A Very Hairy Situation: A Study of Fursonas and their Online Presence

Camille Devaux
whatinsomnia, gym day (2015), whatinsomnia. Digital illustration. Image source: Fur Affinity, [furaffinity.net/view/16978467/].
gym day (2015), whatinsomnia.

While the Internet has given those with access the means to enter free and open discussions, others have found refuge in private and protected online communities. This is the case for the online community of anthropomorphic character enthusiasts who coin themselves furries. This paper will explore the complexities of their online personas, called fursonas, and the workings behind their lifestyles. I will also explain how this online community positively encourages the affirmation of identity, both online and offline: restrictive access on social media and online image boards protects furries from mockery, bullying and harassment. Moreover, I will explore the reality behind this unique group of individuals in comparison to common misconceptions and stereotypes. The primary platforms supporting this research are image boards and social media networks such as Fur Affinity and Twitter, wherein specific online platforms support specific user needs.

Animal and animal-like characters are frequent in popular media, from children’s TV shows to Disney movies. Anthropomorphic characters are commonly embedded with meanings specific to their species, and because their animality detaches them from our reality, they pass on hidden messages to viewers effortlessly.[1] In the classic La Fontaine’s Fables, for example, animals are carefully chosen for their characteristics in order to critique certain facets of humanity and embed the story with a moral. Anthropologist Laura Miller explains that anthropomorphic characters are simultaneously familiar yet detached from human complexity, ultimately “[deflecting] our focus away from age, gender and ethnicity, inviting us to see ourselves in them.”[2] Zoomorphic images might also provide the means to unleash one’s animalistic side.[3] Similar factors are demonstrated by in the furry community.

. whatinsomnia, One beer, two beers,... (2015). Digital illustration. Image source: Fur Affinity, [https://www.furaffinity.net/view/17051012/].
. whatinsomnia, One beer, two beers,… (2015). Digital illustration. Image source: Fur Affinity, [furaffinity.net/view/17051012].
Certain ideas around Queer identity are useful in this discussion, specifically Queer performance like cross-dressing and drag, and the notion that identity itself is performative and fluid.[4] The ways in which furries embody an anthropomorphic persona might be considered a similar kind of identity performance. There is, just as in drag and cross-dressing, this idea of impersonating an identity that is not essential. Rather than complying to established identity norms, many furries are interested in out-of-species-selves, referred to as otherkin. This type of identity pushes normative boundaries by transforming human identification, either by dressing-up in elaborate furry costumes or by using a furry identity on online social networks.[5] Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, a researcher in human and animal relationships, is interested in the intricacies of gender and species identity disorder in relation to the furry subject. She explains that many feel disassociated with established notions of human identity, which in turn disturbs the established cultural systems.[6] Here, furries are often seen as an other, not necessarily of gender, but of being.

The personas in which online users adapt, both through costumes and online avatars, are unique and based on personal taste. Many characteristics giving form to the persona often relate to one’s offline life or physical features, though idealized for an alternative world. As is the case for video gamers, avatars provide the potential to perform an idealized self whose actions and decisions are totally controlled by the user.[7] Twitter user @whatinsomnia, for example, has a bull fursona who is a college student and takes part in bodybuilding, modelled after @whatinsomnia’s exact routine and interests.[8] In this 2015 illustration, the limited palette of grey and light pink serve to differentiate the skin and what little fabric makes up the overtly tight and cropped top. With a towel on its shoulder and a water bottle in its hand, the bull seems to be leaving the gym. Its beard is probably also used to link the character to its creator. This piece is characteristic of the artist’s interest in using shadow to create well-rounded muscular shapes on its characters. Exaggerating the hyper-masculinized body, the figure barely fits in the picture, adding even more emphasis on the bull’s imposing size. The exaggerated features @whatinsomnia’s persona bears reflect his own aesthetic taste for so-called ‘hyper style,’ in which body parts, generally genitals, are enlarged to unrealistic proportions. As @whatinsomnia’s digital image demonstrates, the bull’s pectorals, nipples and bulge are greatly exaggerated. His enlarged bicep takes up a good portion of the scene, giving the character overall super-sexualized and superhuman characteristics. While this artist benefitted from his own skill to execute the likeness of his own persona, and change it over time to reflect his own life events, many online community members must enlist an artist to bring the story of their fursona to life.

The first furry gathering in Costa Mesa, California in 1989, ConFurence Zero, prompted the online furry community, who sought to discuss, interact and role-play with their fursonas, now made possible through the liberties of the Internet. Without a physical body, the Internet provides a blank canvas on which to paint one’s identity, or in this case, fursona. Nina Wakeford’s landmark text “Cyberqueer” discusses how cyberspace similarly offers Queer communities a free platform for expression.[9] Online space allows the opportunity for Queer people, like the furry community, to craft a persona with others sharing similar interests. The rise of digital images and multimedia also spurred a rise of online content sharing for particular niche subjects. However, while these niche spaces are free and open to members of furry communities, they remain accessible to outside visitors—to non-furries. The presence of non-furry viewers has unfortunately generated misconceptions that furries are zoophiles or perverts,[10] a misconception which new research has demonstrated to be largely erroneous.[11] The user-generated image board Fur Affinity has been constructed in response to these misunderstandings, encouraging interactions between artists and furry enthusiasts alone.

