Postfurry 103: The Prestige

What happened to the humans?
What happened to all those boring humans
Thinking at probably a top speed of one thought per moment
Or the aliens that donated genetic material to the animals in order to create the society of creatures that we are
And thus explains our fascination for robots and drugs, because we’ve just kind of
Made it up for their backstories, oh well
—With apologies to just Mr. Watts

Way back, at the start of this whole mess, I said I’d try to explain postfurry. We went through a very short analysis of furry, a concept that really just means “interest in human-like characteristics in non-human species, or vice versa.” Then we followed that with a fairly lengthy discourse into epifurry, the social conventions inspired by improv and role-playing that both helped explain furry’s enduring appeal and also served as many of postfurry’s seed concepts. Then we investigated many different possibilities for what the “post” in “postfurry” could mean and, despite veering through a bunch of seemingly conflicting interpretations, we pulled a hologram rose back from the fragments. Now, in theory, if we want an understanding of postfurry, we should just have to apply A to B.

As the saying goes, “I want to move to Theory; everything works there.” I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating here, and not just because repetition is useful. These are my answers, at this time, with the experiences and beliefs and ideas I’ve brought with me to this point. Everything I’ve said is open to interpretation and critique, and I’m not by far the only one thinking about these things; others will bring their own perceptions and histories to the table, and those are important too. If you think you have a better understanding, or you think I’ve left out something critically important, the best thing you can do is show me. I love — and I mean it, truly, madly, deeply — when people give feedback, even when it’s critical, because it means this isn’t just me masturbating into the void. It means we’re having a dialogue, and it’s only through mutual engagement that we narrow the gaps between our understanding.

Let’s start by putting the components next to each other:

  • Interest in human-like characteristics in non-human species, or vice versa
  • Permission to dynamically renegotiate social conventions
  • Self-aware expressions of personal authenticity
  • Deep inquiry into history, culture, and society
  • Acceptance that our views are necessarily incomplete and subject to change

If you stripped off everything else, I think I could comfortably call this the Sein of postfurry. This, however, is no more “what postfurry is” than “a prismatic refraction of light showing a spectrum of colors” adequately describes a rainbow. Sure, the denotation may be accurate, but it can’t begin to cover any of the connotations, and as we found earlier with furry, it’s really the connotations that matter. Here are some of the ones that matter to me.

Final unfolding, back to the beginning, Möbius origami.

The queering of furry
Oh hell. And I thought the post-structuralist essay was going to be hard. Okay, folks, strap yourselves in; this one’s going to get rough.

I’m not going to try to tackle queer theory in its entirety. I’m just not. The Wikipedia page is itself barely scratches the surface and acknowledges up front that this is a “multilayered, and rather complex, field of study.” Wikipedia has pages devoted to keeping track of the many political positions of Donald Trump, the history and fine points of India-EU relations, and the full history of the de ((La(f|h)|la (F|H))|(F|H))ou?r(c|qu)ad(a|e) family, and queer theory is “complex.” Anything I tried to write about the whole of the field would be longer than the essay for which I’m trying to use it.

What I am going to do is try to chart a course through this idea and fish out some flotsam on the way. Specifically, I’m going to highlight the following passage:

In particular, queer theory’s overreaching goal is to be sought out as a lens or tool to deconstruct the existing monolithic ideals of social norms and taxonomies; as well as, how these norms came into being and why. In addition, it analyzes the correlation between power distribution and identification while understanding the multifarious facets of oppression and privilege. It is vital to understand queer and Queer Theory as an applicable concept providing a framework to explore these issues rather than an identity. Queer is an inclusive umbrella term for those not only deemed as sexually deviant in relations to a social hegemony but also used to describe those who feel marginalized as a result of social practices and identity. It is a “site of permanent becoming.”

