As of about a week ago, I didn’t feel like I needed to know anything more about furry culture. They love humanoid animals and dressing up like plush toys, which may or may not include f*cking each other. Cool, man! Everyone’s gotta have interests! In the age of the internet, and speaking as a guy who’s attended Comic-Con, the AVNs, Gathering of the Juggalos, and bondage film premieres, the idea of a group of people sharing a a strange fetish in and of itself isn’t a huge source of fascination anymore. Rule 34, etc.
Nonetheless, when I was offered an interview with Dominic Rodriguez, director of the newly released documentary Fursonas, and a furry himself, I figured, why not? Interviews are easy, and maybe I’d learn something. I turned on Fursonas, figuring I could watch a few minutes and it’d help me think of something to ask besides So, how do you clean semen off of plush? Once I started Fursonas, I found I couldn’t turn it off.
The first few furries profiled were revealed to be lonely, possibly broken people — no surprise there. Like “Boomer,” a Pittsburgh man named Gary Matthews who wears his shoulder-length hair with dog-ear-like bubbles on top of his head and who tried to legally change his name to “Boomer the Dog.” Watching Boomer walk down the street in his $7 dog costume made of shredded paper is a little like watching a car crash at first.
As time goes on, however, you can’t help but be charmed by the genuine fulfillment the characters seem to derive from their hobby, Boomer included. Few things are as endearing as watching someone live whatever weird dream they had for themselves, society be damned. Aww, I wish anything made me as happy as Dave is when he’s getting beaten across the testicles with a rubber chicken.
Even so, the beauty of self-acceptance can only occupy so much screen time, and before long, Fursonas introduces us to “Uncle Kage,” a cartoon-voiced Pennsylvanian who appears almost exclusively without his fur suit (unlike some other Fursonas characters who prefer to remain anonymous). He starts off seeming like the ideal furry spokesperson: open, unassuming, articulate, and singularly capable of explaining what makes furries tick in a way that even skeptics and outsiders can understand. “We’re childhood outcasts who, denied the acceptance of our peers, found that acceptance in the welcoming arms of cartoon animals. And people who, as adults, never forgot our old friends.”
Hey, that makes sense. This Kage guy, he makes furrydom sound damn near reasonable. Fursonas shows him giving media training to help furries deal with the media as well as he can, and it seems like a worthwhile goal. He teaches them how to deflect questions about furry sex without outright denials — neutralizing sensationalism without committing perjury.
But Fursonas… It’s got levels, man.
And as Rodriguez peels back the layers, we start to see a darker side of Kage, where the seemingly reasonable goal of mainstream furry acceptance appears to justify for him some harsh treatment and intolerance towards anyone within his community who might represent furries badly in the media. And, in so doing, reflect poorly on him. (Kage is quite transparent about his motivation, which humanizes him even as you turn against him).
The rub, without stating it too cheesily, is that Fursonas is about more than just furries. It raises relevant questions for any group trying to avoid being dismissed and disenfranchised (along with the sub-question of whether being dismissed is tantamount to being disenfranchised). What does mass acceptance mean, and what sacrifices is it worth?
You can see where Kage’s coming from, not wanting strangers to assume he’s like Boomer, even as he says unnecessarily cruel things about Boomer. You wonder if Kage’s the worst kind of hypocrite — a self-appointed, dictatorial leader of a group originally built as a refuge from enforced conformity and social norms. Fursonas finds furries who love him and furries who hate him, and you wonder if they’re both right. Does every ostracized group need to go through its Huxtable phase, putting on a sweater to show the mainstream that they’re not so scary? Or is furry-on-furry discrimination the result of internalized oppression?
The important takeaway from Fursonas, which is true for virtually any group, is that while from far away they might seem like a monolithic bloc, the reality is that the community encompasses a variety of types, and is made up of a somewhat diverse group of people who don’t always agree on things.
Dominic Rodriguez is one of the only people on Earth who could’ve told this story, being both a filmmaker and a furry. I got the chance to pick the 25-year-old first-time filmmaker’s brain the other day, and there was almost too much to cover.