X. Disclosure, Stigma, and Bullying
Furries perceive a significant amount of stigma from the world around them.🐾 This, coupled with the fact that many furries work professional jobs or belong to families and communities where the fandom’s openness (e.g., toward homosexuality and transgender people) may lead to disapproval or conflict, may motivate furries to at least occasionally hide their furry identity from others. To test this, we asked furries to indicate how many people in their day-to-day life (job/school, friends, family, etc.) know about their furry identity on a 1-5 scale (1 = no one in this group knows to 5 = most people in this group know).🐾
Looking at the blue bars, it’s apparent that many furries tend to tell their friends about their furry identity—more so than they tell anyone else. This may be because many of a furry’s friends may, themselves, be members of the furry fandom. That said, only about 55% of furries said that many or most of their friends knew about their furry identity, with 45% reporting that some or only a few of their friends knew. Self-disclosure was even lower for family or day-to- day interactions: 40-45% of furries said that no one in their family, work, school or day-to-day life knew that they were a furry. Only about 35% of furries report being out to “some” or “most” of their family about their furry identity, and even fewer made it known at work or in day-to-day life. In another question, only 35.1% of furries reported any sort of outward display of their furry identity in day-to-day life (e.g., “wearing a collar,” “wearing a furry t-shirt,” “drawing furry art in public,” “wearing a tail,” “having furry badges on my backpack,” etc.). These data collectively suggest that, for many furries, their furry identity and affiliation with the furry community is something they hide from others.
Other data suggest that while furries often selectively disclose their identity to others, they do begin to disclose their identity more as they spend more time in the fandom.🐾 However, this increased self-disclosure is limited predominantly to being more open about their furry identity with their non-furry friends, not with their families, co-workers, new acquaintances, or strangers.
In a final study, we looked at the extent to which furries disclosed their furry identity to others, relative to members of other fandoms. As the figure above shows, furries were the least likely to do so, suggesting that among fan groups, furries are some of the most concealed, feeling the need to keep their identities from others.🐾 This is likely due, in no small part, to the stigma they perceive from the world around them.🐾
Numerous negative stereotypes exist about furries, often perpetuated by negative or inaccurate media portrayals of furries as sexual deviants, socially awkward, or people with an unusual (e.g., fursuits) or, in some places illegal (e.g., bestiality) fetish. As a result of the prevalence of these negative portrayals, we hypothesized that furries would perceive the outside world as particularly unaccepting and hostile toward furries.
In one study, furries indicated that they felt non-furries were prejudiced against furries and that they expected to be treated worse when people learned that they were a furry; these beliefs were even stronger in people who more strongly identified with the furry fandom.🐾 Furries felt that more of this stigma was coming from society in general than from members of similar fandoms (e.g., anime fans), who they may have felt would be more sympathetic due to their sharing comparable interests.
In another study,🐾 furries were found to expect greater backlash and disapproval from others if it were discovered that they were a furry. These results, when combined with other findings that furries are also the least likely to self-disclose their identity to others,🐾 suggest that furries’ decision to not self-disclose is likely influenced by the fact that they expect negative repercussions if they did. And there may be some truth to this: other studies have suggested that among the different fan groups studied, furries and bronies were consistently the most negatively rated, suggesting that others, even those in comparable fan groups (e.g., anime fans) hold a generally unfavorable impression of furries. Further research in to the nature of this stigmatization, its effects, and its origins, are planned as topics for future studies.
