Furry As A Queer Identity

14 Oct 2013 |

LGBT stands for two things: firstly, a delicious sandwich (lettuce, guacamole, bacon & tomato); secondly a group of people who don't easily fit into a heterosexual, binary gendered world.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are lumped together into LGBT mostly for convenience. The four groups are discriminated against in a similar way and the political action required for equality are much the same. LGBT people can generally be classified as being 'queer' which roughly means that they diverge from a traditional sexual or gender identity.

Of course, there are plenty of people who diverge from a traditional sexual or gender paradigm who are neither L, G, B or T. And so we can continually add letters to LGBT until it spells something awesome like TERABULGE, or we can toss a catch-all Q to give us LGBTQ, an acronym which is gaining traction.

We furries are already accepted within the LGBT community to a large extent, which is at least partly due to our own gender and sexual diversity. But I think that there is a strong argument that the entirety of furry can be recognized as a queer identity, a Q, including the 30% or so (according to the 2012 Furrypoll) of us that are heterosexual and cis-gendered.

Before I go any further, I want to talk about my language and nomenclature. The English language implicitly classifies people by gender, as denoted by gender pronouns 'he' and 'she'. The limitations of these pronouns aren't limited to the genderqueer; they also reinforce an assumption of heterosexuality. (As anyone who has ever written gay pornography can attest, we don't have an elegant way of making a distinction between 'him' and 'him'.) The word pair of his/hers, he/she are perfect for talking about a heterosexual couple, and the elegance and utility of these terms reinforces the idea that a couple is comprised of one member of each gender.

The LGBT community has language problems too. When LGBT issues started to come to the fore, they were called gay issues. After some time, the group started to be called 'gays and lesbians', which grew into to LGB, and more recently to LGBT. The problem is that all these terms are a 'whitelist': they require us to list the identities that diverge from 'normal'. We'd be far better off with a term that meant 'everyone who isn't straight and cis-gendered', but we don't have one in wide circulation.

Even the term LGBT doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, because T (transgendered) is out of place. The other three terms refer to sexual orientation, and many people who are T are also L, G, or B. And if we use LGBTQ, then surely the LGBT become redundant, as they are all Q in their own way.

So, some definitions: I'm going to use LGBT as my catch-all, and it's intended to include I (intersex), A (asexual), H (hijra), P (pansexual), and who ever else wants to come along for the ride. Further along, I'm also going to include zoophiles and furries.My usage of LGBT means 'queer', but without the (slightly archaic) offensive connotations.

Despite the apparently fundamental difference between those with a divergent sexual orientation (LGB), and those with a divergent gender identity (T), all LGBT people suffer from the same prejudice. They all suffer because they are subverting traditional ideas of gender.

The yin-yang dichotomy of masculinity and femininity suggests that there is a strong, active, lead role (the man) and a weak, passive, following role (the woman). This totally unfair basis makes up the foundation of most societies around the world, and it creates a reality where the men are the presumptive leaders. It's the foundation of sexism.

Any man or woman who breaks the stereotype of their gender can be subject to discrimination, because they challenge this patriarchal version of reality. So women who excel in sports or business may be thought of as 'butch', and men who excel in the arts may be thought of as 'girly'.

Homosexual activity challenges gender stereotypes, in part because of the sex act itself. A patriarchal society demands male and female roles, which can't work when sex involves two members of the same gender. So lesbians may be seen as 'less feminine' and gay men seen as 'less masculine'.

The implied requirement for gender roles persists even in LGBT circles, especially with gay sex, where the penetrative role is 'dominant' and the receptive role is 'submissive'. The idea that a gay men must choose a role, where the 'top' should be masculine, and the 'bottom' should be effeminate is no longer the default, it's more 'opt-in' nowadays. And while nominally dominant/submissive roles in gay sex are enjoyed by furry wolves/foxes everywhere, we (happily) live in a world where all sex must be consensual, and any situation where one party is literally all-dominant is rape.

There are plenty of artefacts of the stigmatization of gay sex. In Iran, for example, someone convicted of receptive gay sex is sentenced to death, whereas someone convicted of penetrative gay sex will receive a less severe punishment. In more enlightened society, gay men entering their compulsory military service in Singapore will be asked whether they engage in penetrative or receptive gay sex, with the receptive parties being given more feminine duties. And the idea that a gay couple has a nominal 'man' and 'woman' still persists all around the world.

Consider a male NBA player, who comes out as gay. He'll be big news. Whereas a lesbian WNBA player will be met with yawns. Each player is meeting prejudice when he/she challenges the gender stereotype: the man when it's revealed that he's gay; the women when it's revealed that she plays basketball. Make no mistake; sexism is at the heart of much of the prejudice towards LGBT people. Challenging traditional gender boundaries is taboo.

The species boundary is another great taboo. I've written about zoophiles here on [a][s] before and I know that it's a sensitive topic. If you are anti-zoophile, or think that zoophilia is wrong, or that zoophilia is irrelevant to furry, then I strongly suggest that you read my previous articles (here, here, and here) before you read further. I don't want to repeat myself here, but suffice to say that I think that zoophiles are subject to unfair discrimination comparable to that of gay men in 1950s. (And, no, I am not a zoophile myself.)

Zoophiles are discriminated against because they cross the species boundary. We live in a world where a strong line is drawn between 'humans' and 'animals', despite the fact that humans are also animals. We care for human life; we eat animals. Human suffering matters a lot; animal suffering matters less.

We furries are crossing the species barrier as well. We, or at least those of us who have a strong furry identity, like to think of ourselves as a hybrid of human and non-human—as animal-people. We do our best to bring our animal-people into the real world: with art, with fursuits, with the way we interact, and with our sexuality. Furry isn't about sex, but sexuality can be a big part of identity. And so sex plays an important part in our furry experience.

It's common for people with a passing awareness of furry to be slightly freaked out by the sexual nature of it all. Some members of sci-fi and related fandoms find the sexual component to be repugnant, and this attitude leaked into some of the furry media coverage around the turn of the century, back when furry was more closely aligned with fandom. People react strongly to the sexual component of furry because we are blurring the species boundary: the idea of a Thundercats orgy garners much the same reaction (from anti-furries) as the idea of a Bert/Ernie love-in (from homophobes).

We furries are queer: we diverge from the traditional species paradigm. We belong with the LGBT. Our zoophile brothers and sisters (and Ts) belong there as well. We're all different, but we suffer from the same source of discrimination: we all cross, in one way or another, a societal boundary that is arbitrarily taboo.

Nowadays, furries are regular and long-time participants in Gay Pride events in San Francisco, Sydney, and elsewhere around the world. Our representation at these events should not be only those of us who are LGBT: we should participate because we want to publicly express and celebrate our queerness—our furry identity—regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.