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February 11, 2020

Why Are Some Gen Zers Becoming Furries?

If your Gen Z teen has mentioned the word “furry” and the first thing that came to mind was some kind of stuffed animal, you’re not alone. If you know anything about furries, you might be holding back questions like, “Wait, you want to do what…?!” because of the things you’ve heard. Or, if you’re totally unfamiliar with what a furry even is, the concept might be hard to wrap your head around. No matter where you’re coming from today, we want to let you in on the world of furries so that you can have an informed discussion with your teen if it comes up.

Furries are not new, but the subculture has a broad enough community that you’d be hard-pressed to find a Gen Zer with internet access who doesn’t at least know what they are. Most teenagers don’t want to be a part of the furry culture, and may even mock those who do. But there are also lots of teens who are interested in being a furry, and may be worried about how others will receive them if they become one. Whatever camp your teen is in, we want to help equip you to have a thoughtful, genuine conversation about what furries are and how your kids feel about them.

Related: What Is a Furry? Debunking Myths About Litter Boxes

What is a furry?

A furry is a person who’s interested in anthropomorphized animals (animals with human characteristics, like an ability to talk or walk on their hind legs). Furries express this interest in a few different ways: some wear full-body animal costumes (fursuits) and show them off at conventions, others opt for just a tail and animal ears, and those in the online furry community may not dress up at all, but enjoy fan art, music, and written stories or videos about furries. Many of these characters are based on real animals—common choices include puppies and foxes—while some of them are completely made up. This adds to the fantasy element of being a furry, as individuals can be literally anyone or anything they want to be, even a creature that doesn’t exist.

Furries can wear full-body suits, like this one, or just aspects of a costume, such as an animal head or a tail. Full-body suits are expensive (most cost upwards of $3,000), which requires a pretty big level of commitment, so most beginner furries stick to the basic look. What connects them all, from the decked-out furries to the minimalist ones, is a desire to be known and accepted just as they are, which is what draws the furry community so close together.

Furry vocab

  • Furry: Someone who is interested in anthropomorphized animals (animals with human characteristics).
  • Fursuit: Custom-made animal costumes owned and worn by members of the furry fandom.
  • Fursona: The personalized animal identity of a furry. For example, a girl’s real identity may be as follows: Natalie, 13 years old, quiet and reserved. But her fursona may be: Roxy the fox, energetic and friendly, loves to dance.

Why would someone want to become a furry?

The main appeal of becoming a furry is the ability to take on a new identity. Often furries are quite shy, reserved, and socially anxious in real life, and many are neurodivergent (for example, people with autism, ADHD, or Tourette’s Syndrome) and struggle to feel comfortable in a world that doesn’t always understand them. When they put on a fursuit, they feel free to be whatever they want to be. They can be confident and outgoing without the fear of the judgment they feel in their everyday lives. They can do all the things they want to—dance, talk to people, come out of their shells—and feel comfortable doing so because they’re wearing an empowering disguise.

One woman wanted to discover what it’s like to be a furry, so she spent the day with a group of people who live out their furry-passion on a regular basis. Corbyn the Bird, in his third year as a furry, shared why he decided to become one: “It’s changed my life, really. I was really shy, I was afraid to talk to people.” After discovering life as a furry, he was able to have the confidence to dance and perform in front of people, something he felt he couldn’t do before.

This mom shared with Rolling Stone how her nine-year-old daughter, Emily, was changed for the better after finding her furry community. Emily is distant and anxious, but the moment she adorns her hot-pink-and-black zebra head, she’s able to play freely with other kids her age. “Kids at school make fun of her and give her a hard time or whatever for being a furry, but she comes out of her shell when she puts her fursuit on,” the mother shared. “This has helped her become who she’s supposed to be.” In the comments under the article, one person shared another reason people love to be furries: “Costuming allows them to [come out of their shell] without people knowing who is behind a mask. If something goes right, you can apply it to daily life. If something goes wrong, nobody knows who was behind the mask.”

What do furries do?

There are two important parts of the furry community: online fans and IRL furries. Furries who live out their fursonas in their daily lives, or who don their fursuits for specific activities like furry conventions, often have communities they meet up and do activities with. Online, there’s a lot of fan art (like this). A 2012 study from the Anthropomorphic Research Project found that the majority of furry websites are art-related.

