I wrote this in the hopes of getting your advice regarding a person I know.
This person is called Kevin, and he is autistic. I've known him since late middle school, but I wouldn't call him a friend. You see, Kevin didn't really have friends, and because my mom knew his mom, he essentially latched onto me and would follow me around in and outside of school.
Other people didn't particularly like him, and because he always followed me around, my highschool friend group was small. Kevin had a tendency to talk a lot about things he really liked, and would often interrupt me in conversation (and the things he liked were video games and cartoon TV shows, which he very regularly derailed conversations to).
Fast forward to the end of high school, and I now saw Kevin less. I came into my own more as a person and my friend group grew larger, which was great. Kevin was still around of course, having not made friends in high school. His mother seemed to sense a distance growing between us, and would often invite Kevin to events or excursions I was planning without my permission. For example, Kevin was dropped off by his mom at a hike myself and some friends were about to start. As it wasn't TV or video games, Kevin complained during the whole hike (admittedly, he wasn't hugely active either, having zero interest in sport or exercise). This reached boiling point when one of my pals said to his face "shut up r****d". I was so embarrassed.
This brings us to now. I am currently attending college in Ireland. I love it over here (despite the constant rain) and my roommates (who are all Irish) are probably the friendliest people I've ever met.
Recently though, I started getting messages from Kevin's mom. They started harmless enough, asking me what it's like in Ireland, what my accommodation is like, etc. However, Kevin's mom started asking questions I didn't like. "Do they offer games coding courses in the college?" "I heard there's a spare room in your apartment, is that right?" "They have a games club on campus don't they?"
Kevin's mom wants to send her son all the way to Europe just to bunk in with me and my roommates. I did not leave the Midwest just to end having to deal with Kevin again.
I haven't responded to these messages, but even my own mom agrees that this idea is beyond ridiculous.
How do I respond? What do I do? I'm not Kevin's babysitter and he's not my friend. I want nothing to do with him anymore, and he needs to find his own friends, and not follow me around the world.
All the best,
* * *
You are clearly a kind person, being so tolerant of Kevin all this time and being so sympathetic to his situation. As you know, autism is not a mental handicap but, really, an emotional one in which the autistic person has a hard time dealing with social situations. They also don't like unfamiliar places and they don't like change. You represented familiarity because your mothers were friends, and so that felt comfortable to him. I am, frankly, amazed you allowed this to go on for years even though the two of you have nothing in common. His mother foists Kevin on you because she wants her son to have a friend, even an unwilling one.
You are under no obligation to be Kevin's friend. Kevin's mother is extremely rude and presumptuous to try and keep pushing Kevin on you. The proposal that he should follow you all the way to Ireland is worse than absurd. It's completely outrageous. You should, frankly, get a medal for putting up with this for so long, but at this point, they are using you so hard that it is almost criminal. You have a right to your own life and your own friends (and kudos to you for finally getting that in Ireland).
I had something similar to this happen to me in high school when this dorky kid with whom I had nothing in common followed me around, making me quite uncomfortable. What I did was, basically, ignore him and refuse to acknowledge him until he eventually got a clue. I didn't do this very gracefully (being young and inexperienced), but it worked.
I don't know if you have ever said "No" to Kevin or his mother, but it is time you start. You don't have to say anything so inept as, "I don't like Kevin. Bugger off." But what you can do is simply say things like, "There is no room for him here." Do not offer any contact information or, Lord knows, addresses. Tell your mother not to give out such information. If that doesn't work, it is time to start ignoring him and his mom. Don't answer phone calls or texts. Give them deafening silence. If you don't put your foot down now, you will be living with Kevin for the rest of your life. He is not your responsibility. And you are 100% right that he needs to start making his own friends back in America.
Don't let them push your sympathy button. Don't allow them to make you feel guilty. Kevin's happiness is not up to you. You deserve your own life, friends, career.
If your mother tries to guilt you, tell her what I said. Tell her to not give Kevin and his mom any of your contact information. If that causes a rift in the friendship between moms, then so be it. That is not your problem either. Kevin's mom is a user, and users are to be avoided at all costs because they can seriously destroy your life and happiness and make you feel guilty while they do it. It is the worst kind of passive-aggressive behavior.
I think you already know this. I hope it helps you that you have a bear here who agrees with you and is telling you that you are not a jerk for finally being free of Kevin.
