Furries Among Us

10 Aug 2015 |

Furries Among Us is a recently published collection of essays looking at the furry fandom. It covers much the same ground as [adjective][species], and anyone who enjoys reading this site should take a look.

It's a sizeable collection, with 16 essays by 16 authors, plus an introduction. On balance, the quality of the writing and editing is excellent, and there are some real highlights. It's only available as a paperback, although the price is right: $8 in the United States, £5 in the UK, both via Amazon, and €8 in Germany via Fusselschwarm.

The collection has two purposes, which are slightly at odds with one another. It's intended to be an introduction to the furry fandom for outsiders, and also a deep dive into the community for insiders. It balances these two goals about as well as I could imagine, but any reader is going to find significant parts of this essay collection to be of little interest.

Thurston Howl, the editor, has structured the book roughly into three equal parts. The first third, which is the weakest, is intended to be an introduction to furry and some of the foundations of the community. The second third covers some personal experiences and looks at a handful of topics in more detail. (Any of these essays would be a good fit for [adjective][species].) The final third consists of four essays from members of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, and it's this section that is really special, well worth the price of the whole on its own. But I'll begin with the beginning.

The opening essay, by Nyareon, is titled The Furry Fandom, which she attempts to define and summarize. I know full well from writing many dozens of essays here in [a][s] that her task—define "furry"—is just about impossible. The problem is that there is a counterexample to nigh on anything that you might choose to define as "furry". Nyareon is stuck with making broad statements that aren't really that informative: "The word "Furry" not only relates to the characters themselves, but also to fans...".

It's easy enough to find technical errors and inconsistencies in Nyareon's essay—there are a few—but it's still a good working definition of "furry" and introduction to the fandom. She is tackling a slippery topic, and does a good job of balancing the need for accuracy with the desire to say anything definitive at all.

Nyareon's introductory essay is followed by a couple more pieces designed to give an overview of furry. Shoji takes a broad look at how furries socialize, and Hypetaph draws a parallel between furry and folk groups.

Hypetaph's essay in particular is an intelligent and informed look at how many folk groups develop internal norms of language and behaviour, and how furry shows similar traits. However both essays provide background information that is completely unnecessary for anyone familiar with furry. This problem hamstrings most of the articles in first part of the collection: they are written for an audience that is unfamiliar with furry yet interested enough to buy an essay collection on the topic - an audience I suspect doesn't exist.

I can't imagine anyone completely new to furry reading much past Nyareon's opening essay, and if they do they'll find the following essays to be covering much the same ground. The essays all stand alone but of course they're not presented that way in Furries Among Us, and so they tend to state and restate the obvious (to a furry insider). To give you an idea, Furries Among Us defines "yiff" three times.

This appears to be a conscious editing decision by Thurston Howl, and I respect his decision to let each of his essayists speak in their own voice. (The changes in tone between each of the essays is one of the strengths of the collection: the variety adds richness to the stories being told.) I'm not sure he could have enforced a better flow from essay to essay without undermining each author's writing. So the repetition of basic information we furries already know—which is most apparent in these opening three essays—may simply be a necessary weakness of the structure Thurston has chosen for Furries Among Us.

Two meaty contributions follow, [adjective][species] contributor Kyell Gold writes on furry erotica in his usual approachable and friendly voice, and his essay meets his usual high standards. This is followed by Fred Patten's excellent and comprehensive piece on furry publishing, a reprint of one that appeared on Dogpatch Press back in February (Part 1, Part 2). Curiously, Fred doesn't mention the publisher of Furries Among Us, Thurston Howl Publications.

Thurston Howl himself contributes the next essay, a slight and lighthearted review of sex in the fandom. This essay feels a bit like a late addition, as if Thurston wanted to broach the topic somewhere in his collection somehow and wasn't able to find a contributor who would do so. We have all read versions of Thurston's piece many times before - the Uncle Kage approach, if you like. Basically he shoots down a few straw men then concludes that sex isn't really important to furry at all. The writing is fine, but it feels a bit cheap next to some of the deeper essays in the collection, and the jocular tone feels a bit dismissive of sex and sexuality, a big part of the furry experience for many of us. ([adjective][species] will be republishing this essay later this week.)