People also write furry fiction (which are really just regular stories with furry characters) and furry music (that furries dance to at giant furry raves during conventions). But underlying it all, what furries do is take on their preferred fursona and let go of their regular lives long enough to let loose and enjoy being expectation-free.

Should I be worried if my kid wants to be a furry?

In some ways, being a furry can be a positive thing for people who struggle with social anxiety, fear, or neurodivergence. But as with most subcultures today, there are also some less-savory things to be aware of. For the most part, the furry community exists just because people enjoy it. It’s a way to release social expectations, meet other people, and do exciting things like attending furry conventions full of creative costumes, panels, and fun new people. But furry culture also has a darker side, including furry porn and sexual activity at conventions. In one case, authorities discovered a secret group of child abusers within the furry community.

Furries are also gaining popularity on social media, especially TikTok. Some of these furry influencers include @miles_the_fox (174.6K followers), @avaloafe (98.2K followers), and @1mpy.p4nthr (52.2K followers). While many of their videos are created in good fun (funny skits, dances, and furry-related humor), these popular accounts also harbor some inappropriate content, including language and sexual references. This is something to be aware of and possibly discuss with a furry-curious teen.

Ultimately, it’s very important to monitor your child’s involvement in the furry community. Is it all bad? No, because just about anything can be sexualized or abused today. The furry community actually feels pretty misunderstood when they’re labeled as some sort of sex group, because most of them don’t associate with that whatsoever. With that being said, inappropriate things do happen in some cases, so it takes awareness and discernment on our part as parents. For example, if your child would like to attend a convention, consider going with them and getting to know their passion a little better. Or don’t allow your child to meet up with furries much older than them. Maybe even watch a few furry TikToks with your child and talk about the good and the bad that you see.

Won’t this make them never want to embrace their real identity?

First things first, we have to look at the concept of identity from the furries’ point of view in order to gain a holistic understanding of fursonas. Furries don’t necessarily reject their real-life identities; the idea is to become a better version of themselves. For example, a teenage boy who really wants to be outgoing and carefree but feels he’s too much of an outcast to do so IRL can be as outgoing and vibrant as he wants in his fursuit. The furry identity is, in their community, meant to add to a person’s existing identity and personality in a positive way, not replace it.

There are still some gaps that we should identify and address with our kids. First, while the concept of becoming a better version of yourself through a fursona is not entirely misguided, we don’t want our kids to feel like they can only be fully who they want to be when they’re wearing a costume. We need to build up who they are in their own skin, because that’s where real empowerment comes from. Fursuits may offer temporary fulfillment of desires, but our kids will still see the same face staring back at them at the end of the day, and we want them to love what they see without the mask.

We all feel a desire to belong, but we’re bogged down by “imperfections,” things we’ve been teased about in the past, or things we simply feel as if others are judging about us. Your teen might be struggling with body image issues, anxiety, bullying, questions about their identity, relationships, and so much more. All of these things may drive your teen to desire a more accepting, free community, which some feel they’ve found with furries. However, as Tim Keller writes in Making Sense of God, “If our identity is wrapped up in something and we lose it, we lose our very sense of self.” This sense of identity actually ends up being quite toxic, leaving us far more vulnerable than ever before. What happens when the furry community doesn’t turn out to be everything your teen hoped and expected it to be?

The Bottom Line

If your child is interested in furries, don’t panic. It can seem strange and maybe even a little scary for your kid to be interested in something that’s so counter-cultural, and something you might know nothing about. But consider the good and the bad in becoming a furry, do a little more research on what the furry community emphasizes, and most importantly, have a conversation about it. You may feel uncomfortable discussing the negative side of furries, but that’s an important thing to talk with your child about, who may or may not even be aware that this side of the community exists. It’s best to come from a place of curiosity and understanding, rather than immediate judgment and fear with our teens. Don’t be too quick to judge your kid’s motives, and instead ask questions to find out what’s driving their interest in furries. So start a conversation, ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment in what your child’s involvement should be, and strive for empathy in this new and unfamiliar territory.

If you want to dive deeper on these themes, check out the Axis Parent Guide to Teen Identity!

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