Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Ratchet and Clank, Finding Dory, Sing: The Movie, TMNT: Out of the Shadows…
I unfortunately must announce, my fellow “naked mole-rats” of the Primate Family, that 2016 looks to be the year of the Furries. They’re running amuck! BUT FEAR NOT! Because for once, THIS journalist is not referring to “people having sex in mascot costumes.”
(dramatic whisper) No…
In fact, there’s such a big complex concept here that no one ever does justice. So unlike so many before me, I will be doing my actual duty as a journalist and shedding some clarity on this fuzzy subject and preventing any further confusion. *ahem*
LEVEL ONE: A FANDOM
A “Furry” is a creature that acts or looks like a person, a character with a human personality.
In the fandom, a “Furry” also refers to ANY person who’s obsessed with these kinds of characters. So if you’re a fan of Bugs Bunny, Spongebob Squarepants, dragons, werewolves, stuffed animals… congratulations. You were a Furry this whole time and didn’t even know it. (Don’t faint yet! I’m not done!)
In my career as a journalist, I’ve prided myself in my talent to make the strangest cultures make sense to people. I seriously want people to “get it.” But what I find so bizarre about Furries is how out of whack their public image is. In researching for this story, I thought to myself, “For such a giant diverse community of people that love anthropomorphic characters, how bad could the stereotypes be–?”
An episode of ER
An episode of CSI
An episode of The Drew Carey Show
An episode MTV’s SEX2K
An episode of Entourage
An episode of 1000 Ways to Die
An episode of Tosh.0
An episode of 30 Rock
An episode of Orange is the New Black
An episode of Dr. Phil
Article in WIRED magazine
Article in Vanity Fair magazine
Column from Savage Love
HOLY F*ING FUR-SUITS!! IT’S WORSE THAN I THOUGHT!!
What do people in the fandom have to say about all this?! “I think problem is that [stories about] sex sell [for the media.]” said writer Ian Wolf, in his interview from BBC’s “Who Are The Furries?” (Interestingly, the article also compares what they call “species identity disorder” with “gender identity disorder” making one think about how quick we were, and are, to jump to conclusions about any people who stray from the norm.
“The public tends to be very suspicious of things they don’t understand, with an inclination to presume it’s in some way perverted.” said Samuel Conway, a research scientist and chairman of the largest Furry fan convention in the world, Anthrocon; a convention that usually sees a literal animal stampede of 6,000 attendees each year. In fact, there are nearly 100 that happen every year across the world.
Samuel Conway’s commentary and more can be found in the article, “It’s not About Sex, It’s about Identity: Why the Furry Fandom is Unique Amongst Fan Cultures.”
Indeed, I won’t be the first journalist to have discovered the largely innocent nature of these “incredibly friendly party animals.” Here are some other journalists who tried to capture this huge worldwide phenomenon.
City Paper’s Melissa Meinzer
Hartford Advocate’s Jennifer Abel
The Stranger’s Matt Baume
Kotaku’s Patrica Hernandez
Debra W. Soh from Men’s Health and
NBC’s Amna Nawaz who visited Anthrocon.
So it goes without saying, Furries “are a thing.” (Damn, I said it.) In fact, according to National Geographic, the community could potentially number in the millions. There’s even an inside joke Furries often have about their niche obsession someday “going mainstream!” Indeed, whether that will ever happen, humor and not taking anything too seriously seems to be the prevailing mood throughout the Furry community. It’s an incredibly playful community.
“Cartoon animals have a universal appeal.” said Conway from It’s Not about Sex. “A love of animals and a fascination with the idea of them acting as we do transcends most national, geographic and religious boundaries.” Some Furries even go as far back as the anthropomorphic gods of Egyptian mythology pointing out how the Furry fandom in-truth encompasses a very long-standing concept throughout human culture.
Some non-Furries, like the host of YouTube’s Gnoggin hilariously argue that anthropomorphizing animals may be a very universal way of making stories memorable.
“For me, I started getting into it when I started drawing dragons, and then I was like… ‘Oh, what if I drew like a dragon DUDE with a normal body, but with a dragon head, that would be so f*ing edgy!’ …And then I found out there were already thousands of people [already] doing that… so I joined them.” said quick-tongued YouTube vlogger Blü.
