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30 May, 2023 14:12

Furry fury: DeSantis’ child protection act alienates an unusual demographic

‘Oppression’ of people in animal suits is now seen as an attack on the LGBTQ community
Furry fury: DeSantis’ child protection act alienates an unusual demographic

In the hushed hum of newsrooms and the flickering screens of media platforms, political announcements vie for attention and attempt to set the stage for the future. As the dust settles on the launch of Ron DeSantis’ 2024 presidential campaign, a ripple of disquiet churns beneath the fanfare.

A misstep that might be dismissed as trifling by some has opened up a chasm that could well dictate the political narrative going forward. According to an article by Rolling Stone, DeSantis, the man championing the Sunshine State’s future, has lost a key demographic: furries.

“Many have raised concerns about recent changes in Florida legislation,” read a statement regarding the Megaplex 2023 furry convention. It went on to cite the enactment of Florida SB 1438, the Protection of Children Act, as a pivotal reason for the convention placing an age restriction of 18 years for all attendees.

For the uninitiated, furries are, per the Rolling Stone description, “people who enjoy dressing up as or making art of anthropomorphized creatures.” The peculiar conjunction of legislative action and a niche subculture raises eyebrows. What links a law targeting sexually explicit content to individuals who engage in anthropomorphizing animals in cartoonish costumes? 

Rolling Stone provides the bridge: the definition of adult performances in SB 1438 includes “a presentation that depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, or specific sexual activities.” And therein lies the issue. The legislation does not explicitly single out the act of minors dressing up as furries, yet it puts restrictions on child attendance at adult performances.

Rolling Stone lays out its argument that misconceptions about the furry subculture are to blame for potential clashes with the law. It’s a sleight of hand that relies on careful wordplay, disguising the root of the issue: the nature of the furry culture itself.

By virtue of its own definition, the law isn’t enigmatic about what constitutes an “adult performance.” It is upfront and clear-cut in its description, mentioning nudity, sexual conduct, or the simulation of specific sexual activities. The critical question then, is whether it is genuinely challenging for the furry community to navigate around these issues to allow the participation of a younger audience?

The response to that, as Rolling Stone subtly divulges, is that it’s exceedingly difficult. The narrative from Rolling Stone paints a picture of unfortunate misunderstandings potentially causing clashes with the law. Yet one must ask when accidental exposure to sexually explicit material or inadvertent performance in front of a minor becomes a casual occurrence. The answer is that it doesn’t.

In a somewhat revealing concession, Rolling Stone admits that furry conventions, despite their seemingly playful exterior, are often riddled with sexualized content. An attempt is made to excuse this reality with the assertion that risqué activities are “typically” reserved for later hours and that vendors catering to adult interests are isolated. But are these measures sufficient, and are they implemented diligently? The fact that the Megaplex 2023 convention felt compelled to introduce an age restriction suggests otherwise. If there was a confident assurance that the event was family-friendly and devoid of sexual displays, why introduce a ban on minors at all?

‘Furry’ isn’t a sexual orientation, as multiple explainer articles in liberal media will tell you – even as they admit that for many it is a form of “kink.” At the same time, you’ll see the perceived oppression of the subculture by conservative lawmakers like DeSantis being portrayed as an attack on the LGBTQ community. The explanation lies in the fact that LGBTQ people are massively overrepresented in the furry community compared to the general population, with some data suggesting that almost 80% of the members have some form of non-cis gender identity and/or non-heterosexual orientation. This has effectively allowed furries to co-opt themselves under the LGBTQ “oppressed” umbrella.

Media publications in furries’ defense, such as the one in Rolling Stone, bring up the disproven claim by a Republican lawmaker that a Michigan school was putting litter boxes in bathrooms for furry students as an example of gross vilification of the community. They also compare the furry “mode of expression” to drag performances, saying there is nothing inherently sexual about either. Yet, according to various surveys of the community over the past decade, around a third of the members see its sexual aspects as key for their participation. Almost all admit to viewing furry-themed pornography, and in one survey, respondents at a convention said about 40% of all furry-themed art they looked at online was porn (50% for males, 30% for females).

To be frank, it’s relieving that the organizers have decided to exclude children from the 2023 Florida event. The prospect of young minds navigating the waters of a culture rife with sexual undertones and suggestive content doesn’t bode well. The furry subculture, while heralded by some as a form of self-expression and a “safe space” for misunderstood and bullied young people, presents itself as a symptom of deeper unresolved issues. It’s far from a harmless pastime and instead represents a worrisome bypassing of more traditional means of addressing psychological distress.

Rather than donning a canine costume or adopting an animalistic persona as a means to fulfill an unorthodox fetish, those grappling with complex personal issues should be guided towards mental health professionals who can provide proper help and guidance. The fetishization of anthropomorphic animals could very well be an outward manifestation of internal turmoil.

While one might argue that the subculture offers a form of acceptance, it also provides an environment that allows, and arguably even encourages, the evasion of facing more profound emotional and mental issues. By cloaking these concerns in playful costumes and engaging in a community that largely functions in an echo chamber, participants run the risk of perpetuating unhealthy habits and attitudes.

As we cast a critical eye towards DeSantis’ campaign and the legislative changes taking place in Florida, we must also acknowledge and address the broader societal issues surfacing in this discussion. If the banning of minors from a furry convention due to sexual content concerns isn’t enough to trigger a dialogue about the furry subculture’s problematic aspects, it’s hard to fathom what will. Regardless of the trajectory of DeSantis’ campaign, this episode underscores the need for serious conversation about the values and messages we convey and tolerate in society.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.