In my week in Yellowstone National Park I spent a lot of time looking at animals. I spent even more time looking for animals, but that’s the nature of the beast, only some of the places you look will actually have them.
Some of what I saw: Elk, bison, mule deer, wolves, squirrels, chipmunks, osprey, pelicans, sea gulls, geese, ducks, and many insects, the most interesting of which were the butterflies and dragonflies. I kept asking God if I could see a grizzly, or at least a black bear, but she just smiled and turned away.
Watching the critters it’s human nature to start making broad generalizations about the way the different species behave, and to connect those behaviors to people we know. I mean this goes back as long as we’ve been human, and appears in stories as far back as The Tortoise and the Hare, probably further. There’s even an offshoot of organized science fiction fandom that is built around this, the so-called “furry fans.”
Furry fans have often been cited as the lowest of the low. Now I realize that since the coining of the phrase “dotcom millionaire,” the pecking order of trod upon self-identified minorities has been shifting around, so my information here may be a little out of date, but if you go back a decade or two it’s accurate. If you want to be ostracized and shunned for your interests and actions, without actually doing anything illegal, about as low as you can go is be to be a science fiction fan. But once you sink that low, you discover that fandom itself has many layers, many subdivisions that each have their own level within an unspoken hierarchy. Now these layers have shuffled around through the years as franchises have come and gone, and interests have waxed and waned, and as new generations have supplanted old, but somehow, through it all, the furries have managed to stay at the bottom.
And that alone makes me want to join them.
I haven’t spent much time in the heights of society. Growing up my family was poor, not dirt poor, not meat only once a week poor, but collect loose change for spending money poor. Then I developed an early interest in science fiction. Then I discovered I was gay. And a computer geek. Needless to say, I learned to identify with the underdogs. And I learned that the strata of society that one occupied really had nothing to do with whether or not you were a good person. There are good people at all levels, and there are bad people at all levels.
So, moving on… One of the things that furries do, is take on a totem animal. For purposes both of communication about their selves and for exploring a form of alien thinking, they choose an animal and will play the role, often ever so slightly, of being an anthropomorphized member of that species.
Now I’ve had two problems with joining them in that game, the first being that I hate to find my self limited to picking just one, the second being that I’ve had no idea what one I would pick. Now it’s easy to dismiss the first issue by saying, well, keep changing, don’t pick just one. The problem with that is that I don’t want to spend much time researching animals and learning enough about a bunch of different species to be able to fairly represent them, and I’m not willing to do a superficial job of it, I want to know the right answers to questions people may ask. I’m willing to spend the time to edge into it though, to learn a tiny bit at a time, but I’m not willing to over and over again spend a bunch of time learning about a new species.
And the second issue? Well, I was looking at a herd of bison and God sort of nudged me with her elbow and suggested, why not them?
One of my friends, one of my furry friends, is a squirrel. He told me that part of why he picked squirrel is that he looked around at the furry folk and saw an overwhelming predominance of carnivores, of hunters. This makes sense if you go back and remember that the furries are at the bottom of the stack. If you feel like you’re part of a powerless minority, and you have the chance to roleplay something, why not make that something something powerful. But my friend looked at this and thought, the poor underrepresented prey, and realized that he needed to be a prey species. I think his reasoning may have been akin to my own feeling that I should join the furries, if there are good people at the bottom, good people that others are missing out on, why not go to them, join them, and not be missing out.
So I’ve been on the lookout for a prey species that is a good match. I think bison may be it. They’re big, I’m big, so I wouldn’t be trying to misrepresent my size. They’re not oblivious to what’s going on around them, but they mostly don’t let it bother them, and I think that’s not too far off from me either. And while they’re loyal to each other and hang out in groups, they’re also perfectly happy to go off and be alone by themselves for an extended while. I’m not completely convinced yet, but I’m definitely leaning their way.
And in Yellowstone stores they even have hats to make you look like either a bison or a wolf. Of course the wolf hats fit but the bison were too small. Even the makers of silly hats recognize that “real” adults want to be predator not prey. Sigh.