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.

anime-sigh-gif-10

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.

gentlemen-you-cant-fight-in-here

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.

anime love weird

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.

anime furries

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, but may be smaller overall, 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 horiffically 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?

My answer would be 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.

no idols

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 cut people off from the onset of a new discourse episode because we’ve experienced 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!”

So anyway, 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 one 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.
  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 keep at something because you always have or because your friend group pressures you to stay. 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. Don’t force yourself to stay in a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. 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, fetting 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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My readers, 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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Why Furry Is Better Than Cosplay

This past weekend I went to Anthro Crossroads East, the first of its name, explosive successor to Raleigh’s Tarpaw Furmeet, and it was incredible. It felt like everything I had hoped a big furcon would be, having only managed to experience single-day meets and multi fandom events so far. It had a bright atmosphere, brilliant energy, and a solid identity that made it an experience beyond many I’ve had so far. And one thing it really drove home in no uncertain terms is how progressive the furry fandom is, especially in comparison to many others. Arguably, the closest it’s currently to right now is cosplay, but it is still worlds away from even the best anime convention I’ve been to.

Although my love for furry characters runs deeper than my passion for anime, I was cosplaying before I could dream about attempting anything furry. Kind of. One of the first cosplays I took to a con was Tony Tony Chopper. At that point I hadn’t even realised that furry had its own distinct costumed fandom, and had to take what little I could find in the programming I devoured.

Noble

Some things, sadly, will forever be out of reach, both in their future continuity and my ability to convey them.

My Chopper cosplay was not what I wanted him to be, nor were my first few anime conventions. But my experience with him began a long, meandering trail between two fandoms and their crossover points, and observing stark differences between the communities. The first formative experience that delayed me from admitting my furriness was the running masked duo screaming down the halls towards me at the London MCM Expo “YIFF IN HELL, FURFAG” and telling me that I should die. Then afterwards seeing one of them again in the main hall and him telling me we should ‘put aside our differences’ and insisted on a hug. It was creepy as hell. And even though I wanted to be a furry even then, the experience made the very very timid post-teenage me withdraw further away from it.

furry jail

When you’re unsure of being a furry, it’s because this is what you think they all think about you

The next thing that happened was while I was in my award-winning Steampunk cosplay which inspired my Twitter handle (I got best men’s cosplay in Neo Magazine, but some fucker impersonated me to steal the prize, so I never got anything). A guy offering to sketch me at the MCM Expo Steampunk booth admired my weapon, made out of a bike fork and a Van Helsing prop replica, and told me with great relish how awesome it would be for ‘hunting furries’. So it was not a good feeling all round. I didn’t know how to be myself in the world I felt was most accessible and that I hoped would be most welcoming of unique creativities. You can’t get much more outlandish than anime. But any anthro influence past a cute mascot character or That One Supplemental Character You See For One Episode painted a target on your back for ridicule.

Despite this, I still found myself very firmly planted in the anime fandom for a long time afterwards, and even though I’m thousands of episodes behind in every damn season of everything, I still consider myself an anime fan.

But I’ll always be a furry first and foremost.

anime denial

I may have said this a few times along the way to anyone who asked, however.

OwO, What’s The Difference?

There’s much greater crossover now than there was when I was going to the London Expo. Furries are more widespread and communicating more efficiently. I barely had Facebook when I started out, and I joined the UK Furs messageboard at a time when I was unrelentingly anxious about making new friends and couldn’t break into what I saw as a big, thinly-spread clique that I didn’t deserve to be part of anyway. Today I only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook now to see the influences anime and furry have on each other, from kemono artwork to anime YCHs. And on the surface, they are very similar communities. Costumes are created in similar fashions, audiences are built almost entirely on social media, they have their own vernaculars, subcultures, memes, idols, contentious figureheads, conventions, merchandise, and other nitty gritty parallels that you’d think there’d be so much camaraderie between them.

From a plain old ‘where does the material come from’ standpoint, there’s already a stark contrast. Cosplay has all of its inspiration fed to it from anime, video games, manga, comics, movies, TV, books (occasionally)- anything that can be consumed as media is already available to be adapted to cosplay. It’s easily accessible, and any given thing you’re into is likely merchandised in mainstream stores or targeted outlets. Furry creates it own media, from writing to drawings to video games to full-blown animations. The person whose art you love may only be two degrees of separation from you. You’re part of the community that creates the media you celebrate in costume. That’s a level of immersion cosplay won’t ever quite reach.

From everything I have seen, however, the biggest factor that separates furry from cosplay is the celebration of individuality. You can be different. Not only different, but yourself.