The fandom, with its demographics and history, is a textbook social environment in which the culturally dominant sexuosocial paradigm — which I can broadly describe as the idea of “one man, one woman, one serially-monogamous relationship,” with all the assumptions about the definitions of “one,” “man,” “woman,” and “relationship” that it entails — can be challenged. Remember from part one that, for the most part, statements of facticities of character are considered inviolate, and also how characters are very often used as stand-ins for the self. Here’s an interesting addendum to this: people’s fursonae tend, on the whole, to be even gayer than the personae behind them, and a significant percentage use furry as a vehicle for exploring gender. People are already using furry as a space to explore their sexualities and sexual identities. Several writers, both inside and outside the fandom, have used aspects of furry as a specific stand-in for either sexual minorities, or even racial identities.

Postfurry tries to make this subtext to text, and from my observation, we seem to take that seriously. If “we are our fursonae,” and “our fursonae are queerer than we are,” the obvious next step is to become more queer, to embody the lessons and ideas we’ve absorbed from our characters, something I think at least in this field we’ve definitely done. An informal, extremely conservative analysis — by which I mean “I went through a couple of postfurry resources, counted names of people I knew, and if I knew if I’d heard somebody express an identity, I counted them in that grouping” — came up with about forty percent trans and twenty-five percent non-binary. If the numbers in furry, compared to the baseline, were skewed, the gender demographics of postfurry are staggering.

Now, it’s fair to ask whether the community ended up with such a high percentage of gender-variant individuals because they already knew they were trans and the philosophy attracted them, or because the community allowed people who were already interested in the ideas to re-examine their own relationship to identity. I, personally, believe it’s some from column A, but a lot from column B. And for this, I present as evidence the multiple “gender cascades” that have run through the community. On more than one occasion, one person saying, “nothing is stopping me from acting on my identity” has inspired a second, then a third or fourth; including at least one non-binary cascade. I can’t say these people wouldn’t have transitioned if they hadn’t discovered the community, but I can say that many of them have directly attributed their own willingness to transition to social links with people who were going through similar feelings.

However, this is all something of a digression; the focus is — or should be — on applying queer theory to furry, which postfurry also does. Furry as a social dynamic is already weirded from the norm because of its permissiveness of spontaneous renegotiation. However, the Overton window of mainstream furry is still informed by the cultural referents that are common to the participants. On the whole, those cultural reference points that are common to age fourteen-to-twenty-four liberal bi-to-gay white male college students and recent grads making slightly under median income, living with people who aren’t furry. Now, this is in no way saying that all furries fit into this category; in fact, the people who hit every category in that list is probably fairly small. However, each of positions within the various axes such as age, politics, living arrangement and so on are the dominant ones by a fair margin, which means that the Weltanschauung of furry sits somewhere in the vicinity of this category. This means that the narratives that tend to be crafted in furry will tend to appeal or come naturally to people in this situation. Thus, furry tends to produce a lot of canines, big cats, and dragons, coming-out stories, university and college settings, gay romance and “fursecution.” When furry produces fantastic settings, these settings tend to be one, maybe two cuils away from the kinds of fantastic settings away from the mainstream, only with gay furries in it.

Postfurry narratives are to furry narratives what postmodern literature is to the mainstream. It draws from sources like Don DeLillo, William Gibson, and Thomas Pynchon; instead of Spielberg, Rowling, and Roddenberry. When it does draw directly from the fandom, it does so in ways that investigate and subvert the mainstream furry view. It embraces hybrids, transgenic, and transspecies characters, as well as lesser-used species and custom creations like the aforementioned sergals, citras, and chakats. Its characters refuse easy sex classification, having complex bodies-by-design with mix-and-match genitalia and shapes that challenge simple terms like “man” and “woman.” Its romances likewise defy easy orientation categories, because the bodies in question fail to rely on easy groupings. Instead of coming-out stories fearing the loss of love, postfurry romances often discuss overabundances of relationships and questions of compersion, jealousy, and adequacy.

Picking up the post-human aspect, cybernetics are a common theme in postfurry character design, as are hive minds, artificial intelligences of either magical or technological origin; and aliens, fae, or eldritch horrors. Consciousness and sapience are made manifest in any material imaginable, because the inevitable question arises: where is consciousness not?

