The Furry Fandom is a young, internet-savvy group, and a lot of our members find the community on line as teenagers. Zootopia and My Little Pony have their own fandoms, and they all blur together. Every year, we meet new young people, and that’s awesome! But it can be scary seeing your kids swept away in a huge, strange, and in some ways alien community. Here’s some thoughts and resources. We’ll keep this updated.
While there aren’t rules and regulations, parents are welcome at most large Austin furry events. When in doubt, contact whoever’s running the event, but please come and ask questions. Parents are also welcome at our local and state conventions Furry Fiesta, Furry Siesta, and HavenCon.
Positives: Celebrating the strong points
“Someone understands me.”
Belonging to a group is powerful, and for a teenager, vital. High school is a terrible, soul-destroying time for outsiders. Many furries are dreamers, artists, introverts, the quiet kid in the corner. We’ve never stopped pretending, holding onto cartoons and video games while other kids are growing up (or trying to.) Lots of us struggle with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual or some other color of the queer rainbow, and it’s hard to grow up thinking you’re the only person that feels like that. And, cards on the table, it’s a special kind of person that wants to dress like a housecat. So many young furries have stories that begin with “I thought I was alone, and then I found the fandom.”
In particular, the fandom has about twice the usual number of “spectrum” people dealing with Asperger/high-functioning autism. It’s still a challenge to deal with a busy social community, but they’re a part of the pack, not an automatic outsider.
Being friendly, silly, and playful is a much harder road than it sounds, and we’re on it together.
“I’ve got support.”
That “Together” word is important. Many of us are or were bullied, and we’ve survived–and on average, we’re still happy. How? An understanding community. Yes, we’re a community that sometimes barks at each other and wears fox tails, but a community of outsiders is surprisingly strong. That’s why, despite some serious challenges (1/3 of all suicides are tied to sexual orientation issues; 9 out of 10 GLBT teens have been bullied for their orientation; outsiders and socially challenged kids are brutalized in school) we’re still happy! Furries are as happy and “well’ as many other groups, because we have a strong community.
“It takes a (fox) village”
While the furry fandom is very age-shifted to the younger end of the spectrum, the community has lots of talented, creative, and in most cases patient adults. Our “graymuzzles” (furries solidly in their adult years with lots of fandom experience) are the scaffolding the fandom builds itself around. In the Austin furry community, we have talented computer folks, educational professionals, marketing executives, department VPs, professional artists, animators (multiple), writers and publishers, and a host of folks with full, strange lives. The community does have age lines, the younger folk move too fast for the older ones and we don’t get the jokes anymore, but the local fandom has a network of mentors, strange and surprising talent resources, and the kind of informal network for job-seekers that you might find in a church or club, which can be hard for outsider-types and awkward post-teens to find on their own. On the off chance that the young folks listen to the older ones, graymuzzles are there for the community.
“Finally! He’s got friends!”
Outsiders can take a long time to find a social circle. The furry community is a big, swirling, active, pre-built one.
Pros and Cons: Gray Issues
There are a lot of gay furries. Not even our psychology researchers are sure about why, but the numbers are high, even in GLBT-friendly Austin. Is this a problem? Not really. GLBT folk aren’t any more predatory or dangerous than other groups. But parents have always been concerned about their children’s relationships, concerned with who they’re with, what they’re doing, and whether they could get hurt. And a gay teenager stepping into the furry fandom moves from a world where GLBT’s are a small, sometimes persecuted, minority into a world where they’re a majority, with all the potential for relationship risk and drama that teenage romance carries with it. In most cases, this is a very different dynamic.
The Demands of Being a Dog
Suddenly, extracurricular activities! A child goes from having a few internet friends to knowing dozens of people! And they’re likely to want to go to conventions! And get a very expensive costume! It’s kind of like joining a sports team, but with absolutely no sports. Just the mascots. We’ve heard from some parents that their furry kids told them they HAD to have a costume to be a furry, which kind of surprised us. Lots of furries do, but it’s not a majority thing, perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of furries have an extensive costume. Tails and ears are more common, but even that’s around 50%.