What is interesting about this website are the restrictions surrounding privacy and detachment of its users vis-à-vis the non-registered visitor. Users have the possibility of showcasing their artistic creations to a select few thanks to a disabling option which provides even more privacy than a standard online login system.[12] This is a prime example of how the furry community united to create a defined space outside and in response to judgement passed by outsiders. Still, furry community members remain cautious of what is visible on their profiles, careful of what material is freely available. A more sentimental artwork, for example, might be too personal to leave open to potential public ridicule. In fact, public teasing might have influenced furries to evolve into this more recluse community altogether.

whatinsomnia, ❤ VALENTINES SKETCH STREAM ❤, (February 14, 2016). Digital illustration and Twitter caption. Image Source: Twitter, [twitter.com/whatinsomnia/status/698862184646971392].
whatinsomnia, ❤ VALENTINES SKETCH STREAM ❤, (February 14, 2016). Digital illustration and Twitter caption. Image Source: Twitter, [twitter.com/whatinsomnia/status/698862184646971392].
Of course, this is not to imply that furries do not interact with other spheres of the Internet. Various artists also use Twitter to engage a broader audience, often using the platform to present works-in-progress and ask for feedback from other users. One of @whatinsomnia’s tweets, for example, showcases his buffed-up anthropomorphized bull fursona dressed only in a jockstrap that barely covers his exaggerated genitals. The pink hue of the picture and the backdrop heart, in addition to minimalistic wings and a bow and arrow, all hint to a rendition of his fursona embodying Cupid for a themed Valentine’s Day stream titled “❤ VALENTINES SKETCH STREAM ❤,” in which viewers were invited to participate. During this live session, the artist would modify his fursona at the request of the audience. Twitter’s popular social platform provides this seemingly cloistered community a window through which they can attract visitors and fans from outside networks.

Though furries are still stigmatised in mainstream media, the use of online platforms provide agency over visibility and accessibility. With the help of image boards like Fur Affinity, users are able to create a rich visual culture profitable to both users and artists, yet hidden from a curious outsider’s gaze. Online platforms also provide furries with a space in which the physical body may be empowered by an online identity, where furries may fully impersonate their fursona through interactions with peers. The Internet has helped create a safe space in which furries are able to craft and give tangibility to their deepest fantasies via their fursonas.



[1] Venetia Laura Delano Robertson, “Of Ponies and Men My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the Brony Fandom,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 17.1 (2013): 23.

[2] Laura Miller, “Japan’s Zoomorphic Urge,” Asian Network Exchange 17.2 (2010): 79-80.

[3] Jakob Maase, “Keeping the Magic: Fursona Identity and Performance in the Furry Fandom,” (Master’s thesis, Western Kentucky University, 2015).

[4] Adam Isaiah Green, “Queer Theory and Sociology: Locating the Subject and the Self in Sexuality Studies*,” Sociological Theory 25.1 (2007): 27.

[5] Venkatesh Vivek, Educational, Psychological, and Behavioral Considerations in Niche Online Communities (IGI Global, 2014), 270.

[6] Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et Al.,” Society & Animals 19.3 (2011): 298.

[7] Zach Waggoner, My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games (Jefferson, N.C: Mcfarland & Co Inc Pub, 2009), 11.

[8] pump-action-hotgun, Twitter post, November 13, 2015. [twitter.com/whatinsomnia/status/661597011830054912]. [Deleted post]

[9] Nina Wakeford, “Cyberqueer,” in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction, ed. Andy Medhurst and Sally Munt, Cassell (London, 1997), 33.

[10] Denise Winterman, “Who Are the Furries?,” BBC News UK, November 13, 2009. [news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8355287.stm].

[11] The 2008 Furry Sociological Survey made by Kyle Evans disproves the misconception that furries have an erotic fixation with animals: only a mere 17% of the community identifies as a zoophile.

[12] “Terms of Service,” Fur Affinity, accessed on January 26, 2016. [furaffinity.net/tos].



“Terms of Service.” Fur Affinity. Accessed January 30, 2016. [https://www.furaffinity.net/tos].

Confurence. “ConFurence 0.” Accessed November 22, 2015. [confurence.com/CF0/index.html].

Evans, Kyle. “The Furry Sociological Survey,” 2008. [cannedgeek.com/images/sharedfiles/fss_report_finaldraft.PDF].

Isaiah Green, Adam. “Queer Theory and Sociology: Locating the Subject and the Self in Sexuality Studies*.” Sociological Theory 25.1(2007): 26–45.

Maase, Jakob. “Keeping the Magic: Fursona Identity and Performance in the Furry Fandom.” Masters thesis, Western Kentucky University, 2015.

Miller, Laura. “Japan’s Zoomorphic Urge.” Asian Network Exchange 17.2 (2010): 69–82.

Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et Al.” Society & Animals 19.3 (2011): 294–301.

pump-action hotgun. Twitter Post. November 13, 2015. [twitter.com/whatinsomnia/status/661597011830054912].[Deleted post]

Robertson, Venetia Laura Delano. “Of Ponies and Men My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the Brony Fandom.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 17.1(2014): 21-37.

Vivek, Venkatesh, Jason Wallin, and Juan Carlos Castro, eds. Educational, Psychological, and Behavioral Considerations in Niche Online Communities. Pennsylvania: IGI Global, 2014.

Waggoner, Zach. My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games. North Carolina: Mcfarland & Co Inc. Publishers, 2009.

Wakeford, Nina. “Cyberqueer.” In Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction, edited by Andy Medhurst and Sally Munt, 20-38. London: Cassell, 1997.

Winterman, Denise. “Who Are the Furries?” BBC News UK. November 13, 2009. [news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8355287.stm].

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