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Review: 'Furry Nation' by Joe Strike

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'Furry Nation' cover If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.
—Terry Pratchett

I am probably not wrong in my belief that many furs have little idea of how the fandom got started. The furry fandom is based around the appreciation of, and I'll simplify here, anthropomorphic characters. Furs find their way here through that appreciation and are able to join in immediately. This is not a bad thing but it is sad that many of us are unaware of our shared history. As we learned above, if we don't know where we come from then we are lost.

It's not that there has been no attempt to describe the origins of the furry fandom; aside from the crowdsourced wikis (e.g. WikiFur), we had Fred Patten's Retrospective: An Illustrated Chronology of Furry Fandom, 1966–1996 and Perri Rhoades' The Furry History Project. The first is not necessarily in the most easy to use form and both of the latter entries are chronological lists of major influences. Joe Strike's book departs from this format employing a mix of personal anecdotes, extensive research and several interviews with prominent furs to build a far more flowing, narrative history of the furry fandom.

Let's start at the very beginning

In Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea universe, magic gains its power through the use of true names. To know someone's true name potentially means the ability to control them. In our world, though diminished in comparison, words still have power and it is necessary to agree on what we mean by a word before we can use it productively. Appropriately, Strike starts off by defining what he means by the term furry and fur.

A furry human is anyone with an above-average interest in anthropomorphic character, whether or not they consider themselves furry–or have ever even heard of the fandom (a.k.a. "furry but doesn't know it yet");

A furry animal is any animal with any human characteristics, no matter what its origin: entertainment, mythology, advertising, kids' books or adult literature. To put it simply, Furry is about the idea of animals—what they represent in our minds—not their reality.

Strike's definitions improve on the standard definitions in several respects. First, he too recognises the distinction between anthropomorphism and zoomorphism which are both an aspect of the furry fandom – in the chapter at least, although this then fails to make it into the language of his definition. Secondly, he states that a person who meets the criteria for being a fur is a fur regardless of whether they consider themselves a fur or are even aware of the term.

I would accept his definition of a furry human with the simple change of "anthropomorphic character" to "furry character." When it comes to furry characters, his definition is, by his own admission, very broad. I would say overly broad. There needs to be a mix of human and animal characteristics, not just human characteristics applied to an animal (That's where zoomorphism comes in.), and that mixture should create a significant difference to the character. I have previously elaborated in my own definition of furry and will not belabour the point further.

There is one other lexicological point that Strike makes which I hope to see become the dominant convention. He proposes using "furries" strictly for furry characters and "furs" for furry fans. This is primarily to avoid confusion and it is something I can absolutely get behind.

The border is a line that birds cannot see

Not everything is always as clear or well-thought out as his definitions and sometimes it is just wrong. For example, in a chapter on fursuits, Strike writes, referring to Anthrocon 2015:

It was the largest ratio of fursuiters to total con attendence ever—29%

While it may have been the largest total number of fursuiters ever, in 2014, 45% of Eurofurence's 2071 attendees were fursuiters. That ratio grew even larger in 2015, when one month after Anthrocon, Eurofurence had a fursuiter ratio of 46%! If we're only talking about a ratio then smaller conventions might have exceeded even that.

This shows one of the biggest failings of Furry Nation, its insular view. When you are so fixated on the US that you ignore a fursuiter ratio that is 17% higher then clearly it's beginning to hurt the book. Even in the subtitle of the book it says it talks about "America's most misunderstood subculture." I can understand the desire to focus on a specific region, and the furry fandom did originate in the US, however, the furry fandom is now a global subculture. SoFurry, the oldest active furry art site, considering its origins as Yiffstar, is owned by an Austrian. Inkbunny, WikiFur and Flayrah are all owned by an Englishman. Five out of six of Furnet's servers exist outside of the US. The only two live action films produced within the furry fandom, Bitter Lake and Mascot Fur Life, were both produced in Europe. The most popular furry artist on Furaffinity, Wolfy-Nail, is a Russian living in Austria.

