Opinion: Redefining furry
Obviously we have gone beyond being exclusively mammalian, but even the current definition needs some expansion, and could more clearly distinguish between what is and is not furry.
Searching for a new definition
There are two things to keep in mind when attempting to define furry: first, what is considered furry, from which you must distill the common element; and second, not to pick the things you want to be furry, but to look for the underlying theme distinguishing furry from related interests.
- The majority of the characters must be anthropomorphic animals. Humans are allowed, and a human character can even be the protagonist, but they must be a distinct minority. Animal characters must be presented on the same level as any human characters.
- The level of anthropomorphisation should be both physical and mental. Bipedalism is a must.
- The genre of funny animals is not science fiction, or at least not hard science fiction. Anthropomorphisation should not be explained — at most, it should be vaguely hand-waved, as with fantastic "magic" or the ever popular soft sci-fi catchall, a "virus." That said, funny animals can be applied over a basic framework of soft sci-fi, like the space opera."
These rules were near-unanimously rejected, either for missing the point or being too restrictive. The first is useless in judging a character. It would deny a work that, for example, followed a set of anthropomorphic characters in our world as they sought acceptance and integration. The second is mere personal opinion and runs counter to a huge amount of what is considered furry. Many furs do not insist on bipedalism, and I doubt any taur fans would grant that point, though a mental shift is usually present. The final rule is unnecessary; often there is no need to explain anthropomorphisation. It just is a feature of that world. I have not completely dismissed his essay, though, and offer this as a reply.
Furry is a mixture of human and animal traits
An obvious starting point for a new definition of furry is the old one. Anthropomorphic characters – the most important aspect – are automatically included. However, anthropomorphism is the application of human characteristics to a non-human entity. Creatures such as werewolves fall outside that definition; yet probably most would consider werewolves furry.
Transformation can be considered furry, and indeed a werewolf might be indistinguishable from an anthropomorphic wolf, but there is a difference in the path they took. A wolf with human traits attributed to it is an anthropomorphic wolf. A werewolf is a human with animal traits attributed to it, making it a bestial human. The result might be the same – but when you know the starting point, you see that they are different things altogether, and that their function in art or literature will likely be different.
The real-life aspects of furry, from fursuiting to mimicking animal actions such as purring and meowing, are also adding animal traits to a human starting point. This leads to the first change in the new definition; furry is not only about anthropomorphic animals, but also about bestial humans. It is the mixture of human and animal traits that is appealing, regardless of the starting point.
Furry requires a non-anthropomorphic starting point
Though the path to furry can start from human or animal, that there is a starting point is important. The idea of both bestial or anthropomorphic characters requires that you are adding traits which did not originally exist. A wolf walking upright is anthropomorphic because it is walking upright; a monkey doing the same thing is not, because walking in such a manner is normal for it - no new characteristic has been added.
This is only really important when considering fictional creatures. How to Train your Dragon won an Ursa Major award for 2010, but it should not have because there is no anthropomorphism. The dragons neither look like humans nor have human intelligence. At best they are more intelligent than most animals, but there is nothing to measure them against, as dragons are not real.
While an anthro wolf will be measured against a real wolf, a dragon appears in a story in their normal form. Even the dragons of Eragon are not furry because they have gained no human characteristics. They have human intelligence but that has not been added to a non-intelligent dragon; it is what dragons are in that world, in the same way that a real-life monkey is not anthropomorphic.
Further examples come from Pokémon. Pokémon is closely tied to furry, but in canon it is not furry. A pokémon such as Lucario might physically appear as an anthro jackal, but that is just is an aspect of Lucario itself. If you gave a Pikachu a human-like body it would be furry because that adds to the characteristics of a Pikachu, measured against its canon appearance.
Why are pokémon, digimon, dragons and other creatures associated with furry fandom when they are not furry? Simply put, there is enough of an overlap of interest that they have a noticeable impact on each other. Most pokémon used in fan fiction are anthropomorphised. Dragons may not be, but the idea of an intelligent non-human creature has the same appeal, whether in its canon condition or due to anthropomorphising a real creature.
This further expands our definition of furry to characters with a mixture of human and animal characteristics - some of which are not present in the 'real' (canon) version of such a creature or character. Without such a requirement, anything with some human character overlap will become furry, regardless of whether there is anthropomorphism.
Anthropomorphism must be a significant feature
We now have the basic framework to define furry, but it is not complete. How much new characterisation is required? Most furs would accept human intelligence as sufficient, but this is only one trait. Crossaffliction cited a human-like body, but having a tail is not enough to make something furry.
To qualify, the characteristics must have a significant impact. Human intelligence has such an impact on an animal; adding a tail to a human does not. This is obviously a personal judgement as there is no definitive measure of importance; however, I am confident most people can accept this principle. This point also serves when deciding if a specific work is furry or not: are the furry characters a significant part of that work?
I have tried to argue for a new definition of furry: as describing a character who is possessed of a combination of animal and human characteristics in such a way that the new character is significantly different from the character's real or canon form.
I hope this improved definition, drawing from what is currently considered furry, will help distinguish the topic from related interests.