An Intimate Exploration of Furry Fandom

By Vexen Crabtree 2009 Jan 09

Some of the facts, figures and names apply to the UK furry scene of the 1990s as this piece was written in 1999, but, original details have been left in as a kind of historical record.


1. Furry is a Fandom

The word furry can refer to a person, i.e. they are 'furry' or 'a furry', such people are called "furs". Furry fandom is a community based around the enjoyment of half-animal, half-human artwork and philosophies.

Anime are Japanese comics, cartoons and films. There have been many highly successful Anime films such as Ghost in the Machine and Akira. Anime Fandom works in a similar way to Furry Fandom - as a label to allow social groups and individuals to communicate and meet.

All fandoms have similar trends such parties and conventions where a crowd descends on a hotel or a house, and trends towards liking particular types of music and dress. A difference in Furry fandom is that it is largely an egalitarian community; 'stars' occasionally gain a following but in general there are so many artists and producers in the community that no particular individuals have events centered around them. You don't get fanatical book-signing events, or crowds of furrys chasing particular stars.

2. Furry Artwork

Furry artwork is any featuring anthropomorphic characters ('funny animals'). Morphic characters are animals with human characteristics. Bugs bunny is a morphic character, Tom and Jerry, in fact most cartoon characters are anthropomorphic. What specifically sets furry art apart from this is it that much of it explores these concepts in a serious thought provoking way.

AnthropoMORPHINE is the UK's furry fanzine produced by Lazy Fox Studios, who also produce Foxes Are Neat. Examples of more serious Furry concepts might include werewolf movies, books dealing with issues of being an animal or animal like, like The rats of NIMH or Watership down. The 'Rippers' from Tank Girl are also a good example of Furry characters.

Furry Fandom also encapsulates the proliferation of furry comics and prints, also much Anime and Manga involves morphic characters, one of the most famous being Ramna 1/2.

2.1. Pornography

Ever since Human beings learnt to draw there has been anthropomorphic porn. Every culture in the world has, since then, had its own type of sexual art giving prominence to its own set of sexual characteristics. So there is sexual furry art from daft big breasted comic heroes to hardcore pornography. At best, it is more art than porn, but at worst you will stumble across it without warning in furry literature or events, sometimes displayed openly and unashamedly.

3. Furry Lifestyle and Community

3.1. General Behaviour

Furry lifestyling describes furry behaviour that extends beyond merely liking the artwork and espousing a love of the animal world. A furry usually has an empathy for a particular animal or animals in general, and will either in RL (real life) or VR (virtual reality; on the net) exhibit characteristics of an animal. What this means can differ from person to person; from answering the phone with a "miaow" to decorating themselves with full body paint and fake teeth.

Most furs have adopted a species identity, and, online and off, refer to themselves as a member of that species. A can be an existent type of animal such as a otter, squirrel or lion. It can also be a fictional race such as a dragon or unicorn, or a hybrid such as a cabbit or a catwolf. Or a variation on a real species such as a black lion.

Furry is not based on any particular philosophy or rationál, but on a person's external behaviour, so that no matter what your beliefs are about animals and humans you will still fit in as long as you can behave in an acceptable way.

The UK seems to have a higher furry population density than the rest of Europe, possibly due to the large body of student furs. A significant proportion of student furs are furry lifestylers, who tend to viewed as being quite hedonistic; some aspects are especially notorious, our parties, our friends. Being one of the smaller cultures, most UK Furs know of each other, on-line if not off.

The inclusive nature of furry means that all types are accepted. The more extravagant and confident furs can anthropomorphise their entire appearance with body paint, depicting themselves as whatever animal they empathise with. Some furrys wear full body fur suits (the same as mascots, but often custom built), some simply wear collars. Many simply behave in an eccentric way and have no visible furry adornments.

I speak in an unrestricted manner to animals - things like, aren't you just the cutest little kitty ... that kind of thing, which I wouldn't dream of doing to Humans. Then I realized I wish I could.

"Microserfs" by Douglas Coupland (1995)2

There are many types of animal, many types of person and many types of furry. Some furry lifestylers are art fans who choose to wear a collar when with other furries. When furries get together many modes of behavior emerge. Most furries will think nothing if others sit in a big pile to watch a video, leading each other around on leashes, and grooming each other! It varies how much an individual fur engages in this behavior, there are timid furs as well.