Knowing all that, it makes you begin to wonder what else might be missed. So, when reading Strike's generally-excellent chapter about misrepresentations of the furry fandom in the media, one wonders how much is a problem with the media in general and how much is a problem with American media. Media bias is probably an issue worldwide but I do think it might not be as severe outside of the US.

One example of positive media coverage that Strike points out is a six minute Anthrocon report done by NBC News where "the reporter bravely tries on a tail." It is a pretty positive report and that's great but, as with the fursuiters, keeping the focus on the US misses out on even-more-positive, contemporaneous coverage. That same year, ARTE TV produced a sixteen minute long report on Eurofurence where the reporter wore a full fursuit!

Rampart in chase of She wolf pacts, Forged on heat with setting Suns

Another thing that sometimes gives a strange feel is the treatment of sex. The chapter covering yiff is actually pretty good but the comments elsewhere in the book give the sense that, if Strike does not personally dislike yiff, then he is not comfortable with non-furs being aware of it. This is strongest where he criticised the film Fursonas as not helping furry's reputation for criticising Uncle Kage and then showing Bad Dragon merchandise. That may also have something to do with his relationship with Kage and not just the sex.

Notably absent from the sex chapter is almost any mention of bestiality/zoophilia. That's not to say it is never addressed in the book but, despite his chapter on sex beginning with "it would be equally honest to pretend [sex] doesn't exist," there is a bit of dishonesty where he claims that bestiality is "an absolute and 100% no-go in furry fandom." Now, whatever anyone's personal opinion, bestiality is an, albeit polarising and controversial, aspect of the furry fandom.

Bestiality is not an integral part of the furry fandom, that much is obvious by just going back to any of the definitions of furry. However, what Strike tries to ignore is that there is an overlap between them. Some of the public looks at yiff art and sees that it can overlap with bestiality, particular feral work; in fact one feral artist's Fur Affinity page states, "Please keep in mind my feral art for me is absolutely non-zoophilic. Please don't bring up the topic." Even coming from the other direction, the connection is still made. In his essay Why Zoophilia is a Furry Issue, JM notes that one classification of zoophilia by researchers includes furries as a subset. Furthermore, probably the largest work on the topic, Hani Miletski's book Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia also makes a couple of references to the furry fandom.

Given the fact that the connections between the furry fandom and bestiality are noticed from both sides and that between 13-18% of furs identify as zoophiles, it is clear that it is not a "100% no-go" in the fandom. Further complicating the issue will be those furs who tolerate it, although do not have an interest themselves, and the issue of distinguishing fantasy from reality. While it is certainly possible to draw the necessary distinctions between furry and bestiality, it takes a lot more work than the incorrect statement that was provided. If he was not going to properly address the topic, it would have been better to leave it alone entirely rather than putting forth a statement that doesn't reflect reality merely to try and score PR points.

Foremost is reason. Reason is non-negotiable.

For most of my criticism, the issues are not major detractors from the book. Yes, there is confusion between what is fact and what is opinion and, yes, it doesn't do a good job of seeing the global picture. However, even taking that into account, there is a lot of good content about the media, fursuits, yiff and more that can still be enjoyed, even if the details are not always perfect. But there is one chapter which almost only pulls the book down; the one entitled "The Spirit Is Willing, but the Flesh Is Furry."

This chapter describes certain furs' spiritual beliefs, however it is done in an entirely credulous manner without the slightest critical analysis. This is a problem because those beliefs are not supported by any sort of evidence. When he says the belief that "you're an animal born by error in a human body" is easy to mock, he doesn't bother to go into why that is the case. That belief assumes the existence of souls. It assumes different species have different types of souls. It assumes souls pre-exist and are added to matching physical bodies. It assumes that somehow the wrong soul can be put in the wrong body. There is no evidence to support a single one of those claims.

Now one might say these are just harmless delusions, let the people have their opium, but they don't always remain that way. A recent report tells of a German man arrested for killing his daughter during an exorcism and then trying to revive her corpse with sex. That is an extreme case but Strike also doesn't question the reality behind the beliefs of a Catholic fur he interviews. Last month, it was reported that The Vatican is increasing the number of priests being trained to perform exorcisms. They are training people to treat a condition which does not exist!