Given that furries are often the subject of ridicule and harmful stereotypes,🐾 we investigated whether furries, compared to a sample of the general American population, were more likely to have experienced bullying. In focus group and interviews, many furries suggested that their interest in furry and strong connection to the furry community manifested as a result of feeling like an outsider and being picked on, which led to a sense of affiliation with a community of other self-identified outsiders. We wanted to test whether there was truth to these claims, some of which have found support in other areas (e.g., interests pre-dating finding the fandom and feelings of isolation;🐾 belongingness;🐾 the fandom as social support.🐾)
Participants were asked about the extent to which they experienced different types of bullying at different points in their lives.🐾 Even after statistically controlling for the fact that furries are more likely to be non-heterosexual or transgender,🐾 both of which, themselves, are associated with a history of bullying, furries still experienced significantly more bullying than the average person, whether measured as being physically beaten up or as teasing or ostracism. 48.3% of furries reported being bullied from the age of 4-10 (as compared to 37.1% of non-furries), 61.7% of furries reported being bullied from the ages 11-18 (as compared to 39.2% of non-furries), and 15.1% of furries report being bullied from the age of 19-24 (as compared to 10.2% of non-furries). This suggests not only that furries are more likely than the average person to be bullied (almost twice as likely in some age groups), but that the majority of furries are bullied at some point in their lives. The differences in bullying were also most prominent during the ages of 11-18, an age critical to the formation of a person’s identity. This suggests that there may be some truth to the lay hypothesis of many furries that they were, indeed, picked on more as children and that this may have had an impact on their identity and on the groups (in particular, furries) that they chose to associate with later in life.
Future research will further investigate the role of bullying in the development of identity in furries, and to determine what effect engaging in the furry fandom has on counteracting the negative effects of bullying.
Other research has shown that the furry fandom consists of a number of different subgroups.🐾 Furthermore, some of these groups (e.g., bronies) have been shown to experience stigma from both the general population and from within the fandom itself.🐾
To better understand which groups within the furry fandom experience stigma, we asked furries to indicate, on a scale from -3 (very negatively) to +3 (very positively), how they felt about each of a number of different groups.🐾 It should be noted that the researchers do not, in any way, consider these results to be value judgments about the groups themselves, nor do the researchers wish to state that any group should or should not belong in the furry community. Instead, these data are taken as a reflection of the attitudes of the furry community toward sub- groups within the community.
The data suggest that while some groups are almost universally revered in the fandom (e.g., content creators), feelings toward others are more mixed (e.g., therians and otherkin, fetishists) or are negative (e.g., babyfurs). In the future, we plan to study the differences between these groups to determine the mechanisms underlying these evaluations.
In one follow-up study,🐾 we found evidence that certain subgroups within the furry fandom were more or less likely to experience bullying, either from within the fandom or from outside the fandom. For example: while bronies, as a group, are more likely to experience significantly more bullying from outside the fandom than other furries do, they do not experience any more bullying within the fandom, suggesting that bronies may consider the fandom to be a safe haven from bullying. In contrast, fursuiters experienced more bullying than non-fursuiter furries, both from outside the fandom and from within the fandom. Unexpectedly, babyfurs did not report experiencing more bullying from outside or within the fandom than the average furry, despite the fact that the study above found that babyfurs were, as a group, negatively evaluated by the furry fandom as a whole. Finally, furries self-identifying with the label “popufur,” which denotes an individual who is well-known or popular within the furry fandom (sometimes with a sarcastic or ironic connotation), were more likely to experience bullying within the furry fandom than those who did not consider themselves to be “popufur.”
In another follow-up study,🐾 we assessed the extent to which furries believed at least some subgroups within the fandom deserved the stigma they received, or believed they should be outright ostracized from the fandom altogether. Participants answered a series of 5 questions, indicating how strongly they agreed with each item (1 – Strongly Disagree, 7 – Strongly Agree). The table below reveals that most furries disagreed with the items, although the fandom was fairly ambivalent about whether or not certain groups in the fandom bring mockery upon themselves.
Agreement with Negative Beliefs about Certain Furry Subgroups
|Some groups in the furry fandom should be discouraged from participating.||2.91|
|Some groups in the furry fandom should be made to feel they’re not welcome.||2.13|
|Some groups in the furry fandom bring mockery upon themselves.||3.99|
|Some groups in the furry fandom deserve the teasing they get.||2.33|
|Some groups in the furry fandom should not be allowed.||2.45|
Follow-up analyses revealed a number of factors that were associated with how negatively furries felt toward particular subgroups within the fandom. For example, how strongly furries identified with the furry fandom itself was unrelated to these attitudes, while being a more strongly identified furry predicted greater rejection of these negative ideas. In contrast, older furries were somewhat more likely to agree with these beliefs about particular subgroups with in the furry fandom, although the effect was a very small one.