Why Nerds Hate Furries
By Agouti Rex
There was a time when furries were universally reviled by all other classes of nerd. In the primordial days of Internet nerdom from the late 90s through the early 00s, a dork could openly admit to being a Trekkie or an Otaku or an X-Phile*, but to be a furry was to risk ridicule and ostracism from fellow nerds. It was common wisdom that an association with furry was the kiss of death for any artist seeking professional employment in comics, animation or illustration. Furry’s status as Internet whipping boy was codified in the “Geek hierarchy chart,” a 2002 proto-meme by early Internet micro-celebrity Lore Sjöberg, which placed furries at rock bottom beneath Pokeman fans, LARPers, and Trekkies who get married in full Klingon garb. Sites like Something Awful, Portal of Evil, and a fledgling 4-chan used mockery of a furry outgroup to help shape cohesive site identities. Something Awful CEO Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka built his comedy brand in large by encouraging harassment of furries outside the site and witch hunts to expose site users who also maintained furry side identities.**
But where did all this hate come from? The easy answer, claimed by most anti-furry voices of the day, was that furry was uniquely sexual, its devotion to a general concept rather than to a single specific media property making it more a fetish community than a fandom. But this answer is only half-right. Even a cursory glance across the Internet will reveal that sexual obsession is a hallmark of all nerd communities. So the true answer must be something deeper. In fact, it’s something inherent in the very organization at the root of furry.
As mentioned, furry didn’t form around a single media property. Trekkies are defined by their devotion to Star Trek, bronies to My Little Pony, potterheads to Harry Potter. But there is no single TV series, film or book that is central to the furry experience, and this is fairly unique among nerd fandoms. Furries had no single corporate sponsor, no single company encouraging furry fandom with the aim of cultivating a rabid consumer base.*** There are, of course, plenty of commercial media properties beloved by individual furries but there’s no single unifying property that all furries must like to be considered part of the in-group. And as many furries that do worship commercial properties, there are just as many who come to furry exclusively for the original art and ideas created by fellow fans.
That means that the furry ethos is noticeably different from that of other fandoms. Because the corporations that controlled the media properties central to most nerd fandoms wanted to continue selling merchandise, they had a vested interest in not alienating what they saw as their core cis-het male nerd audience. As such, official pronouncements from on high would generally ignore a female audience and actively avoid any acknowledgement of alternative sexualities. Fans themselves would establish their own rank in the fandom by acting as police to protect and enforce official canon. LGBTQ fan characters and interpretations could more easily be excluded from, say, Trek fandom by claims that such ideas were not canon and would not fit with the official views of Trek’s corporate owners. But in furry, where the fandom was uniquely focused on giving free reign to individual expression and where there’s no one single corporate canon, these same anti-LGBTQ arguments were a harder sell. Without the psychological divide between creators and consumers, no official gatekeeper could declare something to be incompatible with “furry canon.” A major cornerstone of furry culture is the fursona – a unique original character that gives free expression to the creator’s self identity. This stands in stark contrast to the attitude of other nerd fandoms toward original characters, where such creations are often derided as wish fulfillment Mary Sues. As a result of this freedom, furry for a long time had a more visible population of women and LGBTQ creators and fans than did many other nerd fandoms.
And that’s where the furry hate of the proto-Internet comes from.
By the late 90s, homophobic ideas were beginning to become less palatable; much of the cis-het hegemony still held tightly to these attitudes, but it was just reaching the cultural tipping point where it was less acceptable to articulate them in polite company. Many dedicated trolls prior to the dominance of anon-style trolling felt uncomfortable outright attacking LGBTQ people, so it became necessary to disguise these impulses. The mere presence of women and LGBTQ in furry wereseen as making furry “inherently sexual” whereas other fandoms’ sexual exploits were invisible since they were seen through the lens of the cis-het male gaze.
Within 90s/00s furry, a large contingent of older furries, raised in the more mainstream sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, were obsessed with achieving respectability in the eyes of
outside nerds and a wider public, hoping to regain the lost status they once held as an offshoot of sci fi. Achieving respectability was always understood to mean excising elements that would conflict with the inoffensive corporate image projected by other fandoms’ sponsors. The furries most adamantly pushing for mainstream acceptance also happened to be those who would, absent their association with “furry filth”, be most easily accepted back into other nerd groups. Many women and LGBTQ furry creators were resigned to toiling in the furry salt mines with the knowledge that they would never be welcome in other nerd fandoms, but many cis-het male furries were convinced that they could achieve mainstream acceptance if furry could shed its reputation as a sexual subculture.
Posters on furry critical forums like Crush Yiff Destroy were desperate to find a way to rationalize furry hate in a way that didn’t lend itself to accusations of homophobia; posters frequently floated the idea that the lack of an arbitrary divide between creators and consumers was the root of the problem since it made furry an “incestuous” fandom rather than a pure one like Trek or anime.An anti-pornography movement in 1998 called the Burned Furs explicitly tried to distance itself from accusations of homophobia in a manifesto succinctly titled “Anthropomorphics fandom is being overrun by sexually dysfunctional, socially stunted and creatively bankrupt hacks and pervs,” instead insisting that the non-hierarchical structure of furry made it too open to infiltration by dog fuckers, plushophiles, and, for some reason, vegans. Even so, prominent members included Nazi enthusiast Eric Blumrich and current alt-furry stooge Calbeck, and co founder Hangdog was known for his anti-gay slurs on Usenet.**** For years a persistent urban legend held that the “ruin” of furry came from Confurence co-founder Mark Merlino advertising the convention in gay interest magazines (notably spread by above mentioned Calbeck) and that prior to that furry was a squeaky-clean group of chums who just really liked watching totally 90s cartoons like Tiny Toons Road Rovers in a totally non-boner-having way. To this day, older cis-het furries still point to Merlino’s alleged “recruitment drive” (still debunked by Dogpatch news) as the moment furry became the pariah fandom.
Looking at the history, it seems that other nerds never had a problem with cartoon animals at all. Instead, the late 90s/early 00s hate directed at furry from other nerd fandoms came in part from sublimated sexist and anti-queer sentiment – these prejudices were instead disguised as a generalized worry about furry being “too sexualized” – and in part because furry’s lack of a central corporate sponsor made it seem too free-wheeling, too chaotic, and, above all, too accepting.
*No, really, that’s what they called X-Files fans back then. It was the 90s.
**Actual enmity played less of a role in this decision than did business considerations, as Lowtax did allow exceptions for furries who could personally benefit him or the Something Awful site brand. Thus web cartoonist and animator Schmorky was a tolerated presence despite his furry proclivities being an open secret on the Something Awful forums.
***In recent years, other nerd groups have begun to view furry as just another nerd group rather than degenerates to be avoided or harasses. It’s no accident that this sea change comes at the same time that major media corporations have finally begun to see furries as a potential cash source and begin directlywooing them with calculated films like Zootopia. With corporate recognition comes respectability.
**** Usenet is a very old Internet thing. Ask your parents.