There were a lot of things that brought me joy in 2017. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy’s conclusion, Bojack Horseman, the movie Baby Driver, and WorldCon in Helsinki (with a side trip to Stockholm) were all wonderful parts of last year. In addition, my writing community and my furry community remained strong, positive parts of my life last year. I went to two writing retreats and taught at one workshop, and all of those were overwhelmingly joyful experiences. And, of course, my two partners and our dog brought me unending amounts of joy, as I’ve become accustomed to. I’d be happy to tell everyone about them, but I think I want to highlight a more unexpected source of joy (if not quite as much as my family): Furry Fandom vs. the Nazis.
Furry fandom, in case you don’t know, is a community of people who like animal-people, like Disney’s Zootopia (2016). In most cases, members have an avatar (fursona) that reflects some aspects of their identity. For example, I’m a fox. Probably this was heavily influenced by playing the story record of Disney’s Robin Hood about a million times over my childhood, but it also reflects my smaller physical stature and reliance on my wits that got me through middle and high school. And nazis (lowercase) here refers to a group of people who espouse white supremacy, vilify other races and religions, and often identify with Nazi (uppercase) iconography and philosophy.
Like any community, furry has its share of drama. A small group crusaded against the openness of sexual material in fandom back in the 90s; there have been feuds between conventions and individual dramas here and there. By and large, though, my experiences in furry fandom have been very positive, and I find that most people just want to share their experiences with others.
Back in 2016, a Colorado-based furry group made some drama by reserving a quarter of the rooms available for the Denver furry convention. This brought one of their founders into the public eye, a guy who has a picture of himself in costume performing a “Heil Hitler” salute, who designed the group’s logo to be a black pawprint in a white circle on a red flag, who created armbands with that logo for members to wear, who has posted adulatory comments on YouTube videos of Hitler, who has tweeted sympathetically at many alt-right figures. Though several people left the group, many stayed and embraced the group’s characterization as alt-right, which quickly became “alt-furry.”
In 2017, I saw a lot of anger on my social media at the mainstream establishments who refused to criticize and in some cases elevated the discourse of the alt-right. Remember the “dapper white nationalist”? That same anger grew in the furry community, but because our community events are created by and managed by us, we were able to put our anger into effective discussion and actions.
One of furry fandom’s news outlets, Dogpatch Press has been tirelessly exposing furry nazi tactics and hypocrisy. Here’s a recent example. Many of our conventions have this year instituted policies forbidding any hateful speech (in this example from one of the ten largest conventions, “hateful speech, acts, propaganda, or the symbols of those who advocate them”). After one furry, who goes by Deo, made a comment on Twitter about punching Nazis and was met with a threat of violence (which eventually resulted in the shutdown of the previously mentioned Denver convention), she became a target for the furry nazis and has responded by becoming one of the primary leaders of the fight against them, with the support of most of the community.
I admit that my first reaction to the presence of nazis in the furry community was some combination of disgust and despair. I wanted this important corner of my life to remain free of the toxicity that was everywhere else I turned. But in facing down this invasion, I discovered that the community I loved was as good as I’d hoped it would be. In fairly short order, we’ve made it clear that none of this white nationalist dogma is welcome in our communal spaces. We’ve gotten writeups in mainstream press for our stand against it.
But that’s not even the best part, the most joyful part. Here’s the thing: a lot of these alt-furry groups recruit kids: disaffected teens, especially nerds and gamers who are already isolated (here is an excellent article written by the aforementioned Deo). One of the ways they keep these kids in their groups is to tell them that they will be forever shunned by the “SJWs,” that nobody else will ever be their friend or let them speak freely.
So what did we say to that? We post encouraging messages telling kids in these groups that they can leave the group and our community will welcome them back. I signal-boosted that message myself and it became one of my most shared tweets. We’ve seen the stories from people who have become disillusioned with the alt-right and were scared to leave, and we wanted to make sure they knew that they could turn their back on hate. Because that’s part of our culture, too, and a really important one. I often talk about the furry community as a family, and what we wanted to tell all the people in these groups is that hate is not a value of our family – but that when they understand that, they can always come home.
The furry community is wide and diverse – not as diverse in some aspects as others, true, but at least welcoming to everyone. A few people wanted to change that welcoming culture, and our community soundly rejected that notion. We don’t have an elected leader, but there are some basic truths that everyone in the furry community gets, and love is one of them. This is the world I want to live in; these are the friends who brought me joy in 2017.
Kyell Gold has won twelve Ursa Major awards for his stories and novels, and his acclaimed novel “Out of Position” co-won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Novel of 2009. His novel “Green Fairy” was nominated for inclusion in the ALA’s “Over the Rainbow” list for 2012. He helped create RAWR, the first residential furry writing workshop, and has instructed at each of its sessions through 2017.
He lives in California, loves to travel and dine out with his partners, and can be seen at furry conventions around the world. More information about him and his books is available at http://www.kyellgold.com.