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October 5th, 2010
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A eulogy of sorts
I found out something tonight that left me a little bit thrown. A week and a half ago, while I was packing for Mythicalia (a weekend gathering of Otherkin), a moderately well-known dragon was getting fatally stabbed by a friend*.

starblade_enkai and I were by no means close - online acquaintances way back in the day, and exchanged words in person at furry cons once or twice. We both have a reputation for being outspoken about our beliefs, but that's where the similarities end. I've always taken a passive approach to draconity evangelism - writing FAQs and such, trusting that people who have a use for the idea will find it as they need it. Starblade is best known for a foray onto a debate community where he sprung the idea onto an unsuspecting (and hostile) crowd.

Read that thread and he sounds reasonable, but glance through his various journals and you'll notice he tended to leave a trail of drama behind him wherever he went. (Flayrah's obit post says, understatedly, that he "was a controversial figure in fandom".) He had a calmly logical side, but could get incredibly consumed by his emotions. There are several people out there (who I will leave unnamed; it's not my place to drag them into this) that Starblade had a long-term, unhealthy obsession with; the word "stalking" was often used, and at times he would acknowledge it himself. His very public behavior in that regard was intimidating: Building any sort of positive relationship with him seemed to open the potential to become his next target. That fear caused me to keep the distance I did. I can't imagine I was alone.

The drama and isolation stemming from that behavior couldn't have helped his battles with the mental issues he publically discussed. He was autistic-spectrum, and also talked of other diagnoses which I don't have the research time to confirm. I think a lot of his worst behaviors were simply coping mechanisms for the problems he was always flailing about to overcome on his own; he never had the perspective to choose differently. At this point we'll never know -- and I have no idea how things could have gone differently so as to make this a reality -- but it's possible that maintaining a few stable, healthy friendships could have smoothed him out.

Because he was certainly searching for something. And even though he was a longtime dragonkin, he didn't find what he was looking for here. He would jump out and jump back in with the ideas - in the big ways linked, and in smaller ways. He would surf through social groups until his reputation or behavior caught up with him, and keep moving on. As things wore on, he discussed suicide several times. He kept desperately trying to reinvent himself in search of his goal, and it never quite worked.

That's the most heartbreaking thing about dealing with a tragedy like his, and being out on the fringe. We've all migrated out from the mainstream because we're broken in some way. (This is a tautology; if we fit in with the mainstream, we'd have stayed.) In a perfect world, all of the various subcultures of freaks would be a unified tribe of the dispossessed, helping each other heal and routing around the damage from a mainstream that simply won't keep us alive and healthy and sane. But here in reality, there are people we can't, or don't, or won't help. Our tribes are fragile and imperfect things, prone to infighting and insularity, often too small to offer resources along with our intentions. Starblade needed more support than the furry/otherkin community could realistically offer.

So it's equal parts unfair and fitting that he leaves the community with a legacy.

Starblade is, Flayrah also notes, "best known for inspiring** the 'FYIAD' (F!ck You, I'm a Dragon!) meme." It drifted out from its initial usage** into the anti-Otherkin troll lexicon, and then started being reclaimed by dragons in the same way that outgroups throughout history have dealt with hurtful slang. It was never a big meme, but it's influential in its limited circles.

Exhibit A is to your right. 1000 Blank White Cards is a freeform game in which the participants create their own play deck. To the right is a card created by one of the other Mythicalia attendees at last weekend's gather.**** The meme's been slightly tweaked, as tends to happen to memes in the wild ... but for something created after Starblade's death but before any of us had heard the news, it's remarkably poignant.

. . .

Though I had no contact at all with the non-Otherkin side of his life, I should also mention the other legacy he left behind - a grieving family, friends, and college community. I hope they can find the peace and answers that Starblade was denied in his lifetime.

According to his obituary, the Finnigan Family requests donations to the "Matthew Paul Finnigan Memorial Scholarship Fund", P.O. Box 1243, Alamo, CA 94507. If you counted him as a friend, it would be a good legacy. And if your interactions with him were less than pleasant, I'd urge you to consider this as a way to posthumously discharge the negativity and let him go with a little karma on your side.

