Furry fandom: all humans welcome
by Patch O'Furr
Edit: a followup story is here – Why are “nerdy” groups male-populated? Revisiting a debate full of dogma.
“Sexism by numbers” is a faulty premise- let’s respect voluntary association
It’s not controversial to say that aliens aren’t among us. It takes bolder attitude to doubt some other faiths in public. But nobody should be afraid to say the emperor has no clothes. This is for furries- but also any nerd fandom, and anyone whose beliefs are developed enough to handle skeptical debates. Let’s start with a pervasive belief…
In furry fandom, men exclude women because there are more of them. There’s more men because they exclude women.
That’s a tautology: self-reinforcing logic that’s built so there’s no way to challenge it. Circular arguments and religious articles of faith work that way. It’s a type of fundamentalism- like creationism.
That’s not a straw man. These fundamentalists see a group of largely male members, and make a push-button reaction: there must be something wrong. Penis = BAD! With scowls, pointy fingers, and dutiful outrage, they go hunting for evidence to prop up a pre-fab belief that bad behavior shapes the membership. Counting up a raw demographic number is the basic evidence to accuse this community of “inherent sexism”. The number is sandwiched with bias-confirming anecdotes, and righteous demands to correct it. Why aren’t we more inclusive? We need less men!
It’s a faulty premise. A raw number doesn’t show one motivation to cause it, like mean exclusion. What about associations formed by friendly mutual interest? That includes hobbies and open-door clubs.
A gay bar is an open-door club. You can expect the clientele not to have the same proportions as society at large. It invites certain interest, but it’s self-selecting. They don’t screen between gays and straights at the door. (Could that even be possible, unless they invent a literal Gaydar?) Actually, there’s a general sentiment that gay bars are more friendly than other clubs, and they welcome allies of all kinds. That’s what draws many straight people to my local gay bar for our monthly furry dance night. You CAN have a less balanced, more inclusive community.
Exclusion is human. It can happen anywhere. But despite flaws that are a natural part of society, like crime or evil, it’s easy to contend that furries do it MUCH LESS than elsewhere.
My Karma ran over your Dogma
Furry fandom’s birth in the 1980’s came after the revolution for equal rights. It was highly influenced by sci-fi fandom, with high gay population – two sources of radical acceptance for rights. Historical sexism can’t be taken for granted. And with much idea-based, “virtual” existence, it’s not unreasonable to suggest a very high amount of voluntary association in it today.
Occasional exclusion can happen anywhere, but “inherent sexism”? Are women driven away from here because they consider themselves too feeble to deal with annoyances, without special protectors? I disagree. I consider them to be tough, independent equals, who assert themselves. Femininity is not a disability. Insecurity isn’t the norm.
It’s been suggested that you don’t hear about sexism enough, because hostility makes people insecure about discussing it. (Never mind high drama that’s the opposite of silencing.) Absence of more complaining is supposed to prove suppression. It’s a culty article of faith, similar to fearing invisible aliens with technology that helps them hide… so we need to be extra vigilant because you aren’t seeing them. If you deny the evil alien powers, they’ll get away with abducting helpless victims. Help, save us!
What else skews membership? Let’s debunk the misinformation about invisible conspiracies, and clearly see the positive interests. (Read on.)
Not only is the exclusion premise faulty- but when it isn’t there, it’s disrespectful to those who bring acceptance and friendly hippie vibes. It damages the very concept of community with panic, misinformation, and false authority. That’s why we need this debate. Let’s value accountability for individuals, and start from group respect, instead of an ingrained need to scold, shame and blame. When a group is imperfectly human- is the glass half empty, or half full?
It all comes down to your fundamental view of human nature, and whether it’s evil or not.
Do we need more elderly furs, too?
Furry fans are much younger than society at large. Is there a sinister plot to exclude old people? Is this “youth privilege?”
It’s been suggested. Complaints point out how cool, popular young furries like to just hang out with each other, and “Greymuzzles” don’t get invited places.
Hmm… I suspect that people should be free to choose their friends, and shouldn’t be forced to hang out with others. That would be an aggressive demand for more than tolerance.
