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.
Today, on Love – Sex – Fur, we have a beautifully illustrated comic about the confluence of adult comics and the furry subculture! Head on over to check it out here! Note that, as with most all LSF content, the comic is not work-safe.
Yes, LSF is still out there and kicking! All of our recent submissions have fit more under the purview of [a][s], though, and that’s okay. This is your reminder, though, that both [adjective][species] and Love – Sex – Fur are always open for submissions, and as is evidenced by a comic post, we welcome submissions of all kinds!
[a][s] had the pleasure to take part in a podcast, alongside Dogpatch Press, exploring furry media. That is, we wanted to explore how media works within the furry subculture, rather than the ways in which widespread media treats furry. It was a wonderful way to do a deep-dive into how media – specifically written media – works and spreads within furry. The whole thing is well worth listening to, so give it ago!
Embedding is disabled at the request of the podcast owner, but you can listen to it in its entirety on its post on YouTube here.
This article in our series debating the Furry Canon is a roundtable discussion of Watership Down by Richard Adams, first published in 1972. Your panelists are JM, Jakebe and Huskyteer.JM
Thanks for letting me lead off this roundtable exploration of Watership Down for the [adjective][species] Furry Canon project. Jakebe, I know that this is a book close to your heart, as it is close to the heart of many lapine furries, and by asking me to read and comment you’re risking have me piss all over something personally important.
But before I do just that, let’s look at the book in more general terms. Watership Down is a 1972 children’s novel—my copy is published under Penguin’s Puffin imprint—about rabbits trying to survive in the Hampshire countryside.
The environment is one of rolling green fields and small family farms, an idyllic version of England but one that still exists today. Our rabbits are intelligent, quick-witted, and vaguely preternatural. The story is, at heart, an episodic adventure: our heroes fight various obstacles for their safety and their future.
It’s an easy read and also rather long. I can imagine that it is the sort of thing that young bookworms lose themselves in, become immersed in the world and form bonds with our lapine heroes.
Jakebe, to kick off, can you talk about your own relationship with Watership Down?Jakebe
Hello JM and Huskyteer!
First off, let me tell you how thrilled I am to be talking about a book I love with two people whose opinion I respect a great deal. It’s pretty awesome. :D :D
I have to admit that I came to Watership Down pretty late, all things considered — up until the time I read it about ten years ago in Arkansas, it wasn’t much of a touchstone for me. The books that had informed my early furry aesthetic were The Wind In The Willows, and Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMH, and the Spellsinger series from Alan Dean Foster. Now that I’m thinking about it, I really *wish* I had discovered Watership Down a lot earlier than I did — I’m pretty sure I would have made my way to rabbit as a species a lot more quickly than I did.
For me Watership Down is a simply amazing book — it talks about the importance of individuality, but also the importance of being a part of a community; it deals with learning how to be brave in an enormous, confusing, and often hostile world; it introduces the idea of spirituality as something that deepens your experience of reality instead of encouraging you to ignore parts of it, and it allows the rabbits to make sense of their world in a way that enables them to be more fully involved in it. The trials of Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig show us how people bond through shared experience even though they’re incredibly different, and how those bonds enable us to tolerate a wide range of personalities and beliefs. For me, the really impressive thing about Watership Down is how it deals with a kaleidoscope of personalities all struggling to accept the same lot in life, and how and why certain choices lead to such disaster down the road.
Personally, Rabbit is a Totem for me; it’s a spiritual partner that teaches me how to deal with fear and feelings of powerlessness. Watership Down was the first novel that felt like it dealt with those ideas head on, and showed the full scope of what it means to be brave instead of fearless. I think for most kids who are struggling to understand a complicated and scary world, the book can be an invaluable way to introduce a lot of concepts that would be difficult to explain head-on. It’s a story that serves as a wonderful escape, but also gives you something to take back with you to the “real world”.
Does that make sense? I hope I’m not talking it up TOO much, but it’s one of my favorites. :)Huskyteer
By contrast, I came to Watership Down when I was young enough to be genuinely terrified by it. I must have been about 8 when I stumbled across the Film Picture Book, a large format book of stills from the animated movie with short narrative text. I was fascinated, and went on to the novel, which must have been the longest thing I’d ever read. I was all about the rabbits for some time, drawing pictures, attempting to turn the book into a play, and getting the one friend who claimed to have read it to join me in Watership Down playground games.
Strangely, although it’s a wonderful book which I re-read often, the novel has not left me with a particularly deep connection to rabbits. But I can’t see one peacefully nibbling the roadside grass on a summer evening without the word ‘silflay’ popping into my head.JM
I find myself with mixed feelings, because I agree with all those positive things you have to say (and will undoubtedly continue to day). Watership Down is such a special book, with so many terrific features that any reader—adult or child—can love and appreciate.
The characterization of our rabbit heroes is terrific. As you say, Jakebe, there are big personality differences between them, and its their ability to work together while taking advantage of each other’s strengths that shows the value of both community and individuality. And the lapine language is great, not least because it gives the author elegant euphemisms for certain unwholesome activities (i.e. “hraka” for “poo”). But I especially loved the rabbit fables, of El-Ahrairah exploring and defining what it means to be a rabbit. There’s great humour and a timeless quality to them: they could be published in a book of their own.
Yet I have some problems with Watership Down. There is an intrusive element to many of Richard Adams’s metaphors and similes that call attention to the time and place the book is written and set: Hampshire circa 1971. I found these aspects to be jarring on two levels: firstly because they don’t fit into our lapine narrative, and secondly because they are often political and negative.
On the benign end of the scale, there is a cricket metaphor describing Hazel’s confidence as he heads to Nuthanger Farm for the first time. It fails because it draws the reader out of the natural lapine world and firmly into the human one. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Adams specifically wants to cast Hazel as an Englishman, enjoying an appropriate English activity, in this case “a batsman [playing] a fine innings”. That undercurrent of slightly intrusive middle Englishness rears its head less benignly in a different metaphor that characterizes the Cornish as coarse, and another that aimed at the Irish which is unambiguously racist: “a rabbit can no more refuse to tell a story than an Irishman can refuse to fight”.
And can I float a theory about Kehaar? I know from background reading that he is supposedly based on a Norwegian soldier, but I can’t see that reflected in his pidgin English: in fact, I read his patois as Caribbean. His character as an honourable simpleton, his deference to the authority to the rabbits, his poor hygiene… I find it easy to see him as a racist stereotype.
To put things in context: the UK had seen significant Afro-Caribbean immigration following WWII (the Windrush generation) and race was a political flashpoint at the time Watership Down was written. The 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act contained explicitly racial, and racist, provisions designed to reduce the numbers of black people coming to the UK. Kehaar is a foreign interloper into the English lapine world: that he is a positive character is neither here nor there, as with Huckleberry Finn’s Jim.
I have some other, related issues – the characterization of the does (as Kehaar would put it, as “mudders” rather than fully-fledged actors), and the rabbits’ specifically Christian God. But I’ve complained for long enough. Hopefully, though, this explains my mixed feelings about Watership Down. On one hand it’s quite brilliant; one the other it’s tarred by a bigoted Little England sensibility.
Am I being unreasonably harsh? I feel sometimes like I cast myself as a wet blanket when I write about furry (and furry-adjacent) art here on [adjective][species], but I promise it’s not out of any pre-determination to find fault. I really do love reading, and there are many books that I truly love. Unfortunately Watership Down, for all its strengths, isn’t one of them.Jakebe
I don’t think you should worry about being a wet blanket on this one at all, JM. It’s perfectly all right to turn a critical eye towards the things we love; in fact, I’d say it’s more important to do so. Engaging with the entirety of a work — its strengths and its flaws — shows a complete understanding and commitment to it that “mature, respectful admiration” requires. At least, I think so.
And Watership Down definitely has its flaws. People have taken Richard Adams to task for his treatment/erasure of women in the novel, and he’s taken strides to correct that in subsequent work; in the (sorta?) sequel Tales From Watership Down, Hazel’s mate is the co-chief of the warren and the female characters are given much more page-time and agency. At least, that’s what I’ve heard because I never actually read the collection. I’m a bad rabbit. :)
As far as the attempt to “humanize” the rabbits leading to Adams’ use of time- or place-dependent metaphor, I’ll give him a pass on that. As far as I know, he wasn’t a professional writer at the time he constructed the novel and even among a lot of the pulpy SFF writers of the time metaphors and allusions that dated the text were common practice. It may speak to the somewhat-myopic social outlook of Adams that he didn’t think about how non-white Englishpeople or people from other countries might take them, and that’s a fair criticism. But I was never taken out of the story because of that.
Your scan of the Sandleford rabbits as white Englishmen is something I had never really considered before, and it opens up a very rich vein for criticism. If we’re to look at the novel as a fable, then it stands to reason each and every character should/does have a real-world counterpart that people in Adams’ social group would be in contact with. I took Adams at his word with Kehaar, but it kind of blows me away that you’ve taken a different (and problematic) meaning from it. I’m not from Great Britain, and I don’t have much knowledge about social and racial politics there. But if Kehaar (and now that I think of it, the mice and hedgehogs the rabbits meet along the way) are meant to be stand-ins for different groups, then it’s a good idea to unpack that.
Huskyteer, what do you think? Would you agree with JM’s assessment that the personalities and outlook of Hazel and his crew are distinctly…middle English, for better and worse? What do you think of the representation of the does in the novel, and do you find that his characterization of other animals have some real-world analogues that those of us in the States might have missed completely?Huskyteer
I thought I was writing a short reply. Apparently I thought wrong.
Watership Down is indeed set firmly in the England I, born in the late 1970s in a county next door to Hampshire, grew up in. It’s not a place that changes quickly; today there would be more fields of oilseed rape and less smoking, but the landscape and people are still recognisable.
