A giant of the furry fandom passed away last night at his home in Garden Grove, California. Sy Sable (Mark Merlino) died with his husband, Rod O'Riley, by his side after battling Stage IV liver cancer that also led to his having a stroke.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Mark's role in the fandom. Along with another late giant, Fred Patten (1940-2018), he founded the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization in 1977. The C/FO was primarily interested in bringing Japanese anime to America, but it also can be viewed as the precursor of the furry fandom because the Los Angeles chapter of the C/FO was the birthplace of furry.
In 1982, he created Tiger's Den, the first BBS dedicated to furry. Next, he cofounded the first furry convention, Confurence, which had its first gathering in 1989 in Costa Mesa, California. When Confurence shut its doors in 2003, Mark started Califur the next year, which ran until 2018. Finally, Mark and Rod created the first and oldest furmeet in the world: The Prancing Skiltaire house party, which was based out of their home. When he wasn't working on conferences, Mark traveled to other conventions, giving talks about furry movies, TV, and the fandom in general.
I am so fortunate that I was able to meet Mark on several occasions. It was at the Prancing Skiltaire in 2008 that I encountered my first fursuiter in person, and although I was already a furry by then, I was hooked after that. My dear friend Bart Swaim, took me to that furmeet, and it was also at that time that I met another important furry, Bob Hill (d. 2018), the first fursuiter.
Mark was a kind, knowledgeable, generous, and sweet man. His passing is a great loss to the fandom, and he will be missed.
I'm in school as of typing this so BEAR WITH ME if I don't make any sense, but if I were to make a fursuit head, would I have to wait to be older? I'm currently 15, and I'm not sure if my head would get bigger in size or not.
I'm concerned about color schemes as well! I don't know much about color theory, so most of my fursonas stay uncolored in my notebook pages :,)
Also, are there any furmeets that you know of near me? Sorry if this is asking a bit too much, but I don't know of many furries near me, especially ones that are trans :(
Dove the Kittydog (age 15, Buffalo area, NY)
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I ask people who write to me to limit each letter to one question, so keep that in mind if you write again. But here we go with some answers:
People's heads continue to grow through puberty and beyond a bit, usually being pretty well formed by the age of 18 to 20. However, bones keep shifting and fusing etc. even up to age 40 or so (also, cartilage such as in the nose and ears will grow pretty much until our deaths). However, these changes are pretty minor when it comes to fitting hats or fursuit heads, and by your age you should be fine. One thing you can do to make sure is to get the head made slightly larger than your head is now, and then you can add a bit of foam or other padding as needed. Here is a quick tutorial on that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSoah9h59Mo.
As for colors, go for whatever you like. This isn't art class where you get criticized for not knowing about color theory. What are your favorite colors? Hey, maybe add some metallic color or pastels or neon. Have fun with it! Nobody is going to get on your case if you think neon orange and gold foil look cool together. The fursuit is for you, not other people. Please yourself. Be true to yourself.
As for furry groups, I would suggest you join the Buffalo & WNY Furs. They have a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BuffaloFurs/
I hope that helps!
My 11-year-old brother has come out to me as a gay furry.
I was pretty taken aback, I won’t lie, but I tried to be supportive/encouraging and thanked him for confiding in me. But I’m worried about his safety in the furry community, which I am completely unfamiliar with but concerned about since he is only 11 years old and has put his username as "boy kisser" on some furry website. I am worried about bad people within the community taking advantage of him. He’s at a vulnerable age and has unlimited internet access pretty much 24/7 and my parents don’t see that as an issue. I also don’t want to out him to them in case they make him feel alienated from his hobby and/or his sexuality.
It’s not my job to parent him, but how do I talk to him about safety within the furry community? How do I talk to my parents to ensure they take his safety seriously whilst being understanding of his hobby?
Sera (age 21)
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You are a good sister. Although, yeah, you're not his mom, older siblings often work as surrogate parents. You are not obligated to be his parent, but you're doing great as an older sibling.