I’m pretty sure that nobody cares how old you are in online social chat, or inside a fursuit. There are beloved members of very old age. There just aren’t as many older people into this as younger ones.
I don’t think correcting age distribution is a very pressing issue. Do you?
“In case you’re wondering, the term “Grey Muzzle” among Furries isn’t an insult, but is generally used as a term of respect.“
This supports healthy skepticism. Selectively over-emphasizing gender and sex availability reveals ulterior motives. The more you listen to blame-pusher factoids based on who people are… the more you hear manipulation, projection and programming. Control freaks with megaphones crank up the volume without limit, until it’s static noise. “White knights” act “objectifying” and “creepy” while they preach to women. (Of course, those terms are overused until anyone can apply them to anything. For real this time: there’s actually nothing wrong with furries, their fears and desires, or caring about how they date.)
There’s more absurdity in assuming that high male membership implies an inherently marginalized female minority… but over-represented homosexuality also makes invisible power. You can’t have it both ways for a reductionism game.
Behavior: an issue apart
Say it again- you CAN have a less balanced, more inclusive community. Think past demographic balance.
Could a group of mainly guys scare a girl who’s thinking of joining them? Of course. Scared people should get a friendly welcome. Public speaking scares almost everyone, too. That’s internal. It doesn’t mean the audience is hostile when you’re welcomed to speak. If there are a few lone “hecklers” in the crowd, focus on their behavior as individuals. (Before we carry the “public speaking” analogy too far, let’s have healthy debates instead of sermons.)
There are many personal anecdotes about unwanted sex advances from people with bad social skills. Offenders are despised. But broader comparative evidence about the frequency here is thin. High drama (and believer’s preference to collect it with confirmation bias) is a clue that it’s not accepted. (Do “we” tolerate it too much? Speak for yourself!) When you stack up all the reasons that it isn’t “inherent”, the reasonable explanation is new, young, inexperienced people constantly entering a growing fandom.
Yet, Negative news gets the most attention. Crime has been on a long, steady decline in society, while many people argue that things are getting worse. This is the bias that Steven Pinker describes in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Online harassment is the #1 excuse for demanding to correct people. Anyone can empathize by experiencing cyberbullying (which actually happens more often to men.) But it’s unreasonable to blame unrelated individuals for what lands in email inboxes. (Perhaps it’s our neighbor’s fault every time we get spam email?) And tell me it’s not 12-year-old babies who need time-out in the corner to solve the problem. To judge the seriousness of danger, we could compare other online demons. Video game violence is surrounded by mythical fear, too. Online “stranger danger” is absurdly low. When it’s rarely encountered, evidence shows the effective answer hasn’t been panic-spreading legislation and correcting negatives, but anti-isolationism and supporting positive activities. It says a lot about avoiding reactivity and being constructive.
Way down the scale of triviality- thin evidence for a community-wide problem includes hurt feelings about the way people criticize art. Hearing that a cartoon horse would look better with a dick instead of boobs is supposed to cause some kind of trauma. First world problems.
Isn’t art something you draw the way you want to see it, or commission it that way? If it’s unwelcome to hear a personal preference that wasn’t asked for, it comes with people’s freedom to commission somewhere else. The same freedom rules any furry fan activity.
It’s easy to suggest that if a significant amount of female furries were more than slightly annoyed with awkward social interaction, they would take matters in their own hands, and form constructive support groups in furry fandom. It’s common elsewhere. That’s how all things start here. To date, responses seem to fizzle out with reactive online drama, from a hyper-offended fringe. (Hello, future commenter! Yes, you with the scowl! 🙂
There are a few active furry groups “for girls”. Most seem to focus on positive creativity. I can’t get enough of this. I want to be like this:
A solution in search of a problem
Imagine that fat people feel stigma – but bad feelings get better the more they hang out with other fat people. Should we reduce bad feelings and bullying by encouraging society to get more fat?
I’ll wait a minute while you stop laughing.
Of course not. We focus on behavior. We increase tolerance and understanding, not categories of people – especially in voluntary gatherings.
