Toxic Avengers- The Double-Edged Sword of Fandom Self-Identification

I had started this blog post about something entirely different, but given this weekend’s bitter and vehemently-divisive furry fandom events, it renewed things in a fairly big way. I am typically very patient, and value communication greatly, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted by the brutal back and forth that erupted on Friday night. I’ll start it as I intended, but cohesion may not be great because my energy is limited.

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oh pls god what now

The recent explosion in publicity for Ready Player One has brought a lot of feelings to mind, and many are not great. Much of that has to do with the book and/or movie itself, but it’s an interesting analysis of geek culture as a whole, and how social media has formed it into distinct (but not always diverse) communities. The biggest issue, or perhaps what makes me most uncomfortable about RPO, is that the main character’s existence is based entirely around what he consumes, which means the human elements and meaning behind each is completely disregarded. I have made long Tweet storms about this before:

We all enter into the relationships we have with our fandoms with different intents. Some are just casual observers, perusing but not really engaging or reciprocating much. Others throw themselves right into the fray with contributions of content, memes, opinions, and get all of these back in great supply. And while there’s a whole sliding scale of immersion between these extremes, there’s a whole other scale of expectations about how the fandom ‘should be’, what it means to call yourself a fan, and how individuals should behave.

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Hahaha… *sigh*

What’s interesting as part of that is the dynamics of individuality and preconceived behaviour when people join those communities. Ostensibly this has greatest relevance right this moment to furry, as that’s where I have the greatest amount of observed experience and oh lord I hope this weekend doesn’t last all week.

Fan in the Flames

Trolls notwithstanding, the general idea when you enter a fandom is that you expect to make friends with people who share your interests. On the surface, that should mean potentially anyone in the fandom is a future friend. Subconsciously, we hope for that. The biggest issues with that is we’re (sadly) human, and an aesthetic appreciation doesn’t at all equate to a shared mentality across all facets of our individualities. But we still project our tastes and ideas onto the avatars of the friends we want to have, like gluing faces onto mirrors, because we want to belong and identify. We connect with people over art, memes, fursuits, fursonas, etc, and start to assume that because we have entered into this one-sided relationship with a fandom, that it should reciprocate in kind with the expectations we fuel our immersion with.

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You KNOW this has happened. Just replace the pillow with your Twitter profile

Undeniably, we are all furries.

But everyone has a different idea of what that means, and rarely talks about it until there’s a conflict.

“Furry is where anyone can be themselves.”
“Furry is an escape.”
“Furry is a safe space.”
“Furry is a place for creative expression.”
“Furry is for self-exploration.”
“Furry has no restrictions.”

It’s like a horoscope. Statements we all agree with for an infinite list of reasons. We follow people based off their species, fursuit, stories, or artwork, usually paired on social media with some kind of statement, or no statement at all, and our hopes and presumptions fill in the gaps. If you asked me how much I knew about the friends that I followed, I could say very little, but presume that I’d get on okay with them if we were all in the same room. I have no guarantee that’d be the case. We’re all tiny universes with endless differences. But we are so eager to connect and belong that we rarely extend ourselves beyond a cosmetic level because the further down you go, the greater the differences seem, and the thinner the ice you stand on.

But sometimes these general statements aren’t enough. Awful hot takes have pervaded the fandom for some time, each of these based off a flawed assumption that furry adapts to the needs of the identifier:

“Furry is a fetish.”
“Furries over 30 should GTFO the fandom.”
“You’re not a furry if you don’t have a fursona.”
“Fursuiters only.”
“Fat people shouldn’t fursuit.”
“Female furries are gross.”

These are easy to debunk, but are prime examples of how fans adapt their view of what ‘true’ fandom is and how it should be curated. To people who consider ‘furry’ to be their primary designation above all else, these preconceptions, or any other, become a big problem for everyone else. Because the discovery that someone is one of these ‘undesirable’ elements can either open someone’s mind to future discoveries, or lower the individual in a fan’s estimation. This prejudice demonstrates that any given fan is only as important as their furry facade, and those who think this way isolate themselves from a fandom more likely to accept them for whoever they happen to be UNDER the fursuit or profile pic. The only people who stick around are others who don’t care, in the same dismissive way.

A big conundrum lies in trying to resolve this when the nicer, broader statements aren’t technically mutually exclusive, but can be so widely applicable that they’re almost redundant. Creative expression can be anything from the cleanest saccharin Lisa Frank-esque sona cuteness to the hardest-core porn you ever needed a stiff drink after seeing. A ‘safe place’ can mean for protection from hurtful ideas or somewhere to express them without reprisal. And while every single furry may tell you each of the above statements was true superficially, we all have a different interpretation of what they mean, and embody them in how we treat each other. And so, every one of us has a different view of what Furry should be, and our experiences vary wildly. When the people around you don’t live up to those invisible expectations, things start to break down.

