And now comes the time when I have to write a very important, rather personal article. Again.
I can see you all bracing yourselves already. "Oh no, here goes Makyo..."
I actually feel kind of bad for starting the article out like that, to be honest. Recently, my boss (and biggest ally at work) resigned by calling us all into a meeting and announcing, "So now is the time when I announce you that I'm quitting" and we all sat there in stunned silence. Was he kidding? It was certainly in his style.
It's tough to have your most important personal ally leave through something that could just as easily be taken as a joke. I'm sure I wasn't the only one expecting him to start out that way and then launch into some sort of deadpan "ha ha just kidding here are the plans for machine view we have to get it done by 14.04."
I'm hardly leaving. I've invested quite a bit of time, no small amount of money, and basically just as much of my furry life as I can in this project - it means a lot to me. I think it's a fantastic outlet for myself, and a pretty good resource for the community, providing both the resources needed to investigate furry on many levels, as well as a place for any others to do so. This has allowed [a][s] to become precisely what it has.
As I've mentioned before, I had few plans for [a][s] other than to maybe just be an outlet for me to kvetch about furry. I thought it would be a simple little place for me to write down my thoughts about what bugged me, or at least fascinated me, about this subculture. There's no small amount of that, after all - no one version of any community is going to fit any person 100% given that a subculture is made up of at least as many versions as there are members.
Once I started poking around more, thinking more, and especially giving the site its own personality rather than just some wordpress blog with a bad crop of one of my own commissions at the top, things started to head in their own way.
I was pleased. Often, in fiction writing as well as music composition, the point at which a piece really starts to take off for the creator is the point at which it starts to take on a life of its own. Not that it violates the outline or plan or anything, just that characters start to fill out the story and play their roles, the melodies start to take their own inevitable paths toward resolutions (or not, as the case may be).
One thing that I've noticed, however, is that the part of us that is actively engaged in the process of creation, however subconscious it may be, can surprise us. More than that, creation does not take place in a vacuum. Rather, the process of creation is the product of not only ourselves, but also the various levels of society in which we reside. The creation that is [a][s] is not just some isolated production of Makyo's view of furry. That view of furry changes as I grow, and as furry changes.
I grow and change because there are people in my life that come and go, influences that wax and wane. When I started writing, I was dealing with some of the troubles I was having with gender in my life by role-playing as a mix-gendered character, hiding it from those around me because of feared backlash. As I slowly opened up to myself and others, so to did the circles in which I counted myself a part: I started talking more with people with similar experiences and, though I'm a little sad to admit it, lost touch with some of the absolutely delightful folk I met online while in the beginnings of my exploration.
So of course [a][s] is going to change. I'm going to change over the process of two and a half years, there's no reason that the things that I produce are, for some reason, not going to change!
Keeping that in mind, take into account the fact that, over these last few years, the site itself has grown to include a separate project, Love - Sex - Fur, focused on the curious intersection of furry, romance, and sexuality. It has grown to adopt the Furry Survey from one of our initial contributors, Klisoura. It has grown to include not just myself and Klisoura, but also JM, Kyell, Zik, Rabbit, Jakebe, and many guests besides. All of these additions, most especially the additions of written contributions help to shape the ways in which [a][s] grows. It's self-reinforcing, too, a type of feedback: the site attracts a certain type of mind that writes in a certain way, which attracts more of the same, building in strength and attracting more of the same until it starts to refine itself.
These last few months have been pretty tough for me. The issue of mental health crops up with some frequency here on [adjective][species], but I think it's one worth covering, from the point of view of introspection, and particularly due to furry as a factor, as well as a utility in the recovery process.
I know it may perhaps seem routine at this point, but it wasn't intentional that I take each winter off from [a][s] and several other projects as some sort of sabbatical. Rather, my genetic propensity toward seasonal depression, and mental illness in general, tends to lead to inadvertent medical leaves primarily in the fall and winter.
I first started to take the concept of mental health seriously in my later years of college when I started having trouble making it to work on time because I was terrified of the people I'd encounter on the way. I was afraid that there was some aspect of myself that was attracting attention. I was worried that walking in a certain way, or perhaps too close to others, would lead to accusations of sexual harassment. I was worried to the point where I started having to plan my arrival on campus between classes, or if I happened to show up during a rush, to move from bathroom to bathroom on the way to my lab in the library, from the animal sciences building, to the plant sciences building, to the general education building, to the library, and to my chair, moving from island of stillness to island of solitude.
