Within the geek community, there are few subcultures that catch more shade than furries. If you’ve been to an anime or comic convention you’ve probably encountered a few of them; some are immediately identifiable by elaborate anthropomorphic animal suits, and in some cases they simply sport some animal features like ears and tails. There are also many members of this community who are fans of the aesthetic but don’t actively participate in the costuming aspect. I’m not a furry myself, and don’t have any authority to really analyze the community, but in the past I have engaged in some active furry-derision, and I’ve been challenging myself about why. What led me—and apparently so many others—to choose furries as a subculture scapegoat (no pun intended)? What inclines a community made up largely of outsiders to exclude another subgroup? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I have some theories.
First, there is the widespread association between furries and sexuality, which is why this topic ended up in the Sexualized Saturday column. The assumption that being a furry is exclusively a fetish is widespread, and many people assume that furries all strap into fursuits mostly to hump each other. I have learned that this is not actually true of most furries. While there are definitely sexual elements to the subculture, a large portion of the community simply enjoys the roleplay and artistic elements. Some enjoy taking on animal-like mannerisms in a social setting, whether they incorporate costumes or not, as a way of portraying their specific character. Members of the community enjoy creating anthropomorphic alter egos and original characters through art, writing, and online roleplay, and in that sense “furry” is more like a genre than a fetish. There are some specifically G-rated communities, as well as websites for sharing art and stories.
There is indeed a sexual aspect for a portion of the community, and that portion tends to be the most visible, but that’s hardly unusual amongst geek subcultures. The volume of incredibly sexual fanfiction, fanart, and those anime body pillows is testament to the fact that plenty of geeks get more than just nerdboners over their fandom of choice. A friend involved in the furry community online remarked, “The majority of the fandom doesn’t even do the whole sex in the suit deal. But once you hear that some do, it doesn’t matter that most don’t.”
In the case of furries, unlike with most other fandoms, there is a certain association with animals, which leads to an association with bestiality. Aversion to bestiality is itself very much a normal reaction, but the idea that sexualizing fictional, humanoid characters who have certain animal features is on par with bestiality is wildly unfair. Sexy art, obviously, is entirely fantasy, and the decidedly small portion of people who actually have sex in fursuits are still people portraying characters, and as such are perfectly capable of consent. Regardless of personal kinks, consenting adults are free to express their sexuality in whatever way they so choose.
There is also some overlap between furries and “otherkin”: people who believe that their fundamental identity is something other than human. The validity of otherkin identities and their place in the world is a whole other topic for another time, but otherkin are a bit of a sore spot for me, because some try to equate themselves to trans people. Innocent though their intentions may be, when otherkin compare their situation with that of trans people, it tends to derail and detract from trans discourse, which remains essential to the trans community specifically. Many trans people, myself included, feel that otherkin are trying to ride to social legitimacy on the coattails of a decades-long and hard-fought LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.
Critically, however, furries and otherkin are not the same community, in spite of a few apparent points of overlap. Furries may feel they have some spiritual connection to certain animals that they want to express, not unlike certain pagan beliefs, or they may simply enjoy the community and the artistry as a hobby. There certainly are some otherkin within the furry community, but nether association necessitates the other.
At the end of the day, furries are just another geek subculture, and as a group they certainly aren’t bothering anyone. There is plenty of anthropomorphism in other geek media that people evidently find perfectly acceptable: the Thundercats, Sonic the Hedgehog, and that weirdly attractive fox Robin Hood from the 1973 Disney movie, for example. You had some feelings for that fox as a child, and if you claim otherwise, you are lying to yourself. As my consulting friend put it, “Furries spend thousands of dollars to show off a character they created that they think represents themselves in some form or another. They spend thousands on art as well trying to bring the character to life. Everyone has their own image of themselves. And when we were little we wanted to be puppies. Now we’re older and we want to be dragons, puppies, foxes, wolves. It’s silly that people are so down on Furries.”