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Slidin out of your DMs like

Pandora’s Box Is Not A Bad Dragon Product

The biggest conflicts lately have arisen from social issues, but the most telling arguments about fandom self-identification aren’t about whether the existence of real-world abuse is bad, but is in statements like these:

“Why shouldn’t I like (x)? This person could be lying.”
“Furry art isn’t real, you can’t say it’s abusive.”
“Forget those SJWs, I’m just here for your art.”

These comments aren’t really about the issues themselves. They’re protecting the art, or creator. It’s a protest against the need for greater awareness in relation to the fandom, and a reluctance to give up a portion of the fan’s self-designation of what they consider makes them, or the creator, a furry. Especially where a prominent figure may have been crucial to some young fur’s awakening and fandom identity, the grip can be incredibly tight. In this view, the understanding is that furry creators cannot be bad people, but speaking out against other furries makes you a bad furry.

Hence, the worst thing a furry can do is malign another fandom member, by which point their identity is removed to something else, like ‘SJW’. This gatekeeping is how consumer-identity fans prevent real-world issues from tainting their fandom: they turn critics into something else entirely, thus removing the conflict of arguing with other furries, because in their mind, this person is no longer considered a furry. They’re the problems, the people who won’t just shut up and enjoy the dancing carpets. And some creators capitalise on this relentlessly.

Furry is inextricably a form of escapism, and to these furs, that should hence mitigate them from applying any limitations on what should be portrayed, or that no content can be inappropriate as long as it falls within the genre. Except, it seems, where that content is inherently critical of the fandom.

Moreover, when we construct our identities around what we consume, the image of what we devote ourselves to becomes irretrievably difficult to pin down or live up to, an ever-evolving fantasy of idealism, and the rules are often made up spontaneously when it comes into question. Everything should be accepted, because the medium is sacred. This is paraphrased from the progression of a real Twitter conversation about porn based off a well-known dog:

“It’s a drawing- it’s not real.”
“Well, just because it might have been based off a real dog doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate.”
The owners: “We did not give permission for this.”

The constant need to step back from encroaching responsibility even when directly faced with an advocate for rationalisation is a means of protecting this amorphous definition of what ‘furry’ is. Even if it can’t be defined in specific terms, what is clear is that being critical of it is perceived to be an assault on a ‘rightful place’ in the fandom, which is purely constructed from personal expectations of what we want it to be, not what it actually is. It’s the same kind of reaction you get when debating religious issues (and religions are the OG fandoms, if you think about it) because everyone interprets their actions as different devotionals to the same message while living extraordinarily distinct lives. It’s self-fulfilling confirmation bias.

When someone’s primary existence is based around being a consumer, criticising one prominent fandom member’s actions, whether or not they’re directly connected, becomes an attack on the idea of being a furry itself, in the same way the criticising a religious figure or practitioner is often seen to be an attack on that religion (especially so in recent times with people who call themselves Christian but act in a very un-Christian way, being defended by other Christians simply for solidarity). Those who have solid identities outside of fandom, particularly those in marginalised groups simply because they have had to struggle with the right to exist in the first place, recognise the fallibility of such power structures because of how real-world problems get ignored for the sake of protecting an artificial status quo.

Those who have built platforms on this furry-status-quo-bubble have to conduct the delicate (or oblivious) balancing act of wanting to seem inclusive while not making any grand statements either way for fear of losing the identity that they are celebrated for; i.e. a furry. Or, they speak out against criticism as being unnecessary and malicious because it robs them of ego when they lose followers who finally realise what a tool they’re being. So we can see how toxic nonchalance perpetuates itself, where the pillars of the community are either:
-so inoffensively vanilla that they may as well be owned by The Hallmark Channel, or;
-completely embrace the lack of consequences and do whatever they want.

Both of these get rewarded by a majority audience that accepts either as the ‘proper’ way to be furry because the rules are open to such interpretation, if there even are any. Judging by the examples of the greatest content people consume (particularly YouTubers), you are a furry if: you never acknowledge drama except to tell everyone how bothersome it is, or to make fun of it, and do whatever you want otherwise, even if that includes brigading other, critical furries. And, granted, that makes it very accessible, but dangerously so when it fails to respond to any identity outside of that.