It should go without saying, but deserves to be said anyway, that postfurry sex is probably complicated enough to deserve its own essay, but I should try to tackle the basics here. Yes, we’re pretty pervy on the whole; if you’re going to design a custom body, and you’re all about new experiences to learn about yourself — a topic that I’ll in more detail below — you’re going to want to use A to get B. And yet, so many of us have so many kinks, and so many of our imagined selves are alternately-sexed, that a great many folks I know can, with perfectly straight faces, have mindblowing sex without ever breaking PG. I mean, sure, everyone remembers Ruby Rhod’s “sex scene” in Fifth Element, but I know plenty of people who think the diva’s solo is the real money shot of the film. Balloons popping, toys losing their stuffing, planetary alignments, gear systems snapping home, transformations… I could go on and on, but the point is that when you’re used to thinking of yourself as an exotic being, what constitutes “sex” and its constituent ideas like “foreplay” and “orgasm” changes dramatically.

Ultimately, postfurry characters ask the question thus: once you’ve gotten as far as shifting your self-image away from your physical appearance, why stop at just one change? Blue fur, even if it’s just a dye-job, is only a snippet of backstory away from asking some really interesting questions about how you got to be what you are.

Transliminality
I mentioned a little bit back about how postfurry is heavily trans and non-binary, surprisingly so compared to the furry baseline. In addition, postfurry has a huge displayed range of spiritual identities. For example, off the top of my head, I know people who profess sincerely held beliefs in all of the following and more:

We’re an amazingly polydox lot, and yet I have no doubt that every one of those beliefs is not only genuine but reasonably compatible, because we understand each of these faiths in the context of deeply-held personal expressions of great truth. Each of us understands that we’re on our own unique paths. We know that we can inform each other of where we are on our personal growth, and we can issue cautions against ideas that sound dangerous, but we can’t tell others what to truly believe. We can only pursue our own beliefs in the company of others who will help us understand ourselves better. In some ways, being in the postfurry community is a lot like being invited to create your own personal mystery, with only the help of others around who’re all also creating their own myths based on the tools in the toolboxes and their own perceptions and histories.

Each of these beliefs came about through some combination of personal history and deep introspection into the self. We’re all products of our pasts and perceptions. And yet, as always, it’s more complicated than that. The past is a fiction, a story that we tell ourselves and each other about who we’ve been, because there’s no way not to edit — and thus narrativize — the sum total of our experiences down to the highlight reels that we think are important. Not every memory transitions from short-term to long-term, and that’s probably a feature, not a bug, of how human cognition works. What we remember, and how we remember it, is as much a matter of who we are as it is what happened, and how we remember the stories of our lives influences how we think about ourselves. As our perceptions of self change, the contexts of our pasts — not the events, but how we think about them — changes, and that in turn changes “who we are.”

Part of discovering what we believe, of always moving towards the truest self, is thus contingent on regular reflection on ourselves and our histories. This “soul-revealing” can happen through a great many tools: a book, a piece of music, a movie, a video game. People talk all the time about having had “life-changing” experiences, but they do so in the context of a once-in-a-lifetime event. We, meanwhile, regularly seek out opportunities to enter the sublime, hoping to bring new revelations about ourselves back from them.

All of those “external” tools, however, are only half the picture. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up altered states of consciousness. And yes, let’s get it out of the way: we smoke a lot of pot around here. But that’s not the only tool we use by far. Many members of the community, myself included, are huge fans of hypnosis for tinkering with our perceptions. Many practice mindfulness rituals or meditate. Some follow the Inebriati. Others go to concerts, take trips to the forest or the playa, or long Greyhound trips to the middle of nowhere.

In each of these experiences, the goal is to dig further into the self, to re-evaluate and re-interpret and re-imagine the self. Whether internal or external, these are tools for popping one eye out and turning it around in the socket to help us peer more deeply into our own fractal depths. They’re means for us to better understand ourselves, and in so doing, to become better at helping each other understand who they are as well.

