Shedding Fur

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Pokémon came out when I was 10 years old. I was hooked. I would wake up comically early in order to catch the anime before going off to school. I had the Blue edition, and through chronic play, frequent trading, and a bit of cheating (thank you MissingNo. and your many wonderful glitches), I did manage to catch ’em all. I got the second generation as well—Gold, I believe—but never quite managed the feat there.

And then I stopped. I don’t think I bought any of the Third Generation games, and I definitely didn’t have any beyond that. I couldn’t tell you anything about the newer Pokémon, much less tell you how many there are without looking it up. (I looked it up. Over 800, apparently. Wow.) Other stuff took up my time instead.

Sometimes you just grow out of things.

The oldest evidence I have of my involvement in the furry community is a drawing of a purple rabbit—the first iteration of my character—in a swimsuit. The metadata says it was drawn in 2003. I was 15. In hindsight, this is a little bit creepy. But at the time, I was just happy to have some free art, even if her face looked weird.

My affinity for furry wavered over the years. I was known for my Bunnyhat during college. Then I graduated and distanced myself from the whole idea. When I moved to Portland, I picked it back up with gusto. The entire time, I was more or less in the average age range for the community. We’re mostly teens and early 20s. I did feel comparatively mature much of the time, but that’s not unique to the community. I feel more mature than some middle-aged people.

The last year has been a high point in my participation: going to conventions, wearing Bunnyhat 2.0 all the time (even in the office), writing a furry novel. The book has been my favorite, so after a little break I started writing new stories in the same world. It didn’t go well.

Soon, I was anxious. Not every furry story relies on the fact that its characters are animal people, and eventually an author can start wondering why they’re writing furry fiction in the first place. It is a niche, after all, which means the audience is smaller and less marketable compared to “ordinary” fiction. Even “ordinary” fantasy. The problem is larger when you write what would derisively be called “zipperback” furry fiction: characters who show no functional difference from real people. Mine pretty much falls in that category. So, why are they animal people? Why should I do this whole furry thing at all?

I’m now a decade older than the average furry. I wasn’t around in its earliest days (furry has been a thing since before I was born), but I’m still far enough away to feel a generation gap. It’s felt, many times, like I’ve grown out of the community. Or, at minimum, that I should have by now. I never aligned with the average furry in gender and orientation, and now I’m misaligned on age too. It seemed I had no demographics in common.

Sometimes you grow out of something, whether you want to or not.

Thing is, demographics are not destiny. And, it’s been argued, everyone’s a furry in 2016. The attitudes and aesthetics that the community spawned over the years have developed a surprising reach. The knee-jerk negativity around the term has dropped considerably. BoJack Horseman and Zootopia are hit media properties. Furries aren’t just college-age gay guys these days, if they ever were to begin with. There are moms at conventions with their daughters, each interested in their own way and for their own reasons. There are cooks and executives and farmers and pilots. There are, unfortunately, Nazi furries. Point is, anyone you know could be a fox.

That’s an issue in terms of keeping furry’s queer character alive. Much of furry’s appeal has been as an LGBT+ space, and losing that drains the community of some of its history and safety. At the same time, it expands the niche. It expands what furry can offer. We can bring in straight cis friends without hesitation—just as long as they know that furry is a queer space and that they need to support that.

The growth also allows for niches within niches. The furry writing community is small, but it’s growing, and it has a different feel from the rest of the furry world. I feel out of place if I simply throw myself to the wolves (pun intended), but I feel at home with the writers. They’ve kept me in the community. When I go to conventions, it’s to be around other writers, to attend or speak at writing panels. I’d be happy to see furry grow overall, but I’m more interested in growing the writing community. That’s the part I really belong to. That’s the part I write animal people for.

Sometimes you grow out of something, only to find a different part of it to grow into.

I started off being loosely cynical about Pokémon Go. Augmented reality seemed like it’d lose its novelty pretty fast, and being free-to-play almost always means the gameplay is mean to gouge or time-gate you, leaving only the whales. I expected gyms to be pointless, immediately claimed by power-levelers who would never be usurped.

Thing is, it’s as near as reality will get to what I wanted at 10 years old. I wanted to be like Ash. I wanted to go around town, catching Pokémon. Not going around town, looking at my Game Boy, still on Cinnabar Island. I wanted the Pokémon to be here. And after a dozen attempts at a username I actually liked, they were.

Granted, it’s mostly Pidgey and Spearow, but still.

I can understand the criticisms about gameplay, but I’ve grown up quite a bit since carrying around that brick of a Game Boy. These days, I don’t really want a Pokémon RPG with all its requisite depth and complexity. Fine for people who do, but I want an excuse to walk around and see my home city. I want yet another subject to rib my friends about. And even though the initial appeal was certainly steeped in nostalgia, it feels less like reverting to childhood and more like meeting an old friend from those days. “Oh, that’s what you’re up to now? Cool, this is what I’ve been doing. Nice to see we still go together.”

Sometimes you grow out of something, only for it to grow and meet you somewhere new.