The Love ◦ Sex ◦ Fur Guide to Gender
Welcome to the Love ◦ Sex ◦ Fur Guide to Gender! Our goal is to provide a simple guide to help you explore and understand gender both inside and outside the furry fandom. We’ll be covering the topics of gender and sex, trans* identity, the intersection with sexuality and furry, and social interaction. This guide will be available online in a mobile-friendly format, as well as in print so that it’s always there to be referenced.
Gender and sex
The first and most important thing to note is that gender and sex are separate entities. They may sometimes interact with each other, but it is important to understand the difference between the two.
Gender commonly refers to the way one identifies. Factors such as one’s biological sex, the role one plays in society, and the ways in which one feels about those things affect the ways in which one identifies. For example, one can identify as primarily masculine with some feminine traits, completely feminine, or neither masculine nor feminine.
Sex refers to a set of physical characteristics with social implications. This is often assumed to mean genitalia, but refers to several factors such as both primary and secondary sexual characteristics, and how close appears to reflect the social standards of masculinity and femininity. Sex is determined by genetics, hormone sensitivity, and countless other physical attributes, and can be the subject of stress and internal strife if it does not align with one’s gender identity. Sex is usually described as being assigned at birth, as our identities are not fully formed at that point, and we have little say in the matter when the social implications are put in place.
In the middle is expression. Expression is the way in which we influence the ways that others perceive us, with regards to gender and sex. For example, one can dress in such a way as to affirm their gender identity, even if it doesn’t match with their assigned sex.
When someone’s gender identity doesn’t align with the social and biological sex they were assigned at birth, this is termed ‘transgenderism’. Transgender is an adjective, and thus describes an aspect of someone (that is, it’s more correct to refer to someone as ‘a transgender person’, rather than ‘a transgender’). Transgenderism is an enormous topic, and we can’t hope to cover it all here, but there are a few things that are worth noting, and we’ll see later how they tie in with the furry fandom.
Dysphoria is the acute sensation that one is in the wrong body or form. In particular, gender dysphoria refers to the sensation that one’s identity does not match their physical form. For example, this can express itself as anxiety over hair loss, distress at one’s genitalia or sexuality, or a feeling of not belonging in the form one has.
One of the ways that one can help alleviate this sense of dysphoria is through modifying one’s gender expression. One can modify the way in which they’re seen by the world around them so that they are perceived to be as their proper gender identity. This can mean changing the way one looks (such as adopting a new style of dress or binding one’s chest), changing the way one sounds through voice therapy, or changing the way one interacts through social roles.
Witnessing and mirroring
On the topic of gender expression, there are two important psychological concepts that can help one to feel more comfortable with their gender identity. Witnessing is the act of being seen by outsiders as fitting in with one’s identity - it is acceptance and confirmation that one’s identity exists. Mirroring is seeing aspects of one’s identity in others - it is community and confirmation that one’s identity is valid .
Acceptance means a lot to people in any sort of minority group. It means a lot to those who identify as trans*, just as it means a lot to those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. One thing you can do for those around you who identify as trans* is to accept that their experience is valid, and to support them in any way that you can. Be sure to talk with them and try and understand what they’re going through.
Community is also very important to minority group membership. A trans* person will gain just as much through their association with other trans* folks just as someone who identifies as a furry gains a lot by association with other furries. If you feel that you are trans*, have questions about gender as it pertains to you, or are even just curious, one thing that you can do is to help build that sense of community with others.
Beyond the binary
It is easy to fall back into old habits and refer to “the other gender” or “the other sex”, but it has been increasingly important over the last several years that we move beyond the concept of binary gender. There isn’t so much ‘male and female’ as a spectrum between the two. It’s a spectrum that also incorporates a second dimension of intensity. For instance, one can feel strongly male with some weakly feminine aspects, or strongly feminine with no male aspects, or simply like neither of those fit at all.
The purpose of thinking beyond the binary is finding out what fits best in terms of identity. This means that it’s worth some introspection to find out what works best for you in order to find the most happiness in your life, and also to understand that those around you are doing much the same. Some might find that they are comfortable as they are and that’s great, while others might feel more comfortable dressing differently, changing the way they act, or even undergoing surgery.
Labels can work against us, here. Although it’s nice to think of ‘trans*’ and ‘transgender’ as umbrella terms that we can apply to this whole realm of experience, it’s nice to have a label that we can accept for ourselves, or to at least have the ability to reject all labels. Even so, we’re often put on the spot to provide our labels when interacting with others, and proving that our identity is valid can take some work, and can take a lot out of us. There is no easy solution, other than to be as understanding as you can be with those around you and make sure to offer what support you can!
The intersection with furry
Nearly 8% of the furry fandom responded as identifying as a gender other than their self-described biological sex . Combine that with the fact that 19.4% of respondents say that they role play as a character of a different sex than their own at least some of the time, and it’s easy to see why this is pertinent within a furry context: it’s something many of us are already thinking about. Why might that be?
One reason might be that the idea of identity is already something that we’re comfortable dealing with. Furries are already primed to think about their identity, though admittedly some of that comes in the form of thinking about species, rather than gender, but the underlying mechanism is similar: for many of us, there is a mismatch that we’re seeking to assuage, whether it’s through putting on a fursuit or putting on makeup. Identity, after all, is that thing which is felt when it’s out of line with reality: people who are comfortable feeling totally human don’t think about being human, just as people who are comfortable with their assigned sex of male or female don’t often think about their identity as male or female.