It’s funny to compare categories of body type with gender. It’s dehumanizing to be a bullied fat kid (been there, done that.) Obesity can be a legitimate disability that cuts across any category, that stops people from doing things they want to do (like dancing)… yet it CAN change by choice. (Been there, done that too.) But gender, age, or orientation aren’t so chosen. For an open group, demanding less men is no more fair than expecting it to get “less gay”.
It’s an exercise in critical thinking. (Uh oh… Dogmatic people hate that!) Blame-pushers who see “too many” men, and treat femininity as a disability, aren’t satisfied by understanding. They demand a false “fix” for what kinds of bodies are in the group, and what parts are in their pants.
These blame-pushers treat demographic imbalance as a sinister plot. They see a defect that needs hand-wringing self-examination, and obnoxious, sanctimonious correction. Wait, let’s be nicer… It’s nice to give everyone a seat at the table. Diversity is a very attractive idea. That’s good for public issues. But why should interest-based subculture conform to a mainstream mold, and proportionately resemble the Census of a nation?
Jerry Seinfeld addressed diversity in the comedy world, in a February 2014 interview:
“This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested.”
If you’re furry, I’m interested. Seinfeld’s opinion is debatable in a market for corporate media. But with no gatekeepers, fan activities are in everyone’s power. If there just isn’t that much natural interest… what should we do, door-to-door recruiting?
If a subculture doesn’t seem to have as many members of (demographic) as you’d prefer, here’s an alternative to blaming exclusion… bring your own friends and make it like you want it to be.
Inclusion is cool. That’s why I give volunteer and investor support for LGBT furry activities, despite resentment that won’t hold it back. I don’t think it’s forcing people to do more than tolerate. The interest is already here. (Nobody wants to “fix” less-proportionate hetero membership, though).
Nerds! (Never had it easy…) Switching outcasts to oppressors
“Furry” is a voluntary, self-applied label. It’s not stuck on people like “nerd” used to be. If you want it, it’s yours. Nobody’s born, appointed, or competing for it. Nobody is questioned about being a “real” or “fake” furry. It’s completely relative to choice. This puts dogmatists into mental gymnastics to bend an interest group into a secret conspiracy.
The interviewer was surprised to hear that male furry fans outnumber females. (Is that reaction the source for a sense of wrongness… as if group nature should follow what intuition blindly assumes?)
She couldn’t sense anything gendered about the interest. Then I called my interest “nerdy”. That implies things without too much explanation.
Nerd used to be an insult, more often than not for guys who didn’t voluntarily choose the label. They were outcasts and had to fight for respect. Fictional Peter Parker was tormented by bullies, but had the power of Spider-Man. Nerds gathered to rely on each other for support, or just share interests.
Is the same old stigma being newly recast as sexism, as if it only applies to certain members? First, nerds are bullied by jocks into forming their own support group- then condemned for a despised general sin of “sexism” because of it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s no wonder a stereotyped aspergers-afflicted basement-dweller wouldn’t go outside at all.
This brings up self-selection again. Imagine (demographic) staying out of a nerd group that’s stigmatized, bullied and thrown in lockers, and spurned as unworthy. Then imagine (demographic) seeing it grow through camaraderie and acceptance into something they want to join. This is why complaints of exclusion cause drama. It puts people in a role where they just can’t win.
Age and development by gender can raise an apples-and-oranges point, too. Young adults don’t mature the same way. And there’s a big side topic about mass media “blockbusterizing” nerdy stuff that pushes demographic change, newly encouraging nerdiness instead of marginalizing people into it.
Recently, I brought my business to a conference for children’s book authors and publishers. It’s a female dominated world, that shares ties to romance novelists and their erotic work. (Has anyone ever had a problem with this? No? That’s revealing.) Being the only male voice at a round table with 20 women was a positive experience. It showed that there have always been many forms of nerd- named so, or not. Everyone is passionate about something personal to them. And when it’s a guy-heavy interest, that’s OK, too.
Cognitive dissonance is irritation caused by holding multiple contradictory beliefs at the same time.
Reddit’s r/furry group had a popular topic asking: “if furry fandom had a motto, what would it be?” I suggested “Frontline’s #1 customers.” The most upvoted answer was: “Yes, I am into that.” (Ha ha.)