Anyway, when it comes to supervision, that's on your parents. And it isn't just about the furry community. Being online in general--furry or not--can be dangerous for kids who are as young as your brother (or older, too, honestly). There are all kinds of criminal, unsavory, bullying, and harmful people out there. Yes, there are definitely some in the furry community (mostly, I believe, these are pedos and other nasties who aren't really furry but they infiltrate the community to prey on vulnerable innocent kids, often luring them with porn).
I do recommend you talk to your parents, reminding them that unsupervised access to the internet leaves your brother vulnerable to predators, cyberbullies, and pedos (this is regardless of his being a furry and gay). Your parents are not alone in shirking their responsibilities in this area. As this PR Newswire story explains, about half of all American parents do not supervise their kids. That is a big mistake. Would your parents let your 11-year-old brother walk down a dark alley in a city with porn shops and adult video arcades? I doubt they would. The internet is the same thing. Make a wrong turn and you're in a dark place where you are in danger even though you're sitting at a desk, warm and comfy in your own home (see https://www.familyorbit.com/blog/the-risks-of-unsupervised-internet-access-for-kids-and-teens/).
Some resources you can recommend for them include:
In summation, the important issue here is keeping your brother safe. I know you're worried about outing him as gay or a furry, but that is really secondary. Honestly, at 11 years old, your brother is still exploring who he is, so we shouldn't draw any conclusions about that. It is important that parents perform a balancing act between keeping their kids safe yet allowing them to grow as people and not restricting them so much that they feel like they are being punished or that their mom and dad don't like them. It's hard! Being a parent is hard! But they need to try their best.
Finally, here is an editorial I wrote about the whole issue: https://www.askpapabear.com/letters/my-final-word-on-minors-in-the-fandom.
Thank you for being a caring sister.
Write again if you need to, and I promise I will respond more quickly now that I have recovered from the holidays.
Why is "cis" considered negative/would upset people?
I've noticed that within some interactions between some people, the term "cis" is considered negative and that it would piss people off. I do not fully understand why, and I also find it a bit contradictory since the furry community is considered to be accepting. I do know that my definition of "accepting" may not align with everyone else's, as my definition is "regardless of background, creed, ethnicity, gender, and any other defining factors of a person, they are to be treated with respect and understood as another human being." Again, my definition may not align with others', and I wish to understand why "cis" is considered a negative thing and may upset people.
Aryu (age 18)
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That is an excellent and highly germane question to ask in these tumultuous social order times, so thank you for your letter. Before I answer the question, a little background for readers because sometimes people think they know what a term means but they might get it a little — or a lot — wrong.
The term "cisgender" was coined in 1994 by Dana Defosse, who at the time was a graduate student researching trans adolescent health and wrote a post using the term on the alt.transgender discussion board (Defosse currently works at a library developing health literacy programs). She came up with the term to fill a need for a word describing people who were not trans, so she borrowed terminology used in chemistry in which atoms positioned on the same side of a molecule are designated cis versus those on opposite sides of a molecule, which are designated trans (i.e., cis-trans isomerism). It was as simple as that. Defosse was just trying to find one word to conveniently distinguish non-trans people from trans people in a way that was not awkward for readers.
As trans rights have come more and more to the forefront of public debate, the term cisgender has come under fire from both straight people and LGB people. The main objection is that they do not wish to be part of the trans nomenclature that includes such terms as well as the plethora of pronouns. It is, in essence, the fear of semantic infiltration. That is, the fear that those outside your demographic are forcing you to define yourself by their terms. The technique of semantic infiltration has been used historically in politics, such as the Russians inserting terms into debates with the West during the Cold War and then changing the usage of certain terms in order to present a more favorable opinion of their political views. The fear in the LGB and straight communities (not all people in these groups, but some) is that trans people are using words (and defining non-trans people with them) across the LGBTQIA spectrum to forcefully fit everyone into their paradigm so that trans people are not seen as "other." Also there is resentment that "normal" straight people or "normal" gay people do not need a new word to define them because they have been using "straight" or "gay" or "lesbian" for decades.
