Remembering alt.lifestyle.furry is an essay in three parts. This is part one.
More than two decades ago, the furry community was one in which a small number of people created art and literature, and a greater number of people were the viewers and readers of those creations. A profound change began in Western societies with the rise of video games, active (e.g. MUCKs, and other such) and passive (e.g. newsgroups and websites, etc.) interaction on the internet, and an increase in science fiction-fantasy and non-traditional entertainment conventions that provided real-life interaction. From that change came the ability for the viewers and readers—the fans—to become more active participants in the cycle of content creation and content consumption. For many people the ability to publicly share with others their enthusiasm for furry art and literature was enough but another development was also underway. This development came fundamentally from the people who enjoyed what the content creators gave us, but who attached some serious personal importance, some profound emotional connection, to the furry art and literature. From this they began to create their own stories and characters.
On the internet, the establishment of the Usenet newsgroup alt.lifestyle.furry became a place where this new kind of furry enthusiast could gather. That newsgroup (which still exists and has some participation) was originally a group of furries who broke away from the alt.fan.furry newsgroup in 1996. They did so partly as the result of severely acrimonious discussions occurring there, but they were also motivated to have their own forum for the discussion of topics that were not purely related to furry fan subjects. Several furry authors have written accounts of the events of that time and this writer is grateful to them for their far-sighted efforts. Among these authors are Tirran and Petercat. Their archived webpage URLs may be found in a reference list at the end of this essay.
From the beginning, alt.lifestyle.furry was very active, often seeing ten or more posts per day. One feature of the Usenet system was the fact that people could label their posts to not be archived, thus making discussion threads that lack the original post, as we read them today. In my research I have had to infer from responding posts, which sometimes include quotations from the original, what was the message of the original writer. When people first entered the community of alt.lifestyle.furry they often posted what was known as the Furvey. This was a series of questions which helped them identify to others and themselves what they believed and experienced. Those questions could also provide a point for them to explain their remarkable experiences.
Some who found the alt.lifestyle.furry believed that they had indeed found a unique home for themselves and those like them. Postings to alt.lifestyle.furry appear to show that for some it became a significant event in their emotional and spiritual lives. Some of these stories were long and, if we take them as truthful, very revealing of their personal pains and failures, and their joy and success. Here are edited statements from several of them.
"It (alt.lifestyle.furry) used to be a place to talk about spiritualism and psychosis and veganism and our strange mental selves, without having someone give a Nelson*-like "ha-ha". Well, most of the time..." *from The Simpsons
"The most important thing alt.lifestyle.furry used to "stand for" was to find a refuge for many people who felt unidentified with "the furry fandom", who came here to gather other people like them. To make friends and share different points of view about the things they were interested on. To socialize, even electronically, and relax a little with people who will hear them. I do hope it will continue being this way. :) "
"...It's been a wonderfully beneficial thing for me: the group gives me an outlet that I have been needing for quite a while. Not just for furriness, because until my recent epiphany I had suppressed any thought along those lines, remembering my past feelings with winces of embarrassment. I had just about convinced myself I was mentally defective for wanting to be a furry.
But I have been aware for quite a while of needing an outlet to talk about serious matters that are very important to me: God, love, the meaning of life, and now that I realize I am a furry, furriness! . . .All these things you just can't talk about anywhere because no one wants to get into any heavy discussions. But the furriends in alf have a mutual desire to explore spiritual issues. It's thrilling! These are the kind of things that expand the mind and make the soul glad...Even when there are tears of pain and sorrow, there is still the underlying joy of friendship, of connecting with like-minded individuals. ALF is truly a blessing. "
"..Today tho, i want to just let you all know I am SO glad you're here! My world can be so depressing (yers any different?) It's such a great thing just to read the posts and see you here. I think "YES! They're still other humans (or whatever) like me! They're still ALIVE!" I could go on, but you have so eloquently articulated everything I feel. Like-This is HEALTHY- This is SPIRITUAL- This is where our souls meet- This is HOME..."
"No two of us are exactly alike, but we're all furry together and we all recognise some deep inexpressable kinship. It's enough for someone to say they are furry, or to say 'this is part of my furriness.' That's all we need here."
". . . you all, in your wisdom and kind words to each other, have provided me with a road to walk on, and a way to express myself without ridicule or scorn. It will be difficult, but it was not until now that I had the courage to really let myself go. Knowing I have friends to turn to in the inevitable moments of doubt and despair in my journey is the most comforting thought I have. "
Let us not make the mistake of thinking that alt.lifestyle.furry was a continuous Shiny Happy Furhug. They were still subject to the emotions of any other humans, and some of them felt the pain of existence and asked the group for advice and consolation. Here, edited from the much longer account, is one such story and responses.
