On liking furries incidentally

cn: Discussion of erotic media but no graphic descriptions. I’d appreciate if commenters follow suit.

I’d define a furry as someone who is interested in or involved in the furry fandom. It isn’t *just* about interest in anthropomorphic animals, it’s about connection to a particular fandom tradition dating back to the 1970s. The furry fandom taps into a cross-cultural tendency to depict animal characters in a variety of forms, but that tendency is not in and of itself the same as being a furry.

There are plenty of popular works with animal characters that do not arise from the furry tradition, such as Redwall or Bojack Horseman. These works might be well-loved within the furry fandom, and if you *really* love them that might indicate that you would appreciate the furry fandom.  But fans of Bojack Horseman are not necessarily or even typically furries.

I’m not here to summarize the history and practices of the furry fandom. I want to talk about my personal experiences and impressions, as an occasional appreciator on the outside. And, I guess, this is a way of processing my own relationship to furries.

Furry media and identity

While I’m not particularly into the furry fandom, furries are adjacent to a few of my interests. First of all, I’m gay, and I’m interested in queer media. One thing that’s really obvious about furries even with only incidental contact is that they’re disproportionately queer, so there’s a lot of queer media out there that’s furry. Second, I’m interested in webcomics. I’m not sure I’ve ever followed a furry webcomic for an extended period of time, but there are a lot of them around.

Something that looms large over my interaction with furry media, as a thorn in my side, is the construction of “furry” as an identity. I already have a lot of discomfort with fandoms to begin with, but the fact that it’s almost always constructed as “being a furry” rather than just “into the furry fandom” is doubly distressing. To clarify, I don’t have an issue with others identifying as furries, but it’s a very strong factor in my own reluctance to follow furry media. It feels like I can’t just like a few furry things, it has to be a thing that is remarked upon, with the default expectation that I dive in headlong or not at all.

I am curious about this history behind this. When did people in the furry fandom start using “furry” as an identity term? It’s frustratingly difficult to answer this question, as most sources take it completely for granted. However, I observe that furries have been subject to a hatedom that spread across the web in the 2010s (?), which painted furries as perverts. I think such a hostile environment can strengthen an identity term, as the haters need an object to hate, the supporters need something to stand up for, and people who are lukewarm stay clear away.

And so I return to furry webcomics. Given how many webcomics I read, isn’t it odd that I’ve never really followed a furry webcomic? Furry webcomics are plentiful, but they tend to be cordoned off in a separate area. But also, I think I deliberately steered clear of them, because, well, those are furry webcomics. In the future, I probably shouldn’t let that stop me from reading them.

For “research”, I went ahead and read through a bit of a couple furry webcomics. I did not learn anything from the exercise.  They were webcomics, they were fine. They were a lot straighter than I imagined but maybe I’m just reading the wrong ones.  (Make your recs in the comments.)

In the comic space, anthropomorphic animal characters are not that strange. Frankly, it’s more strange that people would think they’re strange. Webcomics already have characters stylized such that they don’t really look human. They frequently have nonhuman characters. There are so many classic comic strips that literally have animal characters in them, anthropomorphic and otherwise.

And then there’s the sex. Let’s talk about that.

Furries and sexual content

The furry hatedom characterizes furries as perverts—wheresoever do you think that came from? I think there’s an obvious answer that most people won’t admit to. It’s porn. They’re looking at porn sites, there’s furry porn there, and they didn’t like it. This gives people the impression that furries particularly porny, even though there’s some obvious selection bias at work. They don’t like that this porn exists, even though they’re obviously fine with whatever other porn they’re seeking on these websites.

And you know, me too. I look at porn sites, and there is furry porn there. (And I’m specifically talking about sequential illustration, I don’t pretend to know much about the other kinds.)

Does the volume of erotic furry content say something about furries? Yes and no. The thing is, my basis for comparison is the webcomic space.  In webcomics, you might not find the erotic content immediately, but scratch the surface and it’s there. People are conditioned to think of cartoons as kids’ media, and expect something family friendly, but the fact is that many readers are adults. And eventually you come to realize, comics are a visual medium, and sex is a very popular subject matter for visual art, everything is proceeding as expected.  You don’t have to like it–and as an ace I’m aware that sexual content is a dealbreaker for many–but it’s not surprising.  The same goes for furry art.