The use of cisgender has hence become embroiled in the literal battle of words in our society. Defosse finally spoke out about this in a Huff Post article dated February 18, 2023, in which she wrote: "Although I’ve not yet experienced personal attacks for being associated with its creation, it is painful when people imply it was intended to hurt others. I never believed that adding the word to the lexicon caused problems ― it only revealed them." In other words, it's not the term that's the problem; the word just reveals the underlying social unrest more poignantly. Defosse continued: "It saddens me to hear that people feel harmed by the word cisgender. Is the creation of the word to blame? No. Cisgender is just a straw man. It is easier to attack a word than to address the reasons people feel intimidated by discussions of gender identity."
I hope that answers your question. I recommend reading the entire Defosse letter for her full response.
Papabear (a cis gay bear)
Can I fursuit at theme parks? I'm thinking Busch Gardens.
Tomax (age 13)
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Theme parks such as Disneyland and Busch Gardens do not allow people to wear costumes "for the safety of our guests." What this means is that there is a concern that people who show up at parks with their faces disguised behind masks could pose a danger to the public. For the same reason, you are not going to be allowed into a bank or a government building wearing a mask. Also, many parks (public and private) will not allow fursuits or other identity-concealing headwear. (In case you're wondering about Disney costumed characters, all of them are employed by Disneyland, so there is no concern there.)
Before you plan to go to any public or private venue, always check with the organizers of the event to see what the dress code is. There are some exceptions to the above rule. For example, from what I've seen, a number of Renaissance Faires are fine with fursuits. So, if you have a Ren Faire near you this year, you might want to check that out, but Busch Gardens is a definite no-no.
Thanks for your question!
I hope this message finds you well, Papabear!
I'm Bulmuc, and I've been part of the furry community for almost four years now! It's been "pawsome" hanging out with everyone online, but lately, I've been thinking about taking things a step further and going to furmeets and conventions to meet other furries in person. The thing is, I'm just twelve, and I'm not entirely sure if it's okay or safe for me to do that.
You know, I've heard some stories about younger furries feeling kinda odd or not really fitting in at these events, and it's making me a bit nervous. I really, really want to join in on all the exciting stuff, but I also want to make sure I'll be okay and not feel totally out of place. That's why I thought maybe you could help me out since you seem to know a lot about this kind of stuff.
So, considering I'm almost hitting my fourth year as a furry, I'm wondering if there are specific rules or things I should be aware of before heading to furmeets and conventions at my age. Also, there was something that happened at the 2014 Midwest FurFest, they called it "chlorine con," and it's kinda worrying me. I'm scared something like that might happen again, especially at big events like that.
I really, really want to go and meet new furry friends, but I want to make sure it's a safe and good thing for someone like me to do. I thought maybe you could give me some advice or let me know what I should keep in mind before I make any plans. Your help would mean so much to me, and it would make things a lot easier for me to understand.
Thanks a bunch for listening, Papabear! I'm super excited to hear what you have to say.
Bulmuc (Colorado, age 12)
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Judging by your letter, it sounds like your parents are cool with your being a furry and going to cons and meets, so that's pretty pawsome. Because you are underage, when it comes to cons you will have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. This means they will need to be with you whenever you are in con space (I'm guessing you're considering DenFur, so I would visit their website to check about age policies). I hope you're okay with that. Most of the attendees will be in the 18-30 age range, so while they will be cool with you being there, it's not going to be any easier to mingle with them than it would be if you went to a high school dance and tried to ask a girl to dance. Age difference, doncha know. As for Furmeets, they can be even more clique-ish than cons. Contact the furmeet organizer(s), tell them who you are and your age, and see if they feel you would mix well with the attendees. Some furmeets are rather closed off to friends only, while others (Prancing Skiltaire is a primo example) are open to anyone. So, ask.
You say that you have been fraternizing with young furries online for four years now. Do you know any of them who are going to a con or meet you are considering attending? it's always better to go to a furry event with people you already know. If you can't find any friends to go with you, another option is to start your own furmeet and invite guests to a party. You can do a game tournament or watch furry movies or maybe organize a trip to a local park.
I hope this answers your question. If not, feel free to write again.
I am in a bit of a pickle. I won't go into too much detail, but I have always identified strongly as female but with one big issue: this body is very much not. A while back I came to the sad realization that it can't be fixed (trust me, I've tried), and I just need to try to accept it as a harsh reality.