The book is written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, which is often necessary to get across concepts outside the rabbits’ experience without wasting thousands of words on them. But the voice of that narrator occasionally slips and becomes the voice of Richard Adams, which I think is what JM is complaining about.
The ‘hedgerow patois’ in which other species are represented as having foreign accents is one of many items Adams contributed to the talking-animal-story toolkit; it’s much less subtle in Garry Kilworth’s Hunter’s Moon, where, if I recall correctly, foxes speak standard English, badgers sound German and cats French.
(Adams’s mouse sounds Italian to me. I’d love to think this is a jokey reference to Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse puppet who was popular in the 1960s, but that’s a bit of a reach.)
I always interpreted Kehaar as a comedy German, one of the key British stereotypes, though that may be because Norwegians, and indeed Jamaicans, were outside my experience the first time I read the novel.
I see it’s been left to the Brit to talk about class. Well, I would certainly pop the rabbits firmly in the middle class, with hedgehogs and mice as the slightly dim but hard-working lower class. The upper class is probably represented by certain elil, like foxes and weasels: frightening, respected, and everyone likes a joke in which they get their comeuppance. (I’m now picturing a rabbit joke with the punchline “The name of our act? The Elil!”.)
Rabbits seem a pretty good metaphor for middle England, in fact; resistant to change, and highly committed to the natural order of things and the ‘green and pleasant land’.
The treatment of women (or, more properly, does) is problematic. Looking at the principal cast, I can’t see any reason why one, some or all of them shouldn’t have been female. Adams does make more of an effort in Tales from Watership Down, and props to him for trying, but I don’t think he manages to pull it off. Frankly, I’ve read WD fanfic that works far better than Tales.
Several excuses can be made, besides the obvious one that the lack of does is what leads to the conflict with Efrafa (not good enough; I’m sure the Watership rabbits would have run foul of Woundwort’s warren in some other way sooner or later).
Firstly, Adams was writing based on rabbit behaviour, and the dispersal of young males in the wild. However, this isn’t an accurate reflection of dispersal (more males than females tend to leave their birthplace, and males tend to go further, but travel is not the exclusive domain of the bucks). Similar excuses are used to justify the exclusion of women and minorities in sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction, and are deservedly shot down.
Secondly, Adams famously based the cast of Watership Down on humans he had known in the military. It’s apparent that he is comfortable working with male characters and the relationships between them.
I’d like to draw a parallel with J.R.R. Tolkien. Here we have two authors who each fought in a world war (Tolkien in the First, Adams in the Second), and survived to write stories about bands of travellers who defend a pleasant, cosy place against a dark and powerful enemy. This view might not excuse the resulting bunch-of-white-blokes ethos, but I believe it goes a long way towards explaining it.
Bottom line: I don’t think it’s at all surprising that the novel reflects a society that is white, middle-class, male-dominated and Christian, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter for condemnation. Dismiss the novel for its limitations and you miss out on the rich story it tells, as well as characters who might all fall into the same social class but are still an interesting and varied bunch.
The world of Watership Down is necessarily a small one, with the rabbits’ exhausting and dangerous journey covering only a few miles. I think this, too, reflects small communities on a small island, where national and international affairs often take a back seat to local news.JM
I think that’s good analysis and it gets to the nub of my real issue with Watership Down – that to drill too deeply into the novel’s structure is to miss the point. It really is a special book, with a combination of characterization, anthropomorphization, and adventure that doesn’t have any parallels in my reading experience. (The Hobbit is as close as I can get.)
Watership Down is a children’s book, and doesn’t hold up well to analysis. And that’s why I am going to vote against its inclusion in the [a][s] Furry Canon: while it excels in its relevance to furry and persistence in general, it’s just too simple for to me recommend it as an exceptional book.
I’m pretty confident that my vote is going to overturned by the two of you, and Watership Down will be recommended to our canon 2-1. And I don’t have a problem with that. In fact I suspect that my opinions are, in this case, less valid than yours, simply because you both clearly love the book. So I guess I’m casting myself as the [adjective][species] Antonin Scalia: contrarian but ultimately irrelevant.
Given that, I’ll halt my final contribution to this roundtable here. There’s a fine line between being contrarian and being belligerent. This has been great though, and I look forward to reading your final thoughts.Huskyteer
I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Watership Down for the Furry Canon. I say that as a fan, but I think and hope I would have the same opinion if I hated it. Here’s how it matches up to the entry requirements:
Quality: The novel was critically acclaimed on its release, winning the Carnegie Medla and other accolades, and regularly turns up on lists with titles like ‘100 Books You Must Read’ and ‘Best Books of the 20th Century’. It has become the standard by which all books about animals who talk but otherwise lead more or less natural lives are judged.
Longevity: See above. First published in 1972, Watership Down has, as far as I know, been in print ever since. Spinoffs have included the 1978 animated film, the late-90s television cartoon, theatre and radio adaptations, and a roleplaying game, Bunnies & Burrows. In 2016, UK broadcaster Channel 5 came under fire for airing the film on Easter Sunday, proving that it still has the power to traumatise small children, and at the time of writing a new four-part mini-series has been announced, with voice talent including Ben Kingsley and John Boyega.
Relevancy: Watership Down has a sizeable fandom within furry, with roleplayers, fanfic writers and artists presenting their own interpretations of both Adams’s cast and original characters. For some, Watership Down in one format or another was the gateway or catalyst that led them to furry in the first place. Finally, how many readers of furry news website Flayrah realise that the name is taken from the Lapine word for especially tasty food?Jakebe
I would second the motion to recommend Watership Down for the Furry Canon. I realize how biased I may be about this, but there are also a ton of terrible rabbit-oriented stories out there that I really wouldn’t suggest anyone should read.
Quality: When most people outside the fandom think about anthropomorphic characters in literature, Watership Down is one of the very first works they think of — and for good reason. It really is an excellent book that stands up well to re-reading as you age; as a child, you get pulled in by the fantastic danger of these cute and relatable animals, and as an adult you realize how the various social systems set up in the warrens they visit have real-world analogs that are fairly disturbing. It’s a book that sticks with you, from the wonderful cosmology of the rabbit’s inner life to the rather visceral violence that frequently visits them.
Longevity: This book has been around for a while; it’s spawned an animated film that’s also a staple of many people’s childhood, an animated series, a sequel of short stories and a role-playing game. And even now, within the viper pit of Reddit, an AMA with Adams brought out a ton of folks gushing about what the book has meant to them. I don’t see its impact diminishing much in the future for those of us in the fandom.
Relevancy: Famous outside of furry, it’s nearly ubiquitous within it. Very few of us haven’t heard about Watership Down, at the very least, and what the book can teach us about courage, community and the fragility of life through the ordeal of the Sandleford rabbits is one of the reasons we get into furry in the first place. It uses animals to make us feel better about being human.
Guest post by Huskyteer. Huskyteer writes stories and poems about talking animals. Most of these are published within the furry fandom, but sometimes one escapes into the wild. She enjoys motorcycle adventures, aviation museums, karate and cider.
It’s one of the most iconic moments in literature. Even if you haven’t read the books, or seen a TV or cinema adaptation, you’re probably familiar with the image of a little girl walking through the back of a wardrobe into a snowy forest lit by an old-fashioned streetlamp. Both the scene and the title of the book – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – are sufficiently recognisable to be used as shorthand and appear in parody.
If that scene is all you know, it’s worth delving deeper. As well as the wise and noble, but also slightly terrifying, Aslan – ‘not a tame lion’ – there are creatures ranging from sublime unicorns to ridiculous but heroic mice. Badgers, bears, moles, mice, not to mention non-humans like centaurs, fauns and dryads (the Narnian mythos tends towards the classical).
(A small confession here: despite the plethora of gorgeous talking animals Narnia offers, my own favourite character is Puddleglum, the pessimistic Marsh-wiggle of The Silver Chair.)
Then there’s the world of Narnia itself, introduced in the glorious, freewheeling fantasy of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, where Man may be no more than a myth. The four children, despite their credentials as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, are intruders on this domain. Narnia was created by Aslan for the benefit of its nonhuman inhabitants; humans blunder in by accident, or are summoned by Aslan to undo the deliberate or accidental harm done by other humans.
I cannot be the only reader who found Narnia less appealing in the later books, when the map has expanded and there are humans all over the place in Calormen, Archenland and the rest.
There’s a sense throughout the series that animals and semi-animals are more consistent than humans, with simpler desires and morality; a lion might eat you, but he’ll be honest about it. This ties in nicely with the idealism that goes with creating a fursona to be a better version of oneself, free of homo sapiens’s nastier traits.
Although humans come in various hues of morality, non-human characters are more likely to be evil the more they resemble humans, as is specifically called out by Mr Beaver’s warning not to trust anything that looks human but isn’t; see the giants of The Silver Chair for a good example.
Much of Lewis’s philosophy lines up nicely with a furry way of thinking. Cruelty to animals, for instance, is a sure sign of evil. There’s an early indicator that the eponymous magician of The Magician’s Nephew is a bit of a bounder in his callous indifference to the guinea pigs he uses in his research: “Some of them only died. Some exploded like little bombs…” The young protagonist, and the reader, are rightly disgusted.
Lewis neatly tackles the problem of feeding a world’s anthropomorphic carnivores: there are Talking beasts, from bloodlines uplifted by Aslan at the creation of Narnia, and there are the ordinary sort, who are, quite literally, fair game. Consuming a sentient being is taboo, and the diner, if a Narnian native and the right sort, is likely to feel as if they have eaten a baby.
The author’s gifts to the furry community just keep on giving. As well as the inhabitants of Narnia, Lewis offers us a race of cute, anthropomorphic aliens, the otterlike hrossa of Mars in Out of the Silent Planet (the first book in the science fiction Cosmic Trilogy). I’m surprised that these creatures aren’t better known and loved in the fandom.
