How I Almost Became a Furry

By Sarah White

Me with the family’s “kids’ car” 1974. This was the uniform I wore when I left for college that fall.

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.

https://www.halloweencostumes.co.uk/

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

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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