Evidence That Furry Is Leading the Rest of the World

The Stranger, a well-regarded alternative weekly newspaper from Seattle, has just published their Queer Issue for 2013 to coincide with the Seattle Pride Parade.

There’s a remarkable article titled Floating in Shades of Grey, written by Ray Van Fox, which talks about the furry experience. Except that Ray isn’t a furry—his vulpine nom de plume is coincidental—and his article doesn’t reference furry. Ray talks about a largely online community, where he and the other members “are re-creating ourselves in our own image in order to be seen for who we actually are.

Ray is talking about the well-worn furry ground, where we present as animal-people in furry spaces. This is usually online for furries, but also real-world spaces like a private party or a convention. We choose an identity for ourselves, one which matches our internal perceptions, and we interact as if that identity were true. It is true, in its own way, but it’s different from the arbitrary real-life meatbag with which we are burdened.

This duality, our arbitrary meatbag versus our created identity, is at the centre of the furry experience. Our two faces can be very different: different species, gender, sexual preference, size, colour, personality. (Many furries précis their new identity by naming it using the convention [adjective][species].)

We furries may be the first large group to collectively choose to socialize using identities of our own original invention. We’re certainly experimenting with the limits of identity in a way that no other group (of comparable size) is. Our genesis came when furries moved away from the first wave of ‘furry fandom’, made up of sci-fi fans who liked anthropomorphic characters, and towards today’s second wave of furry as an identity. It’s no coincidence that this change coincided with mainstream adoption of the internet: the online world allowed us to form our community.

The rest of the world is following in our footsteps. People are learning that the identity through which they socialize can be a different, truer one than their arbitrary meatbag. Second Life is an obvious example—there are plenty of furries but there are also plenty of other people keen to explore the freedom of an identity that can reflect their true, internal nature.

Grindr is another environment where people project a different version of themselves. A Grindr identity might be a hypersexual version; maybe a little hornier, a little better-endowed, a little younger. And the social environment in which Grindr users meet is (presumably) a space where those identities are ‘real’, and where mundane aspects of life don’t intrude.

It happens on Facebook, too. Users show a version of themselves that reflects their true interests and identity. For example, someone who is a young parent can choose to use their baby as an icon. This allows them to reframe the dependent relationship as one of equals, just at different stages in life. The adult is a former baby, and the baby is a future adult. (Similar things can happen later in life, when the child becomes the carer for a dependent elderly parent.) Something similar can happen with pet owners too, where the human can reframe their own life in the context of the love and luxury they are able to afford their domestic animal. In both cases, the Facebooker is expressing that their care provides a sense of internal wellbeing, something important and worthy.

It also happens in queer communities. Ray Van Fox is genderqueer, and his community has grown on Tumblr. He has found a community where he can express his true identity:

“Somehow these folks, without even knowing some supposedly basic things about me, have created a safe space where I can be my most authentic, uncensored, almost fully ungendered self.”

 

(A quick note on pronouns: I’ve chosen to use ‘he’ for Ray, because that’s how he mostly presents himself out in the real world. It’s not perfect but I think it’s better than using a gender-neutral neologism, which I find to be jarring. Neither option is perfect, so I’ve chosen what is least-worst, at least from my perspective.)

Ray’s description of his ‘safe space’ sounds a lot like the furry spaces in which I spend much of my time.

Here is his description of his safe space:

“Lots of us have names and personas and pronouns that are different from the ones we have in “real” life, but we aren’t using them in order to deceive anyone.”

 

And:

“I’m exhausted with all the tiny lies and self-betrayals involved in trying to squeeze myself into an identity that isn’t quite mine. Why would I leave the house and deal with that, when I can get online and interact with others without having to package myself in any shape but the one I’ve got?

 

Tumblr provides a level of anonymity in the act of self-creation — of constructing my blog persona — that gives me freedom from others’ preconceived notions based on my body. Because it’s all about what you say, not how you look.”

 

In all these examples—on Second Life, on Grindr, on Facebook, on Tumblr—groups of people are taking advantage of the online world to experiment with identity in the way that furries do, and have been for the last 20 years or so. We’re not exactly leaders—people aren’t walking around with WWFD bracelets or consulting the latest advice from furry think tanks—but we are the first to cross this new ground. And so we can expect that non-furry groups will experience the positive and negative aspects of our furry experience as time flows on.

I think that fellowship is the biggest gift the furry community has given to us. We are able to be ourselves and be treated with respect, in a way that many of us cannot easily find in non-furry spaces. I think that this change is already affecting mainstream culture: as more people learn the value of self-expression, those on the fringe are finding more acceptance. As examples: there has been a seachange in attitudes towards gay people; there are signs that the world is starting to move beyond gender binaries (although there is a long way to go); an inclusive, intelligent third wave of feminism is gaining traction.

