Kleefeld's Fanthropology #14: Furries

Kleefeld's Fanthropology: Furries

As I was leaving the gym, I walked past the spot where a lot of free publications are left out for passers-by. Mostly apartment guides and auto traders and that sort of thing. But one that stood out was Echo, the student publication from Columbia College. It stood out because the lead feature was highlighted on the cover as "Up Close & Fursonal: Inside the Furry Fandom" with a full cover photo of someone in a mouse suit sitting at the bar in a bowling alley. Naturally, I picked it up.

I have to admit that, though I've studied various forms of fandoms and generally was able to see connections and commonalities among, furries was one that I hadn't quite got a handle on. I hadn't put a lot of thought into it, to be fair, but what I had learned suggested it was a somewhat different notion than the cosplay I was more familiar with.

Phil Foglio's XXXenophileNow, despite the popular misconceptions surrounding furries as sexual deviants, I've known enough people who attended furry conventions to know that was inaccurate; cartoonist Phil Foglio has talked up Anthrocon repeatedly. But it seems that the image is one that furries have had trouble shedding, as is noted in the article. And, as if to underscore that point, I happened to read Kim Deitch's Alias the Cat a day or two later in which he says furries "are rumored to get off cavorting around at weird parties in cute, cuddely animal costumes!"

I knew that fetishistic notions like that were in the extreme minority, but I still hadn't taken the time to do much reading on the subject. So I still didn't quite see how a furry fandom might (or might not) relate to comics or science fiction or what-have-you. As such, this particular column was a welcome addition to my library.

Furries, I learned, are not necessarily all folks who go around in animal costumes. Some do, certainly, and it seems to be a higher percentage than of, say, comic book fans who cosplay as superheroes, but the fur-lined masks and gloves are by no means a prerequisite. Furries, really, are just people with a strong interest in anthropomorphic animals. An old Usenet FAQ adds: "This may involve anything from a person who simply enjoys viewing furry fanzines or films, to someone who actually desires to be a 'real' furry, or believe that they are literally a non-human trapped within a human form."

Already I'm seeing a connection since the furries who tend to get the most attention and have the most photos taken of them are the ones in elaborate costumes. Much like how cosplayers tend to get the most screen time when there's reporting at a convention, despite the vast majority of con-goers not wearing costumes. In visual media, like the internet and television, the costumes simply look more interesting than "regular" folks in jeans and t-shirts.

The article also noted how furries often adopt a "fursona" -- a personality specifically tailored around their animal of choice and is used as a means to emphasize or demphasize some of their own charactertistics. Again, this does not necessarily take the form of putting on a costume and becoming a different character, but it involves actively trying to change some behaviors to fall more in line with the ideals embodied by their animal avatar.

Echo Magazine

This, too, bears a similarity to other fandoms. Although frequently only vaguely defined, fandoms hold an etherial set of characters up as a sort of prototypical fan, and it is up to individual members within that fandom to try to match that prototype as closely as possible. Fans are then judged as being good or bad fans based on how closely they resemble the prototype, and peer pressure coerces many to actively change their behavior. This seems a bit more individualistic in furry fandom, but the process is not dissimilar.

But here was the line in the article that really stood out for me: "This fur-meet, far too warm and fuzzy for a normie, is a time to geek out with like-minded people and seek the solace of a tight-knit community."  How is that any different than any other fandom? Ultimately, it's not.

Trekkies and Twi-Hards and Bronies and all the fans of other common fandoms see something positive that attracts them to those fandoms. Fans see strong role models or solutions (real and metaphoric) for problems they confront in their daily lives. The only real difference in furries is that they seem to be a little more conscious of looking to change their lives for the better.

That I learned so much from such a short article speaks to how much I really have to learn about furry fandom. While there are a great many similarities to other fandoms, there are of course many differences, and I'll definitely have to spend more time researching that. But in closing this week's column, I will paraphrase something from that same Usenet FAQ that I cited earlier: Some choose a furry lifestyle for the same reasons that anyone else chooses to embrace a lifestyle that reflects what they believe and why. The best and most valid answers to this question spring from individuals, rather than groups at large, because all fans are, above all else, individuals.