But I think there is a bit more to it. The amount of sexual content in furry spaces has long been observed even by insiders, with some groups organizing to remove the “perverts”. While I am not sympathetic to these groups, I do think they’re reacting to a real phenomena, where furries are more open about sexually explicit media than is normative.

Where webcomics split off from newspaper comics and comic books–both heavily censored spaces, the furry fandom originally split off from anime, which is less so. While webcomics are very queer today, the furry community is built on five decades of queerness. Porn has different meaning for queer people than the straights, being a site of liberation rather than a site of violence and sexism. Ultimately I think queer people are less ashamed of porn, or at least the shame comes more from external sources.

I also have to say: Furry porn (of the illustrated variety) is good. It just is. If you think furries spend a disproportionate amount of time drawing porn, don’t you think they might have gotten good at it in the mean time?

Okay, okay, Sturgeon’s law and all, but hear me out. Furries provide a refreshing counterpoint to conventional body image standards, which are otherwise rife in gay porn. It’s not all skinny guys and bulging muscles, there is a real diversity in body shapes. This genuinely rubs off on the furry community, which has a positive reputation for appreciating people of all body types. Second, many furry stories tend have a focus on real world themes (even if not depicting realistic scenarios), with a conscientious empathy towards readers’ anxieties and traumas—particularly those of queer people.

But with all that said, I must reemphasize that what you find on porn sites is not representative of furry media. There is certainly family friendly furry media out there, and content that is only incidentally sexual. I’m just saying, if it were representative, then good for the furries, well done.

My relationship to furries

So here’s my story.  I wrote an article about Myst, then I thought I’d watch some Myst Let’s Plays. I saw that the player had a fursona, and I like it to an irrational degree, it’s so cute.  That made me want to watch more, and I ended up playing a furry visual novel he recommended.

Specifically, I played Echo, described as an anti-dating sim horror game. And yeah, it also has some incidental sexual content.  I was interested in it, because it promised a breakup story, and I just have an unaccountable love of breakup stories. I thought it was good, but there was just one thing that bothered me: The story kept on getting interrupted by kidnappers, murderers, and demon creatures, which really slowed down the pacing of the bits I cared about. And this is all to say, my likes and dislikes had nothing to do with the fact that it was a furry game. Well, that’s not true, I thought the art was good, and I appreciated the diversity of body types.

So I feel like the furry aspects shouldn’t matter, but they do matter, because society. I wish liking a furry visual novel wasn’t a thing that needed to be remarked upon, but here I am, feeling the need to remark upon it. That appears to be a common reaction among players: “I’m not a furry but I loved this game.”

So I don’t really identify with the furry fandom, but I am strongly on the side of destigmatizing furries, not least because I would be subject to at least a little of the same stigma. I know it’s a useful tactic to highlight all the family-friendly furry media, but I really don’t think that’s enough. I think it helps a lot to place furries in the context of adjacent media, such as webcomics or other fandoms, and recognize that the presence of erotic content is not that surprising. It may also be worth recognizing that media from the furry fandom has some unique and valuable things to offer.


  1. Laurence Parry says

    Furry hate definitely started before the 2010s. Way back before there were even separate furry cons, the signs to furry parties at sci-fi cons were being defaced with the term “skunkf*cker” (a self-depreciating furry comic, Skunk, was penned in 1993, causing quite a stir in the MUCKs and newsgroups of the day over its own derogatory depiction of certain topics).

    There was another round of that when magazines like Vanity Fair and shows such as CSI caught on to furries existing around the turn of the millennium, leasing to a virtual moratorium on nascent conventions’ interaction with the media for years.

    Furry characters give fans an opportunity to have proxies interact with those of others, which for many would be more comfortable than having direct depictions of themselves. Likewise, furry comics (or those featuring animal characters) are a way of telling stories that perhaps would have been harder to tell with humans – one obvious example being Maus, and Animal Farm in other media.

    WikiFur’s Comic of the Week summarises some of the more well-known comics for the years to ~2010. Personally, of those I still read DMFA and Twokinds, and some of the print comic Circles, which is a well known example of furry queer media in print which tries to treat it in a serious way.