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How to be a furry: Step 1

Fursona of Interest

While many of us likely enter a fandom with trepidation that we won’t be accepted, coming across conflict can nevertheless be more of a shock than we anticipate. And the further you go before you encounter it, the more dramatic the impact, and often the more combative we get, because it feels like it sabotages the positive experience we’ve had so far. We perceive it to be an attempt at undoing our security, consciously or otherwise. This seems to be particularly bothersome for casual fans who are literally here just for the artwork, or devotees who absorb every aspect of the subculture as part of their very existence. Because as long as it feeds their need for more content, extraneous behaviour doesn’t have an effect on what they get to enjoy- they merely reject unwanted content or backstory as irrelevant. This is the ‘I hate drama’ crowd, who want to get on with appreciating and sharing what they feel vilified for by the public for doing. Even though there are a lot of recognisable figureheads who get shared in our feeds every day, there are more passive consumers in furry than there are creators, even though the crossover is greater than (probably) any other fandom in existence.

It can be a huge problem when furry creators are that much closer to their fans, and are part of the community that not only pays for their content, but also plays the accompanying parts of audience and critic as well. The network becomes tighter, and a web-disrupting controversy immediately has repercussions elsewhere. In a previous blog, I gave a cursory summary of the divisions that happen when a prominent fandom member slips up:

Being Right Because I’m Popular is a shitty hill to try and die on simply because you want to save face. More than making you look bad, it further divides your community between people who apologise for any kind of bad or mistaken behaviour just because they like you; people who will forever be offended by whatever you said; those who liked you but are frustrated with you and your fans because neither will hold you accountable, and people who are caught up in the drama of vicious crap-slinging.

This is where most people consider the toxicity to really burst from under the surface, and where the greatest battles for furry identity take place. The crucial factor here is the tendency for consumers to oversimplify the fandom to ‘furry is furry art’, regardless of the content, instead of ‘furry is a community’. If you consider furry as anything with a soft texture and an animal face, then any criticism is technically inappropriate and the people behind it are null, because the genre literally encompasses everything superficial and those who create it are welcome regardless, even the egregiously awful. But when you look at furry as a group of real actual people creating content, then yes, expulsion of toxicity is absolutely viable, and necessary to keep it going. These are the two groups in a big fandom dust-up. One, the consumer-led group and those who exploit it, compartmentalises the community network as secondary to the content and its creators, and the other, which is a much greater cross-section of creators and fans, that accepts furry as an expression by that fandom, or an ideal alternate, and holds everyone equally accountable for how they treat others within it.

This is where you’re most likely to see aggressive Tweet wars, threats of muting and blocking, subtweets, screenshots, accusations of ‘SJW’, content policing, abusers, enablers, apologists, it all gets horrifically messy. The ones who lose out in these warzones are the good faith furries who want the fandom to do better but are met with resistance and hostility for trying to find a genuine balance, because sensational blanket statements and screenshot-receipts get highest viral share, and nuance is fatiguing to maintain when everyone’s shouting at once, especially if these other voices have more clout than they do.

But in truth, aren’t they just as toxic as each other?

In a word: no. Being resistant to change out of convenience to you is much more harmful in the long-term than asking someone to examine their behaviours and alter their course. Terms like ‘SJW’, ‘witch hunt’, and ‘fandom police’ are ad-hominem put-downs used to diminish critics instead of addressing the issues themselves. It reduces people to the level of that bossy Marge Simpson squirrel caricature to discourage onlookers from attaching merit to their views. Unironic users of such language are either very jaded with society in general or have no concept of the seriousness of these issues, and both of these are sad situations to be in. Either way, it’s an apathetic view that takes security in ignorance rather than extend any effort to make things better, even if there’s an acknowledgement that they are legitimately bad in a real world context.

However, even a good argument can be portrayed aggressively, and this doesn’t help negate the image of valid criticisms as being paraded by a group of kinkshaming crusaders.

So, how do we avoid this earthquake of consequences whenever a bad fandom take or unscrupulous action falls from orbit to murder us all? Considering most of our interaction is online, the vast majority of conflict comes from how we communicate, and much of this boils down to what we feel is acceptable levels of criticism for our own persona within the fandom. This is where corkscrew-in-the-ear terms like ‘callout culture’ and ‘drama’ start to twist their way in to conflate legitimate problems with bad faith arguments or professional/social sabotage, because consumer-identifiers see debate as criticism of overall fandom existence instead of a single undesirable behaviour or depiction to be excluded. The irony is, moving to new creators likely wouldn’t affect the consumers much anyway, except reducing their future art folder, possibly. But the collector mentality is hard to break.

