When you’ve gone to enough conventions, you’re bound to have an experience that just doesn’t live up to the hype. Maybe you don’t know anyone or no one is asking for commissions. Then to make matters worse, everyone around you is gushing about the ‘GREATEST CON EVAR’ while you’re sitting alone drowning your sorrows in a cold pizza from the cafe. It’s the sad reality, and sometimes can’t be helped. But often it can!
We here at ProudToBeAFurry.org prefer to look on the bright side of things, but sometimes looking for the positive first involves dealing with the negative. So over a few articles, we will be going over conventions that can go bad– not just attending, but also disappointing experiences that artists and dealers might have. But we’ll also tell you how to avoid them, and what you can do to improve your con-going experience!
One of my college friends transitioned from male to female a couple years ago. One of the things she told me as she was in the midst of her transition was that when someone called her “she,” it gave her a good feeling, a little thrill. Among the many small and large details she shared of her transition, this one stood out to me, and through it I got a much better feeling of what she was going through.
Transition is a process (loosely speaking, and with the disclaimer that this is my understanding from the words of others) of asserting your external identity to match your internal one. But our external identity is not only defined by us; it’s confirmed and reinforced by the people around us, in intentional and unintentional interactions. We have only a limited amount of control over those interactions, and that feels really untenable. We can tell people what pronouns to use, how to affirm our identity, and so on, but ultimately (as we have seen in countless examples over the last few years), it’s up to those people whether to follow our wishes or not. So any example of someone affirming your new identity, especially unsolicited, feels very good.
The reason this detail stuck out to me is that I could identify with it. I’m not transgender, but that same feeling of having an internal identity somewhat at odds with what is presented to the world, is at the core of many in the furry community.
Let me hasten to say that I don’t mean to compare the experience of coming out as transgender to that of being furry. Transgender people face a great many more challenges; gender identity is so ingrained in our culture that it’s difficult just to get people to consider that someone’s gender identity might be different from the gender they were assigned at birth, and gender plays a role in so many parts of our culture that it’s impossible to avoid. The reason I used this example is that people who are aware of the struggle of being transgender understand the idea and the feeling of someone’s gender identity being affirmed by outside society, and I wanted to use that particular aspect of being trans to highlight something that most outsiders don’t understand about furries.
An outsider’s view of furries, as presented by the media, often focuses on people who dress up in costumes, or the activities in the fandom–artwork, writing, charity. By so doing, they miss the point of what the furry community is about for many of its members. When I was asked to describe the furry fandom to someone outside of it who was curious about it, their first question was, “Why is your avatar that of the animal?” (referring to my Twitter icon, one of many illustrations of my red fox fursona).
I hadn’t thought before that what we consider a basic cornerstone of our fandom could be so mysterious to an outsider. Of *course* we use our fursonas as avatars. That’s how we represent ourselves to others in our community. But it’s deeper than that: that’s how we represent ourselves to ourselves.
For some people, I think, choosing an avatar upon entering the fandom is a little like picking teams in laser tag: you run for whatever color your friends are. But for many of us, the species of our fursona matters deeply. Animals are imbued with a good deal of meaning through our culture, from Aesop’s Fables through Le Roman de Renard and countless Disney movies, and most people know a few basic facts about a lot of animals. It’s not hard to find an animal you identify with; even people outside the fandom can come up with an answer if asked, “What kind of animal would you be?” (Try it. You’ll get some amusing answers.)
In fact, I use that question to explain the furry fandom to outsiders sometimes. I’ll ask them, wait for the answer, and then tell them, “Furries are just people who have thought about that question a lot.”
We think about that and we share those thoughts with each other. And here maybe you’ll see what we have in common with my friend from the beginning of this post. I think that if I were an animal, I’d be a fox. There are a number of reasons for that: as a kid, I was never physically adept, but I got by on my wits–these are cultural stereotypes of foxes. I’ve been uprooted and uprooted myself a bunch of times, and always adapted to new surroundings–and the red fox is the most adaptable of carnivores, successful on multiple continents. Foxes in mythology are crafty but often not malicious, an ethos I identify with.
So this image of myself as a fox isn’t just picking a mascot for my life. It’s tied up in how I view myself as a person and how I want to be viewed by others. And when my friends and other furries say, “Hey, fox,” to me, I get that little thrill of affirmation that other people recognize the identity I’ve chosen and acknowledge it.
