I want to talk a little bit about how magical furry is.
Magic, as they say, is nothing more than an act of intent. It is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will,” if one is to believe Crowley (not necessarily recommended). In this sense, if spells are acts of intent, then coming up with spells is the act of defining one’s intentions. In this sense, magic is living deliberately.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts like this on my mind, lately, for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps it’s worth expanding on them
It’s been some months, now, since my gender affirmation surgery. May 10th involved getting up at 5 AM – though I don’t think I slept the night before – and driving to the hospital, where I spent the day without time. I blinked, and when I opened my eyes some hours later, I had a different physical form than when I went to closed them.
I’ve been involved in the purchase of three houses, I’ve gotten married, I’ve moved halfway across the country, and this *still*, months later, feels like the largest intentional act that I’ve taken.
This is an act that stretches far beyond the necessary requirements to fulfill and complete it, in and of itself. I just “needed” letters, insurance, and time off work to complete it. More than that I actually needed was the will to perform the act, and discovering that was all that was required, I just…did it. For a long time leading up to beginning this process, I believed that it required something that I didn’t have, that I could never have. When I found out that all it took was a phone call to the surgeon to get started, I leaped at the chance. Not to say that it’s been easy, but neither has it required any mystical element I didn’t already have.
This act goes beyond just its requirements because that act of intent itself changed me in turn (and not in the obvious surgical way). In magical systems, both in media and in the world at large, there is often a price to pay for your acts. Karma, mana drain, however you want to look at it. in the case described above, it’s the fact that no act occurs in isolation, and you’re going to have to live with the consequences of the act.
Sometimes these are concrete. For instance, I had to live with the pain that comes with a major surgery affecting the pelvic floor. I was limited in terms of movement for weeks after the surgery. Some of those were financial – after all, transition is incredibly expensive, even with insurance. I freely acknowledge the privilege inherent in this. I’m thankful for it, and do my best to pay it forward.
And some are less tangible.
As I mentioned back in…oh jeez, 2013 was really five years ago!? As I mentioned half a decade back, a change in species or character often happens around large life changes, and I’m no different. The process of death and rebirth that goes along with this surgery, where I die – hopefully metaphorically – on the table and am reborn, changed, is no small feat.
So it was that, shortly after my surgery consult back in 2016, I got the idea to start interacting with friends as something other than an arctic fox. More and more, I started appearing as a snow leopard (because I couldn’t seem to let go of those wintry species). At first, it was an ‘alt’ situation: Maddy, as the snow leopard was called, was an alternate character to use when I wasn’t feeling the fox.Art by Grey White
She was different from the ‘usual’ in a few ways. She’s cis, for one, unlike the arctic fox, who transitioned along with me. She’s shorter and a bit pudgier than I am. She’s happier and struggles less with mental health. She’s an ideal rather than a reality, and something to be played for fun.
Or, well, she was. This ‘alt’ phase lasted a few months, I suppose, before I woke up one morning and realized I’d not interacted as an arctic fox in a few days. Slowly but surely, the snow leopard had started to overtake the fox.
Becoming an arctic fox, originally, was something that just sort of happened to me. Back in 2005, I was pretty firmly camped out in red fox territory with a character named Ranna, and yet, in 2006, I shifted pretty quickly away from that character to Makyo Alopex.
It took a bit of time before I figured out what the big life change was that went along with this. I finally settled on how, once my friends Ash, Shannon, and I moved to our own house, I finally felt on my own. When I was living in the dorms, I was simply ‘away from home’. Now, though, paying rent, I was well and truly moved out. No empty nester, my mom greeted the news that I wasn’t coming home for the summer with joy, telling me, “Good, now you can take the rest of your stuff.”Art by n
2005 and 2006 were the years I finally started to grow up, and so that was the end of Ranna. 2017 and 2018 have been the years I’ve started living pretty authentically as a woman – visibly trans, sure, but also visibly feminine. This upcoming surgery has been something of a final blow to Makyo Alopex as a character, or at least as a main.
One of the downsides to the end of Ranna, is that it happened very suddenly, and not at all deliberately. Which, come to think of it, also applies to me moving out on my own and starting to grow up. It felt like an accident, slipping away from who I used to be.
My goal is to avoid that with the change from arctic fox to snow leopard. This is, as with surgery, a process of death and rebirth. Makyo Alopex is dying, in many senses of the word, and being reborn in Makyo Uncia, called Maddy. I have intent here, more than I did when I left Ranna behind. I have the will, in Crowley’s terms, and the ability to make it manifest.Art by Cadmium Tea
I took this as an almost alchemical act. After all, alchemy is more than just transmuting literal lead into literal gold. It’s the transmutation of a base substance into something better. Through calcination and dissolution, the base – the *prima materia*, the self, the fox – is broken down. Through separation, conjunction, and fermentation, something new is compiled from what was in rough shapes. Through distillation and coagulation, the new self – the cat – is solidified, completed, made whole.
As with a lot of how I experience furry, this is a microcosm, rather than something unique. I am not the only one to be deliberate about changing my species, just as I’m not the only one to read way too much into the furry fandom.
Furry, as a whole, is an exercise in self-actualization. It is taking the idea of “this is how I want to be seen” to places and extents not often tread.
Through each aspect of ourselves, we choose how we want to interact. We choose a species, we choose a name, we choose what aspects of our personalities to show to each other and the world. We construct and create every day of our lives, and we’re made all the better for it.
Shameless boosterism aside, we’re good at what we do and what we make, whether that’s art or fun or just ourselves. The more we create, the better we get at it, too. All that’s left to do is to keep on creating, to keep putting our intent and our will to work.
Just as I can dig into the intent behind changing a name, a fursona, an identity, I can look for the magic of self-actualization within furry as a whole. After all, furry is magic.
How do you experience the magic of furry? Let us know in the comments!
Guest post by V, who’s gone through a variety of names that people found hard to pronounce and eventually settled for simple. V is a dragonish critter who’s been floating around the outskirts of furry since the early 00’s. They’ve written previously about species identity as lizardywizard, and can currently be found on Mastodon, as @firstname.lastname@example.org, and Twitter as magnetongue.
I’ve read a lot (a lot!) of great writing on gender here at [a][s], and Makyo’s recent post “Gender: Furry” was no exception. I must admit, however, that I clicked on the title expecting, hoping for—and yet, deep down, knowing I probably wouldn’t find—something different.
See, as much as [a][s] is a site that dares to go deep into questions of gender, sexuality, and how those things are expressed in the playground of liminal, hot-swappable identity that is furry, there are surprisingly few writings on species as identity.
Therians and otherkin are more common in furry than we seem—when mentioning I’m a therian at furmeets or in chats, I always get at least one person per gathering who admits “Me too”. It’s obvious in hindsight that if anywhere would be a natural fit for such people, of course it would be furry, where we live out a startlingly profound yet largely unspoken agreement: to set aside our human personas completely among our friends, even when not roleplaying. Think about it for a moment. While there’s no requirement in furry to portray yourself as your character, wouldn’t a furry who used a human name and avatar for all their interactions seem weirdly out of place? The default, the expected, is that we uphold the masquerade. Through fursuits, avatars, usernames and conbadges, we ensure that our friends in the community know us primarily for our fursonas, not our physical forms.
Yet despite the obvious overlap, the topic by and large remains the elephant (or wolf, or cougar) in the room that is furry, just as furry seems to be a verboten subject in therian communities. Somewhere down the line, we mutually agreed to ignore each other’s existences.
I’ve got some theories on why, but those will come a little later. First, my story.
I was in college when I first discovered what “transgender” meant.
It wasn’t that I’d been shielded from the world as such: I had a liberal upbringing as a homeschooled child who, unlike the typical American picture of homeschooling, was allowed to research freely into whatever topics took my fancy. It just so happened that those topics were largely “animals” and “science”, and as these were the days before home internet was common, that meant I spent my days with nature encyclopedias and biology books—neither of which (back then, at least) said anything about gender identity.
I do remember using a pencil to black out the “fe” in “female” in an article about frogs, leaving the text, nonsensically, describing the behaviours of the “male and male”. As a child on the autistic spectrum who was particularly picky about words, I told myself I just didn’t like the aesthetics of the word “female”.
I often blacked out the word “human”, too.
But: college. It was then that I first stumbled, in my searching for anime- and manga-themed content, upon the writings of Jennifer Diane Reitz, probably best known (if at all) among furries for the long-running webcomic Unicorn Jelly. The comic was okay, but I was much more interested in the more personal writings of the author, who described in great detail her wrestling with an identity crisis of which I had never heard, but which I instantly found compelling.
It seemed to start out simple—a preference for, and fascination with, “girl” toys over “boy” ones—but by the onset of male puberty she was tormented to the point that, despite the pain and expense of surgery, the isolation of starting anew, and derision and abuse from almost all who knew her (Reitz was born in 1959, among the early modern pioneers of the transgender movement), she set out in pursuit of a remote, precarious and at times impossible-seeming goal: to live life as a woman, despite being born “as a man”.
I read and re-read the story countless times. I put it down to curiosity—here was something I had never before encountered, an incredible story of bravery and triumph—but my innermost self was unconvinced. I didn’t usually get invested in human interest stories, after all; I wasn’t much interested in humans. I preferred to read about animals, or to immerse myself in stories of fantasy creatures. What was the big deal about one kind of human turning into another kind of human? It was cool, but not my thing. And yet here I was, feeling that on some level this story represented me, knowing in some deep-down way that I, too, felt alienated by the body I wore. Despite the clear hardships she faced, I felt that I, too, would willingly subject myself to them in order to achieve what she had: a sense of peace, when she looked in the mirror, at her body’s alignment with her soul.
Over the next several years, and through the encouragement of the internet, I found myself veering first towards a non-binary identity (or “androgynous”, as we thought of it back then), then a male one, before finally settling somewhere between the two. I went back and forth on the topic of hormones, eventually deciding they weren’t for me, but in 2010 I went ahead with top surgery.
It increased my sense of comfort with my body immensely, and I’ve never regretted it. I wish I’d done it sooner. But as I looked further down the paths that were open to me for bodily change, I felt a dissatisfaction that I couldn’t shake. Asking myself what kind of body I wanted, I realised I didn’t want to be a human man, or a human woman, or even something that was both or neither (though lacking visible sexual characteristics sounded nice).
I didn’t want to be a human anything at all.
Not in the sense of not wanting to exist. But in the sense of wanting, desiring features that weren’t human. The human face, with its flatness, its square, bovine front teeth, felt wrong. Flesh felt wrong, this exposed pink-beige wrinkly stuff. Feet, legs, stance: all wrong. Objectively, wasn’t just about anything more beautiful than a human? Even a chimpanzee had variety, its face contrasting flesh and fur, tan and black, light and dark. The human body was utterly bland, boring. Couldn’t I be colourful? And what was with this unwieldy walking-upright thing?
Some of you might be thinking that the fandom had conditioned me to feel this way, that a diet of too much furry erotica had hijacked my natural appreciation for humanity. In truth, I was and am pretty much asexual, and I can look back throughout my whole life and see that even at an early age, these feelings were present. I always preferred animal toys over human ones, always rooted for the dragon or monster instead of the human protagonist. I loved dinosaurs, as many kids did, but I didn’t develop the obsession with facts and species names that marks most childrens’ love for dinos: instead I fixated on oddly specific things like whether the shape of their snouts felt “right” to me, by some strange internal compass that was apparently measuring these things. My fantasy worlds were never populated with humans, and when I found stories with entirely alien casts I jumped for joy, especially if they delved deep into the society and culture of those other species. I absorbed those cultures into my mental worlds and longed to make them my own. I longed, impossibly, for a social and bodily niche that didn’t exist: something not quite animal, something with a complex culture, but not human either.
Not to get too philosophical about the cause of this—I’m fairly agnostic on why I am this way, I only know that I am—but even now I’m still discovering little ways in which my early self-perceptions match the outside world. A few years back, on a recommendation, I picked up the book Raptor Red by paleontologist Robert T. Bakker: a fascinating exploration of his theories about dinosaurs, told from the (imaginary) perspective of a female Utahraptor. I had a breakthrough moment when I noticed the protagonist instinctively identified herself, and potential mates, by the colour of their snouts: Red Snouts like herself were viable mates, while Yellow Snouts were the outsiders. It reminded me exactly of the way that I did, and still do, categorise dinosaurs as looking “right” or “wrong” by their snout shapes. Even if written by an expert, Raptor Red is speculative fiction, but it’s an odd little coincidence.
We can argue proof and evidence all day and ultimately come to no satisfactory conclusion. The only hard fact I have is that this is my experience, and has been my experience since I was young.
No matter what I told myself, I was never quite able to shake it. I tried everything, from telling myself “this is ridiculous” (which of course never works) to fursuits, body paint, even running quadruped along the beach (“it’s the new exercise craze!”). I’ve listened to hypnosis recordings to try to conjure, even fleetingly, the feeling of being in a reptilian body. I’ve seriously considered body modification a la Stalking Cat, whose death touched me greatly: we never met, but he was one of the few people in furry who I felt would have truly understood where I was coming from. I’ve hoped, wished, dreamed and prayed, but in the end, nothing has brought me close to that state that I seek.
After 34 years, I’ve found the feeling comes and goes, and in better times I can accept that if I’m meant to transform, it probably won’t be in this lifetime. Right now I’m in the part of the story where the dragon lives as human for a while, and I’ve more or less made peace with that, though some part of me is still holding out for a virtual-reality miracle.
Still, as someone who is both transgender and, as I’ve occasionally referred to it in understanding company, transspecies, I can definitively say which bothers me more. There are a bunch of things I could change about this human body to make it more androgynous, but I don’t feel they’re worth the effort or expense. But give me the opportunity to become just a little more reptilian, and I’ll be looking for a place to sign before the words are out of your mouth.
I’m not “supposed” to say that. Ask a room full of furries what “TF” means and you’ll find at least one enthusiast; but for all that countless man-, woman-, tod- and vixen-hours have been devoted to portraying the moment when we finally slip off our human masks and become the creature we see inside, we rarely talk about it as a serious want or even need, at least for a minority in the fandom.
Perhaps it’s that masquerade again: just as a fish doesn’t notice the water it’s swimming in, maybe we’ve successfully immersed ourselves in the theatre of furry identity such that questioning it seems to break the magic. Of course I’m a dragon; of course she’s a fox. What else would we be? To probe too deeply into the meta-question of why we chose this is to remind ourselves of the very thing many of us, therian or not, are here to escape: the gap between who we are and who we want to be.
Perhaps it’s discomfort with what seems, to most rational-minded adults, to be a strange and frightening delusion. To not probe the masquerade is to not have to sit too deeply with the question the outside world often throws at us: isn’t there something unhealthy about choosing to spend so much of our time, money and social lives on the pretense that we’re animals? When faced with this question, we often retreat into our well-worn excuses. “It’s just a hobby”; “it’s just roleplaying”. But do those words really describe the extent to which, for many of us, this masquerade is our lives? Are we afraid of looking at the “extreme” cases of species identity because of what we fear they might say about us?
Perhaps we simply don’t think it’s worth it. To look to the professional world for a diagnosis of “species identity disorder”, per Gerbasi, would be sticking our heads above the parapet to be shot at by any number of trolls. For most people, the risks are too great, the possible rewards too remote. Even in the therian community, I seem to be in the minority when I say that my identity has caused me clinical levels of pain, that I’ve sought therapy for it on more than one occasion. If you’ve found comfortable ways to live with it, then why draw more attention to an already maligned group of people?