Then there’s this quote from the essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children:
“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
I feel all furries should aim to be courageous adults, maturing without letting go of the most magical things about childhood.
First and foremost, though, and right at the start of his series, C. S. Lewis offered countless children the possibility of a door into another world where magic is real, animals talk, and adventure awaits. As furries, many or most of us are still searching and hoping for that door. Like many such portals, it is supposed to close at childhood’s end, but surely there can be exceptions…
So, do the Chronicles of Narnia belong in the furry canon? Let’s check those three criteria again.
Quality: Famously, C. S. Lewis read the first few pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to a friend at Oxford and enquired whether it was worth going on with. He received an emphatic yes, and went on for seven books.
These are well-written, often funny, and moral in a way that’s inspiring rather than preachy (who in their right mind would want to be like Eustace Clarence Scrubb, who almost deserved a name like that?), with page-turning plots and memorable characters. They don’t talk down to children, and they’re realistic about how an ordinary person might actually feel when called upon to perform heroics in a magical world.
Longevity: The postwar years saw a huge boom in children’s literature, with the newly-established Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin, supplying quality works both fantastic and realistic at affordable prices. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, first published in 1950, was one of the books that helped cement Puffin’s reputation.
Many of the Puffins which were praised on publication for their relevance and modernity now feel dated, yet Narnia’s popularity never seems to diminish. There have been Disney movies, stage plays, and a much-loved 1980s BBC series, but it is the source material, Lewis’s words and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations, that goes on and on, unchanging like the White Witch’s beautiful, endless winter (which I always found a much more striking image than Aslan’s spring).
Relevancy: Sadly, this is where the Chronicles of Narnia fall down. Although I know plenty of furs who have read and loved the books, the context is almost always that of a childhood favourite, rather than a gateway into the fandom. I’ve never heard anyone say that they were inspired to create a fursona by Reepicheep, or Maugrim. I have never – and if it’s out there please don’t tell me – encountered Aslan/Lucy slash.
Perhaps the problem is the religious themes that run through the books. This is the most common complaint to be thrown at the Chronicles, and, according to Furry Survey data, a high proportion of furs identify as atheist or agnostic.
I, as a longtime atheist, find that Lewis, perhaps more than any other human being, makes me feel favourably disposed towards religion, by imbuing it not only with sound reason but with joy, wonder and awe. And, while the Chronicles can be read as a series of parables, it is the plots and characters that shine through. The religious tail never wags the dog of the story.
Then again, maybe it’s the way wolves are always baddies that turns the furry reader off.
I don’t think the Chronicles of Narnia belong in the furry canon. But I do think that furries can get a lot out of the books, and that you’re missing out on something wonderful if you dismiss them because they’re religious or aimed at children.
Furries, or so it seems to me, have a split in their views. When it comes to sex, we are all in favor for allowing two individuals to get up to whatever they want, so long as they both consent. However, when it comes to money, we suddenly become a lot more wary about letting others make their own decisions. Surveys done by [adjective][species] seem to agree with this; finding social liberalism much higher than economic liberalism. It would seem that attitudes are correct on the former, but these are contradicted by the latter. In this essay, I will attempt to show why capitalism, and a free-furry-market, are ultimately a huge boon for the fandom.
Before going on, I wish to address a criticism now – In this article, I will be talking about the “quality” of pieces that an artist can produce. It may be argued that the quality of art is purely subjective, and thus the quality of two pieces cannot be compared so objectively. To an extent, I would agree that taste comes into how much a person is willing to pay for artwork. When I use “quality” I am using it the sense of complexity – whether something is shaded, sketched, accurately represent what the artist wishes it to represent, etc… Whilst the artist style will obviously effect what a person is willing to pay, it is also clear that a fully coloured and shaded piece is of a higher quality than just a sketch.
A lot of furries wonder about the value of a piece of art, that is to say, how much an artist ought to be paid, and for what. One assumption I have seen is that there is a “true” value behind an artist time. Many furries will encourage artists to charge the “right amount” for their time, due to how valuable it is.
But this is missing out on what really determines the value of an artist time – how much people are willing to pay, and for what. A piece of work may take artist A hours upon hours to finish, and, at the end of the effort, that artist may have a decent quality piece. In the meantime, artist B, who is more experienced, produces two pieces, which are of equal standards to A’s. Artist C can also only produce a single piece in that time, but, unlike A and B, they have given it detailed backgrounds, shading, and other such things. If those three artist then sold their work, C would likely charge the highest, say, $90. A and B may then both sell their pieces for $40 each.
A – Decent quality – 1 piece, $40
B – Decent quality – 2 pieces, each $40
C – High quality – 1 piece, $90
1. Assuming all three artist sell their work for the prices they wished, C will make the most money, followed by B, and then A. Because B was able to create two pieces within the same time as A, and the market was willing to pay $40 for a decent quality work, they were able to make double what A made. C made more than either artist, but in the same time frame. The market does not care how long it took any of these artists; what matters is the quality of the work and the amount that each charge for that piece of work. The fact that A tried their hardest, yet still only made half of what B made just goes to show that markets do not care for the actual subjective effort required. An artist time is only worth as much as what they can produce, and what the market is willing to pay for.
To further prove this, let’s introduce artist D, who is still fairly new, but their work is of a marketable quality, though not nearly as good as A or B’s. If they then sold their work for $40, and it took them double the time to create that work, then they would make even less. If the market did not wish to pay $40, they would make nothing; and why should the market pay for lesser quality, when the same price will afford them A or B’s work? The truth of the matter is that, whilst D is a new artist, and of less skill, they may only be able to charge $5 to create a piece that would take the same time to create as A, B, or C.
Does that seem unfair? It may, since artist D tries extremely hard, but is only able to make a fraction of what C does, but consider the alternatives:
If nobody was allowed to charge for their work, then C would not be able to become rewarded for their time, and may lose what supports them financially. The inability to charge would also hurt D, as people would suddenly wonder why they should bother with them, when A, B, and C are all producing higher quality works. Before, D could gain attention by offering their work for cheaper, allowing them to earn something from their work whilst honing their skills. If they enjoy making art, then why should it matter that somebody else is making more? Is it fair to remove a small bonus to D’s artistic endeavors, simply because somebody more skilled is earning more? If D is happy just to be earning something, then what C is earning should not matter. As D gets better, demand for their art will increase, and, eventually, they will be able to charge more, but until that time, they have to start somewhere. Why try and tackle inequality by making everybody worse off?
Another suggestion might be to make all artist charge a minimum amount. This would mean that C can still charge $90, but it would also mean that D cannot be undercut for their time. If the minimum began at, say, $40 per piece, then it may seem at a first glance that D would be much better off. However, let us consider this more closely: If D charged $40 for a piece of their work, then they would suddenly be competing with both A and B. When D’s work is of a lesser quality than A or B’s, the market would simply decide to spend that $40 on the higher quality product. D would not be able to compete with that: the reason they were able to earn $5 a piece as they grew as an artist was because they were not competing with others, but instead occupying a slot in the market. Even though D may not be able to produce pieces of the same quality as A or B’s, people would still allow them to earn something purely by virtue of D being cheaper. Ultimately, if all artist were forced to charge a “minimum”, it would hurt newer artist the most. Sure, A and B would be protected from having to lower their prices to compete with another, but that problem can also be addressed.
If artist C improved in quality, and could produce three pieces of art of the same quality as A and B, but decided to sell each piece for $30, then that would seem to hurt both A and B, since the market would surely choose C instead of either of them. However, this is not necessarily so. Consider the perspective of C; they can see the market will pay $40 for their pieces, due to the success of A and B. If the market would willingly pay for this, then why would they suddenly decide to lower their prices? They could just as easily charge $40 per piece, and if A and B are successful, the market will pay that price. It would therefore not be in C’s interests to undercut A or B. If the market suddenly decided not to pay $40 for work of the quality of A, B, or C, then it would make sense for C to lower their prices, but it would also make sense for A and B to lower their prices as well, whether C existed or not. The “minimum” charge for a piece is not needed to protect A and B from being undercut, as it is not in anybody’s interest to undercut them for the same quality work as them.
An additional factor to consider with art commissions is that they are not mass produced. If an artist has a truly unique, or very unusual, style, then they can control almost all of the supply for the demand. Because what anyone is willing to pay for any style of art is so determinate upon the buyer, it is very difficult to place an “ought” on what the buyer should pay. It may be believed that there is an objective price for any given piece, but somebody may take a liking to a particular style, and be willing to pay more for it. If there is a particular group of people who share the same liking of that style, then the artist who produces it will have found themselves a market. When somebody commissions them, it should be trusted that both parties – the commissioner and artist – have accepted the price being placed on the artist time. The commissioner knows how much they are willing to pay, knowing they can walk away, yet freely choose to pay. Meanwhile, the artist has decided for themselves what their time is worth.
Why can’t furries treat business like sex? Why is it that, during intercourse, we seem content to let others do whatever they wish with one another, so long as all parties give consent, and not with art? When it comes to financial agreements over art, I believe the same should apply. Instead of telling artist what their work is worth, why not simply allow them to decide exactly how much their time is worth? If an artist prices are too high, you do not need to tell them, simply do not buy from them, and if the market agrees, the lack of sales will be the most obvious sign of “you’re charging too much” that can be given. On the other hand, that same artist may keep their prices consistent, or even raise them due to high demand. There is no reason to tell them their prices are too high; people are buying from them, and those people are willingly giving money over to that artist. When you say that an artist “charges too much”, you’re not just insulting their judgment, but the judgment of that artist customers – both of whom seem perfectly happy with the transaction. There is nothing wrong with going elsewhere because you do not want to pay the asking price for something, in fact, that’s good, as it’s showing awareness of your role as an active consumer. But, if an artist is finding customers for what they value their work at, then there is no reason for them to drop their prices for anyone.