I don't know if the lack of critical examination is due to his own beliefs, a wish to appear more tolerant or an American deference to religion and spiritual beliefs. As the late Christopher Hitchens said, "you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and truth in this country if you'll just get yourself called Reverend." Belief in therianthropy and Catholicism are seldom harmful in themselves, but they are not based on evidence and their uncritical acceptance gives the impression that such unsupported beliefs are acceptable. That has consequences. There are those who, against the evidence, promote alternative medicine, deny global warming or the need for gun control or question the safety of vaccines and genetically modified food. It is imperative that we base our beliefs on a foundation of evidence.

The Road goes ever on and on

At the beginning, I said Strike's book creates a more personal and compelling narrative of the furry fandom's origins than was previously available. That is true and that is the part where Furry Nation excels. Whether you are familiar with the origins of the fandom or not, you will still learn something from this book because it addresses everything from a new perspective; not just as a series of dates and events but as the story of various people trying to do what they love.

We don't only learn who did what but why they did it. And, sometimes, a bit about the other paths that might've been taken. Leaving aside my complaints about the American-focused nature of the book, the chapter on Anthrocon was one of my favourites. It was extremely interesting, and a bit sad, to learn about the drama that went on behind the scenes. That's stuff that I had no idea about and which we can still see happening in furry groups today. Instead of just learning that Anthrocon moved to Pittsburgh in 2006, we see how the city actually asked for the convention and the change in Kage's attitude about moving there. This personal aspect is the major strength of the book.

I do think the book is flawed in several areas but the core history of the fandom and the personal stories that are included are strong enough to make up for it. There may be better works on specific aspects of the fandom but Furry Nation is more comprehensive than any of the current works explaining the origins of the furry fandom. Furs will appreciate the personal stories that accompany the history while non-furs will gain a much better understanding of the furry fandom from a source immeasurably superior to hyperbolic mainstream news coverage.

In an ideal world, I would like to see an expanded second edition or a new volume which includes more space for the furry world outside of the American borders and which corrects a number of inaccuracies. Considering how much time and effort this book must've taken I doubt we will see something like that for quite a while. In the meantime, Furry Nation will exist as a milestone in the furry fandom and a clear sign of the fandom's massive growth from where it started as a group of people hanging out at science fiction conventions over 30 years ago.

Section title sources:


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For another review of (actually, more of an introduction to) Furry Nation, here's the accompanying interview Joe gave for the December 2017 issue of Huck magazine, complete with fursuiter photographs:

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As a disclaimer, please do not do what Tag is doing in the photo in that above article, cooking in suit is a sure way to get some bad burns!

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Cooking? Heck, in one of Tilt Longtail's videos, he (in his Greifer guise) wields an oxyacetylene torch! o.O

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Readers can find another review of Furry Nation by the Boozy Barrister (aka Boozy Badger) on his blog:

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (5 votes)

The interesting thing about this review is that it sort of highlights the reviewer's preferences on what he would have censored for the sake of publication.

They critique that the book should have done more to highlight the minority that actually does engage in zoophilia (a harmful act to the animal in cases), but says it should have censored or berated those that have harmless spiritual beliefs using some strange outlier case as to why they should be shunned.

Also, I like how he sees America as a self-centered egotistical country (which to be fair it kind of is), but at the same time sees America as if it is somehow the bastion of the spirituality that the review author loathes. Ignoring that Catholicism is in Vatican City in Italy, and that America isn't the be all end all of "religious stupidity". There seems to be an implication that if the book been written anywhere other than America that it would have been more critical and questioning of those with religious beliefs.

My guess is that when I do get to the section, what I will find is that Joe Strike talks to several different furs of different beliefs in order to sort of get a variance of the different philosophies that furries actually hold. Instead of, you know, proselytizing to those furries that they're wrong and are going to the Charles Hitchen's version of hell, hollowed be his name.

