Feb 072014

Continued from Coming Out of the Furry Closet: Part 1 – Furry Inside

I consider myself a Furry “lifestyler”. Being a Fur is just part of who I am, and I think it is fair to say that my primary Fursona more authentically expresses my essential nature than many of the masks I wear in my ordinary life. I had some awareness of Phelan in early childhood, and I am old enough for that to be long before the emergence of “Furry” as we know it today. Fully grown, married, and working my way through college, I discovered the term and the community around the Spring of 1995, when I stumbled almost accidentally across alt.fan.furry. It was a short pounce from there to FurryMUCK at the time, and I was thrilled to find others who not only shared some of my deepest personal experiences, but were actively exploring their Furriness through role-play. After years of doubt, I discovered that I was not alone. I have always been an introvert, but very capable when it comes to social interaction. Nonetheless, I just wasn’t in an emotional place where I was willing to make space for being a Fur. So even within the Furry community, I was a silent lurker. I suppose I lived vicariously through the freedom of expression and exploration that others enjoyed, always connected to the community, but observing quietly from the sidelines.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

Rödluvan och Vargen i Skogen (Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Forest) by Carl Larsson

I am a testament to the fact that one can go through life being Furry perhaps indefinitely without really discussing or sharing it with anyone. I tried to discuss it once with a trusted friend as a teenager and was misunderstood, teased, and then ridiculed in front of others. My trust was betrayed. Growing up, I was accustomed to being harassed and tormented, but that was usually for things that others only believed, their own fears and insecurities falsely projected upon me. In this case, those I had really trusted and admired were aggressively rejecting something that was actually a part of me.

The only recourse I found was to bury it internally and shut that inner room off to everyone in my life. These reservations and a sense of embarrassment later prevented me from sharing it with my partner in life, my best friend, and mate. I remember vividly a moment in May of 2003 when I was on the verge, preparing to share it with her with the exact words on the tip of my tongue, but fear ultimately got the better of me. It was almost another decade before I found the courage that failed me then. Reflecting upon all those years of fear, hiding, deception, and denial, I now seek to understand what was really happening within me. What was the source of my insurmountable fear and inertia? I have found that most of it comes back to expectations.

Primarily, I imposed expectations upon myself. I was “supposed to be normal”, mature, responsible, upstanding, rational, intelligent, … the list goes on and on. Through this lens, being Furry seemed like an aberration, a flaw, a problem to be corrected, an indulgence I needed to abandon. This put me in a position of not just trying to fight against something that was an integral part of who I am, but feeling intensely guilty about it at the same time. The resulting suppression and repression caused many problems over the years that I was simply ignoring, like emotional distance, lack of affection, anger, frustration, and resentment. I overcame these barriers when authenticity became more important than preserving the illusion. Extensive spiritual practice, meditation, deep introspection all helped in this. In time, I realized that I was authentically mature, upstanding, rational, intelligent, accomplished, AND FURRY! “Normal” is a label for an expectation that does not accurately describe anyone. Coming out of the Furry closet begins with being comfortable in one’s own fur. We have to acknowledge who we really are and be at peace with that inside before we can hope to share that with anyone else in a genuine and sincere way.

Light on the Door at the End of a Tunnel

Light on the Door at the End of a Tunnel – A Photograph by Dusan Bicanski

Built upon the foundation of our expectations for ourselves (both authentic and spurious, constructive and destructive) are layers upon layers of expectations that have been assembled for us by others. In many ways these expectations establish the framework for our relationships, friendships, and social roles. We falsely imagine that others are exactly what we perceive them to be, and we conversely and unconvincingly struggle to become what we suppose others expect us to be. I am not sure that any of this really happens on purpose. Sometimes, we change, but we pretend to be something we are not to preserve a friendship or to keep a relationship unchanged, because that is the comfortable thing to do. At other times, we may realize that we have just been pretending all along, but we keep up appearances so as to avoid conflict, disappointment, or sadness. The more serious the relationship, the more struggle and tension is involved in maintaining the illusion and suspending our need for openness and sincerity. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we may be preserving these expectations at the expense of our own fulfillment and happiness. This can be especially and painfully true when being a Fur intersects with our sense of sexual identity. And, frankly, if being Furry is connected with our sense of Self, and we are sexual beings, that intersection is only natural.