Cosplay is a weird phenomenon because everyone is trying to be the definitive example of something they literally don’t own, and many are vying to be the best representation of that character among dozens of others all doing exactly the same thing. I’ve seen people tearing themselves apart because someone else is cosplaying the same character at a con, or generally, and bitchfests targeting fans in store-bought costumes over one that’s been handcrafted. You get knowledge battles. Who’s the bigger fan? Who’s made more effort? Who’s the ‘first’ to portray an outfit that debuted two nights ago? Who wears it better?

anime elitism

I guarantee this is what some cosplay critics believe of themselves when they argue at you

People have different levels of participation and that’s okay, but the idea of always being held against a picture-perfect standard creates a weird dynamic of elitism that extends past any level of skill and into your ‘suitability’ for the character. You can be criticised for your cosplay portrayal by, through no fault of your own, being inherently different to them. Where you spend months building your wearable tribute to this character you absolutely love, and for many this is a means of emotional armament against insecurities and loneliness, it can be bypassed in a second by someone determined to tell you how you can never be what you most admire. And often that objection has no bearing on your intent, confidence, personality, or skill levels. Things that make you who you are become negligible when your image isn’t exactly what the fan you’ve never met wants.

Some people still succeed, and in this case you stand out either on your skill, prolificacy, or figure. In this way, because of the way any given media glorifies certain body types and ethnicities, you will see much less diversity in the upper levels of cosplay celebrity. Taking creative liabilities mark you as a potential target for nitpicking, from needlessly pedantic to horrifically aggressive. Whether you can cosplay against race is always a hugely contentious and bloody argument. Your identity is formed by the library of characters you’ve done, the stylistic features of your work, your material specialisation, and/or (especially for women), your body.

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Imagine being told this every time you cosplayed a character you ‘don’t look like’.

UwU-de Awakening

It’s understandable why cosplayers have to be so cutthroat to stand above the rest, because everything they make and wear is based off others’ work, using techniques available to more or less anyone, in a crowd of people doing exactly the same stuff. The pressure people put on themselves trying to be cosfamous is insane, and often destructive if you’re not really dedicated, patient, and mature. So much can be destroyed by a single ego and enough people unwilling to keep it in check.

Heaven forbid you try to make yourself an Original Character based on an existing show, by the way. Everyone will ask who you’re supposed to be but most of the time people will stop listening as soon as you mention the term ‘OC’, and more than likely you won’t get included in any group shots (or if you do, it’s right at the end when everyone else has left). As with your personal image, as a cosplayer you are expected to enjoy the show as it is presented to you, and your indulgence in it is ultimately restricted to the boundaries set by the production, be it in image or characterisation. You can mash-up, or switch out a theme, or if you’re lucky, get to cosplay a group of AU fanart, but are still operating within a generally-acceptable set of parameters.

I have seen original characters get asked to leave group shots at anime conventions and have people tell me they can’t create the character they most want to experiment with because people have mocked them for it. Fan adoration in such a way is considered dumb and trashy, despite it being a massive compliment to the work at hand that someone loves it enough to immerse themselves in it as something entirely new. They don’t to change the story, they want to be right there alongside it as it happens, in their own adventure. That’s amazing, and it’s heartbreaking that cosplayers content to just replicate the designs of the show don’t give them the same regard that they do to their peers.

By contrast, as a furry, almost everyone is an OC. Furry cosplayers (as in, people who make Pokemon/Digimon/other fandom fursuits) are in the minority, but are just as celebrated as anyone’s own design. Everything you create builds up your fandom identity, and not just as a library of characters picked from a franchise anyone else could potentially steal your limelight with, but as each of them being a facet of yourself as a unique creation. Your characters are one of a kind, based on your portrayal, and you are celebrated for your rarity and creativity. You can have skill, or you can support someone else’s by commissioning a suit. But always, you are your own universe, amongst a world of other universes which all coincide.

They have backstories (or not), deep meanings, emotional resonance. Some are triumphs over loss or trauma. That’s not to say cosplayers can’t be inspired by stories or characters they see and embrace that passion, but furry is an outward expression of something deeply personal, as opposed to a relation to something external. It’s more introspective.

If you read through the stories attached to Joaquin’s tweet, you’ll see what I mean, the subtle but concrete differences in how we see ourselves as the characters we make and those we’re given to portray. We can indulge fantasies of ourselves without creative or physical constraints. Some fursonas may still be considered outlandish, or insane examples of godmodding, but honestly what person, if they’d been through anything similar or beyond the stories above, wouldn’t want the chance to show the world what it means to walk forward in a representation of your survival, or passion? When you have the ability to express, in a very tangible way, what your soul feels it looks like, and be embraced for being something utterly YOU, how can that not be rewarding to the highest degree?

And the sad thing is that cosplay does exactly this for fans who need to be these characters to find strength, or peace, or a connection with others who feel the same, but the very different perceptions people have over the same character, and the entitlement by narrow-minded fans that any portrayals should be completely homogenous, makes expressing yourself much more of a minefield. Body positivity and racial diversity are huge obstacles the cosplay community has yet to overcome, and even though it’s still a work in progress in furry, overall the ability for people to be themselves even outside of a suit is celebrated far more.

