So You Really Liked Zootopia
A 5-Minute Guide to Furry
Maybe you were convinced by the trailers. Maybe you have a soft spot for animated movies. Maybe you just needed to get the kids out of the damn house for an afternoon.
Point is, you went to see Zootopia and it was actually… good? Good in a way that went beyond “oh, yeah, that was good for adults too” and into “I’ve seen serious grown-up films that pulled more punches”. Good in a way that kinda sticks with you a little bit.
Or maybe your kid really liked it. Maybe she wants to be a bunny cop now. Which sounds childish and silly until Monday comes and your mind starts to wander around the office. Why in the world would a predator want to be an actuary? Of course sloths work at the DMV, but what animals work where you do? What kind of animal would you be? And, hey, that might be a bit more interesting. Wouldn’t it?
Mike Rugnetta described furries as perhaps the most “Internet” of communities, building an international self-sustaining ecosystem of creativity and community simply on the basis of shared perspectives. Specifically, it’s several thousand people (predominantly young white males, let’s be honest) all sitting back and saying “y’know, talking animals are cool. It’d be kinda fun to be one, wouldn’t it?”
The fact that talking animals don’t exist is a positive for us. It means escapism. The community is extremely LGBT and LGBT-friendly, perfect for those of us in places that are not LGBT-friendly. But there are plenty of other reasons to escape; I’ve met furries who escape their physical disabilities or mental illness through their characters.
It’s hard to refer to the furry community as a “fandom” even if we use the term ourselves sometimes. “Fandom” is better used for communities growing out of a specific thing (Trekkies for Star Trek, Whovians for Doctor Who, and so forth). Even though we can certainly come off just as obnoxious and weird as any fandom, furries are more spread out with our sources.
There will definitely be some that join because of Zootopia, just like many joined thanks to Robin Hood or any of the 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons. (Go re-watch Rocko’s Modern Life. It influenced me a lot, but man that thing was messed up.) But, there isn’t one way to be a furry. You don’t need any specific outfits, you don’t need to watch all seven seasons of anything. You don’t even need a character.
That said, having a character (you’ll also hear the word “fursona” used; the puns aren’t just in the movie) is a big part of being a furry for a lot of us. It’s core to the sense of self-expression and escapism that so many of us join the community looking for. If you don’t want to have one, that’s fine, and if you do want to have one, there really aren’t many rules. You can be anything you want to be. I mean, the third most popular species for a character is “dragon”, and I’m pretty sure those don’t actually exist. And there’s numerous hybrids.
Since furries come into the community from so many different angles, the characters we design reflect that. Many are, basically, human, the sort of thing you’d see roaming around Hollywoo. Those are easy to make fursuits (character costumes; think mascots) for, so they have practical benefits beyond just feeling more “human”. But there are some that go the Zootopia route of wildly divergent sizes and shapes, or those inspired by The Lion King who stay on all fours. Remember, there are few rules to furry.
You can’t take a selfie of your character. So we have artists — and lots of them — to act as photographers for scenes that never happened. Or maybe they did, but not the way we want to remember them. Artists and artisans pretty much drive the furry economy. Fursuits run several thousand dollars and their creators have waiting lists. A good character portrait or ref sheet (a drawing that details a character’s traits) can go anywhere from $20 to $200, based on detail. YCH (Your Character Here) auctions can run into the thousands. It can get expensive, but I’ve never paid for a commission and felt ripped off.
And you don’t need any of that if you don’t want it. Plus, there’s plenty of art that’s not about our characters. Plenty that’s not even drawn. There are furry bands and composers. We write furry novels: fantasy, sci-fi, even literary fiction (shameless plug). If escapism is the input of furry, then creativity is the output.
So, what do furries do? Most of the time, live a perfectly typical life. We may have more animal-themed things around, same as a rennie (a Renaissance Faire aficionado) might have more medieval-themed things. I get away with wearing a rabbit ears hat all the time, but the words “get away with” probably say how I feel about it.
When we’re not on the Internet (rare, since we are of the Internet), we have conventions. If you’re in the US or Europe, there is probably one close to you (for various definitions of “close”). These conventions can be big; Midwest FurFest is technically bigger than the town it’s held in. They can be utterly kid-friendly. They can be raucous parties. Or they can be small, intimate gatherings.
The word “intimate” brings up the elephant in the room. (Not her.) The go-to stereotype for furries is that it’s all about freaky sex. Is there weird sexual stuff in the furry world? Absolutely. Is it the point of the whole thing? No, except for some people it is. (Nick was right, that does make you sound smart.) For some of us, the community is the only safe space to talk about these things, so we take the opportunity. But as with all things furry, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.
This is just five minutes’ worth of information. The community is way too big to sum up that fast; Kyell Gold, a prominent furry author, wrote a more substantial article on the community’s evolution. Much ink has been spilled defending, promoting, explaining and observing. We like to welcome people.
And people like to make fun of us. Stereotype us. But that was the whole point of Zootopia. Sometimes stereotypes are true, often they’re not. They can be true and false in the same person. Allow people — including yourself — to be complex individuals.
And if you wanna wag, wag. It’s kinda fun.
Zoe Landon has been a writer and a rabbit for over a decade. She’s also a professional software developer and regular conference speaker. Follow her on Twitter.