“Oh, nothing much,” I replied. “I went bowling with a giant rabbit, and then watched people snorting sherbet off a designer chopping board.”
Now the sherbet thing I can explain. You take a sugar addict, an experienced stoner and the kind of kitchen products you get when one half of a gay couple gets staff discount in John Lewis, and then you get these people drunk around large bags of sweets. In this particular case, sherbet Flying Saucers. Easy. The stoner had a sneezing fit; the other half of the gay couple screwed his face up and complained that it was “all fizzy”. I kept a diplomatic silence since the other option was laughing myself half to death.
The giant rabbit, on the other hand…
Now you’ve heard of furries, right? They’re those people even the Internet thinks are weird. The ones who get off on dressing up as animals, or think they actually are animals on the inside. (I suppose you could call that being species-queer). The worst excess of Internet furry insanity I’ve ever encountered was the time I tripped over a misleading Google link and fell face first into a page featuring a trans man porn star who had decided, as a birthday treat, to arrange for himself a unicorn furry gang-bang.
Firstly, why is it members of my community are always famous for being in porn – and secondly, I’ll give you one guess what one of the unicorns had for a horn. Links I wish I hadn’t clicked on: +1. So when a friend of mine who makes and sells costumes decided to cheer me up by inviting me to a furry meet, you can imagine I was a wee bit skeptical.
“Lots of them are gay!” she said.
I’m about as deep as a teaspoon and I needed cheering up about being single. I decided perhaps I should give it a chance after all. And besides which, I’m a grown transsexual. I am the scary thing behind the cultural door. How bad could it be?
I was completely wrong about them, of course. As whatisfurry.com points out, what gets into the media is what’s scandalous enough to sell. The dreadful spectre of ordinary people going out and having goddamn fun doesn’t shift copies of the Daily Bigot, but perversion sells like hot cakes everywhere. Medieval Christian values have a lot to answer for.
What I met, then, was an average-looking crowd of geeks straggling along the street, distinguished only from every other crowd of geeks I’ve ever known by the plastic sack of bright orange fuzz hanging over someone’s shoulder.
Well, that and the fact that most of them had tails.
Really, I kept forgetting about that. I’d be sitting chatting to someone, they’d turn to say something over their shoulder, and a lion’s tail would swing into my view. Or a fox’s, or a wolf’s. By this time we were at the bowling alley and my friend was getting changed into her rabbit outfit. Her bright orange and red sparkle rabbit outfit. She’d told me already when I asked about the half-finished foam rubber sculpture of an animal head lying around in her room that cartoon hyper-realism is all the rage in the furry community; the point is not to be a realistic animal, the point is to be something fuzzy and cute.
I guess you might think of the unicorn gang-bang thing as a sort of humorous subversion, then. Heavens knows there have been moments when I’ve wanted to stuff something unreasonable and scratchy up the back end of yet another nauseating Disney beast. (Except the camel. I liked the camel. He was self-pitying, egotistic and miserable, which for a Disney film was almost cool.)
But as I chatted with these people something else began to take shape in my mind: the sheer, simple happiness of the atmosphere. And it made me think: why are there so many gay male furries? It’s an overlap I’ve seen time and again. I was reminded of a blog post I read many, many years ago in which someone talked about memories of a childhood full of rough-housing, animalistic play, which suddenly became verboten as the children grew up to a “more civilised” age.
And if you think about it like that it makes sense. Animals aren’t constrained by social rules; they are what they are. Here in Britain especially, we’re an international laughing-stock for our politeness and repression. So if you’re dressed up as an animal, you can play around with breaking the rules a bit. Letting out parts of yourself that are not “okay”.
Some of the furries simply do that by, oh, going bowling in a rabbit suit for example. Or wandering around tourist attractions with a friendly giant cat. But for some people breaking society’s rules is about self-expression – and it struck me that maybe the gay/furry overlap has to do with our rules for masculinity. It’s almost as verboten in this society for a man to act cute, sunny and adorable as it is for him to indulge his lusts with livestock. Bronyism, the surprisingly passionate male fandom that sprung up around the cartoon series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, attracted hysterical censure from online commentators; its detractors perceived it as infantile, homosexual and (naturally) connected to paedophilia. Sounds like a moral panic, doesn’t it? Well, that would probably be because it is one – as Wired.com pointed out, for men to openly embrace things that are “for girls” (like, for example, retaining certain aspects of childish behaviour into adulthood) is a profound rebellion against traditional gender roles. WOOP! WOOP! SOCIAL CHANGE DETECTED!
And not before time.
So – bingo. Bronyism as gender rebellion for straight guys, and furriness an outlet for gay guys’ sweeter side. I’ve often found gay men are more in touch with their need to express a full range of emotions, especially around other guys, and I know from my own experience how not OK it is for that to happen normally. The last time I burst into tears in public was in the middle of the free weights room at a gym. I can see how cute’n’furry behaviour could be an improvement over that.
You could think of furriness as taking a break as well. Doing something daft because you can. Queering up the world a bit. Making life fun. A surprising number of the people I met were involved in performing arts in some way.
So what did I meet in the end? Just a bunch of people. Nice people, people indulging their cutesier sides. People with rainbow bandanas, pink doggie collars and amusing Little Pony-themed T-shirts. There were a couple of fellow gender cases there too – but then I’m well aware that once you’ve fought free of the confines of binary gender, the other rules start to look pretty pointless too. Life’s too short to act like you’re normal.
And I think that’s what it was all about, in the end. Having fun and being yourself – the subversive act of all subversive acts. Letting your good old-fashioned eccentricity show. I mean let’s face it, the world needs cheering up. Passers-by at the bowling alley were amused, kids delighted; several parents were keen to demand bunny-suit snaps. My friend waved at the camera, struck cute poses and generally played along. In fact there was another party there in tuxedos and formal gowns – whether overspill from a wedding or for laughs I’m not quite sure.
As a rule I’m a bit on the Batman side, personality wise. I don’t cope well with doe-eyed cutesiness and fluff. But meeting the furries made me realise everyone’s life needs a bit of sunshine. And now I know them, I’d scratch one behind the ears any time 🙂