Absurdism
These struggles for personal meaning, the effort to always move closer to the truest self, are intensely important for expressing our identity. However, they play out against the ever present buzzsaw drone of postmodernism’s and poststructuralism’s relentless insistence that we can’t actually prove any of it. We can construct all the meaning we want, and we can assert anything we like about our deepest, innermost selves, but we do so a posteriori, not a priori. There is no reality anywhere; we are all absolutely free.

I can’t think of a more soul-squeezing idea. Neither, it turns out, could a good many philosophers throughout the ages, each of whom pinned “success” — if such a word has any any meaning in this context — on a different strategy: killing oneself, leaping blindly into the maybe-nonexistent arms of a hopefully-benevolent god, or embracing la nausée. Personally, of the three, I agree most with Camus: that suicide only compounds the absurdity, and that putting one’s faith into any random higher power is probably a lose-my-hat kind of plan. However, that leaves me with staring into the Total Perspective Vortex and accepting the permanent gut-twist that comes from knowing that all self-knowledge is inherently internal, with no means of truly understanding or sharing our awareness with others. We are, as Sartre might put it, cursed with freedom. The universe can give us no meaning of its own, so we must make meaning for ourselves, but we know that whatever towering sandcastle of thought we construct, the tides are inevitable, and everything washes back into the featureless sea.

This is why I included post-irony in my previous list, even though we don’t always practice it very well. Against the ἐχθροί, the temptation is always there to give up, to give in, and to let the meaninglessness eat everything. If we are to remain here, hale and whole, we must find ways to find joy in what we build, for as long as it and we are around. At the same time, we have to remember that the fictions we create to fill the void are just that: fictions. To disappear completely into our self-made reality tunnels would be to forget that the tunnels exist or that we made them, to replace the absurd with the fictitious. It would be to live in bad faith.

So, how do we navigate between Scylla and Charybdis? We play with ideas that look paradoxical. We deliberately invoke strange juxtapositions of ideas and examine them, inside and out. We deliberately tweak our pareidolia and apophenia to see what sticks. We look for patterns in television static, a reference sure to carbon-date me alongside the color of a dead channel. We assemble impossible characters, deliberately juxtapose disjoint ideas, and learn to laugh when the audience points out that we’re talking nonsense. It’s that, or sing the song that ends the world.

Conscious Identity Management
Way back at the start of this whole thing, I mentioned the fursona, the projection of self into the furry mindspace that often reflects back the progenitor. And then I spent a lot of time talking about multiciplicity of viewpoints and examining one’s own perceptual framework from multiple angles. Turns out, one of the ways in which we learn to combat the seeming crisis that exists between “there is no objective frame” and “you have to embrace your own frame to be happy” is to build a lot of different frames, and use them to investigate each other.

It’s common in the fandom to build fursonas, certainly, and there’s a significant percentage that maintain more than one. That might hit the double or triple ring, but it’s still not really the bull’s-eye I’m trying to nail here. There’s a specific context I want to capture here, which is the idea of crafting — or finding — identities that serve a specific social context, and then presenting in the guise of that identity in order to reap the benefits encapsulated within it.

What I’m trying to describe here isn’t DID; that’s a disorder caused by an external source. Nor am I really trying to slide over into multiple spaces, though there is significant overlap there. This is more the idea that identity is a process, as much as it is a state of being. It represents how we interact with the world, the viewport through we we interpret our own thoughts: am I optimistic or pessimistic? Vixen, coy, or ingenue? Dominant or submissive? For every axis, and every set of axes, we can imagine, there’s a character, an identity, that holds those positions. What is their life like? How is it different from mine? How does it feel to look through those eyes? How does my world look from here?

A big part of postfurry, to me, is in the use of changing how we see ourselves to change how we interact with the world at large. I’d call it “embodied tulpamancy“, but I’ve others use different terms for it. When I’m Roque, I’m not just “playing Roque.” I mean my name is Roque, I identify myself as a sapient holographic nanocolony in the shape of a rabbit or sometimes a raccoon. I’m more of a top than a bottom, magic is real but very difficult, and all scenes and settings are negotiable; stepping out of frame is possible at any time. Call me a different name, and I’ll embody a different self, possibly along with a whole different set of facticities that change how I see myself and the world. It’s fairly well-documented that we act differently around different people. In postfurry, this process is explicit and can be explicitly negotiated.