An important thing to remember is when people say “I want (x) out of the fandom”, it’s usually a means of encouraging people to eliminate abusive behaviours instead of a push for specific people to leave. Although sometimes the two are sadly synonymous. However, if a statement like “Pedophiles/Nazis/rapists should not be allowed in our fandom spaces” makes you angry, that’s likely a you problem and you should definitely think about what you’re trying to defend, and why.

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Good fandom praxis anyway, to be honest.

BUT, we are definitely conditioned to reacting negatively and explosively, partly because we are now accustomed to preempting aggressive defence of problematic behaviours. The tone is unavoidably affected by the instantaneous nature of social media communication. Once it’s shared, it’s out of our hands, and often with 280 or fewer characters to try and extrapolate. Retractions and appendices never get as much of a share as the sensational first take, which, on Twitter at least, is often criminally simplified for the limitations of the platform.

Adding to this, furry is a paradoxical fandom with an infinite memory and terrible attention span, like if Wikipedia had no search function and relied on clicking keywords to find what you needed. Large-scale trending conflicts seem to last for ages, but resurges with new individuals as the furore spreads wider and new (or old) stuff gets added to the fire. It becomes a learned response to immediately cut people off from the onset of a new discourse episode because we’ve experienced our concerns being met with shrugs, apologism, or outright abuse whenever they’re brought up.

This becomes hurtful and exhausting, so it’s natural to vent and walk off/block when it next shows its head. The fear of that makes people react vehemently when it’s their turn to defend. And, when it feels like nothing changes, your world becomes smaller as you turn to the people you can trust and away from a wider world that keeps denying your validity. That’s a very big problem for a self-reliant fandom. None of the subgroups is large enough to sustain itself completely. But, as long as there are new voices coming through, it will keep its equilibrium. That’s why they must be supported.

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“Wait, are we running towards the fandom or away from it?” “Don’t care, need space!”

Okay, So… What Can I Actually DO?

If you find yourself in a debate but are worried about what that means for you as a furry, or the fandom as a whole, some things to consider:

  1. The fandom will still exist. It has for years, even when it was much smaller and divisions ran much deeper, and social media didn’t even exist as it does today.
  2. The fandom may never be perfect, but as long as we keep listening to each other, we will try.
  3. Putting creators on a pedestal where they can do no wrong isn’t sensible, helpful, or healthy. We, as a whole, and you, as an individual, need to recognise that.
  4. If you’re fed up of furries being misconceived as sexual predators, maybe don’t apologise for ones who actually are, or ones who encourage those behaviours, because you’re undermining your own reputation.
  5. There are many diverse creators around. Losing respect for or unfollowing someone that you held previous appreciation for won’t stop new, better content being created. In fact, you can help the fandom grow by finding these new voices when another shifts out of favour, or just generally. You can be a change that helps the fandom flourish, so that everyone really can have a place here. Consider yourself a voyager.
  6. The biggest influencers are not necessarily the ones of greatest value. Don’t follow someone because they’re popular. Follow them because you genuinely want to.
  7. Find your own value, and don’t be caught up in the need to be big. You will find longer-lasting acceptance from authenticity than you will from popularity. If you get popular from being authentic, then awesome. But focus on honesty first, always.
  8. ‘Honest’ does not mean ‘brutal’. Honesty is truth, brutality is force.
  9. Things naturally change. From individuals to the world at large, things will change. Whether you want to be a part of that or not, it is inescapable. If you want to be involved in the fandom instead of complaining about how awful it is, take time to watch, and consider changing with it. If the change is too much, then it’s not the place for you any more.
  10. You can take a break if you need it.
  11. A negative experience does not have to erase positive ones. Ground yourself in your passions, and keep good people around you.
  12. More people talking about a problem doesn’t mean it didn’t already exist. You’re just noticing the extent of it, and that means you need to pay it consideration. It may involve having to face up to some embarrassing truths, but you and the people around you will be better for confronting something with honesty instead of ignoring it.
  13. Some people act in bad faith, some just phrase things badly. It’s up to you how to respond to finding out which is accurate.
  14. Some are naturally anxious to commit to a new idea. Let them form their opinions on their own, and let them ask questions. Being oppressive pushes quieter, but equally valid, voices away.
  15. Don’t assume criticism of an aspect of content you enjoy is an attack on you personally, even if it frustrates you. You exist outside of what you consume and remember that others do too.
  16. You can enjoy something while recognising its flaws, but, like furry as a whole, you will likely be under scrutiny for it, especially if a lot of people are telling you why those problems matter. Don’t just excuse them outright.
  17. However, as much as representing yourself, you are also representing the subgroup of the fandom in question. Who or what you defend, what you say, and how you say it will reflect on you and your peers. That is your responsibility. If people break away from you for it, and that hurts you, you may want to consider what part of you they are turning away from.
  18. Just because you love someone or their work doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing bad things. It’s a horrible thing to come to terms with, and I’m sorry.
  19. Recognise when people are upset and listen to them. This is not an obligation to agree, but dismissing their concerns as stupid or performative without acknowledging their truth and feelings is as damaging as problematic content itself, and creates even deeper resentment for those who support it. Acknowledging that someone may have incredibly valid reasons for being hurt is the very least you can do to make communication more constructive.
  20. Changing your mind doesn’t make you weak. Adaptability is an advantage. We all find new information every day. Use it, and do better.
  21. Don’t force yourself to stay in a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. There are many different furries- you don’t have to stick with local ones, or even the ones you first met. If those around you are forcing you to appreciate or do something that you have doubts about, they’re not doing it for you, they’re doing it for them. Be honest with yourself.
  22. The threat of being cut off from people you’re familiar with because you disagree with their views can be scary, especially if you’re new. Trust that there can be a new place in the fandom for you, and ask for help if you need it.
  23. It is entirely your call to choose what you get exposed to. Respect yourself in that, always. If you dislike someone, whether for their behaviour or art style, don’t force yourself to be in contact with them just because they’re furry. This goes for creators and general fans.
  24. Even if your opinions are different, you cannot deny someone else’s experience. Everyone has a unique story, and that includes their own past, and interactions with people you may idolise.
  25. Despite the ‘slippery slope’ argument anti-critics peddle, getting rid of abuse won’t purge the internet of your porn. Good people can be (and absolutely are) kinky. We’re not going to turn into a fandom of Puritanical crusaders. There will be plenty of bara dads, twinky softness, gorgeous lesbians, impossible breasts, guro, candygore, inflation, anything else you can wave a Bad Dragon toy at. Sex and sexual expression is awesome. But it has to be awesome for everyone involved, not just you.

