A Second Life

07 Mar 2016 |

Furry life is real life, kinda.

Ever had a furry friend disappear? That doesn't happen in real life.

It's an important event when someone close to you, non-furry, dies. Friends and family gather and mourn and celebrate and reflect on the life of the person they've lost. If the deceased was young, people lament the life that will never be lived. If the deceased is old, people talk about the value and brevity of a full life.

Celebrating life and death is important, and it's something that is often denied to the furry friends of the deceased. Let's say that I, your humble furry author, slip on some ice on Harleyford Street's sloping pavement and get struck by an aggressively-driven number 36 bus this Thursday morning. You, gentle furry reader, will probably find out about this over social media a few days later.

You and I have a relationship, even if it's only through you reading my words here on [adjective][species]. You will read about my death, just like we have all read about the deaths of other furries, and it'll feel like I've been snuffed out without any opportunity for you to meaningfully participate in any sort of mourning process. Maybe you'll read some comments here on [a][s], maybe you'll have a quick scan through my Twitter feed or my Weasyl to see what I was doing or thinking in my last hours of life. You'll probably feel downhearted, in particular for those people closest to me.

In the non-furry world, any vague acquaintance or family member will be able to participate in mourning my death. Someone with a distant relationship will be able to attend my funeral, pass on condolences directly and meaningfully, and be surrounded by other people who are sharing the experience. They will be able to process how a sudden death affects their relationship with life, and understand how it affects other people.

Mourning, even for a distant acquaintance, can be a valuable process.

Of course, all those non-furry acquaintances will only be celebrating a subset of my life. I have a second life, my furry life, and while the two lives intersect, that intersection is far from complete. The separation between those two lives means that furry friends immediately become second-class when someone dies.

It's not just death of course. There are other life events that can only occur once, where furries must be either integrated or excluded: weddings, births, graduations, that sort of thing.

The need or desire to integrate one's furry and non-furry lives drives many people to "come out" as a furry, to their friends and/or family. It's often especially important for young people who aren't independent from their parents - it's tough to hide a big part of your life if you don't have full control. This is often easier said than done, because—by normal societal standards—furry is weird.

I have heard Anthrocon chairman Uncle Kage advise young furries against "coming out". To the best of my recollection, and I'm paraphrasing, his point is that if you treat furry like it's something controversial, then it'll seem controversial. Yet furry social structures can be different enough from non-furry life to be exactly that.

Furry relationships tend to transcend barriers that exist in the non-furry world. We get to know one another via a furry animal-person identity. And although our furry identities aren't physically real, I believe that they are—ironically—a more honest and true representation of ourselves. Out there in our non-furry life, relationships only begin once we've sized one another up on the basis of social structures like class, race, gender, age, and affluence.

Our relative disregard for these social barriers is one of the best things about our furry life, but it's also something that makes furry relationships seem weird or controversial to outsiders. Your furry friends probably don't look like your non-furry friends. When you introduce your furry and non-fury friends to one another, those social barriers will be firmly back in place, and there is a real risk that the two groups won't get along.

A lot of furry takes place online, of course, but little changes when we socialise in meatspace. Furry is still weird, and this is in contrast with other relationships that begin on the internet—perhaps online dating or fandoms—because these relationships aren't forged in the unique furry social crucible.

The perils of being open about weirdness will be familiar to many of us, be that for unusual gender expression, or geeky interests, or sexual behaviour. It's a terrible compromise to make, between being openly and genuinely yourself, and meeting the social expectations of others. And it's worse that those people who fit comfortably in the mainstream often don't understand the problem - they can be unable or unwilling to consider what it's like to be a bit different.

If you are open about your furry life then a lot of new topics are on the table. The social structure of furry is complicated enough, but of course anyone with more than a passing curiosity will quickly learn about conventions, fursuits, and—of course—sex and pornography. These topics might—might—be okay with some close non-furry friends but are unlikely to be respected by a bigoted uncle. And of course furry can become fuel for gossip, and your message of furry fellowship can not be controlled in the face of rumourmongering and CSI episodes.

Many furries eventually come to some sort of uneasy compromise, where they are openly furry around a small subset of close friends and family, and share their non-furry social spaces with a small subset of their furry group.

This works well... most of the time. When something important happens, like death, our furry life is demoted to second-class status.

Worse is that we often never know what has happened when a furry friend disappears. There are a lot of reasons it may have happened: some furries leave the fandom, some change their furry identity, and some get hit by the number 36 bus. In many cases the reasoning is never shared online, and an awful lot of furs don't many other furries in the offline world.

We asked this question—how many furries do you know in person?—on the Furry Survey up until 2013:

A huge proportion of furries know no other furries at all in person. Many of these furs will be young and/or live in isolated areas that make meeting close furry friends (temporarily) untenable. If something happens to one of these furries, the rest of may never know why. They will just disappear.

Grief is an important part of life. We furries rarely get the chance to properly acknowledge a death, and celebrate a life. Our friends and lovers and partners can simply fade away over time, in limbo, never quite gone and never to return.

With thanks to Jason from Marfed.