I have heard on good authority that I was dead. [But] the report of my death was an exaggeration.
— Mark Twain
I don’t normally wade into fandom politics too much, but I’m going to make an exception for yet another dustup on social media caused by long-time furry standup comic “2 the Ranting Gryphon,” when he proclaimed “Furry is dead.”
I’ll be candid—I haven’t read the case he’s made for that. It’s manifestly stupid on its surface, given how much bigger furrydom is now than it was two decades ago. The first furry convention to break 1,000 attendees was ConFurence 9 in 1998; even one decade ago, no convention had broken 3,000 attendees (the first to hit that milestone was Anthrocon 2008). We now have a half-dozen cons that regularly break 3,000; our biggest cons are over 7,000. There are artists, costumers, and even a few writers and musicians making the bulk of their income from furry audiences. What 2 means is that furry no longer feels like a comfortable place for him.
But that’s worth digging into. Like many fandoms, furry is still largely male, cisgender, and white. This hasn’t changed much since people have been gathering demographics on us. Furries are far more likely than the mainstream to be homosexual or bisexual (only a quarter of furries describe themselves as “mostly” or “completely” hetero), or to identify as transgender or genderfluid.
That’s not all that new either, though, and I’ve been surprised—and dismayed—to find out people think it is. After I saw a handful of undoubtedly sincere tweets describing furry’s past as dominated by LGBT-hating, kink-shaming Nazi sympathizers, I think it’s time for someone to set the record (ahem) straight.
Frankly, furry isn’t very good at teaching its own history compared to other long-lived fandoms—and given that we’ve been around about three decades, we’re starting to qualify.1 There’s this kind of hazy notion that there’s Furry As It Is Now, and at some point in the indefinite past everything was different. All they had back then was one con and a few indie comic books about military cats in space, cats having sex, or possibly military cats in space having sex. Also, they didn’t have the Internet, and may not have had electricity and running water everywhere.
Well. Fursuiting was less of a big deal and comics were more of one. The culture at large was more homophobic and transphobic twenty-odd years ago, and, yes, the same is true of furry. But this lukewarm take elides something I consider crucial. Furry has always been a subculture built on identity.
How many furries have you, personally, met who’ve told you that they started to explore their sexuality and gender through the fandom? Maybe they created a fursona who could be open in a way they couldn’t—at first. Maybe they found other people who’d been through what they were going through, who they’d never have met without being furries. Maybe they found a novel or a comic that put into words truths about themselves that they hadn’t yet.
And maybe I’m describing you. I’m certainly describing some people who found furry within the last few years—but also people who found it ten years ago, or fifteen, or even twenty-five.
As someone who came into the fandom back in those supposedly dark ages, the first openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people I met were all furries. So were the first openly trans people. That wasn’t just a crazy statistical coincidence in 1997 any more than it is in 2017. Even at its worst, furry has been vastly better at grappling with identity questions than the larger culture that surrounds it. “Alternative” sexuality and gender just aren’t things that we found shocking in the ’90s, that we swept under the table, that we refused to talk about. In the ’90s furry might have been the only place some of us could talk about these aspects of ourselves.
And as for “kink-shaming,” please. Furry wasn’t just open about real world kinks, it got busy inventing new ones from the get-go. Chakats, the polyamorous, libidinous, hermaphroditic cat’taurs—just count the implicit kinks, kids—date back to 1995, and you know, the Giants’ Club started on FurryMUCK in 1997 to cater to the already existing macro/vore community. (To the best of my knowledge, furries coined the term “macrophile!”)
I’m not suggesting everything was wine and roses in Old Furry. I saw the tweets from people talking about horrible times they had in early fandom, and I don’t at all doubt them. Furry had some awful people then. But furry has some awful people now, too, right? In the old days, we had Burned Furs; now we have alt-Furs. The motivations and goals of the BFs were, in truth, quite different; I haven’t seen anyone accuse the alt-furs of being anti-porn crusaders, for a start.2 It’s not fair to call most BFs actual fascists, either. Granted, some of the few still hanging around the fandom, like Roy Calbeck, Super Genius, proudly stand with Foxler against the existential threat of furries with social justice Tumblrs. But y’know, if he’s the best they’ve got, we’re pretty safe.
So. Do you know who Gallagher is? He’s a prop comic whose schtick is smashing watermelons with sledgehammers. Now he’s mostly known for being a paranoid, racist kook, but…he kinda always was. Yes, he’s gotten worse, but the signs were always there. Over the last couple of decades, it stopped being de rigueur to give that a pass. And Gallagher is fucking bitter about that. He used to be somebody, goddammit.
You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? 2’s had a long history of “punching down” as a comedian—attacking the suicidally depressed, defending (and making) transphobic comments, and denying any responsibility for his own words when criticism arises. He’s gotten worse, but the signs were always there. And over the last decade, maybe we’ve just grown uncomfortable with him constantly screeching that those weak-willed sissy watermelons have it coming.
2 is a middle-aged furry himself, and I suspect most of his shrinking cadre are, too. But as my friend Jakebe noted, older and experienced does not automatically mean conservative and inflexible. There are a lot of furries in their 30s—and 40s, and even (gasp) beyond—who aren’t shaking their paws in fury at the changes within the fandom. Some of them are arguably leading it.
Statistically, most of you won’t be “furry for life.” But furry has been growing exponentially, and the number of middle-agers and beyond will grow, too. I’m going to do my best not to become inflexible, which will mean continuing to hang around not just all of you, but around progressively younger whippersnappers, listening to progressively incomprehensible music and generally waving my cane around—and doing my damnedest to admit when you’re right. There’s no place in furry for homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism—or ageism.
Furry is likely always going to be mostly young people; the median age for furries hasn’t changed much in the last two decades, dropping from 21 to 19. But here’s the ironic bit: you only know that if you know furry’s origins. If you’re part of this subculture, it’s worth learning some of it. Sometimes your grumpy grandma Rha has things to say about the Ancient Times that are worth hearing.3
As for 2, RC(SG) and the batch of fascist wankers crouching behind the alt-furry banner, there used to be a saying among network administrators: “the internet routes around damage.” Furry will, too. That’s also part of our history.
People love to debate when furry started, but the first fan gatherings and fanzines explicitly identifying themselves as “furry” go back to the mid-to-late 1980s.↩
Most of them weren’t even truly anti-porn; they just couldn’t so much as say good morning without descending into rhetorical bomb-throwing. It turns out haranguing people turns them off. Who knew? Funny side note: after leaving furry, Burned Furs originator Charla “Squee Rat” Trotman became an acclaimed indie comics publisher known for feminist erotica.↩
Also, she’s still a giantess, so I’m just saying, be nice.↩