I’m trying to be better at filling this blog with things that are relevant to my writing, but I realise in my previous extended absence from it I completely missed two things: the ENTIRE RELEASE OF MY SECOND DAMN NOVEL and the development of my fursona. One of these is arguably far more important to my career, so I’m going to ignore that one and talk about something much more personal. This stems from a conversation I was having with someone on twitter recently – TheYogurtThief.
For people who aren’t in the know (which I’m assuming is approximately 0% of this blog’s regular visitors), a fursona is an original character someone creates, based of an anthropomorphic animal, mythical creature, sometimes plants (although there may be a more technical name for this), or combination of any of these things. It may or may not be a representation of that person’s emotional facets, spiritual self, inner desires, or sometimes is just a funky creature they have a strong attachment to. People can have just one, or many, or cycle through them using only one main at a time depending on their mood or life cycle.
For me, my journey into furry was a little protracted because even though the characters I was most inspired by, and ones I imagined, were always anthropomorphic animals, I spent ages dancing around the edges of the fandom and refusing to call myself furry because I was afraid of the preconceptions that arrived with that particular label. Even if you look back a few blog posts ago to my TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 1: Furries ramble (it’s old enough that I really don’t remember when I wrote it) I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that my FURRY NOVEL might at some point have to subject itself to ACTUAL FURRIES.
Needless to say, I feel kind of dumb now. I can alternately point and laugh or cringe at myself for it, but at the time joining a group that I knew inherently little about despite looking up in awe at it for such a long time was a very intimidating process. I think, in hindsight, one of the biggest things that was holding me back was my lack of a fursona, because it seemed so much easier for people to find their place when they knew what they were supposed to be. I did not. And I needed to. I wanted to, more importantly, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.
So my love of foxes goes way back.
I remember conversations and elements all throughout my childhood where I’d pick foxes over anything else. My favourite Visionaries character was Ectar, who could turn into a fox; I insisted on Mum making me a fox mask for Book Week at school because something something foxes I was into at the time. I embarrassingly declared that I wanted my nickname to be ‘Fox’ at a summer camp I went to, before ceremoniously knocking a saucepan of beans out of the hands of a lunch lady with a wild flail of enthusiastic clumsiness. (Spoiler, the nickname did not stick). In French class I’d make any excuse to pick ‘renard’ as an animal, and I can’t remember if I mentioned my dissociative episode during high school when being severely bullied and depressed where I actually believed I was Fox McCloud stuck in some alternate coma world just waiting to wake up and escape my puny pubescent flesh cage.
But, as much as I loved foxes, I never believed I could live up to them. They were clever and svelte and colourful, and I was a pudgy kid with typically transient friend groups who became more distinctly average in school grades as time went on. I’d be a terrible fox, I decided, subconsciously. I thought, and eventually wrote, about them the whole time, but knew it would be some unachieveable ambition to actually be one, or even consider myself one.
Then along comes this other creature…
What the heck is that thing?
It’s a pangolin. If you haven’t heard of it by now, then be prepared for my wildest eyes and a slew of almost unintelligible ramblings about how awesome they are and how you should TOTALLY GO AND SAVE THEM RIGHT NOW because they’re supremely endangered. And beautiful. If I ever got the chance to meet one of these in person, I would break down into uncontrollable sobs. And I’m not kidding; I think of this pretty much every day and it hits me the same way every time.
I don’t remember where I first saw these guys. I spent a lot of my time out of school due to illness, hospital trips, and through breaking various limbs, so I would sit for hours reading through the DK reference books we had on the bookshelf at the end of the landing. It was a nice spot were I could hide behind the laundry rack and bask in the sunlight while examining science and nature books. It was probably in there, but their relevance didn’t hit till much later.
(As I type the next paragraph, I remember my inspiration)
(And yes, I know he’s an armadillo, but when I was writing my post-apocalyptic Digimon fanfiction, I imagined an upgraded version called MetalArmadillomon, who I have YET TO COMMISSION ART OF HOLY CRAP I SHOULD DO THAT, and in my research for armadillos, rediscovered pangolins because people always get them confused)
I have body confidence issues, still, after being bullied. In my head I’m still a dumpy, inactive fourteen year-old, except now I have a receding hairline. It’s weird how easy it can be to add together all of the negative things you see in yourself while ignoring the good work you’ve done or the positive changes you’ve been through. Objectively, I know I’m not fat. I’m not athletic. I don’t even have a problem with others being fat and always, always encourage people to love themselves no matter what stage of their personal journey they’re on. But the stigma I have with my personal progress means I can rarely find satisfaction with how I look regardless of how much I believe in body positivity for everyone. It probably sounds very contrarian and hypocritical, and I have no answer for that. I love others more than I love myself.
But anyway, this amazing scaly creature, the pangolin, is hugely defensible. It can curl into a lion-proof ball, is incredible at jumping, can climb trees with minimal effort, and looks like the badassiest artichoke you ever didn’t eat. It embodied so much of what I felt I actually was- awkward, beautifully inelegant in a weird way, protective, defensible, unable to attack, and above all else, unique. I knew I didn’t fit in anywhere else and this was a symbol of that to me. But even for smothering myself in pangolin search results and incorporating a major character into my book series, my own identity still didn’t quite mesh with it.