The Furry Fandom: Nirvana of Love and Acceptance or Cesspool of Perverts, Trolls, and Losers? (Editorial)
I have been a furry since I was a little kid growing up in the 1970s (yes, I have moles on my back older than most of you reading this), and I first became aware of the fandom around 1990 (these are separate things, as I will later explain). Yesterday, I stumbled upon this YouTube video by Beta Eta Delota with the title The Furry Fandom Is Toxic. Just reading the title made me cringe (provocative title meant to draw clicks, no doubt), but I did my duty, which is my continuing effort to learn about all things furry and to keep taking the fandom's temperature every month or two to see if it is feeling well, and watched the video. (It's not long, so you can take a few minutes and watch it yourself.) Basically, he makes two points: 1) that furries too often excuse bad people in the fandom (and by bad, he means things like pedophiles, zoophiles, and Nazi furs) either because they have cute fursuits and/or have been nice to the person who is excusing them and who feels their bad behavior doesn't affect them, or 2) because furries use the fandom as an unhealthy escape from reality.
Now, he has some points here, and he is the first to stress that not all furries are this way. But, like everyone who criticizes the fandom, he makes two mistakes: 1) saying the fandom "can be better" without offering any suggestions or solutions as to HOW it could improve other than vaguely saying that furries shouldn't tolerate haters and pedos (well, no shit); and 2) somehow believing that a fandom consisting of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people should somehow be different than humanity in general. Everything he points out that is wrong about the fandom (tolerating bad people, escaping too much into fantasy) is also true of humanity in general. The fandom isn't bad because it is a furry fandom; there are bad people in the fandom and there are people who tolerate that because that's what human beings do. Furries are no different than anyone else.
Beta's vlog is just one of quite a lot of such videos blorping around on YouTube and social media. There are long diatribes from people droning on about "why I left the fandom" and whining how toxic it is all over the place. Most of them are either criticizing the furporn element or the, sigh, drama.
So, if the fandom is so toxic and shameful, you might wonder why there are droves of furries padding about in it with an "oWo" here and an "uWu" there. Well, the other side of the coin are the furries extolling the virtues of the fandom, arguing what a happy-pappy place it is full of people who will love you unconditionally and accept you for who you are and that it is all about fun and creativity.
While this is, in part, quite true, it is also--like the myth of the American Dream--in many ways a heaping barrel of horse manure. If the fandom were Nirvana, I wouldn't see many letters in my "Ask Papabear" inbox and everyone in the world would be scratching at the fandom's doggy door to get in. There is considerable drama, and yours truly has been on the defensive end of troll attacks and jerkwads on several occasions. But! There are many many wonderful furries, too! Just look at the over three dozen nominees for this year's Good Furry Award and you will learn about just a few of them.
So why is this an issue at all, and why do furries get their tails in a knot about it? Well, for one thing, the fandom has become a place to which many people escape because they are looking for the acceptance they did not receive in mundane society. While certainly not true for all furries, many furries come here because they are LGBTQ or because they have emotional or mental issues such as autism spectrum disorder (I've lost count of the number of furries who have written to me saying they have Asperger syndrome or OCD or some other anxiety disorder or depression). They are seeking a place of acceptance and have been told that the fandom is it. But what often (sometimes inevitably) happens is that when they come across some bad characters among their new social group, they find themselves rejected, say, by their local furmeet, and they feel utterly betrayed. So, they lash out at the fandom as a whole because of this, blaming everyone for their experience.
Another phenomena is Usurper Syndrome (my name for it). This happens when someone who may have felt like an outcast in mundane society suddenly finds too much acceptance in the fandom and rises (or misappropriates) a leadership role in a local furry group. Now finding themselves on the top rung of the ladder, they proceed to use their footpaws to kick people out to make a point: "I'm going to do to you what others did to me as a salve for my bruised ego." Doing this maneuver usually involves devious shenanigans to remove a group's previous leader and assume the throne for themselves. When this happens, the dethroned furry either announces that furries are all trash or says that they are "leaving the fandom."
Next, there are Furry Posers. These are people who join the fandom for all the wrong reasons (e.g. they think it is a cool way to be rebellious or to shock people) and end up causing trouble in the community because they aren't genuine. These are the people who steal art or fursuits (because they have no skills), are hungry for attention and want to be popufurs, OR, even worse, they see the fandom as a gateway to release their sexual deviancies and prey on people. These are not true furries, and I agree with Beta that they should not be tolerated within the fandom.
Finally, there is the Prude Patrol. Some of you who know furry history will recall the Burned Furs, who, from about 1998 to 2001, went on a rampage to tell all furries they couldn't have adult art (rather like the American Puritans). Of course, this worked about as well as Prohibition in the 1920s. But there are many furries out there still who get their undies in a bunch because there is furporn. My reply: if you don't like it, don't look at it. Prudes are upset because they feel furporn will be a reflection on them, so they demand it be extirpated completely from the fandom. Such people also are overly sensitive to criticism and satire from nonfurries (a famous example is the Furry Force cartoons from CollegeHumor that are just hysterical). If you can't laugh at yourself, you either need to work on your self-esteem or not take yourself so seriously.