The next essay is a real treat, although perhaps not in the way the author, Takaa, intended. It's titled My Experience with Furry Online Dating, and true to its premise we follow Takaa through his experiences hunting love, from his registration at Pounced at age 18 to his current 23. His youth shows, and his hopeful if naïve fumblings around various furry websites is charming and delightful. The essay is supposed to be about furry dating, but it ends up being more about Takaa himself. It's impossible not to smile as he falls in love, has his heart broken, and bravely blunders on. I suspect that, looking back at this essay, Takaa at age 30 will be mortified. One hopes by age 40 he will rediscover its credulous charm.

The real meat of the collection follows Takaa's piece. The final nine essays are the best reason to buy this collection. The essays in the first half are a little erratic in style and quality, and are not always written with the engaged furry reader in mind. There are no such concerns with what follows: five essays on various topics by furry writers, plus by four excellent essays by the scientists of the IARP.

I hope readers of this piece, and of course the writers themselves, will forgive me if I quickly gloss over the five furry pieces. There is one on art by Zambuka, one on music by Roo, one on fursuiting by Keefur, and one each on conventions by Corvin Dallas & Zantal Scalie. They are all well worth your time, and it's this part that really demonstrates the impressive collection of writers Thurston has attracted. There is real breadth and depth in these pieces. I will make special mention of the piece on music by Roo (who also chairs Camp Feral and runs the Fuzzy Notes Podcast) - it's a terrific read, the work of someone with no small writing talent.

The final four pieces are written by the four PhDs who make up the core of the International Anthropormorphic Research Project. There is a short essay by Dr Kathy Gerbasi, who was the primary author on the first formal scientific paper on furries back in 2007, which serves as an introduction to the IARP.

This is followed by a long essay by Nuka, aka Dr Courtney Plante (aka occasional [adjective][species] contributor), giving a comprehensive review of the data he and the IARP team have gathered over the past decade or so. Nuka draws heavily on his discussions already published on the IARP website, so there may not be much value if you're a student of his work there. If not, this is a terrific review of the current state of furry science. It suffers a little in comparison with what Nuka has published on the IARP website as his Furries Among Us essay doesn't include any figures, but it is still both readable and comprehensive.

Dr Stephen Reysen's essay looks at furry from a social identity perspective. This is another terrific piece, full of sharp insights into furry, backed up by research and written in an approachable fashion. Of all the essays collected in Furries Among Us, this was the one I personally found to be the most rewarding. It offers a disinterested perspective on furry values, and the psychology of our group membership. In many ways it echoes Hypetaph's earlier essay on the genesis of furry community norms, but from an "outside" rather than inside perspective.

Finally, Dr Sharon Roberts has a piece on furry's status as a stigmatized group. She takes a different tack from her fellow scientists, writing a personal story instigated by the question "How do you know that furries are marginalized?".

Dr Roberts goes on to discuss a few public examples of furries in the media, and how furries sometimes get treated by outside groups. She contrasts this furries and furry behaviour, which she characterizes as fun, inclusive, and positive. But more interestingly, she tells the story of how she was won over by furries, starting with her first experience in late 2011.

It's pretty obvious that over the past four years or so, Dr Roberts has become protective of furries, and has become worried about our collective welfare. She is outraged by the lazy sexualization of furries in shows like American Dad and CSI ("Almost all the inclusion of furries in media and popular culture incorporates blatant sexual activity..."); she is quick to liken the chlorine incident at last year's MFF to terrorism ("...chlorine gas is a banned substance for use in war"); she thinks that furries are treated poorly on Second Life ("...reminiscent of the Holocaust..."); she feels that her research is trivialized by the scientific community ("I was being dismissed potentially because of the nature of the topic..."). It's nice to feel cared for I guess, but it does feel like she senses more danger than is actually apparent. Or that she wants to give furries a big hug to keep the bad man away. Or to put it another way: it's okay mum, we're old enough to cross the road and play in the park on our own. But thanks for caring!

Dr Roberts's piece is a fitting conclusion to a fine collection of essays. It will leave you with a smile on your face.

In general, any criticisms I've offered in this review are dwarfed by the quantity and quality of writing on offer. Furries Among Us is, ultimately, a dense, deep and readable exploration of the furry community.