On Burned Furs (2.0) and the Death of the Fandom

So here we are, five months later. This shit is still going, getting louder and more annoying. People are doxxing each other, block lists are being passed around, chat logs are being leaked and a lot of digital bits are being spilled. People are accusing each other of killing the fandom and saying that it’s already dead or something. Others are taking the true spirit of iconoclasm and applying it to the fandom’s reputation and history. All the while a lot of people are looking on as shit gets more and more outlandish.

Holy shit, this really is Burned Furs 2.0. I never thought I’d see another fandom-wide shitfest like it, but here we are. What a time to be alive.

For those curious, a little backstory on how we got here.

About 20 years ago, the drama shitstorm to end them all hit the furry fandom.

Set your flying Delorean time machine back to 1994. That was the year a shy, socially awkward teenager who was obsessed with the Lion King stumbled into alt.fan.furry and discovered a whole world of people who thought talking cartoon animals were the most awesome thing ever.

I somehow ended up with a FurryMUCK account (I may have fibbed about my age or they may not have asked, I don’t remember.) The first person I met on FurryMUCK? GAY. To this day probably the gayest person I’ve ever met. There have always been gay people in this fandom, and at least since 1994ish, have been pretty open about it at least online.

Now, this is not to say there weren’t people who took issue with this. But before you sit in judgement of 90s furries, remember: we were by and large much more welcoming than society at the time (which was openly hostile). And that’s still true today. That hasn’t changed, the goalposts have. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s wonderful, because it means we’re still on the leading edge of social acceptance.

After all, broader society outside of a certain few locales like San Francisco, was still pretty broadly anti-gay. In a lot of places, it was still illegal to be gay, and people were prosecuted for that as late as 1998. Remember that Ellen had the hottest show on TV until she came out in 1996. In 1997 her show was cancelled. Back in the furry world, there was a minor controversy at ConFurence 98 about a flyer advertisement for a gay comic in the con bags. And I guarantee you’ve all heard of the comic: Associated Student Bodies.

Was the art more primitive? Hell yes it was. But there was a whole lot less source material to work with (mostly Disney movies, old cartoons and a bit of anime that leaked in occasionally). There were a whole lot fewer artists.

Were fursuits more primitive? Of course they were. Fursuiting didn’t really take off until the mid 2000s. Before then it was a somewhat fringe part of the fandom. And, again, lack of source material. I mean, the only people making fursuits then were professional mascots. It had to grow and be nurtured just like everything.

So before you sit in judgement of 90s furry fandom using 2017’s standards, just remember, everything you’re enjoying now is based on the groundwork we laid for you in the 90s, just like what we had to work with was based on the work of people like Fred Patten and Mark Merlino in the 70s and 80s. The 90s fandom was a reflection of the world it was in. And I guarantee you that greymuzzle you will have this same discussion about not viewing 2010’s fandom though 2037’s eyes.

Was it perfect. No, it wasn’t. Like now, there were parts that were awesome and parts that were not so awesome. But it was what it was and it is part of our shared history. We should not look back on it with rose colored glasses, nor should we pretend it was some terrible pre-time where everything was awful. It was, just like today, made up of everyday people with all their traits, positive and negative.

But on the whole, this fandom has, at least since I’ve been a part of it, been broadly welcoming of LGBT+ people. But in the late 90s, you had a group of people who were sick and tired of these “perverts” ruining “their fandom.” They typed out a long, rambling manifesto and posted it to alt.fan.furry. Made an equally poorly thought-out website to go with it.

Even to this day, I still remember some of the lines to the manifesto. Strange how that sticks with you. One in particular bemoaned:

Tail-strapped-to-the-ass degenerates who turned what was once a respectable corner of sci-fi fandom into a virtual singles bar for the sexually dysfunctional.

So how did this go over?

About as well as you’d expect.

Pretty much the shit hit the fan.

A two year long flamewar erupted that engulfed the entire fucking fandom. Everyone either was involved, had an opinion, or knew someone who was. These people took on the title Burned Furs. Almost immediately, the polar opposite camp formed and took on the title Freezing Furs. The people who wanted to stay out took on the title Non-Aligned Furs. And finally you had the Furry Peace group who just wanted everyone to stop fighting and get along. Their website still exists!