Because of people like the above (and there are other cases, but these are some of the major ones), furries tend to be their own worst enemy. This results either in furries posting videos like Beta Eta Delota's to complain about themselves, OR! they do exactly the opposite and idealize the fandom as something it really isn't: a perfect, loving place where all are welcomed and one can indulge in a fantasy life free from real-world troubles like bigotry and social hierarchies.
Years ago, I got it into my head that the solution to all of this was to create a regulating organization that I called The American Furries Association. I even got so far as to get some volunteer staff members, hold some meetings, and commission a logo. The idea was that it would serve as a way to screen out bad furries (you would have to apply and you could be kicked out for bad behavior), prevent fursona stealing (by creating a fursona and fursuit database), and be an information resource and support group for both new and experienced furries. I had to shut the doors on it before it got off the ground because, even with some volunteers, I quickly found out it would be a full-time job to lead the AFA, and I simply didn't have the time to give it that it deserved. But a second reason was that furries simply don't want to be regulated. One of the features that makes the furry fandom unique is that it is not associated with a franchise or regulated by a nonprofit or corporate entity (unlike, say, the Trekkies or Star Wars fans). Furries tend to bristle at the suggestion they have to adhere to rules of conduct or apply for a membership (other furries have sometimes tried to create such groups and issue membership cards to little effect).
Hence, here we are: a HUGE fandom of millions of people without a cohesive, organizing body to oversee them. The furry fandom more closely resembles a Mad Max world than it does Earth under the United Federation of Planets. It's a Wild West of chaos and adventure where you find both Outlaws and Lawmen, Showgirls and Trollops, Gunmen and Healers, Christians and Native Spiritualists. You can't put a leash around it's neck and rein it in. And don't expect to produce a vlog commanding everyone to behave and expect furries to suddenly say, "Ohmahgerd! You're right! How could we have been so foolish! We will all behave now."
Beta ends his vlog by saying that the fandom could be better. Sure, everything could be better. It could also be a lot worse, just as this world could be a lot better or worse. But without any supervision--which will never ever happen--it's going to be what it is: a crapload of people goofing around in fursuits or making art, or playing games. A lot of these people are wonderful, creative, and compassionate furries, but some of them are, well, assholes. Hey! Whaddaya know! Just like the real world!
Beta IS correct that we should not excuse bad furries just because they "have a cute fursuit." And someone who is guilty of a crime such as pedophilia (someone with a criminal record for this) or other crimes such as animal abuse, domestic violence, rape, or theft, should be banned from furry events. (And, if you didn't know already, there is actually something called the Furry Convention Leadership Roundtable consisting of furcon organizers who discuss issues such as this.) He's also correct that it is unhealthy to immerse yourself in the fandom completely as a way of escaping the responsibilities of reality.
But the furry fandom in and of itself is not toxic. The furry fandom is not a kumbaya community, either. The furry fandom is what you make of it. If you bring drama to it or create drama, if you insist on associating with the bad eggs, you're going to have a bad time. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Don't admire a furry because you think their suit is awesome or they are a talented artist. Get to know them as people, and be discerning in your choice of friends. Don't expect the fandom to change to suit your needs. That's like kicking a brontosaurus in the toe and telling it to change course. it's too big. It's grown exponentially from a small group of friends meeting at a sci-fi convention to a worldwide phenomenon. And it is not only growing, but it is changing as well. And it will continue to change because it is a living, breathing social movement.
I'm a furry because I love anthro art in film, TV, comic books, graphic novels, and online. I was a furry since I was about 6 years old, pretending to be Chip from Disney's Chip and Dale, not having a clue why I did it. I just enjoyed it. When I discovered that there were others like me by stumbling upon the Furry Nation website back around 1990, I was thrilled. I love the fursuits. I love the art. I love going to furcons and donning my own fursuit and being Grubbs Grizzly. I adore it. And while I am very aware of the bad posers out there and do not tolerate them, I am not going to allow them to ruin my good time.
I am not part of a "toxic" community, and labeling an entire community in this way is irresponsible at best, an invitation to hate at worst. If I thought the fandom was toxic, I wouldn't be writing this column and I wouldn't be running the Good Furry Award.
I'm not a furry because I found the fandom; I participate in the fandom because I'm a furry. The community that is the fandom and the fact that I am a furry are two separate things. Like oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, they can taste good together, but unless you shake them up together occasionally, they will separate out and reveal themselves as quite different from one another.
So, don't worry about "fixing" the fandom. It's fine. If you want to improve something, just work on yourself. We all need improving, myself included.
[Papabear Note: This letter is from a furry with whom I have spoken before, so I know his history, including that he has OCD]
So … do you sometimes ever just have very dark thoughts of doing something that you would never do for no apparent reason? Cuz, I did just now and it’s really disturbing me. Something to do with doing something really bad with animals that I would never do. I love and care about animals, I would never want to hurt them in any way, shape or form.
