Tag Archives: Psychology

No, You Don’t Have Asperger’s

There are a lot of furries who have Asperger’s disorder, or at least a lot who think they have Asperger’s disorder. As of May 2013, none of them will have it: it’s being deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s in DSM-IV; it will not be in DSM-5. (Roman numerals are out too, apparently.)

Along with three other conditions—autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and ‘pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified’—Asperger’s is being lumped into Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. ASD reflects our understanding of autism as a universal aspect of personality rather than a specific condition. People with Asperger’s will be recategorized as having mild ASD, or as having no disorder at all.

This is very good news for people with Asperger’s, especially those with mild symptoms. (Anyone self-diagnosed with Asperger’s is highly unlikely to have ASD, for reasons I’ll explain later in this article.)

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Furry as an Alternative to Religion

Furries are a diverse bunch.

Our diversity means that we’re often excluded from the mainstream. This is particularly evident in our sexual preferences – only about a third of us identify as ‘heterosexual’ or ‘mostly heterosexual’ (Ref). Other traits displayed by some furries – gender dysmorphia, heavy internet usage, or even simple geekiness – can also play a part in our diversion from society’s definition of ‘normal’.

Not surprisingly, furries do not closely embrace religion, a societal construct that can embody and tacitly enforce the norms of the mainstream. A little more than 50% of furries are essentially areligious (Ref). This rate is about five times higher than for the wider American population (Ref).

Furry provides some of the benefits of religion – I identify two in this article, loosely defined as ‘spirituality’ and ‘community’ – that provide insight into how mainstream society might react to the challenges of our changing world. Furries embody some of the biggest challenges to religion in the twenty-first century: acceptance of diversity, the growing online world and, most importantly, the increasing rejection of religion altogether.

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Furries with Physical Disabilities

For many furries, there are big physical differences between their real-world bodies and their preferred avatar. We often act as if our animal-person representation really exists: we might consider the logistics of tails, we might miaow or bark a greeting, we might assume personality traits that reflect our perception of our species.

Such roleplay is central to the furry experience for many people. Online, furries commonly present as their animal-person avatar and will socialize as if everyone else were their fursona. This behaviour translates, to an extent, to real-world furry spaces, from one-on-one meetings through to conventions.

This ‘fursona illusion’ occurs regardless of how closely our real body matches our avatar. For those furries who feel their real-world body doesn’t reflect their self-image, this can be a liberating experience. And for furries who are physically disabled – perhaps wheelchair bound – it has the potential to transcend their disability.

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Subconscious Aspects of the Fandom

Did you know that I used to read tarot cards? I still have the embarrassingly large collection of decks, books, and other accessories that go along with the practice.  I pull them out every now and then to remember the person that I used to be.  I used to be intensely focused on the subconscious and all of the ways in which it wound itself through our waking lives. I used to daydream about spending the requisite hours necessary for a 78 card spread using every card in the standard deck, even if I only did it once,  At one point, I even vowed to do one reading for myself a day for 78 days in order to write a book about the experience (an idea that crops up with just about every interest I pick up, I should note).

I’ve talked about change before, and I have even laid bare some of the changes I have gone through personally.  Even though my fascination with tarot has waned, I still retain the general interest in the ways in which the subconscious works in our lives, and I can still appreciate the deep symbolism that goes along with it. I would be lying, in fact, if I were to say that there wasn’t some subconscious link tying me to the furry fandom. And, having had a few conversations on that point, I think that the same holds true for a lot of us here.

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Our Fursonas Are Happier Than We Are

We furries, or at least most of us, have multiple identities.

Like everyone, we have our outward-facing human identity, named by our parents and constricted by whatever body it happens to be contained within. Our unique outward-facing identity is closely tied to our position in society and is tied to artificial constructs that crystallize our self into an acceptable bureaucratic package, such as our passports, our social security numbers, or our Google Plus accounts.

Furries usually also create one or more fictional identities. We name ourselves, select a combination of human and animal traits to create a new body, and often a new set of personality traits. Some furries, who create an avatar with interests (or physical dimensions) that do not easily gel with the real world, go further and create a fantasy universe.

Our furry identity is a personal creation, a kind of internal ghost accompanying the human that lurks around the real world. In situations where the real world is less intrusive, like corners of the internet or furry gatherings, our furry identities assert themselves and the human – with its arbitrary name, body, and bureaucratic accoutrements – is pushed to the background.

When the furry self is at the forefront, we experience the world in a different way. And, according to recently published data from the Anthropomorphic Research Project (based at the Niagara County Community College in the USA), we experience the world through the lens of an identity that is more mature, psychologically healthier, and happier than our human selves.