An Important Reminder

As much as furry is a particularly maligned fandom, any position where you can ignore someone else’s abuse to enjoy what you want because it doesn’t effect you is privilege, just FYI. It might not feel like it, but it is. Choosing to support people who refuse to acknowledge their transgressions actively rewards them for continuing, and believe it or not, much like you with furry persecution within geek spaces, continually ignoring toxic problems like rape, child/animal abuse or bigotry makes people more upset and more likely to be even more reactive when it comes round in future.

I have mentioned this before, but when I was active on Tumblr I took part in a furry’s thesis project where he was identifying psychological trends within the community. The final session was a big group Skype chat where we talked openly about our experiences. 50% of the group had suffered some form of abuse in youth. That may not be indicative of furry as a whole, but even so, if you don’t see why the fandom has such an issue with this, then lucky you, you likely weren’t in that group. But also, you have no right to tell people what they should not object to. The better thing to do is treat them with decency and understanding. Sorry that you might feel guilty whacking off to an underage character now, but that speaks volumes about how you objectify the subject of the art, and what you think of your peers. If you find the content to be more important than the people behind it, or place your comfort in ignoring drama over the people you meet at conventions who are living through it, then don’t be surprised if nobody wants to stick around you for long.

The bottom line is, if you recognise the significance of having your own fursona in an art piece as increasing its importance to you, then you can recognise the implications of drawing underage characters in sexual situations and how it hurts or disgusts others. Just as you find your identity in content you enjoy, others may do so in a very different, darker way. Always, always be mindful.

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You, at me, right now

Okay, I’m about done for now. The upshot of this should be, enjoy the fandom and your part in it, but don’t hold it as sacrosanct. That does not mean it’s bad. It is fallible, its creators and fans infinitely moreso. The sooner we can all recognise that, the better we can become.

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And please, if you need it, take a rest.

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TRUKK NOT MUNKY Omnibus: Parts 2 and 3

Well… almost exactly three years since my last post is atrocious, and while I could say ‘life’ is my excuse, part of my life has always been writing, so unfortunately that ‘life’ section has been devoid of one of my major passions for the most part. Oh, except…

LEGACY WAS PUBLISHED IN PAPERBACK OH GOOD LORD.

This is definitely an announcement I should have made at the time, but things were crazy busy. Inspired Quill Publishing took me up, mostly thanks to the amazing communicative skills and passion of the editor-in-chief Sara-Jayne Slack, who deserves amazing props for the business she’s masterminding. I have a real respect and awe for her work and the publisher’s mission, which, after having vowed to only self-publish, is why I have dedicated my loyalty and writing to their front lines.

