In an article published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, a PhD student at the University of Arizona claims he identifies as a hippopotamus. Yes, you read it right. A hippopotamus. If you’re waiting for the punch line, don’t hold your breath.
I guess the ever-growing list of 58+ human-based gender identities just isn’t inclusive enough to escape the realm of pure bigotry and discrimination against “tranimals.” That’s why Florentin Felix Morin argues in the Journal of Theoretical Humanities that his hippo identity allows him to defy traditional gender norms and break free of the constraints that “govern human bodies.”
“This article explores the formation of a tranimal hippopotamus alter-ego,” he writes in the paper’s abstract. “Confronting transgender with transpecies, the author claims that his hippopotamus ‘identity’ allowed him to (verbally) escape, all at once, several sets of categorization that govern human bodies (‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘age’).”
The Story of a ‘Tranimal’s’ Search For Self-Definition
Morin says his hippo ego started as a strange joke that later evolved into a full-fledged identity, which made him “feel cute, confident, sexy and safe.”
“For a while, if someone was asking me how I ‘identified,’ I would joke about being a hippopotamus trapped in a human’s body—later, a human trapped in a hippopotamus’ body, until my humorous ‘truth’ solidified and I began announcing myself as an old butch hippo dyke trapped in a young human faggy transboy’s body,” he writes.
Of course, in an effort to steer clear of the irredeemable label of “transphobic,” Morin’s peers play along.
“I do strongly love when my friends call me ‘hippo,’ refer to my ‘paws’ and pretend they see no difference between me and one of my stuffed hippopotamuses, except that I’m a little bigger than most of them,” he says. “I discovered that another self was available for me: being a hippo means that I don’t have to be a boy or a girl, a child or an adult, normal or strange. It means that my smile becomes a hippo smile, and the way that I carry my body, a hippo walk. It brings me freedom, space, and a thrilling sense of possibility.”
Western Society Doesn’t Know How To Find Belonging
Morin isn’t alone. In recent years, people have repeatedly made headlines by identifying as everything from a cat to an alien. While I know this all sounds absurd, you really shouldn’t be surprised. This is what happens to a generation with an identity crisis of ridiculous proportions.
Legal scholar Kenneth L. Karst writes in a paper called “Paths to Belonging: The Constitution and Cultural Identity,” that each of us “goes through a process of self-definition, and in this process our primary bonds to family, religion, and ethnic group play a crucial role. These ‘primordial affinities’ not only provide a tie to other people, but also offer us our very selves.”
But these once-crucial institutions, primarily religion and the traditional family, are disappearing in the West. Culture critic Mary Eberstadt explores this phenomenon in her book “How the West Really Lost God.” She argues that the decline of religion and the family go hand-in-hand. In fact, the decay of Judeo-Christian values in the West starts with the extinction of traditional families.
You don’t have to look very far to see this is happening. According to Pew Research, traditional two-parent households are the lowest they’ve ever been in the U.S. Approximately 69 percent of children live with both parents, compared with 73 percent in 2000 and 87 percent in 1960. While this may not seem like a substantial drop, only less than half—46 percent of children—are actually living with two parents who are both in their first marriage.
We’re Trying To Navigate Identity Without Anchors
The traditional family is gradually breaking apart, while divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, and single-motherhood rates are rising. Today, four in 10 children are born to single or unmarried women.
With statistics like these, it’s not hard to see why religion is dying too. As Eberstadt points out, people “learn religion in communities, beginning with the community of the family.” Therefore, while the family has declined, we have become a generation of “nones”—a generation with no religion. Pew Research shows that 23 percent of Americans are religious “nones.” That’s a sharp increase from 2007, when this group only made up 16 percent of the population.
These key aspects of culture—family and religion—which help us answer our big questions about origin, purpose, and identity are lost. As a result, so are we.
Instead, we try to navigate this age of religious “nones,” shrinking families, individualism and relative truth by defining ourselves. But the more we modern people blindly experiment with our institutions to suit our physical desires, our political agendas and our busy lives, the more risk losing ourselves.
Unfortunately, as with the case of the hippo, this can sometimes be nothing short of dehumanizing.