Consider what the joke implies. When a subculture is open and accepting, some call it too accepting. (It depends on how uptight you are.) Some blame too many loose morals for negative stigma put on furries. Others answer that it’s up to society to get used to us. It causes irritated debate out of collective cognitive dissonance.
“I know there’s a lot more to the furry thing than the sex bits, but there’s no denying that in relation to general society we’re very open about sexuality, AND I REALLY LIKE THAT ABOUT US.”
Are furries too open, or too exclusive? It’s in the eye of the beholder. So don’t be neurotic about it. Forget haters and extremists, and associate with who you want to. Nobody approves membership here… don’t trip over yourself in a hurry to fix it.
What could go wrong with over-zealous correcting? Imagine organizing a large convention, and facing nasty insinuations about bad behavior. Supposedly, “unwholesome” furries are putting innocents at risk by being near a girl’s volleyball convention. The complaints exploit boogey-man stereotypes that blame too many males. (Never mind that many are responsible teachers or parents.) To appease them, we can self-censor and validate chastising from permanently-aggrieved scolds who couldn’t be pleased in any way. Is that who we want to call the shots?
Nannies, puritans, and preachers about “sexism” … get to know each other, because you’re the same side.
If we lived in Magical Unicorn Land where nannying was pure and benevolent, we could just ignore it. But it’s too late for 200 attendees of the former New Jersey Fur-B-Q.
It was ruined by a moral “scandal” about sex, that’s fair to call a trumped-up hoax for election time. Attendees like this DJ point to dirty politics to leverage funding for the hosting space. That’s supported by behavior of dishonest officials who couldn’t show evidence. But furries rushed in to push out a supposed “problem”, scapegoat each other, and be exploited for political careers. Sadly, with a lack of healthy skepticism, it worked.
If those concerned about image are right, sex anxiety puts this nerd community under constant threat. Some inside members would internalize and amplify this threat, by proposing a disordered state of inherent sex war. (Hello, cognitive dissonance.) It’s for career (for fans, profile) and control.
Stereotypes about dangerous “male spaces” are flipped upside down by evidence that they raise protection instincts. How about we chill out some, and just be comfortable being ourselves?
Lots of guys are into furries…
It’s said that online art draws more female participation than offline meets. Only their obvious talent seems to matter. (Look at how many respected fursuit makers are female.) As a concept, anthropomorphism doesn’t imply anything gendered- at least, not intuitively. But let’s finish the thought. We can accept both nature and nurture, and look at how they dynamically entwine.
How could more guys be drawn to something that plenty of women love?
Furries welcome self-expression, while society puts pressure on guys to suppress emotion. Male stoicism is a useful term. (At a tragic extreme, you can see this at work in the far higher rate of male suicide.)
Consider how hetero male friendships stay arm’s length apart. Compare to furries’ penchant for hugs and touch. Recognize the inherently tactile meaning of fur. People are wired to seek touch and it’s healthy qualities. Society makes it difficult to access for many men. Some find it here.
Men are more reluctant to seek help for their problems than women. But online users can appear in guises that differ from their physical sex. An empirical study was conducted in an online game. The authors conclude that avatar gender influences help seeking independent of physical sex: Men overcome their inhibition for help seeking when using female avatars.
Switch from affection to sex. Furries love to hate porn and say it’s not for them- but it’s an undeniably common gateway for many. And eroticism has taken anthropomorphic form since prehistory. Set aside personal taste, and consider human behavior.
Fetishes are considered vastly more prevalent in the male brain, due to an “underlying biological predisposition”. Society shames fetishes (gay or not), but not other things (like romance novels marketed to women). “The male imagination’s sexual peculiarities, always kept on a short leash in Puritan America”, are celebrated in the influential book Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. It focuses on expression in art (erotic artists, take note.)
There’s a host of similar evidence. There’s far higher rates of Autism in male brains. Boys get similar disproportionate impact with learning disabilities, behavioral punishments in school, dropping out, and what many call rampant ADHD overmedication that treats normal youthful energy as sick. (That’s “medical gaze”, a concept that later twisted into condemnation of “male gaze”.) It’s all a strong influence that forms a nerd culture.
