The first person in the world to become a government-recognized cyborg.
October: An article by Scriptonite Daily, "Cyborgs are now a reality," summarized a wide variety of kinds of recent advances in using messages from a person's brain and nerves to control prostheses and other devices. The article also lists some body modifications that give humans enhanced or new senses, such as magnetism, sonar, and ultrasonic sound. Many of these were invented by independent do-it-yourself "biohackers," who are either finding better segues around their own disabilities, or who are curiously exploring trans-human potential.
Trigger warnings: Amputees and prostheses. Some linked articles contain the kind of ableism common in reporting on these subjects.
July: A group of students designed an amphibious prosthetic leg. Shown in the video above, it’s called the Murr-ma, and it makes it possible to swim very fast. This prosthetic has a bird-like foot for running on soft sand at a beach. It has fins on its calf area, instead of on its foot. Its fins are inspired by those of the sailfish. It has advantages over the usual kind of swim fins, which make it hard to walk on land.
Compare the prosthetic mermaid tail of Nadya Vessey. In 2009, Vessey, a swimmer who did not have legs, asked the special effects studio Weta Workshop to design it for her. Unlike costume mermaid tails, this one has the advantage of having only a supple spine down its length, so it moves more like a real dolphin tail. It’s a great example of how prosthetic limb design doesn’t have to resemble human limbs.
I could have sworn that I posted on Otherkin News about the mermaid tail of Nadya Vessey a few years ago. I remember researching the article, but it’s not in my blog archives, so I must have failed to post it. I thought that I also posted about the industrial design student Kaylene Kau’s prosthetic tentacle arm in 2010, but I can’t find that in the archives, either. (By the way, all three of these prostheses were unique prototypes that aren’t sold commercially. Years later, Vessey’s mermaid tail is still the only one of its kind.) Maybe I had doubts about these articles’ relevance to otherkin, trans-human, and trans-species topics. In the future, I think I'd rather err on the side of including such things.
Thomas Essl, “Murr-ma, the amphibious prosthetic.” http://youtu.be/Q-yFS9qrDd0 or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-
Victoria Woollaston, “The AMPHIBIOUS prosthetic limb inspired by the world's fastest fish that enables humans to swim at 'superhuman' speeds.” 2013-08-09. Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/
“Close up: A mermaid’s tail.” 2009-02-26. TVNewZealand. http://youtu.be/cDajDkWGW4c or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
Kaylene Kau, “Prosthetic arm.” 2010-10-23. Coroflot. http://www.coroflot.com/kaylenek/
November 12, 2011. Thingiverse user Artharis designed an animatronic tail, shown above. Artharis released the design under a Creative Commons license. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can print and assemble this costume accessory, and can customize its length by adding more vertebrae. When powered on, the animatronic tail wags constantly by itself. The vertebrae rotate somewhat, resulting in occasional curling near the tip, suggesting that this "tail" could equally well form the inner framework for a tentacle stage prop or puppet.
Compare an earlier prosthetic tail design by Hayaikawa Kitsune, the Firesmiths Anthro Tail Prosthetic, which takes a different approach: it appears to move by itself, but it’s not animatronic. In Kitsune’s design, the wearer controls tail movements by means of a shoulder harness, resulting in tail poses that seem natural and harmonious with the wearer's spine and body. This latter design is available only by commission from the designer.
( Sources )
A Japanese company called Neurowear has formed to create high-tech products for a fashionable image of an “augmented human body.”1 Neurowear’s first product is a pair of wearable cat ears on a headband, named Necomimi (from Japanese neko cat + mimi ear). The headband includes brainwave sensors. Based on live data collected by these sensors, the cat ears move around to express the wearer’s inner feelings: perked up when alert, drooping when relaxed, and several other states in between.2
Admittedly, the body language of these ears noticeably differs from that of a real cat. The developers said, “For example, when cats are frightened or want to scare away an enemy, they flatten their ears. But with Necomimi, flat ears mean a relaxed state of mind … We have changed the meaning to suit human perceptions. To humans, it's kind of cute when cat ears are flat.”3 Anticipate miscommunications between animals and humans.