Once I had come to terms with being a Furry and found a comfortable space within myself to explore that, there was a deep need to share that with the most important person in my life, my mate. It felt like I owed that to her after all of the years of denial. In spite of that, the fear was still there. It would bring unpredictable change to the most important relationship in my life. I could clearly envision all of the things that could go horribly wrong, and yet it was almost impossible to imagine anything positive that could come of it. I could dream of loving acceptance and support, even encouragement. But that was so far from my thoughts to that point, I just had no concept of what that might be like. After substantial reflection, I think what most overcame my fear was an inescapable need for truthfulness with my partner, who had been so supportive and faithful to me for the better part of two decades. I resolved to be honest and open, and to ask for nothing in return other than patience, which she had never ceased to provide when I most needed it. I would not expect her to excuse my Furry past and prior deception, to accept any Furry interests and activities in the future, or to understand this in any way. I just desperately needed her to KNOW, regardless of the consequences.

As it happens, my mate could not have been more caring and nurturing. Patience quickly became curiosity, then acceptance, understanding, and encouragement. Upheld by the emotional power and her compassion during this time of confession and explanation, I realized that my fear and doubt had only denied us a closer, more loving, and more sincere relationship. We cannot repress one aspect of nature without unintentional consequences. Hiding my identity as a Fur was suppressing the affection I so desperately needed to express and show toward my mate.

Sunrise in Africa

Sunrise in Africa – A Photograph by Jon Sullivan

If you are a Furry, as I am, I cannot guarantee a positive or nurturing outcome for you if decide to “come out” to your closest loved one. The best I can do is to encourage you to look deeply within yourself to understand what motivations and intentions lie behind your secrecy. Strengthened with that knowledge, you can then make a better decision to maintain that secrecy or to seek something more externally authentic. I can also offer you some explanation of the rewards of having a mate who allows you the space to express yourself as Fur, but I cannot promise that you will be offered that space. Having been through this fire of transformation and turning to look back on myself as I was, I can only say that I believe we are much better off cultivating close relationships in which we can fully express who we really are, without fear or insecurity.

In spite of that, coming out of the Furry closet is not an all or nothing prospect. Once we have decide to be open with our closest loved one, it is natural to consider our relationships with close family, friends, and perhaps others still. However, opening one gate does not require dispensing with the castle. Only we can decide where we draw the line that permits others into our Furry life, and the questions and challenges in this regard can be complex and nuanced. We need to be open to the possibility that the line may move over time. When it does, it is important that we act with love and compassion, from a place of self-knowledge, self-awareness, and a foundation of intention and purpose.

Wishing you authenticity and joy…

Oct 262013
Furry Pride

Furry Pride by Phelan Muirneach

Applying the phrase “coming out” to being a Furry or suggesting there is such a thing as a “Furry closet” might not make sense to a very large part of the community, especially those who identify as Furry only by nature of their being a part of the Fandom. Before proceeding, I need to be clear that I personally feel that the admiration, cultivation, encouragement, and support of the Furry artistic community within the Fandom is vital and indispensable, and I would in no way seek to diminish that. Suffice it to say that there are some of us within the community for whom our Furry nature goes well beyond the appreciation or creation of art, costumes, fiction, and performance. Because of this, being a Furry can be a deeply personal and emotional experience that is very difficult to share with loved ones. The criticism and judgment of those about whom we care the most can be painful, and we may experience powerful fear when considering the possibility of bringing change into the relationships we depend upon the most. I recognize that some members of the Fandom will not fully understand this, let alone the general public, and so I want to take the time to elaborate upon it a bit.

It is evident that the Furry community struggles within itself for a clear definition of its identity. While that struggle is an important part of the process of the growth and evolution of any group or community, this subject (what it means to be a Furry), has at times been a source of disagreement, contention, controversy, and alienation. There is a large part Fandom for whom the idea of being anything more than a fan or enthusiast seems awkward or strange. As these members of the Furry community struggle to come to terms with and integrate their admittedly unusual interest, which their family or friends might regard as somehow concerning, it is very natural that they would want to distance themselves from the more peculiar facets of being a Furry. I do very much respect their concerns. At the same time, I feel that it is important to provide enough room within the community as a whole to welcome and encourage those who do want to take it a bit further. Finding a way to bring the Fandom together in a way that celebrates what we share and respects our differences is a challenging and long term goal, but it is certainly possible.

