Go on, admit it.
If you’ve ever given a second thought to furries – largely known to the public as people who dress up in giant animal costumes – you might have thought of them as freaks or wondered whether their costumes are some kind of kinky, freaky, fetish thing.
Perhaps the media put those thoughts in your head.
But after spending more than a decade studying the furry subculture, an international team of social scientists has concluded furries are not so different from the rest of us.
Researchers found that members of this “geeky, nerdy subculture” aren’t simply indulging in fantasy. They’re forging lifelong friendships and building a social support system in a community where they are not judged for having an unconventional interest, researchers found.
Furries are passionate, like sports fans, but with get-ups a lot more elaborate than jerseys and face paint. They find one another primarily online through furry forums or message groups where they talk and exchange information like other fan groups do.
Many know what it’s like to be made to feel like an outsider. Furries are about 50 percent more likely than the average person to report having been bullied during childhood, this research discovered.
“Perhaps the most fascinating thing that a decade of research on furries can tell us is that, in the end, furries are no different than anyone else — they have the same need to belong, need to have a positive and distinct sense of self, and need for self-expression,” social psychologist Courtney Plante, the project’s co-founder and lead analyst, writes this week in Psychology Today.
“Furries, in other words, are just like you — but with fake fur!”
Plante does not assume that everyone is familiar with the world of furries, or that they’ve heard accurate information about them.
“Depending on the media you consume, you may also know them as ‘the people who think they’re animals and have a weird fetish for fur,’” writes Plante, also the author of “FurScience!,” which features the findings of these studies.
“Or, just as likely, you have never heard the term ‘furry’ before outside the context of your pet dog or the neighbor with the back hair who mows his lawn without a shirt on every Saturday.”
Put simply, he writes, furries are fans like Trekkies or sports nerds. They’re “fans of media that features anthropomorphic animals — that is, animals who walk, talk, and do otherwise human things,” he writes.
“At first glance, it seems like anthropomorphic animals are a bizarre thing to be a fan of. That is, until you realize that most North Americans today grew up watching Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cartoons and reading books like ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and continue this proud tradition by taking our children to see the films like ‘Zootopia.’”
The characters in “Zootopia,” Disney’s “Robin Hood,” the books “Watership Down” and “Redfall,” and video games “Night in the Woods” and “Pokemon” have lots of fans in furry circles, Plante and his fellow researchers found.
The community is predominately young, male and white, largely dudes in their teens to mid-20s. Nearly half of them are college students.
They get above-average grades, are interested in computers and science, and are passionate about video games, science fiction, fantasy and anime, researchers found.
The community is very inclusive – furries are seven times more likely than the general public to identify as transgender and about five times more likely to identify as non-heterosexual.
“This fandom embraces norms of being welcoming and non-judgmental to all,” Plante writes.
He takes aim at misconceptions spread largely by the media, which, researchers charge, routinely mischaracterize furries as fetishists or, though unproven by data, somehow psychologically dysfunctional. (Not surprisingly, then, furries are often shy about speaking to the media.)
Take the idea that furries get sexual gratification out of dressing in mascot furs.
“About 15 to 20 percent of furries wear elaborate costumes called ‘fursuits’ in much the same way anime fans cosplay as their favorite characters,” Plante writes.
“However, unlike anime, furries are often assumed to engage in fursuiting for sexual reasons, despite the fact that this is very rarely the case.”
Many furries interviewed by Plante and his colleagues described the fandom “as one of the first places where they felt like they could belong,” he writes.
“So while most of us would look at a person who watches cartoons or costumes as an anthropomorphic dog and ask ‘what’s wrong with that person?’, the data suggest that these very same fantasy-themed activities are a fundamental part of that person’s psychological well-being.”