LEVEL TWO: A ROLE-PLAY COMMUNITY
“OK. OK. So all of this is cool I guess,” you may bark at me. “BUT WHAT’S WITH THOSE STUPID-LOOKING SUITS?”
…Well, the concept is pretty simple. If you have a fandom that loves characters, wouldn’t it make sense that those same fans would want to dress up AS those characters? And wouldn’t it probably end up looking like convention centers full of animal suits…?
(Unfortunately, not every fandom can look as cool as a Cosplay convention.)
Video bloggers, like the well-spoken demolisher of misconceptions on YouTube’s Culturally F’d, take it a step further and say that a desire to actually be a “cool animal dude” is an obvious thing any fandom about characters would do.
“Yes, there’s lots of role play in the fandom,” started Blü, “but being a fandom that creates characters, of course there’s going to be role play! It helps you realize the character!”
“Furries are fans of each other.” adds Conway. “Star Trek fans are chasing someone else’s dream. Furries create our own fandom!“
In Culturally F’d, you can learn about the evolution of the fandom from the very beginning. Teaching us about how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles likely brought comics into the mainstream or how there are so many white gay males in the fandom because some of the very first online environments (called “MUDs”) were safe spaces for queer men in universities with anonymous Furry avatars.
Indeed, according to the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP) funded by Canada, 14-25% of people in the fandom identify as gay with another 37-52% identifying as bisexual (much of this likely due to the sex-positive and welcoming culture in Furry communities.)
In other videos from Culturally F’d, the host also goes over Furry lingo, addresses all the stereotypes dogging the fandom and even talks about how the pro-touchy-feely attitude in the community has become a social statement about how people in our culture are fairly blocked off from one another; a statement that actually led to the creation of a film called The Animal Project. (Suffice to say, the film’s touching.) *rimshot*
And on that same note, a surprising number of stories from the Fandom have similar themes of shy people having their lives changed as soon as they disappeared into their first costumes. Many of those stories can be seen on Furries: A Fandom, A Lifestyle.
Interestingly, according to the IARP, 39% said that if they were given the opportunity to become anything other than human, they would take it. Personally, this statistic reminded me of the futuristic world of Batman Beyond where in one episode, splicing one’s DNA to mutate into half-animal, half-human people became a huge fad amongst teenagers. Regardless, you’ll meet many people in the Fandom who wear tails, ears and other things in public, committed to inhabiting their characters in their every day lives; these people are called “life-stylers.”
There are even some truly remarkable stories about people who could very much relate: Stalking Cat (featured on Totally Obsessed and other shows) of the Native American Wyandot tribe identified as a Furry; a man who cosmetically altered his whole body to transform himself into a cat. What’s more interesting is how altering his body to resemble his animal totem was actually a spiritual practice in the Wyandot tribe. (Also check out Lizardman while you’re at it!)
LEVEL THREE: AN ART COMMUNITY
So. Regardless of the deeper themes you may find in the fandom, the heart of the community has always been made up of many (very) talented artists. And there’s real money in it to! (“Furry” is now your new favorite word, I’m sure.)
A single costume (or “Fur-suit”) can cost thousands of dollars (one has even gone for $18,000), which explains why according to the IARP, only 10 percent of Furries actually own a Fur-suit! (Which REALLY makes you question how much the media really preoccupies themselves on the sensational.)
None-the-less, for Fur-suit-makers like Sarah Dee, it’s her full time job that has her booked for 12 months straight. “If this was me from seven years ago, I would have been like, ‘Uh, OK, this is weird.’ But I think if eight-year-old me walked down here right now, I would be so excited and think I had the coolest job in the world.” It’s a big market, as the video “Furryconomics” explains. Special art commissions from anthropomorphic artists can ask for as much as $500-3000; while ears/tails can range from $20-200 while common art commissions like those below often ask for around $150.