Cuddly or non cuddly
Snuggling, hugging and grooming are not something all people are comfortable with, but in a furry environment those who find this behavior comforting are ensured that are in a safe environment. It is a proven fact that petting/stroking animals is a relaxant; it makes people happy and calm. Most people don't think to do similarly nice things to other human beings, but, furrydom embraces this fully and is a highly affectionate culture. Whilst sleeping in a group, or snuggling, the resultant collection of bodies is called a furpile.

Attention seeking is such a basic animal instinct, and when amongst friends there really is no need to suppress yourself. Throw a pile of duvets, pillows, bean bags and plushies in a room and sleep we will. Some say it's an insecurity thing. Of course it is, but so is getting married and leading a text-book life.

Silliness
It has to be said that most adults go through their lives suppressing themselves and acting out a laughable attempt to appear dominant, strong and successful; or just 'normal'.

Furry lifestyle get togethers and chat rooms are for many a place to express themselves in as a silly way as possible. Furry society is not based on how _mature_ you are but on how accepting, fun, silly or social you are.

3.2. The Internet

It is safe to say the Internet has been the main catalyst behind the current popularity of Furry and that without it it would have been hard for furs to meet each other than tagging on to Anime fandom groups. The Internet is always available for furs to talk and greet each other, to exchange art, short stories, philosophy and gossip.

By far the largest and most well known of the online meeting places is FurryMUCK which is a text based environment. Almost all the players on furryMUCK roleplay morphic characters, which are normally basically themselves but with animal characteristics. The fluidity of MUCKs (Multi User Chat Kingdoms) allows much more flexibility and imagination than web based 'chat rooms'.

The way that furries actually roleplay morphic characters online often relates to the way they behave in the real world, this is described in the next sections. As well as FurryMUCK there are quite a few other furry MUCKs and talkers, as well as IRC channels, mailing lists, and newsgroups, all keeping the furry world connected. Often, one of the joys of meets is bumping into people that you have talked to and gotten to know online, and seeing what they are like 'in real life'.

3.3. Meets

3.3.1. Conventions

The Anthrocon website states:

Anthrocon began as Albany Anthrocon in 1997, and since then has grown into the largest anthropomorphics conventions in the world with a membership in 2007 of nearly three thousand.

www.anthrocon.org

A furry meet or convention is when a group of furs get together in real life. The biggest of these is ConFURence, which is held every year in California. Well over 1000 furries and furry art fans attended this year, at the time of writing in 1999. Events include art shows, costume events, technical and art workshops, furry dances, stage dramas, not to mention the numerous room and pool parties! For a weekend furs can act totally furry, and become their online personas free in the knowledge that everyone else is doing the same.

There are now several other large furry cons in North America such as Further Confusion, Albany Anthrocon, and Feral - a sort of furry summer camp.

Europe has less in the way of furry conventions, there is only one convention of any size known as EuroFurence, which has previously been held in Germany and this year in Holland.

3.3.2. Housecons

Housecons are the most common form of convention. There are several regular ones held in furs' houses. In England (as of 1999) there is the Yately Housecon occurring every few months and caters mainly to the art side of furry. Another is UKfurcon, which whilst being about art is more of a lifestyle event. Most fandoms hold similar parties; in Furry at least, they are generally called housecons.

3.3.3. The LondonFurs Meetings

The most notable European happenings are in London, and this is where we find the appropriately named LondonFurs. This group was founded in 1999 by Ia'Kat and Vexen Crabtree. The LondonFurs group started out as a mailing list and has grown much beyond its initial expectations. There are sporadic housecons and get togethers centered around the LondonFurs, but, the main purpose is the 3-weekly meets in London.

An average meet will have in excess of twenty attendees for a period of nine or ten hours around London. The largest meets have over forty attendees. There are endless photos taken during these meets, and members are welcome from anywhere, it is not exclusive to London residents.

Common activities in a UK meet are shopping, lounging around snuggling, clubbing, laying around watching videos, nerding about on computers, drawing anthropomorphic pictures of each other, drawing generic artwork and swapping & selling artwork.

