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.
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