It is an artist’s right to charge whatever they want for their work. If they charge too much, the market will reject it. Yet, if they decide to charge a low price, then it is their choice to do so. They know how much they believe their time is worth, and whether you think they should be charging more or less, a free-market will send a better message than any individual ever could.
Ultimately, a free-market is the best way for the furry market to function. As it stands, the community is almost completely laissez-faire with it’s approach to commissions – with many artists able to live off their work, as new artists develop their skill whilst earning something from it – while providing a rich choice to those wishing to spend money on commissions. Not only that, but I believe that it is important to respect the artist’s judgment, and the ability for others to know what they value.
You know how much we love data. If data were a person (with apologies to Brent Spiner), we’d have a total crush on them. We really like data.
So it is that we’re basically ecstatic to see the release of the Fur Science! e-book.
FurScience.com is the home for our wonderful friends over at the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, who has contributed to this site in several ways through the guise of Nuka/Courtney Plante. The IARP does several studies through the internet and through conventions – and these are scientific studies, unlike our Furry Survey, which is primarily a market survey – and through the data that they have gathered, they’ve pulled together a fantastic resource for furries and non-furries alike.
The Fur Science! e-book is a fascinating deep dive into several of the studies that the IARP has done, ranging from demographics to therians and bronies, and everything in between. If you like data just as much as we do, you’ll certainly enjoy paging through the 174 pages of graphs, charts, and explanations. Hats off to Nuka and crew over at the IARP for pulling something like this together.
The [adjective][species] Philosophy Survey is an investigation into what furries think of the world, morality, and knowledge, amongst other things. No prior knowledge of philosophy is needed to complete the survey, and most of the questions will be ones that most people have thought of in their spare time anyway. What we are particularly interested in is if the answers given have any correlation, both with one another, and with the fandom’s demographics: Do older furries tend to hold different views than others? Does one species lean more towards scientific explanation than others? This survey hopes to give insight on these questions.
Overall, the survey will likely take about five minutes or less, though participants are encouraged to think about each question as they go. The results will be anonymous, and used in visualizations. Various comparisons with the general views of society will also help to understand if furries have any majorly varying ideas to the general public. Additionally, where applicable, the results will also be contrasted with David Chalmers “What Do Philosophers Believe?” survey, which gathered the beliefs of professional philosophers from across the world. The survey will run for 2 months, after which, after some time for analysis, the results will be made public (though no personal information will be given, and all results will forever be anonymous).
Thank you for your time. This is an area of furry that many of us wish to explore deeper, and the data from this survey will go a long way to analyzing the community at a deeper level.
You can take the survey here.
Up until this point, there has been a lot of discussion around furry; on what it means to be a furry, how the identity interacts with the way we see the world, etc… However, it is often beneficial to reflect upon the things we have said, and the way in which we use words. I believe, and will attempt to show in this essay, that we hold an incomplete grasp of words within the context of furry.
I’d like to start by saying that I shall be adopting a metaphysical Externalist perspective. To begin with, I believe it is important to clarify what that means.
A metaphysical Externalist holds that for something to be a thought, it must in some way be connected and formed through an outside object. Traditionally, thought is painted in a “mental images” sort of way, but the Externalist argues against this. For example, if you want to think of a tree, then it would not be enough to simply have the image of a tree within your own mind. Instead, that image would have to come from an actual experience with trees, from which, the thought forms.
Hilary Putnam gave one such argument for this. In his essay Brains in Vats, he asks us to imagine an unlikely scenario. Imagine an ant is walking along the sand, leaving a line behind it as it goes. As it continues to walk across the sand, that line intersects with another, and another, until the ant has eventually left a perfect semblance of Winston Churchill in the sand. This image has complete likeness to the historical figure, down to the smallest detail. However, that does not mean that it is a representation of Winston Churchill.
The reason for this seems obvious; the ant has no idea who Winston Churchill is. By accident, it simply left those impressions in the sand. In order for something to be a representation as opposed to a resemblance, there must be intentionality behind it. If we draw a picture, in order for that picture to carry meaning, we must be able to grasp what it is that we are drawing in order for it to represent anything. The way in which we acquire such a grasp, however, is through experience with an external object. This is the difference between the ant scraping a resemblance in the sand, and somebody who is aware that a real Winston Churchill existed and has drawn a picture of him; one has intentionality due to knowing about Winston Churchill, and is thus able to represent him. The other does not. This same principle applies to words, too. In order for our words to mean something, they must also be about something. If I were to say “tree”, that word carries meaning due to the fact that it is able to represent the trees which I have experienced existing externally to me.
To further this point about words, there is no difference between a word written on paper or spoken, and a word in our head. Somebody could know how to respond in Japanese, for example, to other Japanese speakers, yet have no idea what the words which they say mean. They could have no clue as to how the words they said connected to the external world, and thus they would not be able to represent anything in Japanese, despite seeming to be fluent in the language. The words themselves may make sense to somebody external to the speaker, but that would not mean the speaker themselves would be aware of it. For our words to have meaning, they must connect in some way to things which are external to us.
Lets apply this to furry. When we use certain words within furry, I do not think we know what it is we are grasping at times. We may have some idea in some cases, but in many, I doubt that we have a hold of anything external.
I will say that some words do definitely hold meaning in furry, before I move onto talking about how others don’t. “Fursuit” is a very good example of a meaningful word. We know what it is, we have mental imagery, we have experienced fursuits existing external to us (if even just through pictures), and we can quite easily define what they are. Thus, such a word has meaning. Oddly enough, the word “yiff” is actually one of the more meaningful words furries have; we all know what it means, and can all grasp what it represents.
However, we can then move on to more complex words. “Fursona” is particularly hard to define. We definitely know that “fursonas” exists external to us, and we have experience with something, yet it is almost impossible to put out fingers on what that is. The word “fursona” can only carry limited meaning, due to the fact that it is not clear what it represents, outside of a very broad framework. That is, not until we know what the external object we are representing with the word is.
We then move on to words that I believe are so elusive, and so difficult to define or grasp externally, they do not represent anything at all. Though controversial, “postfurry” will be my example in this article. My question to any postfurries, before they carry on with whatever they have to say, would be to explain how exactly they have been able to experience such a thing existing outside of themselves. Can anything be pointed to and have people say “that is what post-furry represents?” My argument here is not that postfurry does not exist, but that in its current state, it is not a real thought and carries no solid representation. In order to make the word mean something, then I would say that the postfurry community needs to work more on grasping what exactly it is referring to, and what it is externally.
I am not picking on postfurries, either. I believe that many words used in furry discourse suffer from not being able to grasp exactly what they are referring to.
An objection to this may be to argue that terms such as postfurry, community, etc., are subjective, and dependent upon each individual. Such a word, though, would be meaningless. Wittgenstein’s private language argument can be used here to show why.
The private language argument says that, if a word has no public use, then we cannot know if we are applying it properly. If there were a word than only one individual knew, and had no known correspondence with reality, then how could we know that such a word was used correctly? The issue is that if the word has no public use, and it is used once, we need to know that when it is used again, it refers to the same thing. If that word has no rules, and no way for it to be wrong, then it can never be used in the right way either. If a word has nothing that it represents, then it becomes a meaningless word.
If we want the word “furry” to carry meaning, we must accept that there is a correct use for it, and an incorrect use for it. Just because some people may think that it means something different, that does not mean a definition is under threat, somebody may just be wrong about it. Meaning comes from words being able to publicly represent things, if a word can mean anything, then it cannot be of any use.
Overall, I believe that this criticism can be applied to much of what has been said about furry. We, as a community, do not know what we are referring to. Many of our words carry little meaning or are vague. If the community is to have meaningful discussion and thoughts, then those discussions must use words that represent real things, and those thoughts must be actual thoughts, not just buzz words that we get into the habit of saying without understanding. This may be a large task, but it is my belief that a better grasp of our own terms – and understanding how furry actually exists – is essential if sites, such as this one, are to string together letters in such a way that they communicate representational content. This is, of course, the entire goal of our words.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a 1970 novella, hereon referred to as JLS, is really bad. How bad? Read on.
I’m reviewing JLS for the [a][s] Furry Canon project because it appears on Fred Patten’s “Top Ten Furry Classics”. Fred’s list was one of the inspirations for this project, and so I’m working my way through all ten of Fred’s choices. Unfortunately they include JLS.
To be fair to Fred, his top ten is obviously not intended to be a “best of” – it’s more a list of books that are important to furry in some way. It includes choices like the first by-furry for-furry book (Paul Kidd’s Fangs of K’aath), and (as Fred puts it) the first serious* intelligent* animal novel for adults*, Sirius.
* My experience with JLS has caused me to doubt Fred’s judgment of quality. So I’m going to consider these terms to be provisional, until I’ve read and reviewed Sirius.
All of Fred’s top ten—including JLS—receive Fred’s approval as “great reading”. I am here to tell you that JLS is not great reading. To the contrary: it is asinine, tedious, humourless, preachy, and (mercifully) short.
JLS is a story about a seagull who learns to transcend the boundaries of space and time using the power of his heart. Argh.
Do you really want to hear all the ways this book sucks? Because it’s worse than my synopsis in the preceding paragraph (minus my ejaculation of psychic pain) suggests. I thought that this review might be fun to write, but all it’s doing is reminding me of the experience of reading JLS, which is much like living through a Picard facepalm.
JLS starts with JLS himself—the triple-barreled name of our seagull hero—pissing about. He is ignoring his seagull mates and instead flying stunts. (This is written in weirdly specific aeronautical jargon.) Jonathan learns to go fast, and then gets kicked out of his seagull team because he has the moral courage to follow what’s in his heart. And then he meets a fucking immortal seagull guru and starts transporting himself around the place instead of flying. And then becomes this bullshit secular religious prophet, where he teaches other seagulls to follow their dreams.