A day in London would typically comprise of wandering around for a few hours through comic stores (i.e., Forbidden Planet, Gosh) and plushy hunting in Hamleys (and wherever) plus a visit to TCR computer fair. Later; a pub, then a restaurant (Wong Kai's in China Town was a favorite in the 1990s) then those who wish can continue into the night at a club.

Part of a LondonFurs Meet (1999)
Featuring Fish the Cat (left center) and Ia'Kat (right center)

3.4. The Informal Adoption of Friends as Siblings

The phenomenon I am about to describe isn't limited to furry social groups. [Also since the time of writing, a number of furs have mentioned they haven't come across this practice, so dear readers, be warned that all I say is (as usual) based merely on personal experience and any resemblance to reality is coincidental! I probably notice this kind of behavior more because I happen to personally like it! - Vexen] Sometimes a pair of close friends will adopt each other as siblings. So, one person may adopt another as their brother or sister, and then refer to them as such. The closeness that causes furries to do this can be either physical affection or an intellectual attachment to the other person. Some people do this more than others and have a large string of people they call bro or sis.

Because furry is a highly affectionate subculture, people who trust or are otherwise comfortable with each other can develop more intimate closeness with each other, despite there being no sexual relations. I have found that when people start assuming that a pair of friends are going out, even if they themselves have no intention of doing so, is when they are most likely to adopt each other as sibling and sibling, by mutual consent. This has a few affects:

  1. It gives definition to a relationship that would otherwise be mistaken for a sexual one by others

  2. It lends itself to curbing more sexual behavior between the people, so, mutual adoption can be done in times when two people are close and trusting enough to form sexual relations, but do not actually want to do so. Adopting each other as siblings then puts up a mental barrier and changes the internal bonding of the relationship

  3. It can be done between friends as a way formalizing and declaring a friendship

  4. It lends an overall positive atmosphere to social groups, and reduces social pressure as people are more inclined to be nice to each other.

If we look at it as a form of ritual, the same as declaring support for a football team, then once you have made that declaration you come to take it more seriously. Likewise, when a pair of friends mutually declare each other siblings then it has the same affect, and the friendship becomes potentially more solid by the way of an informal social commitment.

4. Types of Furry, from the Insane Psychotic to the Mild Pseudo Furry

Here I attempt to describe some general groupings of furs, although no individual would fit into any category, such is the complex nature of human beings.

4.1. Lifestylers Versus Fanboys

There is a tension between the fanboys and the relative newcomers to furry fandom, the lifestylers.

Housecons will normally veer towards one division or the other, although conventions are generally large enough that the full canopy of approaches to furry is catered for. The tensions between these two groups at worst lead to schisms within the community, and at best, the two groups simply get along. The lifestylers appreciate the art of the fanboys, whilst the fanboys appreciate the energy of the lifestylers.

4.2. Spiritual Mental Lycanthropy (Mental Shifts)

A person who experiences a mental shift feels that they cease behaving as themselves and instead behave as a particular animal. Native Indians (especially in the more southern tribes) would believe that they allowed an animal spirit to take over their body whilst they were hunting or fighting. It can result in the person behaving with a completely different personality. Rugby players performing a dance before a game are enticing a mental shift. Some football fans hype themselves up to the extent that they undergo a mental shift whilst attending a game. Certain forms of martial art train and entice adherents to perform mental shifts during meditation or training - the phenomenon itself is normal. Lycanthropy (in werewolf films) is normally used to describe a physical change into an animal, but, it can also be used more widely to describe a mental shift.

An article in a philosophy magazine explores the idea of lycanthropy, and I can't do better than to quote it:

The [psychological] definition of lycanthropy refers to a clinical psychopathology in which a psychiatric patient believes him/herself to be an animal - again most commonly a wolf - and behaves accordingly. This lycanthropy is most often described as a set of delusional experiences and beliefs which is not in and of itself a specific mental disorder. [...] The symptoms can be either short-lived and sporadic, or stable and persistent. [...] Symptoms are most often found in patients with schizophrenia, and/or affective disorders.

