By Sarah White
What’s a furry? Someone who participates in a fandom subculture focused on anthropomorphic animal characters, with human personalities and characteristics, the Internet will tell you. The mainstream press tends to portray furries as sexual fetishists, but I think that’s over-hyped—how lewdly can you behave in a head-to-toe fur suit? My interest in being furry came from a desire to avoid sexuality, not indulge a kink.
The seed of the idea was planted sometime in junior high, I think, meaning about 1970, when I read an article (probably in Scholastic magazine) about a sociology experiment in which an individual dressed head-to-toe in a paper bag for a time, in order to study how people interacted with them (seems like just the right pronoun) when deprived of any signifier of gender.
Fast-forward to February, 1975. I have just arrived on the campus of tiny Franklin College, shell-shocked from the events of the past month, in which I had:
- Become convinced by my first semester of French that I needed to move to France as soon as possible;
- Failed to register for my second semester at Indiana University;
- Moved back in with my parents intending to stay just long enough to amass a grubstake for the move;
- Did not unpack, as I discovered immediately that I couldn’t bear living with my parents for even a few weeks, much less as long as it would take to execute the France maneuver.
I was fortunate that my parents somehow had prepared for this eventuality. Without my knowledge, they had registered me at Franklin College. Franklin happened to be on the 4-1-4 semester program, with a “Winterim” term in January, meaning there was still time to arrive for the spring semester. My parents and I agreed that I should abandon the France plan and go to Franklin. I could, after all, keep taking French classes there. Maybe a small campus—total enrollment roughly 1000—would prove steadying to this disoriented flower child.
And so I arrived, a novelty where arrivals outside the traditional Fall campus move-in were unheard-of. A small group of friendly hippy-ish types (“freaks” is the term they would have used) waved me over to join them in the dining hall, a kindness I am grateful for to this day. But still, I was the most alone I had ever been in my 18 years of life. I finagled a single dorm room and began thinking about the sociology experiment with the person going about life hidden in a paper bag. During that wild ride at Indiana University, drugs and sex trumped class attendance and I saw Planned Parenthood staff many more times than I ever saw my freshman advisor. Now, something in me knew I needed to put the brakes on all that. Even if I dressed unisex, I would still be a girl here. And as the new girl, any boy who hadn’t paired up in the Fall or Winterim semesters would be looking me over. The paper bag sounded like a safe retreat.
But lame. Dull. In a word, baggy. Could I perhaps become a squirrel? On that leafy campus, a common-enough sight. With a furry squirrel suit, I could make a space for myself without sex or gender. If anyone had come along with a catalog from which such a suit could be ordered, or if I had worked out a pattern I could make for myself, I would have done so. I would just explain to questioners that I was a sociology experiment in their midst. This felt absolutely as real and achievable to me as the dream of moving to France.
This disordered state of mind persisted for some number of weeks. I went to classes in my unisex jeans, work shirts, and gray wool overcoat, lonely. At mealtimes, I joined the freaks’ table in the dining hall after finishing my daily work-study shift as a Salad Girl (gendered even in the cafeteria line) but still, I was lonely.
Then I saw an announcement: the school drama club was preparing to put on the play “Winnie the Pooh.” Actors needed, including animal extras. I tried out. I was offered the role of Raccoon, one of a pack of furry animals whose main role was to run across the stage in front of the curtain during scene changes. No lines to memorize and a costume with a big furry tail. My dream come true! A brown tunic, black leggings, long black gloves, a black half-mask, and hanging from my waist in the rear–a gorgeous big black-and-white ringed tail.
Even though our role was simple, my pack and I showed up for rehearsals. Soon, we were hanging out on campus in our fur suits, well—me maybe more than most.
Soon, with friendships growing among Franklin’s freaks and actors, I found I no longer needed a fur suit. I was ready to face my new life as me.
© 2022 Sarah White