The writing is bad. It is written alternately in the style of what I imagine goes on at r/seaplanes, and coddling new-agey claptrap. It’s about as edgy as a weak episode of Diff’rent Strokes.
In line with the softcock positivism of JLS, the tone of the writing is bland and—at its best—worthless. I’d compare it writing that appears on an eagle-themed inspirational poster, or the platitudes spouted by Malibu Stacy’s short-lived competitor Lisa Lionheart, or perhaps the motivational messages of professional wrestling cheeseball Bo Dallas. Except that JLS is less pithy, and has less to say.
I’d say that JLS is unpublishable, yet it has sold in excess of one million copies—that’s a lot of readers’ eyes being rolled as they suffer through this thing—and was rewarded with a film feating a Neil Diamond soundtrack. Both the film and soundtrack have a reputation for being terrible.
So I guess you could say that I respectfully disagree with Fred’s characterization of JLS as “worth reading”. I can only imagine that he included JLS in his list because of its commercial success, or perhaps due to some short-lived cultural impact on its publication in 1970 (Fred was 30 at the time). In either case I can’t imagine anyone picking it up in 2016 and deciding it’s worth a damn.
I’m happy to conclude that JSL fails at the most basic level to be a book of any value, never mind one of the quality necessary for recommendation into the [a][s] Furry Canon.
It think it fails on our other criteria as well – longevity & furry connection.
I know I’m not the only person who knows JLS solely through its use as an expletive by The Simpsons‘s sea captain, which I think says it all as far as longevity goes. And while I know of at least one furry seagull who takes a kind of furry pride in the existence of JLS, he is Scottish and therefore you can imagine how he feels about being told by a hippie to find the courage to let his heart soar free.
In summary, Jonathan Livingston Seagull deserves neither your time nor interest. It will not be taking a place in the Furry Canon.
When I first heard about the concept of post-con depression, the idea made a lot of sense. We have a massive community of people who meet each other over sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and various furry art hubs. These groups of people travel across or fly over states, countries or in some cases continents and oceans to see these online friends possibly once a year for a weekend, if that.
That’s already bittersweet.
But when you consider going to a big con – and presently attending is an amalgam of so many internet personalities you had conversed with or seen – it feels less like a get-together of friends and more like a supernatural event. Maybe like that scene in the film Big Fish where all the people Edward Bloom had met in his life showed up to attend his funeral, juxtaposing themselves as they exist now with the ghost of the narrative that surrounded them. Except less macabre. Alternatively, it could be compared to something like a World’s Fair for a very specific group of people.
And this convention I attended was indeed very fair-like. In the dealer’s den there were booths for everything from harnesses and tails to scarves and soap, plus artwork, books, jewelry, and custom renaissance fair outfits. There were board game expositions with groups of friends playing together. I attended and participated in panels with some of the brightest creative minds, young and old, that I had met.
Come Saturday, I saw all of the props and displays getting taken apart, and that was my first inkling of inexplicable dread, like a small voice in my head that said ‘this ephemeral extravaganza is going to phase out of existence entirely, and what was will never be again‘. That voice was no long a whisper when Sunday morning came, and I could see a sizable chunk of the crowd had already gone, having stole away in the night. I regretted not going to the Saturday dance. When I was younger, I used to be very much into British and Irish folklore, so the thought of pixie rings popped into my head: where people could not stop dancing if they joined in the revelry of the faeries, and having partaken in their food and their music meant the people could no longer return to the mortal world.
It certainly didn’t help that this convention was Rainfurrest 2015.
That being said, I most certainly don’t have precognition, so my hairs would have stood on end similarly for any big con with a support group for writers. At one point on a Saturday, I remarked to a friend: “you know, everybody we run into seems to be wearing ears and a tail at the very least, and I’m starting to want one. But then I realize I’d have nowhere else to wear it.”
And that moment was the light bulb going off in my head– that decisive moment where you can feel that a subculture is truly a subculture and is leaving an anthropological impression in the world. I thought of Foucault’s literary theory of Panopticism.
For those not familiar, Michel Foucault was a French philosopher made famous for his ideas of power and control and how they construct and interact with our social worlds. One of his ideas was that of the social Panopticon, based on an institutional building invented by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century where a single guard would sit at the center of a spherical building, the surrounding walls holding the prisoners in their cells, making all cells in the institution visible to the guard at a time. Despite this being impossible, prisoners could still feel the gaze of the sentinel, and it was enough to prevent bad behavior. Inmates would start policing their own behavior as well as the behaviors of other prisoners, because it could not be discerned whether the guard was looking at them at any time or not. Foucault presents the argument that all of society acts as this guard, including ourselves, while at the same time we each act as the prisoner. We self-police based on the gazes we give and receive, and what we consider “bad” behavior changes as the guard changes.
Fashion is a very subtle form of this self-policing, and it can be exacerbated to extremes in environments like high school and freshman college dorms. For example, as a personal experience, when I was in high school I noticed that everybody wore jeans, while I didn’t care for them. I made it a point to not wear jeans. I wore nylon shorts, and khakis, and any form of legging that I could find that didn’t include denim. I never talked about this, but it was noticed. Many young women would look at my legs and raise their eyebrows. At one point I was nicknamed “professor” because I didn’t wear jeans.
By the beginning of my senior year, I started wearing jeans. I had warmed up to them, though I can’t say if this was more due to a change of taste or sheer peer pressure. Either way, my wearing jeans was noticed. I was given croons of approval. I was invited to more social outings. There was a noticeable difference in how I was seen and treated, and more than a few people told me I was, no kidding, now hot.
We know that the societal pressures of fashion are real. While the high school example is an extreme, I felt the same pressure from not wearing ears, a tail, or a costume over the course of a single weekend at a furry con, and that is nuts. That the furry con and subculture has a strong enough ethos to give me subconscious pressure about not wearing something is significant to me. It blurs the lines between culture and subculture in a way that gives me a small headache.
It gave me a new outlook on what post-con depression could be: not just the distress from parting with friends who you talk to every day, but self-doubt about the permanence and place of your subculture. It elicits questions like: “Was the furry of today going to be the furry of tomorrow?”, “Are all of the other cons like this?”, “Is it gone already and is it never coming back?”, “Should I have danced that last Saturday night, and will I regret not doing so for the rest of my life?”
I would bet these sentiments exist in other conventions where contribution, creativity and ingenuity is at the crux of the particular subculture, but there is so much in furry tied to identity and presentation of the self that I’m not sure it would be entirely the same at any other nerd convention.
We love our friends, and we miss them, too, but we also have this lingering thought of “the fair has left the town, but it has been here before me and will go on without me. When it comes back, if it comes back, will I still be able to recognize it? Will I want to be back?”
That is a lot to grapple with.
Guest post by Oxley. Oxley is a relatively new member of the fandom, having only been actively involved for a year–at the time this article was written, he hadn’t attended any conventions, but hopes to continue his work in this area at Midwest Furfest 2016. He is currently looking for feedback and other opinions on this article, and can be reached at his email.
The year is 2015, and marriage has finally been confirmed as a right for all Americans, whether gay, straight, or otherwise. Though the legislation has brought the queer community (sometimes referred to as MOGAI, or “Marginalized Orientations, Genders Alignments, and Intersex”) farther than it has ever been before in its fight for civil rights, talk of marriage now overshadows other important LGBTQ+ issues: many groups still find themselves marginalized and vulnerable in society. As the struggle slowly progresses, though, queer America has found both allies and enemies in the strangest of places. Individuals from some of the most conservative corners of politics have shown solidarity to the queer community, as have major corporations and brands. Nonetheless, their backing has often been motivated by political or economic gains—after all, in many places it would be considered political suicide to denounce marriage equality. Rather, various other communities and subcultures have often proven to be most readily and enthusiastically supportive of social progress. Countless YouTube stars have advocated for marriage equality or even used the site as a medium through which to come out, while common names in music have vehemently opposed restrictions on marriage.
Perhaps the most perplexing source of support for queerness in America, though, comes from the ever-controversial furry fandom. For years, furries have had intrinsic ties with the queer community, as only a minority within their numbers are straight. While furries as a whole have certainly never been a strong voice against equality regarding gender and sexuality, though, their advocacy of gay rights is nonetheless imperfect, and often detrimental to those who do not fit the more easily-recognized definitions of “queer”—that is to say, the transgender population. Still, observing a subcommunity as being a largely queer space offers a peculiar analysis of it, from an angle that is not often used. That said, the intersections between the queer community and the furry fandom provide a valuable insight into modern conventions of normativity, and the queer community’s interactions with society as a whole.
Queerness, like the people often described within the term, is an inherently dynamic movement. The focus, goals, and even terms associated with it are in a constant state of change—a lesbian in the early 1900s, for example, would have been referred to instead as an “invert,” while words such as “queer” itself defy concrete definition by their very nature. Needless to say, such an ever-changing culture within society has invited numerous different interpretations and reactions. Many believe that the most successful approach to the queer movement is the radical liberal stance. Operating primarily through politics, liberal queer theory seeks to affirm and verify the queer identity, while at the same time demanding equal protection under the law for all people. Such groups as the Mattachine Society worked to unite and strengthen the gay community and aid those who suffered oppression on a regular basis (Katz). The intended effect of this movement is an enhanced public visibility, in which various queer identities can exist unthreatened, combined with a strict sense of privacy to protect the lives of those considered “deviant.” These approaches have generally elicited a defensive reaction from their opposition—the queer community gained traction in the legal sense, but had little effect from a social standpoint. American society, as Lisa Duggan describes it, shifted to a sort of “No-Promo Homo” philosophy in which various queer identities are condoned and tolerated, but only so long as they are hidden away from the fragile public eye—“gay sex is fine in ‘private,’” as she explains the phenomenon, “but should not be ‘displayed’ or ‘promoted’ in public” (Duggan 181).
