by Phil Geusz
©2006 Phil Geusz
Ive long been sensitive to the issue of how furries are presented in the media. My teeth clenched in anger at the notorious Vanity Fair article; I winced at what I saw on CSI; and worst of all, I was physically present (and doing all I could to get people to refuse to sign releases) when parts of the infamous MTV special were filmed. People very close to me have found themselves the subjects of headlines merely for being associated with furry fandom, and have found themselves the butt of morning disc-jockey jokes as well. All in all, I hate what the media is doing to things furry, and I oppose needless fandom exposure to klieg lights whenever and however I can.
That said, I was somewhat surprised recently when a friend sent me a link to a web page promoting a furry-themed play. S4TYR PL4Y, it was called, and it was scheduled for two showings in Memphis, which is not so very far away from my home. The art on the playbill featured a traditional half-goat satyr figure, and the text suggested that the play was heavily-based on the furry chat-room experience. Several of us passed the link around to each other, and eventually (despite a significant snowstorm) three of us were able to actually attend S4TYR PL4Y.
No one had warned us ahead of time that the play was not only about furries, but about zoophiles, as well. The play was twin-tracked, in that it switched back and forth from one plotline to another. The overriding common theme for both plot-arcs was the search for the proper relationship between the sexually odd and society as a whole.
Id actually considered wearing a furry-themed t-shirt to the play; three minutes into the performance, I was thanking the heavens that I had not. While playwright/director Brett Hanover, an eighteen-year-old of no small talent, was very careful to never actually equate furrydom with bestiality in his work, the presence of both subjects in a common setting was a clear message in and of itself; while the supportive and intimate (and sometimes even humorous) nature of furry chatrooms was well-portrayed, the bestiality plot-track would have been deeply unsettling even had it not been part of a purportedly furry work of art.
Brett himself is not a furry, though hes attended Mephit FurMeet, one of my own favorite cons. I encountered the fandom a little less than a year ago, he explained to me in an e-mail interview. He also says that hes spent a lot of time in furry chatrooms, and has visited all kinds of furry sites. (Much to my surprise, I found that hed even read some of my own stories.) Brett also has several friends who are furs. This is not exactly the profile of someone out to make furs look bad.
So how did furries come to share a stage with zoophiles? Ill let Brett speak for himself.
How did I come to connect the two? Well, to be frank, there is a rather obvious connection. Zoophiles and furries (at least sexual furs), are the only two groups with animal related attractions. But hold on, let me explain what I mean. Its pretty obvious that the incidence of zoophilia among furries is the same as in any other groupthe two do not go hand in hand. But at the same time, both groups place erotic qualities in things that are distinctly non-human: tails, muzzles, sheaths. Furries anthropomorphize (to the point where the attraction is usually based on the human attributes), and zoos dont. Keep in mind that Im only talking about a certain group of furs. Im well aware that a large portion of the fandom wants nothing to do with this stuff. But heres the fascinating thing, and why my my play is in the form of an ancient Greek satyr play: such an openness, a willingness to accept man as an animal (zoo) or endow him with the traits of animals (fur), hasnt existed since ancient times. Sure, theres nothing neoclassical about the rather cartoony aspects of the culture, but the points the same. The Greeks have legends of bestialityZeus as the swan, etcand performances celebrating anthropomorphic sexuality. So basically, while I would never say the two cultures are actually related, they do share thematic similarities. Suggesting this to either group as fact would be absurd, but in a modern version of a satyr play, they are natural themes.
(It should be pointed out here that in Greek theatrical tradition, a satyr play is a very distinct and formalized branch of drama, with a well-defined form and structure. After a long day of tragedies, a satyr play was staged to lighten the spirit of the audience and end the series of performances on a pleasant note. Satyr plays were traditionally ribald and highly sexually-charged, and featured a formal chorus. In this example of the artform, ear-wearing chatroom furries comprise the URL and IRC code-chanting chorus.)
Brett, whose last work was a film documentary on Timecube.com creator and internet celebrity Gene Ray entitled Above God, seems to possess an artistic hunger to explore the bizarre or forbidden, and how they connect to the mainstream world. S4TYR PL4Y was derived from a failed film on the same subjects. Upon encountering furry on the internet, Brett says he had what he suspects is a typical reaction. Holy shit, since when does this exist!? Its always odd to find a large group of people doing something totally unique, and more or less off the radar. While its not for me, I was fascinated with the fact that this whole culture had come into being, and the entire world it created for itself. It was a natural thing to explore.
It was a natural thing, I suppose. As a minor-league literary artist myself, I find this sentiment totally understandable. Laudable, even. And perhaps indicative of great things to come. For there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that someday the world will be hearing more of Brett Hanover. Whatever one thinks about the actual content of S4TYR PL4Y, it was brilliantly conceived, original, and well-executed. Brett displayed a degree of subtlety that many adults twice his age could rightly be proud of, from lighting his stage only with computer monitors to arranging for his choir to wear black ears, so that they only showed up in the eerie monitor-shadows the actors cast on the wall behind them. I dont use the word prodigy lightly, but this work was far beyond anything I could have written or even conceived at Bretts age. And I was seen as a pretty promising kid myself.
Thats the bottom line for me, I think. While part of me wants very badly to kick and scream at the furry fandom being connected in any way whatsoever with bestiality in a public forum, at the same time I have to recognize that this was a legitimate work of art, not a documentary. The playwright does not seek to mock us; instead, he wonders at us. Dont get me wrong hereIll always be glad that S4TYRs run will be limited to two showings in an obscure community theater. We dont need any more bad publicity. But I will not condemn Brett for having the courage to follow his artistic vision to wherever it takes him. After all, my own fiction has angered many individuals over the years.
Or my best fiction has, anyway.
So, I end this piece not condemning Brett, but rather hoping that as the years pass hell do more artistically with the fandom. We could do worse in showing our face to the world than being filmed through the lens of an honest young artist like him.
And, I would submit, if the images produced by an honest young artist are not to our liking, then perhaps instead of instinctively cursing the cameraman we need to question what it is that makes us so despise our own true faces.