For those curious, my position was closest to the “non-aligned” group. I just wanted to roleplay and didn’t want to get involved in fandom politics. I sometimes question whether this was the right move, but I was about 17 at the time, much more ignorant and hopeful than I am now. I may have chosen a different position. Who knows. I just tried to keep my head down and be a space wolf.

But that was the bitch about it. You literally could not not be involved, because everyone was involved. And if you didn’t take some position, someone you knew was going to be pissed off at you. And, in fact, I did lose a friend over my refusal to pick “his side.” It became a balancing act. That recent episode of Bojack Horseman where Mr. Peanutbutters is asked to take a position on fracking and says the most non-commental thing you could possibly say? That was what it was like for me any time the elephant in the room was brought up.

The thing you have to understand is that, into the late 90s, this was still a very small and tight-knit fandom. There was only 2 or 3 cons, maybe one of which had even broken the 1,000 mark (as I recall.) And when they happened FurryMUCK would be dead because probably more than 50% of the entire fandom was at one location. You could connect to just about anyone in the fandom through one or two people. The whole Burned Furs thing was enormously damaging to the social fabric of the fandom.

Eventually the Burned Furs “lost.” Well, kinda. I don’t know that there was ever any real resolution. Most of them either quit the fandom or learned to keep their muzzles closed. But this was so damaging to the fandom that for years afterward any mention of the Burned Furs was likely to provoke an amazing level of outrage and shouting, or at the very least being politely asked not to mention it. It’s hard to state just how damaging it was, and the fandom’s reaction to it, largely, was to pretend that we’ve “put it behind us” and avoiding ever talking about it, or the causes, ever again.

But as any psychologist can tell you, that’s probably not a healthy way to deal with your problems, and it wasn’t for the fandom either.

For one thing, our reluctance to even approach the subject made it virtually impossible to discuss the fandom in any kind of abstract way. If you visit a science fiction con, chances are it has a “fandom” track that discusses the state of the fandom, politics, etc. For nearly two decades, furry cons have, largely unconsciously, avoided doing this or made the fandom track be about interests instead. Why? Because in the Burned Fur years this would likely have, and did, devolve into angry shouting.

How often have you caught yourself saying “it’s not about the sex” when describing furry? Congratulations, that’s a Burned Fur artifact. It really picked up after the Vanity Fair thing in 2001, but it has it’s roots in the Burned Fur era and an attempt by many to not take a firm position and invite an angry argument.

But maybe time does heal all wounds and it seems like now, 20 years later, you can mention the Burned Furs and not have everyone lose their shit over it. So maybe now the fandom can start to heal?

Nope. We’re going to duke it out again. This time over alt-furries, or Nazifurs, or “SJWs” or politicizing the fandom or …

Like I said earlier, 2017 fandom is a reflection of 2017 culture, just like 90s fandom was a reflection of 90s culture. Right now, we’re having a problem with white supremacists/Nazis/alt-right in broader society. We’re fighting the same battles within the fandom that broader society is fighting. We’re no different because we’re part of broader society, not isolated from it.

I’ve seen several people say the fandom shouldn’t be “political.” The simple fact is that a large part of this fandom is gender and sexual minorities, our very existence is an act of political defiance. The fandom is made up of people and people have political viewpoints. It’s unrealistic to expect them to just check their opinions at the door and pretend to be happy animal people when, from the point of view of a lot of people, the whole world is on fire.

Fuck, anyone who was in this fandom during the Bush years would remember you could not swing a dead cat and not hit 50 OpenDiary or LiveJournal entries a day criticizing Bush, Cheney, Rove and company. This shit is not even remotely new. It just seems that way because we just finished eight wonderful years of cool, steady leadership under Obama. The targets have changed, but this fandom has always had a political side and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best.

But the really trippy part is when I hear people again parroting some of the same Burned Fur talking points. One of their favorites was that the “fandom was dying” or the “fandom is dead” or some such thing because it’s changed to something unrecognizable and we needed to take some drastic action to “save” it by kicking out the undesirables and return it to what it used to be.