In contrast to the unapologetic and unabashed activism of the larger queer community, some choose to follow a more assimilationist path, seeking acceptance into conventional society by appeasing the mainstream’s aforementioned air of wariness. Known as homonormativity, this theory suggests that people of various sexualities can coexist, but only on the condition that such differences between them are never talked of. A convenient depiction of homonormativity in action is present in the repeal of the military’s previous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, in which gay and lesbian soldiers were permitted to serve only so long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation. Though the move to repeal the act is indeed a positive step for gay Americans, it comes with interesting implications: gay soldiers were permitted to openly serve in the military on the basis that they are exactly the same as anyone else, and do not present any real threat to society. It is, of course, worrying to suggest that anyone is inherently threatening due to their sexuality at all.
To some, this model is desirable, as it promotes a sense of equality, if only one that cannot be openly discussed, and a kind of safety in silent acceptance. Those within the queer community who seek a homonormative resolution often depict themselves as moderates—proponents of the Independent Gay Forum, for instance, are known for their opposition both to radical liberalism and reactionary conservatism in regards to the queer movement, often upholding the gay lifestyle due to its failure to present a tangible adversity to the heterosexual majority (Duggan 184-185). At first glance, it seems a viable option: those who are included in society are rarely threatened by it, nor do they threaten it in turn. However, the effect of homonormativity is not nearly so simple. Though it proposes an easy fix to the queer/anti-queer dichotomy of society by supposedly advocating for acceptance and common ground, it does so not by demanding a change within society, but demanding that the queer population find a way to “fit in,” upholding cisgender heterosexuality as the standard option. This, of course, is an inherent inaccuracy, and as argued by Adrienne Rich, poorly depicts those who do not fall within society’s narrow definition of “normal” as mere alternates to an already-present standard. Such ideologies, she asserts, are responsible for the portrayal of the lesbian identity as “the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations,” when in fact, the culture and history that has formed the modern definition of lesbian far further separates them from other communities, however similar they may be (Rich 13). In essence, this perceived homonormativity erases the identities and humanity of all those within the queer community who fail to prove themselves to be societally sufficient.
Often, those who are cast aside in this manner are abandoned in a legal sense as well. In its simplification of sexual and gender identities, homonormative thought only grants rights to a handful of token individuals who happen to fighting for the correct rights: while the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage is considered a giant step for the LGBTQ+ movement, it did little to protect gay and lesbian couples, or even individual people, from discrimination in areas outside of marriage, and was completely irrelevant to the struggle for trans rights, which is still ongoing. There is little attention given, as well, to the struggles of gay couples separated by prison sentences or with complications such as physical or psychological disability (Mullane). It may yet be argued that the homonormative approach does indeed seek the inclusion of once-frowned-upon individuals. Still, the concept of queer is an ever-changing one, near impossible to define with any sense of finality—inclusion of only a single group under the umbrella of “queer” inevitably leads to the exclusion of other such groups. So long as this model of inclusion-by-exclusion is followed, homonormativity will never be able to satisfy the needs and demands of the entire queer community.
Though it bears repeating that the homonormative approach to society cannot possibly hope to achieve a resolution for the queer movement, it is difficult to suggest a valid alternative. After all, homonormativity rarely concerns itself with any but the most legal and political struggles regarding gender and sexuality, while in reality, much of the oppression directed at queer individuals occurs on a societal level. It is as such that the responsibility for advancing the queer movement must be shifted away from the courtroom, and onto individual people and focused groups. No longer can it be assumed that mere laws will protect all individuals, but rather, as the voices of the queer community have been silenced, it is increasingly important to maintain this voice, as well as an active presence within the public eye. In recent decades, this goal has become perpetually easier to achieve, especially with the dawn of the Internet. Association and collaboration no longer require one’s physical presence, while simple self-expression can be broadcast and promoted to millions of people. This brave new world has empowered the queer community in a variety of ways, from allowing the quicker communication of thoughts, to aiding real-life assembly in LGBTQ+-related events. Most notably, it has also given rise to a host of new Internet-based subcultures, many of which convey an atmosphere of progressive thought and are open to less-conformist ideologies. Opinions vary by subculture, needless to say, though one in particular has proven itself to be especially affirming of the queer community.
—Enter FURRY FANDOM, stage right.
Initially conceived in internet chatrooms and sci-fi conventions as early as the late 1980s, the furry fandom has since grown into a full-blown community spanning numerous continents. Its followers—self-described “furries”—are people of all ages, fascinated at the concept of the anthropomorphic animal, each for their own unique reasons. As such creatures do not in actuality exist, the fandom relies on the Internet to sustain itself—some furries make various forms of visual art involving their creations, while others engage in activities such as roleplay. Regardless, to the furry, the connection between human and animal runs deeper than mere passing interest. Donald Jones briefly investigates their interactions in his thesis Queered Virtuality, focusing on the virtual world known as Second Life. He notes that “some view ‘furry’ as important subject position within their construction of identity,” going even so far as to describe them as “a new type of queered identity” (Jones 85).
While this statement may rationally be considered somewhat of a stretch—after all, the general disdain directed at furries nowhere near matches the oppression and discrimination faced regularly by the queer community—it is undeniable, upon further investigation, that the ties between the two groups are nonetheless intrinsic.
In early December of 2015, I conducted a poll amongst furries, primarily online and over social media, regarding such issues as sexuality and gender identity. Results and methodology are available here. Results showed that heterosexuals may actually be in the minority of the fandom, making up only 10.58 percent of respondents—less than either gay, bisexual, pansexual, or asexual responses. Meanwhile, nearly one-tenth of respondents openly identified as polyamorous. When asked a variety of questions, the vast majority of furries responded with resounding positivity regarding the mood of the fandom towards matters of queerness—most said that they were entirely accepted for their sexual orientation and were often shown support and affirmation when expressing themselves openly. As one respondent offered, “Without other furries, I don’t think I could’ve ever come to terms with my own sexuality and place in the world that my sexuality leaves me with. The furry fandom has definitely helped me in that regard.” Granted, a survey of scarcely over 400 people, conducted largely over social media—during the same weekend as a major furry convention, no less—cannot by any means be considered the end-all and be-all of demographical studies. However, it is worth noting that the results, especially regarding gender identity and sexual orientation, resemble those of other significant studies conducted within the furry fandom, including the 2013 Furry Survey conducted by [adjective][species]. Their data—conducted over a much larger group of individuals and longer period of time—also suggests a relatively even distribution of sexuality within the fandom, or at least, one that is more even than the distribution in mainstream society.
Prominent fandom member and Anthrocon CEO Dr. Samuel Conway suggests that increased queer presence in the furry fandom may be attributed to the fact that the community therein, “being open and accepting, provides a welcoming atmosphere, a safe haven that attracts people who have felt repressed,” or alternately, that “The number of homosexuals in Furry Fandom is no higher or lower than the number in a cross-section of society…it is only that here they do not feel that they must hide who and what they are” (Conway). Conway is, of course, entirely correct—though the notion is, in his own words, “pure speculation on [his] part,” the furry fandom has been known throughout the years to be incredibly and unapologetically accepting of the gay community, as well as other sexual minorities—the overwhelming majority of furries vocally and brazenly support the queer movement. Many view the furry community to be a relatively safe space for those of various sexual orientations; thus, significant proportions of the furry community directly identify with the movement.
In some ways, the furry as an identity is the ultimate foil to the spread of homonormativity. Refusing to merely condone various sexual orientations, the furry community has instead proven itself to be open and affirming with an enthusiasm few other groups can exhibit. As to their voice and refusal to be silenced by homonormative conventions, there aren’t many forms of self-expression that speak louder than a giant animal costume, or “fursuit,” worn in real life by many members of the fandom at conventions and elsewhere. Furries have even branched out into other societal subcultures, joining and perpetuating queer-friendly movements and events—one notable example is HavenCon, a nascent queer-friendly video gaming convention in Austin, Texas, intrinsically connected to the furry fandom through its attendees, vendors, and promoters.
Still, despite the survey’s relatively positive feedback, a critical trend eventually unfolded. Despite the furry community’s adamant support of various sexualities, many believe it is significantly less accepting towards those of less-common gender identities. A number of respondents voiced their concern and dissatisfaction with the fandom’s treatment of trans people regarding both their sex and gender. One in particular left a powerful testament to her negative treatment as a trans woman at the hands of the fandom: “…I experience regular and frequent microaggressions from white cis and trans people within the fandom, which frequently push me into a very bad [mental] state; the closest I’d say I’ve ever come to contemplating suicide. Much of this comes from [people] who enjoy portrayals of trans bodies [in adult art] but hate us as real people of course; but a huge amount of it comes from other trans women acting what I like to call internalized transmedicalism—that is, treating trans womanhood as being automatically equated with a desire to replace a penis with a vagina, and so on.” Regretfully, the transmedicalism to which she refers is grossly problematic to the trans community, especially for those who do not want genital-reconstruction surgery, or cannot afford it—this, of course, negatively affects trans people of all walks of life, not just those within the furry fandom. The reaction that some trans people experience sans-surgery is, at best, a subdued sense of expectation from others, coupled with the assumption that they are only waiting for a surgery they have not yet had. Though surgery is a common desire within the trans community, it would be fallacious and misleading to suggest that it is universal (Allen, 103).