The November 28, 2011 issue of Time Magazine lists Necomimi as one of the 50 best inventions of the year.4
Neurowear recently stated that Necomimi will become commercially available in spring 2012.5 Since Necomimi is still in development, Neurowear hasn’t yet determined the price or other specifications,6 but Neurowear does say that Necomimi will cost “several hundred dollars per unit.”7 If you want your own Necomimi, follow the Neurowear blog to find out when they become available.8 Otherwise, you could fall prey to the bootleg fake Necomimi that started to appear last June, which probably have the high price and none of the performance.9
Last February in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a performance artist named Marion Laval-Jeantet of the Art Orienté Objet collective recently did a piece called Que le cheval vive en moi! (Fr. May the Horse Live in Me!) in which she explored a method by which she may transform herself into a centaur or horse.1 She spent time with a live horse. Then, in a Swiss laboratory, she had herself carefully injected with small doses horse blood, specificially “the plasma and a large part of the immunoglobulins,” safely isolated according to advice from the Pasteur Institute.2 Then she walked in digitigrade hoof stilts,3 which resemble the leg extensions designed by Kim Graham a few years ago.4 (I don’t know if they are or not. I haven’t seen anything that tells.) Laval-Jeantet described how the transformation made her feel:
“So, after I tested my body with the neuroendocrine immunoglobulins it was practically impossible for me to sleep for a week and I had extreme and slightly aggressive reactions to stimuli; a slammed door, a tap on the shoulder. As such, I was experiencing the hyper-reactivity of the horse in my flesh. The main aim of the performance to come is to take in a large number of immunoglobulins all together, so that I can feel another way of living rather than just the human. If one goes back to the terminology of the posthuman, to be human outside of the human is, perhaps, to undergo this type of experience, where a man that becomes a human/animal hybrid is finally extra-human. … Perhaps its symbolic and empiric force will enable my (our?) consciousness to open up to an Other sufficiently "other" - to no longer be purely anthropocentric.”5
Laval-Jeantet says that her original plan for this project was to have herself injected with panda blood, so that an endangered animal would be able to live on within her even if the actual pandas went extinct. However, even after several years, she couldn’t find anyone willing to do this for her, so she settled for horse instead.6 Much of Laval-Jeantet’s artwork explores ways to transgress the boundaries between humans and animals, and some of her works were performed primarily for an animal audience, to see how the animals react.
Laval-Jeantet performed a similar piece in 2007, Félinanthropie, in which she wore an innovative cat costume, crouched on all fours, and spent time with a house-cat. Her cat costume included digitigrade leg extensions, an articulated tail, and no other costume elements (no mask). She wanted to not only explore the perceptions of a cat, but also to alter the perceptions of an actual cat as it relearned how to interact with her. She wrote of this piece,
“That’s when the idea occurred to me to become digitigrade. A kind of fantasy where I would be able to jump onto the table in a single leap with paws that were too long... I drew the ‘cat shoes,’ which a prosthetist then made. As soon as I put them on and got used to this strange way of walking, the cats came up to me, sniffed and jumped on me, playing with me in the same way as they played between themselves. The artistic object worked, it had moved my role in the feline, domestic hierarchy.”7
However, I notice that since Laval-Jeantet wears no extensions on her forelegs, her costume increases the difference in length between her arms and legs, making it more difficult to walk on all fours.
Laval-Jeantet has written an article titled “Self-animalité (Self-animality)” about the philosophy behind the transformations in her art, such as posthumanism and shamanism. She describes several of her other pieces, and offers anecdotes about the stories of Mazzeras (shamans who channel the spirits of dead animals to rescue them) who she heard about from her Corsican grandmother. Her article includes photos of some of her pieces, including the cat costume and a close-up on the horse leg extensions. Read it in French or in English.
Last Friday in Las Vegas, mer-people and mer-people fanciers attended the first annual Mer-Con 2011, the world’s largest mermaid convention. Men, women, and children swam while wearing fish tails, and competed in a beauty contest, the International Mermaid Pageant. Other attendees were mermaid-focused painters, authors, tail-makers, and other artisans.1
What kind of people real mermaids, exactly? I ask for your forgiveness in advance, as I am probably going to make some mistakes here as I try to answer this question. I not familiar with their subculture, but evidently they have one. The official Mer-Con site mentions that one of the attending authors is working on a non-fiction book about mermaid culture.2 MerNetwork is a social networking site for mer-people, established in 2010, originally with the intention of connecting performers with tail-makers.