--
* That's the word used in the police reports. No detail on what led to the stabbing, so we'll take their word for it.
** The fact he "inspired" the meme should be carefully noted here. Nowhere in the original debate thread did he use those words, and as far as I can tell, not in subsequent posts either. The earliest use of the phrase I found dates from three days later from poster pinkdove80.***
*** The fact that the phrase started out as an ad hominem attack by his opponents, of course, recasts the context of the whole meme. There are enough tarnished bits of his legacy. This shouldn't be one of them.
**** Other cards created around Otherkin in-jokes/memes: "A Wish For Wings That Work," "Species-Irrelevant Burnination," "Pokékin."

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From:ancareth_raven
Date:October 5th, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC)
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Whoa.. thanks for taking the time to write this. I never knew this person, but thank you for the insights about otherkin community life...

R.I.P.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 5th, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC)
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Probably the nicest thing anyone will say about this individual, I will grant you that.

Of course, the extremity of your niceness stands opposite to the douchetacular behavior of Finnegan's old e-drama sparring partners. Several of them are relishing being immature gits or just plain nasty waste products of life in response to this news. One can't say their behavior is really any worse than Finnegan's on the whole; while your spin is gentle and forgiving, the harsh truth is that this troubled man behaved very, very poorly to a great many people. Above and beyond what is usually expected of a merely socially awkward 'asspie'. A reason for his legend one supposes.

I myself take the middle road. Matthew finnegan was neither the postmortem pinata the super furry douchebag level of the fandom will now treat him as, nor was he a nobly flawed "questing dragon". The otherkin thing was merely an outlet this man glommed onto; probably a bad one for his personality too. He was a messed up kid, many like him, with social skills so broken he was destined to become a pariah in the eyes of most. His destiny moving forward was not a good one. A harsher man might say what happened to him was a mercy, but I will not go quite that far.

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From:baxil
Date:October 5th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
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Honestly, this was a hard post for me to write, for the reasons you describe. I was trying to reconcile "this troubled man behaved very, very poorly to a great many people" (which is a matter of public record, as I hope my post noted - I've made some minor edits to be a little more open about it) with the fact that his struggles were ultimately understandable - like every one of us, he was in search of a happy life for himself. He was simply driven to extremes by his dysfunctions.

In my time in the fandom, I have seen some pretty hardcore douchebags turn their lives around after getting a little bit of genuine empathy and some help meeting their needs; and I've seen some genuinely gentle and caring people get the tenderness beaten out of them until they hit the downward spiral of alienation and turn into raving douchebags. Starblade deserves sympathy because with different circumstances, he might have had both a happier life and a positive impact on his community. We forget this at our peril. As I said, fringe communities are already small, insular, and flawed; reacting with hate to the ones who lash out at us is damaging to both them and us.

Equally importantly, there but for the grace of God go we.

I am aware of (at least some of) the nasty reactions to his death. I have no comment on them, and would prefer that they not be discussed in more detail than you have already given.

At any rate, thank you for engaging constructively with my post. I agree with almost all of the points you make; I'm just trying to offer people an opportunity to look at him in a different light, for our own sakes as well as his.
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From:dv_girl
Date:October 5th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
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You know.... Yesterday I almost wrote something negative about him. Not because he identified as otherkin. He didn't register as my kind, but then I've never met anyone who really clicked to me as being the same thing I am. (Leaving me with the perpetual riddle of 'Who am I?" with a probable answer of 'something quite mundane')

To be honest, I never even knew about that aspect of his personality. I had only encountered him a few times on pathia's LJ. Usually he was arguing on the more conservative side of politics. But I think what I really disliked about him was that at one time he had been very negative towards Pathia about her gender identity. He had said some stuff to her that was pretty hurtful and that had really angered me. I suppose that, knowing now that he identified as Other, it makes a little more sense. We always hate most those who have the freedoms we desire.

But... Funny thing about going on a quest for blood... I looked at what is public in his journal and his exchanges on Pathia's journal and... While it's slow and small, there was change. His last words to her (that I saw) were encouraging her to assert her (gender) identity with her family and stop letting them hurt her. His political views were changing too.