Original character concept made by someone in the fandom:
Original “themed” characters being sold to people who want to have their own:
Auction selling “spots” where peoples’ characters will be featured in an action-packed art piece:
“Oh! I get it now. So Furries are just innocent lovers of fuzzy, scaled and feathered cartoon characters, right? Ha ha ha–”
LEVEL FOUR: A FETISH COMMUNITY
So now we are entering the most notorious (and sensationalized) part of the fandom. Personally, I have always understood the fandom on four levels: a fandom that everyone can relate to, a community of role-players and an art community made up of professionals and amateurs…
and then the deepest “level” to the community that contains an undeniable truth: that many Furries love these sentient people-like characters so much, they love to visualize them with the attractiveness of the masculine/feminine form. In other words, (yes), there is erotic and pornographic art of anthropomorphic characters. (Lots of it.) As well as many people who love to sex role-play as these characters in their costumes… and Furries make no attempt to hide any of it.
“Acting as if we’re doing something to be ashamed of and denying this side to the fandom only reinforces the stigma that we are doing something totally outlandish that should be shunned.” said host of Culturally F’d addressing a media controversy.
At this point, it’s up to you. Is this really much of a stretch from your usual erotic art?
Plus given the anatomically-correct attention to detail so many shows have given to their characters like Digimon, Thundercats or Ninja Turtles, you can’t help but wonder if sexy people with animal characteristics makes sense on some level to all of us?
Maybe not? Not the point.
Indeed. When it comes down to it, according to IARP, 20% of all Furry content on the internet is mature (which falls in line with porn in general on the internet which is somewhere between 4-30%) And as far as how many Furries are in it for the porn, it’s actually at around 50%. You can check every major Furry site yourself if you’d like: Furaffinity, Ink Bunny, So Furry, Weasyl, Furry 4 Life, Fur Nation, Wiki Fur, Anthro Cat, Fur Net and Fur Buy.
(And in case I missed some, here are nearly 300 more…)
“Yes, Furry porn is a thing… but there’s porn of f*ing everything! F*ing. Everything!” said YouTuber Blü.
“You’re not actually attracted to dogs and cats, you’re attracted to PEOPLE who have ATTRIBUTES of those animals.” said young YouTube life-coach Onision. It’s also worth pointing out the worst assumption of them all… are Furries zoophiles? Well, according to Wikipedia, the number of people who identify as zoophiles in the fandom is only 1% higher (at 16%) than amongst the general public (at 15%), with Furries attracted to stuffed animals (another myth) coming in at just 1%. (Glad that’s cleared up.)
“BUT WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO DO THE SEX-THING IN THOSE SUITS!?” you scream.
Well yes, it’s what the media loves to focus on the most. But it’s an interesting one to say the least. First of all, may I point out that since only 10% of furries even own suits, likely even fewer still use those expensive suits for sex.
And to be honest, everyone seems to utterly fail at the logic I’ve been clarifying, let alone be able to separate the fandom from the fetish itself. It goes like this: When you find sentient, anatomically-correct, people-like, non-human characters attractive, you’re likely going to want to dress up as one and fantasize being with someone dressed up as another etc. character, right?
You see, where the whole world likely sees a freakish fetish for animal costumes, most of them are likely just living out a fantasy of being these beast-people in the closest way they can. (It’s not their fault it looks so goofy.)
But I digress. Blü delivers the best mic-drop, “Don’t judge another person for their interests because we all know you’re [all] into some freaky shit behind closed doors!”
Truth be told, we’re all into things that most other people would never be able to understand (I like to listen to nothing but video game soundtracks… don’t judge!!) And I believe this especially goes for all of our private interests that don’t make automatic sense to outsiders on the surface. The question we really should be asking ourselves is why we make such a big flippin’ deal that people like things we don’t like ourselves? After everything you’ve learned, is this sub-culture really that threatening?
To this writer, I love things that are strange. I love different. And I love things that confuse me because it makes me excited for how many new crazy ways there are to experience life. Life’s too short to always be a “hairless mole rat” of the Primate Family! Mix it up! Life is most fun when crazy, man. So why not be crazy? In this case, we just need to practice our most human talent, which is to love, because we’re really just mammals…
…so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel. *cue the dancing*