What is a furry?
Trying to define exactly what is furry is actually quite an undertaking, despite my familiarity with the subject. You see, furries and the furry fandom are quite complex. From a very basic standpoint, a furry is an anthropomorphic animal, either a human dressed as an animal or an artistic representation of an animal taking on somewhat human characteristics (sometimes –but not always – bipedalism, speech, primate-like hands, etc). From this definition, Mickey Mouse would be considered a furry, as would the guy dressed as the Easter Bunny in the mall every spring. However, it’s not quite that simple. The furry fandom (the over-arching community of people who consider themselves furry, or who appreciate furry art) isn’t even in total agreement as to exactly just what constitutes a “furry” and what is just some guy in a bunny suit.
When you look into the wardrobe of the furry community, you’ll find a wide range of selections from a fursuit that covers the entire body and face, to a simple collar. As aspects of furry culture enter the mainstream culture (mostly by way of anime), it is becoming more common to see people wearing mittens that look like paws or hats with ears on them. (In fact, I believe one of the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch books has a pattern for knitted cat ear hats.) However, as these elements become more acceptable and more mainstream, is it still “furry”?
A Shared Culture
It seems to me, that what really sets apart a furry from a mall employee in a bunny suit, is a shared culture or sub-culture. Tygerwolfe, the author of Furry Logic (source 5), did some Freshman level ethnography of sorts on “Prancing Skiltaire” furries. Noting the demographics, she found most of the group (whose human forms could be visibly observed) were Caucasian and males predominated. In asking some of the furries why they chose to become furries, the responses were along the lines of respect for/ wanting to emulate their chosen animal and wanting to not be human for awhile. Indeed, being a furry allows for actions such as nuzzling or grooming which are inappropriate as a human, but are perfectly acceptable while one is “in character”. I can definitely see the allure of this… even as humans we have a need to feel loved and accepted, and physical closeness/ touch can be hard to find in everyday life sometimes. Several of the furries she interviewed also stated that they dressed as their chosen animal to feel closer to it somehow.
A mental shift is simply what the name implies, your mind shifts focus. As Vexen Crabtree (author of source 3) points out, a mental shift itself is a normal thing, “Rugby players performing a dance before a game are enticing a mental shift. Some football fans hype themselves up to the extent that they undergo a mental shift whilst attending a game. Certain forms of martial art train and entice adherents to perform mental shifts during meditation or training…” In this context, the shift is from the human self to the animal (furry) self. There is a large overlap of furries and therians (people who feel such a deep connection to their animal that the animal is a part of who they are, or that they harness the animal’s spirit or power – similar in concept to having a spirit guide, but slightly different) and so, for some, becoming furry can be a near spiritual exercise.
In Closing/ Food for Thought
I first became acquainted with the term “furry” around 2005. I was looking up pictures of foxes (I’ve always been fascinated with them… they’re just gorgeous creatures) and chanced upon the artwork of Justin Pearce. Though, in a sense, I’ve been drawn to furries since I was a small child, long before I even really knew what they were. I can remember, as a very little girl, pretending I was cat. I used to try to curl up and sleep on the arm or back of the couch like our cats did. I would lick the back of my hand to wash my face and try to have conversations in cat-speak with our cats, as if I had some inter-special link to them that no one else had. Many children, actually, mimic animals as part of play. Even as adults, animals still hold importance and power for us. The Ranting Gryphon (source 4) wrote an interesting post that discusses the use of animals as symbols/ communication/ language. He cites company and team names incorporating animals in the names:
Without our animal symbols, the Miami Dolphins would be the Miami Intelligent-Yet-Very-Quick-And-Elegants. You would no longer own a Ford Mustang. It would be a Ford Wild-Majestic-And-Powerful. We use animals to capture the essence of their character in our communication, and in doing so, we add a fanciful and whimsical flair to our society and our human world.
He has a good point. Animals do carry cultural significance and symbolism/ connotations, so many that we would come up lacking if we erased them from our lives. It also makes sense considering how important animals have been to us in the past. Animals were the central subject matter of cave paintings, some of the earliest gods were animals, or part animal-part human. From a certain standpoint, furry-ism, if you will, is really just a re-boot of some very old concepts.
1) Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry_fandom
2) PeterCat’s Furry InfoPage. http://www.tigerden.com/~infopage/furry/
3) An Intimate Exploration of Furry Fandom. http://www.humantruth.info/furry.html
4) The Ranting Gryphon. http://ranting-gryphon.com/Information/whatisfurry.htm
5) Anthropology 100 – Furry Logic. http://www.tygerwolfe.com/?page_id=344
6) Furry Psychology 101: Types of Furry. http://skuffcoyote.livejournal.com/70336.html