I think perhaps this is one flaw I had not seen in the internet. I have always thought it a great place because it strips away the false faces of age, race, gender, religion. Beings are free to meet and talk to each other in whatever terms they define for themselves. That is why I work where I do. It's why I am proud of it and happy even when my day is difficult.

But that very first one.... Age... Perhaps that one shouldn't get stripped off. Starblade was not an adult. He was a kid, probably a lot like I was. He likely had to wade through a lot of crap and it was just going to take him a long time to get out of that. I was insufferable in my 20s and I'm sure that when I'm in my 40s I'll see my current self as a creature still in need of work. I think that all he really needed was time.
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From:baxil
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for the additional perspective, and the poignant anecdote.

As best I can tell, Starblade had some personal issues around gender identity as well. In the debate-comm threads back in 2003, he identified as a female dragon, but said that he had also had male and hermaphrodite identities. Later on, as his relationship with furry/otherkin became more troubled, it looks like he dropped the gender aspect of self-identification as well, and went back to default male (I was dimly aware of the issues on Pathia's journal, but not in enough detail to mention them). Hell, for all I know, Starblade might have thought of himself as something besides male at the time of death; my pronoun choice is due to an overwhelming lack of evidence, but I'd be happy to change it if a solid answer can be found.

Your point about age and change is very well taken. I myself was insufferable until my freshman year of college, and had some sharp social corners until my late 20s. It would have been interesting seeing what that mellowing process did to him. I don't know if all he needed was time, but I agree, it would have helped.
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From:circuit_four
Date:October 5th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)

brutal honesty

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I feel like Starblade was misserved by this world, but I feel that the converse is also true, so it's all a wash as far as I'm concerned. I can't bring myself to say something gloating or regretful about it. I feel about the same as this as I would if I woke up and read Ted Nugent had died in a hunting accident: "Gosh," and that's about the extent of it.

It's a shame that he didn't get to live long enough to surprise the hell out of all of us. He always brought out the worst in me, and probably vice versa, and I'm glad we more or less learned to avoid each other. That's frankly the best I can offer.

Edited at 2010-10-05 05:49 pm (UTC)
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From:baxil
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)

Re: brutal honesty

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> It's a shame that he didn't get to live long enough to surprise the hell out of all of us.

This.
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From:elynne
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC)
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I have to admit that my strongest reaction to this post is in wondering if the title should be "An eulogy of sorts."

I can give wholehearted sympathy and regrets to those who are grieving, and to the family of the suspect as well, who no doubt are just as confused and stricken. Whatever the circumstances, one life was ended, and another may be ruined.
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From:baxil
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
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> The choice of article is actually based upon the phonetic (sound) quality of the first letter in a word, not on the orthographic (written) representation of the letter. If the first letter makes a vowel-type sound, you use "an"; if the first letter would make a consonant-type sound, you use "a." [*]

</pedant> :)
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From:dragonzuela
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
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The fact he "inspired" the meme should be carefully noted here. Nowhere in the original debate thread did he use those words, and as far as I can tell, not in subsequent posts either. The earliest use of the phrase I found dates from three days later from poster [info]pinkdove80.***

I had gone looking for that awhile back. I assumed that Starblade had edited or deleted the comment in which he'd said the infamous catchphrase.

It is kind of spooky that this happened the day before Mythicalia. I think he had even come up in conversation there. Someone, I forget who, was saying that Starblade had tried to contact them but they ignored him, or something like that.
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From:baxil
Date:October 5th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
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Editing/deleting was spectacularly not his style. He lived his life in the public record. This wasn't always a good thing, but at least it does let us have some confidence in the research.
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From:tangyabominy
Date:October 5th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
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I never knew the person in question, but I still feel this. And I'm glad you've done your best to write a fair and balanced discussion of his truth, here. The world needs more Speakers For The Dead.

In a perfect world, all of the various subcultures of freaks would be a unified tribe of the dispossessed, helping each other heal and routing around the damage from a mainstream that simply won't keep us alive and healthy and sane. But here in reality, there are people we can't, or don't, or won't help.

Aye.

And-- that goes for me too. There are some people I don't have the time, or energy, or resources, or caring to help. There are some people I'm just outright afraid of and uncomfortable with.