If that is the case, I would ignore the critique of that section, Joe. It'd be the equivalent of a Christian furry ranting that you didn't hound that Muslim furry into accepting Jesus as their personal lord and savior. That is not the job of a non-fiction writer. It is to paint a picture of how things are, not of trying to manipulate them into how the author or reviewer wishes them to be.

My challenge, to the fandom at large, is that you shouldn't have to wait for an American Furry to cover you country's fandom history. It'd probably be better served if a furry from the country in question wrote about it. It'd be more genuine that way.

I believe Joe also said that his publisher had pushed him to Americanize it a bit to try and narrow the target audience.

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You seem to have misinterpreted quite a few things here. I hope it isn't one of those "live like lobsters" moments.

"They critique that the book should have done more to highlight the minority that actually does engage in zoophilia"

That's the opposite of what I said. I said that to properly deal with the complexities of the issue would take a lot more time and care than was given. And in fact I ended by saying that "it would have been better to leave it alone entirely."

"censored or berated those that have harmless spiritual beliefs using some strange outlier case as to why they should be shunned"

Again, not what I said. The "strange outlier case" was to demonstrate potential risks of unquestioned belief. However exorcism is not a strange outlier as I mention The Vatican is training more priests to do exorcism (presumably safer than that example but just as pointless) and says that "there are about 500,000 cases requiring exorcisms in Italy each year."

I actually followed that up by pointing out that the main risk from not questioning these beliefs is that it feeds the idea that believing without evidence is fine. Aside from spirituality that becomes an issue on all sorts of other issues; like Republicans ignoring the evidence on gun violence or people saying that vaccines aren't safe.

"It is to paint a picture of how things are, not of trying to manipulate them into how the author or reviewer wishes them to be."

That could be the case if one is being purely descriptive, however at many points in the book he already chooses to criticise some ideas and promote others. Since he does push certain views instead of acting as a neutral observer, I think it is fine to talk about what he promotes and/or questions and whether that was correct.

"I believe Joe also said that his publisher had pushed him to Americanize it a bit to try and narrow the target audience."

Like I said, there's nothing wrong with writing about the American side. What I find problematic is that his focus on the American side leaves a lot of questions open and leads to some false statements. Of course, aside from conventions and meets, furry exists primarily online and is not constricted to national boundaries. To look at furry from a specific countries point of view will necessarily lead to many things being missed and won't make sense when addressing the online world.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Considering the book's subtitle, as you pointed out, and really its main title too, I don't see how the book falls short of its goals to paint a portrait of what it is to be part of furry in America. If it's any comfort, the author has speculated on a sequel with a global focus (and title), which could also serve to correct errors. (

On the Religion topic, the purpose of that chapter is not about poking holes in anyone's spiritual beliefs. This isn't a book about what religion is or isn't, it's a book about what furry is and isn't. I read the book close to 6 months ago now, so maybe it warrants a re-read, but my interpretation then was that one of the main purposes of the chapter is to debunk the myth that furry and religion are mutually exclusive, and that any mention of the soul was just speculation or hypothetical and not spoken as fact.

As for the strange outlier case "to demonstrate potential risks of unquestioned belief," that is still a non-sequitur. You're implying that anyone who is not questioned for their personal beliefs is potentially a murderer and it is risky not to question those beliefs. Either that or you're trying to say that the reader could potentially become a murderer because the author didn't go out of his way to say that beliefs aren't facts (which I feel doesn't give readers enough credit for understanding the basic definition of "belief.") No, this is not a gateway to pro-gun and anti-vaccine rhetoric. No matter how I look at that paragraph, there's no justification for trying to connect people to some criminal on another continent because they happen to have spiritual beliefs - and not even necessarily the same beliefs! This is pure bigotry against religious people.

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If he does do a sequel that would be awesome. The book is good but it feels like it's missing a lot. I saw somewhere that Fred Patten mentioned there is basically no mention of furry literature. Nothing really jumped to my mind that was missing in that sense but there is still so much that can be said.

I'm not sure there was a myth about furry and religion being exclusive to debunk... I agree that the chapter wasn't there to poke holes and I don't expect him to go on some anti-religion crusade (if you'll pardon the pun) but I do think that the disconnect between belief and reality there should be mentioned.

