A queer exploration of all things gender

Posts tagged ‘furry fandom’

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/

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