"I know I haven't been seen much around here lately, but you furs are the only ones I know of that might understand. The problem seems so ordinary that I feel embarrassed just bringing it up, but one of my dreams last night left me reeling, like nothing I've ever felt. I can't even say it was a furry dream. It was midwinter, and I was driving through a city where all my friends had left me behind. Somehow, though, the streets and the people were suffused with this strange warmth that made me feel welcome--lonely still, but somehow connected with everything. There was an old filk song on the radio, one about lost dreams, and it was still on my lips when I awoke.
There's a reason I'm sitting here like an scared kid, telling this to a bunch of near-strangers, or at least I hope there is. Last night I had something touched within me that I still don't understand, at all. It's a feeling of emptiness, like touching your tongue to the place where a baby tooth has just fallen out, an intuition that something should be there when it's not. There's a longing somewhere in me that words always seem to just miss. It's a longing for a place where I don't feel so alienated from people and events, but it's not really a place. . .
I still find it in my dreams. Sometimes, late at night when sleep-deprivation has stripped away all our psychological defenses, I find it talking with my closest friends, furry and otherwise. . . But not in large enough doses to find relief. . .
Sometimes I worry about my place on ALF. When the legendary post-CF8 flamewars broke out on AFF and guided me here, I thought I'd finally found my spiritual home. But somehow it just never came to be. . . maybe it's because I take myself too seriously. . . The problem is, I'm not sure where else I can go to talk about these things. There's something about the way that I look at life and love that's very different from most humans, and I think that goes for some of you, too. I want to understand what it is that sets us apart, at least so we can recognize and support each other before Creeping Mundanity devours any more of us...
… So in other words, the ambient weirdness level around here has gotten dangerously low. Could anyfur lend me a little of their own until I can pay them back?"
N received some supportive replies. . .
"What happens? What happens when the euphoria of finding this place wears off? Become jaded? Drop your usual furry hang outs? Tear down the furry things you've built for yourself? Why must this loneliness take place? Is this a part of maturing as a furry? Can you decide to STOP being furry when you fulfilled a need you had for so long? Is it like a maturing phase, where you come to grips with your past and present, realizing now you can go on? Have I asked these questions of myself? Yes. I want to cite two occasions of where I doubted going on in this furry world, and worked through each one. I hope they help.
When I got the internet, all I had known for twenty two years was that I wanted something I didn't know if I'd ever get, but kept hope. I had fantasies that someday I'd find a way to meet people just like me who lived their lives , had friends and just so happened to believe they were not completely human. I got alone on a computer late one night at a school I worked for. I searched things I never thought I'd have a chance too. In that one night the sun came up in my dark world. Here is the line quoted from the Werewolf and Shapeshifters Handbook that affected me the most in realizing I was not alone: "Part of me is a dog, or closer to Dog than to Man, but it is only part of me, albeit a big part. I am the sum of all my parts and I would not deny either side, human or canine."
"Yup, I could see clearly now, the skies were blue. In two weeks I had the net running at home. Through those webpages, I found furry, and Yiffnet and that's where, I started to be "furry"."
"Unhun. The mist of the dreamworld melts away under the merciless sun. That's why you need to make your nest afresh each day. When you can visualize it in a heartbeat, then you know your safe place, and your wellspring, are safe from the corroding effect of the real world and all its mundanity. That alone can leach the wellspring dry. Keep in contact with your inner source and contact with others of a like mind. They can feed you and you them with a force that can help hold the worst ravages of the real world at bay. Come visit Homestead more often, N. That also may be where you get that warm feeling that you're connected with everyone...
So we accept that we are and move on with it. And posting or e-mailing does help to make those webs stronger and give us support. That mundanity that you call Creeping Mundanity is a sort of spiritual bleakness that gives me shivers. It's what dries up my wellspring of creativity. Extreme stress gives the Creeping Mundanity the ability of blanketing me with a smothering that I fight against instinctively."
And sometimes the responses came in the form of roleplaying. . .
"(Suddenly, N is poinked by an acorn from above. He looks up, annoyed. High in the oak is a vulpan with a big, friendly grin and a cheery wave. He scales down to a large sitting branch near the ground.)
"Then maybe you need to realize light and friendly is a good thing! We're willing to listen and help but you need to learn to relax."
(S offers a seat on the branch. There's a cool, pleasant breeze.)
(quote: The problem is, I'm not sure where else I can go to talk about these things. . .)
" Hey! Right here is fine! I think a lot of us do share similar feelings of isolation and loneliness. Something about walking around a tranquil landscape talking to people seeing themselves as fur lets us open up to each other. I'll be the first to admit I talk too much about my personal life here!
(quote: So in other words, the ambient weirdness level around here has gotten dangerously low. Could anyfur lend me a little of their own until I can pay them back?)
(N turns back to S and is surprised to see him dressed as some swashbuckling scoundrel.)
"Ha-har! I got plenty ta spare! I'm off for world domination in the name of all things furry! Come on along and tell me your tale!"