Debunking myths about kids identifying as animals, and litter boxes in schools.
Maybe you’ve heard the rumor that some high schools in the United States were giving students who identified as furries “litter boxes” to use instead of normal toilets. We reached out to several students, parents, and teachers, and no-one we talked with said that anything like this had been happening at their schools. There were stories of students being suspended for barking at others, and of other students who wore cat ears and tails and would walk on all fours and lick their hands in class. But the litter box thing wasn’t happening.
In fact, many school districts (including some in Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin) published emails and open letters about how they would definitely not allow something like that to happen in their schools. As one Public Schools Superintendent put it, “There have never been litter boxes within MPS schools. It is such a source of disappointment that I felt the necessity to communicate this message to you.”
The question is, why were so many people so ready to believe that schools were doing this? One reason might have to do with the way some schools already handle the topic of gender identity. When so many teachers and administrators are willing to address you by your preferred pronouns, theoretically these same schools might also be willing to make other kinds of accommodations. If the goal is to help create a “safe space” for you to feel like you can be your true self while you learn, well, what if you really do identify as a cat, or a dog?
Now some might argue that to compare furries and the trans community in any way is bigoted and transphobic. And it’s true that there are significant differences between the two groups; for example, someone who is trans is more likely to say that their trans identity is permanent, while someone who identifies as a furry is not (more on that in a few minutes). Both perspectives involve trying to go beyond your physical body in different ways, but at least at this point, being trans is a little more culturally understood.
The question becomes, what exactly is the appeal of being a furry, particularly for Gen Z?
What are Furries?
A furry is a person who’s interested in anthropomorphized animals, which are animals with human characteristics, like an ability to talk or walk on their hind legs. Some wear full-body animal costumes called fursuits and show them off at conventions like FurCon; others may opt for just wearing a tail and animal ears.
For some people, being a furry can also take on a sexual dimension, and there are some conventions that have become known for that kind of thing. But most of the research and stories we came across were about the appeal of trying on a new identity. Many furries can be shy, reserved, and socially anxious in real life. Many are also neurodivergent (often having autism, ADHD, or Tourette’s Syndrome), and can struggle to feel comfortable in a world that doesn’t always understand them. But when you adopt a fursona (“furry-themed avatar”), many describe a new sense of freedom to be whatever you want to be. You can be confident and outgoing without the fear of judgment that you might feel in your everyday life. You feel more comfortable doing things you want to do—like dancing, or talking to people—because of your empowering disguise.
It feels kind of similar to what author Neil Gaiman said about escapism: “People talk about escapism as if it’s a bad thing… Once you’ve escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn’t have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.”
Of course, you can’t deal with your current reality if you never come back to it. When you did theater, there was never a point when you started to believe you actually were the character you were playing. In a similar way, if someone who dresses up as a cat also wants to actually start using a litter box, they’ve crossed over a pretty significant boundary. Someone who did that might consider themselves something like “otherkin,” which is a whole other thing. But for a lot of furries, it’s often just a costume—a way to practice becoming more outgoing and confident, which eventually might carry over into your non-furry life.
The Bottom Line
One of the most important conversations to have about furries might be the fact that sometimes we all need encouragement to embrace who we were created to be. In Genesis 1:24-28, God distinguishes human beings from animals by giving humans the incredible value, dignity, and worth of being his representatives on our planet. You might try out various things along the way to help give you a new sense of confidence, but the goal should always be to eventually embrace the identity you have been given by your Creator.
Along those lines, here are two questions we’d love to leave you with:
1) What helps you feel confident?
2) What does it mean to you that you have been made in the image of the Creator of the Universe?