And of course it’s not just us we fear harming. People worry that talking about species longings as a genuine struggle for some might tar transgender people, by associating them and their struggles with “those crazy people who want to be animals”. As a trans person myself, I’ve gone back and forth on this a lot. I want to advocate for people with similar species feelings and hopefully, by talking about these experiences, make them feel less alone and that someone else is taking them seriously. And I can’t accept the conclusion that it harms people to talk about this, so we should never discuss it or study it. We may be few, but our feelings are still valid, and for some are lifelong. That shouldn’t just be discounted.
But I also understand that it’s not something that would be taken kindly if we were to go public with it. Although honestly I think few would listen—I don’t think the small subset of furries who could genuinely be said to suffer from “species identity disorder” is powerful enough to make anyone pay attention to us, let alone harm the much larger cause of transgender rights—I know that relating the trans rights movement, and the countless lives that have been lost or shortened in the continued fight for equality, to something that seems so flippant makes people wince. And of course I don’t mean to claim that as a group, we are in need of political protection.
My point is simply that, at least for a handful, it isn’t flippant. I know that can be hard to take at face value, but I’d like you to try. I’d like you to try to understand that when I sat for hours at that college computer, hanging on every word of Reitz’s story of transformation, I wasn’t mocking anyone or playing a game. I didn’t even know what I was feeling at first, why the realisation that maybe I too was trans felt incomplete, not like the life-affirming victory I had expected. I didn’t start going online, all those years ago, with the expectation that I’d ever find anyone like myself. And certainly, I’ve found few, even among furries. But we do exist, and now I know I’m not alone in these bizarre thoughts and feelings.
So, yes, my gender is “scaly”. Because the boxes “male”, “female” and “other” don’t mean that much to me, but this one does. Because the desire to be this has always been with me and always will be, no matter how silly it seems. Because it’s what I would transition to, if I could.
Gender: Furry was originally commissioned for and published in Furries Among Us II, released by Thurston Howl Publications. You can purchase Furries Among Us II here. Do pick it up to read this and other essays by fascinating by some of furry’s finest minds. The anthology has been nominated for Best Non-fiction Work in the Ursa Major Awards! You may vote for this and other wonderful furry works here.
Many people, I suspect, use the idiom, “hindsight is twenty-twenty,” in a way that is better served by other, more appropriate words or phrases. The sense in which I hear it most commonly used is perhaps more adequately covered by the beautiful portmanteau, “regretrospect”. That is, now that things are said and done, I regret a lot of what happened during this adventure.
Also, it’s my second favorite portmanteau after “congratudolences” and really ought to see wider use.
No, I think “hindsight is twenty-twenty” is better reserved for cases when seemingly unrelated occurrences come together to form an outcome that seems to be greater than the sum of the parts. It fits best when you look back at your life and see disparate, unconnected events come together to make the situation you find yourself in now.
I came out to myself and my (at the time) fiancé as transgender over a process of several months. It began sometime in 2010 or so, when I started to feel like I was able to put words to the things that were making me feel bad. I began by identifying as genderqueer, and although that label still fits very well, I adopted ‘transgender’ in 2015 as the one that I use in day-to-day life to describe myself, as it leaves the fewest questions as to why I’m a six-foot-two rectangular man-shape in feminine clothing and makeup.
But we’re talking about hindsight, so it’s worth bringing up that one of the only things I ever stole was the book “The Boy Who Thought He Was A Girl”, back in second grade. I’m guessing at the title here, as I can find no record of it through casual Googling, however, I remember that it was a trashy, essentialist book about a boy who wanted to learn how to kiss, which somehow made him girly and, thus, confused about whether he should actually be a girl. Of course, in the end, his understanding of his gender role as a boy were firmly straightened out by strict-yet-loving family.
Or perhaps another step in this path of hindsight was sneaking into my step-mom’s spare room when I was about twelve and trying on one of her old dresses. At that point, I had yet to become the lummox that would be my post-pubertal destiny, and so the dress fit, albeit poorly.
Or, hey, skip ahead to 2006, when I had just turned twenty and realized that it felt just as good to role-play online as a vixen as it did as a tod, though I told myself at the time that it was because I wanted to experience more relationship configurations than the male homosexual relationships I’d had to that point.
Each of these things, and so many more, felt like an independent, unconnected occurrence to me. It’s only in hindsight that I can see that there were aspects of me straining towards some way to feel happy and comfortable. When I was growing up, they were simple oddities, but now just another way to see the present more clearly.
I think that it’s fairly common that one comes to terms with a portion of one’s identity in this fashion. Before I came out as trans and made the question of sexual orientation at least twice as complicated, I went through the process of figuring out that, despite being born male, I was also attracted to other boys as well as girls. Those ‘crushes’ in elementary school make more sense, and so on.
There had to be some lever that pushed each of those instances from a collection of loosely related occurrences into the formation of a strong facet of my own identity. With orientation, it was obviously the rush of hormones that came with puberty: all of the sudden, ‘liking boys’ took on a new tenor.
With gender, it was almost entirely the furry subculture’s fault.
I found furry at the age of fourteen or so through the website Yerf!, and later through a FurCode generator. At the time, though gender was quite confusing for me when viewed in hindsight, I identified as a cis gay male. Furry, then, was a welcome haven from home life, where it was cool to be a teenage fox boy thinking about dating other teenage fox boys.
As I grew up and continued in my development as a person, filling in bits of my concept of self as one fills in gaps in a puzzle when the pieces are found, furry helped yet again in providing a framework in exploration and comfort.Gender expression of the author’s character as portrayed in visual commissions over the years.
The figure above shows the ways in which the sex of my characters in art that I commissioned changed over time. On the Y axis, you can see the genders expressed in the commissions, and on the x, the date of the commission. There’s a very clear trend from male to genderless, then from genderless to female over time, then from female (as an idealized form of myself) to a specifically trans fox (as I started to get comfortable with my identity as a transgender person). I’m not alone in this progression, either, as many have found the utility in having a mostly safe space in which role-play is common and accepted behavior in which to explore various aspects of their identity.
There’s a very good reason for this, too, but first, lets hear from other critters using furry as a lens to help in the explorations of their gender.
When I think of Indi, I think of the colorful coyote/otter (read ‘coyotter’, or simply ‘yotter’) that I’ve gotten to know fairly well over the past few years. When I met ver for the first real time, it was at a room party at a convention, where we were tasting various types of mead. I can’t remember if ve had made vis way to the room party from my invitation or at the behest of our mutual friend, Tealfox. Either way, I was glad to have the chance to meet up.
Over the years, I would find myself catching up with ver again and again. At cons, sure, but also at vis house with vis owner Elanna, where I stayed for a few days in order to experience the delight that is Bandaza, a yearly celebration occurring near the end of November, which involves what must been the greatest concentration of postfurries I’ve ever seen.
As is perhaps evident from vis pronouns, Indi’s identity falls somewhere outside the realm of ‘male’ or ‘female’. Ve describes verself as neutrois transgender, as having a sense of gender that’s neither masculine nor feminine nor a combination of the two. This carries over into vis online representation; ve isn’t simply a coyotter, but a synthetic one, often plush. After all, while plush toys and other synthetic beings may have a semblance of sexual characteristics, it’s easy to imagine them not having an internal sense of identity along binary gender lines.
Ve describes verself as having medically transitioned in order to deal with the body dysphoria (unhappiness with one’s form or self) that is part and parcel of being transgender. This helps ver, along with finding modes of presentation to avoid social dysphoria, to exist in a concordant way with the world around ver.
In Indi’s words, “Furry helped a lot by being a place where the answers to basic questions of identity (species, gender) are almost always fill-in-the-blank.” Some of the best things that furry has to offer is that these things which mean the most to someone working on their own identity are taken at their word. For example, from the point of view of an FtM person — someone transitioning from female to male — to say, “This is what I am, and that’s all that you need to know,” is huge. The validation that one gains for being taken as and interacted with as what they say they are is no small thing.
Indi writes, “At its best, furry treats identity as consensual and fluid; you are what you say you are, and what you say you are may change and evolve in the future, temporarily or permanently.”
Although there are many ways in which this can take place, the act of creating one’s own character, the means by which they interact with the rest of the subculture, is something that furry excels at. “Anthropomorphic forms also provide a rich toolkit of options for bodily self-expression,” writes Indi, “With countless species, real and imaginary, and a mix-and-match approach to species signifiers and primary/secondary sexual characteristics. All this allowed me to keep tweaking, trying different ways of being me until I found the one that felt the most comfortable and accurate.”
That said, furry isn’t the haven it might seem to be for someone exploring something as complex as gender.
Indi explains: “In furry chat venues, a common expectation is that sex will happen or at least be discussed, which means many choices about presentation and identity are interpreted in sexual terms.” It’s easy to see the ways in which this could interact with gender, given the complex interactions between sexuality and gender. “The “what do you have in your pants” question, the archetypal inappropriate question for trans folks, is almost always on the table.”
This goes doubly so for non-binary genders. For those who present in a way way that lands somewhere between male and female, or outside that spectrum entirely, the issue of attraction and sex can become troubled, as Indi notes, “Further, presentations that seem difficult to interact with sexually, like those that de-emphasize both masculinity and femininity, will generally be given the side-eye or pointedly ignored.”
I met Lumi, on the other hand, shortly before writing this piece when someone retweeted one of her posts. She had lined up drawings of her character over the years, with short explanations, and it was easy to see a similar trend as outlined in my own graph above: her character started male, then began to shift more feminine through a process of experimentation towards the female character she is drawn as to this day, in alignment with her female identity.
“Prior to coming out as female, I talked to some friends about it,” she says. “I struggled a lot with the identity, even after coming out to friends, and then to everyone online. I considered myself non-binary for a while and went by they/them pronouns. This is because I don’t experience much gender dysphoria so I didn’t feel “Trans Enough” to consider myself female.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many as they work their way through figuring out their identity. Non-binary identities are, of course, just as valid as binary identities, and for many, the ‘end goal’ is neither masculine nor feminine, as evidenced by Indi’s journey, while for others, they’re a step on the path. No states of identity can be said to be purely transitional, and none can be said to be purely final.
For Lumi, the non-binary portion of her journey happened to be transitional. “Finally, I settled on female but it still took me a while to “settle in” to being this gender. Since I can remember, people online have always assumed I was a girl anyways. Most people don’t even know I’m trans, since I hardly ever mention it. They just assume I’m a rad cis girl.”
“I feel like a fursona is a reflection of yourself. I don’t believe that my fursona is me, but rather she is like someone I aspire to be,” Lumi writes, referring to the ways in which furry helped in solidifying identity. “Since she’s a fictional character, it’s always been easy to experiment with her and my gender identity was part of that experimentation. She has always had the ability to shape-shift and I always found myself drawing her as a girl even when she wasn’t.”
On a hunch that these sentiments go far beyond just that small sector of furry, I started a small, informal poll on twitter, and got inundated with responses. The poll itself was simple:
Tell me about how furry helped you with figuring out your gender identity!
— Tweet from @drab_makyo on July 6, 2016
The responses were overwhelmingly positive, though some had a few caveats. Many said that the opportunity to create a character as an ideal form of themself offered them the possibility to find a way to be more true to more aspects of their identity than they might have had in the first place. Furry, it seems, provides a constructive and creative place in order to explore.
You’ll note, however, that I didn’t say ‘safe place’ above. Many of the caveats to furry being a good place to explore gender surround the fact that, in a lot of ways, many furries who identify as trans or non-binary (as well as intersex folks) feel fetishized more often than not. Gender, as we well know, goes far beyond just the interactions of genitalia.
Another caveat that I heard was that, although the subculture provided a healthy means to begin exploring gender, many felt that the thing that helped them mature in their identity was seeing representation outside of the fandom, as well. This was especially true for some of the non-binary folks that I got the chance to talk with. Some mentioned that their exploration ceased at the point where they created a character for themselves to match their perceived identity and went no further without some external representation.
There’s much more that I can say on the matter of why furry might be good for exploration, and I will shortly, but first, there is far more data available than just a single twitter poll! After all, as Executive Data Vix for [adjective][species], it’s my job to administer the Furry Poll, the fandom’s largest market survey, and then to go for deep dives into that giant pool of data.
To that end, I started pulling some numbers from the 2016 Furry Poll. There were 3194 total responses to look at which were relevant to our topic at hand. Here are the questions that we asked:
- What is your age in years?
- What best describes your gender identity?
- Masculine or mostly masculine
- Feminine or mostly feminine
- Other (NB: there were a series of options, including a write-in option, which, for our purposes, have been boiled down to an ‘other’ category.)
- Does your gender identity now align with your sex as assigned at birth?
- Yes (I am cisgender)
- No (I am not cisgender)
- It’s complicated (exactly what it says on the tin)
What all did we get? Well, nothing too surprising, and let me explain why.
The ideas that we hold to be true without proof comprise our doxa. That is, the things we assume to be true, or to be the case without needing to have anything backing those assumptions up. When one looks around the furry fandom at time of writing, one is likely to find a subculture made up mostly of those presenting masculine.Gender identity of respondents in the 2016 Furry Poll.
To that, the survey offers only confirmation. A bit more than 75% of the respondents — certainly a supermajority — responded that their gender identity was masculine or mostly masculine. Although one’s expression or presentation used as a predictor has its flaws, a glance around the average convention space bears truth to this claim: we can mark that down as one point for our doxa reading things correctly.Gender alignment of respondents in the 2016 Furry.
Now, how about we look at gender alignment; that is, let’s take a look at the breakdown of how folks’ gender identity aligns with their sex as assigned at birth. For example, a trans man who was assigned female at birth but identifies as a man now, would be someone who would fall under the umbrella term of ‘transgender’, while a man who was assigned male at birth would fall under the term ‘cisgender’. Additionally, for the sake of completeness, the survey also offered the choice for the respondent to answer that the answer was more complicated than these two choices would allow (we did not ask for further details, and had we, we would not, of course, be able to share them while preserving anonymity).
The most noticeable part of this, on the surface, is that one sees a great deal more trans-feminine (those who identify as feminine and yet whose sex as assigned at birth does not match with their identity, in this instance) than trans-masculine folks. It’s understandable that the “other” category, small as it is, contain a more even distribution, but given the uneven distribution in reported gender identities, it makes it all the more striking that there are so many trans-feminine respondents.
This is, perhaps, a shadow cast by society at large, making it more enticing for a trans-feminine person to seek refuge in a welcome subculture. For someone assigned feminine at birth to be into stereotypical masculine behavior is not a big deal. We even have a word for that: tomboy. It’s value-neutral in many circles, and downright positive in some. But for someone assigned masculine at birth to behave feminine, well, there’s a word for that, too: sissy. A welcoming environment for someone to explore along those lines — from masculine to feminine — is, therefore, not so difficult to foresee. It’s also why the demographics of those interviewed for this piece fall more along these lines. It has little to do with minimizing the transmasculine experience, and quite a bit to do with the demographics involved.
There is a certain peril to dating not one, but two wordy, genderful critters, and being married to a cisgender gay man who has stayed with me through my own transition (who, for his part, mentioned that the benefit of furry was that it exposed transgender identities to him as something more than what you’d hear from the news, adding to the personhood involved). When I began this project, not only did I have plenty of story to tell, for myself, but both partners leapt at the chance to help, whether it be through interviewing or through beta reading the final piece.
