Everything I Thought I Knew About Furries is Wrong as I Learned from My Teens
I started to notice my teens’ interest in furries when one of my teens showed up to a downtown event wearing a panda suit she had bought online. She had scrimped and saved and was the very proud owner of this new suit that allowed her to walk around town looking like a panda character you might see at an amusement park.
Then in October, right around Halloween, Wal-Mart and Target started selling full on furry heads.
And I noticed that my teens were talking a lot about the furry community.
I’m going to be honest here for a moment: Everything I thought I knew about furries I learned from an episode of CSI over ten years ago. The other day, I had a discussion with my teens about why this episode of television is so offensive. You see, in the episode, the furry community is shown as being all about sexual kink. The reality is, less than 20% of furries engage in sexual kink and there is, in fact, a large under the age of 18 furry community. The furry community is a safe haven for a lot of outsiders and does have a large population of LGBTQ youth, but it is also predominantly a creative community. In fact, part of the appeal is creating a character and telling their backstory. The identities that they create are called fursonas. As teens wrestle with their place in the world and try to figure out who they are, they find themselves drawn to this accepting community that is safe, welcoming, and creative.
I have spent a lot of time recently asking my teens questions about what it means to be a furry and really trying to listen as they explained it to me. It’s very much about the magic of story and the ability to become someone else, in this case an anthropomorphic animal. Before you consider that weird, keep in mind that a lot of our favorite books, tv shows, cartoons and movies are all about anthropomorphic animals. Zooptopia, Mickey Mouse, Duck Tales . . . these are all stories where animals are given human characteristics and we have loved them for decades. One of my personal favorites is Winnie the Pooh. He’s a silly, willy nilly old bear that I love.
There are a couple of really popular furries on YouTube that all of my teens are watching, including Majira. There are furry conventions that have safe spaces and meet ups for teen furries. And there are online youth furry communities. Many of them make great attempts to keep their youth furries safe. In fact, that Austin teen furry page has a FAQ for parents.
Make no mistake, if you do research on furries you will also find a lot of anti-furry groups, particularly the parents of teens. And I think it’s important to read and do research on that point of view as well. I may be a teen services librarian, but I also work with parents and I have to be respectful of their points of view as well.
I have been doing a lot of reading and researching about the teen furry community and here are a couple of articles you may want to read:
If, like me, you are learning that your teens are into the furry community, I recommend doing a lot of research and really just sitting down and listening as they tell you who they are and why they like being a part of this community. It’s really just another type of fandom or con community. As someone who greets every stranger I see wearing a Tardis t-shirt with the you are my people exclamation, I can begin to understand what this draw to community means to my teens. And whatever your personal point of view may be, we still have to be respectful of the teens we serve. Also, let this be a reminder to us all, a television show is not a good source of information about any community.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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