The Uniquely Furry Distortions of Gender

01 Jan 2014 | Guest Poster

Guest post by Thesis White. Thesis is a writer-artist, cognitive science student, and peachy dalmatian who loves creating their own discourse. (Thesis is on Twitter and FX.)

The furry identity is thought by many to be one of sexual and romantic liberation, where furs can engage in relationships with others, bound by a shared sense of playfulness and fetishism. Not all furries have exclusively romantic interests towards others within the fandom; I myself am mated with a non-fur. However, where there is much literature about sexuality and relationships in the furry world, it is outside of what I'm going to discuss. More interesting and dynamic than our sexuality is the uniquely furry distortions of gender.

The internet facilitates our ability to be furry. For most furries, furryness is an interest and a self-identification through a fursona, but to understand it, we must understand its origins. A legacy of human-animal hybrids throughout mythology and 20th-century fiction is behind us, and in our early years exists televised pictures of Bugs Bunny and Balto. Where originally the mythical monstrosities of human and animal were to be feared as gods and demons in the flesh, modern anthropomorphics are adored primarily by children in an intimate relationship between entertainer and audience.

What types of images did we see, though? Many furry cartoon characters weren't physically sexed, but given gendered social roles. Disney's fox, Robin Hood, wore no pants and was explicitly physically androgynous, but still played the role of the masculine hero and saved the princess from the horrid King Richard. As we move into adulthood and gain entrance to a mature furry community, we see both sexed and non-sexed furs. As we reach puberty and onward, we discover that our furry personas can serve a sexuality and character that we adopt to explore ourselves and our interests.

Other than a more sexual attitude towards anthropomorphicized characters however, we also come through adolescence to a more gendered understanding of bodies. As we become more sexually active, we also become more aware of the physical characteristics of the men and women around us. We link together the concepts of developing breasts with wearing dresses and painting nails.

But it begs the question: Other than discovering our sexuality, how do we act furry? Outside yiffing and our playful understanding of furs, how do employ gender in a furry context?

Before I go on, I should explain more about what gender is, academically speaking. We understand gender to be male, female, and other non-binary identities like trans*, agendered, genderqueer and so forth. It is a learned trait. We are born into the world with little inherited information about how we should act, and even less (and debateably, any) genetic predisposition to gendered behaviors. Because someone is born with a uterus, we do not necessarily have to wear bras or have manners; these are learned behaviors. We are taught the boundaries of our gender through what not to do; boys aren't given barbies often or girls dirt bikes (at least, in my time. It's becoming more acceptable with each year.)

Gender is a learned identity that we embrace, and we are born into a world of people that have cisnormative attitudes, believing there are only two opposite genders. It is difficult for many people to understand that we are not born manly or womanly, but rather are taught it, and so they believe it is a disorder or mental imbalance when people are trans or non-binary.

Emily Martin, an esteemed anthropologist, wrote about how genderisms in our understanding of life even go so far as to become naturalized in our scientific language; we understand menstruation to be a disposal of “bad flesh,” a purge of bad ovaries, whereas sperm production is heralded as an amazing triumph of the human body. (This is in complete disregard for the fact that usually only a few sperm cells, if any, actually become children. The male body loses more reproductive cells than the female body was ever born with.) The eggs are seen as having a passive role in reproduction that receives the sperm who uses its tail to push up to the egg (where actually its tail flails randomly and has very little propelling power). It is never considered that a woman's body incubates and supplements a fetus until it's born, whereas the male plays a role for only a few moments. Gender even penetrates academia and what's considered “objective”.

Gender theorists have come to the conclusion that these naturalized conceptions are contrary to the truth. Male and female are simply two ways of behaving that are on a continuum of gender. We are told what roles we should play, and most people believe it's true. We are not gendered by nature, but nurture.

Consider sexual dimorphism. This term denotes the physical differences between the 2+ sexes of a species, where the difference in some is very obvious and in others very subtle. Often it takes specialized knowledge to know one from the other; would you be able to easily tell two parakeets apart? Female and male gorillas are in appearance extremely easy to tell apart, whereas sea horses may not be. We are most familiar with our own dimorphism, but when considering the world of the animal kingdom, our differences between male and female bodies are very minute. Even so, an approximate 1% (ref) of the human population is intersexed, further blurring the lines between sexes.

Furries (and just about everyone else) as children learn what it meant to be male or female. But we affect our gender by taking on non-human characteristics in our furry identities. The bodies that furries adopt in fursonas and characters are of blurred gender; animals themselves are hard to tell apart, it’s the human-like characteristics that are the telling features. Even then, they are fantasized in forms people cannot accomplish in themselves with curves too shapely or brawn nigh impossible. From our tails and colors of our furs to the noses and ears, we explore what gendered forms mean through how we draw furries and, by extension, ourselves. Our furryness puts us outside of a system where being female is simply ‘feminine’ where we extend what womanhood is into paws that humans can't have.

Many furries go so far as avoiding sexing furry forms and create a body outside of even a furry binary system of male and female. Take Truxton (actually Lapfox), the furry techno musician who put out an album featuring an agendered hell-hound on the cover. Or look at some of the past Fur Affinity banners, where the characters don't feature anything but a friendly non-human face. These are the fantasies we embrace and love, genders that don't exist anywhere else that we create.

As an effect of our gendered society, we don't often recognize that we are doing this. I may go so far to say that my theory may come across as misguided, a queer attempt at bringing furry into the domain of gender identity. I’d like to propose that we challenge ourselves to examine these distortions of gender and try to come to terms with what they mean to us. Undeniably, the majority of Blotch's work features masculine bodies, but are humans usually that shapely, tall, or flexible? Furry art features a grotesque and beautiful caricature of human bodies in their physical, social, and political uses, but it is that abstraction that allows us to explore ourselves and our ever-changing vision of who our bodies are and what we would like them to mean.