If you've read my bio thingy (and if not, why not, eh? Eh? EH?), you'll have seen the phrase, "I'm a fur" therein. Now, a minority of you will know exactly what I meant by that in any case, so you're excused from reading the rest of this guff, and can go off and play on the swings or something. For the rest of you...
"Furry" is an overworked word. It can mean an anthropomorphic animal character - Bugs Bunny and the Redwall characters are good examples. It can also mean a fan of these characters - a "furry fan", who might draw furry pictures, read furry literature (Watership Down is a classic example), or even write furry music. I'm a furry fan, as it happens. However, what I'm really concerned with here is a third category, the "furry lifestyler" - often abbreviated to "fur", and I'll do so here. This covers those who feel a deep emotional and/or spiritual connection with one or more types of animal, be they real, fictional or mythical. As for myself...
I am, of course, a human. I am also a rabbit.
No, I don't mean "I am a human who role-plays a rabbit". I mean what I say. I suppose I could say that I have a "human side" and a "lapine side", but that makes it sound as though I have a split personality, and it's not like that. Or I might say that I have a rabbit's soul, or elements thereof... but I'm not even sure I know what a soul *is*, so that won't do either. I did have a go at doing so in my poem, "FLR", and it's probably the closest I've ever got, but even that wasn't wholly adequate. Frankly, ordinary language just doesn't work here. I suppose the nearest approach I can manage is to say that there are both human and lapine aspects to myself, but that they are neither separate nor even separable.
I'm sure this sounds preposterous to some of you... but think about this for a moment: many Christians believe that during Holy Communion, the Eucharist wafer and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, whilst retaining their outward appearance. This is called "transubstantiation", and is mainstream Catholic belief. I have as much difficulty grasping that as many of you will in grasping what I've just said.
There are as many definitions of "what it means to be a fur" as there are furs themselves - it's a *very* personal thing - but I'll try to go through some of the more common themes - I should point out that the categories I introduce here are of my own spur-of-the-moment invention, and not any sort of accepted standard, and also that plenty of furs span more than one category.
Perhaps the most "extreme" form are "species dysphoric furs". This is more or less analogous to "gender dysphoria", the phenomenon where, say, a man is convinced that he "should have been" a woman, sometimes to the extent of having a sex-change operation. Of course, species-change operations are not available, but there are certainly those furs who quite seriously wish that they were, and who - as far as is possible - actively reject their humanity.
Next, we can consider the "spiritual furs". This definition covers a very wide range in itself, but includes such things as animal spirit guides, totem animals and power animals, such as are encountered in various types of shamanism, not to mention those (Pagan furs, for instance) for whom Nature plays an integral part in their beliefs. There are also those who believe that they *were* an animal in a past life, or were somehow "meant to be" one in this life. I'm not myself a spiritual fur, so can't really describe this category too well (as you can see!), but it's a large one.
My own category might be described as "empathic furs". I cannot see, hear, read about, talk about, or even think about rabbits without it having an effect deep within myself - something between elation and exhilaration. Even the sight of the word "rabbit" will do it - typing it just then, for example. This isn't a conscious thing: it's completely visceral - and only rabbits can do it for me.
Then you might count the "role-play furs" - these are those who have perhaps had an animal character in a role-playing game for some time, and have gradually come to realise that this animal means a lot more to them than they had previously thought it did.
These categories are by no means exhaustive, but they should give an idea. It's even possible that you see yourself in there somewhere - maybe you're a fur too! Ask yourself the classic question: "if you could be any animal, which animal would you be?" - if you stick with "human", then you're probably not a fur, but otherwise... well, only you can really know.
The species of animal with which furs identify is generally referred to as their "phenotype", which will annoy the biologists out there no end! =:) (That's a rabbit smiley, by the way - see the ears?) Most furs (and some non-lifestyling furry fans) have what's known as a "personal furry" based on their phenotype - their "ideal shape" if there were absolutely no real-world constraints. In most cases, this is neither human nor animal but somewhere on the wide spectrum in between. Most commonly, personal furries are around human size, but with fur, claws, tail and so on. As usual, I have to be difficult, and my personal furry is largely zoomorphic, ie normal animal shaped, but with a few handy extra features. Think of the rabbits in Watership Down - physically normal, but with the power of speech, rational thought and so on - and you won't be far wrong, though opposable thumbs would be very useful! =:)
There isn't really any easy way to pin down "who is most likely to be a fur" - they cover all ages, nationalities, personalities, occupations, religions... you name it, really. The best that can be done is to look at a couple of general trends.
Probably the most obvious one is the very high proportion of gay and bisexual furs. Very little serious research has been done into furriness, but one American study a few years ago reported a figure of around 50% bisexual, with the remainder split fairly equally between gay and straight. There are several theories as to why this is so, but the fact that furs are generally accepting of widely diverse lifestyles (we're a broad church; we have to be, really) might well have an influence here. It may well also be relevant that many furs, of whatever orientation, are relaxed about physical contact - hugs and "scritches" among furs are very common, and generally not remotely sexual in nature. We all seem to rub along fairly well (no pun intended!).
There are all sorts of religions followed by furs. Some (like me) are atheist or agnostic; a large number are Christians (despite some having been told by their priests that their furriness will send them to Hell!); a good number follow Pagan/Wiccan beliefs; quite a few are adherents to Native American traditions; and so on. I haven't yet come across a Muslim fur, but I'd be amazed if they weren't out there somewhere.
As far as personality goes, all human (yes, I know!) life is there, but it's notable that a lot of furs - again, like me - are very shy and nervous people in company, except when completely comfortable with our companions, in which case we become far more outgoing and - well - silly. Silliness is generally considered an asset by furs, I'm delighted to say! There are also a fair number who are extroverts all the time, but they're probably in a minority, albeit a fairly sizeable one.