It all says a lot about norms, and the way society treats groups of young men as inherently bad and broken.
Traditional goodness means being chaste, like fatherly god in the sky. But evil is also incarnated as a dude. Satan first appeared as a tempting phallic snake, before becoming a hairy Satyr-goat-man… the original sexy furry. A guy with sexual nature can’t catch a break either way.
Could it be, that guys aren’t here to oppress, as much as reacting to being repressed? This is how some people do something about negative messages, and stoic loneliness. They get together for a positive hobby. Many guys isn’t a sign of something wrong here: It’s something better here than elsewhere.
…and I really like that about us
Anthropomorphism, as a concept, may actually connect to gender. Start with brain structure. Cognitive differences exist between male and female brains. How and why are up for debate. It’s not convenient to anti-science belief systems that deny it- the “gender is a social construct” crowd- but it exists. Visual stimulus, for example, is understood to cause heightened response in male brains. (If it sounds like barking up the wrong tree to connect hobby and biology- note that artists have different brains than non-artists.)
Camille Paglia connects these threads. Sexual Personae, p 20:
I leave open the question of brain differences. Conceptualization and sexual mania may issue from the same part of the male brain. Fetishism… is clearly a conceptualization or symbol-making activity. Men’s vastly greater commercial patronage of pornography is analagous.
As a conceptual, visual thing, consider the social role of fashion. Compare the beige uniformity of options in guy’s pants, to the feast of patterns and colors for ladies’ skirts. Some argue that female fashion is forced on women, for men, yet it also offers self-expression to whoever wears it. (When I’m looking for something colorful to wear with my fursuit, I visit the women’s section for stuff I would never find made for guys. Just try to find glitter shoes in men’s size.)
If fashion is entwined with male “visual stimulus”- AND men are repressed from expressing the same way as women… it suggests a push-pull dynamic behind certain men’s wishes for symbolic identity-change. (It’s significant that Drag performers I know sense a kinship with furries, the kinds into role-playing beyond just a genre.)
Whatever the cause… how narrow-minded and nasty it is, to look at a high number of men with a deep-down interest, and vilify it as mere sexism or high-school cliquishness. This is culty bias at work. It’s often excused by claiming that “inherent sexism” doesn’t imply we’re ALL sexist… like anti-gays claim they “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Let’s reject dishonest doublespeak. Gender gap, meet gap in understanding.
What’s more inherent to a community, again- bad behavior, or good interest?
Playful gender bending
Presenting a fursona brings a slightly subversive nonconformity to expected roles. It reacts with playful, positive role playing. You’re not playing a man, woman, or non-gender-binary Other, so much as the fox, dragon, Llama or whatever represents you. It’s healthy identity play.
Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” was about inventing imaginary personas to subvert social conventions. (I just wanted to throw that in.) When furries do it, “gender fluid” fursonas are very popular. More so than other real life situations I could think of, that are less than formal transgender territory.
This raises the default experience of furry expectations about gender (or lack of them). How much do people fear playing another role for fun here, compared to society at large? Especially without revealing the switch?
Low fear is a clue that gender isn’t very problematic. That’s the conclusion from this discussion that opens a new topic: On Being A Girl. Furries like being gender-blind. It makes the community better. It puts brakes on the hamster wheel of circular reasoning. It pokes holes in dogma that puts a mask of concern over a fetish for control. That’s what’s behind trying to police who’s in a hobby group: a weaselly fetish for control.
Welcome to the “rainbow riot of individualism”
Is this all simply over-analyzing a hobby? No. It relates to all nerd fandoms. Hi, Bronies! It’s the tip of widespread cultural trends.
Of course, it would be very silly to treat furries as some distinct class, like a race or something. But it’s made of humans. Even when we’re different, we all have some things in common- like wanting to be understood, and not mislabeled. To boil this whole thing down to a word, it’s “understanding.”
Black-and-white reductionist thinking fails by casting individual people as one kind of class, culture or label. But no person on earth is defined by just one thing. A DIY subculture like this one comes together with more free will, and cleaner separation from materialism than many others, to define itself. That’s the beauty of what we do.