Now I need to dedicate myself a little more *pulls socks up, but not too high because it’s hot and humid here*

This is the Amazon.com paperback link. It’s re-edited, reformatted, and reinvigorated me to no end. The new edition is also available on Kindle, and both separately from the Amazon UK store too.

So, in the spirit of reinvention and improving efforts to fulfil my passions, I’m actually writing a blog post, something which has been on my to-do list for the aforementioned three years. It’s a long time to have a psychological debate sitting in your head, and I’m hoping that getting it out will make room for more creative endeavours. Like finishing Fracture, which is almost four years in the making.

But it is almost done already. The first draft, anyway.

TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk

Steampunk is kind of the British Empire of fandoms. It’s invasive; it can be considered elitist to outsiders; it’s silly in a posh sort of way; it’s difficult to explain to someone who has no idea what it’s like, and it can make everything more versatile with the addition of its unique but varied accents. I’m not considering that anyone currently reading the blog doesn’t know what Steampunk is, but the most succinct definition I can give is: a genre of science-fiction (or fantasy) as seen from a Victorian or pre-Victorian point of view, typically embellished with steam power, clockwork and brass.

To recap from the last entry, the first experience I had Steampunking was at one of the London Expos and I received compliments about my costume, and in some of the same breaths, disparaging comments about furries. I’ve been trying to come to terms with where I am in the fandoms and wondering how safe it is to have feet planted firmly in both whilst not associating with the elements I’m not personally comfortable with in either.

I’m glad to have had more experience in fandoms since then, and for me, this has developed into an entirely different argument than what I was expecting over the last three years.

The experiences I’ve had with Steampunk have been excellent, mainly. The fans are passionate, silly, and incredibly talented (which, admittedly, is where I considered some of the elitism to be simply because some of the costumes require such intricate mechanics and constructive processes. This is also the case with furries though- I could never make a fursuit as amazing as some of the ones I’ve seen online, and nor could I make a decent, working hydraulic thingummy that lights up a la Hellboy II like other Steampunks have). Part of the launch parade for Legacy involved sitting at the Inspired Quill table with my book at the Lincoln Asylum, a city-wide Steampunk convention in northern England which has a reputation as one of the best Steampunk events to go to in Eurpoe. I was really nervous. My book has Steampunk elements to it (Tierenan, for one, and the Gargantua for another), but ostensibly it’s a fantasy, and a furry fantasy. I was terrified that I’d be getting stink eyes from everyone who passed and was ready for a real fight if someone decided to get bitchy, so I steeled myself and stayed determined to have a good time despite my misgivings.

Welcome to the Asylum… Oh, it’s you.

It’s a self-compounding issue with paranoia that it heightens your sensitivity to expressions and actions that may mean nothing at all if you were completely calm. You can’t be objective, and, in your mind, everyone sways between either consciously ignoring you or talking about you out of sight, when in reality you probably barely even registered on their radar. A large part of my time was spent smiling at people and making general happy comments, and directing people to my fellow author Craig Hallam‘s Steampunk book Greaveburn, as, you know, Steampunk.

Having said that, I tried hard not to act on my assumptions that I’d be chased out of town with a variety of interesting, ornate, and fragile weapons and fought myself into accepting my book as a fantasy that people can enjoy as genre fantasy. I can be proud to tell people it’s not got any sex in it, and no, not all furry stuff is like that anyway. True enough, there were people looking at it with genuine interest. They’d pick up the book and read the blurb and nod and smile, and I sold a few too. There was one lady who came round about three times trying to decide on it, eventually picking it up at the end of the weekend. The people who bought it looked genuinely interested and passionate, and it was a wonderful feeling.

Inevitably, I did come across those moments I’d been fearing, although they were more subtle and sparse than I had anticipated. There was a man with his family who picked it up and said he didn’t like ‘furry stuff’. I told him that I never wrote sex because I found it objectionable, especially in young adult fiction, but he was still fairly dismissive of it even though his daughter seemed to like the artwork. There were people who raised eyebrows, and at least one who made a comment along the lines of ‘Hah, no!’ when he saw it. Recently, utterances like that really frustrate me, to criticise someone’s passion like that. Even if it had been The Furry’s Ultimate Book of Disgusting Porny Porn, someone really cares about that and its freedom of expression. I wouldn’t ever buy it, but I also wouldn’t scorn the author who wrote it or the fans who’d pick it up.