    More recent webcomics I’ve read with an element of that include Out-Of-Placers (the origin of the yinglets, who are not adverse to M/m relations when the limited female population is unavailable), and the Long Hike series of ThePatchedHobo on Fur Affinity, featuring its epic cast of drekir and other dragon-like creatures (erotic interludes exist on a separate account, ThePatcheDragon). This only scratches the surface; there’s an incredible amount of content out there, with more created every day.

  2. says

    @Laurence Parry,
    Thanks for the informative comment!

    Furry characters give fans an opportunity to have proxies interact with those of others, which for many would be more comfortable than having direct depictions of themselves.

    Thanks for putting that into words. I thought about highlighting that aspect but I wasn’t sure how to put it. And there’s some obvious value that also brings to erotic media, as many people want more distance between themselves and the media. In the ace community there’s the term aegosexuality, referring to people who have sexual fantasies but wish to remove themselves from those fantasies. One aegosexual person I knew explained that the label made a lot of sense in the context of furry communities.

    WikiFur’s Comic of the Week summarises some of the more well-known comics for the years to ~2010. Personally, of those I still read DMFA and Twokinds, and some of the print comic Circles, which is a well known example of furry queer media in print which tries to treat it in a serious way.

    Twokinds, that’s the one I tried reading. It seemed pretty straight, but then I only read the first few chapters. Judging from the synopsis I thought it might get more queer later on, but I’d have to be more into it to get there. No judgment on the webcomic as a whole.

    Thanks for suggesting a few entry points into furry webcomics. I admit it was an afterthought to even ask for recs, and I may not have time to look at them for the moment. I’ll bookmark this thread to look into later.

  3. Pink Haired Old Lady says

    I remember that 2001 Vanity Fair article. At the time I lived in the SF Bay Area, and because I had a furry housemate I got to know some other furries. I even attended Further Confusion in 2001 and 2002. I knew a guy who was interviewed for the article, and he told them truthfully that he sometimes chews on rawhide. The article changed it to chewing on table legs.

    My now wife was into furry at the time: I admit to being a bit relieved when she told me early on that she felt that she was “outgrowing” her interest in furry.

  4. Laurence Parry says

    Ah, yes, I wouldn’t say Twokinds has *much* in the way of queer representation, as opposed to e.g. DMFA whose author identifies as ace and agender – although seriously-depicted relationships appear later on (e.g. Abel’s story and following events). The latter’s a comic that started out as an extension of Furcadian roleplay and has grown along with the artist.

    As with most fandoms, it’s possible to take outliers and represent them as the norm, or outright fabricate quotes, especially if that is your goal as a magazine editor. It’s happened to me, too – thankfully not in a malicious way, but it was a little off-putting; especially since it was the UK’s leading teenage girls’ magazine and some of my cousins read it.

    Some fun research by the Anythropomorphic Research Project crew (now “Furscience”) found that furry characters are closer to psychological norms than those playing them, on average. So not only do we create proxies, they’re idealised proxies. This can be a problem, though, if the ‘distance’ between the player and the character is too large, as they can never integrate the character into their own psyche. An issue therians face as well.

    Of those comics I mentioned, Out-Of-Placers and Long Hike are probably the most self-contained (though the latter draws from past workdbuilding by the author, and can be confusing at times). They might still have more extraneous content than is to your liking.

    That is the same for e.g. Monster Mind, a Flash puzzle game featuring Pokémon that are somewhat erotic (unless you turn that off) and has various things to say about different types of relationship (and, of course, different body types), now sadly hard to play without unsupported player software running locally


  5. jenorafeuer says

    Heck, the ‘lifestyler’ debate goes back to Usenet days at the start of the 1990s in the fandom. (I call it that because there ended up being a subgroup of alt.fan.furry called alt.fan.furry.lifestyle because a lot of people who started as more the old-school SF fans weren’t entirely comfortable with the people who much more into ‘being the character’. I mean, splits like that had been going on in SF fandom as well: the FIAWOL versus FIJAGDH debate has long ranged. (Fandom Is A Way Of Life versus Fandom Is Just A God-Damned Hobby). There are going to be people who take it way too seriously in any fandom. Unfortunately, this also goes to the ‘Geek Social Fallacies’, where the people who actively try to break the social structures aren’t necessarily treated as seriously as they need to be.

