A queer exploration of all things gender

Posts tagged ‘animals’

The furry fandom: an introductory exploration + fantastic fan art!

It’s pretty fair to say that there’s a huge range of gender identities and sexualities that are virtually invisible to the mainstream public, but there also exist many dimensions of human experience and identity that depending upon personal interpretation, can blur the boundaries of what is one’s identity, sexuality, and community involvement. One particular example will be discussed today. Introducing: the furries.

A furry is an individual who takes a particular interest in anthropomorphic animals. This refers to depictions of animals usually with humanesque personalities and traits. Generally speaking, people identifying as furries are able to embrace and explore their identity through online communities, though many conventions and get-togethers also exist. The term furry can almost be regarded as an umbrella, as the particular interests, and the nature of a given furry identity can vary hugely between individuals. It’s also important to recognise that whilst some individuals may fulfill this simple criterion, they may not choose to identify with this term. This is to be respected, in the same way that, in terms of identity politics, being a man who has sex with men does not mean one identifies as gay or bisexual – and can’t be said to mean ‘that is what one really is’.

The range of anthropomorphic animals varies hugely. You might think of Mickey Mouse, or Simba from the Lion King, or animal headed ancient Egyptian deities. Whilst the term ‘furry’ seems to have originated from the first early community grouping via fanzines in the 1980s, the existence of ‘funny animals‘ – your quintessential cartoon critters – stems from the 1930s onwards, and precedent for cultural recognition of anthropomorphic animals in entertainment and culture can be found going back hundreds of years.

File:Grandville leLoup Et Le Chien.jpg

This is a drawing by the successful French artist J. J. Grandville, from 1828-1829.

So what does one do, if one is a furry, you might ask? Well, all sorts, depending on what interests you. Some people might simply talk to other furries through one of the popular available online forums, such as the website furaffinity. The production of literature and visual art are also popular pursuits, with many users producing such material. This can range from personal images representing a character or identity an individual may have within the fandom (also known as a ‘fursona’) to highly professional digital and fine art. Below are a range of examples.

An example of a fursona, used with kind permission by Rico – http://www.rico-dawg.deviantart.com/

Image used with kind permission by Adam Wan – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/zaush

Image used with kind permission by Adam Wan – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/zaush

Image used with kind permission by Adam Wan – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/zaush

Image used with kind permission by Adam Wan – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/zaush

These two images are not publicly available, so I particularly thank Adam for sharing these images with me for use on GenderBen.

Images used with kind permission by Adam Wan – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/zaush

The furry fandom has not received much press. When it has, it has often been rather disingenuous and misinforming about the breadth of identities and activities that occur. One particular lengthy article, published by Vanity Fair in 2001 is somewhat unsubtle in its implications that virtually all furries must be socially awkward males in their 30s and 40s, who are either sad, lonely freaks with stuffed toy collection obsessions, or engaging in sinister or illegal fetishistic sexual practices. There is a sense that reporting on this community is really an indulgence of a macabre, carnivalesque voyeurism – made all the worse by its fundamental inaccuracies.

It is of course unsurprising that some people with a furry identity enjoy (different) elements of sexual roleplaying as part of their identity experience, or produce or consume erotic literature or pornography. I find it somewhat ironic that many of the individuals who would castigate such behaviour are mocking an ‘abnormal’ or ‘deviant’ expression of desire that causes zero harm or impact on others, and yet undoubtedly remain silent or indifferent to the countless examples of sexual, physical and emotional abuse that can be performed against women (and men) in much ‘mainstream’ pornography.

Oh, also, it might be nice to examine some figures about the interests and population of the online furry society, which rather challenges the idea that this is an e-club of drooling chronic masturbators who haven’t quite made it out of their parent’s basements.

Each year, a large scale online survey is performed, with the 2011 data containing responses from 4,365 self-identified furries. 71% of respondents are between the ages of 15-24, and 21.2% report a ‘female sex’ (kudos to the report for granting respondents the opportunity to distinguish between their ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Whilst imperfect, the existence of an ‘other’ option for sex and the recognition of some complexity on the one is a hell of a lot better than virtually any other data collection I’ve seen). One can hardly claim that the stereotype of the furry population being made up of  ‘heterosexual males perving on dehumanised female fantasy’ has fair basis either, with only 42% identifying as “completely or mostly heterosexual”. There has been a shift in that there now exists the stereotype that the furry fandom is composed instead of awkward gay adolescents with immature sexual fetishes. The obvious heterosexism aside (as if it would matter even if every single furry did possess a minority sexuality), this idea of using the construction of stereotype to then ridicule is merely a marginalisation tool, as made obvious by the fact that different, contradictory offensive stereotypes exist to target the same heterogeneous group.

Most interesting possibly are the sections of this report that consider the importance of sex to respondents. On a scale of 1 to 10, participants were asked to rate how important sex is to them, how important they believe it is to other furries, and how important they believe it is to the public. The most popular answer for personal importance of sex was 1 – least important. However for other furries, the most common pick was 7, hinting that people may be perceived as considering sex as important, when really they care about other things much more. 37% believed that the public rank a 10 on sex importance. This is easy to see why when one just has to do a google image search for ‘furry’ to see the number of poor attempts at caption humour have been crafted with the basic theme of ‘furry = sexually wrong’. When one has experienced the public policing one’s identity, one becomes far more aware of how restrictive sexual hegemony really is.

Of course, explicit art isn’t always to be avoided.


It can even be amusing. Credit for images – http://www.furaffinity.net/user/coal/

The fluffy side of sexuality. *Warning, cuteness!*

Things have been a bit serious on GenderBen recently, so I thought, ‘hey, what do a lot of people enjoy looking at on the internet?’

