(upbeat music) - Dressing up as a cartoon animal might seem silly, but to some, it's the perfect temporary escape.
Welcome to the furry fandom.
(soft elegant music) A furry is someone who likes anthropomorphic or human-like animals.
Think Bugs Bunny or just about any Disney animated movie.
In the furry fandom, you get to create the character that you play, rather than being the identity you are given at birth.
However, not everyone understands the fascination with anthropomorphic animals, and many outside of the furry fandom are judgemental or carry negative misconceptions about furries.
- The way they talk about furries is so, like, they say it with disgust, almost.
- So furries are misunderstood by many.
How do they protect each other?
That's exactly what I wanna find out in this episode.
I'm gonna meet with furries and furry researchers to better understand what it means to be a furry.
(elegant music) Meet Sprynx, a furry living in the Bronx.
She's known on TikTok as "Boogiedownfur," and uses her platform to correct misconceptions people might hold about furries.
- Yeah, so my name is Amanda, I'm 26, and this is my girl, Sprynx, and we are BoogieDownFur.
People see a furry and they're like, "Oh, she," like you said, "She's gotta be a deviant," for a lack of better words.
The fandom is mostly about creating a safe space for, you know, like I said, those who wanna explore parts of themselves that they don't normally feel comfortable exploring or that just wanna have fun or that are into the art.
(upbeat music) - Even though the furry fandom is a fun hobby for many, there's still a lot of people on the outside that don't understand it.
In the world of furry, you aren't strapped down to the person you were born as.
You get to create the character you want to be.
This is called your fursona.
Many furries wear elaborate costumes called fursuits and at conventions, furries without a fursuit will wear badges that display their fursonas proudly.
To get a broader perspective of furry, I talked to Dr. Sharon Roberts, a sociologist who studies the fandom with the FurScience project.
- Go to a convention and the first thing that you're asked is what do you want your badge name to be?
Most furries don't have fursuits.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- It's about 25% of the fandom that has one.
- In the furry fandom, people don the characteristics of the animal characters they're playing.
For many who struggle with communication, a fursona can ease the burden.
Your fursona helps signal to others how you'd like to be treated.
For example, if I'm a nervous person that likes head pats, I can present as a shy or bashful puppy.
Your fursona can also help you experiment with new character traits that you might be too shy to try in your human form.
- Like, when I put my fursuit on, some part of me inside that I just can't express normally for whatever reason, whether it be fear of judgment or just my anxiety won't allow me 'cause like, you know, I'm just, I'm a very timid person, but I'm also really extroverted.
(upbeat music) - Use the fursona to engage in conversations with each other.
So for those who are shy, you know, those who are autistic, this becomes a really good point of being able to communicate in ways that are socially supported.
(upbeat music) - I do feel that, you know, people get more curious about it because everyone has thought at some point, "Oh, what would I be if I was an animal?"
I have had this conversation - Like, it's a normal thought.
so many times, like, - Yeah.
- "What animal would you wanna be?"
Like, just that question.
Like, that's, and that's where it starts.
- I've asked that to people all the time and I've thought about that all the time of like, "Ooh, maybe I wanna be something that flies because how great would it be to fly?"
Like, we can't fly as humans.
I've been fascinated by the furry world for a long time and I decided I want to try creating a fursona of my own but I had no idea where to start.
So I wanna create my own fursona.
- Can you, like, give me some tips?
- Honestly, that comes with what animal you choose.
I feel like I like to go off of, like, what animals I pick.
So, like, a fox and a lynx creating a fynx.
Like, it would have the silly, quirky nature of a fox but also have the cunning and like attitude of a cat and a lynx.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- I've always had some goth tendencies and I've long been drawn to the mystique of fuzzy bats.
- Oh, I love bat fursuits!
- Be able to fly.
- Hmm, a rave bat.
If it's a rave bat, it's either Bass, the bat.
- [Josef] Yeah.
I love to draw so I spent my Saturday working on my fursona.
Creating a fursona to embody was too much fun.
The creative potential is limitless.
(upbeat music) Today, a majority of furries identify as LGBTQ and since its beginnings, the fandom has been a safe space for the LGBTQ community.
- They are 85% LGBTQ, a quarter to a third transgender, you know, bullied at proportions that are twice the rate of population levels.
You know, these are marginalized and vulnerable people who are sticking up for each other.
- Because the furry fandom is such a safe space, and it's a very anonymous space at that too, because when you're in suit or when you're online, it's mostly just your character online so like, people don't have, like, pictures of themselves as a profile, you know what I mean?
- [Josef] Yeah.