Quite a few people labour under the misconception that 99% of furs are, if you like, "bored teenagers with nothing better to do". Not true at all: there is a bias towards youth in what you might call the "visible" furry community, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that the internet plays such a big role. There are plenty of furs well into middle age and beyond, and who hold down perfectly respectable and responsible jobs.
As to what phenotypes are most common: mammals make up the vast majority, which is perhaps not surprising given that humans are mammals themselves. Foxes, wolves and domestic cats are probably the best represented, though there are a scattering of others - dolphins show up surprisingly often, as do otters. My own phenotype, rabbit, is not particularly common, but by no means rare. Among mythical creatures, dragons are unsurprisingly top - er - dog.
Now, one common thread that links most even vaguely esoteric interest groups is the enthusiasm of the "mainstream" media to ridicule them. Here in Britain, the classic example of this is trainspotters. The abuse they receive has to be heard to be believed, and despite not being a trainspotter myself (though I do like trains) I find it extremely unpleasant. Who the hell are these people hurting, for God's sake? Stop being so damn sneery just because they don't conform to what the Style Police decree.
As you've probably guessed by now, furries have problems here too. It's less severe, for the simple reason that there's hardly any media coverage of *any* sort, but the great majority of what there has been has been atrocious, tending to focus almost entirely on various sexual aspects and anything "furverted", such as "yiffy" (erotic) artwork, to the extent that most furries (whether fans or lifestylers) now have a deep suspicion of the media in general, which doesn't really help anybody. An American MTV documentary and an article in the British Loaded magazine are particularly loathed, and with good reason.
You're probably dying to know what I mean by "various sexual aspects", so I suppose I'd better tell you. (Any furs still slogging through this stuff can skip the next few paragraphs.) I've already mentioned yiffy artwork (which doesn't generally do a lot for me, but I certainly don't think should be piled up and burnt!), but after that, the first thing that intrigues the media is fursuiting. A fursuit is a full-body animal costume (think of the things football club mascots wear, for example). And yes, *some* furs do indeed have sex in them. But there are an awful lot who see themselves as entertainers, or who wear their fursuits in order to feel as close as possible to their phenotype, without any sort of sexual thoughts. A top-quality fursuit is extremely expensive to buy, extremely time-consuming to make, and above all, extremely *hot* to wear. It's not an easy option!
Next, we have the plushophiles. A "plushie" is a stuffed animal - teddies being the archetypal plushies. A high proportion of furs like to have some plushies about the place, often of their own phenotype(s); generally as huggable and soft as possible, though some prefer realism. However, a very small percentage (maybe 1 or 2%) have a rather more intimate relationship with their plushies, sometimes to the extent of making "strategically placed holes/appendages" in the things.
And (groan, here we go again)... no, I *don't* have sex with (non-human) animals, and nor do I have the *slightest* desire to do so. And that goes for the *vast* majority of furs - the proportion of "zoophiles" is, again, something like 1 or 2%, no more than in the non-furry population. One possible cause for this misunderstanding (other than lazy journalism, which sadly is rife) is that furs sometimes discuss who they would like as their mate *if they were actually, physically, their phenotype*, and naturally they choose an animal. It's a specialised form of role-play, really. If I were a rabbit in real life, why on earth should I still be attracted to a human woman above a doe?
Having said all that, some of the wounds furs have taken have been rather self-inflicted, and it can't be denied that some people have rather lost sight of the fact that there's a time and a place for everything, but that that isn't anytime and anywhere - for example, flaunting X-rated artwork when there are children around is just plain stupid, and the fact that it's furry is not an acceptable excuse. Also not helping the image, there has been a good deal of politicking and generalised bickering within furdom. There are, or have been, groups such as the "Burned Furs", whose mission was to "clean up" furdom, and who pronounced that pretty much anything they didn't like (including, for some bizarre reason, veganism!) was "insane", with little distinction made between them. The annoying thing was that they had some sensible things to say, but they got buried beneath the mountains of reactionary intolerance. Opposing the Burned Furs were the "Freezing Furs" - but *they* sometimes suffered from being blinkered from the other direction, rather than accepting that not everything in the furry garden was completely rosy. After this emerged the "non-aligned furs", and... well, you get the idea. Politics, politics, politics. Let's get back to something more cheerful, shall we?
As with so many other subcultures, furdom has been transformed by the arrival of the internet. Read the "furveys" (furs are known for their predilection for appalling puns, usually involving the word "fur") posted to the .furry Usenet newsgroup by newbies, and time and time again you'll see comments along the lines of "Wow! I thought I was the only one who walked digitigrade! [on one's toes]"; the simple ability to converse, even if only in text, with others who feel the same way, has vastly improved an awful lot of our lives.
A British TV documentary on Channel 4 a few years ago (one of the few relatively sensible programmes about furriness) gave a figure of 200 furs in Britain and a thousand in America. The true figures are unknown, as there are still many, many people out there who don't realise their furriness - but it's certain that those are wild underestimates, as they refer only to those subscribing to online mailing lists. There's no doubt in my mind that the true figure, even if we restrict ourselves to the UK, is well up into the thousands... and as I said earlier, maybe you're in that category too!
I only really discovered that I was a fur a few months ago, although I now suspect that I've always been furry - it's not really something you "choose to be". It's actually a new experience for me as a white, heterosexual, English-speaking, literate (well, perhaps) and articulate (ditto) male to be part of a minority group which is generally either ignored, ridiculed or condemned, but actually in a funny way it's probably been good for me. Anti-fur prejudice doesn't begin to compare with, say, racism or homophobia, but it does give you an inkling of what it's like to be on the "other side".
I didn't ask to be a fur. But I'm definitely not asking not to be one. Life, as they say, is a scritch!