I need to make it clear here, again, that I’m not trying to say “Roque isn’t me.” I’m still me, even when I’m Roque. Rather, Roque — and buni, and Kristy, and all the other names I have — are… versions of me, more or less like others but with enough distinction. I reconciled with my pre-transition self by making him a character, an identity I still occasionally wear when I could benefit from his stubbornness and willingness to head-down-do-things that I find unpleasant, or when one of my subs asks for the closed fist instead of the open palm. I put names and voices, sometimes faces and bodies to my moods, so as to better make use of them when they’re around.

“Who I am” — really, “who we are” — is negotiable, or at least it can be. We can allow ourselves to be, and become, different people if we give ourselves permission and each other the reminders. When we feel fear, we can find voices within us to be brave despite it. When we feel rage, we can find voices within us looking for calm. When we feel sorrow, we can find voices that at least remember or can imagine joy. We can be better than we are, without no longer being ourselves. We can give each other permission. We can give ourselves permission to be all that we imagine ourselves capable of being, one self at a time.

Empathy
In the beginning, we said that furry — epifurry — was permission to renegotiate the rules, whatever they were. Then we got into the post and we talked about movement towards the truest self, accepting that we could never know objective reality and that all meaning was constructed. We talked about learning to laugh at the contradictions and smile through the madness. We talked about building out our inner selves, and about learning to give each other and ourselves permission to become all the different facets of self that we wish to be. Now, here we are.

Within each of us, there is not merely “the self,” but the relations of selves to one other. We’re constantly in the process of inventing ourselves, telling ourselves and each other stories of who are we and who we want to become. We’re naming parts of ourselves and crafting backstories to investigate ourselves and our views.

Postfurry reminds us that every person is doing this. We are all, each of us, self-contained universes struggling to craft meaning out of experience. Many of us are struggling against social norms so pervasive and invasive that at times we lose sight of how important it is that we be us, not who others ask us to be just because who we are challenges their views and threatens their comfort. It’s so easy to get caught up in the act of just being that we forget everyone else is as well; postfurry is about learning, over and over and over again, to see through the eyes of others, to see our own eyes as strange and exotic, to help us understand that none of us is the center of the universe, no matter how much our perceptions tell us we are. And yet, it’s equally about learning how to be true to our deepest and innermost selves, whatever and whomever and however many of them that turns out to be.

This is water.

Postfurry is fractal, self-similar and infinitely complex. Inward, we are all composed of many voices, complicated and contradictory, stitching together the sense-of-self from the decisions that predate our awareness of them. Outward, we are surrounded by people all doing the same. Postfurry is a reminder to let our eyes be mirrors as well as windows, helping others see themselves and encouraging them do the same for us, every facet of a crystal reflecting every other facet.

This is what the ancients meant by Indra’s Net, or אור אין סוף: endless light.

At every step along the path of “what is postfurry,” I’ve been sliding closer and closer to this point. Now, here, at the last step of the cycle before we loop back to the beginning, I can finally touch the sublime myself.

I am υδράργυρη; I bond with all.

And now, here, after the pass through, we’re back where we started: what is postfurry? Postfurry is permission to move towards greater self-awareness and encouragement to help others do the same. Postfurry is acceptance of ambiguity and comfort in contradiction. One of the not-quite-a-people that I know in the community, somebody I admire quite a lot, once quipped the following:

So y’know how we say “‘I’m not sure if I’m weird enough for Postfurry’ should be the motto of Postfurry”? I think that whole thing is the actual motto.

And, in many ways, I think that’s right to the heart of it. It’s the struggle towards collective self-knowledge, and all the hopes and fears and doubts and dreams that come with it. It’s the reminder that we are all of us seeking to embrace the chaos within, to give birth to dancing stars.

With rabbit ears.