Furries are Fellow Fans and Attacking Them Isn’t Funny

Recently, there was what appears to be a chlorine gas attack at Midwest FurFest in a Chicago suburb. Press reaction has ranged from just barely neutral to outright mocking, as in the case of Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Good Morning Joe. When finding out, on live television, what a furry was, Brzezinski could barely contain her laughter and had to leave the set rather suddenly. Scarborough didn’t bother trying to hide his mirth. It should be remembered that Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Director under President Carter, and that Scarborough was elected to four terms in Congress. Neither is a stranger to unusual topics or keeping their composure in public, and yet here they lost it. Co-host Willie Geist managed to keep his professional decorum intact. These two national news figures were unable to maintain their composure as they reported a gas attack that sent nineteen to the hospital and threatened thousands, including small children (seriously, folks huddled in a group in the cold to prevent one infant from getting hypothermia), simply because of who the victims were: furries. That is to say, fellow fans.

Furries, those interested in anthropomorphic animals in a variety of ways and for various reasons (more below), get little love from other fandoms. They are castigated as “furverts” and worse not just by society at large but by other fan groups who should be supportive or at least neutral. After all, virtually every fandom out there has at some point been accused of some manner of sexual deviancy. Even otaku, anime fans, who are now considered relatively mainstream were once thought of as little more than hentai-obsessed pedophiles. Fandom would be up in arms if almost any other group were simultaneously attacked at an event and then mocked in the media. The only good thing to report is that the evacuation went fairly well and no one else was hurt in the process according to one of the participants.

Now, there are still some questions as to exactly what happened but the basic facts are agreed upon. The first reports came in at about 12:40am. The Rosemont Hyatt was ordered evacuated at 1:10am during the late evening dance that is a nearly universal feature of fandom conventions. People complained of a noxious gas smell, headaches, and other symptoms. Nineteen people were hospitalized. Investigators determined that chlorine gas had been introduced in the ninth floor of a hotel stairwell.

Police say the manner of release “suggests an intentional act.” The hotel was decontaminated and people were allowed to return about three hours after the evacuation. However, there are still two important unknowns: who and why. There are presently no suspects and no publicly available evidence on that score so speculation has been minimal. The Rosemont PD are declining to answer any questions regarding the incident and frankly don’t seem to be investigating with any seriousness beyond stationing extra security on site. This is troubling for all the usual reasons. The second question, however, has proven far more interesting.

Let me start by saying that this may have absolutely nothing to do with furries, per se. The perpetrators may simply have been looking for a convenient target with large numbers of people and the group drew the short straw. However, because furries are so often the targets of insult and even attacks, it is plausible to believe this was a crime that specifically targeted them. Some are already calling it a hate crime, or even attempted genocide, and with some justification. To many furries, their identification with the group is more than simple fandom. It is as important and inherent to their sense of self as racial or sexual or religious identity is to others, a point made better by Dr. Sharon Roberts, her colleagues, and her graduate students than I ever could. I won’t pretend to understand all the nuances, because I don’t, but I do understand that this identification has a deeply personal meaning to its adherents and that is something I can understand and respect as a chronic outsider, a gay Jew who grew up in North Texas. The dismissive responses from Brzezinski and Scarborough, as well as those from other fans, and the non-response from police represent a lack of consideration based on the failure even to attempt understanding.

How Does This Affect Me?

It means you or people you know are potential targets if this was in fact a crime specifically against furries instead of an act of opportunity. Even if it was the latter, it still means you are a potential target at a convention of whatever sort. The lack of any reasonable police response is stunning and the furry community is in an understandable uproar. That other fandom groups are overall blasé about the whole thing is shameful.

We need to demand answers from the police. We need to demand respect from the media. We need to demand support within and between fandom groups. To borrow a phrase, an attack on one is an attack on all. I’ve been involved with fandom, both as an active member and as a researcher, for fifteen years and though this happened half a nation away to a group outside my own interests, it scared me. It could occur again at any fandom event, whether Comic-Con, PAX, or my own beloved A-Kon.

Regardless of one’s fandom affiliation, we must stand up and be counted if we’re going to get any level of respect, from police, from media, and from other fans.

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J. Holder Bennett spends his time in the “real” world, whatever that means, as a history professor in North Texas. The rest of the time he focuses on his real love: fandom. For the past fifteen years he’s helped run A-Kon, an anime and manga convention in Dallas, and recently organized the Fandom and Neomedia Studies (FANS) association to bring together fans and academics for the better understanding of their mutual love. He has also done work on historical fiction and collaborated on analyses of science in cinema. Yes, he’s that guy.