Another, and possibly related, reason might be that we’re already open to the concept of affirming one’s identity, and accepting of that process in ourselves and others. We can see this going on around us all the time, and due to some of our other demographics (the male skew of the furry fandom leading to greater numbers of male homosexual relationships comes to mind) leads us to being more able and willing to accept other minority identities such as trans*.
The intersection with sexuality
Dysphoria, the sensation that one’s identity does not match one’s physical characteristics, plays a unique role when it comes to sexuality. Some people who experience gender dysphoria are okay with sexual activity, whether on their own or with others, online or in person. For others, the aversion to their assigned sex might be such that they feel an aversion to interacting as that sex. Each person is different in this regard, and it’s worth some introspection and at least a conversation about what that means for you and those close to you.
Furry, for many, provides a sexual outlet that allows for sexual interactions that fall in line with one’s identity. The accepted status of role play within the fandom means that it’s easier for people to explore what is and what isn’t comfortable, and to find the ways in which sexuality interacts with gender for them. This, in part, helps explain why those who utilize furry to explore gender are more likely to role play as a character with a different sex than the one that they have been assigned.
What this comes down to is that, if you identify as trans*, you should not be afraid to take the chance to explore your own sense of identity, and if you don’t, you should feel comfortable with those around you doing so. Expressing one’s gender identity through sexuality is a valid way of exploring and experiencing social interaction, and that’s a conversation worth having with your partner or partners should the issue come up!
We’ve covered many aspects of social interaction so far, but there are a few more that are worth considering. These fall into the camp of being accepting of those around you. When you interact with someone, or interact with others on the subject of that someone, you help to reinforce (or to deny) their sense of identity, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
- Pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, or ‘ey’ are little signifiers that we can use to replace proper nouns so that we’re not always repeating someone’s name. In English, as in other languages, they are gendered. Respecting someone’s pronoun choice goes beyond simple politeness, it helps to affirm their identity every time you speak about them. When in doubt, ask!
- Although transgender might fit someone as an adjective, they might not necessarily feel comfortable identifying as trans; rather, they might simply identify as whatever gender identity they feel comfortable with, or as nothing at all. It’s good to respect the wishes of the people you interact with. People might not appreciate being outed as trans*, or having their previous expression brought up. Leave it up to that person to decide how much they wish to share and to say how they identify!
- Names are important as the unique signifiers that mean ‘me’. In furry, we have a cavalier attitude towards names - it’s easier to change names in the fandom than it is to legally change one’s name outside of the fandom. Even so, if someone has changed their name, respect the fact that their old name might not be something that they are comfortable with and should be left out of conversation.
It all comes down to being respectful and to being open to having the conversations that you need to have in order to make sure everyone is happy.
- Someone who identifies as agender identifies as not having any gender at all.
- Cisgender is a term that is applied to someone whose gender identity aligns closely with their sex as assigned at birth, and commonly refers to individuals who do not identify as transgender.
- Gender describes the complex interaction of physical characteristics, social role, expression, and identity that an individual experiences on a day-to-day life. Although physical sex may play a role in this characteristic of self, that might not necessarily be the case. Gender is often broken down into the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’, though this is now commonly seen as a spectrum with varying levels of intensity, or even not applicable in many cases.
- Someone who identifies as genderfluid feels that their gender identity is not restricted to one gender over time and shifts from month to month or day to day.
- Someone who identifies as genderqueer feels that they do not fall into either the traditional breakdown of genders or the labels of cisgender or transgender.
- Intersex refers to a collection of biological factors that may lead to someone not falling within the standard, binary categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’. Someone who is intersex may have genetic differences that subvert the normal concept of sex (such as 47, XXX syndrome or Klinefelter syndrome) or may have issues with sex hormones (such as androgen insensitivity sydnrome). In some cases, there is confusion as to a child’s gender at birth, and some doctors may suggest surgery to ‘choose’ a gender for an intersex child, a practice denounced as medically unethical.
- Non-binary refers to the idea that a binary definition of gender (that is, male and female) does not describe the full reality of how gender is experienced. It can also refer to someone’s identity (i.e.: identifying as not male and not female).
- A physical characteristic of life that is determined by several factors, including genetics, hormones before birth and during puberty, and possible surgical intervention, that is commonly shown in primary or secondary sexual characteristics such as genitals, breasts, bone structure, fatty tissue deposits, and various differing signs in aging. Sex is commonly broken down into ‘male’ and ‘female’ (although, see the definition for intersex), and is often mistaken as being identical to gender due to the fact that many individuals experience identity congruent with these physical characteristics.
- Transgender is an umbrella term used to denote someone whose gender identity does not necessarily align with their physical sex, gender role in society, or perceived social gender. It encompasses more specific identities such as agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, and transsexual individuals, as well as, in some circumstances, cross-dressers and transvestites. To emphasize the umbrella nature of the term, it is sometimes written as ‘trans*’.
- Someone who identifies as transsexual identifies as a gender incongruous with their physical or socially assigned sex. There is some confusion about the difference between ‘transsexual’ and ‘transgender’. In general, transgender is the broader and more widely-accepted term, with ‘transsexual’ being deprecated as tied into the concept of gender issues as ‘disorders’, though several individuals still refer to themselves as transsexual people. In general, refer to someone with the label that they choose!
Footnotes and References
Witnessing and Mirroring - Makyo, [adjective][species] (26 November 2014) ↑
The 2013 Furry Survey results - The Furry Survey (1 January 2014) ↑
Current Version: Initial creation (10 Jan 2015)
Filled out the relationship page per the outline.