    A lot of the queer stuff in Furry Fandom really solidified with Mark Merlino, one of the five people who started the first furry convention, ConFurence. Mark was… let’s just say ‘flamboyantly pansexual’. (He’s hardly the sole reason, of course; porn fanfic shows up in every fandom, and what with Furry fandom not really having a defined ‘canon’ as such, it’s almost all fanfic).

    That said, now that the fandom has grown past the point where you could pretty much know everybody involved, like you could back in the 1990s, there isn’t anywhere near the sort of intensity or personal feeling to a lot of the internal tensions that are still there.

    One aspect that you sort of brush up against is how gratuitous the furry aspect can be. Some creators like actually working with worldbuilding of how the world would actually work with non-human characters, others just treat it as an aesthetic. Fred Patten, who was in Furry Fandom pretty much from the beginning and who also wrote one of the earliest English books on Japanese manga, generally fell more on the ‘furry characters should be more than just humans in strange suits’ side of things. And you get a number of people who go into serious levels of worldbuilding. DMFA was mentioned above; for a webcomic that literally started as ‘adventures of my friends from an old graphical chat program with animal avatars’, the level of worldbuilding and character arcs has grown significantly over the years.

    Me, I figure you like what you like, and I generally dislike gatekeepers and anybody who tries to draw lines as to who is or isn’t a fan. (The only exception being those preventing the Paradox of Tolerance from getting too deep; the blatantly Nazi people of the fandom can go take a long walk off a short pier.)

    Why yes, I have been involved with the fandom for long enough that I have convention T-shirts older than many of the convention attendees. Then again, I’m also involved with literary SF fandom, anime fandom, and comics fandom, all for as long if not longer.

  6. says

    While I did a bit of background research on furry history, I didn’t do it in depth because I decided it wasn’t totally relevant to the angle I wanted to take. I couldn’t find a timeline of furry hatedom, so my attribution to the 2010s is just based on my own experience, seeing a strong wave of hate moving through my social spheres targeted at a group that I had not heard of at the time. It’s not surprising to me that the hate goes a lot further back.

    Another thing I may have gotten wrong in my history is associating furries with anime. One of my sources said that it started out with hotel room meetups at anime conventions, but it seems it was at SF and comics conventions too, not just anime. Take my history with a grain of salt. I’m happy to hear from people with more direct knowledge about it.

    I’d like to clarify that I’m not taking any sort of stance on furry lifestylers. Although I am only incidentally interested in some furry media, I don’t have an issue with people who are more dedicated. If there are indeed reasons to take issue with lifestylers, I do not have an opinion on it.

  7. jenorafeuer says

    No problem. And you’re not wholly wrong, though I’d say it’s more accurate to say that both furries and anime grew out of room parties at SF conventions. They started close to contemporaneously, but anime fandom started hitting mainstream a lot faster, largely due to previous exposure to translated anime before it was really classified as a thing in itself. Things like Star Blazers had been on North American TV since the 1970s, after all. And furries just became the ‘acceptable target’ for any sort of fandom bullying as the newer and weirder guys.

    I actually ended up chatting with someone who’d done a lot of tracing of the history specifically from a convention-handling standpoint. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the furry hatred and media abuse (like the Vanity Fair article mentioned above) is that Furry fandom got rather insular for several years, and and they ended up having to re-lean a lot of lessons that other conventions had already learned about how to run large events because the furry people weren’t talking to other event organizers enough.

    As with any large social issue, it gets complicated.

  8. says

    I write blog posts about technical topics (security, cryptography, software engineering) as my fursona. It’s oddly liberating.

    I don’t know if I would say “I identify as a furry” though. I call myself a “furry” the same way a Doctor Who fan would call themselves a Whovian: It’s a noun to reflect an affiliation with a group or fandom, rather than an expression of a particular set of attributes (e.g. “I am a man”).

    I’ve written a few words on the topic, but I’m hesitant to drop links in a random comment on a blog. 😉

  9. says

    @Soatok, that’s neat, I like that kind of personal branding even when the subject matter is be unrelated. You’re welcome to share links, but with the caveat that it may initially go to moderation queue, and I can’t promise that I will read everything.

  10. says

    I’m not a fur, so I have no views other than if a fur wants a hug, my arms are available.

    Most of what I know about furs comes from standup comedian, musician, and atheist 2, The Ranting Gryphon. I don’t always agree with his takes, but I love his rants. You can hear them on his site or on youtube.


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