We’re All Mad Here

Moving back to the States, and the subsequent ability to sell my book to coworkers, and discuss my stories in interviews, has helped boost confidence in my abilities, my passion, and my stories to the point where I’ve met more people on both Steampunk and Furry sides who share the same passions, and actually, I’m beginning to see less of a difference between fandoms, and more between individuals. Everyone has their own standpoints on infinite issues, and while people who gravitate towards certain interests may have certain personality traits, there’s no uniformity across any of it.

When I started this blog rant, I was assuming there would only be aesthetic differences between the two, but considering the mindsets, that it would be a hard slog trying to bring two fandoms together in a weird niche market. But as Furry and Steampunk are colours that any genre can be painted with, the potential already exists. There’s probably more Steampunk in Furry art than the other way round, currently, but Steampunk is a technological tweak rather than a fantasy race, so lends itself more to the accessory than the subject. But overall, five things came to mind:

Prejudice is universal. Across all fandoms, people will be prejudiced against others, with no necessary indication or reason. And with prejudice comes conflict. This can be curbed through meaningful and respectful discussion.

Sexuality is universal. Arguing that furries are more sexually inclined than other fandoms is incorrect. The sexualisation in anime, movies, and comics is rampant, but major publications keep things barely within the modesty line for it to be acceptable. And it’s humans, so that means it’s normal, right? Right.

(Sexism is a whole ‘nuther rant, by the way, and one I’ve become very passionate about recently)

Creativity is universal. It knows no boundaries. Mash-ups are awesome.

Passion is universal. In every fandom you will find someone for whom this is the best thing in the world, bar none. There will be no greater thrill or love for them.

Acceptance is universal. Among the minefield of treading your dreams, there’ll be people who’ve never heard of you or your interests who’ll still be blown away by the scope of your accomplishments, or at the very least, give you all the encouragement in the world, simply because they know they have the same level desires that you do, even for something completely unknown to you.

I learnt a lot over three years.

Werewolves vs Vampires vs Teenagers

I hated puberty. The insults, the isolation, the hormones, the mood swings, pretending to fit in for fear of being alone, and anger at nobody taking you seriously. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just a week, but this thing lasts around six years. There’s a lot to discover during puberty, and it’s not always great. I look back at it with a real trepidation, wondering how far I’ve actually moved from those swirling insecurities and the restless, adirectional meandering between friends and ambitions trying to find what my true dreams were.

There is a comfort in mystery during puberty though, to an extent. If I admitted it, I sometimes enjoyed hanging onto depressive feelings; they were my problems and nobody else’s grievances could take them away from me. It felt more satisfying to tell people that nothing was wrong even though I was lonely or jealous of everyone else’s girlfriends or just generally pissed off. Being able to tell people would suddenly devalue them, either by comparison or because helpful advice would solve them. For the most part I already knew they were fuelled by hormones or rather superficial situations, and at the time I didn’t want to lose that, because I wanted to have something larger to grasp onto in my life, something true to me. It’s an odd, almost detrimental selfishness, and given that puberty’s a whole swell of new, often quite dark or unfamiliar emotions it’s not hard to see why paranormal creatures of choice begin creeping into our minds as allegories for our own transformations.

I want to suck… 
Vampires are not my favourite cryptid, I’ll be blunt. I hated vampire films, books, tales, anything much to do with them. Even though I helped a friend write one. That was different.

I guess for my part they represented the more attention-seeking emotional lot that wandered around. I was definitely more goth-orientated when I was younger, not that I had the confidence to show it completely. Being more introverted myself, the goth friends I had who were into vampires always seemed to take what seemed like more than their fair share of the issues and attention that I wanted from those around me. They wore their feelings in their clothes- black, baggy, and hooded, as if trying to dress themselves in shadows and hide their insecurities. It’s a mask, and anyone can attest that the clothes you wear are a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

