Furries — people with an interest in anthropomorphized animals, like Sonic the Hedgehog or Pokémon — have come in for a lot of ridicule over the years from posters on sites like Something Awful and 4chan. Mainstream press accounts tend to portray furries as sexual fetishists united by a common interest in sex in animal costumes.
But survey evidence suggests a lot of these stereotypes are wrong (very few furries think sex in animal costumes is a good idea, for instance). Here's a brief guide to the furry community, which hopefully can clear up some of these misunderstandings.
1) So being a furry means you run around in a fur suit all the time, right?
Fur-suiting and the furry community tend to be conflated in the popular press, but research by the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, which studies the furry fandom, suggests fur-suiters are a minority of that community.
A 2007 survey found that only 26.4 percent of respondents at a furry convention reported owning a fur-suit and 30 percent reported wearing one. A 2014 survey found that tails are the most commonly owned fur-suit component, with 48.1 percent of respondents at Furry Fiesta 2014 reporting owning a tail. Only 13 percent reported owning a full suit, while 34.3 percent reported wearing any clothing or accessories associated with their furry persona or "fursona" (more on that in a sec).
2) Is being a furry just a sexual fetish?
No, though, like with any other fan interest (video games, comics, etc.) there are sexual themes present. While sexual activity with other furries (known as "yiffing," after the sound foxes make during sex) is part of the subculture for some, others maintain a non-erotic interest in the subject.
Furries are typically subject to media portrayals that overemphasize the sexual aspect of the fandom, such as this bit from 30 Rock:
Furry Josh Strom explained to Boing Boing's Lisa Katayama, "We go to conventions to hang out with friends, maybe buy something like art or badges, go to a discussion panel or see a show. Swinger parties and fetishes are there, but that's not what the fandom is about." And the focus on sex in fur suits is particularly wrongheaded. For one thing, only a small minority of furries own full fur suits. For another, as Plante points out, "Nearly all fur-suiters will make it explicitly clear that sex in a fur suit is completely undesirable (not arousing, damaging to the suit, and not something they’re interested in doing)."
A survey at Furry Fiesta 2013 found that 96.3 percent of male respondents and 78.3 percent of female ones reported viewing furry pornography (which, it should be noted, is a broad category and typically quite similar to regular porn albeit with furry traits added); men reported looking at furry porn 41.5 times per month on average, while women reported looking 10.5 times per month.
But they also reported that most of their involvement in the fandom was non-sexual. Men reported spending 34 percent of their online roleplaying time on sexual content, and women reported spending only 21.4 percent. Nearly half of male furries, and a large majority of women, reported that sexual content played little or no role in their introduction to the fandom:
3) So what is a furry, then?
In the broadest sense, a furry is someone with an interest in anthropomorphized animals — that is, animals who have been given human characteristics, like an ability to talk or walk on their hind legs.
6) So being a furry isn't really about sex. What do furry fans actually do, then?
You can divide furry fan activities into online fandom and furry conventions. In each case, the analogy to science fiction and comic book fandoms is strong. Fan art is an important part of furry fandom, just as it is for comic book fans. A 2012 synthesis from the Anthropomorphic Research Project, looking at several surveys conducted online and in various conventions, found that the vast majority of the most popular furry sites are art-related. Many of those sites — like FurAffinity and SoFurry — also host furry-related fiction and music, and provide forums for fan discussion and community-building.
Conventions — which Plante says about half of furries attend on an annual or semiannual basis — create an in-real-life space for furries, many if not most of whom have met online, to hang out, and they also provide a way to talk to artists who are popular within the fandom. This is similar to how events like Comic Con let people talk to favorite movie directors and actors and comic artists. "It's like sci-fi fandom," Plante said. "If a fan is much more casual, it may be enough to buy the books and watch the movies. But for others, meeting JJ Abrams or meeting the voice actors from your favorite show is very meaningful."
Like fans in other communities, furries often report being bullied or ostracized in the past. "These conventions are the first places they could go to not be picked on for being into these comics or watching cartoons when they're no longer a kid," Plante said.
7) Are furries the same thing as bronies?
No, but they're not totally disconnected either. "Bronies" refers exclusively to fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; originally it only referred to male fans but the definition has been broadened in practice. Bronies share one basic commonality with furries: they're interested in anthropomorphized representations of animals. The 2012 survey synthesis found that nearly a quarter (23.5 percent) of furries identify as bronies. This wasn't the result of a brony "invasion" of furrydom, the results suggest, but rather a development of interest in the show by pre-existing furries.