Forneus and I met over Twitter back in 2011 through a mutual acquaintance, and bonded during an impromptu metal concert in one of the elevators at Further Confusion in 2012. It was loud, there were cats, I stuffed my fursuit paw in someone’s mouth by accident. Good times.
Forneus has been with me through most of the time I’ve been consciously exploring gender. They sat and listened to me complain about the lack of non-binary representation, the problems inherent in getting the requisites met for starting hormone replacement therapy, and the whole process of coming out at work.
At the same time, I was there much of their own journey. While I’ve landed somewhere on the feminine side of neutral, they have been experiencing things differently: “I’d say I’m somewhere in genderqueer land, leaning feminine. What that means for me: I’m mostly fine with the body I was born with, but my presentation is a lot more “stereotypically” feminine based on modern American stereotypes.”
I had the chance to ask them if they felt comfortable expressing their identity both within and outside of furry. “Yeah, for a few reasons,” they said. “The consequences that directly impact me are a lot less likely to be problems. I’m not going to lose my job or an opportunity at a job, I’m not going to have to work with the random troll every day, et cetera. It’s a lot easier to disengage, I guess, as long as I keep myself honest on it.”
“Everyone’s already primed to the concept of an ideal self,” they continued. “Even straight cis[gender] furries, so “my ideal self is me, but with different bits” feels really easy to explain most of the time. [Even] from within the broader trans community, there’s definitely a tendency to feel like I’m not “trans enough””
Outside of furry, though, things were less comfortable. ““If I show up to this interview in a dress, it’ll raise questions” is something I had to deal with a lot during my last job search, for example.” The world at large rarely cares about our ideal selves, and often makes sweeping judgements based on presentation. “I’m not convinced that HRT would be right, so I’m not doing it,” they mention. “The “next step” is coming out at work. I don’t currently feel capable of doing that.”
Lexy, my other partner, expressed similar thoughts. While furry, “helped by having open and kind people to talk with, and to explore gender identity with,” life outside of furry offered much more in the way of obstacles. She hasn’t been able to take many steps yet largely due to family issues, and has described her path as, “Working towards finding a safe environment to transition. I currently feel fairly uncomfortable due to not being able to transition, but overall I feel like furry has helped a lot in feeling more comfortable with myself.”
So is furry a net win, over all, for furries? “Yeah, for sure,” says Forneus. “It’s definitely helped me figure out my own sexuality, if nothing else, and I know a lot of cool trans furries. So that’s pretty helpful too, having good friends with both a shared interest and a nominally-similar life history.”
Lumi agrees: “I’m very comfortable with my identity, and I feel it fits me very well. I almost fell game to the idea of “Well you have to be really girly to be a girl,” but now I’m more like a tomboy girl. Yeah, sometimes I might be rude and I’m not into dresses and makeup, but at the end of the day, I am one cool chick.”
Indi sums things up nicely, saying, “Even three years ago I never would have believed I would be able to go this far, to feel like I’ve almost entirely managed to express myself as the human-AU version of a glowy swishy neutral-gendered rave critter. It hasn’t always been easy, and there’s still a lot that could be done to make it smoother, but I think I’m in a good place. There’s always ways to improve, always new things I think I can try, but each move seems to be smaller than the last, and I’m far more comfortable with myself than I ever could have imagined I’d be when I started trying.”
Given the stories of those exploring and expressing gender and identity through the framework of furry, the obvious next question that needs to be asked is “why?”
Naturally, these sorts of things are not answered by any simple quip, nor even a single article like this. That said, there are some things that we can point to that might help explain just why the furry subculture plays as big a role as it does in the formation of its members’ identities, gender and otherwise.
There are a pair of twinned concepts within the realm of psychology that have been applied to this topic in particular. Aaron Devor, a sociologist and dean of graduate studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, described them most succinctly in their paper, “Witnessing and Mirroring: A Fourteen Stage Model of Transsexual Identity Formation.”
The stages themselves are interesting, of course. They describe the path that a trans person might take as they work through the process of coming out, transitioning, and so on. I’m not going to list them here, to save on ink — the paper is free, easy to find legally online, and worth a read on its own. However, I’d like to talk about the twinned concepts mentioned in the title, as they play a much more integral role when it comes to figuring out why furry might be a good place for so many to explore identity.
Witnessing is the idea that we gain something in the way of validation by having others see us as we see ourselves. For someone who is solidifying the image of themselves as they feel others ought to see it, to have someone outside themselves perceive them along those lines is incredibly validating. For trans women to called ma’am, or trans men to be able to use the men’s room, or for non-binary folks to be referred to by their proper pronouns…all of these things are a form of witnessing, and help to reinforce the individual’s sense that they are doing what is best for their life.
To go along with that, mirroring is the idea that we gain validation by way of seeing others who are like us. For folks in the early stages of transitioning, this comes both in the form of seeing other folks in the early stages — the “I can do it too” effect — as well as folks later on in the process — the “See, it can be done” effect. When we see something of ourselves reflected in others, it adds a bit of realism to something that might have once only been a fantasy.
Within my circle of friends, we talk of the ‘gender cascade’. Someone in our lives will come out and start exploring their own gender more openly, and we’ll think to ourselves, “Oh, hm. If they can do it, so can I!” or perhaps, “Goodness, now that I’m confronted with this, I’m starting to question my own identity”. For me, although there were several such people, the one I think of most immediately is Indi; watching vis explorations within the realm of gender is what got me to think seriously about all of my own internal struggle about gender identity. Ve, in turn, had vis own influences, stretching all the way back into the distant past, each of whom influenced others, creating a cascading flowchart of gender.
This goes far beyond just our little in-group. Folks have often talked about the cascade, perhaps using terms such as ‘transplosion’, or one news source’s amusing choice of ‘transgender mania’. In both cases — either constrained by the constituents of a subculture or relatively unrestricted and part of society at large — those who are questioning their gender, or even those who are certain but unsure of beginning transition, can gain validation through witnessing and mirroring. That is, they can allow themselves to be seen as they are in safe contexts and see others who are like themselves in order to gain the confidence to move forward.
Furry provides fertile soil for this sort of thing due in large part to the fact that we explicitly design the image that others think of when they think of us, through the formation of our personal characters, avatars, or fursonas, however you want to think of it.
If you flip back to the graph of the sex of my characters that were represented in commissioned furry art, you can see a very definite shift away from male. At first, I shifted from masculine to explicitly genderless, because my assigned identity had become so painful to me that my instinct was to escape. From there, as I gained confidence and with validation from others, I started to incorporate more and more feminine aspects into my characters.
Your character is an unspoken-yet-explicit way for a fur to say, “This is how I ought to be seen.” For trans folk, it provides a useful tool in terms of exploring gender identity: although mirroring becomes mudding in many circumstances (for those role-playing as a different gender, being outed as such isn’t exactly desirable), it sure as hell makes witnessing easier. I became a fox girl on the internet long before I got the letter that allowed me to start hormone replacement therapy.
There’s a conclusion that I draw from all of this, though it took me some time to connect the dots, pull it up, draw it all together, and many other metaphors.
When I started associating with animal people on the internet, I did so as a fragile teen who could barely admit that sex was a thing that existed, much less as a being with a sexual orientation, never mind one that might not be straight, or even sexually active. Meeting and interacting with sexual, non-straight, and happy folk helped change that over the process of a few years, and a few halting relationships.
Fast-forward a few years, and there I was: a mid-twenties person in the middle of an identity crisis. What was I? Was I nothing? Sex was a panic-riddled minefield of unmet expectations and awkward feelings of being built wrong. Was a I woman, with my my dreams of motherhood-but-not-fatherhood? Was I something in between, with the fact that womanhood discomfited me in a different way than manhood?
Here, unlike with my orientation, I had enough experience to both look around me and see those going through something similar, as well as to take a step to be seen as who I felt that I might be. I started out haltingly, and went down a few wrong paths (looking at you, plush phase; love me some plushies, but it’s not me), but I found myself a niche. It came in the form of a description and a few megabytes of graphical data culled from the minds and tablets of some artistically minded and decidedly amazing friends. It led to me confronting my therapist one day and saying, “Hey, can you write me a hormone letter?”
Fast forward another year or two, and where am I?
I’m putting together the pieces of the fact that this isn’t a uniquely trans thing, though this is an article on the intersection between gender and furry. Neither is it a uniquely sexual thing, though the intersection between sex and furry is worth an article of its own. It’s something one layer up. It’s membership in a community that provides a mechanism and a place for these discoveries to take place.
Is it a uniquely furry thing? Almost certainly not. There are many different subcultures out there that follow the same pattern. The My Little Pony fandom is a wonderful example, providing a similar outlet to those who claim membership. However, there’s no doubt that furry played a rather large role in identity for me, just as it did for so many other folks. There’s just so much to be said for the fact that we build the avatars that we use to interact with others here, beyond even what many other subcultures do.
Without furry, I might just as well have come out as gay, then neutrois, then genderqueer, then trans, then all of those other wonderful labels. But would I have felt safe doing so? Would I have gotten all of the validation that I needed to feel healthy doing so? Would I have come away with countless other brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings in whom I could confide, admire, and rejoice?
I don’t know. There’s a lot to account for. My life has treated me well, in all, and I feel privileged to have lived it. That said, I’m not convinced that there would be an outlet that would have provided such for me.
Would there be one, outside of furry? I rather think not.
Welcome to The Third [adjective][species] Poetry Collection! Each year, for the past few years, we have collected some poetry from those within the fandom centered around a loose theme. This year’s theme was **comunity and belonging**. Below are the submissions we received in no particular order (other than the fact that the first made Makyo cry on the plane).
The furry subculture is full of unbelievable talent, and it is our pleasure to showcase poetry from those who make up the fandom.“Quigley Napoleon Underfoot” by Jazmine Bellamy
That little wet nose with the short legs & the crooked tail didn’t know
How broken the family he was becoming a part of was
All he knew was he was leaving yet another place behind
Another car ride to another place
Old Maggie finally had the chance & sat on him
Big Red & Bigger Jed were thrilled to see him go
He noticed off the bat
Just how quiet & sad his new mommy was
How much his new daddy didn’t seem to care
Past saying that getting him was a mistake
A year or many dog years later
He was back in that house they’d picked him up from
Big Red wasn’t there anymore
Old Maggie was older still
But a new friend was exciting
His new sister Grace
His mommy loved on them both so much
She was still sad
Some days more than others
But they all sat in the sun in the yard for hours
The years rolled by
Mommy was up and down and all around
Mommy was gone
A whole week gone she was
Daddy and his other girly stayed though
When mommy came home she was still scared but not as sad it seemed
Suddenly they were packing again
Everything in boxes and garbage bags
A new bed
Just the three of them
Yet the family wasn’t broken anymore
He was starting to feel old
As the years slowly shuffled past
Mommy brought home someone new
Patient & calm & kind
Who rubbed his ears just right
Scratched his back so good
His new daddy loved all of them
The family grew again
New daddy bought them all a bigger bed
But he still wanted to sleep right between them at night
This was the forever family he signed up for
When he left that foster home way back when.
Sometimes people can only see
myself as a monstrosity
They spare no thought nor sympathy
no quarter given unto me
in spite of all this tragedy
that I have found a family!
Inside of the menagerie
They accept all identities
Genders and sexualities
with the words of simply be
Beauty paired with simplicity
of implicit animality
a strike against the world’s cruelty
Have I found such camaraderie
And this is where I becomes we.
So come join me and he and she,
Lots of room in this gallery
So with a kind heart and some glee
Welcome to our community.
Color Fur Power is
The power in the fibers
And those fibers come together.
In our superfurry bodies,
Our paws, arms, and faces.
Put on your head!
Yeah, put on your head!
Join our dancing mass of colors
In more than a parade,
More than a masquerade.
‘Cuz this time it’s for real.
Color Fur Power
Is our fierce furful love,
Our fierce furful hope,
Our fierce furful joy
Will shake the earth.
We shake the earth.
Until a stubborn monument falls,
And an ancient flag of black and white and red
We write for justice,
Speak for freedom.
For the fur family.
To dance around the flagpole
And the stubborn monument
And sing a freedom song.
We shake the earth.
With the blessing of the Sun,
And the blessing of the Moon,
Color Fur Power flows within us
Color Fur Power flows from us.
And the stubborn monument gives way.
The flagpole falls and the flag
Of black and white and red tears loose.
On to the ashes
This is our community
It belongs to you and me
We can make this place great
If we can just stomp out hate.
Cannot block this silent roar
The Poisoned hounds have taken root.
But we can heal this open sore.
If we can give them all the boot
Is not the time to tolerate
Nor is the time to anticipate
Now’s the time to stand and act
That’s not opinion that is fact
So Fuzzed friends and family
Which side is it gonna be?
As she watched the imperfect v’s overhead
This time headed south
“They should just find a place and be happy”
She shook her wooly head and lowered it
Back to the hay left out by the farmer
“My own sisters and I enjoy all that is here”
She mused as the shepherd dog lazed nearby
Eyeing all of his flock peaceful on the ground
“Even the Collie is one of us anymore”
She munched happily at the realization
Sure he wouldn’t appreciate it as much but still be amused
We stand tall on
those that came before.
Refining our flaws
Carried to these shores
Breaking down these
Zoo walls bars and cages.
Reaching up to the stars
We be thoughtful sages.
Learn from our history
and one another
These animals we be
Are welcome as brother
And march on from
the dark of our past
Beasts who have learned
To make all this Last
Us Animals be
I’m glad to be here
With you and with me.
Continue with me,
In our diversity.
The surface of the water breaks
A spray of droplets
Followed by happy chuffing
Spirals and rolls
The chill of the underwater world barely noticed
Elegant and free at the same time
Clown princesses and princes of their aquatic realms
But that beautiful dance
Oh to be able to move like they do
Dancing in beams of light that break between the currents
Precious moments of ephemeral grace
This place called fandom
is where I have found me
Yeah this place called fandom
is where I found me.
It gave me a place to explore
and room to be free
It’s such a wild place to be
friends encourage growth and change
Such a wild place to be
my friends help me grow and change
With radical inclusive love
The world we will rearrange
I am glad that I am here
with all expression to just be.
Oh so glad that I am here
And free to express all that be.
I am grateful that you are here,
We together make furry.
The winds awaken from their dead sleep,
on one of those nights around midnight or so.
It’s right about that time of night,
that I find myself wandering alone.
“You’d think by now I’d have learned to cope,”
I sigh to nobody passing by,
as I pull my coat in closer,
cuddling a ghost with all my might.
I remember saying something like
“You are the only one who understands me,”
but the gentle breeze upon my face
is my only hope for a reply.
Eventually, when my pilgrimage
has laid time to rest
and my skin feels just a bit too tight,
I come across wherever I was headed all this time:
this desolate freeway overpass
between the suburbs and the forest,
where balls of light dart
towards the endless darkness.
Then, I felt the wind pick up
and force me against the railing,
like the world had stopped moving
but the air continued past.
The trees bowed, the clouds scattered,
a golden moon blazed down from a clear sky,
and somewhere deep down inside,
something was aching to come out.
I cover my mouth as I stumble into the road
struggling to steady myself
watching the world roll around inside my head.
what on earth had come over me?
As the wind begins to clear
and the world shifts back into place,
I start to hear a familiar sound
coming somewhere from the town.
It started slow, a faint murmur
from the depths of the earth, rising
up to the rooftops, past the trees
into the swirling sky
From all over the city, the choir sings,
surrounding me with their music.
A howl—a million howls
ringing out through the sky;
and I with my silence,
begging to be released,
and the last of my will
floating away in the night…
So I did the only thing
I could ever do:
I let myself howl
and cared not who or what heard.
I have found them.
They have found me.
I was once called to serve among you
Proud as a lion I stood.
Tried to hear complaints all through,
Trying so hard to be good.
But yet like many I’ve stumbled
in fear I made a call
From that I didn’t fumble,
What I did was fall.
Felt like I was a broken cat
to far gone to redeem,
You all told me it’s not like that
That it wasn’t what it seems
I now still walk among you
As we are all friends true.
There’s some duality between sources of meaning,
Between the types of stories we use to back identity.
It’s not quite good & bad or light & dark,
Though I’m not yet sure just how to define it.
Dad used to punish the dogs
by locking then in the basement.
If he was really mad,
he’d toss then down there by the scruff.
Mom moved me & her dogs to a new house —
moved us three days early during the divorce.
Her dog punched my ex stepdad in the crotch the night before,
the nut-shot to end all nut-shots, & our time there.
Few things make me feel as deeply about life as parenthood,
even if it’s just me caring for my dogs.
Some reminders of that are intense enough to be raw, painful,
salt in the wounds of mortality, maybe, or the ache of maternal love.
The meaning behind the story of me & my dogs
comes with a story of its own, or maybe several.
It’s bound up in stories to come,
& these stories nest infinitely deep.
Remembering that & shaping that,
It’s a part of making the meaning in my life.
This isn’t better against worse,
it’s not mom against dad.
It’s not a dichotomy at all, really,
now that I think about it.
It’s something subtler, comfortably complex, a topic of its own.
I guess it’s just meaning & self.
Birds of a feather
all chant together
cats in our clowders
come on now get louder
you ferrets in business
Ya’ll already got this
Dogs in your packs
we’ve all got your backs
Through this diversity
we all achieve unity
Join us and come in
There’s warmth here within.
You’ll have to forgive your self-indulgent author, today. Every year, around this time, I get very maudlin. Part of it is the big change in my life around work that happened a while back, part of it is that lasting sense of “this is when the school year begins”, and part of it is grief.
In my Kaddish article these many years ago, I talk about the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer said after the death of one’s parents. It’s spoken daily for eleven months, and then yearly on the anniversary of the death. It’s said in order to ease the burden of grief over time so that it does not remain an overwhelming force in life.
Would that I had the faith to let go. Still, no harm in trying.
So, in that vein, on this anniversary, yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…
Five years ago, on September 6th, a friend of mine passed away.
I’d not really had all that much exposure to death before that, if I’m honest. My step-adoptive-grandfather died when I was fairly young, and all I really remember out of that was the funeral, and inheriting a small medal he’d won from Colorado State University, something about soil science and geology. After that, I had dream after dream about what winning that medal must’ve been like, walking through some grand oaken hall to receive a pewter medal on a velvet pillow. That I later attended CSU, and that CSU had no oaken halls as in my dreams, always left me vaguely disappointed.
Other than that, my brush with mortality was limited to my grandmother, who passed some time later. The unfortunate part of her passing was that, for years before, she had been deep in a mire of dementia that left her a pallid shadow of her former self. From her, I remember that a lot of our final interactions were beset by confusion, frustration, and tears. “You’re [my mom]’s son, right?” she asked in the airport. She repeated the question seven or eight times, being sure, each time, to comfort herself that the person pushing her wheelchair was someone known to her.
My mom and I had flown out to see her as she got settled into a final stage of her life in Charlotte, North Carolina. My mom flew out to see her one more time before she died, but, after a long talk, it was decided that I would stay home. “I can’t handle it. I can’t be in that role again,” I pleaded, and my mom let me stay with my dad while she flew out of town.
Margaras died in an automobile accident on the base on which he was stationed. We, the group of friends that had congregated on FurryMUCK since long before I’d first appeared on the scene in 2001, learned about this from a close friend of his five years ago today, as I write this on September 12th. The friend slipped quietly into the room, confirmed that Margs had been a regular there, passed along the news through an article, and then slipped just as quietly from the room.
We all sat basically dumbfounded.
The news came the day before I was scheduled to fly to Canada, to Montreal. I had just started my job at Canonical the week before along with another coworker, and the team had decided that the best way to onboard us new folk was to schedule a week of us working together with a few previously defined goals.
My attention was divided that whole week. It was only my second week at work, and yet I felt as though I was dealing with a death in the family. I think all of us there on FM were going through something similar, to some extent or another. Some rejoiced in memories, some were crushed. I felt torn – Margs had been there as I was growing up. All through high school, through college, and into my first job.
Most of all, I remembered all of the times, upon performing “I’ve got a gal in Kalamazoo” during my senior year of high school, that I sang to him about “knowing a lynx in Kalamazoo”, where he’d lived. I couldn’t get that silly song out of my head for days after learning of his passing. He grumbled every time I quoted that to him, too – he was always a grouchy lynx.
He didn’t even live in Michigan anymore. Hadn’t in years.
I made it through the week okay. I think all of us found our ways to cope, and for me, that was in solidarity. I left myself logged in to FurryMUCK in a terminal on my laptop even as I worked, peeking back every now and then to see little tendrils of normalcy creeping back into the lives of those impacted by the loss. When I went to sleep, I left myself logged in so that I could wake up to a few hours of chatter before I had been disconnected for inactivity.
Me and a few others, some of whom also grew up knowing the grouchy lynx, still remember those days with a sort of clarity that eludes other, seemingly important moments in life. Every year, a few waves of memory wash through my days, carrying along bits of detritus. Memories of my first few days at Canonical, falling in love all over again with people, leaving a screen session running with the MUCK connected to wake up to.
When our lynx friend passed five years ago, I was left wondering what he’d say to me. I think this is a fairly common thought among those who have lost someone close to them. “Would I be making them proud?” “Would they tell me off for the bad decisions that I’ve made?” “Did they leave this world having a good impression of me?”
If Margaras were alive today, what would he say to me? When he left, I was just on my way out of a bout of self destruction – would he be proud that I had pulled through that, and several others in the intervening years? When he left, I was still figuring out some very basic aspects of myself: my gender identity and the whole open relationship thing – would he understand all of my halting forays into these territories, the backtracking and endless refining? Would that all become part of the story that we’d laugh about after the fact? Would we still laugh about knowing a lynx in Kalamazoo? What words of ours would we remember best?
I’ll never know, obviously.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot, this time around the sun. What words did we share that made it so that I felt so strongly about his passing? We never met in person, so words were about all we had between us, maybe the occasional *hug* or something to go with it it, but other than that, we were friends through the letters that showed up on each other’s screens.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is very much the norm within furry. I found myself thinking about the sheer number of people that I know primarily, or even only through words. Words that we have the chance to edit, words that we pick carefully. This is the face we present to each other, more than just a drawing or two of our character. Its relatively rare, in fact, that the image is what we know, more than the words: I can think of only a handful of examples of people that I know primarily through their likeness rather than through their words, and in almost every case, I am totally unknown to them – it’s a purely unidirectional relationship.
Our words, though, is how we truly know each other. It’s one of those things that sounds stupidly obvious when set down plainly like that, but all the same, I’ve been spending some time going over my words and thinking, “Who is it that the people around me know? Am I being earnest, am I constructing an artificial personality, or is it a bit of both?”
I know that I’ve said some stupid things in my life, and there is a part of me that regrets saying them. I’ve yelled when I shouldn’t have, and I’ve not spoken up enough when I should have. I’ve wound up in relationships and friendships that weren’t very healthy for me or for the other person, and I’ve left relationships that were truly good for me for reasons I still don’t understand to this day. I regret them, yes, but I can’t help but ask myself what I would be without them? Would I have matured into someone I would like to be friends with? Would I have matured at all, if I hadn’t, at some points in my life, done the wrong thing and actually made that mistake, felt the hot flush of shame?
Brené Brown talks about much of this in her 2012 talk at TED. She describes having a “vulnerability hangover” after admitting to a large audience that she had a breakdown, and goes on to describe the fact that vulnerability is essential to our lives. I think it’s fairly obvious that I agree, given the tone of this article.
More than that, however, Brown talks about how important it is that we have a conversation about shame. “Shame”, she says, “is not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.””
There are things that I am ashamed about with my friendship with Margaras. I didn’t talk to him enough, foremost. I didn’t reach out to him more, and when he was around, I too often was comfortable not engaging more fully. I probably also could’ve done without making that dumb Kalamazoo joke quite as many times as I did, too.
But again, I have to question what I would be feeling now without that shame. Would my pain have lingered for five years now if I had only perfect interactions with him? Would I miss him so deeply if there were no words left unsaid between us? Would I feel so glad about the time we spent together if I hadn’t also gone through rough times while knowing him, and hadn’t needed the comfort of a friend?
Now that I know the feeling of loss – how it tastes, how it aches, the weight of it – I think I better understand the way that my own words work, and the importance of shame to me. I have better control over the way that I interact with others, because I’ve gone through the process of learning how (and how not to). This has changed the way I use words, those most important things within the furry subculture, whether that be on twitter or here through [a][s], talking with friends on Slack or even chatting in person.
I’ll still make mistakes, of course, but I’ll feel better about them. Hopefully they won’t be so deeply stupid, and I’ll have a little less to be ashamed of as time goes on. I’ll feel guilt about the dumb thing that I did, but maybe a bit less shame about myself. Even so, I’ll still have reasons to feel strongly about the ways I interact with people through the words I choose. Maturation’s a hell of a task to undertake, but coming out through the other side, it feels much better.
So. To Margaras. To grouchy lynxes. To shame, to mistakes, and to maturity. And hey, until next time,
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I knew a lynx in Kalamazoo…
Everything’s O.K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-Oh what a lynx in Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo-zoo”
We are proud to announce the Third [adjective][species] Poetry Collection! We have run two such collections before, one in 2015 and one in 2016, and are looking to continue the tradition of featuring some of the fandom’s poets here on the site.
As with last year, we are looking to feature poems with a specific focus. This year’s theme will be community and belonging. Poems can be about furry itself, or about animals (anthro and otherwise), but must include at least some mention of animals or furry. There are many excellent poets out there in the subculture, and we’d love to showcase their work here!
The fine print on what to send:
- Length, form, style: Totally open. Send us free verse, formal verse, whatever you like. If you’re using an obscure form that I might not be familiar with, let us know what it is so we can understand the full effect. If your poem requires specific formatting, let us know, and we’ll do our best to accommodate that.
- Submissions may be published or unpublished. If a poem has appeared previously in a print or online publication, please let me know where, so we can give proper credit. (If it’s only been posted to FurAffinity, SoFurry, your personal blog, etc., there’s no need to note that.)
- Submissions don’t have to be new. You can write something new for this call, or if you have something you wrote years ago that fits, send it along.
- If in doubt, send it. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for until we see it, and the worst we can say is “no thanks.” So if you’re on the fence as to whether your work might suit, send it and let’s see.
- Be kind. We are not looking for poetry that involves positive depictions of rape or violence, homophobia, transphobia, etc. We also don’t want any work that demeans other individuals. As above, though, if in doubt, send it! You may also ask Makyo at the address below.
- You retain all ownership and rights to your poetry. [adjective][species] simply licenses your work for posting on the site. If you need your work taken down at any time, simply let us know. All posts are made under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license, unless you specify otherwise.
How to submit:
- Send 1-6 poems, either in the body of the email or attached as a document, to:
email@example.com no later than September 22.
- Be sure to include what name you want your work published under (real name, pen name, furry name, whatever works for you), and if you like, you can also include a link where readers can find more of your work.
- Everyone will get a yes or no response, but we’re afraid we can’t offer feedback or critique on submissions.
We’d like to draw from as many perspectives as possible, so if you can help spread the word about this call to other poets and poetry communities, please do! Any questions, post a comment here or send them to the email listed above.
There are a lot of writers within the fandom. By our estimates, something like 40% of furries consider themselves writers of a sort. That can mean a lot of things, of course. It could mean that the writer is someone who spends a lot of time writing stories and novels, or it could mean someone who writes one or two non-fiction articles a year for a website with a random wolf mascot.
Either way, there’s a lot of words out there, which can be attested to by the number of furry and furry-friendly publishing houses that have cropped up. One of those houses is Thurston Howl Publications, with whom I work as an editor. The thing that got me interested in working with THP was its anthology Furries Among Us. The first book was an excellent collection of essays on furry – what made it up, what furries did, who was a furry, and so on.
Howl invited me to participate in the second volume, so I had the chance to write a longer article than I normally do. It involves data and gender, to absolutely no one’s surprise ever.
Well, that second volume just came out! You can find it on Amazon for the wallet-friendly price of $7.99.
In a shameless attempt to boost furry non-fiction within and around the fandom, [a][s] is happy to offer a giveaway! Keep an eye on our twitter for the link – there will be ten copies up for grabs, first come, first serve. Note that the link is only applicable for the continental US – Amazon’s restriction, not ours, alas.
This year, August 25-27, Furry Migration will be taking place in Minneapolis, MN! The guests of honor include voice actor and comedian Malcom Ray, artist Talenshi, and *drumroll* The Furry Writers’ Guild! The Guild’s mission is to support, inform, elevate, and promote quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.
I’m posting this here for two and one third reasons.
The Guild is simply an excellent resource for writers of all sorts. Although their focus is primarily on fiction and ours is primarily on non-fiction, there is some crossover. Writing skills from one transfer from one to the other – [a][s] prides itself on creative non-fiction, which often includes the building up of characters and the worlds in which they live. World and character building are important in both fiction and creative non-fiction as a matter of course; just that in non-fiction, the characters and the world are real.
The Guild will be represented by several Guild members, myself as president, vice prez Chipotle, AKA Watts Martin:
Watts Martin, the 2016–17 FWG president, has been involved in furry fandom for over a quarter of a century. Watts’s published works include appearances in Heat, The Furry Future, Inhuman Acts, and Gods With Fur, as well as the “Cupcake” novella Indigo Rain, the short story collection Why Coyotes Howl, and in 2017, the science fiction novel Kismet. In the early days of the fandom, Watts was known for editing/publishing the magazine Mythagoras, which saw early works by Paul Kidd, M.C.A. Hogarth, and Nebula nominee Lawrence M. Schoen, as well as an original furry story by Hugo winner Lawrence Watt-Evans. Watts has been the writing track lead for Further Confusion for the past four years and was the writing guest of honor at the very first Anthrocon.
Seriously, check out Kismet. It’s a fantastic work of science fiction with some, to paraphrase another reviewer, next level McGuffining. It’s available from FurPlanet, Argyll Productions, Bad Dog Books, Amazon, and doubtless others.
We, as a Guild and as members, will be hosting several panels. See here for a list.
Secondly, I’ll be there at the con, primarily wearing my Guild hat, but also sharing some of our usual [a][s] panels:
- Healthy Relationships in Furry – Friday at 9PM
- The Love – Sex – Fur Guide to Safer Sex – Friday at 10:30PM
- Gender and Furry – Saturday at 7:30PM
- Exploring the Fandom Through data – Sunday at 3PM
I’m looking forward to yapping about gender, data, love, sex, and fur.
Oh, and the one-third of a reason is that, along with being an editor here, I’m president of the Guild, and it’s my duty and joy to promote both the Guild and the Guild’s activities such as the con where I’m able.
Plus, I can.
Because I’m dictatorpresident there and dictatoreditor here.
