Remembering Kim Wall, a journalist who found the best side of furries.

by Patch O'Furr

Furries are on a list of news articles by Kim Wall:

  • How Cubans deliver culture without internet
  • Inside the Ugandan Mall at the Center of China’s East African Investments
  • Asian, queer and dancing defiance: ‘Everything we do now is resistance’
  • When China’s Feminists Came to Washington
  • Ghost Stories: Idi Amin’s torture chambers
  • The Magic Kingdom Meets the Middle Kingdom in Shanghai Disneyland
  • Tour Buses to Sri Lanka’s Battlefields
  • Can This Tiny Island Restore Haitian Tourism?
  • It’s not about sex, it’s about identity: why furries are unique among fan cultures

Does it feel special to be on such an interesting list? It’s on a site for Kim Wall and her work. She was an independent journalist writing about identity, gender, pop-culture, social justice and foreign policy. Tributes from people who knew her paint a portrait of a talented person full of curiosity, who made a warm and lasting impression. Her stories spread that vibe on behalf of their subjects.

This headline understands- “It’s not about sex, it’s about identity: why furries are unique among fan cultures”. The story mentions bad media attention and furries being targets of hate while they celebrate self-expression. In my opinion, we were lucky to get such a good story and it’s one of a handful of the best you can find. This is why to welcome media notice if this little subculture is going to get it.

She loved the idea of fursonas. From a tribute by one of her colleagues, Claire Cameron:

“Kim and I talked about subcultures a lot. I love subcultures, but just for my own interest. When I was younger, I was a goth and a steam punk and I was into body modification, so Kim was fascinated to learn all about it. I love talking about it, so we made a good match. More recently, we talked about even more unusual and niche subcultures — people who install microchips into themselves, for example, so that they can use their own hand as the card key to a building, or some other piece of machinery, and see themselves as cyborgs.

At one point she asked me what I thought my “fursona” would be — the persona I would take on if I were a furry. I told her I hadn’t thought about it, and she was shocked. I asked what her fursona was, and she said “When I was with the designer, she asked me and I just knew immediately, I don’t know why! I am a fox!” Of course she was.

Some of these conversations turned into stories — interviews with vampires and exposés of furry identity and days with desnudas — they are all stories I wish I had written, but I am so proud that Kim wrote them. She did them justice in a way most writers would not. She looked in from the margins and brought the weird and the wonderful into the light — never to mock or to sensationalize, but to tell the story of her subjects with grace and dignity.”

The circumstances of her murder made a dark side to the positivity she found in creative subculture. I was reminded to share the fandom connection and a tribute, because her killer Peter Madsen was convicted this week.

She had been trying to interview Madsen, an eccentric media figure and hobbyist/maker who built rockets and crowdfunded a submarine. I think it was a similar nerdy obsession that drew her to furries, but his took a twisted path with fantasies about sexual torture. He took her for a ride where he carried it out, dumping her body in the sea. She was killed while doing a job she loved like any good journalist would have done.

Danger was part of her writing, with fearless travel to war zones. It was part of her feminism. One irony of the story is how she was killed close to home while feeling safe – that’s not how one expects a journalist to die at work. It’s impossible to separate those circumstances from her concern for social justice, and the way she wrote about furries without othering or phobia, which would have been misplaced in light of where the real harm came from.

The killer had ties to the dark side of subculture. His team was active on Something Awful, the forum that spread hate about furries for many years. That hate was considered ironic, but he collected real videos of torture and murder found on his computer. And he “ironically” admired the Third Reich, styling himself as a military captain for his submarine while criticizing authorities and wanting to play by his own rules. Isn’t that sounding like a familiar checklist?

Furries often teach each other to distrust outside media, but subcultures can contain their own worst enemies (like the hate movements of Gamergate, that tied to the alt-right and it’s bastard child altfurry.) Reactionaries spread anti-intellectualism about “fake news”, but Kim’s article about furries makes an antithesis. I think she saw that what drags us down is lesser than our power to define ourselves as a group.

While the killer stays in prison for life, the bright side will carry on. I asked Menagerie Workshop about being a source for Kim’s article, and was told: “She was a very pleasant person to work with. Her genuine curiosity about the furry fandom was refreshing, she really seemed interested in knowing more about the idea behind the fandom and why people were into it.” It was  mutual.

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