Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Guest post: Outlaw Bodies: Furries

by Kyell Gold

If you’ve been on the Internet in the last five years, you probably know about furries—or think you do. (Hint: It’s not just people who wear costumes.) Furries have been around for twenty years, and the community they’ve built in that time has become one of the more open and welcoming to all kinds of people who often can’t find a home in mainstream society. Early on, for reasons that are still debated in the community, the LGBT presence in the fandom was very strong. That openness has persisted to the present day and grown even wider. Before civil unions were even legal, gay couples held hands and openly expressed their commitment at furry conventions. Transgendered and transsexual people move in the community with confidence.

People often ask why these and other diverse communities have found a home in furry. It’s a complicated question that I’m not going to answer in one post. But I think it has a lot to do with one of the core aspects of the furry fandom.


We project ourselves into avatars, different bodies with an animal aesthetic. These avatars—foxes, wolves, dogs, cats, lions, tigers, bears, and more—become part of us, but idealized, fantasized. Some people use them as goals: to be fit, to be muscular, to be more clever, to be more social. And some use them as experimentation. Because they are part of us, their experiences are ours, but they are fantasy enough to give us the freedom to explore parts of ourselves we might never want to talk about, never want to realize.

Dan Savage, in his sex advice podcast, talks frequently about the importance of a partner’s encouragement in discovering our true sexual selves. Lacking a confident partner, queer children (using ‘queer’ here as a term to encompass many alternative sexualities—gay, transgender, and others) growing up are often afraid to express their feelings without anyone else to affirm them. But in these fantasy avatars, we can be the people we want to be—gay, bisexual, a different gender, or both genders—and we can feel what it would be like. It’s sort of like bootstrapping, creating that confident partner and then animating him or her (or both), in the embrace of a community of people making the same journeys of exploration.

The fantasy aspect of the avatars has a lot to do with this freedom. Yes, we could play humans online, but creating a human character can feel too real, too close to us to allow us full freedom to express what we’re ashamed of. Human characters have backgrounds: homes and families, uncomfortable reminders of the limitations queer children need fantasy to escape. Animals are free to express themselves without inhibition, and adopting an animal nature gives us the liberty to do the same within our avatars. It’s also eased the journey of many people who are still struggling with mainstream acceptance, such as transsexuals, and people whose issues are barely part of the mainstream dialogue, like those suffering from body dysmorphia. After all, everyone in the fandom imagines himself or herself in a different body, to one degree or another. We can understand that desire.

The community has grown beyond the adoption of online avatars. Furries meet in person for coffee or pizza, have picnics and bowling outings, and set up conventions—there is a furry convention for nearly every weekend of the year now. At conventions, we identify each other with drawn badges of our characters, which display not only the artist’s skill, but the commissioner’s imagination and personality. Some people build costumes (about 20-25% of the attendees at a typical convention), others draw, and some of us write stories. Many just go to meet up with friends, to admire art, writing, and costumes, and to be in real life the person they feel they want to be.

The atmosphere at conventions is generally friendly and open, whether you’re a veteran or a first-time attendee. I have met many people who became good friends; online friendships became real at conventions. And in one very special case, a friend I’d met through another friend became first my boyfriend, then my husband. We’re both somewhat reserved in person, but knowing each other in the online world helped us click. We are together in real life, and the fox and wolf who are also us are a big part of that.

The fandom isn’t for everyone, and the concept of people who imagine themselves as animal-people is mystifying to some. But to people already on the outskirts of mainstream society, it’s provided a home and a safe haven, a place where they can, through fantasy, make for themselves a better reality.
Kyell Gold writes primarily anthropomorphic ("furry") fiction, and is most famous for his stories in a Renaissance-era world (Volle, Pendant of Fortune, The Prisoner's Release, Shadow of the Father) and his stories in a contemporary world (Waterways, Out of Position, Isolation Play). He has won twelve Ursa Major awards for his novels and short stories. Out of Position also won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Novel of 2009, and in 2010, his short story "Race to the Moon" was nominated for a WSFA Short Story Award. Other strange things he likes to write about include mystical decks of cards, superheroes, and sports. You can find more information about him and his books at http://www.kyellgold.com, and follow his blog at http://www.kyellgold.com/wpblog.

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