What Are Furries? Tying the Knot Between Roleplay and Reality
Furries are everywhere — anyone could be one. Your high school math teacher, your conservative next-door neighbor, your boss — even your favorite celebrity could be yiffing until the cows come home (more on that later), and you would be none the wiser.
But exactly what is a furry person? No, we're not talking about that beau of a bear you've been hitting it off with on the apps. We're referring to those who dedicate themselves to full-blown “fursonas.”
Let's unveil the folks inside the shaggy suits so we can better understand what makes them tick.
What are furries?
Furries are a subculture focused on role-playing or dressing up as animal-like personas (or a fursonas, as they call them), characters with human attributes and fleshed-out personalities. Think less like a literal animal and more like an anthropomorphic cartoon character.
Furries have found a meteoric rise to both fame and infamy on the internet, sometimes being deeply misunderstood and maligned — sound familiar?
Many think of furries as kinksters engaged in a purely sexual endeavor. And, sure, some of that is warranted; there are a lot of consenting adults living their best lives behind their masks and tails. But it's not any more true or false than it is about any other group of people. Just like being gay isn't exclusively about sex, neither is being a furry — even if it makes up a decent part of the subculture’s public image.
Fursonas: A fuzzy concept
One universal element ties all the furries together: the creation of a fursona.
Remember when you created your Bitmoji, back when people did that? It's sort of similar, only you have the choice to give yourself antlers or a sad backstory where your mother was captured by poachers. These fursonas can be virtually any species you can dream up in the animal kingdom, but wolves, dogs, felines, foxes, and dragons tend to be the most popular choices.
But how do furries embody their animalistic alter-ego? It depends. You’re probably familiar with the mascot-style fursuits many don in their daily lives, but plenty of furries out there take a subtler approach. They might just wear ears and a tail — or no costume at all. Some are content to simply commission art of their fursona and engage as the character online.
You probably won't be surprised to hear that developing and designing a fursona can be a hefty cost and some big business. There are whole companies dedicated to making furry fantasies into reality. Art commissions aren’t cheap, and custom fursuits can run thousands of dollars.
So, next time you see a furry fully suited up, know that that’s no mangy mutt; they’re probably a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or heiress.
Surveying the local wildlife: Furries by the numbers
So, now we know what furries are. But who are they? Here’s some demographic data from Furscience, the leading scientific research group for furries (yes, that’s a thing):
- Age: Furries skew younger. A 2020 study found the majority are under 30, and the largest group was 18-20. Minors weren’t included, but you can bet there are plenty of young pups out there.
- Gender: Cisgender men seem to dominate the furry fandom, making up about two-thirds of the community. Still, about 12% of furries identify as transgender, more than 20 times the rate in the general population.
- Sexuality: You could probably guess that furries are frequently also queer, but the prevalence is truly fur-raising. Several surveys indicate that straights make up a small minority compared to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and pansexual furries. Asexuality is also common in the community.
- Ethnicity: The vast majority of surveyed furries (78.6%) identify as white, but Furscience acknowledges that their in-person studies were primarily conducted in North America and online surveys are in English, which skews results.
Furries unsurprisingly lean more socially liberal (mother behavior) and run the gamut when you look at religious beliefs and education. To sum it up, they’re just like any other group: incredibly nuanced and hard to put into a box (unless maybe it's a litter box, but that'll depend on the character).
Furries in the wild
We've mentioned there are furries everywhere you look, but what is their natural habitat?
Websites and online communities are always abuzz with furry activity since it's a safe, easy way for people to be themselves and role-play. These are also excellent channels for sharing art and comics of their fursonas, something that's extremely common.
As far as when and where to find them out and proud in their fursuits, furry conventions have arisen as havens for the fandom. These gatherings give more opportunities for furries and people who love them from far and wide to socialize, buy and sell artwork, and, of course, wear their costumes.
Are furries gay?
As previously mentioned, a furry can absolutely be gay, but you don't have to be gay to be a furry. Many put themselves on the queer spectrum to some extent, but you'll probably find a healthy dose of heteros at any given furry convention, too.
In addition to the sizable transgender contingent, many furries identify as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or agender.
But is "furry" a gender identity in and of itself? We're in no position to police gender identities here (frankly, no one is), so we can't rule on this definitively. Still, most people in the furry fandom wouldn't consider their fursona to be the same thing as their gender identity.
It might help if you think of a fursona like a drag persona. Does this persona define or reshape how they live outside the suit? Maybe — but the extent varies from person to person.
Furries also overlap with the LGBTQ+ community because they are similarly misunderstood in the public eye. Both groups are treated with disdain by normies who see them as overtly sexual, even though most of us are just trying to wag our tails or go to Trader Joe's to buy quinoa.
The burden of these stereotypes reinforces the need for allyship between the gay and furry communities. Furries are also in the line of fire in political discourse and often find themselves lumped together with queer identities thanks to anti-LGBTQ figures that don't bother to do any research.
The bottom line is that while not every furry is gay, queer folx and furries are bonded by the same struggle: the one to be authentically yourself in a world that tries to fight against you every step of the way. That's worth validating, protecting, and, frankly, celebrating.
Okay, but do they…you know…in those suits?
It depends, but let’s establish some terminology before we go any further. Sex or sexual activity within the furry fandom is called yiffing, and furry porn (usually drawn) is called yiff. The term's etymology dates back to the ’90s but found its way into the general public’s lexicon via an episode of CSI titled, appropriately, “Fur and Loathing.”
We talk about how much representation matters, but unfortunately for furries, the episode painted furries almost exclusively as fetishists. There's nothing inherently wrong with some sexy fun — if the depiction is positive. And since it was the early 2000s and being normal was still important, you already know it wasn't.
It's true people often associate furries with sex, and pop culture moments like the CSI episode are primarily to blame, along with a healthy dose of misinformation. But in truth, the idea of furries having sex in their fursuits or as their fursona can be a polarizing issue for some within the community. Many in the furry fandom would even go so far as to say their interest in being a furry is entirely non-sexual.
But of course, that doesn't mean it's not happening, just probably not in the way you imagine it. Very few furries own a full fursuit, and the ones who do aren’t typically down to clown inside them. Would you want to get stains and rips in a suit that cost you four grand? More often, they engage in sexual roleplay.
Although sex in the costumes is what most imagine, furry pornography is another extremely common sight. Erotic art, furry-themed cybersex, and sexual relationships with other furries all make up the unique and beautiful amalgam of yiffing that — while not for everyone — is no more harmful than whatever nasty business you get up to in your birthday suit.
Experience the fur-tastic fantasy for yourself
Hopefully, now you see the furry lifestyle is simply another way people like to express themselves and — sometimes — their sexuality. Although you don't have to be LGBTQ to be a furry, it's still something we should welcome into our corner of the world with open arms, wings, paws, or any other animal-like extremity.
How about you treat yourself to a sexy safari and see what kind of wild stuff you can get into? Whether you're down to clown with the furriest or just looking to do it how they do on the Discovery channel, your local Grindr grid has someone ready to scratch that itch, whether it’s behind your ear or somewhere else.