Perhaps it’s just personal bias, but I could see great parallels between the emotional state teenagers considered themselves to be in, and the aesthetics vampires seemed to provide. Sleeping habits are disrupted during puberty, and the excitement of staying out at night makes the prospect of activities in the dark (whatever they might be) far more exciting. A whole new fascination for life after 9:00 opens up once you’re old enough to start asking questions and challenging your own boundaries. As your emotions develop, you also start experiencing more of the bittersweetness of emotions, the idea that things can be both good and bad, and that both can exist almost constantly within one entity. Anti-heroes and even villains become opportunities to experience the darknesses of life and actually wallow in them for a time.
The fascination with blood comes hand in hand with a sense of adventure and adulthood. The link between both vampires and werewolves with the advent of periods is probably too obvious to go into; monthly transformations and free-flowing crimson is probably all the description you need to make the connection. But more than that, blood signifies danger, risk and assertion, and an irreversible pact with whatever spills it. I can remember fantasising about wanting to protect something so much that I would throw my life in front of it, and wanting to feel that heroism within me. It didn’t seem worth it without the spilling of blood, almost. And as a teenager, when you’re struggling to find a way to express your emotions to anyone, friends or relatives, the frustration can become so much that hurting yourself, drawing blood becomes a justifiable, almost enjoyable pain. I’ve only done it myself once (I pinched part of my skin between my fingernails; hardly substantial), and I’ll never do it again. But I understand the inescapable frustration, and with that the feeling that you know better what your feelings need to resolve themselves (usually someone being hurt or bumped off) and the ‘rage superiority’ that comes with being affronted. The idea that you could swoop down on someone of your choice in the night and suck out their life-force becomes immensely satisfying, and becomes an emotional quest for justice, whether it’s against you or vigilantism for a friend.
Werewolf Bar Mitzvah
For werewolves then, the emotions are similar, but the expression is subtly different. As anyone knows, werewolves are normal people about 95% of the time, but every full moon turn into hulking powerful creatures and go on a rampage. Where vampires are consistently dark and brooding creatures, werewolves have a greater deal of balance, at least until the rage quotient builds up enough that they explode in a fit of fur, muscle and poor special effects. Werewolves, then, are better at concealing their emotions and have a greater disguise than vampires, who have to be more overt about their nature simply because they have a fundamental disability to do otherwise. Turning into cat litter when you step into the sun makes you more obvious than someone who inexplicably disappears once every four weeks.
While vampire-archetype personalities might revel in the emotional turmoil they feel and mutually licking each other’s wounds (and thereby reinforcing the need for wounds to be greater), werewolf-types may well be embarrassed by it or feel they’re unworthy of those same emotions. I’d refrain from telling others about my issues because I believed theirs had greater merit or urgency, or that nobody would be interested anyway. But I still got angry. While a vampire has precision-killing abilities, the anger a werewolf feels is more omni-directional, a rage against many things leading to a situation rather than a single vendetta. There are definite parallels between both, though: the aspect of darkness and self-isolation, introversion, an injustice or imbalance against something the ‘creature’ holds close, and the idea of a hidden power that could unleash deadly force if provoked.
And, perhaps, coming to terms with a sense of loneliness. Puberty teaches us so much about emotions and how different we each are, so the longing to find someone who we can share ourselves with becomes hugely important. Everyone at some point will feel like a monster or a freak, and for some those feelings will last a lot longer than others. We’ll start to analyse what makes us different, and often there isn’t an answer, something that leaves us trying to create one rather than be left without an explanation. The idea of transforming one way or another into a deus ex machina that can tear all our problems apart and rid ourselves of the need to ask questions becomes very attractive.
“But… what am I?” “Over-reacting. Now piss off and get on with your work.”
I suppose it would boil down to what causes your angst and how you deal with it. The popular image of vampires of being dark, clad in leather and fiendishly strong is well-established in the media and will rarely fail to appease a budding pubescent with dreams of becoming equally impressive. Werewolves have far less to go on in media portrayals that aren’t dated or fairly crass, so their image remains more internal and personal. It’s easier to be a vampire not least because it ties in well with goth fashions and popular culture- you can see more clearly what you belong to. In return goth fashions embrace people who feel (or at least want to look) ‘abnormal’, and popular media enhances the ‘lone wolf’ image attached to it. Because a werewolf can look like anyone, you’re wandering without a pack a lot of the time. Unless you’re one of these spiritual therians, but… well… different strokes for different folks. I’m not judging.
It’s always interesting when the next vampire movie comes out what they’ve done to address the emotional perceptions that these characters have. To be honest I don’t think certain popular teenage franchises have done anything good for either race, and I always wonder why it is that werewolves come such a distant second in the race for screen-time. Van Helsing was a crap movie, but at least the werewolves didn’t look like the greasy, oversized rats of Underworld. Vampires get all the glory, in both good and evil, while werewolves seem to be the plight of the accidental and ugly. I guess majority perceptions of furries probably haven’t done any favours to appeal to the eyes of Hollywood (I like anthro characters, but too much sex, guys, seriously). But it still seems unfair when there’s an untapped mythos waiting to be unleashed. Vampires, for all their self-obsessed vanity, are dull and overplayed.
But maybe that’s my inner werewolf talking.