But still, I feel we could be doing a lot better, even with that limitation in place. The way that whole groups-- gay and lesbian people against bi people, GLB against T, are notable examples-- will turn on other whole groups and refuse to see the commonalities is a whole different kettle of fish, I think, from avoiding That One Person who's abusive or problematic.

And yet even in that closer-to-ideal world, people like Starblade would fall through the cracks, wouldn't they.

--What gets me here, in particular, about your post. It's the card. It's not just that it uses his meme. It's that it uses his meme, and after his death....

You are now a dragon.

Well, that certainly takes on a whole new resonance.

May it be the truth.
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From:goldkin
Date:October 6th, 2010 02:07 am (UTC)
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What gets me here, in particular, about your post. It's the card. It's not just that it uses his meme. It's that it uses his meme, and after his death....

You are now a dragon.

Well, that certainly takes on a whole new resonance.

May it be the truth.

--

This.
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From:krinndnz
Date:October 6th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
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That's the most heartbreaking thing about dealing with a tragedy like his, and being out on the fringe. We've all migrated out from the mainstream because we're broken in some way. (This is a tautology; if we fit in with the mainstream, we'd have stayed.) In a perfect world, all of the various subcultures of freaks would be a unified tribe of the dispossessed, helping each other heal and routing around the damage from a mainstream that simply won't keep us alive and healthy and sane. But here in reality, there are people we can't, or don't, or won't help. Our tribes are fragile and imperfect things, prone to infighting and insularity, often too small to offer resources along with our intentions.


I definitely want to keep thinking about that: it's lonely and dangerous in the memetic wildlands, and it is scary to think that many of us - us in the broadest possible sense of weirdfolk - are so vulnerable to dying prematurely and violently. We owe each other a certain frontier respect.
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From:tangyabominy
Date:October 6th, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
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us in the broadest possible sense of weirdfolk

And I think that's the part we need to keep hanging onto. Not that we should commit a Geek Social Fallacy and defend to the death those who would continually abuse our trust, but it's definitely crucial to remember that we're all vulnerable out there. It's not just gay people, or trans people, or poly people, or fat people, or people with mental health stuff, and we can't just stick together in our individual little enclaves and pretend that nobody else gets really hurt, or that they deserve it if they do. It's all of us.
From:drake [begriffli.ch]
Date:October 6th, 2010 03:11 am (UTC)
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We've all migrated out from the mainstream because we're broken in some way. (This is a tautology; if we fit in with the mainstream, we'd have stayed.)

This… feels like it may have a certain element of incautious wording to it. I'm curious whether you'd like to clarify that point a bit. For instance, some personality types do not naturally form tribes much to start with. (In so (not) doing they are somewhat removed from human baseline psychology, but that would seem to be one of the very sets under discussion, in a general sense.)

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From:baxil
Date:October 6th, 2010 07:11 am (UTC)
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Hmm. Well, incautious word choice, perhaps, in that I'm conflating the tautological "does not fit in with mainstream" with the value-judgmental "broken". But that was kinda intentional. Mainstream human society is structured in a certain way, and those of us who don't fit inside of it -- for whatever reason -- have to deal with being miswired for mainstream human society. If the goal is to live productive and happy human lives, we start out disadvantaged at that task, relative to the ones who the system is designed for. Even changes that are arguably an improvement from human baseline, as long as they keep us out of the mainstream, lead to that disadvantage.

Unpacking the concept is probably worth an essay I don't have in me right now. My hope was that, by clearly specifying myself within the "broken" class, it didn't seem like I was making that word an attack on anyone it describes.

Do you feel there's something more deeply problematic in what I said?
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From:xydexx
Date:October 6th, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
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Thanks for writing this.
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From:tangyabominy
Date:October 6th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
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Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, the "A Wish For Wings That Work" card quite startled me. I mean, I know it's the name of a popular site for angelkin and such, but it's a phrase that's been on-off stuck in my head to describe this for many years and has become part of my mental vocabulary. I'm tickled to see that it's the same for someone else.
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From:giza
Date:October 12th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
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Man, that's rough. I don't care how badly someone may act, getting stabbed in the chest is no way to go.

Thank you for posting this.
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