The definition for real mermaids includes—but is not limited to—dancers who perform while skin-diving, during which they may or may not wear fish-tails.3 This type of performance was invented in Weeki Wachee, Florida, “in 1947 by an ex-Navy frogman named Newton Perry.”4 Some Weeki Wachee mermaids performed at Mer-Con, and at an earlier event this year, Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee. One experienced Weeki Wachee mermaid, Barbara Wynns, now age 61, says that
“I knew when I was 7 years old I was going to be a mermaid. Yeah right, you say! Me too, but when I first saw the show at Weeki Wachee … I was like, oh my gosh you can get paid to do that? I made up my mind then that I wasn’t going to college, wasn’t going to get married, I was going to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid. [… When I was 7, I had been] daydreaming, and I saw clearly I was going to be a mermaid, and not a cartoon character one, a real one. I just saw it clearly.”5
Some modern mer-people are not just performers, but people who express a serious desire to become real mer-people, or who assert that they are now real mer-people. I am not clear on the boundaries, but evidently for some, it is more than a costume or a role. It is an identity.
A performer who attended the convention, Mermaid Shelley, said in an interview, “When I was a little girl and saw the movie Splash, I knew instantly that I was meant to be a mermaid. Something about Madison’s outsider perspective on human society and her understanding of the depths of the ocean just resonated with me.” When asked, “Have you always identified as a mermaid?” Shelley replied, “Yes, I think I have since I was about nine years old. … It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend (now husband of 16 years) Chris that I really started embracing it culturally.”6 In her blog, A Mermaid’s Journey: Thoughts of a mermaid in this world, Shelley writes eloquently about environmental issues from a mermaid perspective, and apparently not as a role-playing character.7
Participating New Age author and fish-tailed performer8 Doreen Virtue has written a little in her books about people who identify as mermaids and/or believe that they were marine animals in their past lives.9 Participating mermaid Allie Causin indicated a preference for life underwater and said, “I’ve discovered that I hate having legs.”10 Hannah Fraser (not attending this event?), who has a talent for skin-diving with a fish-tail, says “I’m a mermaid,” and as a child, “she told her parents that she wanted to become one—for real.”11 Traci Hines performs as a lookalike for Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, calls it cosplaying, and says,
“I think a part of me has always been ‘Ariel’ on the inside…we’re a lot alike I think…but ever since I dyed my blonde hair red, and began actually performing as The Little Mermaid for children, even when I am out of costume I think I tend to take more care in how I act and present myself, at least whenever little ones are around, since they always seemed to believe I was her regardless of what I was wearing! Even in jeans on the street I would be stopped and asked almost daily if I was ‘The Little Mermaid.’”12
Raina the Halifax Mermaid (Stephanie) describes how her more confident mermaid persona is an acting role, which has nonetheless changed her life for the better:
“Through Raina I’ve met and made more real friends then I ever did as Stephanie and perhaps that’s because Raina is just an outward expression of my true inner-self. The gap between the two is closing though and Raina and Stephanie are becoming one and the same. I’m starting to realize it’s not the fin that makes the mermaid- it’s her spirit!”13
I recommend Carolyn Turgeon’s blog, I Am A Mermaid. (Caution, NSFW. No actual nudity, but mermaids are not known for wearing a lot of clothes, either.) It includes interviews with many mermaid and mermaid-interested people, in which they explain how they are mermaids, advice to aspiring mermaids (such as safety tips for swimming with a uni-fin), and what they see as special about mermaids. Many of them answered that last question in beautiful ways, but this is one of my favorites, by fantasy author (not a performing mermaid) Sarah Porter:
“I love the image of a divided nature: human vs. other, visible vs. secret and subaquatic, everyday vs. magic. If you only saw a mermaid as she was rising to the surface, you could think she was a human girl. Her tail is like the secret side of her personality, her hidden self, or the unconscious mind.”14
In the otherkin community, mermaids are a surprisingly scarce type of otherkin. In all, I’ve heard of perhaps three of them in the otherkin community. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a substantial community of people out there who do identify as mermaids and mermen. It’s just that nearly all the mer-people don’t call themselves otherkin, and they don’t mingle in otherkin communities. Is this by choice? Or could it be that they have not heard of “otherkin,” which is still a very obscure concept?