You don’t know who’s under a suit or behind a furry avatar. The stories, both real and fictional, can be overwhelming. I don’t judge people’s need to show their fursona having as many different attributes as a DnD glossary. Those are the heroes we need, that we create for ourselves. The difference is, these heroes aren’t always off saving the world from some great evil. Some may be, if that’s what we need to see in ourselves. But more often they’re just living an ideal life. They exist in ways we can’t. They’re the heroes we know and love and see around us every day. Because a hero isn’t always someone who makes grand gestures and huge statements. There are heroes who smile at us, make us laugh, tell us a story, remind us what good there is in the world. Because bravery and kindness have no prerequisites. And people deserve to be celebrated for everything that they are, not just because they fit a predetermined set of guidelines.

We may always be misfits, but why not celebrate something that comes so naturally, instead of spending energy ‘correcting’ ourselves?

Furry gets it.

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I love YOU. Generally, and specifically.

 

 

The Things Nobody Says

Sometimes, it is hard to do anything.

That is why, right now, instead of doing the things I cannot, I am writing about them. I hope that this may act as a small impetus to moving ahead on those things.

I took Twitter off my phone the other day because I was getting too obsessed over constantly checking my notifications and trying to take part in an argument that I didn’t technically need to get involved with. It’s part of getting wrapped up in social media. Seeing voices from people you don’t like, people you tried hard to like, and even people you do like, contributing to what I felt was a character assassination, wasn’t easy. And the thing is, the statement the guy made was dumb, ignorant, rude, and combative. There’s no defending that. Apparently an apology isn’t enough, though, because people feed into the outrage culture so quickly to get likes and confirmation of their voice that it snowballed so quickly. Trying to act in a way I thought was rational, after making my own objections, didn’t really work.

And in a way I can’t really blame people for reacting as they did, because nobody wants to be told they don’t belong in a place they finally call home after being shown their whole lives nobody else wants them. It’s a swing to the face in everyone who ever felt disheartened at society’s oppressive harshness that ‘being an adult’ means you’re supposed to lose passion for anything fun, nerdy, or that isn’t what corporations tell you to. I still feel self-conscious going through toy aisles in supermarkets by myself, even though they will always, always be my favourite parts of any store.

But it didn’t stop, and turned into a huge, animous tirade that virtually sent someone into hiding. I’ve never seen everyone go after someone relatively young and vulnerable who was actually trying to make up for his mistake at the end. I’ve seen attacks against big names, and while they aren’t invalid just for their size, they have scores of people lining up to defend them. This guy had none, and that felt very dangerous to me, especially where he wasn’t objectively malicious (like altfurry) or doubling down to save pride (like 2). Nobody seemed to care about the reparations, but gleefully joined everyone else’s jokes and used as much as they could to keep stirring up the popular argument for their favour. It was kind of disgusting, truth be told. And even knowing the original Tweet was dumb as fuck, I was still pissed. So much of the furry community had been calling out actual abusers of late and building a better, more positive community, and while outrage at the statement isn’t a bad thing, the continual, attention-seeking aggravation was more akin to the wild scavengers people make bappyfluffycute fursuits out of than the character of the suits themselves.

I don’t know. I’m not in a good place right now, I guess. I burnt out on my own outrage and attempts at resolution. That’s why I’ve spent almost three hours not moving, listening to music, or sat at my computer cycling between the same three windows with nothing new in any of the feeds. I have a big list of stuff to do, and it seems very futile right now. I checked off one, whoo: cancelling my old internet service a whole two weeks after I should have, meaning for my procrastination I still get billed the full amount at a time when I have literally no earnings coming in. That’s how depression spirals.

I was supposed to start Inktober. I’m supposed to write this book. Several books. I have articles, songs, comics, that I want to do, and seeing everyone else passing by with successes they’ve already created, or quick-share viral posts that storm feeds in the thousands, while a picture of me holding my book sits at a mere fifteen shares over two weeks. And even complaining about that feels disgustingly ungrateful, because without the amazing people generous enough to share even that, I’d have nothing at all. I just… the thought of having to work even harder after this week taking its toll just makes me want to curl up and forget about everything.

I’m sure it’ll be temporary. I’m sure I’ll forget about it and feel embarrassed about this post later. But right now I need to say something. I feel like people expect you to be constantly on, constantly positive, or risk having even the tiny pile of building blocks you’re standing on knocked out from under you. I can’t do that, not yet. I want to come back stronger and better, but it’ll be a while before I feel that way. Not until I have something to show for having taken a step back in the first place. And maybe a new set of boundaries for what I need to invest myself in.