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  1. I was disgusted by Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough’s reaction, which was mentioned in the initial news report I read about this story. No matter how strange or comical the furries seem, noone should be laughing at their attempted murder and mass poisoning.

  2. Coming out as furry these days is as bad as coming out as gay was in the early 90′s. The online hate is shockingly intense! I found that out the hard way. When people online have been saying “burn all furries” and “gas the furfags” for years this was obviously a hate crime!

    But the police won’t protect us because people assume we are freaks and deserved it. People riot and demand action and investigation when one black kid gets shot. But no, we are furries and thus not worth any respect or compassion.

    It is more the just this one event it is how the world sees us.

    “To many furries, their identification with the group is more than simple fandom. It is as important and inherent to their sense of self as racial or sexual or religious identity is to others”

    My fursona is a huge part of who I am, like a chunk of my soul!!
    The way I express her is by dressing in a costume as an everyday outfit. It is not a fursuite but I have a tail, ears and horns. This was just a style no different being steampunk or Goth or liking the color orange. Just a choice I loved to express.

    But a video of me that leaked, spread between hate sites and was used to bash me for being a fat furry. They use me and my face to spread hate for all furries. Recently that video was used make a hate video about me. Now 80% of the internet thinks I like furry porn or “do” animals or that I’m dangerously crazy! I’m now scum with hate pages telling me to “go die before you give us all rabies”! dirty emails and creepy 3 am phone calls are my life now! Me and my family get death threats! I can’t ever dress as Weasel in public again because I fear being attacked or my mom might lose her job for being seen with me!

    This correlates to the article because just like how the police refuse to investigate this YouTube refuses to remove the video they believe I was apparently “asking for it” even though my account was hacked!

    A powerful, popular web show with thousands of subscribers that probably has ads on their videos will never be held accountable. I’m just one person and I’m not worth any money to youtube. Also they’re probably afraid to be seen as defending furries considering where are assumed to be horrible people.

    The entertainment and news media of television and the Internet are allowed to get away with treating us like this. They constantly misrepresent our fandom and are the reason we are hated so much. There are no laws protecting us. If they were making fun of a race a religion a sexual orientation or any other minority group there would be an uproar. But furries are not considered people. Nobody ever thinks that inside that fursuite is a living breathing person with a life, a family and the same basic emotions as everybody else. Our only crime is that we like art about animals or animals that look like people. That’s what being a furry is in its truest form. Some people fursuite but not everybody. And only a very small percentage has any sexual interest in the fandom at all. There are other fandoms that have more sexual content and are still considered much more mainstream.

    There’s a lot of bad behavior that goes on that is not only accepted but often condoned and celebrated. But good people that try to act better than most of society are singled out as being monsters. We are advocates for peace and justice. We try to promote conservation and animal rights. Why is it considered ok for a celebrity musician to dance around in a video half naked as a role model to little kids but somebody in a cute fuzzy costume giving out candy canes and raising money for charity deserves to be shot?

    When people say you can’t discriminate they talk about race, religion and sexual orientation but I believe fandom should be in that same category. I believe no one should ever be hated for something they like to do as a hobby. As long as they are not hurting anyone and not committing any crimes. They should have the freedom to express their fandom publicly without persecution. In the Constitution it says life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that’s what being a furry is it is our own liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    Imagine if you had a hobby you really enjoyed something like a sport you play or some type of crafting that you’re really good at and enjoy celebrating. Imagine if you took pride in this hobby so it became a big part of your identity. But all of a sudden you realize other people don’t like your hobby. They misunderstand your innocent fun as something it’s not! No matter what you say and do, no matter how much you beg or plead, they will always remain convinced that you are some kind of deranged, perverted freak. Imagine if the sports jersey or the band shirt you like to wear or the bumper sticker celebrating a club you’re part of were all the type of things that could get you shined beat up or worse. What if you had to hide something deeply personal about yourself for fear of losing your job or fear of being shunned by your family? I have known parents to kick their kids out and disown them for being a furry. The parallels between the way gays used to be treated and the way furries are treated now is apparent. Yes it is true that some furries are gay but that is only because our community does not discriminate against anyone and people feel more comfortable being themselves.

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