Two possibly related things: Mormons and furries.
Okay, so back in 2008 there was this ballot initiative here in California that you might have heard of: Prop 8, to amend the California Constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. One of the stories surrounding it (and there were many) was the heavy involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spending money, sending volunteers, and possibly swinging the outcome in a vote that was ultimately decided by two percentage points. In the wake of the election, I and others criticized the church and had a pretty sour feeling toward Mormons in general.
But in the intervening almost-four years, I’ve met several Mormons (and ex-Mormons), and today, as coincidence would have it, I read this article about the church’s softening stance on homosexuality. What stuck out to me is that the people in favor of being both gay and Mormon are not leaving the church, not sitting quietly and letting the elders guide their policies. They’re marching. They’re talking about it. They aren’t protesting violently or acting as though what they’re doing is shameful. They’re creating groups (“Building Bridges,” which makes me retroactively glad I dropped the “Building” from the title of that one book). They are marching–as Mormons–in gay pride parades! Can you imagine a Mormon group trying to march in a gay pride parade in 2009?
Also, I found out something else I didn’t know: The church leaders in Utah “supported a 2009 anti-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City that protected people on the basis of sexual orientation.” So by talking to friends and remaining open, my opinion of Mormons has, dare I say it, evolved. I’m still critical of the church leadership and still think that what they did in California in 2008 was wrong, but I’m much less inclined to say “Mormons are evil.”
Also today, I read a journal post regarding the fallout from the criminal behavior of a couple furries at a furry event sponsored by and benefiting a rescue worker group (to which several of the furries belong). Among all the other stuff, I saw a few people saying, “This is why I don’t tell my friends I’m a furry.”
There’s a movement to collect money to make up for the financial fallout, and I think that’s great. It certainly will help repair the image of furries. But I think more important than that is the lesson of the gay rights movement(*) and the lesson of the Mormons, above. I think we need to be unashamed of being furries.
(* The furry fandom has a lot in common with the gay community, but I don’t want to equate the fight to live equally in a relationship we were born to prefer with the right to have people not make fun of us for liking animal-people. They’re different in degree, and I realize that. But at the core of both is the fight to be respected as people no matter how we are born or how we choose to express those feelings we are born with, or how we choose to live our lives as long as we aren’t harming others.)
1. If we act ashamed of it, then the people who don’t know anything about it will assume that it’s something to be ashamed of. Really. This is a thing. Imagine that you’re doing a Google search, and this kinda weird cult-thing comes up that you don’t know anything about, and you’re like, “hey, wait, I recognize that symbol–my friend has it on her laptop.” So you go ask her about it. How would you feel if she replied with:
* “Oh, yeah! It’s kind of a fun thing a few of us do. Sorta weird, but I really have fun with it.”
* “It’s nothing. I only kind of like the symbol. I’m not really that INTO it, not like a lot of OTHER people are. My God, you didn’t see that CSI episode, did you?”
If you act like it’s no big deal, then your friends will think it is–wait for it–no big deal. If they saw the NJFurBQ thing, and ask you about it, then you just say, “There’s like fifty thousand furries in this country. Some of them are bound to be inconsiderate assholes. Me and my friends all donated money to cover the cost of what those idiots did and people are talking about banning them from future furry events.” That’s it. End of story.
2. If you don’t tell people you’re a furry, then all they will know is the people who get the publicity. This includes the CSI episode, the NJFurBQ, the panda guy… The lesson of the Mormons, above, is that despite some pretty bad publicity, you can change people’s perceptions a little at a time. Yes, you are not going to be written up in the paper for being a guy who does NOT have illegal public sex. But you know what? Your friends know YOU. They don’t know that guy in the paper. And associating YOU with the fandom gives them a hell of a lot more reason to have a positive impression of it than the publicity surrounding the few idiots/criminals who surface every so often.
When I mentioned this on Twitter, I got a couple responses that I think merit addressing. One is “I can’t come out as a furry at work; I’d lose my job.” Well, okay. Personally I think there are far fewer of those situations than people think, but that’s not my judgment call. I want to emphasize that I am not saying that you should wear a fursuit to work, or jump up on your desk and shout “I AM A FURRY.” I’m saying that if a friend asks you about the con t-shirt, or about your Lion King poster, or why you went to Pittsburgh last weekend and did it have anything to do with that convention thing, that you should not be ashamed to say, “Yeah, I hang out with this fandom that’s pretty cool.”
The other response was that “the bad apples get all the press and we’ll all be tainted by association.” That’s what I was trying to get across above, that if you’re just talking to your friends, well, they know you. They trust you, if you’re not a dick (don’t be a dick). They don’t know that guy in the paper. I’m sure if you reach, you can find an example of an asshole in some group they belong to–churches, sports fans, whatever–to give them an analogy. The best way to say it is “that guy in the paper is an asshole/criminal/idiot, and he’d be an asshole/criminal/idiot no matter what he was into, but because he’s a furry, he was an asshole/criminal/idiot in a furry way, and because people don’t really know a lot about furries, they assume that that’s typical.”
And the fandom is doing so many cool things. We give thousands and thousands of dollars to charity every year. We have a vibrant, flourishing artistic and literary community. We cherish and foster creativity and independence and self-expression. We are tolerant to a fault. We are good people. This is a fandom that I am proud to be a part of, and I tell people about the cool things we do ALL THE TIME. When I brought a couple non-furry SF writers to MFF last year, they were thrilled, and they said, “Next year, we’re coming back with costumes.”
So be proud of your fandom. Be judicious about where you talk about it–don’t get fired or disowned or whatever. But give people a chance to hear the good side of the fandom.
And if you hear about people doing shit like at this NJFurBQ–speak up and tell them that’s not okay. If you see it happening, stop it. This is your fandom. Take ownership of it.