Guest post by Hemms. Hemms is a Fox from southern California who has been in the Furry Fandom for 7 years, since discovering it when he was 14 on Christmas Morning in 2006. A Lifestyler through and through, Furry is the driving motivation behind everything he does and studies. He is a student of Anthropology and forever a dreamer. He seeks to understand Furry culture, History, and dreams of a unified Fandom that realizes just how important and powerful it really is. Hemms is on Twitter and Fur Affinity.
In my seven years as a Furry I have witnessed what I believe amounts to a cultural revolution that occurred beyond the view of the public at large. I frequently attest to the view that the Furry Fandom is not just a fandom but a culture in its own right. I don't expect this view to be the same for everyone.
There are Lifestylers and there are Hobbyists, and the argument over which one is the correct "way to Furry" is an argument that still rages in this Fandom despite this matter having supposedly been settled with the Burned Furs conflict in 1998. Arguing over whether Hobbyists aren’t Furry enough or that Lifestylers really ought to calm down and take off the tail in public is pointless. I’m not writing this to assert whether one view or the other is the right way or not. I’m writing to assert that there is a reason why the argument is still deemed important enough to be worth arguing.
The interesting thing about this argument is that both sides of the Furry ideological track agree that the other side is still Furry. The Lifestyler v. Burned Fur argument could have splintered the Fandom, but it didn't, and I theorize that the reason it didn't is the same reason we still see the argument as having value. The Furry Fandom isn’t your garden variety fandom that springs up around a television show or a book or web comic. We are a Fandom stemming from an idea, not a product or franchise, and with that idea I believe evolves ideals that culminate in what I call The Furry Dream.
The other fandoms of this world rely on a company or artist to produce the works that the fans follow, and without which there would be no fandom. The Furry Fandom relies on no such company. We only rely on ourselves to perpetuate the culture of our Fandom, and because we rely on ourselves we value voluntary self-governance.
The heads of Furry conventions, people like Uncle Kage, are Furries themselves and run our Fandom’s most important cultural centers based on the input of the people they serve. Think about anime fandom or Star Wars fans. The source material of these fandoms must be produced by someone who isn’t necessarily in the fan community. Fans must wait for this material to be made and shipped, and if it isn’t, then the fandom may die off. Their material is made largely without their input, and if they don’t like something it’s almost impossible to change it. It also makes it so that the gap between fan and producer is almost impossible to bridge. A fan cannot easily become a producer for their fandom in a way that amounts to more than fan art. But Furries decide our own course in our Fandom, and I don’t think we could imagine it any other way. It doesn’t naturally function any other way. If it did, we would lose a key part of our unique “Furriness”.
Uniqueness is in and of itself a value of this Fandom. We don’t just tolerate diversity in this Fandom, we celebrate it. Diversity is seen as a great benefit in this Fandom, and the more of an individual you can be the better. This Fandom is and always will be the port in the storm for the downtrodden refugee of the status quo.
When this Fandom was founded it was derived from the pre-existing fandoms of anime and science fiction, people who were already on the fringes of society and who were already doing a good job at diversity . When the Furry Fandom became its own entity, it had people from all walks of life, and in order to function it immediately destroyed social barriers that sometimes cripple the rest of the world. It normalized homosexuality; it legitimized other alternative sexualities; it liberated sexuality in general; obliterated the gender binary; it removed race as a playing factor to someone’s acceptance; mixed far-flung lifestyles; made class unimportant, and; above all, made self-expression take importance over group conformity.
Without self-expression there would be no creativity, and with no creativity there would be no Furry Fandom. The two go paw in paw. When you have a million people all with different ways of expressing themselves, which leads to a million different ways of being creative, you get a people whose continuity is fueled by their diverse individuality. That individuality becomes a necessity, and thus a value. That individuality causes a proliferation of the definition of what the self is, what a Furry is, and that’s why the whole Burned Fur vs. Lifestyler argument is still discussed, although no consensus is ever reached. We could define, once and for all, what a Furry is, but we don’t want to because we all came to this Fandom as individuals and want to stay that way because we all understand what it is like to be different. We don’t want to box in our individuality. We know how to function very well with diversity (and the rest of the world might want to take some notes).
But these are all just values, and I haven’t touched on what The Furry Dream actually is. Well, logically, the Dream must be the fulfillment of these values. Why did you join this Fandom? More importantly, why did you stay? It’s like explaining the American Dream. There is a soundbite that is commonly quipped, but most Americans have an idea of what the ephemeral American Dream is for them, and for everyone it is a little different. The ways of attaining it are infinite, with multiple ideologies about how one does so. But if The Furry Dream were to be written out in a way that made it applicable to all, I think it would read something similar to this:
"We the Furries dream of limitless diversity, creativity, self-discovery, and autonomy.” And may I add, “We will fight to keep it.”