Several of my friends have told me privately that they feel the same way. I once made an impression on a friend who is a husky by telling her, “You *are* a husky,” so much so that she wrote about that small moment in her recap of the convention. And this, I think, is the part of the furry fandom that so many in the media miss, that so many outsiders don’t see. We don’t pick our animal avatars just for fun; we don’t wear expensive costumes because we like dressing up. We wear badges at conventions with illustrations of our fursonas or characters we relate to; we get costumes made of them; all of this is so that we can represent to the world this internal identity that is so important to us. Why it’s important is a whole other matter, maybe as impenetrable to outsiders as an unfamiliar gender identity or cultural identity. But the why shouldn’t matter as much as the fact that it *is* important.
NOTE: This post is going to talk about politics. Even if we like to talk about fictional animals, furries are still human beings, and politics is at its heart how humans relate. “I don’t care/want to talk about politics!” is itself a statement of privilege– because that means you are in a position where you don’t need to care– and therefore paradoxical as it may sound that is still a political stance.
It has taken me a long time to write this post, for a variety of reasons, but more than anything else, it has been this post that caused proudtobeafurry.org to go quiet for so long after AnthroCon. As Editor-In-Chief I didn’t feel like I could in good conscience just keep putting up fluffy posts without addressing the issue, but I also had to work out just what it was I wanted to say.
2016 and 2017 have been a rough year in the United States. Our elections were manipulated, all the worst elements of our society were empowered or even exalted, and it has been a near-daily deluge of horribleness ever since. The “alt-right,” which is an over-polite term for a massive knot of fascists, racists, homophobes, and misogynists, have come out from under their rocks and are now waving flags and running people down in the street.
Not going to lie. The situation is bad. Vocal chunks of America are trying their hardest to recreate 1930s Germany, for reasons that range from misguided to downright delusional. The good news is that even larger chunks of America are fighting back– and we have the historical example to realize what we’re up against. The alt-right will go down and go down hard, eventually: the inevitable end for the whole mentality is self-destruction. But the rest of us are still going to have a big mess to clean up by the time it’s all over.
So now we have these people calling themselves “alt-furry.” FFS.
These people have been around, of course. Back in the ’90s when I was hanging out in alt.fan.furry/alt.lifestyle.furry they were around. They were generally spurned or at least ignored, for reasons ranging from The Geek Social Fallacies to a more basic “Ain’t got time for your crap.” But in 2016 and 2017, just as the alt-right was crapping all over American society, these people started crapping all over the furry fandom.
The avowed policy of proudtobeafurry.org is that we celebrate what we like, instead of complaining about what we don’t. But as much as we wish to highlight that which is good, it would be hypocritical to ignore that this conflict is going on around us. We are here to talk about what is awesome in the furry fandom, and that includes Inclusion, Creativity, Positivity, Tolerance, and Love– but that also means we stand in direct opposition to “alt-furry” and everything associated with it.
“It’s just a joke!” and similar rationalizations also get no pass from us. “Pretending to be a jerk” is inherently a jerkish thing to do. Pretending to advocate genocide “for the lulz” is no better than actually advocating genocide. Trolling by its nature makes people unhappy and is a mean-spirited behavior.
Hi there! I’m Inkblitz; writer, spottycat extraordinaire and all around goofball. And I’m proud to be a furry!
But I wasn’t always.
I entered the furry fandom for the first time somewhere along its awkward phase, a couple years before the dreaded CSI episode came out. Which worked out, because I was also in my awkward phase at the time. For a few years we were awkward together; I was trying to figure out who I was while dodging bullies and hormones, and the furry fandom was still trying to figure out what it actually wanted to be.
It was a pretty different fandom back then; no one was really sure how seriously they wanted to take the entire thing. It was far smaller and much less connected. Going to conventions was for people who were well off, really good at art or lived nearby. Yet for some furry was becoming a way of life, and others were actually beginning to use it as a means to make a living. For me, it was a place where I could make some real friends away from my home town. It just also happened to have cute and curvy werewolf ladies.
For my teenage self who couldn’t quite get the hang of high school, it was like a second home.
Sadly, my first dip into the furry fandom didn’t last long past graduation. The CSI episode came out a year before I graduated and painted the furry fandom in an ugly and uncomfortable light. The articles from popular magazines that followed didn’t help either. It quickly lead to a lot of awkward questions that I didn’t want to answer. The fandom had been made a public laughing stock and things became turbulent and uncertain. Before, it had been sort of a private club for the awkward and creative people, but now the cool kids found the clubhouse and were TPing it every Friday night for fun.
Being the naive teenager I was, I believed the stories. I became ashamed to be a part of the fandom. But before I could fully decide where I stood, life hit me upside the head with a frying pan and made the choice for me. I became pretty lost for a while, and left the fandom and most of my internet friends.
