A drawing I made of some furries
My friend could have been on MTV. Please hold my hand, reader, and feel the current of my palpable relief when I heard that they had graciously declined their offer to follow my friend around with cameras and broadcast selected footage under the banner of (x) reality program. For we are furries. We get cozy with the media at our imminent peril. Whether we approach the wild journalist in the spirit of being either coy or candid, it’s always something like “FURRING: Furring involves wearing animal costumes to have sex. The most popular is Sylvester the Cat,” that ends up getting circulated. That particular example came to me from tumblr by way of Channel 4. Passing it along to me, my furry acquaintance Van Weasel editorializes “That’s news to me. I think they just pulled this out of their ass.” They definitely did!
The straight media can’t help themselves. On a slow news day, they relish popping off the head of a plush sexy purple feline mascot costume to reveal not-conventionally-attractive character actor Willie Garson vaguely perv-ing and sweating beneath the sultry cartoon veneer. And don’t we furrs wish it were even Willie Garson half of the time. HE WAS ON SEX AND THE CITY. I get it. Let me just say this though, straight media. Cut it out with the “yiff” already. Anyone saying “yiff” unironically in 2013 will be outed as a fucking NARC and dis-invited to all future secret furpiles, never to be skritched again. Don’t let it happen to you!
I’m thinking about hack media coverage of furries because I am old. I am not old, I am 26. In the world of human beings, a 26-year old moaning about being old is grotesquely gauche and annoying, but a 26-year-old furry is four years away from being a greymuzzle. Quick! Add that one to your “furry glossary.” This distinction is a technicality. I’m already feeling irrelevant and alienated by the furry teens who are supplanting me just as I was allowing myself to feel cutting edge. I’m thinking about hack media coverage of furries because I’m feeling nostalgic and sorry for myself, and it’s hack media coverage of furries that got me into this pickle into the first place.
Imagine me, a misshapen weird teen (you are very good at imagining), reading “Pleasures of the Fur” in my mom’s copy of Vanity Fair. The subtitle to George Gurley’s article from March of 2001 reads “It’s sex; it’s religion; it’s a whole new way of life.” The brief anthro(pomorphic)pological trip to Midwest Furfest just outside Chicago that followed rang with that kind of grandiosity to me at weird lonely14. “TELL ME MORE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE” I implored my dial-up connection, afterword. “You are one of them, no duh,” replied the internet, clacking its mechanical pincers rhythmically.
I revisited Pleasures of the Fur in preparation for this article and no duh it is really bad. Like the lion’s share of ostensibly sympathetic explorations, it reeks of condescension, like isn’t it nice how these grown people have found their own never never land we can spend the duration of the piece pathologizing. Kathy Gerbasi, an “anthrozoologist,” in a BBC News UK article from 2009, describes the old chestnut, “being in a fur suit(sic) allows you to do things you might not otherwise do, like dance in public, clown around, give people a hug.” It’s shy nerd therapy! No mention of also getting to have sex in them. A not-zero number of people like to do this. You don’t have to get it! I haven’t done this thing, but one time I flirted with a coyote person and didn’t really know or care who was underneath the costume. Even if it were Willie Garson!
This is me, using this opportunity to be extraordinarily exuberant.
I just don’t think you can navigate ethically participating in one of the most sexually adventurous and open-minded subcultures on the planet by pretending it isn’t just that. Though I understand the urge to downplay this aspect. It comes from not wanting to be treated like a zoo animal. But one of the enduring pleasures of being a furry is that I know that I’m not the only person on earth whose brain is specially attuned to the secretly perverted frequencies emitted by the Tom and Jerry cartoons Fred Quimby directed. If you want a show, some furrs will give you one (I’m labeling that link NSFW unless you have an inventive explanation or a cool and fun boss).
The people skritching in public in paragraph 2 of like every article about furries ever are most likely close friends. Furry has not transcended basic boundaries and not every fur is Down To Skritch with every other fur. On the litany of things journos get way wrong, put this near the top.
Other things are just different now. Anthrocon has moved from Philidelphia to appropriately weird Pittsburgh. Attendance at the largest conventions in Chicago, San Jose, Atlanta, etc. is measured in the thousands. The subset of “plushies,” furries especially fixated on stuffed animals, that so charmed the gawking public has notably faded. It might just be me, but I don’t see as many centaur fetishists as I used to, either (A SHAME). As the general demographic has shifted younger and younger and America’s cultural concepts and expectations of nerdery have warped beyond recognition from just even a decade ago, Furry is less of a hive-mind built around the individual fascination and nostalgia for funny animal animation. Furry is fragmented, with subsets absorbing and reflecting back influence from DIY zine culture, hip hop and EDM, “weird twitter” surrealism, seapunk, anime, queer consciousness, feminism and general internet. Furry-targeted art and social websites like the briefly-monolithic furaffinity are losing their power as roots of the community. Many furrs best connect and express themselves on twitter and tumblr, where their furriness can casually intersect with whatever else they’re into.
I am of a piece with all of these things, but privately I can feel my cache turning to ash in my mouth as I remember the raw HUNGER of wanting to read Associated Student Bodies but not being old enough to go to a convention and buy any of the copies. When I refer to copies, I mean serialized editions of a comic book printed on paper, which is made from trees. Sometimes I compose melancholic treatises in my head about femininity in naturalistic vs supernatural settings in Studio Ghibli films. Not congruently, last night my partner and I watched An Extremely Goofy Movie and I wondered if someone felt privately tickled to get to animate Max Goof’s armpits (I remove my sexy cat face to reveal that I AM WILLIE GARSON).
Better journos like Amy Letter at the Rumpus and Katie Notopoulos at Buzzfeed are hip to the concept that furry is less about “we are” than “we can.” The best way to summarize furry is to ask a furry and the only way to “get it” is to actually participate, like when the latter actually commissioned a sexy raccoon fursona for herself from a furry artist (to the glossary!). I’m glad I can see straight media growing up, just moments before I am summarily rolled into an open grave by a mushing team of teen sparkle-dogs. Before I expire, I am heard to cryptically mutter “elfwoooooooooooood.”