Chris Durante in Philosophy Now (2006)4

4.3. Holistic Species Lycanthropy

This is very similar to Spiritual Mental Lycanthropy except that the person does not feel that a single animal will takes hold; but rather that they mentally become a member of that species whilst remaining themselves. An example would be that a person feels he mentally changes into an animal of a particular species; that he becomes tuned in to an entire species and his perception changes accordingly.

Some forms of martial arts, noticeably the various forms of Silat in Indonesia, train a person to mentally assume the mindset of particular species during combat training and meditation. Kung Fu is one of the more famous anthropomorphic body arts; the five forms of Kung Fu are all based on the persona of particular animals; although not as extreme as the animal worship found in Silat, the assumption is still there that people can tune in to a holistic, ever-present animal mindset that is not related to our own genus.

4.4. Inspiration Species

The image, style and personality of a particular species cause particular feelings of empathy and inspiration. In the way that Buddhists strive to be like Buddha, an enlightened being, many furries are so inspired and feel empathy towards a particular species that they adopt it as a label. Many people feel that they act like, or are comparable to, a particular species (or hybrid or fictional species) and so choose to represent themselves as a member of that species within the Furry subculture.

4.5. Unknown or Psychological Reasons

Most furries do not know, exactly, the reasons that make them associate themselves with an animal. Most neophytes to the scene are simply on to something that feels comforting, or allows them to express themselves without the dogma of restrictive 'normal' society. But many acolyte furs also remain unsure as to 'why they do it'.

5. Notes on Dr Pepper's Article on Furry: Personas, Masks and Sexuality

There is a very good text file originally written by 'Dr Pepper' (who is not a furry, funnily enough) to which there is a link at the bottom of this section, here are some quotes from it relating to 'furry lifestylers':

  • 12. Furries have many different ways to relate to their furry personas. Some think of them as totally different beings who happen to live inside them. Others see them as simply minor variants of themselves. And still others see them as vehicles for normally suppressed aspects of their own personalities.
  • 14. Fine. So what do furries do with their personas? They communicate through them. The definition of the persona determines how the furry will express themselves. This can be quite different from how the actual person does it. This may facilitate communication under circumstances in which the person would normally feel inhibited.
  • 15. In fact it has been claimed that, despite the impression one might get about the persona as "putting on a mask," the use of the persona actually enables a person to be more genuinely themselves. That's because the persona has more freedom, not being subject to the stifling layers that social convention puts on us mere humans.
  • 16. Long as we're getting free of social conventions, we might as well get to sex. Most furries are interested in the concept of sex between themselves as themselves, or themselves as their personas, with other such creatures. This differs from simple bestiality in that the partner is another mature sapient. So regardless of the species difference, it remains full participation sex between two people.
  • 17. Dear me, did I say two? Two is another social convention. A lot (most?) furries like group sex.
  • 18. In fact, social conventions seem to go down like dominos once one gets started. That may be why so many (most?) furries are bi.
  • 19. Let us now pause while the straight and monogamous folks come out from wherever they just dived into for cover.
  • 20. Ok, didn't mean to chase anyone off. The point is that wherever may be on the spectrum, from full fledged furriness to just a reader of "Panda Khan," there is a place in furrydom for you.

These are quotes from the essay by Dr Pepper: What is Furry?

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2009 Jan 09
Originally published 1999 Mar 01
http://www.humantruth.info/furry.html

Links:

References: (What's this?)

Philosophy Now. Philosophy Now, 41a Jerningham Road, Telegraph Hill, London SE14 5NQ, UK. Published by Anja Publications Ltd. www.philosophynow.org

Coupland, Douglas
Microserfs (1995). New Ed edition (15 Mar 2004). Published by HarperPerennial.

Footnotes

  1. Most text written in 1999, page redone in 2000
  2. Coupland (1995) p177.^
  3. 2003 Mar 25: Added text on Mutual Adoption of friends as siblings
  4. Chris Durante. Article 'On the Existence of Werewolves' in Philosophy Now 2006 Sep/Oct. Published by Anja Publications Ltd. Durante holds an MSc in the Philosophy of Mental Disorders from King's College London, and is currently doing as MA in Religious Studies at Georgia State University.^
  5. 2009 Jan 08: Page editted and re-organized, and the quote from Philosophy Now has been added on Lycanthropy.

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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