It is fairly well accepted, even within the Fandom, for Furries to embrace or adopt a Furry persona or “Fursona”. For some, this may be only a visual image that represents their personal connection to the Fandom, an avatar for online social interaction. Others fully develop their Fursona to the extent that they have a back story, a rich, multidimensional personality, and a unique social presence. This is one of the many reasons that role playing and gaming have been so important to the Fandom since its earliest days. The freedom of these interactive environments provides these Fursonas with plenty of freedom to explore and express themselves.

There is also substantial acceptance within the Fandom for costuming and Fursuiting, or at least the use of Furry accessories like tails, ears, and the like. Here we share some common ground with certain segments of the Anime Fandom. Along with the flourishing world of Furry artwork, there has risen a vibrant community of Fursuit and Furry accessory designers, creators, and craftspeople. For some Furries, Fursuiting is actually part of their professional life as entertainers, character performers, or mascots. For others, costuming and cosplay provide even greater freedom to become their Fursona physically while socially interacting with other Furries and non-Furries in a way that fully transcends an electronic role play or social experience.

Carl Gustav Jung

Sketch of Carl Gustav Jung by Psych Art

Even beyond this, there are Furries for whom the Fursona is much more than a role to play or a mask to wear. It is a very real part of their experience of identity. I do not mean to suggest something that is a form of escapism or disconnection from life, but rather something that a Furry feels deeply to be part of their wholly integrated Self. Their Furry identity is something that they actively engage with as part of their sense of being. This brings them authenticity, wholeness, healing, self-actualization, and well-being.  This is fully in keeping with Carl Gustav Jung, one of the founders of analytical psychology, who emphasized the importance of a process he termed “individuation”. Individuation involves the discovery, exploration, and integration of underdeveloped or unconscious aspects of ourselves, as well as repressed thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Left to their own within the unconscious, these shadow aspects may fuel our greatest challenges and difficulties. However, once brought within our conscious experience, they may be transformed into sources of great potential, creativity, and joy.

Now that I hope you have some understanding of the depth and richness within the experience of being a Furry, please stick around for Coming Out of the Furry Closet: Part 2 – Precious Gift of Authenticity, in which I explore what it might mean to “come out” of the Furry closet.

Oct 242013
List Maddie_US_Fish_and_Wildlife_Service_Path_Through_Wild_Woods_Small

Path Through Wild Woods – A Photograph by List Maddie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Whenever I discuss this particular project with close friends and loved ones, the most common response I get is that I have combined so many already obscure and narrow subjects, that I cannot hope to reach anyone else in a meaningful way. They suggest that I am effectively creating content for an audience of one. It is possible that they are right, but I suspect otherwise.

I have chosen the word “intersection” in the banner for this site for a very important and deliberate reason. An intersection is a place where multiple roads, paths, or streams come together, like a crossroads without the implication that a choice must be made. It is a place between places, between destinations, between groups or communities, between ideologies. It is an opportunity to get a little distance from the usual patterns, habits, and categories and to give ourselves the space to look at other ideas, other paths or directions, and other opportunities. Intersections unite travelers from different places, even if for just a moment.

A proverb within the tradition of Sufism states: “There are as many paths to God as there are souls on earth.” I personally think this is true in several ways. For our purposes here, it is sufficient to say that we each walk our own path of discovery and growth in life. No one can walk that path for us. We may align ourselves with one specific religious or spiritual tradition, but even though we may wholly identify with that particular group or sect, the way that we experience that tradition is deeply personal. We understand it and practice it in our own way. We cannot help but bring something of ourselves with us into that tradition, and by nature of that alone, it becomes our own unique and personal journey.

So whatever happens to have brought you here, we find ourselves, you and I, at an intersection. Our paths have met for one purpose or another, and I think that is worth acknowledging. It may be that you depart after a brief moment, never to return. That is okay. You may decide to walk beside me for a while. Hopefully, you take the opportunity to read my explanation about AniMagicka and Furry Spirituality so you can see where I am coming from. I leave you with a thought from novelist and essayist Tom Robbins:

Our similarities bring us to a common ground; Our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.