Anyone is a potential murderer. The specific example I mentioned was, as I said, an extreme case which is unlikely to recur. However, those sort of cases can only happen when such misguided beliefs are allowed to flourish. As I said, the Catholic Church itself says that exorcisms are a real thing. Without those beliefs, that death would not have occurred. In any case, I was condemning religious beliefs not religious people. People can change their beliefs.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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You beat me to a review of it! I heaven't read your review yet - Do you want me to write up a review, post it in a reply to yours, then read your review and compare?

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That could work. I didn't read any reviews before I had finished mine because I didn't want them to bias my own view.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Dronon, I'd very much enjoy reading your review. I've been at one or two of your furry history convention presentations and I was awestruck at your familiarity with furry history...come to think of it, no, please *don't* review "Furry Nation;" you'll probably point out everything I got wrong ;-)

- Joe

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Rakuen, I very much appreciate your review and the points you raise. (In fact, a lot of the reviews and comments FN has received have been so enthusiastically thumbs-up I've actually been looking forward to some more critical looks at the book!)

First off, the lack of a global perspective wasn't so much a deliberate exclusion as much as a lack of time to investigate Furry world-wide in enough depth to do it justice (I had a January 1 2017 deadline to submit my manuscript which I barely made) and space. (My manuscript was way overlength; I had to leave out a good deal of already-written material including a chapter on Pony I'm really proud of.)

The American focus was due as much to the fact Furry was (as Bruce Springsteen sang) "Born in the USA" and its primary readership would be here. The best I could do this time around was a one-sentence reference to furry conventions springing up around the world. (Rakuen, thanx much for pointing out that near 50/50 Eurofurence suiter/non-suiter split; wish I'd known!)

As for the sex, yes, I definitely and deliberately downplayed that aspect of the fandom; if I went too far in doing so it was to counteract the "Furry=kinky sex fetish" stereotype. You might have noticed the "voice" I wrote in was one explaining Furry to non-furs; I mistakenly assumed the furry audience would be secondary to fur-curious mainstream readers, and it looks like I was completely wrong in that assumption - but I didn't want to reinforce/validate the mainstream world's stereotyped view of Furry. ("You see, it's just like that MTV special said!")

When it comes to furs identifying themselves as zoophiles I have to point out a basic fact about Furry: there's no governing body or "membership" requirements; anyone who wants to call themselves a fur, can - even a zoophile. IMHO (and that's all I can offer here, is my opinion) - Furry=anthropomorphic, and there is *nothing* anthropomorphic about using a real-life animal, in real life, for sexual gratification.

One point I feel obligated to take issue with your review is where you say "Belief in therianthropy and Catholicism are seldom harmful in themselves but they are not based on evidence and their uncritical acceptance gives the impression that such unsupported beliefs are acceptable."

Rakuen, how do *prove* a spiritual belief, *any* spiritual belief? According to, belief is "confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof." Can you *prove* God exists, or that someone is "wrong" in their belief they possess an animal soul, or even that someone who feels they were mistakenly born the wrong gender strongly enough to surgically transform themself is "wrong"? I tried in that chapter to respect those peoples' beliefs and not challenge them and I don't believe I was wrong in doing so. (Due to a cluttered Email in-box I overlooked a response from a woman who oversees an online therian support group; I so much would've liked to include her perspective in that chapter and hopefully I'll someday remedy that oversight.)

As I mentioned above, I have enough already-written material to serve as the basis of a sequel, which I very much hope to interest my publisher Cleis or another company to release. For one thing it would correct as many errors in FN as possible and it would *definitely* cover Furry around the world, how it spread from the US to become a global phenomenon.* (I'm sure there've been furry gatherings in every continent save Antarctica by now, and I'm probably wrong about Antarctica...and if nothing else, it would give me an excuse to attend Eurofurence and a few other far-flung furry conventions.) Its title would of course be "Furry Planet."

*I'd also include mainstream anthropomorphism in art galleries, serious literature, stage plays, fashion etc even architecture and things like cat-eared headphones. (And it would *definitely* explore the sexual aspects of Furry in greater detail; in fact I'm planning to title that chapter "The Naughtier Bits.")

