Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet
On the Internet, of course, no one knows if youre a dog.
Its one thing to pretend youre someone or something youre notbetter-looking, more authoritative, a different sex or gender preference. Digital communication has made intricate and global the game of "lets pretend," and as a logical extension, there are now developing communities of people with the single common bond that none are who they say they are, but all accept the underlying "make-believe" of the community. How "real" are the communities?
Were not talking role-playing games here. Were talking communities. Specifically, were talking about a community of people built loosely around the idea that they arent really people at all, but instead are, um, "furries." The sort of folk who are getting in touch with their inner kinkajous, if you will.
They hang out together, and there are more of them than you might think.
Weve heard enough "real weird" on line that the merely bizarre no longer takes us as far aback as it used to. So we approached the digital community of "furries" with open minds. Not so open that stuff would fall out, mind you, but open nonetheless. There is, in fact, a whole subculture of folks out in Usenet newsgroups and digital places with names like FurryMUCK.
The definition of "furry" is, pardon the pun, decidedly fuzzy. It can mean lovers of cartoon characters or "funny animals." (Sloths have always cracked us up.) It can also mean, loosely, fans of anthropomorphic comics like Omaha the Cat Dancer or movies like Feivel Goes West, people who dress up in fur suits and lounge around the house in them, or feel theyre animal spirits trapped in the bodies of humans. They herd in cyberspace, where its cheaper than spending a weekend at a "con" like ConFURence in California or Duckon in Chicago, or just the general weird world of sci-fi fandom, where fans of anthropomorphic animals first cut their baby fangs.
On alt.fan.furry they exchange stories and pictures while they discuss the more serious issues of furrydom on alt.lifestyle.furry (Is it improper to dine upon someone you can have an intelligent conversation with? What do you do when someone offers you a chunk of your totem animal chargrilled, cajun style on a stick? What do yall think about a group delurk on Geraldo? In fur suits with Oreos?)
Furries beget vast quantities of literature and artwork on the Web. Some of the material is cute and cartoonish; while a few web sites, like Miavirs Collection of Furotica (http://www.dfki.uni-kl.de/~ramsey/furwarn.html), caters to more, ah, purrfectly prurient tastes.
Its at Miavirs site where youll find the work of Japanese artist Monty, whose anthropomorphic beasties are endowed with multiple pairs of breasts (eat your heart out, Pamela Anderson Lee!), or the Adult Furry Stories classified by interest (Oral, Orgy, Exhibitionism, Male/Male, etc.) Dont be surprised if you run into cross-bestiality here, like a small gray fox in flagrant delicto with a large, muscular skunk.
Places like these are, in the furry parlance, decidedly "yiffy". Trella, a fortyish ocelot "furry persona" in Akron, Ohio, defined for us the oft-used term yiffy as "(delicate cough) Well, its a term we furs use to describe a certain (cough) state of arousal. It comes from the word yiff which is the sound an excited fox makes (presumably). To yiff someone is to...(blush)...well, never mind A yiffy story is one in which naughty activity predominates."
Conventional and mainstream they aint. Not everyone spends time learning how to properly purr (at the front of the throat? The back? From the diaphragm?) or to make love in a fur suit (http://www.best.com/~nico/fursuit/) For thems that likes role-playing, theres any of a number of MUCKs (Multi-User Chat Kingdoms) like FurryMUCK, FluffMUCK, Tapestries, and Animal Nation, where you dive in with a text-based telnet program and find yourself in a forest or a cave or in front of a house with a dozen or so, um, furriends.
Considering how much media attention is given to stealth pedophiles and stalkers and other unsavory types behind made-up monikers on the Net, one might be inclined to wonder about alleged grown-ups masquerading as webkittens or anthropomorphic Rottweilers.
Not really knowing what to make of all this, we decided to ask a trained professional, someone who deals with wackos for a living. (If youre offended by our use of the word "wackos", please bear in mind we mean it only in the most superficial sense.)
"I dont know if Id use the word masquerading," Dr. Lon DeLeon of the Counseling Affiliates of Glastonbury commented. "Thats usually considered not a good thing. If theyre just entertaining or just going along with an acceptable behavior of a subculture, Id call it going along with the crowd." He didnt find it terribly unusual for grownups to role-play this way. "People have been doing that all throughout history to entertain themselves, sometimes to interact with people. If its grownups playing like children, having fantasies about games that they play, and no ones getting deceived, its another form of entertainment."
(Translation: Theyre not really wackos.)
The reasons why people are "furry" are as legion as their numbers. Duncan Da Husky, a 29-year-old chemical engineer in Virginia, whose furry persona is a six-foot husky-morph, collected furry artwork on the Net and found the subculture more in line with his Native American shamanistic beliefs rather than his former Catholic ones. "We have totems, animal spirits that are with us always," he e-mailed us. "Most people ignore these spirits, but some notice them. Exactly what these spirits can do for us (or us for them), if anything at all, I just don't know. But I recognize that, for me, the spirit of Dog [his furry concept of God] is present."
NEKOmancer, a 16-year-old gray housecat on AOL, thinks that were all latently furry. "I think that furriness can appear at anytime in a person, young or old. Maybe their reasons for it appearing are different...but I think it can happen at anytime Since probably everyone has at least once in their life pretended they were someone they were not its wrong to say that once you reach a certain age you're no longer allowed to do that."
So whats next for Furrydom? Furry Power? Species-change operations? We rather doubt it; but what fun! The Animal Rights Movement may never be the same.
Jeff Schult & Nicole Chardenet, who would never be so crass as to offer someone their animal totem on a sticknot without A1 sauce, anyway--can be reached at this address. Perhaps related to the subject, though only peripherally, you might want to look into my book, Beauty from Afar.
How To Join The Herd (or Where the Furs Are)
Usenets alt.fan.furry and alt.lifestyle furry appear to be the two main furry groups not buried in spam, and for chatheads theres #furworld on Undernet (good luck getting connected).
For those who like to MUCK around theres:
FurryMUCK furry.org 8888
FurryFuzz ff.azaccess.com 8888
Lion King MUCK tlk.otterspace.com 7675
Or for the complete listing, as well as how to connect to a MUCK, try Rhals Furry MU*s Connector at http://www.tigerden.com/infopage/muck/index.html.