People in these three cases (gay people, trans* people, women) are all on the fringe, and are exploring aspects of identity. Members of all three are having to make compromises in the way they present themselves in society, something which they are not required to do in the ‘safe space’ of their respective communities. Some will refuse to compromise (to their own detriment—they will be given the perjorative label ‘militant’), and some will not explore their true identity. But the majority will balance two identities, internal and external, and they will have to deal with the challenges this presents.

There has been a lot of talk here on [a][s] recently about how we, as furries, manage our internal animal-person identity with the need to conform to society’s expectations. I won’t cover that ground again here. Suffice to say that compromise is necessary, and that there is no perfect solution.

The requirement to balance a true internal identity with a curated external identity is challenging. It can require vigilance, especially if we want to keep ourselves googleproof. There are techniques and tools, however they are yet to reach maturity (Google Plus looked promising before they decided that we wouldn’t be allowed to socialize under an invented identity). But the tools will improve as the mainstream world catches up with the furry community, as people learn the freedom and happiness that a safe space and self-consistent identity can bring.

As Ray Van Fox puts it:

“That space may be made up of a bunch of “strangers” who might look different than I imagine, but I can bank on the fact that their reasons for befriending me have nothing to do with my body. And I can’t tell you how comforting that is.”

 

You can read Ray’s full article here. He lives at http://www.rayvanfox.com/.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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7 thoughts on “Evidence That Furry Is Leading the Rest of the World

  1. Of course there were (and are) non-furry MUCK/MUSH/MOO environments that existed long before the internet became so familiar and popular (and when bandwidth was largely limited to text-based transmission.)

    Furries have at least heard of FurryMUCK, though most these days probably have never been there. But in that early-90s era when FurryMUCK became established, there were dozens of other similar virtual worlds with other themes, or no theme at all. LambdaMOO, a roleplay environment that was set up as a sort of social experiment, was the first such environment that I discovered back around 1993. It wasn’t long after that when I found FurryMUCK.

    I’m not sure furries are “leaders” here, except in the sense that we have taken greater advantage of the potentialities. We reshaped the existing codebase to do something we wanted, but the idea and the means already existed and did not originate with us.

    1. Tivo, I think that’s spot on. We have taken it further than most, and sooner than most, and I think we’re the first group of such a size to head into this new territory. Maybe ‘pioneers’ would be a better term than ‘leaders’.

      For me, it was IRC. It took me a while to discover furry, but I was occasionally socializing in the guise of an animal-person in the non-furry imaginary world.

      1. “Pioneer” is a better word, yes. Or maybe “enthusiastic adopter.” :D

        Certainly furries have had significant impact on Second Life (and I know that even though I’ve never been near the place.) And that is because the furry community eagerly adopts tools that support the identity process you describe. Live Journal was similarly popular until the administration became overly repressive. Twitter, IRC, commercial IMs, and even (goddess forbid) Google+ and Facebook are being used for similar purposes.

  2. While this was a great article, I agree with Altivo. “I’m not sure furries are “leaders” here, except in the sense that we have taken greater advantage of the potentialities. We reshaped the existing codebase to do something we wanted, but the idea and the means already existed and did not originate with us.”

    While it’s great that we perhaps started doing it a bit earlier than others, we weren’t really the first. I think that, instead of trying to claim that the fandom was some kind of trailblazer we should instead see it as a perfect example of how we’re not really all that different from most folks.

    1. Thanks CRA, that’s very kind of you. I’m with Altivo as well—he has the knack of insight—although I’m okay with the trailblazer metaphor. We’re different in that we’ve gone a lot further than other people have, and probably further than other people ever will.

      It’s our abstraction of species, which I’d argue is almost a collective personal experiment in personhood, that stands us apart.

  3. *Note, I didn’t read the whole thing! My message might not match well, sorry.*

    I honestly hope this is true I think or partly. Main Society has been very dull and hateful, there main core as I call it has been mainly about “Normal” and “Hatred” instead of what they are supposed to have in order to create a real Society: Acceptance, Open minded, Love.
    If they really are starting to follow us, and others, then that would make the world a waaaaay much better place.

    Trust me, I will honestly say this, society has been causing real pain to others for a long time.. That also includes mind causing pain from too much deny, so much deny against you just because you had something that might of been different, especially if it was something about sexuality. Did I mention that the believe of “Normal” has been the most dangerous thing ever to exist?

    Hmm I saw another article, that seems to be the other way around after this, I honestly hope that isn’t true and there might be evidence even from the article somehow to me that may not be so too. Unless that article also promotes the idea that the world will accept others for who they are, even if what who you are was based on a reaction of negativity, since you can’t change that since it’s already happened.

    If that article is about people who are different, not ever going to be accepted, etc or something like that rather than a change to society which is very important, then I’m just going to continue to just tear my self from more deny, hoping the world will just end, so I can get out of here completely, etc. If that article was the correct path.

    Sorry for writing a lot, I just has been thinking issues of the world for so long and I really want to have more faith for this hell to end. *Sigh*

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