The word furries is an identity-based term that is embraced by people who enjoy anthropomorphic (animals endowed with human traits) art, online animal role-playing, and/or dressing up in cartoon animal costumes. The furry subculture is a well-organized and wide-ranging phenomenon that cohered in the early 1980s in the United States. All furries have an interest in anthropomorphics which may manifest itself as a hobby or as a central aspect of lifestyle and identity. For instance, some furries simply may have a strong interest in cartoon animals and comics, whereas others integrate their animal-focused interests into their erotic life.
Furries have their own animal-focused art, conferences, and language. Sometimes called Furspeak, the vocabulary is a mixture of technological terms, puns, and onomatopoeic words that classify furry activities, feelings, and personalities. "Fursuiters" are furries who don full-body animal costumes that reflect an individual's "inner animal" or speak more broadly to the spiritual bond a furry shares with a specific animal. Foxes, bears, lions, cats, and tigers are popular personal "totems" adopted by furries. "Scritching" is an act of scratching or cuddling between furries that shows affection but also may function as a "mating call" or provide evidence that a furry is feeling "yiffy," or ready for sex. "Furverts" are people who are sexually attracted to mascots and others dressed up in furry costumes. Online activity takes place in furry MUCKs (multi-user chat kingdoms) where fur-ries invent characters ("fursonas") and live out their sexual and anthropomorphic fantasies in virtual space. "Plushophiles," or "plushies," are furries who feel an erotic attraction to stuffed animals and may engage in sexual activity with their collections.
The furry subculture is a descendant of science fiction, fantasy, and comic fandom, and the term is said to have been coined at a 1970s science fiction conference to describe an anthropomorphic strand of fantasy art. Because much of the organizing and interaction that takes place among furries occurs in virtual environments or at regional and international conferences, furries have been compared to Trekkies: fans involved in the subculture surrounding the Star Trek television series and films. Like Trekkies, furries identify with one another through mutual interest—their shared fandom—and thus represent an identity category founded on likes or taste rather than on supposedly intrinsic qualities. Although a large number of furries are gay or bisexual men, as a basis for sexual identification the term furry complicates understandings of sexual orientation that are based on a gendered object choice.
Many, if not most, furries are connected to the world of technology. They may work as "techs" or be computer or comics "geeks" who have considerable knowledge about anthropomorphism in world mythology, animated Disney films, or Japanese kemono, a traditional method of character design that has been used widely in video games and anime. Some furries identify so strongly with their animal totems that they reportedly feel body, or species, dysmorphia (a furry term used to describe a psychological condition of chronic revulsion to one's body or body image caused by feeling more animal than human). Some affluent furries have elected to have cosmetic surgery to alter their bodies and faces so that they resemble those inner selves more closely.
Gates, Katharine. 1999. Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: Juno Books.
WikiFur Furry Central. Available from http://www.wikifur.com.