Equally worrying is the inherent fetishization of the transgender body from within some parts of the fandom—even worse, that such objectification should occur without any respect for real trans people. Still, trans women were not the only group that attested cases of marginalization and victimization; one agender respondent claimed that they had been told that they “do not belong in the [queer] community,” further going on to relate a number of death threats they had received from other furries, while genderqueer and genderfluid individuals also recounted cases in which others had refused to accept their gender identity as real. The same trans female respondent summarizes the situation flawlessly: “…the community at large in my experience has generally been at best tolerable, and at most horrific. It is perhaps better in some ways than cisgender hetero mainstream US society, but generally not by much unless you’re a gay man.” This is no reason, of course, for these aforementioned gay men to feel guilty for their identity—acceptance is not something to be embarrassed about, after all. Nonetheless, the apparent desire within the furry community for conventional, easy-to-understand is an undeniable sign of homonormativity.
Most troubling of all is that these incidents of transphobia within the furry fandom, numerous though isolated, seemed to have gone entirely unnoticed by nearly anyone who identified as cisgender, which is to say, those specifically who have not experienced such hostilities themselves. As mentioned, nearly all other accounts of the furry community taken through the survey were wholly positive, and expressed no indication of awareness of the struggles of some transgender furries. It is interesting to note that even Dr. Conway’s mention of the queer community stopped short at sexual preference, failing to bring up issues of gender identity despite their undeniable presence in the community. Quite possibly, this dichotomy—that is to say, the contrast between the marginalized trans/nonbinary furry and the unaware cisgender furry—is due to the fandom’s demographics. Both the more recent survey and [adjective][species]’s poll suggested that a significant majority of the fandom is composed of white, presumably cisgender males, those who are the least victimized by society, while the trans and nonbinary populations amongst furries are relatively minute. As such, it is possible that their struggles are simply less visible to the majority of the furry community. Nevertheless, the possibility still remains that the fandom is simply not as accepting as it would appear superficially. After all, furries are still human at the end of the day, and still live in a society that perpetually resists acceptance of the new and unfamiliar.
Regardless of reason, though, it is entirely plausible that the contrast between acceptance of more vocal groups and exclusion of the less well-accepted amounts to a form of homonormativity present in the furry fandom. Recent years have seen the fandom gaining traction and popularity in society, coincidentally as gay rights have advanced. It is hardly a secret that many furries wish to be more accepted for their interests in the anthropomorphic by a society that has long shunned them—the lack of acknowledgment of trans and nonbinary presence serves, to some degree, to “excuse” the fandom, making it seem less threatening to societal norms fitting its members into the narrow slot of acceptance allotted by the mainstream. Of course, it is equally conceivable that the community within the furry fandom has fallen victim to a transnormativity of sorts: as every set of data has its outliers, so too do furries, and there were indeed a small handful of trans respondents to the survey who claimed to be accepted by their furry companions, or at the very least, not aggressively contested. The situation brings up questions regarding how much of this phenomenon is the responsibility of the furry community, and how much is the result of societal influence. Due to ever-present homonormativity on a larger scale, it is much easier and safer to openly identify as gay—a slightly more condoned identity—than as trans or nonbinary. Though furries are hardly mainstream, they are also not vehemently opposed by many who lack the interest or effort to condemn them. It is likely that the same would not be true if they were as highly trans-representative as they are pro-gay.
Is it possible to say with certainty that the furry fandom is either more queer or more homonormative/transnormative? Hardly—like society at large, furries are a rapidly-changing demographic, nearly as difficult to define as the concept of queer itself. As many respondents suggested, their interactions with the fandom change radically on a case-by-case basis; it may very well be that more prominent or more vocal members of the fandom are more accepting, and that transphobia exhibited by some is largely the fault of problematic fringe members. Even if the furry fandom is more queer than it is homonormative, it is likely only enabled to exist as such without extensive antagonism due to the homonormativity of society at large. If anything, the furry community may be excused of its imperfect track record regarding support of the trans community as society has done little better in history. After all, taken at face value, the fandom appears to be emulating the same progression that the queer community itself once underwent, first exhibiting heavy focus on issues of sexuality, then gradually becoming more accepting of issues regarding gender. In this regard, though, furries run the risk of repeating the very history that preceded them in the 1900s.
Still, no matter the gleaming, positive testaments provided by those that are considered accepted, nor the scathing reports of discrimination offered by those who are marginalized, it is important to remember that despite its close connection with the queer community, the furry fandom is ultimately just that—a fandom. It has no governing body or concrete set of principles, and it is just as flawed as any other largely Internet-based subculture. It is scarcely deniable that furries are more progressive-minded and forward-thinking than most other subcultures, though, and some hope exists that the fandom may eventually rid itself of its inherent transphobia. If there is any hope to be had for the trans furry subcommunity, it is the structure of the entire fandom itself—highly vocal and highly visible, the fandom relies on the same self-expression that serves as a driving force for many facets of the queer community. Though the fandom has not truly and completely shifted in favor of the entire LGBTQ+ movement, it is not farfetched to say that it is only a matter of time before it inevitably does.Works Cited
Allen, Mercedes. “Trans-ing Gender: the Surgical Option.” Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation. Bergman, S. Bear and Bornstein, Kate. Berkeley, California: Seal Press, 2010. Pg. 101-106. Print.
Conway, Samuel. “Regarding community within the furry fandom.” Message to the author. 4 December 2015. Email.
Duggan, Lisa. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Materializing Democracy. Castronovo, Russ, and Nelson, Dana. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2002. Pg. 175-194. Print.
Jones, Donald. Queered Virtuality: The Claiming and Making of Queer Spaces and Bodies in the User-Constructed Synthetic World of Second Life. MS thesis. Digital Georgetown, Georgetown University Institutional Repository. 19 July 2007. Web. 1 December 2015.
Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History. New York, NY: Avon Books, 1978. Print.
Mullane, Nancy. “Does Same-Sex Marriage Law Apply to Prisoners?” NPR. National Public Radio, 28 July 2008. Web. 5 December 2015.
Osaki, Alex. “The Furry Survey.” [adjective][species]. 2013. Web. 5 December 2015.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Journal of Women’s History 15.3 (2003): 11-48. Print.
Spade, Dean. Normal Life. New York, NY: South End Press, 2009. Print.
Equus, Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play, features a cast of humans and horses. The horses, of course, are humans dressed as horses. They are intentionally abstracted, usually wearing nothing equine beyond minimalist horse heads and tack that never obstruct their human faces. The horse costumes are the extent of bodily anthropomorphism in the play. The horses’ actors and actresses move like horses; they do not speak. Why do I render my verdict, then, that Equus belongs in the Furry Canon?
[EDIT: After warranted critique, I’ve decided to reverse my verdict. While Equus should not be part of the Furry Canon, I think it addresses matters relevant to the furry experience, albeit torqued by mental illness. Read on for my reasons.]
In a comment on JM’s review of Animal Farm, Scale wondered “whether a good serious novel/movie starring furry fans and fursuiters, dealing with social and identity issues related to the fandom, and perhaps including an escapist furry nested narrative, could qualify as a furry classic.” While Equus predates the furry fandom, it pointedly explores these very issues1.
Ready, then? Let’s begin.
Alan Strang, a reclusive teenager, has just blinded six horses with a metal spike. No one knows why; he had always loved horses. As it stands, though, psychologist Martin Dysart is Alan’s only hope to avoid incarceration. As Dysart meets with Alan, Alan’s parents, and others involved in the case and gathers bits and pieces of Alan’s past, he tries desperately to figure out what motivated the heinous crime. These pieces form an image of a personal religion Alan has elaborated since he was very young that focuses on becoming one with “Equus,” the “God-Slave” embodied in all horses. This religion’s sacrament is a clandestine, sexually charged midnight ride every three weeks in a field beside the stable where Alan volunteers his free time. When Equus’s demands prove too much for Alan, he lashes out in violence against his god.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dysart is deeply unhappy with his place in life, continually dreams of ancient Greece, of a “primal” age of sacrifices and pantheons to lend life significance through ritual. His encounter with Alan throws his mundane life into sharp relief: here is someone who has summoned a personal god and worships Him regularly, casting off the monotonous, empty grind of capitalist productivity. But the plea of the judge who sent Alan to Dr. Dysart was that the psychologist relieve the boy’s pain. Dysart fears that doing his societal duty–dissecting Alan to extract Equus–would leave behind a hollow man, a cog in the machine: a husk like himself.
Equus is strongest when it comes to questioning the medicalization of abnormality, the idea that deviation from the culturally acceptable must be diagnosed as a disease and cured. This Dysart attributes to the reign of the tyrant god “Normal,” whose throne is that of expediency and efficiency, founded on health and happiness. (Recall how “sick” has come to be a synonym of “degenerate.”) His edicts include allaying all pain and slaking appetites at minimal marginal cost.
In contrast, Dysart dreams of a world of “thousands of local gods” to ground the experience of the diversity of humanity, a world in which the ancient Aegean and Alan equally partake, but Dysart cannot. Allowing individual geniuses to flourish could inject wonder and worship into the monochrome of life.
Of course, Dysart ignores that Alan was, indeed, in pain; that we should be loath to romanticize mental illnesses, which are real; and that the solitude of individual worship can not only tear the worshiper apart, but harm others. Alan’s isolation and secrecy permit no outlet for his anxieties or joys besides his trysts with Equus; when a tryst cannot satisfy a perceived need, he gouges out six horses’ eyes. Few accept violence as the cost of worship, and for those who do… well, I know a couple dozen national security apparatuses that want to meet them.
Equus is, without a doubt, “serious.” But what does this dark tale have to do with furries whose drama, while much ballyhooed, to my knowledge has never culminated in murder? Quite a bit.
First–and this was what stood out to me when I read the script years back–Equus is the story of a boy who has an abnormal relationship with animals. Those around him confusedly report his affection for talking animal stories, his nighttime reenactment (in his room) of donning a bit and whipping himself, and of never wanting to ride the horses he worked with, only to care for them. Indeed, he actively despises the trappings of upper-class English riding. Alan’s fixation on horses fits none of the typical patterns.