About half of furries consider bronies a subgroup of furrydom; another 28 percent say they're related but not a subset, and 22 percent say there's no connection at all. There's a substantial degree of enmity toward bronies among furries as a whole, with 38 percent expressing negative views toward them compared to 36 percent reporting positive feelings and 26 percent reporting indifference.
Interestingly, there were very few demographic differences between the furry and brony fandoms. "With only a few minor exceptions," the researchers conclude, "furries and bronies are relatively indistinguishable from one another beyond the differences in the content of their fandom."
8) What kind of people are furries?
Surveys suggest that furries are overwhelmingly male and white, are disproportionately likely to be gay, bi, or trans, and skew younger, with an average age in the mid-20s.
The 2012 survey synthesis estimated that 79.2 to 85.7 percent of furries at conventions were male, as were 78.3 to 84.6 percent of furries active online. A majority were atheist (44.36 percent) or agnostic (9.47 percent); 23.19 percent identify as Christian, 3.94 percent as Pagan, 1.91 percent as Wiccan, and 13.72 percent as "other."
Convention attendees were a bit older (24 to 27.1) on average than online furries (23 to 25.6) but in both cases the group skews quite young. Perhaps reflecting that, only 3.8 percent of furries have one or more children, according to survey evidence. Furries don't make significantly more or less money than the general US public and tend to be significantly more left-leaning politically. And they're much likelier than the public at large to report a non-straight sexual orientation, with well under 30 percent reporting exclusive heterosexuality:
A later study, conducted in early July 2014 at Anthrocon, found that almost 90 percent of respondents identified as white.
9) Do furries think they're animals?
It's complicated. About one in three furries report feeling not 100 percent human. A small fraction (8 to 14 percent) report meaning this in a physical sense, with many more stating they feel not fully human mentally or spiritually. About 38 to 53 percent report a desire to be 0 percent human, if they could be.
Furries and other people who identify as non-human in some substantial degree are known as "otherkin." "Therians" are otherkin who identify with, in whole or part, an actually existing species that live or have lived on Earth (wolves are the most common). Some reserve the term otherkin for those identifying as fictional or fantastical creatures (dragons, vampires, etc.) while others use it as a catch-all term.
Some researchers have suggested that the existence of otherkin and therians suggest these people could have a "Species Identity Disorder," modeled after "Gender Identity Disorder," which is used by psychiatrists to classify trans people. (Many trans people argue that the classification of gender dysmorphia as a disorder is stigmatizing and counterproductive.) Critics have responded by arguing that the analogy obscures more than it enlightens.
That encompasses a wide spectrum, from people who are simply fans of TV shows and video games featuring anthropomorphic animal characters (like Sonic the Hedgehog or Pokémon), to people who develop a highly specific furry character ("fursona") they identify with, to "otherkin" who see themselves as not fully human on a spiritual or mental level.
Dr. Courtney "Nuka" Plante, a social psychologist at the University of Waterloo and member of the Anthropomorphic Research Project team, analogizes furries to other fan groups, like comic book enthusiasts or Trekkers. "It has its origins in the science fiction fandom," he said. "If you like comic books with characters who are like animals, or artwork with humans with animal traits, those would be considered forms of furry artwork."
4) What is a fursona?
A fursona is a "furry-themed avatar" which furries use "to represent themselves when interacting with other members of the fandom," according to a recent paper by social psychologist Plante and fellow Anthropomorphic Research Project members Dr. Sharon Roberts, Dr. Stephen Reysen, and Dr. Kathy Gerbasi. "Nearly every furry has a fursona," Plante said. "It's well into the high 90s — 97 or 98 percent."
Crafting a fursona involves picking an animal — real or mythical — to represent yourself as, or, less commonly, designing a new mythical animal for yourself. Fursonas typically have names and are often the inspiration for artwork or fiction, but the degree of investment in them can vary. "For many it's just a cutesy avatar to represent yourself to people," Plante said. "For others, it's much more deep and meaningful."
5) Can I get a music break?
Of course! In addition to visual artists and fiction writers, many furries are accomplished musicians who create work with furry themes or otherwise blend their musical interests into their fandom. Here's Bucktown Tiger, a furry pianist, performing a movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata at Anthrocon, the world's largest furry convention held in Pittsburgh every year, in 2010: