This week The Rumpus is running an interview I did of a friend of mine who is not just a furry, but who makes a living making full-body fursuits for other furries.
Prior to interviewing her, I knew only vaguely about her furry-related adventures, and didn't think much about them. Frankly I have lots of friends into lots of things, plenty of them plenty weird. Really, the only friends who make me lift a suspicious eyebrow are the ones whose interests seem too conventional or conformist, or whose interests seem a reaction to the perceived judgments of others.
But when Stephen Elliott of the Rumpus sent out an email saying that he wanted to run 650-word interviews with ordinary people who are interesting, I thought of my friend: she's an "ordinary" person in the sense that if you met her you'd think, "there's a sharp, talented 20-something who does not flinch to give you her opinion!" And you'd never for a second guess that she likes to dress up like a lemur.
If I'm to trace back my awareness of the existence of furries, it would be to one of those MTV or HBO sex shows from the 90s, which featured an awkward young man who wants to have sex in what looked like a sports team's mascot outfit, and follows him as he makes a hookup at a furry convention. The focus was wholly on sex, and the whole thing seemed rather strange and sordid and sad. It made furries look like totally random but entirely harmless sex fiends.
When I sat down to interview my friend, I was reminded of that impression, and how far off it is from her: she goes by Kilcodo or Killy when she's among the furries, but I know her by a fairly ordinary name of the type you'd see an ode to in English Romantic Poetry. She's outgoing, energetic, and in a long-term committed relationship with a great guy who's getting a PhD in the social sciences. She's politically aware and outspoken, an advocate for liberal causes who loves to argue philosophy and moral and logical reasoning, an "out" atheist/humanist who makes her case with kindness and precision, and a really talented writer (as a writer is of course the primary way I know her).
In short, there is nothing about her that is strange, sordid, or sad, and her attitude towards sex is supremely healthy. So even though I'd never thought much about that side of her life, when we sat down to do the interview, I immediately said to myself, "well, Amy, clearly everything you know is very little, and everything you know is probably wrong." Her answers to my questions were fascinating -- so fascinating that I could not possibly cut them down to 650 words. I sent it to the Rumpus at full-length, and they agreed that this was worth running as a longer feature. Most people will probably think this interview is on an "odd topic," but I'm really proud of this interview. It goes into new and interesting territory, and it is real, and human, and valuable.
While we were doing the interview, she dressed up for me, and I just want to lay out my impressions. First, it's way less weird than people make it out. Frankly, a big plush cartoon-animal shaped toy will put a smile on anyone's face, and a big plush cartoon-animal shaped toy that is alive and jumps around and hugs you (or picks nits out of your hair) is about 1,000 times more fun than that. There's nothing sexual about this part of it: cartoons are cute, cute is fun, and fun is happy.
Second, when she was dressed as a lemur, I was possessed by the irresistible urge to pet her. She was soft and cuddly like a (giant) toy or a (giant) pet, and afterwards I thought how, even though I've known my friend for years, I don't touch her very often. Actually, I don't touch many people very often, and when I do, it's probably lightly, tentatively, so as not to offend. Maybe that's part of the reason I love my cats so much: they're the warm, loving, living things I can manhandle a little and shower with pet-pet affection. It was comforting for me, and I can only imagine it's comforting for her to be in a suit that makes other people break down their barriers and be more openly physically affectionate.
It also broke down barriers for her: she was jumping around, playing in my hair, doing things that she would normally not, and all while I just laughed my head off. The only thing she did that I objected to was hit me with her tail, and even that didn't bother me that much. Afterwards I thought: this must be very freeing for her, to be in this jolly outfit that makes it so you can get away with being more playful, and makes it so other people react really well to it, makes them more playful in return.
Lastly, it reminded me of a phase that I went through as a kid (a phase I think a lot of kids go through) when I acted like a dog. It drove my family crazy, but I ran around on my hands and knees barking and panting and begging and just all-around acting like a dog. I started thinking about how, as people, we are mammals, but we are mammals with a mind-bogglingly complex social structure. There are so many unspoken rules, small rituals, social expectations -- so many things to get right and so much that can go wrong -- that I think at a certain point we take comfort in the seeming simplicity of animal behavior. The way they communicate and behave seems so much more open and honest, so much less vexing and fraught, that to be for a short while like them is a relief.
I think that's part of the reason why most people like having pets, or cherish moments when we commune with wild animals in nature. If we let go of our culture-bound bullshit, we can communicate with them on their level very easily, and it's freeing. There are no mind games when you're hanging out with a dog. If a dog likes you, he doesn't hide it and try to send secret messages through his eyes or put a subtext into that last comment or heaven forbid try to "neg" you so you'll like him more -- a dog just jumps up and effing LIKES you and you know it. How does the song go: "if you want a friend, feed any animal."
Now these are just some cursory impressions I had after spending a few minutes with a friend in a fursuit. She has a far more in-depth assessment about what the furry culture is all about, focusing more on art and creativity, in the interview on the Rumpus. But from the point of view of a person who is not in this culture, I just have to say, once you spend a few minutes with someone in a fursuit, it's far less odd than you'd think it would be. I think it's like all things that seem strange at first: the more you know about it, the more normal and natural it comes to be. To me, especially, the "randomness" was erased when I realized that this does tap into some real human needs. And anything that makes people feel good and happy in a real, lasting way is valuable.