Anyway! Come say hi! We’ll have our panels, of course, but please do come to learn more about the guild. It truly is a fantastic resource for all writers. The Guild forums and Guild chat resources (there’s a snoutbox on the forums, a Slack team, and a Telegram chat) are open to all, members and non-members, readers and writers.
One of the neat things about identity is the fact that a shared identity can lead to a community.
This is the way furry works, after all. A bunch of folks all around the world started identifying with this thing. Maybe they identify as folks who see themselves as something other than human. Or maybe they identify as someone who really likes art of anthropomorphic animals. There’s a lot of different ways to approach the topic of anthropomorphics.
Getting a bunch of folks together with a shared identity takes a lot of organization. That is, unless you’ve got the internet.
Suddenly, we start to see a community cohere out of shared identity. It’s a strange attractor of sorts: folks who are outside furry but share that identity are drawn in, making the sense of community more appealing to those outside, yet still have the shared identity.
Similar things happen within the LGBT community. Parties, gay clubs, and pride parades are some of the most visible aspects of this, of course. Still, much the same happens with trans folk. There are whole houses and communities of trans people in the embodied world, and online, the community becomes even grander. We talk of the gender cascade or the transplosion, the idea of “the act of seeing in others that portion of identity we find within ourselves that lends the greatest validation to our membership”. Seeing others live happily embracing their identity makes it easier to embrace our own identity.
Now, come with me on a short diversion through furry fiction.
Short fiction anthologies come and go within the fandom. There’s a schedule of regular ones, and some that are just one-offs. There’s HEAT and ROAR and FANG for some of the regular ones, and then there’s Dogs of War and Seven Deadly Sins and, shameless plug, Arcana for some of the one-offs.
They all work in fairly similar ways, too. A call for submissions will go up, say, six months ahead of time with a list of requirements – genre, rating, word count, etc. – which will give authors a chance to write or polish a story to submit. In reality, of course, that means that many authors will spend five and a half months talking about the anthology, then two scrambled weeks of intense effort pulling something together. We’re pretty predictable like that.
One of those recent calls was for an anthology of lesbian erotica. There has been an awful lot of erotica written and published, and the vast majority of it has been gay or straight (and I’d hazard a guess that a lot of that has been gay). That would make CLAW, this anthology, the first of its kind.
The reasons for this are manifold and almost certainly not well understood.
Some of them have come up here, of course. JM wrote a few articles on gay furries and why the fandom may look appealing to them. My stock response is a hypothesis that, given the relatively even distribution furries along a scale from heterosexual to homosexual1, along with the overwhelming majority of furries identifying as male, a majority of homosexual relationships within the subculture is to be expected. If you’re a bi male fox, you’re more likely to wind up in a gay relationship by virtue of your dating pool being 80%2 male.
Things like that make CLAW’s position as the first lesbian anthology a bit easier to understand, at least.
So! I decided to write for CLAW. I don’t write much fiction. I’ve got one story published in the FC2016 con book, one story to be published in Arcana, and…that’s it. I thought it’d be fun to give this a go. The stakes were low, the restrictions loose, and the story was fun to write.
One problem: I wanted to write a trans character into the story.
I talked with Kirisis, the editor of the anthology, and she confirmed that it would be alright, so I went ahead with my plan. The character’s species was chosen out of necessity to the plot, and I didn’t really give it a second thought.
At least, not until I finished the story and thought it might be fun to write another. I know, I thought. I’ll write the trans character’s backstory! I’ll write her struggles with coming out.
I dropped that idea almost immediately. To write that story, I would have to go back further in the character’s past than I really wanted. I’d have to provide her deadname. I didn’t know that name. I didn’t want to know that name. I was too attached to her as a person, real or not, to want to disrespect her that way.
Okaaaay, well, I’ll write a different character’s story!
And now, eight hundred words later, we come to our topic.
Well, that’s easy. I can just find another character’s voice, pick a species, and go! It all seemed so straight-forward!
Leave it to me to over-think things.
Part of the success of Kyell Gold is that the characters he writes mirror some very basic things about large enough swaths of the fandom as to give them immediate social currency. Coming out stories, the bildungsroman genre3, even the species choices, they all speak to the reader in ways that provide a sense of shared identity.
Dev the tiger and Lee the fox, Sol the wolf, Kory the otter: they’re all relatable characters. The names are familiar, but more importantly, so are the species. The species all occur within the top ten most popular species in the fandom. They’re all species we know.
Gold is a far, far better writer than I am, and I’m constantly learning from him, both passively and actively.
So I figured I’d give this a go: if I’m going to write a trans coming out story, I want to pick a character in which the readers can see something of themselves.
I decided to go on a dive through some of the data and see what might make this work. Using the 2016 Furry Poll, we have data for both species and gender alignment (that is, trans- or cisgender). I usually just dump numbers in a post, but I thought it might be an interesting exercise to go through my actual process in getting those numbers.
The first thing we need to do is to loop through all of the responses we have in the database. This whole exercise takes the form of a python script; it’s not very efficient, but does show the steps required.
In this snippet, we loop through all of the responses in the dataset. For each response, we grab the fields we need: gender alignment, species, and just because, gender identity.
From there, we need to take the data we’ve collected and boil it down to some key statistics. This mostly involves tallyingup numbers. For instance, we can find the number of cis and non-cis respondents, as well as the number of masculine and feminine respondents, including breaking those down into cis-masculine/feminine and non-cis-masculine/feminine respondents.
The species bit is a little more complicated, however. If we haven’t seen a response of that species before, we have to add one to our set of species responses. We do this by adding a dict — that is, a list of keys and values (much like a dictionary, where there’s the word to be defined and the definition of the word) — with the name of the species associated with some data. In this case, that data is how many respondents of that species are cis or non-cis.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’re relying on the ‘species category’ field of the survey. These are general categories such as “wolves” or “cats”, rather than specifics such as “maned wolves” or “panthers”.
Another thing to note is that, for the gender identity and alignment fields, respondents were allowed to enter their own answers, rather than pick from the list of available answers. If they did so, we mark their answer to that question as subjective, rather than objective. If they did so, we don’t save that data.
All data in the database is anonymous, but the subjective responses could be identifying information. All of the data published by [a][s] is stripped of subjective responses. The datasets with the subjective data are limited to researchers only.
From there, we can start printing information about our results. In order to get an overall idea of things, we begin by printing a breakdown, by gender, of cisgender respondents, non-cisgender respondents, and respondents who answered “it’s complicated”.
The term “non-cisgender” is important, as, in this instance, we’re using it as a blanket category to include transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender or neutrois, or other folks who don’t fall under the umbrella of cisgender.
Now that we’ve printed some of our basics, let’s sort our species data. We want to find the species category which contains the greatest number of cisgender respondents, as well as the one with the least. This is as easy as looping through the responses and finding the one with the most and least.
To do this, we start with some empty variables. For the most non-cis species category, we start with 0%. We loop through the data and calculate the percentage of non-cisgender respondents for that species. If that percentage is greater than the current one (and anything’s greater than our starting value of 0%), we update the variable to point to that species. If a future one is greater, we update; if not, we skip.
The same takes place with the least non-cis (or most cisgender) species, except that we start with 100% non-cis, and check if the species we’re investigating is less than 100% non-cis.
Almost done! Next, we print out all of our findings. For both most and least non-cis, we print out the percentage and number of respondents.
Last step: print out the number of responses we looked at, and the number of responses with species categories.
Alright, exercise over! Let’s get to the results!
Wow, uh…okay. Not quite what I was expecting!
First of all, what’s otherdog?
Not much, what’s other with you, dog?
otherdog is any dog not specifically named. We have a few that are, of course. Husky, German Shepherd Dog, and collie to be precise. otherdog is the catch-all category for breeds that don’t fall into any of the specified categories.
But what’s going on here?
The most cisgender species is husky. Other dogs are the least cisgender. And this is out of all species categories, of which there are 67.
Now, let’s go back through that and tick all our boxes that make this result true.
- We are looking at only species with more than 100 responses. If we drop our threshold to 50, then we wind up with kitsunes as the least cisgender species, at 34%. Perhaps this makes sense, though, for a species known for its shapeshifting and magical abilities.
- We are looking only at species categories, not individual species. This means that there is likely some further variation to be had digging down a little further, but that involves coding subjective responses, and I don’t really have the time or energy for that. Additionally, there are doubtless species that aren’t represented here (as is shown by the other category).
- We’re discarding polymorphic respondents, as each would be its own species. If we allow for polymorphic respondents, polymorphic respondents are the least cis, and respondents who are at least part red fox are the most cis. The data gets muddy.
- We are looking at the 2016 survey, which only gives us so much data, about 5,400 responses, only about 4,800 of which have species categories set.
And how we’re here, with huskies being the most cisgender species, and other dogs being the least.
My original quest was to write a trans coming-out story that would find appeal within the fandom. One where many readers would find a bit of themselves in the main character, a character who was relatable. A lot of that’s on me, writing an engaging character that mirrors others’ experiences, but some of that is just in knowing one’s audience, and this is just one fact I can keep in mind.
There’s a lot that goes into species selection, just as there’s a lot that goes into gender. We make these choices about how we represent ourselves within the fandom carefully, even if it feels instinctive. Each aspect of our characters is representative of some aspect of ourselves. Our hopes and wishes, dreams and aspirations. Things we admire about ourselves are magnified and things that we despise about ourselves are reduced. We become the animal people we want to see in the world.CLAW 1 is the inaugural volume of a yearly anthology of lesbian erotica edited by Kirisis “KC” Alpinus. It aims to be a showcase of healthy F/F erotica, with the secondary goal of showcasing diverse female and female-identifying authors in the fandom.
Submissions are open until September 3rd!
For more information, refer to the call for submissions.
- The survey asks orientation in a sort of expanded Kinsey scale. That is, it asks whether one considers oneself heterosexual or homosexual on a seven point scale. There are other options that we add, but those aren’t really in play here for this little example.
- Again, this is a little complicated. The gist is that there are about 80% of respondents who identify as masculine in some way.
- Or bildongsroman, if you will, when it comes to erotica.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of good conversations about [a][s], what it means, and how best to engage with it.
A lot of those conversations boil down to one core topic, and that topic falls out into one lesson. That is, [a][s] provides what many feel is an important resource. There is a wealth of data, a wealth of ideas, and probably at least three more articles on gender Makyo can write (ohoho…just you wait until tomorrow!). The lesson that comes out of this is that the project should never – indeed, few projects should ever – continue out of a sense of obligation.
Our esteemed Phil Geusz wrote me privately to share his thoughts on this, and brought up some very good points about what goes into running a project. It takes time, steady effort, and dedication. None of what I said two weeks ago is negated: I need to find a healthy level with which to engage (something that falls squarely on my shoulders), and I will gladly accept all the help I can get. Additionally, it could be that the site does need change: the articles and data, through the poll, form a core part of the project, but our voice and scope ought to be continually evaluated.
So let’s keep going. We have more than 41,000 responses to the Furry Poll to plow through and, as my work on tomorrow’s post shows, far more data than shows up when we just search for longitudinal responses, as we have in the past. When you add in the fact that the IARP also has a wealth of data, we have our work cut out for us. Plus, furry remains delightfully weird, so we’ll have no shortage of thinkpieces and longreads to toss out there.
Thank you all for your tireless patience, and if you have an idea for an article you’d like to pitch, do remember that our submissions are always open.
*tap tap* This thing on?
Oh, yes, hi! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
A long while.
In that time, I’ve received several emails about the state of [a][s]. One of them dubbed this period “The Quiet”, which I feel is pretty accurate, even if it makes me feel a little sad.
Those emails have sat in my inbox. I’ve read them all. Each has three or four drafts prepared for it, none of which I’ve had the wherewithal to send. They’re just there, staring me right in the eye every day – I have four active email accounts, which are tiled neatly in a pinned browser tab, and [a][s] was bottom-left. It was there. Just a big, accusatory Draft.
There are even a few emails stuck in there with more in-depth questions: queries, of sorts, for the publication of articles. Each of those has been ticked with a star, GMail’s nifty way of saying, “this is important, you should probably get to it, soon.”
Oh, and then there’s the furry poll.
So, I owe everyone a serious, serious apology. I’ve let a lot of folks down, not least of which myself. [adjective][species] is a labor of love for me, as it is and was for so many others, and letting it fall apart like this does everyone a disservice.
Let’s sit down and see what happened, and figure out ways to fix it. Makyo’s good at a lot of things, and talking something to death is definitely one of them.A not-so-short digression on depression and furry
Depression is a strange thing.
I’ve tried at several points to capture some sense of it in words, but nothing’s ever quite fit. Whenever I do, I find myself using a lot of ellipses, just to fill in, textually, my fumbling for words with enough meaning. I’ll come up with, “I dunno. My brain just isn’t all me. Like… It’s something else. It’s there and exerts influence on me life, but it spends an inordinate about of time trying to destroy me.”
Or poetry. I’ve tried to throw that at depression, too, but it just comes out sounding stilted and weird. I wind up talking about fire a lot. Fire and, for some reason, geese.
Which is nonsense, really, but each in such a way that seems to cover at least one small corner of depression.
Depression is big. It’s vast and terrible and empty. Completely empty, and there you are, in the middle of it, feeling bad.
There’s just no sense to it. No sense in trying to describe nothing. A “nothing” which is also nonsensical.
And yet I keep trying. We keep trying.
Much of early [a][s] was borne out of depression. The site was just a blog, the name just a play on a trend in character naming, but the writing was a piece of myself. Each post was a tiny rock to throw at this vasty nothingness. Justifying the things I like, delineating the craziness of our subculture, gushing about gender (I know, I’m sorry, I did that a lot), these were all ways for me to pound my fists against nothing at all.
A scant five months after I started the site, I crashed hard, and after that, I just buried myself in it – in the site and in furry. I found ways to get even furrier, if that was possible, just to try and fill that big ol’ nothingness.
I splashed around in great heaps of data, scrabbling at every pebble of knowledge I could find beneath the surface.
I prowled through the tangled thicket of FA and Weasyl, hunting for artists to highlight.
And I took way too many metaphors way, way too far.
And you know what? It worked.
At least, after a fashion. I started to feel fulfillment. I started filling my weekends with writing. I got in trouble with JM for writing an article on a tablet in a plane just so that I could get it up on a Wednesday. I started to gain energy just from the act of spending energy on something I loved wholeheartedly.
I was also tackling depression in more tangible ways, of course. I started on meds and dug into the task of finding something to help make that nothingness more livable. Meds, after all, don’t just sweep it away, and they certainly don’t make me any less myself, but they do help me perceive where I am. They’re a fine set of glasses for helping me see which things I’m burning myself up over are real, and which are just phantoms in that empty space – Makyo, after all, means ‘ghost cave’.
I started transition, too, which helped improve my life in so many ways that I could did write a several posts about it. I won’t gush about it too much more, here.
Not all of this flailing was healthy, natch. I started drinking heavily, because that’d soften the edges of nothing. I started withdrawing from friends because they weren’t there in the nothing with me.
And it all got to be too much. A few weeks after my last substantial post here, I collapsed in the kitchen, and there was a whole lot more nothing than I was used to. At Mountain Crest, the mental health clinic in Fort Collins, I was taken into an office for a few hours to talk about meds, alcohol, interactions, and so on.
With my new-found sobriety (or at least moderation) under my belt, I started getting back into the furry thing, the healthier way of filling a tiny corner that infinitely empty space with meaning.