* * *
This is a topic people don't like to talk about, so kudos to you for being brave and honest about such a disturbing thing.
Everyone has dark thoughts. I've had them myself. Sometimes, I have even wished death on a person. I'm not proud of that, but there it is. The difference between someone who thinks dark thoughts on occasion and one who acts on them is the difference between a normal human being and a psychopathic murderer. You see, a normal person has something in their brain (call it a conscience) that is a wall, a sign that says STOP!, that prevents them from acting out that aggression. You have that wall, so you're okay.
There is a difference between you and me, though, which can cause you to have recurring thoughts of hurting people. There is a subset of OCD called "Harm OCD," which is the fear of harming someone or yourself. You obsess about objects that might serve as weapons and worry constantly that you might harm someone either consciously or unconsciously, not even knowing you're doing it.
These are obsessions that are symptomatic of your particular form of OCD. They do not reflect on your moral character as a human being, and they do not mean you will actually carry these actions out. They do not make you a bad person. Can't stress that enough.
To treat your Harm OCD, you need therapy. Therapists use a form of behavioral therapy called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) in which you are continuously exposed to objects that trigger your Harm OCD until you become resistant to them. Repeated association with something and not acting out on it eventually establishes pathways in your brain that tell you that your fear regarding that object will not become reality. For example, say you are afraid you will take a kitchen knife and stab a person or animal. The therapist might instruct you to carry a plastic, dull knife around with you everywhere until you realize that you will never use a knife as a weapon.
Here is an excellent summary about Harm OCD you should read.
Please seek the guidance of a professional to treat your condition.
Dear Papa Bear,
I am the mother of a 21-year-old transgender child. He has in the past few years gone through many different identifications in his sexuality, and I'm starting to get a little concerned. When he identified as female, he told me he was a lesbian. This was when he was about 16. Then at 18 he told me he was trans. About 6 months later he said he was straight (still trans). About 6 months after that he decided he was gay. Most recently I asked him if he would like me to make him a trans flag blanket and he said he would prefer a non-binary flag.
Now I have absolutely NO problem with him being any sex or sexuality that he identifies with. What is concerning to me is how quickly he has been bouncing between identifications. I know everybody goes through periods of finding themselves and I'm very happy that he feels comfortable enough to share with me what he is feeling. My question is, is it happening too fast? Should I be concerned that he is changing his mind a couple of times a year for the past 5 years? Or am I just being an over-protective mom?
* * *
Dear Mama Lion,
I'd like to heap praises on you for being a fantastic mom. Your child is lucky to have you!
To the point: based on what you have written, I think your child could be described as "gender-fluid." Gender-fluid is a term describing someone whose gender identity shifts over time--and yes, the time elapsed can be as short as a single day. Gender-fluid people can identify as a man one day, a female the next. They can even identify as asexual, bisexual, transexual, nonbinary, straight, and on and on.
There is also something called "gender-queer." A gender-queer person doesn't tend to shift identity (although they might); they identify as not exclusively male or female. And, yes, you can be both gender-fluid and gender-queer.
Have a headache yet? That might be because many humans (even furries!) suffer from something I call "labelphilia": the desire to stick a label on, identify, and categorize everything. This started all the way back to Adam, when he was putting labels on all the animals.
Adam: I'm going to call you ... an "antelope."
Animal: Excuse me, Adam, but I identify as a lion, sir! And sometimes a giraffe (sticks out tongue and stalks off in a huff).
When we can't categorize everything, we tend to develop anxiety because labels and IDs offer a sense of stability and comfort in a crazy, chaotic world. This is a problem because one of the most complicated things ever invented is human sexuality and gender identity. This kind of anxiety is why many people are homophobic, and it is why most homophobes are simple-minded people (or politicians and clergy using homophobia to manipulate). Homophobes and anti-LGBTQ derps can only see things in black or white; they can't grasp complicated or subtle concepts. They can't believe that not only are there nearly infinite shades of grey in between black and white, but! there are also all the colors of the rainbow. AND! People don't have to be just light-grey or purple, they can be green and orange with a dash of striped grey-and-white thrown in.
Now, being that your child is 21, it should be noted that when people are young they tend to experiment a lot as they try to figure out who they are. This might mean that, as your child ages, the shifts could get less frequent as they settle into something they find comfortable. It might not mean that, but it could.
You can save yourself the trouble by simply not trying to label them at all and not worry about their gender identity so much. You'll save money on antacid purchases. We are much more than our gender and sexual preferences. I don't, for example, go around introducing myself as gay. I introduce myself as Grubbs or Kevin. This should not be too hard for you because you are such a loving and supportive mother, and bless you profusely for that. I wish you were common instead of the exception in this world.
If you still wish to make them a flag blanket, then you could ask them if they would like a gender-fluid one (yes, there is a flag for everything). Below is an example you can use as a model.
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