulthood - perhaps that’s one part of the reason ‘kinning’ caught on?
A shame the concept has become known by such an inflammatory name.
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On The KFF Problem
[Disclaimer: I think it's important to put ourselves in other's shoes, and that some issues are unable to be resolved unless we do so. This post is by not meant as a defense of KFF'ers - only an attempt to interpret their motivations through a neutral lens, and by extension understand why our attempts to appeal to them fall short.]
In my opinion, most KFF'ers aren't intentionally trying to be toxic, malicious, or destructive. From their perspective, they have their own supportive communities, their "own" language, their own culture - and we are the aggressive outsiders who are telling them that their concepts are invalid and wrong. Within their insular spaces, the construct of "kinning" is completely validated without question. Only outsiders - including both hateful non-kin and us - are subjecting them to negativity and the pressure to change.
Within their own closed communities, they can interpret our attempts however they want. They can view us as gatekeepers, as purists, as overly traditional old people, or as weird buzzkills who think there's "no fun allowed", and even KFF'ers who have never talked to us will gladly believe that. It's the interpretation of us that feels the most validating and most defensive of their own experiences, so it's inevitably the most appealing. Ultimately, the viewpoints held by their community are supported and reinforced a hundred times over by one another, while our attempts at combatting those viewpoints have been weak by comparison. I mean, why *should* they believe us? Why would they prioritize the opinions of prickly, angry strangers over those of the likeminded people who embrace them?
It doesn't help that one of our attempts at pushing them away from the word "otherkin" has been presenting them with other words that we invented. Our act of pushing our language onto them inevitably feels invasive and overbearing. Regardless of whether our will is "correct", we ARE pushing our will onto them in a very overt way. I would also argue that terms like "-hearted" and "-linker" don't fit their experiences very well, and aren't universally applicable to their community. Not all KFF’ers will resonate with the "consciously creating an identity" narrative, and the "feeling a deep connection" narrative lacks the nuance associated with their experiences and shared online culture. Regardless of how we mean it, from their perspective we are essentially popping up out of nowhere and saying "Your construct of identity is wrong - why don't you ditch that constuct, dump your community, and take up our constructs instead!" Language is a symbol that references deeper dynamics, and our attempts undermine more than just words.
By changing their label to "fictionhearted" and turning against KFF terminology, an individual KFF'er would inevitably be distancing themselves from their community, and in some cases even abandoning it to join one of ours. It would likely lose them the approval of other members of their community. By changing their language they risk losing friends and online spaces that really matter to them, just for the sake of sparing the feelings of a few randos online (us, from their perspective!). It's also worth mentioning that if many KFF'ers adopted "fictionhearted" or "otherhearted" simultaneously, the fictionhearted and otherhearted community would likely be usurped by KFF'ers just as the otherkin community was. Ultimately the word would lose its original meaning and nuance - it would adopt elements and behaviors that aren't currently common in the hearted community, and I suspect that certain elements of introspection and spirituality would be lost as well. Any word of ours that they adopt won't fully fit the dynamics of their experiences and community, because it wasn't made by them OR for them.
The KFF problem is three fold: One, they have been using our terminology for quite a long time and have "made it their own" - at least from their perspective. Their community doesn't go back decades, but many of these people are teenagers and very young adults. For them, even just 5 or 10 years IS a long time; 40 years ago is their parent's lame music, while their community's timescale is a significant portion of their entire life. Metaphorically speaking they've lived in a house for 10 years, only for the previous owner to show up and say "we owned it first, so you have to give it back". Maybe our names ARE on the deed, but that doesn't mean they'll say "Oops, sorry" and happily abandon something that they believed was their home.
Two, they clearly outnumber us. The idea of "kinning" has become almost mainstream, and there are a huge number of people who connect with both the construct AND the word "kin" in the way KFF'ers use it. Metaphorically, we're an army of 100 people facing an army of 10,000. A larger group can grow in numbers exponentially as they create increasingly more online content, and will come across to an uninformed outsider as having more authority by default.
And three, it's a lot easier for them to spread their ideas than it is for us to spead ours. They can make a cosplay TikTok with the caption "I am SUCH a Komaeda kinnie" or a Tiktok saying "Guess my astrological sign based on my kin list", and they've spread their concepts to a new audience. On the other hand, we have to write long, in-depth historical posts just to combat the ideas they've spread easily. Also, while their construct is widely relatable (feeling extremely attached to a fictional character or creature) and their public expression of it often comes across as terribly fun (cosplay, roleplay, colorful wigs, cute makeup), our construct is a very rare experience and our behaviors seem quite frankly boring as hell in comparison (long forum posts, nuance, serious introspection, self analysis, meditation, long historical arguments with sources). This is not me saying that our endeavors are less worthwhile or fulfilling (or that we never have fun); I'm just saying that it's easier to sell the idea of a party at a theme park than a nonfiction book club at a library.
Ultimately if they're going to change their vocabulary, someone within their community will have to coin a new term and a lot of well-known KFF people will have to vocally support and adopt it. This unfortunately seems unlikely - as I mentioned at the start of my essay, why would they? Even if a lot of them change their verbiage, some inevitably won't; and even if EVERY KFF'er changes their label, the idea of "kinnies" will still exist in the public consciousness. They have changed the meaning and connotation of our word in a long term way - many non-kin, including both anti-kin and indifferent internet users, will remember the new "kinnie" connotation. We can never go back to a time when our word's meaning was solely the way we chose to define it.
So, what the hell do we do? It genuinely pains me to say this, and I'm aware that this spits in the face of our history and the older members of our community who helped build it, but I think we should at least consider choosing a different label. That can involve repurposing "otherkind" or creating a new similar term that follows the "other---" format. I think we're holding onto something that's already irreversibly damaged, out of desperation and conviction that we're in the right. I won't say we're NOT right or that we have to give up the term - we can be metaphorical Spartans and say "No retreat. No surrender." But the more time passes, the more I believe that this is an unwinnable battle. Continuing to fight on principle is honorable, but if we make that choice then we will have to deal with people mistaking us for KFF'ers for a very long time, if not indefinitely or forever. That misunderstanding may be acceptable enough to some, but it's somewhat unfortunate at the very least.
This is not a decision I can personally make, and definitely not one I WANT to personally make. I'm only throwing these scattered thoughts into the tumblr void in an attempt to contribute to this ongoing conversation. If any of you want to yell about this suggestion, go ahead; I don't expect it to be popular, and I'll be glad to hear opposing viewpoints. I just hope that regardless of whether you agree with my conclusion, my reasons and interpretations are at least understandable and a worthy contribution to the debate.
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