To furries, this is old hat. A Twitter friend of mine—a horse, to boot—commented he had difficulty taking Equus as seriously as his non-furry classmates because Alan’s relationship with horses, though incomprehensible to them, was quotidian to him. The familiarity of it all dulled the play’s drama. But in outline, this is a major indictment sometimes leveled against furries: that they love animals in an inappropriate or inordinate way, whether that be adults clinging to something branded infantile or someone having disapproved sexual preferences2.
On that note, as with media coverage of furries, Shaffer focuses on the sensational–meaning, of course, the sexual. For instance, Alan considers his first experience of riding a horse to have been “sexy” and—in innuendoes I did not understand as a teenager—the play describes horse heads as phallic. Alan’s midnight rides are explicitly sexual, though the union is a mystical one, horse and human merging to create the centaur (quite apropos: at once teacher and raucous destroyer in Greek myth). Alan loses his mind when a new sexual desire conflicts with his desire for midnight runs with Equus.
Now we come to my major gripe with the play: in Equus, sex is either the prototype or the paragon of all human pleasures and relationships. Dr. Dysart and Alan’s parents are not having sex with their spouses regularly; therefore, they are unhappy. Alan has a sexual experience with Equus every three weeks; he is fulfilled.
This obsession with sex sidelines necessary non-sexual elements of the human (and extrahuman) experience. To use C.S. Lewis’s terminology: when Venus rules with such an iron fist, Eros quails while brotherly love (philia) and affection (storge) flee. Alan’s trauma, which Shaffer casts as a psychosexual drama, is as much due to his intense paucity of experience with the variety of human relationships as it is about the difficulty of actualizing the range of his pleasures. He has no friends; he reads no books; he does not, apparently, attend school. Friends and family who treat him with basic respect as a soon-to-be adult are absent from his life. In this extreme social isolation, his outlets are reduced to sexual fulfillment alone–he gets stuck in a rut–and any competition for his sexual feelings becomes an existential crisis.
Indeed, Alan might be considered a particularly devoted paleofur–one of that cadre who came of age before the internet. His escapades were lonely ones, without a rational animal to keep him company. Nowadays, a computer terminal can connect us to others around the world, no matter how niche our interests. And while niche communities can become insular and harmful, I would venture that even an imperfect community is better than none at all. To paraphrase God in Genesis, it is not good for human to be alone3.
And as religion—no matter what some may say—is about more than micromanaging bodily pleasures and pains, so is furry. The anthropomorphic subculture is about constructing personal and social systems of meaning, based in images of nonhuman animal life, and building the worlds these symbols delineate. In our interactions, online and off, we instantiate these imagined worlds in the flesh, binding ourselves together as dialogue partners, friends, patrons and artists, fans, and so forth.
If only Alan Strang had lived in the times of the internet. Furry is infinitely richer than Shaffer’s constricted, impoverished vision of humanity in Equus. With such a community of peers available, Alan may have learned that others spoke his metaphorical language and, able to speak with them, could have expressed his otherwise inexpressible troubles and joys.
While it has significant blind spots, and even if it is not well-known to furries, I would still believe Equus to be highly relevant to the furry experience and would recommend it for inclusion in the [a][s] Furry Canon.
1 Indeed, when I first read the play, I did so because it was about horses. I was not expecting to find a character who, like me, lent to them significance that differed both in quantity and quality from the average. This year I was able, for the first time, to see it onstage. My observations are based on both the text and the production.
2 Both are major points made against furries with varying degrees of inaccuracy.
3 Note, too, that the first companions God creates for Adam are “every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air.”
Would I recommend Anna Sewell’s 1877 classic Black Beauty for inclusion in the furry canon? Yes, but with one qualification: the book’s central conceit is innovatively furry; the rest of the book is not.
I will begin with the furry element of Black Beauty: it is, as its subtitle proclaims, the auto-biography of a horse. More than just the story of a particular, modern horse’s life—not merely as a symbolic or allegorical gesture—it is a horse’s life told in the first person. In his own voice, Beauty guides us through the daily adventures and boredoms of a horse’s life, commenting on his masters’ behavior, his material condition, and his emotive reaction to it all. Though Beauty never vocalizes an English word, he is a talking horse by virtue of the fact that he addresses us.
And I am sorry to say it, but this is the extent of the book’s anthropomorphism. Despite his internal rational faculties, Beauty is definitely a horse. Throughout the entire book, I waited for him to act in some way that would reflect the thoughtfulness of his narration, but no: this is not a fantasy, and Sewell makes sure that Black Beauty’s behavior fits solidly within equine parameters.
In fact, to have anthropomorphized Beauty beyond a narrative voice would have undermined the book’s purpose, which relied on being a unimpeachable record of the sufferings of Victorian-era horses. Despite their prevailing reputation as unfeeling killjoys, Victorians were some the first Westerners who could have mustered the compassion—or, perhaps, the proto-furry sensibility—to produce and appreciate a novel like Black Beauty.
Following Descartes, many Europeans since the Enlightenment had believed that animals–in contrast to humans–were the equivalent of biological machines, possessing no interior life, senses, or pain. They had no memories or thoughts, only instincts, programs set running by God and death terminated. Away from the philosophers, the situation was even easier to explain: animals were appliances. You made an investment in them and discarded them when they could no longer return your investment. Indeed, Black Beauty then may have inspired the same bemused reactions as The Brave Little Toaster today.
Nevertheless, a new social consciousness gradually arose. The likes of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens depicted, however caricatured, the desperate situation of Europe’s poor. In the United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin described the plight of slaves in the American South and kindled the tinder of the Civil War. John Snow discovered that cholera spread not from noxious vapors but from contaminated water—a conclusion he reached from caring about poor Londoners enough to quantify their deaths and illnesses. Movements began to abolish debtors’ prisons and to provide humanitarian aid. Temperance societies arose to raise awareness about the effects of alcohol abuse on families and to persuade men to abandon the devil’s drink1.
With this awareness came a new concern about nonhuman life. Contradicting philosophical and theological justifications for beating and killing animals, some reformers declared that animal pain was an evil to be mitigated just as much as human pain. Members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in the United Kingdom in 1824, became known as “angels for horses” for the work they did to punish unkind owners, provide drinking fountains for thirsty carriage horses, and euthanize horses beyond treatment or relief. Its American affiliate, founded in New York City in 1866, was even granted formal police authority to punish animal abusers.
But while these movements have evolved into “animal rights” today, primary among the reasons they offered for caring about animals was an anthropocentric one that has fallen out of fashion: practicing cruelty toward “dumb brutes” would habituate its (mostly male) practitioners to treat humans, especially women and children, with cruelty. Treating animals with kindness was an integral part of human (again, particularly male—gender featured hugely in these campaigns) moral development.
Having studied the time period, I had a hard time viewing Black Beauty as anything more than a narrativized morality manual. Beauty never has an owner who is not either lauded as a paragon of virtue or criticized as one who indulges in vice. (Regarding gender, note that his best owner is surnamed “Manly”!) He receives an unsightly injury from a master who rode him too hard in a drunken rage; he watches other horses and owners deteriorate due to rock-bottom wages and greedy employers; he witnesses a corrupt stable-owner defraud those whose horses are under his stingy, neglectful care. Beauty himself is sold several times—changing names each time—because of his owners’ economic hardship. While a Londoner might be able to brush off the sale of a horse as one would that of a practical but out-of-style car, Sewell reminds us that the horse has a life after being sold and that, as a horse ages and its physical ability degenerates, his or her life becomes ever more desperate and troubled. Humans, therefore, share some responsibility for their animals’ continued well-being; for someone with a good conscience, out of sight could not mean out of mind.
In this light, Beauty’s ability to talk to horses is revealed less as essential anthropomorphism but as an instrumentally deployed device: Beauty’s conversations with other horses serve almost exclusively to illuminate other fields of equine life Beauty could not himself experience. Ginger shows how poor training can effectively disable a horse for work; Captain gives an insight into the life of a war horse on the front lines of the Crimean War2. Again, these stories are meant to demonstrate the proper care of horses through both positive and negative examples.
Curiously, throughout the entire book Sewell seldom has Beauty himself criticize humans; instead, she gives that duty to human characters Beauty overhears. However, Black Beauty’s acquiescence to the most unreasonable or painful treatment he receives—his perfect loyalty, unwillingness to judge, and unflaggingly obliging temperament—only prove his innocence and pile the sins even deeper on his abusers’ heads.
That Sewell’s purpose is moral is affirmed by when she decides to end the book: not with Beauty’s old age (it would be hard to end an autobiography with death), but with his return to a secure life. “My troubles are over, and I am at home,” he says. The end of life’s vicissitudes—adventures with the potential for moral commentary—is the end of story. And it is not altogether happy: in the book’s final lines, Beauty, solitary, finds himself reminiscing about his unblemished colthood: “often before I am quite awake, I fancy I am still in the orchard at Birtwick, standing with my old friends under the apple-trees.” These friends and vistas he will never see again.
Sewell’s didacticism, in my opinion, has not aged well. Black Beauty’s passivity seldom engages more than the reader’s compassion and pity. This, of course, is the point3. If, however, you want to learn about the plight of the horse in its heyday, Black Beauty is exactly what you should read. As it did in Victorians for their working animals, hopefully Beauty’s minimal anthropomorphism can serve to evoke in modern readers empathy with cattle in feedlots or pigs in gestation crates.
1 Which in the mid-1800s America and Britain was hard liquor, not beer or wine.
2 Notably, the war in which Florence Nightingale pioneered life-saving practices that would become standard medical procedure.
3 I will admit that for me it was refreshing to read an explicitly Christian defense of kindness to animals; so far has the discourse moved toward utilitarianism and “rights”—and so split is society among culture-wars lines—that religious arguments are seldom prominently made in animal ethics.
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