"Geemo" is a friend of mine in furry fandom who's relatively local to where I am. He's in college now--which makes me feel old, of course. But the actual point of this is that he's taking some sociology-type class in which students are preparing reports on subcultures, and he picked furry fandom.
I find this kind of amusing--I'm not a big "furry fandom is a subculture" type, but in a sense any group that has its own economy qualifies as a subculture, from furries to goths to the leather scene to RVers. (The idea that he has anything in common with a retiree RV driver from New Jersey may be the one thing that scares a goth, but there you go.) Geemo asked me to do an e-mail interview with him about the "furry culture," and I thought I'd share my answers with journal readers here. For those who are furry fans (or who aren't but have morbid curiosity), it's a good insight into my history with the fandom and my take on things past and present.
When and how did you become involved in this culture?
In 1986, I went to a science fiction convention in Tampa and was introduced to a comic called "Albedo Anthropomorphics" and was shown a few "fanzines," fan-produced magazines, featuring similar characters. "Albedo" was an adult comic book not in the X-rated sense but rather in the "written for adults" sense--it just happened to be using talking animal characters. In 1987, I ended up getting a bit more involved after calling an old computer bulletin board I used to use and discovering it was run by one of the people who put a "furry" fanzine.
What does it mean to you? Is it a hobby? A lifestyle? What?
It's somewhere between "lifestyle" and "hobby." In furry fandom, "lifestyle" has developed bad connotations (the stereotype being that "lifestylers" are people who really want to be anthropomorphic animals or even think they already are), but any hobby can influence your lifestyle--amateur astronomers plan vacations around seasons and locations they can find the darkest skies, photographers set up darkrooms.
What is the highlight of your involvement?
Generally I go to two "furry-specific" conventions a year, one in Northern California and one in Philadelphia. I'm mostly known for story writing; at one point, at least, I was the best-known writer in furry fandom. (This is kind of like being the best-known left-handed pool player in Des Moines--it's not that it's meaningless, but one should keep it in perspective.) In the early '90s I also co-produced a few issues of a fanzine that became a magazine and threatened to actually get national distribution--which contributed to its downfall, although that's a different story.
What are the people you associate with like?
It's a pretty wide cross-section, although generally they're people who don't think they're animals trapped in human bodies. Seriously, since I've been around in the fandom for about two-thirds of its existence and for years before it became a minor internet culture (or cult), most of the people I know came into the fandom through similar routes--finding comics, art, or writing produced by people trying to use "funny animals" in serious contexts. They're creative folks, often with quirky senses of humor, and I think most of them are fairly level-headed folks.
Where do you think this culture originated from?
As a melding of interests between people who liked funny animal cartoons and who'd gotten interested in the more serious animation coming out of Japan. Some of the people who held the first "furry parties"--gatherings at science fiction conventions--were also involved in starting the "Cartoon Fantasy Organization," the fan group that was instrumental in bringing Japanese animation to America.
What other cultures are involved in this one?
There's always been an undercurrent of interest in spiritual and mythological aspects of animal characters in the fandom, the idea that many of us have animals that we identify with. Beyond that, I'd say that there are intersection points with nearly any other subculture that partially defines itself as a "fringe" culture--which gets into an answer for a later question, I see.
What is your experience with 'outsiders' and how do they respond to your culture?
Personally, my experience has been relatively positive, but I don't really advertise myself as a "furry," either. Over the last few years furry fandom has been getting an increasing amount of media attention, but it's been focused almost exclusively on the fetish subcultures that intersect furry fandom rather than on furry fandom itself. Those of us who don't want to be known by fetishes--particularly ones which we don't even share!--are increasingly less likely to identify ourselves to outsiders as furries, and indeed, while five years ago I would tell coworkers that I was taking vacations to go to conventions that focused on comics and "funny animal" characters, now I'm more likely to just say they're science fiction conventions--the chance of someone saying "hey, are you a furry?" and drawing a lot of incorrect conclusions about just what I plan to be doing at that con has gotten a lot higher.
What would you say are some characteristics found among people you know in the culture?
As I mentioned above, there's that feeling of being in a fringe culture, which is often associated with a kind of outcast feeling--a fellowship created by a sense of shared banishment from the mainstream. Most furry fans are people who didn't quite "fit in" in high school, maybe for physical reasons, often for intellectual ones (reading for enjoyment marks you as a tremendous weirdo to everyone but your English teacher). This is true of nearly any subculture--all science fiction fandom, all comics fandom, roleplaying, computer geeks (although the definition of "geek" is changing as kids become more computer literate, I think), the whole goth subculture. So, I'd say that a lot of furry fans have characteristics that set them outside the mainstream. This isn't always a positive thing (many fans don't seem to have any respect for their health, and become aggressively self-deprecating when that's pointed out), but on the flip side, it's a lot easier to find people who can carry on long conversations about esoteric subjects.
Beyond this, it's easy to observe that furrydom has a high number of people involved in technical fields, and with a disproportionate involvement in things like alternative politics and charity work (predictably, particularly wildlife rescue charities).
How does the the fandom allow you to express yourself in ways that you can't elsewhere?
I'm not sure how to quantify that. Nearly all my friends are at least on the periphery of the fandom. Are we friends because of that, or are we friends because of the characteristics that also make the fandom interesting to us? The best answer might be that furry fandom has so far been the most receptive audience to the stories that I'm interested in telling, and in turn that's influenced the kind of stories that I write. (Paradoxically, I'd argue that the best thing about anthropomorphic animal characters for a writer is that they're great for exploring answers to questions about humanity.)
What influence does your culture have on the rest of your life? (i.e. job, school, family, relationships, spirituality, etc.)
None that I can really think of on my job, although someone I met through the fandom encouraged me to apply for the job that I held before the one I'm at now. As I've said, most of my friends are involved to some degree with the fandom, or are at least aware of it (and in some cases sardonically amused by it). As far as spirituality, I doubt I'd have become as interested in tribal cultures and totem animals without my involvement in furry fandom, and I do feel I have an affinity with certain kinds of animals--whether or not that qualifies as a "totem."
What is important to you?
That's an awfully broad question and I'm not sure how it relates to furry fandom, but I'll give it a go: finding my life's right work.
What have you gotten out of your experiences within this culture?
A lot of friends, an excuse to travel to other parts of the country, and a great deal of good practice in writing, editing and graphic design.
Are you a different person because of the influence of this culture or have you always been this way?
I've been involved with it to some degree or another for 15 years, so I'm certainly different now, and it's bound to be part of the experiences that have shaped me. I don't think it's possible to quantify just how.
...and that's the end of the interview.
Looking back, I'd intended to say something about a disproportionate number of furries involved with alternative lifestyles/sexuality (obviously not counting furry fandom itself as an "alternative lifestyle" in this case). I'd have pointed out that this probably isn't too uncommon among subcultures with that "outcast" seed, from goths to more old school fandoms. Don't be fooled into thinking furrydom is a unique den of depravity, the way the Burned Furs claim (if they're still around)--in literary sf fandom some fen used to track who was sleeping with who at cons using some variant of Venn diagrams during the '50s and '60s. Acerbic observation: the most unique thing about furry fandom, ultimately, is the deluded belief of both its devotees and detractors that it's unique among fandoms.
For those trying to put together the chronology I was using, I consider furry fandom to have started in the early '80s, when furry parties were first held at BayCon. I've heard some old(er) school fans claim to have been furries in the '70s. Well, in the sense of being fans of this stuff, sure, but I've never heard anything that suggests the word "furry" dates back before those parties.