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Participation mystique 3 – On Pronouns

I seem to be drilling down with this (very spread out) series.  I started out with a general overview of participation mystique in the fandom, narrowed it to some specific uses of words, and now I’m focusing specifically on pronouns.  I can’t say that I have any plans for a fourth iteration, but I’m assuming that it will start going into syllables.  Arf, bark, and the like.  Pretty good syllables, if you ask me.

Pronouns are already short enough as it is, usually only one syllable.  They’re some of the most common words that we use, and for good reason: they help us keep our speech and writing concise and varied by letting us use a placeholder instead of a name or a noun.  They carry a lot of weight for their relatively small size, however. Weight that, I think, can tell us quite a bit about how some people interact with the fandom, or even identify with their personal characters.

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A Rough Guide to Loneliness

Most people are familiar with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Loneliness can lead to feelings of depression.

It’s worse if you are young. It takes a long time to become happy with yourself, if that is ever fully achievable. Most of us experience personal growth as we age. If you don’t like yourself, which is much more likely if you are young, it’s easy to assume that you’re somehow at fault for being lonely.

It’s worse if you are male. Men are more prone to depression and suicide. It’s believed that this is biological.

It’s worse if you have an unusual sexuality or gender identity. Someone who doesn’t fit into society’s mainstream will often find themselves marginalized. This adds stress to day-to-day activities, possibly a feeling of ‘being judged’ or feeling outcast.

Furries fit the description of a high-risk group for depression. We’re young (median age 22 [ref]); male-dominated (80% [ref]); unusual sexualities (69% self-report as ‘not heterosexual’ [ref]) and genders (26% self-report as neither completely male nor female [ref]).

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Growing Up

It is generally considered that you become an adult at 21 years old. Anyone who is 21 years old or more knows that this is completely false.

We might be physically mature, but there is a big difference between physical and emotional maturity. An emotionally mature person likes and accepts themselves. This takes a lot more than 21 years.

Personal hygiene is hard. Getting up in the morning is hard. Feeling lonely is hard. Managing suicidal thoughts is hard. Holding down a job is hard. Looking in the mirror, and liking what you see, is hard. And pretending that you don’t, deep down, consider yourself to be a failure is really hard.

Everyone feels like a failure at least some of the time. Society dictates that we must pretend that we’re doing fine, so we hide how we really feel. Everyone else wears the same facade of competence, which means that it’s easy to look around and see people apparently doing well. This reinforces our own feeling of isolation, unworthiness, and failure.

As you gain emotional maturity, you learn to take pride in your own self-improvement. You learn that everyone else is struggling too. You learn your real value and you gain empathy for all those other losers out there.

Ironically, for a group of people who identify as pretend animals, the furry community is a great vehicle for self-improvement. This is obvious through observation of our furry friends: seeing those pursuing education, weight loss, jobs, relationships, and other avenues to happiness. The science explains the value of furry as well, through clinical psychology and therapeutic experience.

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The Haters

In the April 2012 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, there is an interesting piece of research that presents evidence that “homophobia can result, at least in part, from the suppression of same-sex desire“.

There are two ways that this conclusion might be perceived:

One: hypertolerant types might think this provides a bit of scientific ammunition against the bigoted. We can take the logical next step and apply this idea to haters within furry, which reframes them as closeted versions of the object of their hatred.

Two: skeptical types might think that psychological experiments are never statistically sound, and that academics are pre-disposed to presenting conclusions that match up with their pre-existing beliefs.

Both of these perspectives are valid if extreme. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. I’m going to explore this, and how this is reflected within the furry community, but first I’m going to talk about cognitive psychology and chronobiology.

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The regular Londonfurs (londonfurs.org.uk) meets are a great environment for getting to know furry friends, old and new. The meets are held in a City bar on Saturday afternoons and are attended by upwards of 100 furries. They have an easygoing vibe, fuelled by the sort of bonhomie that’s engendered by drinking with friends in the afternoon.

I was chatting at the bar with a couple of furry friends at a recent meet when we were approached by a geeky furry acquaintance of mine. Most furries will be able to guess what happened next. Our geek delivered a deadpan anecdote, describing a workmate who had become confused about two different types of barcode. His story – which was incomprehensible to anyone not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of barcodes – had nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Everyone in the conversation immediately understood that we had been ‘geeked’. We tried to steer our geek away from his topic and predictably failed: our geek paid no heed to the usual social cues of conversation. Everyone else managed to escape and I was left with my geek, doomed to listen on in feigned interest and rising annoyance.

Every socially active furry will be able to identify with my experience. Why, I asked another furry following my eventual escape, am I socializing with these infuriating geeks?

Another question struck me later in the day: why are there so many geeks in the furry community?

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