In my efforts to do so, I created a new male fursona (a fancy cat who's a charming gentleman by day and a smooth criminal mastermind by night) designed to help me connect with and express it (I one day hope to have a fursuit, but it would have to be of THIS fursona for it to properly work with the body), but I honestly don't know how or where to even start (having of spent a few decades actively rejecting the idea).
So my question is this: Do you have any advice on how I can use this new male fursona as a way to accept and enjoy the manhood that has been thrusted upon me?
I know that this is a weird question and likely not one you're fully equipped to help with, but I figure I might as well try since I really don't have many places to turn to for this kind of thing.
Thanks in advance,
* * *
So, you are a male who identifies as female. At age 31 you should be old enough (past puberty and mentally mature) to come to terms with how you identify as a woman and not a man. In other words, you're trans. There is nothing wrong with this; it's just something you need to come to accept. Therefore, creating a male fursona in an effort to try to reconcile with "the manhood that has been thrusted upon" you is not going to work.
Now, if you want to have a fursona (or fursonas) that are of different sexes and genders for the fun of experimentation and exploring your sexuality, there is nothing wrong with that at all. This can, in fact, prove quite useful and be a growing experience.
But if you're just trying to deny you're trans, you're out of luck.
Here is a very useful page that answers a lot of questions if you believe you are trans: https://www.pointofpride.org/blog/how-do-i-know-if-im-trans.
I'd like to begin this year, if you will indulge me, with a little editorial on my thoughts about the fandom and being a furry in general.
This year, Papabear will turn 59, which is the age that my late husbear, Jim, died, so you might imagine this is cause for reflection for me. Also, I am trying very hard to finish my book about the furry fandom, so it is a year for a couple of milestones for me. SO MUCH has changed in the fandom since I began researching my book way back in 2015! SO MUCH has changed since I started this advice column in 2012! Heck, so much has changed in general. I'm also thinking a lot about what furry means to me and where the fandom is going.
In human society (at least, in the American society with which I am intimately familiar), we go through the following stages in life:
The above is a generalization, of course, but it is the basic pattern I see in our society.
But what if we refused to follow that pattern? What if, after figuring out what the world is about (e.g., being a nice little cog in the Wheel of Society), we reject this paradigm, skip Phase 2, fast-forward Phase 3, and enjoy the self-actualization of Phase 4 from our 20s all the way until death?
That, for me, is what the furry fandom is about in many ways: exploring the TRUE YOU through imaginative play and creativity, free from all the constraints that enslave the unhappy throngs that imprison most of the population.
When Jim was still alive, we would go to cons together (he wasn't a furry, but he was very supportive just like my current husband, Michael). I think it was at MFF (c. 2011, I believe) when he made an observation that struck me as quite perceptive. "Kevin," he said, "these furries are an awful lot like the hippies in the Sixties." In other words, this isn't just a fandom, it's a countercultural movement.
Admittedly, there are a lot of furries who just indulge in the fandom for its shock value and for something to do because "they're bored." I've heard quite a few young people say that. They are the kind of furries who leave the fandom when they eventually buy into Phase 2.
For the rest of us, furry is a way to shed all those expectations, requirements, judgments, and rules imposed upon us by society. Being an anthro is the overt way of expressing rebellion for human ways, but internally we are also searching for secret doors to passages that will allow us to escape the predetermined molds into which we are expected to fit.
This is why it is ironic when certain furries try to impose rules designed to judge whether or not you are a "real furry." This is totally counter to the spirit of the fandom, which is iconoclastic at its very core.
Some of these gatekeepers are from the Old Guard (furries who've been around 30-40 years or so) who don't like how the fandom has changed. Well, it's OK for it to change. If it didn't, it would become stagnant and soon die.
Some of these gatekeepers are newer to the fandom, but they impose "rules" in order to set themselves up as the "real furries" who are in charge and get to tell others what is right or wrong about the fandom. They usually seek power and influence because they are trying to hide their own low self-esteem by putting others down.
Don't listen to either group.
What makes the furry fandom different from all other fandoms is that it is the members of this fandom who determine its nature, not some TV or movie franchise, not some corporate entity like Paramount or Lucas Films or Disney, and not even some nonprofit organization.