It's their character.
I think it's just a safety thing.
I think it's just a, you know, they feel comfortable.
- The furry fandom branched off from the Sci-Fi convention circuit during the 1980s and, with the growth of the internet, the fandom has continued to grow.
(crowd murmuring) - I don't think it's a bad thing that the furry fandom has a reputation that makes vulnerable people wanna be a part of the group.
Word gets out.
I think the fandom may grow in that way, in that way as well.
- Now, furries across the world yap, yowl, and squeak about all their favorite anthropomorphic animals.
Both online via social media and in-person at conventions.
I've even befriended many furries in the virtual reality spaces I've been exploring for Subcultured.
Well, I guess I wanted to start talking about how you knew that you are a furry.
How did you discover the world and then how did you know that you were, wanted to be a part of it?
- I actually was furry before I knew about the furry fandom.
We end up creating our own characters, sort of role-playing as them, and then we find out, "Hey, there's a bigger community out there."
- What are the biggest misconceptions that you think the public has about furries?
- A lot of people think furry is about fetishes.
- Furries actually think that other furries are more into the sexual components and the pornographic components of the furry fandom than they actually are.
- I do wanna make sure that we correct misconceptions that are commonly held.
So if that is a big misconception, that people kind of overestimate the amount of sex in the furry fandom, then I think that's important to know.
- Some of these factors get a lot of attention in the media.
I'm not, you know, I'm not saying, suggesting that that's not a thing that, that it never happens but the people that we've studied, and we have studied over 40,000 furries from 70 different countries, so, you know, can you find instances of it?
Sure, and what happens between consenting adults is consenting adults' business.
- [Josef] Yeah.
- But I, that does not represent the vast majority of the fandom.
- It's possible that this misconception of furries has come from early portrayals of the fandom in media.
For example, in 2001, Vanity Fair published an article that focused on the sexual aspects of the furry community.
A few years later, a popular CSI episode called, "Fur and Loathing," was released that portrayed a group of furries in a sex scene.
Today, furries are negatively stigmatized by the public and they face threats of violence online.
(calm music) Furries have been targeted by anti-furry groups that harass them.
It's not hard to find furry hate pages on social media and posters on sites like 4chan and Something Awful have organized trolling efforts against furries.
Furries face danger in-person too.
In 2014, a suspected chlorine gas attack sent 19 Midwest FurFest attendees to the hospital.
Police investigators said the gas may have been released intentionally and while no suspects have been found, Chicago police say they still consider a criminal investigation.
- We generally keep an eye on their, the chat rooms of hate groups.
So we have to watch hate group chats 24/7, pretty much all the time for years and years and years.
Furries have been doing this since dial-up internet.
It is funny that furries have to watch hate groups but hate groups have tried to ruin furry events for decades.
It's crazy, but, yeah, furries are very protective of their friends because, generally, furries have chosen the community as their family and we don't want our family to get hurt.
- This information about furries has spread across social media sites.
A Nebraska lawmaker even fell for one rumor when he claimed that schools were providing litter boxes for children that self-identified as animals.
- That a student identified as a cat and wanted a litter box, the school didn't provide the litter box, so the student went and defecated on the floor.
- [Josef] Later, Bostelman contacted the school districts and the district leaders confirmed the rumor was not true.
Bostelman apologized for publicizing a false story.
Because furries face stigmatization and are misunderstood by many, the furries I talk to say it's important for the community to protect each other.
- When it comes to the fandom and stuff, like, it's really such a safe space and that's why we protect it so hard because, you know, we're dealing with, you know, sensitive people.
- The big things that aren't tolerated are, generally, harming others, abuse, that's not tolerated.
So abuse, whether it's physical or verbal harassment, is generally not tolerated at all.
Bigotry is certainly not tolerated because it goes against the core values of furry, trying to be your true self.
- I feel like it's not my place to judge anybody, especially since I'm a furry, like, that's as, that's as weird as it gets in terms of the eyes of the public.
- The furry fandom is growing fast.
Fursuiters are spotted in more countries all the time and some hope that this will help reduce the negative stigma furries face.
For a long time, furries have been misunderstood by media and the public but the furries I've talked to are hoping to change that so more people can feel safe, having fun how they want to.
(upbeat music) If you've been enjoying exploring subcultures with me, I'm sure you're going to love the newest show in the PBS family, "America Outdoors Understory," with Baratunde Thurston.
It's a show that explores the unique way people interact with the natural world.
In it, you're gonna meet everyone from surfing scientists to fossil hunters.
So check out the link in the description and don't forget to tell them that Subcultured sent you.