After dismissing porn (because I’ve written about that already of course), I came up with cute fluffy animals.

But how about cute fluffy QUEER animals?

Okay, not really queer. and this has more to do with language and labels than anything else. Being gay, or queer, or any other label you care to mention that provides other people with information about one’s sexual habits says way more about the proclivities of our naughty parts, whether we like it or not. People categorise, and label, and simplify, and stereotype. With animals, all that can really be looked at is what we observe, rather than thoughts and relationships and all that complicated sociological interaction we have as humans. So really, in the realm of scientific study, common practice uses homosexual behaviour to refer to copulation, genital stimulation, mating games, and sexual displays.

It’s also interesting to note that despite animal mating bahaviour obviously having been studied for centuries, it’s only been relatively recently that same-sex-stuff has actually been noticed. This could be due to observer bias – where a scientist’s expectations (“bah, homosexuality only exists in criminal perverts, what”) influence the results of study.

Some of the strategies and behaviours that have been observed are really quite amazing – if not due to cuteness, then due to amusement value.

1. Black Swans

File:Black Swans.jpg

“I told you we needed more than a dab of sunblock on our beaks, but would you listen, no.” “we will talk about it later Cyril, please don’t make a *scene*”

These bad-boy swans have had their sexual capers known about in detail for over 40 years. As gay critters go, they seem to be quite keen on kids. They have been observed to steal nests – or form threesomes with females only to scarper once she lays the eggs. These homo-raised cygnets are also more likely to survive to adulthood, maybe as two males can control a larger territory, or are better at defending their young.

“But mum, Jack’s dads Cyril and Brendon let *him* go swimming…” “I don’t care, you’ve just been blow-dried”

2.  Dolphins

I say ‘dolphins’ rather than a specific species because all sorts including the Amazon River dolphin and the Tucuxi, but mostly Bottlenose dolphins seem to enjoy the love that dare not chatter, squeak, or click its name. Not just penetrative sex either. Dolphins have been observed engaging in blowhole sex, the only nasal lovin’ so far seen in the animal kingdom. They’ll also have group sex with genital rubbing, which is thought to be simply for pleasure and bond formation. D’aww. It’s also been recorded that instead of combat, groups of Atlantic Spotted dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins will engage in cross-species romps. Make love, not war, indeed.

3. Bonobos


Speaking of making love not war, this is exactly how the Bonobo has been described by Frans de Waal in his book Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape. It seems that over 75% of sexual acts in the species are non-reproductive, and about 60% are girl-on-girl action. Reasons for this include conflict resolution, post-conflict reconciliation, and simply as a greeting. Practices such as treetop penis-fencing and drop-it-like-it’s-hot rump-rubbing are common.

4. Giraffes

Credit to image: the talented deviant art user Rainbowshrimp.

Male giraffes engage in behaviour called ‘necking’. Unfortunately, this doesn’t involve cute giraffe-hickies. Often it’s combative, swinging their heads like clubs and bashing their necks into each other to establish dominance. It can also be gentle however, with rubbing and leaning. The male who can hold himself erect for longer, wins. The imagery isn’t lost on me. Same sex activity has been recorded at between 30-75%.

5. Sheep

“I’m sorry, I’m just not into ewe…”

From the perspective of husbandry, rams who’re exclusively into other dude-sheep are somewhat problematic, as they make up roughly 10% of the population, and so are no good for making lots of little profitable sheep-babies. A neuroanatomical difference has been found that gives some explanation for this. A chunk of brain called the oSDN is responsible for releasing a substance thought to be involved in the hetero-ram hornification process. This brain region seems to be smaller in homo-rams.

6.  Albatrosses

“Darling, I love you.” “I love you too.” “…would you get me a fish?”

Albatrosses are a near-monogamous species, usually pairing with the same bird every year for life (and they can live for up to 70 years). It was in the last 10 years that it was found approximately one-third of paired couples were actually both female, because male and female albatrosses are virtually identical. A detailed account of this discovery and the stir it caused amongst the public can be found here.

7. Bed Bugs

At first I tried to find an image of a real bed bug that also qualified as cute. This it turns out, cannot be done.

So bed bugs it seems will fancy just about any other bed bug, so long as they’ve recently fed, demonstrating good health. Unfortunately, bed bugs perform the violent practice of ‘traumatic insemination’ – where they stab their partner in the abdomen and inject sperm directly in. Females have evolved a structure called a ‘spermalege’, which is basically a ‘damage control’ organ for the rough bug-sex, reducing injury and immune response. Males don’t have this, so it’s not only mildly embarrassing for a dude bug when he accidentally shoves his bug-wang into another dude bug, but also, um, potentially fatal. To try and avoid being unwittingly pronged, males produce alarm hormones. Bed bugs chemically yell “I’M A DUDE, PLEASE DON’T STAB ME WITH YOUR PENIS”.

8. Penguins

Chinstrap penguins (pictured above) gained particular fame due to a pair of penguins called Roy and Silo in Central Park Zoo, who paired and tried to steal eggs from other penguins to rear. Instead they were given an egg, which successfully hatched into a female called Tango – inspiration of the children’s book And Tango Makes Three. Tango herself has apparently paired with a female penguin, and various other same-sex pairings have also been seen. In China, visitors complained to zookeepers for separating a same-sex penguin couple from the other penguins for their egg-stealing attempts. They were given a surplus egg to raise, and were also successful.

So if there’s anything we can learn from this, I suggest it’s that you and me baby, ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel.

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