I identify myself as a member of the Therian microculture. Therians are a group that believe themselves to have a spiritual connection with a specific animal. They include the microcultures of Otherkin, people who have a spiritual connection with a mythological animal, and Weres, or people who have such a deep spiritual connection to a specific animal that they believe their soul to be that of their animal. Therian encompasses all of these microcultures. However, Therians are also sometimes lumped together with a completely different microculture, known as the Furries or Furres. Because there is some overlap between the Therian and Fur microcultures, I have chosen Furries as the subject of this paper.
I gained entrance into a gathering of Furres known as “Prancing Skiltaire,” which is a monthly Fur party in Garden Grove, through an acquaintance of mine who identifies as a Therian but enjoys participating in Furry activities. The PS, as the party is called by participants, is relatively popular among Furs and some Therians of the area, and changes venues every few months. Once inside the party, I staked out a quiet corner and settled down to observe the goings on around me. I first set out to discover the demographic of the group I was observing. Afterwards, I focused on their behaviors. I finished the night by interviewing three participants to discover why they do what they do.
Going in to the party, I had some pre-conceived notions of what the PS would be like. I admit that opinions formed based on a particular episode of the TV series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”** are not likely to be accurate, but I had not had much of a personal interaction with any Furs before this. Knowing that the TV series did it’s research, I wore a dog collar that I own with my wolf bone hanging from the tag area, my wolf t-shirt, jeans with a white fox tail which I leather-punched a hole through hanging from the back belt loop, and my “Stitch Paws,” which I bought at Disneyland. They are basically large gloves with claws at the end of the fingers that imitate the paws/hands of the Disney character “Stitch.” I wore these things because my friend was wearing his red fox tail and a dog collar. However, when we got there, I discovered that many of the Furs attending were dressed in full “fursuits,” which are basically mascot costumes in various levels of realism. Others were simply wearing tails or collars. Dressing as I did made them accept me as one of them immediately. I discovered that if I did not broach the subject of Therianthropy, none of them would have guessed that I was not one of them. This made my observation of them much easier.
I began my observation by sitting on a chaise lounge in one corner of the main room and simply watching the interactions of the Furs around me. The average demographic of the group (those who were not wearing full fursuits and thereby hiding their faces) appeared to be ranging in ages from 16 to 30, and were mostly Caucasian with a few Latinos and African Americans. The other thing I noticed was that there were far more males than females, myself being on of only four females in the house, as opposed to fifteen males. Almost all of the males were either homosexual or bisexual, based on observation of their behavior toward the other people there and almost everyone came in pairs or met someone there.
I participated in several video gaming sessions and sat in on several partial movies playing in different rooms of the house. Contrary to what I would have expected (as the stereotype is that Furries do everything for sexual gratification) none of the movies were porn of any type. I did observe some rather lewd behavior going on, on the back porch of the house. However none of it seemed to actually enter the party itself, which was mostly focused on the participants talking, playing games, and watching movies. There was alcohol present, but there were also plenty of non-alcoholic choices. It was not what I expected.
I finished the night by engaging several Furries in interview-like conversations in order to gain the Etic perspective. When asked the question “Why did you choose to be a Furry?” only two of the five said it involved a sexual fetish of sorts for them. The other three gave various other reasons, including respecting their chosen animal and wanting to emulate it, or just enjoying hanging out with people who wanted to “get away” from some of the stress of “being human” for awhile each month. One Furry who goes by the screen name of Kazu, mentioned that he’d always loved foxes, and when he stumbled upon fursuits online, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to dress as his chosen animal, the Silver Fox. I then asked if any of them considered themselves to be Therian in addition to being Furry. I only had to explain Therianism to one of the five I interviewed. The others were already aware of it, and only one said he truly feels that his animal IS him. All the others said they do it because they like their chosen animal, or just don’t want to be human for awhile each month.
Based on my observation, I have come up with this as an Etic perspective on the Furries. People who believe they do not fit in and long for somewhere to belong will turn to sub and microcultures in order to find that “place.” Being Furry offers the feeling of being something more or in addition to being “simply human,” and offers people a chance to hide behind their “Fursonas,” or the furry characters they create to represent themselves. Fursuits offer anonymity. One person I interviewed was physically male, but his fursona was a female cat. If he hadn’t taken off the fursuit head, I never would have known. Fursuits offer a chance for fetishists to have anonymous sexual encounters without ever having to “look the person in the eye.” Being Furry also offers the opportunity to behave in ways seen as “unacceptable” for humans with the excuse that, as long as they are “in character,” they aren’t human. Such behaviors include random dry humping of other participants, nuzzling and scritching (defined as “friendly, light scratching, similar to grooming) people you don’t know, and behaving in dominant or subordinate roles that are not where your normal station in life lies. Finally, being Furry offers people the chance to “be something else” for a little while. Who hasn’t dreamed of running with horses or flying with birds once in their lives? Furry is a lifestyle choice, and I came out of this experience feeling that it is a much more valid one than I previously gave it credit for being.
**The episode is titled Fur & Loathing In Los Vegas, and is from the 2nd season of the series.