A recent study by social development studies assistant professor Sharon Roberts gives new insight into the stigma around “furry” culture and its similarities to the LGBTQ community.</p>
The “furry culture” is a fandom interested in animal characters with human personalities and characteristics. They refer to themselves as “furries.”
The research showed that a large part of the fandom is under the LGBTQ umbrella.
“There is a very large — much higher than the general population — proportion of homosexuality and bisexuality in the fandom. So whereas in the general population it might be five to 10 per cent … in the furry fandom it is as high as 25-30 per cent,” said psychology PhD graduate Courtney Plante, who was also part of the study.
He added that it was because of this that “the stigma experienced by the LGBTQ community and the furry fandom in some ways go hand in hand.”
A main similarity found was the process of coming out that members of the fandom and the LGBTQ community experience. Roberts referred to it as a “double coming out process.”
“A lot of people who are both gay and furry say that the process of coming out as gay is pretty comparable to the process of coming out as furry,” Plante said.
As with homosexuality, people have tried to “fix” or “change” furries. Roberts explained scenarios where furries would go to a counsellor to speak about issues not related to their interest in the fandom and the clinicians would misunderstand them.
“They would focus on that and they would try to make them disengage from the fandom which would make the furry person disengage from the clinician,” she explained, comparing this to homosexuality.
Roberts also compared the efforts to “fix” or stop homosexuality in “not too far a distant past” to the efforts by clinicians to disengage furries from the fandom. She went on to explain the positive outcomes being part of the fandom has brought to furries.
“This is a huge source of positivity and social support. In some cases the people they meet in the fandom are their family members or closer than their family members.”
Plante, who is in the fandom himself, spoke to Imprint about the negative explanations people give to behaviours which might seem unusual
“People aren’t sure what to make of it,” he said about how the fandom is perceived. “I can’t really fault them for [it] when you see a person walking down the street wearing a collar or someone walking down the street in a fuzzy blue cat costume; it’s unusual and so a lot of people are weirded out by it or they try to come up with some explanation for this unusual behaviour. More often than not, it’s either that person is crazy or that person must have some weird kink or fetish or something, and it’s usually something negative.”
He also said the media had a fault in this.
“I think the media 10 years ago wasn’t quite sure what to do with furries … every time you heard about furries in the media it was some sensationalistic story about [these] people who put on these suits and have sex in them.”
But Plante told Imprint they were starting to see a change.
“In the last two or three years now, the media is starting to take a more sympathetic ear towards furries, so the story has shifted from being ‘here are these people who are bonkers and want to do things in these suits’ to ‘maybe we got it wrong the first time, why don’t we actually find out what this is about.’”
And what is the fandom really about?
It is the coming together of people with the same common interest in anthropomorphism, “So walking, talking animals, essentially,” Plante explained.
The fandom is a diverse group of people, made up of artists, cartoonists, writers, and people who dress up as “walking, talking animals.” Some people also bring a sense of spirituality and believe to have a spirit of an animal.
“It’s not as big a deal as people think it is, the furry fandom. It’s a strange little hobby that some people have, but it’s no stranger than people who like comic books or create model trains or fix cars. It’s just an interest like any other,” said Plante.
An anti-stigma campaign, called “Just Like You,” will be launching in September.