- Joe

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It definitely deserves a thumbs up. There is a lot of good information, including a lot of stuff that I'd not heard about even on some topics I was reasonably familiar with.

I have to be fair; you can't possibly know what happens at every convention. But you did a lot of research which is why this America focussed thing is so frustrating. I suppose the problem could've been solved also by having a couple people from outside the US check through the book. I've never published a book so I don't know if you have reviewers that help fact check before final publication or not. They probably could've caught things. Eurofurence is also the longest-running furry convention since those old US ones have all shut down. Just for some background, here's an awesome video that was done for 20 years of Eurofurence:

I agree furry =/= zoophilia. However there is an overlap in people and to claim that zoophilia is completely taboo in the furry fandom is just wrong. It's controversial and only supported by a minority but that minority is fairly large.

I'm not saying you have to prove any specific belief system. What I would like pointed out is the absence of evidence for it. Like if somebody wrote a piece about a man who said he had a fire-breathing dragon as a pet, you would hope it was not only written as though that were true.

I would definitely be interested if you did a sequel. I did mostly enjoy it. There were parts which I think were not great but there were also many excellent parts. As someone who has never fursuited, I really enjoyed reading about others' experiences doing it. I'd much rather people learn about the fandom from your book than most media coverage.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Thanx much for the kind words; as I said before, I very much appreciated reading a critical take on "Furry Nation." I hope I'll have a chance to write that sequel - and I hope other furs will write their own histories of the fandom and their own experiences being a fur, both here in the US and abroad.

- Joe

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You're criticizing that he didn't take time in the book to point out that there's no evidence supporting Catholic theology?

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Man, I'm as anti-theist as they come and even I wouldn't go that far.

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It sounds silly when you say it like that.

But, no. It is problematic if one presents unsupported beliefs like that with no mention of all the problems in those beliefs. People might read that and think that those beliefs are fine without realising there is nothing supporting them.

It's the same when a recent article in The Guardian was gushing on about astrology without ever pointing out that the whole thing is complete baloney. It motivated at least once scientist to write an article about that article (and there was more casual mocking on Twitter).

There's things that article says about astrology which apply just as much the religious beliefs described in Furry Nation.

"It absolves responsibility, it reassuringly (for some) suggests control and organisation by a “higher power”, it can take decisions out of your hands, it even provides social connections with like-minded types, which is particularly important for a young, still-developing brain. Similar arguments can be used for the enduring nature of conspiracy theories."

The simple fact is, we shouldn't be encouraging people to ignore the truth and the weight of evidence is our best guide to the truth.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Ultimately we have to decide whether it's better to be considerate of other people's beliefs and traditions, or to be right.
I know which side I'm on!

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I wonder if this is one of those things that does the whole "But don't worry, it's just 4% of the fandom" lie, as if those furries don't seem to be important for the fandom and then act like only the "clean" side should be accepted. Sorry if I come out as rude, but I'm just curious if this is that, and since recently I posted a comment somewhere else about it.

I'm just sick the whole feeling like an outcast thing, and since I thought this crap was over and since it never even mattered if the whole fandom was into sexual parts or not.

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I can assure you people care less about what you're wanking to than you care about them caring about what you're wanking to.

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Hmm not so sure, but there are cases where some things like fursuit sex, and I was talking about that. There were some articles talking about that rather than the whole furry sexual art thing.

There was also one about "plushophilia" and according to a Wikifur page with main text coming from 2006 I think, it was so controversial, but many furries were fine with erotic stuff, and a few other things. Some even said they don't want those people to be part of the fandom (WTF) even though it's hypocritical. I'm not sure if today is different though.

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About the author

Rakuen Growlitheread storiescontact (login required)

a student and Growlithe from South Africa/Austria, interested in science, anime and power metal

I'm a fur from South Africa, now living in Austria, who got into the fandom through my interest in pokemon and writing fanfiction. Outside of furry, I have spend a lot of my time in gaming (particularly Dota 2) and science.