Sound familiar?

Look, I’m an engineer. I deal with data and facts. And all the data and facts say that any assertion that the fandom is dying is wrong. The fandom is stronger than it’s ever been. There’s a con practically every weekend and one of them will probably break 10,000 attendees in the next year or so. A major furry website was sold to a non-fandom company. Disney openly targeted furries for a movie. There has never been a better time to be a furry.

What is different is that the fandom is changing. Something that I’ve come to accept over the last couple years is that the only constant in life, in anything, is change. And how we accept and deal with that change determines whether we view that change as good or bad.

The days are long, but the years are short. This fandom is really not much like what it was like in 1994. The core - cartoon animals - is still there, but most stuff is different. I could itemize all the changes, but I won’t here because it’s not really relevant. For the longest time that really bothered me. Most of the people I knew back then are gone now. Some have died (yeah, just wait until people you know start dying - it sucks). Many have simply drifted away, but a few are hanging on.

So things are different now than they were in 2016, or 2006, or 1996. And they will be different again tomorrow. The fandom will not stay still around you, or me, or anyone else. It will grow, it will change, it will become something new and different. There is nothing that you, or I, or anyone else can do to change that.

New and different, while it may be scary, is not necessarily bad. It took me awhile to accept that, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with it.

But how you accept and deal with that change determines whether you will view it as a positive or negative change. If you view it as a negative change, I’m sure it probably looks like the fandom is ending. But it’s not ending, and there’s still a place for you in it if you’re willing to come around, put the tiki-torch down and the silly shit about the fandom being over, and come back to the table.

The fandom is objectively not dying, but it is changing as it grows and new people become involved. You can’t stop the change any more than Cnut could stop the waves. You can either be a part of that, or you can be a Burned Fur 2.0. The choice is up to you.

Just like Burned Furs, the Nazi/alt/whatever-fur thing is actually made up of a pretty small, but vocal, number of people. And there are “fellow travelers” with them that are, knowingly or unknowingly, parroting their talking points even if they may not agree with them. But the one thing they have in common is that they see the fandom as in need of a cleansing of elements that they feel do not belong so that they can return it to some idealized older state that never really existed in the first place.

You know, a bit like how a lot of people seemingly idealize the 1950s, even though every image they have of the 1950s is probably wrong and they just kind of assume they will be part of the minority of people that were doing well then.

The reality is that all it takes to be a furry is liking anthropomorphic animals and considering yourself to be a furry. Everything else is constructs built by people. So it only makes sense that it will reflect the will of the people who make it up. 2017 fandom is no different than 1994 fandom in this regard.

Like I said in an earlier post, there is no single authority on furry so there is no furry banhammer. But there is a difference between being a furry and participating in the fandom. Because the fandom is a social construct created by the people in it, individual people have every right to take whatever action they deem fit in their conduct with others.

The rest of the people in this fandom are under no obligation to put up with people or opinions they don’t want to deal with and they have every right to tell anyone they like to fuck just right off (which is pretty much how broader society works.) If you find yourself on the receiving end of a large amount of outrage from the fandom, and maybe being ostracised from much of the fandom, over your behavior or the positions you advocate, perhaps the problem isn’t the rest of us. Perhaps it’s you, and perhaps you should consider what you are saying and doing to piss everyone else off.

The fandom isn’t dying and doesn’t need saving. It’s just the majority of people in it have now decided they don’t want to deal with you anymore. You can roll with that however you like.

Finally, if we’re going to have Burned Furs 2.0, if we’re going to have another fandom-wide shitstorm, then by God this time let’s at least have some clear resolution from it this time around. I really don’t want to spend another twenty years avoiding the subject. And remember your thoughts around this time, so that greymuzzle you can tell this story to younger furs in twenty years.

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When I wrote this, I was listening to:
Soundgarden - Blow Up The Outside World

Kira is an Alabama-based collie dog permanently stuck in 1999. Her hobbies include software, trains, and doting on her wife, daughter and far too many cats. Lover of comfort foods, science fiction, alternative rock and progressive rock. Often wandering around without a clue. Proudly weird, proudly queer. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️

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