Dr. Tibbals on Furries, sex and sociology
by Patch O'Furr
Recently, I posted about the first Journal of Porn Studies. The term Gonzo caught my eye in it’s article, Gonzo, trannys, and teens – current trends in US adult content production, distribution, and consumption. I thought it held “potential” to relate to furry art and it’s raw, minimally filtered expression. Article author, Chauntelle Anne Tibbals Ph.D., runs an adult media criticism blog. She was very welcoming for a nice conversation. (I was careful to say that Furry does NOT necessarily have anything to do with adult content.)
I’m curious whether you have come in contact with “the furries” before. Have you, and what way?
Haha, of course I have! My work (and life, really) is all about gender and sexualities and sexual expression within the context of wider society, and the furry community is a vibrant part of that entire conversation. I’d be pretty off-mark if I hadn’t…
People in this niche hobby are very passionate about it. I call it a hobby, because it’s as likely about art or writing alone, that has nothing to do with kink. That said, having an alter-identity (a “fursona”) is a fun, imaginative fantasy thing. You hear many sensitive stories under “secret identities” – does it inspire any no-name stories you could share?
Nope! Part of being privy to so much private information is keeping it confidential.
But I really like your point about a “niche hobby community” being about the kink as well as the art, the fun, and the community… or only about one of these dimensions… or about other completely different ones! I think this inappropriate “kink only” overgeneralization is one thing that still really limits the wider social acceptance of many niche spaces. People outside don’t generally see the broad scope associated with (for example) BDSM, cosplay, and furries. Every one of these spaces, as you say, can be as much (if not more) about the community as it is about the kink.
As a culture, we tend to focus on dimensions we don’t understand; and given our general social-sexual repression, it’s not surprising people think “weirdos with stuffed animals” when it comes to the furry community. Hopefully, education and outreach will eventually unravel these inappropriate overgeneralizations and misconceptions.
Furry conventions make personal hobbies public. They attract a lot of inside enthusiasm, and outside attention. One of the issues it raises is treatment by “the media”. Journalists are usually very much outside, so it’s not easy to report in non-sensational ways. It’s brought good articles and some very bad ones. The worst was in Vanity Fair over 12 years ago, a terrible train wreck where the author went out of his way to find the worst he could write about. Does this relate to media attention for your scholarship?
My goodness, SO MUCH! If I had a dollar for every time I had to Sex Work 101/Gender 101/Porn 101/etc a reporter or another academic or researcher… well, let’s just say I’d have a lot more dollars in my wallet than I do right now.
Part of this is just sheer laziness. In 2014, it seems like every blogger thinks they’re a reporter and every “reference” is just a link to someone else. The art of reaching out and actually finding informed perspectives often seems all but lost.
But other times, it has to do with how truly buried or misrepresented various dimensions of our sexual culture are. Think about it: how is one realistically going to formulate an accurate picture of the adult entertainment community? Or the furry community? If that Vanity Fair piece is all people have to go on… well, you can see the problem. And sadly, members of said communities are often so leery of speaking honestly with outsiders – they’ve been misquoted or judged or shamed too many times. Further, it’s often only the same handful of talking heads that get to speak, which only ever gives us a limited “look” at a community.
So, given this and given the wealth of perspective I’ve gathered over the years, I continue to roll my eyes hard when someone asks me about (e.g.) the possibility of mainstream advertising campaigns in adult… but I still will always do those 101 breakdowns when they come up. Because I’m working to get us toward a more accurate and open series of conversations and understandings in general, and every little bit helps!
Inside the Furry subculture, people have lightened up over time. There used to be high drama between those who wanted nothing to do with sex and thought it ruined everything, vs. ones who didn’t care if people get turned on by Bugs Bunny in drag, or whatever it looked like. It still happens, but a lot more people don’t care. Does this inspire any thoughts about society in general lightening up (or not)? How about social attitudes towards sex?
Honestly – no. I get asked a similar version of this question regarding porn in general all the time: is society lightening up, are things getting better? And though unity and intra-community pride may be building in some areas, and though there may be some mainstream schtick around hardcore, all you have to do is consider the discrimination levied by CHASE bank*, Amazon, PayPal, and various crowd-funding platforms over the years– (these examples are ongoing, not just recent)- to see that, structurally, our society has a long way to go…
…but I’m remiss to close on such a sour note. Though it may not be perfect today (or in five years), the fact remains that society is evolving. Via the interwebs, people are no longer as isolated and we now know that, whatever our proclivities, there is a community for us. This is extremely powerful, something that I believe will contribute to our growth on a human/global scale.
* I recently shared a news article from VICE that discussed a link between anti-porn bank policies and the U.S. Dept. of Justice.