And [a][s] sat here.
I ran or helped run six panels at FC, was art track lead, and got to spend time with five other members of the polycule being huge furry nerds.
I started editing a furry fiction anthology, Arcana, based around the major arcana of the RWS tarot deck.
I ran for – and was elected – president of the Furry Writers’ Guild.
And [a][s] still sat here.
Those few months when I was burning too bright in an attempt to light up vast, crenellated spaces of nothing caught up with me. I borrowed a little too much time from the future and that nothing started winning out. Again.
All of the stuff that I loved felt poisoned to me, tainted by the fact that I burned so hard in an attempt to light up all this nothing a little better. I started feeling forced to like these things because I was trammeled by this indescribably empty space with them.
But I had I forgot that I do love them. Earnestly and with all my heart.
I love [a][s]. I love the FWG. I love Arcana and that I can work on it. I love writing a thousand unapologetic words about my relationship with furry and depression. I love furry.
I just need to engage in a healthy manner.
I have my own lessons to take from this, but those are mine. Let’s talk about us, and our lessons. Well, lesson: [adjective][species] must change.
This is pretty obvious, if only from a personal point of view. I need to be able to engage with it in a more healthy manner. No more article-a-week, and definitely no more no-articles-for-ten-months.
This could also mean that my role as editor needs to shift. I would more than happily share that role. I could even step down, if a convincing argument was made.
But above even that, [a][s] itself needs to change. We need to have a conversation about what needs this resource fills.
- What roles does the project play within the fandom, now that it’s been around for for five and a half years?
- Are articles and data still the best way to engage with an audience, or should we branch out?
- Is the voice of the project too broad, or not broad enough?
- Should the project try to expand, or reduce its scope? Should it spin off new projects, or should it – and we need to admit this as a possibility – decide that 5 years was a good run and draw a line at the end of the page?
[a][s] is a good thing. I’ll always stand by that. It became a resource for talking about the fandom from several different angles. Writers picked up their own voices and added them into this weird and weirdly wonderful stream of posts that ran on for years.
So. With the idea that [a][s] should remain a good thing, what are our next steps?
As in the past, we’ve worked with the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, and we occasionally receive news of a survey or study they or related researchers are conducting.
The following comes from Moses Simpson
I’m a Masters student from the University of Waikato and I’m doing research into the mental health and protective factors of the furry community.
This research draws from work done by the IARP and adds an investigation into how being within the furry community can be a predictor factor for or protective factor against mental health issues.
The survey is well-designed and understanding of the basics of the furry subculture and of mental health. And, hey, you could win an Amazon voucher for taking the survey! Sweet.
Guest post by Thurston Howl. Thurston is the editor-in-chief of Thurston Howl Publications. The author of several novels, short stories, and poems, he prides himself in the Ursa Major Award winning essay collection he edited, Furries Among Us. He received his BA in English at Vanderbilt University and his MA in English at Middle Tennessee State University. Aside from running a publishing house, he teaches English at a local college, plays piano, dances, and is actively training to be a coffee connoisseur.
All year long, furries see it all over the social media: “3 days till AC!” “Can’t believe I’m on my way to MFF!” Or, my personal favorite, “Suffering post-con depression after that big con.” Yet, we never hear enough about the less famous small cons. Wikifur has published a list of conventions by attendee participation. It shows 55 furry cons, ranging from 58 participants to over 7,000. The arithmetic mean (average) of the participants for a con was 1,027. Yet, cons that average around that number are generally called “small cons.” I have been to more small cons than large ones. So, here I shall provide five reasons for why small cons are better—or at least, as good as—large cons.
- More intimate social connections: The last small con I went to was FangCon in Alabama this past October. I participated heavily in the Writing Track as both a panelist and a panel-goer, and it was delightful to run into the same people over and over again. Rather than seeing a person once in the con and never seeing them again through the crowd, I ran into them over and over again throughout the con. Three writers went to each of the Writing Track panels, and that wasn’t unreasonable; I felt like we had a pack of writers going throughout the con. When I socialized outside the panels, I’d get to run into the same people multiple times over the three days I was there. I got to know people more intimately than just a chance introduction. I would worry that being at a large con, people could easily be overwhelmed and not really be able to add as many contacts, especially if they were particularly shy. Small cons give you five or six rooms people will be at, and you can move between them with ease, cycling through them multiple times, getting to know people gradually and allowing you to have multiple conversations with the same person more easily.
- Less overwhelming personal schedules: At FangCon this year, at one time, there might be two things happening: maybe a panel in one room and a game in another. I think at one point, there were three panels happening at once, but that was after the Dealer’s Den closed too. When I planned out what I was going to do for the con, generally, it was a fairly quick and painless procedure. A or B? C or D? And it went on just like that. When I look at schedules for larger cons, my eyes are glazed over from staring at the tons of panels offered throughout the day and well into the night. A couple of years ago, I went to Mephit Fur Meet near Memphis, TN. I remember at that time, there being two panels I really wanted to participate in, but they happened at the same time. That frustration must be tripled for people who frequent the larger cons. Small cons completely eliminate that frustration.
- Sleep: Spirits above, I get to sleep at small cons. All activity is pretty much dead by 11pm. There’s usually a dance after that, but in my experience, there’s usually ten people or less that go to that at small cons. And things don’t pick up until 10am the next day. I just get to chat with my roomies all night or just socialize. Still, this opportunity to not be sleep-deprived for the duration of the con enables really thought-provoking discussions at panels consistently, and it allows you to take advantage of the multi-hundred-dollar hotel room you’ve saved up for.
- Local color: People don’t travel from New York to go to an Alabaman small con. It is just an incredibly rare occurrence. The people who frequent small cons are almost always locals. This means you can get a better glimpse of local culture when visiting small cons. You don’t know what that’s like until you see fursuiters with camoflage clothing, speaking in Southern accents, and having a barbecue at the con. In this way, small cons become so unique, from each other and definitely from the large cons.
- Indie culture: Furries are already not considered mainstream. However, there are still “popufurs.” Going to a small con, you are guaranteed to meet artists you’ve never heard of; authors you’ve never read; and musicians you didn’t know existed. The Dealer’s Den is full of craftists and hobbyists, with board games, soaps, bracelets, and more, not just furry gear. You will find the most hipster of furries at small cons, and that creates such a warm, family environment, rather than “name-brand” furry.
Now, here is a list of a few small cons, where they are, and what they’re about.
- Mephit Fur Meet: This is a con in Olive Branch, Mississippi, really close to Memphis, TN. This is a great Southern con to go to. They have great music and writing tracks, and their Furry Drama Show is always amazing with Calamity Cougar and Keefur involved. Always a great time to see the wonderful Phil Geusz, too. With the mascot of a skunk, the con has always been the largest contributor to the Knoxville charity, Tiger Haven.
- Furry Siesta is an unusual small con in Addison, Texas. It is a two-day event that is really just a huge furry gathering. They don’t have panels or guest appearances or workshops. It’s like a humongous furmeet in the summer. It is the perfect environment for people who just want a big hangout without all the commercialism (not that it is necessarily a bad thing; just a better idea for more frugal furs, or furs who are only into the social aspects of the fandom).
- FA: United is a small con on the east coast. Originally, it started as a con that was ran by FurAffinity, but now it is technically run by the person who owns FurAffinity. The con frequently is represented by FA admin Fender, and art is often a major focus for the con. It participates in usually vivid themes, with the 2016 one being “Masquerade of Beasts.” Their website proudly boasts that congoers consumed over 200 pieces of sushi at this year’s con.
- Furlandia is a small con in Oregon, and its themes proudly boast of different periods from the Iron Age to 1929 (their 2017 con theme). Since the con’s being adopted by Rainfurrest, their con has grown to almost 800 members, and their guests of honor are “popufur” artists typically. Still, it is a wonderful con to visit if you are just looking for a well-designed con and interesting furs.
Note that while I defend small cons, I am not attacking large cons. Large cons are wonderful events, and I would never recommend someone not go to them. However, I definitely also support the underdogs of conventions for their intimate culture and decreased stress. I can’t ever recall even feeling post-con depression after a small con. I heavily recommend furries frequent their local small cons if you don’t already.
So furries, ever onward.
[a][s] contributors make the occasional appearance and presentation at conventions around the world (well, okay, a few cons in the US plus Confuzzled in the UK), and Further Confusion is one of our regulars! This year, [a][s] folks have a few panels at FC2017, so if any catch your eye, stop on by and say hi!
Note that times/dates are tentative until scheduling gets locked in by con staff. Bookmark this page and we’ll keep it up to date with any changes. Data was snagged from the panel system directly, but if I missed any [a][s] contributors’ panels, shoot me an email or leave a comment!Friday
Gender and Furry – Makyo – Friday, January 13 – 11:00AM-12:30PM – Hilton: Santa Clara
Both gender and furry touch on very important aspects of identity, and the fandom often provides a space in which to explore one’s gender in a safe manner. Join Makyo from Love – Sex – Fur to talk about what gender is and how it interacts with the furry subculture.
Having trouble starting that short story? We’ll present a simple structure for thinking about your story–then you’ll take half an hour to actually start writing it!
The Love – Sex – Fur Guide to Healthy Relationships – Makyo – Friday, January 13 – 1:00PM-2:30PM – Marriott: Blossom Hill
Interested in what all goes into having a happy, healthy, positive relationship with you and your partners? Curious on how to make long-distance and in-person relationships work? Come join us in an open panel discussing safe and healthy relationships.Saturday
Resources and Tech for Furry Writers – Makyo, Chipotle Coyote, Blackfeather Tanfur – Saturday, January 14 – 11:00AM-12:30PM – Marriott: Almaden
There’s a dizzying array of software, hardware and resources, both online and off, for both established and aspiring writers to use. We’ll talk about our favorites (and least favorites), from Scrivener to InDesign, writing guilds to libraries, and all points between.
Exploring the Fandom Through Data – Makyo – Saturday, January 14 – 1:00PM-2:30PM – Marriott: Salan I/II/III
Come join Makyo from [adjective][species] to explore what it means to be a furry using data from seven years of the Furry Survey and several other resources. We’ll investigate the demographics and interests of the fandom to see what it is that makes us who we are.
Your surefire story was rejected? The panelists talk about common errors (and maybe a few not-so-common ones) that get manuscripts turned away by editors.
Adult Furry Writing – Kyell, Rukis, Ryan Campbell – Saturday, January 14 – 10:00PM-11:30PM – Marriott: Almaden
Adult stories are a mainstay in the furry fiction world. Listen to some experienced authors talk about how (and why) to create effective adult stories.Sunday
Don’t just stop at your first idea—it’s probably not your best idea! We’ll talk about generating ideas and show you the value of brainstorming in real time, mining for idea gold. Leave this panel with free story ideas!
Curious about the ways in which we find meaning? How do furries actualize themselves in the world? Come learn about philosophy within furry from Corgi and Makyo.
The Love – Sex – Fur Guide to Safer Sex – Makyo – Sunday, January 15 – 3:00PM-4:30PM – Marriott: Blossom Hill
Interested in what all goes into having a happy, healthy, sex-positive relationship with your partners? Curious on how to stay safe while playing? Come join us in an open panel discussing safe and healthy sexuality.
Mindfulness and Transformation in Action – Jakebe, Kannik – Sunday, January 15 – 3:00PM-4:30PM – Marriott: Salon V
Being present and mindful is at the heart of nearly every philosophical tradition. This workshop will introduce the fundamentals of Buddhism and Philosophical Ontology, teach some practices that are useful in diffusing and bringing possibility to everyday situations, and will end with a short mindfulness meditation.
Unsheathed Live – Kyell, K. M. Hirosaki, Ryan Campbell – Sunday, January 15 – 10:00PM-11:30PM – Marriott: Almaden
Everyone’s favorite highly irregular furry writing podcast returns for a Further Confusion tradition! Join Kyell Gold, K.M. Hirosaki, Not Tube, and special guest Lady Gaga. Or a manatee.
Happy yerfday, RandomWolf.RandomWolf enjoys some cake and pie(charts). Art by the fantastic Shannon Fowler.
This October, we’re raising the profile of anthropomorphic literature and bringing furry stories to a wider audience.
The Furry Writers’ Guild has joined forces with some of our fandom’s great authors and publishers to offer special deals during the month, from free shipping and discount codes to free books.
If you don’t read furry fiction, take advantage of the special offers and try a furry book in October.
Already a reader? Give a book to a friend, try a new author, or write a book review. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads needn’t be long, and really help authors. Got lots to say? Submit a review to [a][s], Flayrah, Dogpatch Press, or Claw & Quill.
What will you do this Furry Book Month? Spread the word on social media using #FurryBookMonth!
Visit furrywritersguild.com/furry-book-month/ for the list of offers.
Furry Book Month logo by Ultrafox
Guest post by Thurston Howl. Thurston is the editor-in-chief of Thurston Howl Publications. The author of several novels, short stories, and poems, he prides himself in the Ursa Major Award winning essay collection he edited, Furries Among Us. He received his BA in English at Vanderbilt University and his MA in English at Middle Tennessee State University. Aside from running a publishing house, he teaches English at a local college, plays piano, dances, and is actively training to be a coffee connoisseur.
The past several years, a growing trend has entered the furry publishing market: the anthology. While anthologies became a most popular form of literature, particularly in genre fiction in the mid-twentieth century, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the furry anthology became a popular form of furry literature (explicitly marketed to the furry community). By now, however, almost every furry publishing house has their own signature annual anthology. FurPlanet has its Bad Dog Books anthologies, FANG and ROAR (both having just published their seventh volume). SofaWolf has the mostly erotic collection, HEAT (now with thirteen volumes), and New Fables. Rabbit Valley Press publishes the annual Tales from the Guild, featuring writers from the Furry Writers Guild. Thurston Howl Publications recently started its series, SPECIES, in which each volume centers on a different furry species. Note that most, if not all, of these houses publish many other anthologies every year, with Altered States; Inhuman Acts; and Gods with Fur coming to mind immediately. These types of furry anthologies have been the recipients of many awards, including the Ursa Major Award and the Coyotl Award.
Perhaps, it is no wonder that the genre has reached such popularity. Anthologies, especially in the furry fandom, have a myriad of strengths:
- They allow multiple authors a simultaneous chance at publication, drawing in a clientele for publishing houses.
- They allow readers diversity when they buy the books.
- They are easier ways for authors to build their writing credits; easier than a full-on novel contract.
- They are much easier to market as fifteen authors are sharing with friends and family, rather than just one.
- Having an annual anthology series builds a repeating fanbase, with fans who want Volume 2, Volume 3, etc.
Plus, the anthologies give incredibly unique flavor to the personas of each publishing house. Fred Patten has written numerous articles on the various differences between the houses, and many of these differences are reflected in their anthologies. While one favors sci fi and fantasy, another favors more erotic elements.
In essence, furry anthologies are great for the publishers, the writers, and the readers: a win-win-win scenario.
With the end of the year fast approaching and with the rise of new smaller houses, such as Thurston Howl Publications and Weasel Press, it is often a challenge for writers to either find the right calls-for-submissions (CFS) or keep up with the constant barrage of deadlines. Here is a link for a general schedule of CFS until the end of the year. This schedule provides all links to the submission guidelines as well as provides the same basic information listed below.
