Decades ago the science fiction community realized they needed a a group within their fandom to do security work at cons rather than mundane guards and police, and came up with the Dorsai Irregulars. Could furry produce their own version of the Dorsai?

Maybe It’s Time for the Furry Irregulars

Arilin Thorferra

Recently I posted a deadpan joke on Twitter:

A secret plot to make furries think, eh, maybe the Dorsai Irregulars weren't so bad after all

— Arilin Thorferra (@gc_arilin) July 4, 2022

This was in response to the reports of police aggressively clearing out the convention space at Anthrocon and, in general, having a disquietingly obvious presence throughout the con.

hey @anthrocon im sure attendees would leave your con space with prompting from con staff??? Why do we need to have police corralling us with their hands on their guns??? definitely did not appreciate it in the slightest.

— Kilo/June 🌻 @ Anthrocon!! (@PrismPaws) July 3, 2022

This is not ok. Cops do not belong in many places, but especially not furry events. @anthrocon you need to do better. You're immensely lucky no one got seriously hurt by the police this weekend (that I know of anyway).

— 👑 Mama Sapphy @ Anthrocon (@Sapphykinz) July 4, 2022

Even though not every furry self-identifies as LGBTQ+, furry is a highly queer space, and cops and queer spaces don’t exactly have a history of harmonious co-existence. While this didn’t turn into the fiasco that it could have, it wasn’t a good look for either Pittsburgh or Anthrocon.

As I’m occasionally guilty of, my deadpan tweet probably went too deadpan. If you didn’t have the context of both the cops at Anthrocon and their old relationship with a fan-run security group called the Dorsai Irregulars, it wouldn’t make much sense. If you knew about the DIs but not last night’s AC news, it might seem more of a defense of the DIs than it was.

But I think there’s something to the concept of the DIs that’s worth thinking about for furry. So, first, what the hell are the Dorsai Irregulars? Here’s how they describe themselves on their history page:

At the 1973 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) in Toronto, the only security force was hired security guards. There was friction between the guards and the fans. The guards did not understand the fannish milieu. One miscreant fan stole one of noted illustrator Kelly Freas’s paintings from the Art Show. The story goes that he showed the rental guard at the door a receipt for a piece of much lower value. The guard didn’t know any better and let him through. However it happened, it left a lot of people upset and worried about what was happening in the science fiction fan community.

Fandom was changing. There were large influxes of new fans brought in by Star Trek and other media interests. Conventions were getting bigger. They were no longer the small, clubby get-togethers of the ’50s and ’60s. Although there were loud outcries that “Fans don’t steal from fans,” the fact of the matter was that things had changed.

Robert Asprin realized the need for a corps of experienced fans who could provide security, crowd control, guest escort and other services to conventions. With knowledge of the norms and customs of fandom, they could, in theory, provide these services without the hostility and conflict caused by a clash of cultures between the mundane world and the fannish.

And so the Dorsai Irregulars were born. (The name “Dorsai” comes from a science fiction novel series by Gordon R. Dickson.)

So, I have two takeaways from this.

First, I believe Asprin’s insight was smart! Members of a fandom/subculture who know that group’s norms and customs are going to do a better job providing services for that group than rent-a-cops (or real cops).

Second, the fannish culture the Dorsai Irregulars came from is…not much like furry.

The chances are a fair number of you reading this don’t know who Robert Asprin was, don’t know who Kelly Freas was, and/or don’t know who Gordon R. Dickson was. There’s no reason you should. The “changing fandom” that brought about the Dorsai Irregulars was the science fiction fandom of fifty years ago. Furry didn’t organize as a fandom or subculture or whatever you want to categorize it as until the late 1980s.

There’s been friction between furries and Dorsai for years; the responses I got to my tweet talking about them were all negative. And, of course, the whole “maybe they weren’t so bad after all” part of the attempted joke lies in acknowledging that a fair number of furries thought the Dorsai were bad.

I can’t help but think that the reasons for that lie, ironically, in Bob Asprin’s insight that a group’s norms and customs should be known and respected. While there are some furries in the Dorsai, institutionally the group isn’t furry. It’s old guard science fiction fandom. Like fandom of that era, it’s mostly white, straight, and cis. And, it is worth noting what the Dorsai are named after: a mercenary warrior class from a series whose theme is, as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction puts it, “humanity’s ultimate expansion through the Galaxy as an inherently ethical species.” One could argue I shouldn’t read anything into their namesake stemming from Heinlein-esque manifest destiny military sci-fi, but Heinlein himself was, in fact, a Dorsai Irregular. So I’m gonna read at least a little into that.

Having said all that, my intuition is that the Dorsai have been a net good for furry cons despite the issues, and I don’t fault Anthrocon or other furry cons for using them. A security team that comes out of an adjacent fandom and has some overlap and understanding with the group they’re ostensibly policing will do a better job than one that doesn’t. Anthrocon 2022 was the first in nearly twenty years that had no Dorsai coupled with a police presence—and the first I can recall in which the con had to put out two official apologies about security issues. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but, well, maybe it isn’t.

But my intuition is also that it may be time for us to look at con safety and security through the same lens that Bob Asprin used nearly five decades ago. If we do, I think we’ll find we don’t want the Dorsai. We want a furry version of them.

“What’s that mean, Arilin? Can’t cons handle security without having some kind of separate cross-convention group? Do we even want anything called ‘security’ at all?” I don’t know exactly what it means! But this goes back to what I think the Dorsai got right. Cons need to handle issues ranging from simple crowd management to ejecting harassers, and building up institutional knowledge about best practices specifically for furry spaces strikes me as worthwhile. Maybe that leads to a group similar to the Dorsai Irregulars, but that looks a lot more, well, furry. Maybe it doesn’t lead to a group at all, but to a best practices handbook, gathered from many conventions and made freely available to all interested parties, so they can set up their own safety services teams.

I’m not privy to conversations among convention executive staff, so I have no way of knowing if this idea has come up before, if it’s still being discussed, or if it’s long ago been considered and rejected. But if it hasn’t been, it might be time to start—or time to restart it with fresh eyes. Bringing in outsiders was the wrong solution for sci-fi cons in the 1970s; for a subculture like ours, it’s demonstrably even worse.

The Dorsai Irregulars succeeded by being uniquely fannish. Can’t we make something better for us by making it uniquely furry?