Review by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
The Growth of a Subculture
One of the marks of maturity is a growing capacity for self-reflection. When we are children, we act without thinking, completely in the moment. We just exist. It’s only as we get older that we start to question what it means to be who we are and why we do what we do. This trajectory of growth holds as true for societies as it does for individuals. Thus, I take it as an encouraging sign that books like Furries Among Us 2 are out there.
This current title is the second in what I hope will be a series of non-fiction essay collections about the furry fandom. The first volume appeared in 2015 and contained an eclectic mix of essays by authors, artists, and social scientists. The 2017 volume contains a similar mix of authors, but seems much more focused on questions relating to the furry subculture and identity. The essays by non-scholars (with perhaps one exception) all maintain a high tone, while the essays by scholars are quite readable rather than being jargon-heavy.
Here’s a brief rundown of the contents:
Televassi writes a fascinating essay based on the theories of Michel Foucault in his “The Importance of Being Seen.” He posits a theory that furry fandom creates a space in which furries can be seen for who they are in a safe environment. This opening essay finds echoes throughout the collection, as it raises questions of concealing and revealing identities. While furries may seem to hide behind their fursonas, within the furry subculture they find a place where they feel most truly themselves.
Patch’s essay on “The Furclub Movement” traces the history of regular furry dances in several communities. He relates his personal experiences with furclubs, and goes on to note how these regular events are safe places for furries and how the venues are often connected with the gay club scene. His thoughts on why furclubs are thriving connect back to the questions of identity at the heart of the collection.
More tongue-in-cheek is the in-fursona interview with Facebook furry celebrities Jesus Fox and Satan Fox. The first part of the interview gives one example of how furry fandom interrelates with social media, while the second half, when the fursonas are dropped, returns to issues relating to furry fandom and individual acceptance.
Makyo’s essay “Gender: Furry” looks at how self-exploration of gender and involvement in furry fandom can intersect, especially as seen through the author’s own experiences. Furry fandom provides a safe environment in which questions of gender and sexual orientation can first be articulated.
Mary Lowd’s “Am I Furry?: Fandom Vs. Genre” in some ways is a plug for furry fiction as a genre, but perhaps that’s to be expected from one of the premier writers of furry fiction. Yet it does again touch on the main theme of furry identity inasmuch as it looks at the question of how writing furry fiction and belonging to the furry subculture may or may not intersect.
Phil Geusz, another prolific furry fiction author, writes “Furries and Science Fiction, Or...From the Very Beginning, We Were There.” This essay reads mostly as advice to furry writers on grounding their works in credible speculation. Yet by calling authors to examine and determine why there should be furries in a story at all still touches the meaning of furry identity, here in the world of a specific story.
Bill Kieffer’s “TF=Transformation” is simultaneously an examination of transformation as a genre and its relation to the furry fandom as well as a moment of self-reflection on the part of the author. This essay has one of the greatest lines in the entire book: “Sure, sometimes TF is just thinly disguised torture porn...but then there are days when I can say the same thing about real life.”
That grayest of graymuzzles, the venerable Fred Patten continues his essay from the first volume of Furries Among Us with his “History of Furry Publishing II.” This reflection on the current state of furry publishing seems the furthest from the theme of identity. But because furry fandom is so strongly connected to the creation and consumption of furry art and stories, examining the state of publishing is a way of reflecting on the state of the subculture.
The last four essays in the book are all contributed by members of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, a group of social scientists studying furry fandom. Many (if not all) of the researchers are themselves furries, yet they work within the restrictions of their individual disciplines, giving these essays a unique insider/outsider perspective on the furry subculture. While each essay lists a primary author, in the tradition of scientific papers, footnotes also list contributing co-authors. These notes highlight the interrelations between the research of all members of the IARP.
“‘It Just Clicked’: Discovering Furry Identity and Motivations to Participate in the Fandom” by Dr. Stephen Reysen in some ways is a justification for using social science to examine furry fandom. His research on why furries became furries is fascinating, showing again the strong overlap between the furry subculture and journeys of self-discovery. For many furries, their exposure to the fandom simply gives them a name to what they were all along.
Dr. Sharon Roberts examines the so-called “post-con depression” among furries in her essay “The Highs, The Lows, and Post-Con Depression.” Her research into positive emotions during furry conventions certainly touches on issues of identity and belonging that lie at the heart of the collection as a whole.
Dr. Courtney Plante’s “Say It Ain’t So: Addressing and Dispelling Misconceptions About Furries” is perhaps the only essay in this collection written for those outside the furry subculture. In dispelling five common misconceptions, Dr. Plante delves more deeply into who exactly furries are and why they do what they do. The section of misconceptions within the furry fandom itself is also welcome reading.
Drs. Kathleen Gerbasi and Elizabeth Fein round out the essay collection with their introduction to the “furry-adjacent” subcultures of Therians and Otherkin with their study “Furries, Therians and Otherkin, Oh My! What Do All Those Words Mean, Anyway?” One of the things the study shows is how members of these differently defined subcultures discovered their own identity within the furry fandom.
As a writer of stories that sometimes are furry who has only recently self-identified in public as a furry, I found Furries Among Us 2 to be a fascinating read. I think furries will take it as an invitation to reflect on their own identity as it relates to the fandom. But anyone interested in questions of how subcultures relate to self-identity and self-actualization will find these essays an interesting read.