No. WE make the fandom what it is today, and WE will make it what it will be tomorrow.
No rules. Just play.
Play is important. Don't disregard the value of play. Avoid the people who want to take the play away.
Changes in the fandom are accelerating exponentially. We can look forward to many developments as the fandom continues to grow, gets influenced by outside cultural changes, and finds new opportunities for expression through advancing technologies. By 2034 it might not even be recognizable compared to 2024. I know it has changed considerably since 2014, so I expect even greater changes in another 10 years.
Here's the point (in case you were wondering): If you came to the fandom as a way to escape the doldrums and judgment of mainstream society and better express yourself; if you came here to find furiends like yourself; then don't worry about whether or not you fit in and what rules you must follow. You DO fit in and there are NO RULES except the ones you write for yourself.
This fandom is for YOU not some verkokte gatekeeper.
Oh, and BUCKLE UP! The next 10 years are going to be a WILD RIDE!
Happy New Year!
Dear Papa Bear,
There's this great show that I LOVE called Iesodo, which depicts the life of Jesus through cartoon birds who play the roles of the figures. Iesodo is a cool-looking dove who represents Jesus, and the others play his disciples (and others his friends and enemies).
I love this show, but here's the problem: Saberspark and other YouTubers are trashing it and calling it a "Christian Nightmare." I tried to watch his video on his Saberspark Highlights channel, but when he and his wife started shipping Iesodo and the Raven (representing Jesus and Satan), I HAD to shut it off. Iesodo was talking to the Raven (who was trying to tempt him) about why popularity isn't everything, and the scene was just like Jesus's temptation in the desert. But . . . I hate how they just dismissed it as fluff. It wasn't even a review; they were just watching random bits and pieces. All the comments I glanced at were trashy.
I know how great Iesodo is. It's won awards; it was made by former employees at Pixar, Marvel, Fox Kids, and even other creators who made great Christian cartoons like Kids 10 Commandments and The Christmas Lamb. See, I own every DVD, and I love every episode. I don't think the animation's bad at all. Sure, Believe and Love's 2-episode discs have animation that looks pretty good (I like how they look), and it gets even better starting with Faith's DVD, but I don't think Iesodo's bad at all.
Iesodo has always pleased me in every episode, and each joke-filled scene and every value-inserted moment have never made me cringe. I know it's not perfect, but the writing is fantastic and the characters appeal to me a whole lot. The Believe and Love DVD animation isn't like Gaither's Pond, so I don't feel uncomfortable watching it.
My question: Why on Earth would anyone trash such a great show? In addition, how can I get over this feeling (other than what I do already by praying to God and getting encouragement from my friends and family)? How can I try to show people that Iesodo means a lot to me? I think it's a brilliant show, but no matter how hard I try by posting memes on Twitter about it, the fury keeps on coming when it comes to other people posting terrible reviews about it . . . even though it IS a great show. Can you help me? Give me some advice?
Your long-time friend,
* * *
Iesodo is an award-winning animated show aimed at children and teaches a strong Christian message, as you know. You likely also know that many in the furry fandom are not Christian. Indeed, many dislike Christians. It is therefore unsurprising that many furries would not like this show whether or not it is well written, directed, and animated (I'm not going to judge it since I have never watched the show; I just looked it up online and familiarized myself with the premise, characters, and animation).
Let's put aside the fact that it is fundamentally a religious show for the moment. If Iesodo were just an animated series about birds, you would still find people who loved it and others who either were indifferent to it or who hated it. That's simply because everyone has their own tastes. There are TV shows that I love that I know others hate (for example, The Big Bang Theory, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but others thought it was stupid). You might note the same about restaurants. For example, I think McDonald's is disgusting, but obviously millions of Americans think it's great. Going back to cartoons, there are a lot of people who think popular animated shows like Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, and Bluey are garbage or even damaging to children.