Conventions are their own conversation. There’s a lot of the furry experience that only happens at conventions, it’s a great environment for a rich safe space with lots of involvement, worth the money. The local conventions tend to be policed for family-friendly behavior to about the dinner hour, and then much less restrictive in their “after-dark” time slots, but there’s lots of fun activities, artists, and things to do during the day.
In either case, there seems to be an “all-or-nothing” approach for teenagers. They wear their tails to the store or to school. They HAVE to go to the convention, and don’t try to explore local events. Particularly for a teenager with social challenges, explore the local community first. Even bouncy extroverts have a hard time at conventions, where there are literally thousands of strangers and no places to connect and wind down. Build local connections with the kids and graymuzzles in the community before checking out the convention. Cons have a “mardi gras” feel that can be overwhelming and surreal without a connection, and particularly in Austin there’s lots of good local stuff to do.
We’re a very internet-savvy group. Twitter, Telegram, Facebook, Furaffinity, texting, instagram, and sixteen other applications every month. And it’s very hard to monitor all that content and all those personalities. It’d be almost impossible to connect with the furry community without a computer, since we don’t have a building or regular meeting spaces. This is an issue with any 21st century parent, although with our entire community tied into the internet, perhaps a bit more so. When in doubt, ask where they’re going, and join them. Most furry events in Austin have an adult present, perhaps not in a chaperone-type role, but at least as an organizer.
Here there be dragons: furry fandom risks and challenges
They’re so very weird.
As a category, furries are very silly, playful people, with lots of artists, late teens and early 20s folks. And typically, at furry events, at least a few people will be in full, silly, escapist mode. Wearing tails and ears to a Schlotzky’s meetup? Yes. Puppy costume pajamas in public? Probably. Dog collar to the movie? It happens. Usually there’s a little more common sense at public events than in private homes, but a community of young weirdos celebrating their youth and weirdness can get really silly, quite quickly, particularly when they’ve carved out a safe space. In many ways, this is an issue of personal limits and tolerance more than a problem. Kids will be kids (even some of the 30-year-old ones), but there’s nothing quite like herding six people with tails through a restaurant to show you clearly where your comfort levels are.
Strange Adults with Crazy Kids
The age range of the furry fandom is one of its strong points, but one of its challenges, too. We do what we can to police our community, but without membership rules or any sort of central structure, there’s no way to monitor a loose network of people. In general, private house events are more restricted than large public ones. Get to know the host of any private event, and stop by for a few minutes at the large public events. You’d be welcome.
Cards on the table, yes, there are predators in the fandom. There are predators in any large, uncontrollable group. There’s no sugar-coating that. We can help you get to know the leaders in the Austin furry community, drop us a note.
Rated R: Lifelike Violence, Language, Some Adult Situations, Nudity. Okay, Maybe Not R.
Much like life and the rest of the internet, the furry fandom has adult content. Most of the big furry websites (FurAffinity, Weasyl, etc) have age restrictions, but those are only as good as the flags and tags content providers use, and it’s a fandom with a huge 18-year-old-guy population. On the positive (?) side, it’s practically impossible to keep teenagers away from adult content. Be aware, and monitor internet activity if you need to.
A Community, But Not Instant Friends
Many younger furries with social challenges look to the fandom as a guarantee of friendship–if you’re a furry, you have to accept me. Unfortunately, that simply can’t be true. The tolerant nature of the fandom smooths out a lot of difficulties in making friends, but very shy people, teenagers in that “intentionally strange” phase, and people with serious social challenges can still have problems engaging with the furry fandom, and the reality that openness and tolerance isn’t a magic band-aid for acceptance can be an unpleasant crash. Relationship-building is a challenge on its own, and there’s no fix for that.