You know, what a lot of furries do is-
Yes, I realise that now. But the thing is, it wasn’t as simple as putting the two animals together- I needed to know who I was and what I wanted before I could make any decision of what I felt would be a fairly permanent iconography of myself. Biting the bullet, I finally decided that, yes, I was actually a furry, and began going to meets and connecting with people in the Furry Writers’ Guild on Twitter. And what seems like a simple step was actually a huge, huge one for me, because immediately I found people to talk with who understood how I felt about having an animal self, social anxieties, the weirdest things you need to research online to develop furry worlds, the fears that every time you meet someone new, you’re going to be told ‘so you, want to fuck animals, right’ and losing the respect of all your friends as soon as you try to share anything close to you. Having that outlet, those connections, and having encouragement from amazing friends I met in person through my wife, principally CatScratch and the owner of Mr. Freeze Pony. All of that encouragement and acceptance gave me a much stronger idea of who i was, who I wanted to be, and how I could help others do the same.
So with that in mind, it took me almost TWO YEARS to discover that, if I were defining myself as ME, and not as a single thing that I would have second thoughts over every time I looked at another kind of creature, that I could make a hybrid. It’s not that hard. I EVEN HAVE ONE IN MY OWN FRICKING BOOKS. When that revelation hit I was in equal parts amazed and cursing myself for not having that penny drop sooner.
But I like what I ended up with, in a very big way.
This is Archantael, my spiritual self, in effect. His name is one I looked into before I started writing Legacy, although I worry now it looks like I’m trying to be self-insertive (people who’ve read the books will know why) so I’m considering permanently shortening it to Arc, but I’m not sure yet. I misread or took the name meaning from an incorrectly-listed site, because where I thought Arc’hantael meant ‘man born of fire’, it actually means ‘silver’ and is pronounced completely differently than I expected (proper phonetics is Ar-XHAN-tel instead of my presumed Ark-an-TAY-el), so I’m not sure what to do with that at the moment.
Anyway, I am a pangolin-fox, or fangolin, or pangofox, or whatever else you’d like to call it- I have no copyright claim to hybrids so it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I’m just incredibly happy to have something that incorporates both elements of myself- the part of me that I accept, and have grown to love more than I used to, and the part of me that I want to always be, that drives me forward and improves the me that I am right now. I’m even accepting the idea that I can be seen as physically attractive, which I would have always dismissed before. But If I can see something in me that’s desirable, or cute, or elegant, and know it’s connected to something so intrinsically important to me, I can start to make that change in myself too.
I was still worried it’d be seen as weird or trying too hard to be different. When making my reference I asked the artist (Folfelit) what she thought about having black sclera, and she said it’d make him hard to draw and would likely inhibit the visibility of his eyes. I very much appreciated that input, and I haven’t regretted it. And I’ve been very lucky that people have seen him as unique and well-designed; I’m pretty sure that comes from Folfelit’s gorgeous work more than my concept to be honest. But it made me consider how other people saw new furries’ fursonas. I’m going to get blunt.
When I first edged into the furry community on Tumblr I took part in a survey someone was doing for their thesis, and at the end of it we all entered into a big Skype conversation. One of the final group questions was about abuse. Over fifty percent had suffered abuse, sexual or physical.
Over. Fifty. Percent.
I went very quiet. I knew people understood my anxiety, but I had no idea furries in particular suffered so extensively from trauma like that. It’s not necessarily an indication of the entire fandom, but for a sample, even just for Tumblr users, it was staggering. And it put the emotional projection of fursonas in a very new light for me. They may not always be representative of a product of hurt and anguish, but I never make assumptions about fursonas any more and what they mean.
That character you ‘cringe’ at could literally save someone’s life.
So fuck you for calling someone’s fursona ‘basic’. You don’t know what they’re going through. You don’t know what they need to see in themselves when they create a character. You don’t know why they need six fursonas. Some parts of themselves, or the things they draw/write/etc, may be too fragile to hurt, but they need a new avatar for their frustrations because they have no other way of surviving. The ability to personify an ideal version of myself has been such a safety net for my confidence and means of working through anxiety, and I don’t even draw; I can’t even imagine what others may have to go through every day. There are times I see Arc with wings, or having the power to manipulate gravity using purple energy, or transforming into an enormous black-shaded demon version of himself. It’s what I need at that time to find a way forward, a catharsis for feelings that I can’t otherwise escape. For some people, the ability to focus on these characters may be the only thing that keeps them surviving, gives them the strength to pull themselves up. “I need wings tonight. I’m going to be a purple cat with wings and six tails and work on this till I fall asleep because I can’t bear to think about anything else right now and maybe, if I can just get to the point of falling asleep without something else terrible happening, tomorrow can be better”.
I would hope I’m wrong about the actual statistic, but I’m not going to pretend that everyone I know must be okay just because I am, self-reflection aside. And given the much higher proportion of LGBTQ representation in the community, it wouldn’t surprise me if the abuse and anxiety levels actually were disproportionately high as a population sample goes.
A fursona can change your life. Mine has had a profound effect on me. I have something incredibly precious to me that I can call completely and totally mine, that gives me the freedom to express what I want when I need to. Consider everyone’s the same as yours, or at least with the same respect that they treat you. And despite what everyone else might try to tell you, it’s okay to be yourself, unapologetically.