Below are some details for the upcoming anthologies:
Civilized Beasts – Poetry — October 1
- Publisher: Weasel Press
- Payment: Print copy
- Editors: Dwale and Munchkin
- Theme: This is a not-for-profit poetry anthology about animals with the following sub-theme in mind: “outside observation of animals, in the mind of animals, symbolism of animals.”
The Dogs of War — October 1
- Reprints allowed: no
- Word count: 4,000-20,000
- Editor: Fred Patten
- Payments $0.005/wd and print copy; future discount on print copies
- Publisher: FurPlanet
- Theme: “These can range from actual warfare to peacetime training-camp scenarios (which may be humorous) to recruiting; from large division operations to small commando actions. They can range from funny-animal multispecies armies to armies of one species versus another; from fighting in animal civilizations to uplifted animal soldiers fighting in human wars. The emphasis should be on military action, not politics; but as Clausewitz defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means”, a story may be heavily political as long as military action is at least threatened. Despite the title, which is a Shakespeare reference (to Julius Caesar), we want stories with a variety of anthropomorphic animals; not just dogs.”
Zoomorphic Anthology of Oceanic Life – Fiction and Nonfiction — October 10
- Multiple subs: no
- Word count: 500-3,000
- Publisher: Zoomorphic
- Theme: This will be ZOAC’s first printed anthology and centers around marine life.
Seven Deadly Sins: Furry Confessions — November 1
- Word count: 2,500-8,000
- Payment: Print copy
- Reprints: acceptable
- Multiple subs: up to three
- Editor: Thurston Howl
- Publisher: Thurston Howl Publications
- Theme: Seven Deadly Sins has been a literary trope for centuries, popularized by Italian poet Dante. They are as follows: pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth. This collection will be divided respectively into the seven parts. We want to see anthro-animal characters at their darkest and weakest moments: at the whorehouse, at the chopping block, in the morgue, in the dining room with the candlestick. It is perfectly fine but not required if submissions are NSFW. We are honestly expecting a fair amount of horror—especially in Wrath—and erotica—especially in Lust. However, again, adult stories are by no means required for acceptance. All story submissions must be “furry” in nature.
Purrfect Tails — November 1
- Editor: Tarl Hoch
- Word count: 3,000-10,000
- Payment: $0.005/wd
- Simultaneous subs: no
- Multiple subs: yes
- Theme: Nekos: A neko is a female or male character with cat traits, such as cat ears, a cat tail, or other feline characteristics on an otherwise human body. These can range from just having the ears and tail, to having a light downy fur, slitted eyes, retractable claws, pointed teeth, etc. What we are NOT looking for is anthropomorphic feline characters. (ala: Furries) Neko girls and boys have been a staple in manga and anime for as long as those have been a thing. Ranging from saucy sex kittens to innocent pet characters, these nekos have been engaging readers, pulling them into fascinating stories of all types. This anthology is centered on engaging erotic stories that are about these feline beings. The story MUST have a neko character (boy or girl) who is either the main character or a major character. The neko character MUST be involved in the sex, and the sex has to be hot, explicit and needed to move the plot and story forward. The erotic content can be straight, bi, gay, or some combination thereof. The erotic content does not need to be vulgar or super graphic, but if that style fits the story then go for it. We are looking for erotica, not porn. Romance is welcome but not a requirement for the erotica. Ideally, we are looking for positive ending stories. This does not mean you cannot have a sad ending, just that there won’t be as many of those stories accepted into the anthology.
Equus — November 30
- Payment: $10.00; print copy
- Reprints: no
- Simultaneous subs: acceptable
- Multiple subs: no
- Word length: under 7,500
- Publisher: World Weaver Press
- Theme: “Horses are represented in mythology and folklore from Paleolithic right up to modern times. What is it about these magnificent creatures that fascinates us and captures our hearts? Is it their intelligence, their power, their beauty or something else that draw us to them? That is just one of the questions we’re going to explore in Equus. I will be looking for stories about every kind of horse from the earthly to the mythological and though I’ll be placing a special emphasis on horses, unicorns and Pegasus, every kind of magical equine is welcome (and really, aren’t they all magical?). Stories with a strong sense of place will have an advantage, as will those which explore the connection (for better or for worse) between equines and humans.”
The Symbol of a Nation — December 1
- Publisher: GOAL Publications
- Editor: Fred Patten
- Word count: 2,000-15,000
- Reprints: no
- Payments $0.01/wd; print copy
- Note: email editor before starting story
- Theme: “Furries that are the national animals of countries, such as Afghanistan’s snow leopard, Algeria’s fennec, Bangladesh’s tiger, Canada’s beaver, Denmark’s mute swan, Estonia’s barn swallow, France’s rooster (fighting cock), Gambia’s hyena, Honduras’ white-tailed deer, Italy’s wolf, the U.S.’s bald eagle … There are over 200 countries and most of them have a national animal or bird. For this anthology, we are extending the theme to the official animals of provinces and states. There are several animals such as the koala (Queensland) and platypus (New South Wales) of Australia, or the giant squirrel (Maharashtra) and red panda (Sikkim) of India, or the coyote (South Dakota) and raccoon (Tennessee) of North America that are not national animals, but are the official animals of provinces or states. But: this is limited to the officially adopted animals (including birds) of national or sub-national entities only. No sports team mascots, corporate mascots like the NBC peacock, political party mascots, or breakfast cereal mascots. No fictional official animals or countries like Transylvania and vampire bats. However, some countries have both a national animal and a national bird, such as Chile – its animal is the huemal, an Andean deer, and its bird is the Andean condor. We will accept stories featuring either or both. Please make sure that they are official. There are many animals that are often associated with countries, such as the eagle & snake on the Mexican flag, or Mexico’s Chihuahua, but they are not official animals. (Mexico’s official animal is the xoloitzcuintli. Don’t know what that is? Look it up.) If you would like to submit a story, write to the managing editor (Fred Patten) first to find out if that animal or country is already claimed. If you would like to use an animal or country but don’t know what to pair it with, ask the editor or look it up. Stories sent to the editor without checking first may be wasted effort. The rules are more complex than for most furry anthologies. (1) There must be a connection between the animal and the country. If you feature a tapir, the national animal of Belize, make sure that there is something about Belize in the story. (2) No funny animal stories where the characters could just as easily be humans. Make your characters feel like uplifted or evolved animals. Most animals with fur don’t sweat. (3) Try to match the animals to their environments. If they have thick fur, don’t have them wearing thick clothing in humid tropical lands. (Or justify the discrepancy.) Stories may be humorous or serious. There may be humans in the story as secondary characters, but the main character(s) should be furry.”
If you are considering submitting to any anthology, always remember to look closely at the guidelines to make sure you send the proper file format to the right editor. Hell hath no fury like an editor’s scorn at seeing their pet peeves. If ever you have questions / concerns, you can generally feel free to email an editor to seek advice on a particular concern. Plus, seeing your willingness to open a line of communication only speaks praise of your ability to communicate effectively if they do accept your work.
In the year 2001, the Usenet newsgroup alt.lifestyle.furry had been in existence for five years since it’s beginning in June 1996, and its first post in August 1996, and had become a popular site for furries around the world to communicate online. By the year 2000, 540 Furveys from newsgroup participants had been posted, indicating approximately the number of people participating. Posting news and comments on furry topics was the intent of alt.lifestyle.furry, but topics other than furry had become common. Beginning on September 11, their discussion became intensely focused on the terrorist attacks that occurred in the United States and which would soon affect many people all over the world.
My examination of alt.lifestyle.furry’s activity regarding the events of that day began on my LiveJournal journal in September, 2011, and it featured large edited blocks of the alt.lifestyle.furry posts regarding the 2001 attacks. As such, my posts at that time were extended over sixteen days and may still be read beginning with this post. Those posts attempted to feature the most relevant topics and responses, out of many that appeared on the newsgroup at that time. I have also provided in this essay the URLs for the original newsgroups posts for more reference. For a more abbreviated version of those original posts, readers may view my current DreamWidth Journal beginning with this post.
The discussion began on September 11 with SwiftFox, who posted the initial report of the attack in New York City from The Associated Press.
SwiftFox Sept. 11, 2001 9:23 AM
Aircraft Hits World Trade Center
The Associated Press, September 11, 2001 9:09 AM
New York (AP)-An aircraft crashed into the upper floors of one of the World Trade Center towers Tuesday morning, and black smoke poured out of two gaping holes, witnesses said. Shortly afterward a second explosion rocked the other tower . . .There was no immediate word on injuries or fatalities in the twin disasters, which happened shortly before 9 a.m. and then right around 9 a.m. . .Large holes were visible in sides of the 110-story buildings, landmark twin towers. . . The tops of the twin towers were obscured by the smoke.
Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press
Mr Maigo, at 1:28 PM commented:
4 planes total, 92 and 64 people into the Trade Center, 36 from the crash in PA, un-specified amount in the plane used on the Pentagon.
The reaction from furries came quickly.
MechaSquirrel, at 8:40 AM (his local time) commented:
. . . both of the twin towers are gone now, the 2nd one just collapsed also a few minutes ago. Shit . . . it just doesn’t feel real ya know? You expect stuff like this in movies, but not in real life . . .
SwiftFox, at 8:53 AM commented:
. . . My gut is in a wrench. It’s very hard to sit here . . . waiting. I’m waiting for the call for volunteers to fight the fire in Somerset, PA an hour east of me on the PA Turnpike.
David Fox, at 7:55 PM commented:
I saw it live on television this morning. I was in denial until about 3pm CST . . . It was at 3pm on the way back from my calculus class that I saw it on the front page of Stillwater’s (Oklahoma) local papers, the collapsing Trade Center Tower. In my mind it is not truly real till it is in the papers and when I saw it there . . . *I* collapsed. I never cried in public places, never, until today at least.
A second post appeared that morning, also from SwiftFox.
Posted: Our Thoughts go out to . . .
SwiftFox September 11, 2001 9:02 AM
(Our thoughts go out to) . . . the North Virginia/DC furs . . . the Hudson Furs . . . and their families . . . and all the emergency workers, volunteers, military personnel and citizens who are at this moment, struggling to reduce the loss of life and property these blatant attacks have reaped upon the United States.
Please join with me, furs from all over the world, and say a few words; project your thoughts to those at the center of this tragedy.
Kamau 10:25 AM
Prayers have been offered from first word. A mass will be offered at 2:30 by my paws. I will possible be directly involved with some of this due to my role in EMS and disaster response teams. It is a dark day but we must focus to do the greater good to save people first, then deal with those who caused it.
Nox Corax, at 10:45 AM commented:
It was 7:45 when I first heard about what happened. It didn’t really hit me until I was on my way back home from dropping my sister off at 8:35. I had to pull my car over because I was weeping . . .
Smrgol-};>~ at 12:44 PM commented:
Give blood if you can please, it will be needed.
ziramax, at 3:07 PM commented:
Sending my prayers and thoughts for all those in need. Thanks to all those involved with rescue, aid and blood donation. And candle-light for the grieving and the lost.
Christophe, September 12, 2001 at 6:50 PM commented:
My thoughts go to all innocent people who were injured and killed in this ignominious act of terrorism and their families and friends. Here, in France, and rest of Europe, we are deeply affected by what happens to USA’s people, and which probably concerned some of our compatriots too who were working in those buildings. I really hope that the rescuers will be able to save as many lives as possible.
With all my compassion,
A third post appeared that morning, from Kellic J. Tiger
Kellic J. Tiger September 11, 2001 9:02 AM
*Sobs-Not a cyber one* Everyone. Please take a second out of your day. If you have religion please pray for everyone involved in this tragedy. The firefighters, the police, the ER’s receiving any wounded, the family and friend of those who have died. Even if you don’t have religion please at least wish them your best.
Ursus Californicus, at 1:57 PM commented:
Sigh. I was sent home along with *all* other state employees for our own safety, though in my point it’s moot, as I was promptly activated as an officer with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. I’m currently waiting to see if I’m going to New York for support. As someone who worked through the crash of PSA flight 182, I can add my comments to the Tiger’s: emergency services personnel work through the tragedy without regard to their own feeling. Only later do we sometimes “lose it”. So pray for the emergency personnel, too.
Yours in fur,
Ursus Californicus (the *Bionic* Yiff Beast of Sacramento)
FlepKitsu, at 9:38 PM commented:
(partial quote from Kamau): “If you get sent out this way let me know seeing you may get stationed near my location.”
Kamau, and anyone else that might be going to help with this—be careful!!! and know, without doubt, that you have the admiration and the prayers of your fellow furs going with you.
In the following post, we see some of the tension felt by some military furries, aka “milfurs”, expressed in their particular fashion.
Posted: SOUND OFF! IONOTTER A-OKAY
Alexandyr Troutnoodler September 11, 2001 9:14 AM
ALL UNITS, ALL UNITS . .
JOHN A. IS ALRIGHT.
SITUATION IS NORMAL
NORFOLK BASE IS CLOSED.
PHONE COMMS ARE HEAVILY RESTRICTED OR DOWN.
CELL NETWORKS OVERLOADED.
DEPLOYMENT STATUS UNKNOWN-PRESUME NON-DEPLOY
I SAY AGAIN FOR PENETRATION . . .
JOHN A. (IONOTTER) IS ALRIGHT.
PLEASE REPLY WHENEVER YOU CAN.
Camstone Fox, at 9:27 AM commented:
(partial quote from Alexandyr Troutnoodler): “JOHN A. IS ALRIGHT.”
CAMSTONE FOX A-O-K.
ALL REQUESTED TO REMAIN CALM.
DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT OVER REACT.
As the day continued, more furries added their comments. Some were saddened, and some were expressing anger. In some comments, the anger was directed at the terrorist, but there were some cases of anger directed at other furries for comments made. As had happened on previous occasions, comments on political topics produced conflicts within the newsgroup. Some discussions did become prolonged and bitterly argued. By 2:24 on September 11 these comments appeared:
No One In Particular, at 2:24 PM commented:
(partial quote from Rust): “I can not begin to express my current hatred for the people of Palestine, who are at this moment in the streets, celebrating the deaths of thousands of innocent civilian victims.”
(partial quote from Baloo Ursidae): “Not that we didn’t give them a reason to celebrate, we got involved in their civil war against them. Sure, we called it peacekeeping, but it’s not peacekeeping when you pick sides.”
Un-called-for Baloo. completely un-called-for. You never miss a chance to whack the country which has allowed you the freedom to natter on against it, do you? Even when 50,000+ INNOCENT people are dead. I was expecting such a remark and praying it wouldn’t come to pass. You never cease to disappoint me.
Wayd Wolf, disgusted . . .
Some furries tried to calm the conflicts.
IonOtter, at 3:03 PM commented:
. . .WAYD . . .chiiilll, my friend. Chill . . . Now is NOT the time for a hot head. *hugs*
David Fox, at 7:20 PM commented:
I’d just like to take my time to express my sincere belief that our system of government is our ultimate weapon and that we should be consistent with it and apprehend the responsible and bring them swiftly to trial. They are attacking ideals not people, so let us show them that our ideals will stand where towers have crumbled.
The emotional shock of the morning’s disaster continued into the following days. Posts and comments to posts continued on this subject until at least the twenty-fourth day of September, 2001. Expressions of sadness, helplessness, and love and support appeared daily. Our furry community is famous for its hugs and here was a big one, generously offered by Flep Kitsu
Posted: A Big Hug
Flep Kitsu September 13, 2001 9:12 PM
I figure we could ALL use at least one of these right now, so here’s my contribution:
::::::::::HUGE, GIGANTIC, VAST, COSMIC, ENORMOUS HUG::::::::::
Camstone Fox, at 11:18 PM commented:
Thanks . . . I needed that.