PenguinDareangel, it doesn't matter what others think about Iesodo. What matters is that YOU love it and it brings you joy. Don't worry about convincing other people that it's a great show. In the meantime, make sure you write to the creators of the program and tell them how much you enjoy it. You could join the Iesodo Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/iesodo/ and share your love of the show with the 20,000 followers there, or you can go to the Iesodo website and write to them here: https://iesodo.com/contact/ and maybe they can tell you how you can have more fun with the show (perhaps there is merchandise or a fan club, I dunno).
Hope that helps!
Good Morning, Papa Bear,
I've recently graduated college. I'm the first in my family to do so, and I received top honors. I should feel happy, proud, and excited for the future, but instead I feel sad and empty. All of my friends have moved elsewhere, but I'm stuck in my hometown with my parents, working to save up money. I've been applying to jobs related to my degree, but I've only gotten ghosted.
Without grades, a degree, or a career path to work towards, I have no clue what to do next with my life. Everyone says 22 is young, but I still feel like I'm falling behind. I've no romantic relationship, no budding career, and no place of my own just yet.
How are people supposed to define their paths in life? How do I stop feeling like I'm stuck in some nebulous pit of stagnation?
Thank you, Papa Bear,
* * *
Pardon my confusion, but you said you graduated college but you don't have a degree or grades? Could you clarify?
And, next question, what do you WANT to do with your life?
I'll await your response.
* * *
I do have a degree--in biology. Just now that college is over, I don't have any clear overarching goals (like a degree, or a good GPA) to work towards, which makes me feel lost.
I'm not sure what I want to do with my life. I know it's cliche, but I guess above all I want to be happy. I'd like to cultivate a family I can love and feel loved by. My current family is good, but it is unaccepting of my sexuality and other aspects of my identity, so I never feel free to be authentically myself. I'm not sure what I want from a job--just that I don't feel (totally) miserable going to work each day. This might be a little unrealistic though, haha.
Thank you so much.
* * *
There are two things going on here, I believe: 1) your career/schooling, and 2) your private life. When it comes to your goals in life, it sounds like you place having a family above a career. That's terrific. It's good to have priorities and to know what is important in your life. When it comes to careers, though, there are two kinds of jobs: 1) The kind of job you do to make money to pay bills but don't really care about that much, and 2) the kind of job that is your passion, your life, a part of who you are. When your work is something you love, as they say, you won't work a day in your life. It won't be "work" but, rather, a passion, a mission.
The field of biology can certainly be that as it can lead to all sorts of different careers from wildlife management to the medical professions to high-tech research to the profitable (and morally dicey) pharmaceutical industry. The thing is, with just a B.S. in biology, your options are limited to things such as lab tech or entry-level research biologist or, perhaps, work at a zoo or aquarium (not that the last one is bad; I tried to be a zookeeper once but my degree was in English so they picked a woman with a biology degree). If you sincerely wish to pursue some kind of career in biology, you really need to go to grad school or medical school. So, I would recommend that you continue to further your education. If financing is an issue, perhaps you can find a job at a company that will help pay for you to go to grad school or--another possibility--find work at a university, and then you can likely attend their programs cost-free because you are an employee. Pursuing your education would certainly set up a new goal for you and you would not feel like you were adrift as you do now.
Moving on to your personal life, I am sorry your family is not supportive of your identity. It sounds as if you live in a small town in Wisconsin. What I usually recommend for LGBTQIA writers to my column who live in podunk small towns with conservative parents is that they try and move to a larger city with a more welcoming community. Fortunately for you, cities like Madison and Milwaukee have large LGBTQIA communities where you are much more likely to find a love interest (as well as employers who aren't homophobic or transphobic). There are other cities, too, that aren't bad, including Eau Claire, Superior, and LaCrosse. In general, any city with a fairly sizeable university will lean toward a more liberal and open-minded perspective on people such as you and me. I would start searching for work in these larger areas, especially at colleges and universities that have research labs in the area of biology where you can explore the option I outlined above. Yes, there might be some cost issues, so I would also recommend trying to find a roommate situation--perhaps one of your friends who was wise enough to leave their hometown. If you can't find anything in Wisconsin, then widen your circle to other states until you find something. And don't be too proud to start at the bottom and work your way up. Hey, my first job was at a burger stand. You gotta start somewhere.
I hope this helps. If not, write me again!
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.