Cut to ten years later. I somehow got myself involved in the My Little Pony fandom and was running a Rainbow Dash roleplay twitter account with upwards of 30,000 followers. I was a bit more mature and secure in who I was— which was someone who didn’t want to fully grow up. As my attention began to wander from the MLP fandom, The Gneech suggested that I should check out the furry fandom again. It took some wheedling, but between him and the encouragement of long time furry friends, I drove down to Anthrocon in Pittsburgh to check out the fandom first hand.
What I found surprised me in a very good way. In the time that I had been away, the Furry Fandom had discovered itself way better than I could have ever imagined. Thanks in part to the likes of people like Uncle Kage, the fandom had gone from wandering from place to place, struggling to keep itself together, to settling down as the connected, supportive, friendly and very open-minded fandom that it is today. The fandom had picked itself up and dusted off the grime that had been slung at it. It got a haircut, put on a decent (fuzzy and colorful) suit and brought itself up as something presentable and altogether awesome.
But underneath all the media coverage, that’s what it had always been.
The media likes to paint a dark, grim and deviant picture on just about anything if you let them. After all, who wants to watch optimistic news stories about a growing, yet slightly unusual, supportive community that helps each other out? In the early years of the furry fandom, the media only wanted to focus on what would create the most drama and bring them the most profit. Instead of looking at the positive influence that the fandom could be, they focused squarely on the smallest and dirtiest part of it and spread it all over furry’s image.
It has taken a long time, but furry has been cleaning that sludge off, and underneath was something bold, friendly and familiar. Going to Anthrocon that year almost felt like coming home again.
To me, the furry fandom was and is a safe haven for the people who just didn’t quite fit in. We’re the misfits, the emotional, the colorful, the ones bored of the doldrums of everyday humanity. A lot of us are the ones who tended to be the outcasts in school; the nerds, the geeks, the people who just didn’t match up to what the other kids thought was ‘cool.’ The furry fandom welcomed us with open arms, and let us have a place where we could be ourselves among other creative people. It showed us that normal was just an idea, and it was okay that we didn’t fit into anyone else’s vision of it.
We weren’t the first people to question the idea of ‘normal,’ and we certainly aren’t going to be the last. As a teenager, I didn’t understand how important that was. Instead, it felt like the fandom had been forced out of the shadows before it was ready. It stumbled and hesitated in front of the microphone, but instead of diving right back behind the curtains, the furry fandom composed itself and stepped out into the spotlight with a flourish.
It stepped up to look the camera right in the lens and say, “We know you think we’re weird, and we don’t care. Want to join us?”
And that’s why I am now proud to be a furry once again.
So some years ago now I (to wit: The Gneech) created a image to put on a button, in response to some high-profile members of the furry fandom expressing what seemed to me unwarranted shame at being connected to the furry fandom. The image was attached to a rant and posted on the Suburban Jungle website, where it stayed for many years until a site redesign consigned it to internet history.
The button, and the sentiment, remained, however, and for years on and off I have been working on “fixing the Proud to be a Furry page,” because I still feel that it’s an important and useful thing for the community to recognize and celebrate just what’s so great about it.
This blog is that fix. But this time, it isn’t just me going on a rant– ProudToBeAFurry.org is a diverse creative team, working towards the common cause of spreading furry awesomeness. Some of us are writers, some are artists, some photographers, some fursuiters (or at least would-be fursuiters, depending on budget), and all of us love the fandom, not just for what it is, but also for what it can be.
So What is the Blog ABOUT?
The easiest way to answer that is to simply paraphrase our own submissions page: we will be posting short articles, news stories, or other items relevant to the topic of what makes the furry fandom awesome, and why we love being part of it, including:
Friends and Furrydom. Many of us have personal stories of finding friends/support in the furry community, and these stories deserve sharing.
Furries in the Community. From charity auctions to fursuiting groups visiting local hospitals, furries are an amazing, giving group. We want this to be recognized!
Art, Creativity, and Expression. Furry art, fursuits and cosplay, furry writing… all these and more are practiced in the furry fandom at a high level of excellence. We intend to find and showcase these amazing talents.
Over the next few weeks our creators will be posting their stories and we’ll be launching our various “columns.” In the not-too-distant future we will be adding more as we get up and running, such as a podcast, Patreon subscription options, and more. In the meantime, we’d love hear from you! What sort of things would you like us to cover? What topics do you think need highlighting?
We’re excited to be on this journey, and we’ll hope you’ll come along with us.