The list of names of the dead from the Pentagon has started to be released . . . So far, none of the names were anyone I knew . . . And I did walk those halls from time to time . . . ~lights a candle~
Kamau, on September 14, 2001 6:45 PM commented:
Thanks, we all need this right now.
We will make it through this, we all will and carry the memories of those who were lost to honor them.
Tiado, at 10:01 PM commented:
*Joins in on the HUGE, GIGANTIC, VAST, COSMIC, ENORMOUS, MASSIVE, SIZEABLE, GARGANTUAN HUG*
Thanks Flep, that makes me feel a little better.
Skytech, on Septmeber 17, 2001 5:48 PM commented (in character):
Sky and Lana grab the kits and join in on the hugs. All genuinely enjoy this moment of communal support.
The attacks of September 11 caused the death of at least one known member of the furry community. The chaos of disasters often produces incomplete or inaccurate reports of casualties. Perhaps the following post reveals where the claim that someone named DesertCat, also known as Walter Senge, came from*.
Posted: Safe & Sound
LionKingCMSL, on September 17, 2001 9:50 AM commented:
To all those furs that may be wondering about the “railroading lion” and the aftermath of 9/11/01, I’m fine. JRedWolf (aka JFox), Looksfar, who are now rooming with me, and myself were well away from both NYC and Washington D.C., in transit to the railroad for a special chartered train for that day, when the attacks took place. When we arrived at the station to pick up our passengers, we found out the horrible news and were shocked and saddened. We are also saddened with the confirmed loss of two furs/weres and the possible loss of at least two others. I checked in with some of the furs who I knew that had dealings in NYC and the Pentagon to make sure they were safe and sound and to let them know we were ok. The reason for the long delay for checking in is because I still have a lot to do at the railroad and this is the first time I had time to type up a message.
To all, “Be Well”.
Kamau, at 7:37 PM commented:
Good to hear you’re fine but busy. The events of last Tuesday may just be a plus to railroads. I’ve been hearing a lot of folk on the news mention train vs. flying. Maybe the railroads can get some of the cash that’s flowing to put in more high speed line.
(partial quote from LionKingCMSL): “We are also saddened with the confirmed loss of two furs/weres and the possible loss of at least two others.”
Last I knew we had all accounted for. Who’s missing?
Camstone Fox, at 8:54 PM commented:
(partial quote from Kamau): “Last I knew we had all accounted for. Who’s missing?”
The furry site http://qrm.exodus.net/fur-status.html reports from NYC’s WTC . . .
DesertCat, aka Walter Senge, Deceased
Lisa Gregg, Deceased (furry name not listed)
and FireFoxx—Missing, not heard from.
After checking about . . . there were no furs reported of who are in the Pentagon in DC . . . as I think I am the only fur who visits them on a regular basis for meeting. Bearhug was in the Pentagon City Mall, which is close by, and PandaGuy was working in DC, but no one in DC is missing or unaccounted for. Still . . . as I was reminded, it doesn’t matter if they were furs or not. . . a lot of souls were terrorized last Tuesday . . . let’s not lose sight of that. Ever.
Kamau, on September 18, 2001 10:39 AM commented:
*Hangs head with ears down*
Sorry, I somehow missed that. Not surprising that we would loose someone. I just thought we were one of the lucky few. *sigh* You can count on it. They will be remembered and honored. While I’m looking for justice and not revenge I’ve got to say I’m very much looking for the word to come down that we can begin taking action against those responsible.
Skytech, at 2:24 PM commented (in character):
aaaw . . .
<Lana and Sky’s bodies visibly droop as they read and they lean together.>
Now it’s close. It’s our community.
Yes, that was our community of alt.lifestyle.furry.
When a disastrous event such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, or a natural disaster occurs, those of us around it but not directly involved with it, can be left with complicated emotional responses. Through the media we may view the pictures and read or hear of the stories from the site of the event. We know that other humans, and animals, have suffered greatly. In normal people this can evoke the feeling of grief. Our response to that grief can take many forms. Writing, and the reading of literature, is one of the ways we can positively cope with grief. The responses that you have read in this essay have shown some examples of the grief that we felt in 2001. Some people wanted to tell the rest of us that they were okay and that they were forming competent responses to the situation. Some people told us how sad they were, or horrified, by the event. Some were clearly angry. Anger and grief are closely related. Some of the participants on alt.lifestyle.furry, probably without realizing it, may have been expressing their anger about the causes of the disaster in words that they directed at one another.
Writing about our grief, or reading the words of others, can be a step toward healing. In our own writing we can give definition to multiple unorganized feelings. In reading the writing of others we may find the form and substance of emotion that we may not have had the skill to articulate, and we see that others experience emotions as we do. Through writing and reading, an emotionally overwhelming experience of grief, one that we feel is too large for us to begin to grasp, can be brought to a size that we can mentally apprehend.
The events of September 11, 2001 cast a long and dark shadow over the world, one that continues to today. By 2005, the newsgroup had declined and become very inactive. Did alt.lifestyle.furry decline, at least partly, from conflicts generated within the discussion of that event? Possibly only careful review of the newsgroup might answer this. Did some, or many, alt.lifestyle.furry participants gain some peace from the support they both gave and found on alt.lifestyle.furry? We hope this is true.
For more information on the Usenet newsgroup alt.lifestyle.furry, please look at these websites:
* A reply from whitetail on this post adds detail:
whitetail writes on September 11 2011, 05:12:20 UTC Edited: September 11 2011, 05:13:37 UTC:
It’s important to never forget those who lost their lives in this terrible terrorist act of war. However, there is no “Walter Senge” or “JenniferKE” on the official list of 9/11 victims. Additionally, no one in the NY Furries community apparently knew or has even heard of a “DesertCat”, or anyone by the aforementioned RL names. I researched this to a rather exhaustive extent back in 2009, and no further information has been discovered or people who knew him/her have come forward since then. Because there is no known documentary evidence of this person’s existence, either in life or in death, I believe it’s prudent to conclude that this is yet another unsubstantiated 9/11 myth.
Elizatbeth (Lisa) Martine Gregg, however, WAS a real victim of the tragedy. That is no doubt whatsoever about her identity, or her death on 9/11/2001.
Fifteen years ago, I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school. School started at seven thirty-five in the morning, and on that morning, I had gotten up early enough that I had twenty minutes or so to spare before I had to start walking.
As was my habit with any scrap of free time I had available, I logged on to FluffMUCK to chat with folks. The atmosphere was undoubtedly strange from the get-go, and it was Leonel who told me, “A plane crashed into the world trade center.” When I expressed confusion and disbelief, he encouraged me to look it up, and so I went to school with the knowledge that something extraordinary was happening.
The teachers and administrators knew that something had happened, and they made a long announcement that, although we were to go to our classes as scheduled, it would be up to the teachers whether or not to teach the subject matter at hand or to talk about the events. In the middle of the announcement, a third plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon.
The released all of the TVs to as many classrooms as possible, and we sat in near silence as we watched the North Tower collapse.
I spent my free period in the computer lab where I helped with the student-run web server, Babylonia. I spent as much time as I could on FluffMUCK trying to get in touch with my partner at the time, Marek, who lived in Pennsylvania. I did the same during the C++ class I was in at the time, where the instructor let us spend the period on the internet reading about what had happened.
We watched the news through the final period of the day, photography, and I still hadn’t heard back from Marek. The punk in the class laughed at my anxiety, and told me that the reason he was better than me was that he wasn’t gay – an insult that was such a non-sequitur that I laughed in his face.
Marek lived. I lived. All of my friends lived. As Shining River writes, there was one confirmed furry lost in the attacks that September, but it wasn’t someone with whom I was acquainted.
2,996 lives and $3 trillion in damages later, my mom and I watched a missile salvo on October 7th, signifying the start of the War in Afghanistan.
This is a furry site, always will be, but we furries are people too. We live in the world, for better or for worse, and the events of the world affect us in myriad ways. In the comments, we welcome you to respectfully share your stories, your memories of that day.
Sixteen years ago, I was a not-so-wee lad just starting his freshman year of high school. I had grown a foot and a half in the previous few years, and my voice had fallen down the staircase from alto to baritone. I had just come out to my mom as gay. My favorite saying, which my step-mother hated, was “sarcasm makes the world go ’round”.
And I had just found furry. That too.
Now, today, I’m well on my way to becoming a giant woman working in open-source software. I’ve not grown any taller, really, though my hair is now quite a bit longer, and I no longer sing, not having an outlet I feel safe in. I recently came out to my mom as polyamorous, married to my cis male husband, loving my genderqueer partner, and looking forward to seeing my trans-girl pup again. I’m still in furry; but I no longer believe that sarcasm makes the world go ’round.
A lot has changed in the last sixteen years of being a furry. The tenor of the fandom has changed as the resources have shifted. MUCKs grew less popular, as did IRC, while things such as Twitter, Slack, and social sites have taken off. VCL still exists, as does Yerf!, in some form or another, but FA grew to take their place, and still others are vying for market share. Skype grew, then started to fade, to be replaced by Discord, while AIM and other direct messengers seem to have been overtaken by Telegram and the ilk.
I finished high school in that time, then started university in biochem, switched to music education, switched again to music composition, left university and started working for a health insurance company, and finally wound up at Canonical.
I dated, I stopped dating, I changed species once (from red fox to arctic fox), I composed and wrote. All of this, or at least most of it, took place within furry. At some point, perhaps around 2010, I managed to get in touch with Klisoura, so that I could snag some of his data from the Furry Survey for visualization practice. These visualizations would lead to [a][s] itself and the [a][s] panels, before long, and [a][s] would lead to Love – Sex – Fur and the guides to safer-sex, relationships, and gender.
I like to think that I’ve grown more sincere over the years, that I’ve started to prize earnestness above sardonic humor and honesty above glibness. This started as something that I found myself enjoying more and more in others. Not that I didn’t enjoy the occasional bit of snark, and I certainly enjoyed good humor, but I found myself starting to surround myself with people who were able to express the way they felt about something truly, without as much of a mask as I had built up for myself.
The journey to becoming a more earnest person, myself, has been one of the harder things I’ve had to go through in life. The habits formed when young are hard to break, and just as I still misgender or deadname myself, I still find myself slipping back into those sarcastic ways far too easily. It’s a mask I wear – one of many – and it adheres too readily to my face. For so long, it was inconceivable that I feel emotions other than anger and pride. Not forbidden, not even ill-advised, but, for me to have felt despair or elation, joy, depression, or sadness…well, that would have been a sign of just how broken I was.
As I put it to my therapist, I took a passage from the book Dune by Frank Herbert and applied it way too literally to my life. Young Paul Atreides is being tested by the Bene Gesserit reverend mother with the gom jabbar, a test which will determine whether he is a human or an animal. A human, the reverend mother explains, is in total control of his emotions and feelings, and can use those to better himself, while an animal is ruled by his emotions and feelings, and can easily be overrun. “You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick.” she explains. “A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.”
I was putting myself to this gom jabbar daily, continually. I still do, if I’m not careful. If I’m to be a human, I mustn’t let my emotions rule me. I took it far beyond the point where it was healthy, bottling up feelings to the point where they would on escape at moments of crisis. Running away, a suicide attempt, punching a hole in the wall, a fight, a cut, a burn. I would be less than human to feel any emotions but pride in my accomplishments or anger at the shortcomings of others. I would be an animal (and not in the fun way). I was trying to be my view of my father, I was trying to be a support for my mother.
My therapist (perhaps rightly) rolled his eyes, but the meaning got across well enough.
I’m still friends with Klisoura, of course, and had the chance of spending a lovely hour or two yapping with him at Rocky Mountain Fur Con a few weeks ago. As we discussed some trends showing up here and there within the fandom, he said something that knocked me on my tail for a bit with its weight: “My journey through furry has been a journey of decreasing irony.”
Mine has, as well. Of course, like everything I write for [a][s]. I must caution that this doesn’t necessarily apply only to furry: my journey towards living happily has also been a journey of earnestly accepting my emotions and feelings and then expressing them, in not feeling bad about liking the things that I like.
That said, I think it’s not worth discounting the ways in which furry is structured to encourage such a shift, from ironic to sincere. The shift may be one that happens in everyone’s life, but furry provides the social lubrication to allow it to happen more easily.
The primary means by which furry encourages sincerity is by the obvious fact that we’re all really here because we like something. There are plenty of hot takes about hipsters, geeks, sports nerds, and so on, about how uncool it is to be a part of such a group, as though one ought to be sheepish about the things that one enjoys.
I told my story earlier to show just how this is played out. In the competitive nature in which children, especially those in the formative years of the early teens, are so often raised, it’s not enough to like something, one has to excel at it. That is, one can’t form a portion of one’s identity around something lest that leave a spot for weakness. To enjoy the idea of philately or model trains is fine, but there’s risk to be found in enjoying them too much, basing a portion of your identity off of them There’s no pride to be had, and it’s opens you up too easily to damage and loss, should your stamp be unattainable or your train set ridiculed. Or, to recast in furry terms, forming a portion of your identity around your membership within the fandom opens you to shame as you watch your fandom being derided as a bunch of sad kinksters by an inebriated volleyball parent in the FC convention elevators.
Liking things – just earnestly liking them, without shame or defensiveness – is something of a skill learned over time. By the time that we are able to form a portion of our identity around something that we like, we’ve already learned the skill of shame. It has already become engrained in us as we start to actively pursue hobbies in our early to mid teens. To take that enjoyment beyond a simple hobby and into an identity, from a fan to a member, means stepping past that shame knowing full well that it’s watching your every move.
Contrary as it may seem, through our habit of connecting with each other through created personae and avatars, we are able to construct something of a defense for ourselves. It’s a sort of layer of indirection, which allows, e.g, Makyo to be a member of the subculture while, to her coworkers, Madison is more of a fan of anthropomorphics. The internet has proven a boon for subculture membership in this half-anonymized way; the same may as well be said of a gamer with a penchant for playing games as fast as possible with only one hand, or an entire subculture surrounding countless anonymous individuals playing Pokémon.
Mainstream culture doesn’t know how to interface with furry culture because furries are the only non ironic people left on the Internet
— gay victim soul (@tragicgay) August 24, 2016
It’s not so much that furry makes one sincere, as it provides so many opportunities to be sincere. Furry didn’t make me less ironic, that would be a silly statement for a fandom centered around creating personalized anthropomorphic characters. Furry did, however, make me want to be less ironic. It did help me in getting closer to being a more sincere person.
I think that I’m not alone in this, either. I felt it. Klisoura echoed the sentiment when he said that furry was a journey of becoming less ironic. Twitter user tragicgay felt it when they tweeted about mainstream culture being unable to fully understand furries due to the lack of irony.
@tragicgay I wonder if, despite some ppl saying irony died after 9/11, irony has completely triumphed.
— BilderstreitKünstler (@Christaphorac) August 25, 2016
Is that true, then? That mainstream culture has so enshrined irony that it’s baffling to be earnest? Is that us furries failing their gom jabbar?
I’m not sure, and perhaps am not one to say, given how much trouble I’ve had in my own new sincerity, but I think that may be it, at least to some extent. There’s no small part of me that wants it to be the case, too; that wants furry to be this staggeringly beautiful new way of looking at the world, experiencing enjoyment, showing emotions, just plain unabashedly liking things.
I think that is, perhaps most ironically, what makes us most human.