Much of this subsided with the adoption of a regular schedule in a much smaller and more restricted environment when I took my first job. I'd drive for an hour (53 miles) by myself to the office, hang out with the same four or five people out of a group of twenty or so for eight to twelve hours, then drive for another hour to my home, where I lived with the same two or three others.
At first, it was actively refreshing! The drive was a nice way to unwind after work, especially on those days when I was working ten or twelve hours: not only could I just Not Work for a while, but I was alone and didn't have to interact. I discovered audiobooks and plowed through several over and over again, taking comfort in the lack of surprise in a repeated storyline.
Eventually, the 60-80 hour weeks started to wear on me, as did the job itself, and I noticed that it was easier for me to hide in my cube, or simply head home and spend the entire weekend indoors, or perhaps in the backyard engaging in some solitary hobby or another (I'm a big fan of home brewing - there's few surprises and basically zero conversation involved in mashing grain by oneself).
I've written about it before, but as it piled up, I found myself seeking medical help, even to the point of medication in the form of anxiolytics. This eventually culminated in a mental health emergency that lead to forced time off work, and eventually leaving the job for one that would be a better fit for my well-being.
[a][s] had drifted from where I felt that the site would've gone had it just been me, and I felt torn.
I had this idea that [a][s] would be some grand outlet for exploring the furry fandom in such a way as to be all inclusive and yet still introspective, a place for data and doxa, an accessible place without being condescending.
Pure dreams, of course. Once the project started to take off, my role in it was limited to my own production, and once others came on board, the project took off in a purely unpredictable direction. It was exhilarating and fantastic to watch, seeing the ways in which others also thought about the fandom joined in and started taking the conversation all the further.
The benefit of this, and particularly of the voice of JM, is that the site grew rapidly without becoming unstable. The growth is visible not only in the plain-old-numbers sense of our viewers per day has increased, but also in the spread of our articles. Some were picked up by FurCast, some were discussed on Flayrah, one was even nominated for an Ursa Major Award, along with the site as a whole.
The downside, however, was that as the direction of the site shifted and steered in other directions, I felt as though my own contributions were less and less relevant. This is embarrassing for me to admit, of course, but worth admitting all the same. I felt that what I had to offer when the site started out was not worth offering to what the site has become, based solely on the numbers game I was playing in my head.
To me, there felt like two obvious choices available: I could try and steer the site back toward what I wanted at the risk of its accessibility by a wider audience as well as every other author that participated, or I could step down from my own contributor status and let the site go in the direction it seemed destined to go.
Binaries are false (at least, most of them), however, and destiny only means so much when there are multiple parties with their own free wills (or semblance thereof, but that's out of scope for this article) acting within a single setting. And besides, I run the tech side, and the organization's in my name. So the true reality is that there's some middle road, some third path to be taken to ensure that the site fulfills its potential without slowly narrowing in scope until the audience of everything outside that scope becomes irrelevant and bored.
In 2012, as I recovered, I took the winter off. However, during the summer of 2013, I was blindsided by the fact that, despite a lifetime of some semblance of consistency, the symptoms of panic took a hard left into psychosis-ville and I found myself stuck in London, head jerking violently to the left every few seconds, hearing voices telling me to throw myself to my death from the office balcony, and believing with an earnestness never before experienced that the entirety of the world knew every terrible secret of mine.
There's a lot to be said for the ways in which the mind works to adapt to situations that force a reevaluation of the way of life. There comes a point, however, when your mind throws up its hands (or paws, or wings, or what-have-you) and basically just refuses to come out of its room, subsisting on pita chips and hummus and brandy until the world changes its mind, straightens up, and flies right.
Of course, the world had hardly changed at all. I mean, sure, work trips are stressful, and I came home at a bad time with the Colorado floods, but there wasn't anything happening in my life to warrant the magnitude of my own personal breakdown. And that's what it was: a breakdown. The term isn't a medical one, but is generally accepted a temporary, drastic mental shift featuring large and out of place anxiety, depression, or other psychological symptoms, and for me this took the form of debilitating panic attacks, auditory aberrations, the return of a nervous tic, and various other symptoms.
I stopped writing. I very nearly stopped working, and was subsequently reprimanded. I haven't contributed to any side projects (my own or others such as Weasyl) since. I maxed out my credit card on treatment. I spent all of my energy on improving, with the gracious help of my partners and friends.
