by Quentin Cubist Long
©2005 Quentin Long
In all subcultures, its a perennial favorite pastime: Trying to define what, exactly, the subculture in question is all about. And, remarkably enough, the furry subculture is no exception. Fortunately, furries are a laid-back lot, by and large; aside from the occasional Burned Fur-like abberation, most people simply dont care whether or not anybody else shares their particular concept of furry. But every silver lining has a dark cloud! Unfortunately, this lack of a clear referent for the term furry means it can be difficult to talk about the subculture, because you can never be quite sure how well their concept of furry matches up with yours.
So: With the above said and acknowledged, Im going to take a stab at defining furry, and Ill start by shooting down some possibilities.
First: Furry is not a literary genre. I would have thought this to be obvious, but at least one person whose intelligence I respect (hi, Phil!) holds exactly the opposite view, so I suppose its best that I lay it out explicitly. When you say that a particular work of fiction belongs to Genre X, youve made a statement regarding what sort of plot elements, themes, etc, will or wont be found in that story. If a story belongs to the genre of Fantasy, its probably going to have working magic without anything resembling a contemporary level of technology; if the storys genre is Romance, it will include a strong love-interest focus without explicitly pornographic depictions of sexual activity; and so on, and so forth. Again: If someone tells you that Story X belongs to Genre Y, hes giving you some basic idea about what Story X is or isnt all about.
With that in mind, what can you say about a story if all you know is that its furry? Well not bloody much, frankly. Some furry stories have magic; others dont. Some have space travel; others dont. Some focus on convoluted interpersonal relationships; others dont. Some have high tech; others dont. Some have you get the point, I trust. When the rubber hits the road, the one and only thing you can tell about a furry story is that at least one of its major characters will be an animal with a nontrivial level of human characteristics! And that, quite simply, is not sufficient basis on which to define a genre. Really, you might just as well define human as a genre whose distinguishing characteristic is the presence of at least one human character! For that matter, why not declare that yellow is the name of the genre which consists of all stories in which the word yellow appears? All in all, the reason why furry is not a genre is quite simple: The word doesnt tell you anything about the story.
Second: Furry isnt a lifestyle. Granted, some fur-fen treat it as suchbut for every fur-fan who does do the lifestyle thing, there's at least 3 or 5 who dont. Show me a concept of furry which disqualifies more than 75% of all fur-fen, and Ill show you a concept of furry which is pretty much useless! We can say that all fur-lifestylers are part of furdom in general; we cannot say that all fur-fen are lifestylers.
Third: Furry aint no flavor of spirituality, neither. As with the lifestyle thing, all people whose spirituality includes a furry aspect can be regarded as part of furdom in general, but not all fur-fen have a spiritual aspect to their furriness. Therefore, spirituality cannot be a defining characteristic of furry.
Fourth: Furry isnt a synonym for artist, writer, or even creative person. Yes, there are many fur-fen who do possess artistic skill of one kind or another; but in strict accordance with Sturgeons Law, it must be acknowledged that there are many other fur-fen who couldnt write or draw their way out of a wet paper bag. Which doesn't make this latter group bad or inferior people, any more than Luciano Pavarottis inability to sing bass makes him bad or inferior, okay? [disgruntled muttering] Bloody hyper-egalitarians As I was saying: Since artistic talent is not a universal characteristic of all fur-fen, artistic talent cant be part of what makes furry furry.
Fifth: Mainstream media coverage to the contrary, furry is not a mode of sexuality. Go aheadjust try to defend the notion that Walt Disneys Robin Hood doesnt qualify as furry! Nuff said?
So: If furry isnt any of that stuff, what is furry? Or, in other words, what is it that all the myriad people who self-identify as furries have in common? When you put it that way, the answer should be reasonably obvious: Furry is a subculture whose primary distinguishing characteristic is an interest in anthropomorphized animals. Its not a genre, not a lifestyle, not anything else of that sort; rather, furry is bigger than any of its aspects which one particular fur-fan might happen to be particularly devoted to.
To borrow a metaphor, furry is a big tent, with more than enough room for writers and artists and wannabe-lycanthropes and lifestylers and totemists and et cetera!