I left [a][s] in the hands of JM, as I did before, and couldn't have asked for a more capable administrator while I sorted things out. In that time, guest articles were published, correspondences managed (with some notable exceptions, for which I'd like to offer public apology in addition to my private ones).
Had this been just a Makyo Production, I would've lost everything and not had much of a reason to continue after the shame of having to stop, no matter the legitimacy of the initial reason. It's hard to invest so much of oneself into something, fail so completely on a personal level, and then just start right back up.
Thankfully, this isn't a Makyo Production. Never will be. I've got a job, a husbandog, a catfriend, two pups and a kitty, a house-husky, and a whole host of friends and acquaintances I can lean on for support. I've got obligations outside of [a][s], just as JM does; just as Jakebe and Rabbit and Zik and Kyell and Klisoura do.
The root of the problem, then, comes down to one of identity. I had built up in my mind this picture of myself as an avatar of a website. Nothing so grandiose as to be delusional, and quite a bit more paranoid than that implies. Every interaction with the organization, whether or not directed at me, whether or not positive or negative, became a personal indictment, the entirety of the subculture that had been my home and to whom I had looked up to for more than a decade now looking down on me and deeming me unworthy of even contempt. It was an extension of the paranoia infecting my personal life.
That's not even remotely close to the reality, though. In retrospect, it's one of those instances that's relatively clear in hindsight, even if completely obfuscated in the heat of the moment. I think it's worth a brief discussion on the way [a][s] actually works.
[a][s] is a platform. It's a collection of individuals who are willing to put in somewhat regular effort in investigating the furry fandom, plus a welcoming base of support for any individuals who would like to make a point about the fandom through a guest post. As far as published opinion goes, there is no such thing as an [a][s] viewpoint. There is no direction for the site except outwards. All the site can be is embodied in the contributors and creators, which is exactly as it should be: the precise same thing applies to the furry fandom as a whole. There is no guiding light. There is no canon. There are no leaders. There are no directions in which our community should or ought to head, because the directions in which our community should head consist of simply "outward".
The Furry Poll is not, never has been, and never will be a scientific study of the furry fandom. That is the purview of scientists, and one ought to look to the IARP for such information. If one wants to think of the Poll, it's best to think of it as a market survey: a simple view of the market as viewed through the eyes of willing participants. The goal is not to make broad and sweeping statements of absolute truth about the furry subculture, but to view through our communities eyes the demographic and psychological makeup of the community. It's a snapshot of how a good portion of the community views itself.
Love - Sex - Fur is not an endorsement of sexuality within the context of furry in any sense, but an exploration of the intersection of two very important parts of life for so many in our community. There is no denying that sex and sexuality play an important part in the human experience (evidenced by so many laws, regulations, social mores, and taboos surrounding it), and when it comes down to it, we interact with each other in the context of human society. And yet the furry subculture plays an enormous role for many of us, so it's no wonder that there is some intersection. It's as much worth acknowledging and exploring as species selection and character creation.
Our goal, in moving forward, should be to emphasize this, and we have already taken steps to that end. The goal is for [a][s] to be less some news outlet "voice of the community" - we aren't, and it's questionable whether such a thing is possible - than to be a platform for introspection and exploration. We are less a voice than we are a medium. Seriously, I think the project compares more favorably to publishing platforms such as Medium than anything else. As Rabbit put it, it's a platform for exploring the "why" and "how", rather than the "what", "where", "who", and "when", something that can only be done by all of us. If there is any steering to be done of the project, I think it is to ensure that this is more visibly the case.
The fandom is enormous, and [a][s] is a view of this enormous thing as it evolves over time. There are at least as many different views of the fandom as there are members of it, if not more. This is a feature, I think, rather than a defect: after all, if we were all so thoroughly aligned that there were fewer views of our subculture, then the complexity of our community would be replaced with loudly agreeing with each other.
I thought in my moments of panic that maybe I ought to step down, or perhaps force [a][s] in one direction. In reality, both were the products of my own anxiety, so thoroughly a part of who I am that my mother, in an email, apologized to me for her role in my genetics (an apology borne out of anxiety if ever there was one, with absolutely no recourse to reality).
I try to tie my own writing back to furry whenever possible, and I think I've done an okay job of including it throughout this screed, but I think it's worth calling out one last time that furry is one of those anchors that keeps me tied down to a grounded and full life. This community provides me with a support structure that I feel was honestly lacking from my life before, and I'm not only super pleased that I have it, but super pleased that it's available to anyone and everyone, no matter how they need it.