Help spread the message against bullying.
A couple weeks ago, I went to a raucous furry party.
Oh heavens, that's an odd way to start a personal story.
A good friend of mine called me up, saying that she and her friend were going to a monthly get-together in Orange County where a bunch of furries throw a party open to everyone. Furries...not really my thing. My experience within the furry community is limited to the occasional commission I get, but when it comes to conversing and interacting with furries, I'm a bit inexperienced.
"Just a party?" I ask.
"Yeah, something they do every month."
"Ah, so just a get-together," I breathe a sigh of relief. "Not like a bunch of fursuiters or crazies."
"..." She replies.
"..." I implore.
"..." She laments.
Apparently...it was a bunch of the crazies.
"Yeah, they're actually going to do a fursuit parade."
," I knock the idea around in my head. "It's probably not going to be too big, nor too public." In my head, I envision a troupe of a small handful of passionate furries pirouetting across a front lawn, giving their tail a little suggestive shake. It isn't terribly awful, right? Just some silly little party, I could probably throw on an MLP T-Shirt and blend right in, have some drinks and a damn good time. "Not like a convention or something, I'm assuming. Like what, four guys on the porch dressed as foxes or something?"
In a tightly-packed herd of unorthodox spectacle, I found myself in the middle of over fifty fursuiters walking down a busy street to an In'n'Out just off the freeway offramp. In a volley of whoops, howls, barks, and whines, we pour into the intersection to the delighted (and/or curiously buggered) honks of countless vehicles. We stood in a straight line, presented to all oncoming traffic pulling off the Interstate 5, wrapped around the burger joint in a multi-colored menagerie of oversized heads, floppy ears, vibrant colors, and gawking spectators. The rattling of conversation would erupt into yells and shouts as passing drivers blared their horns to acknowledge the sight wafting from the fast food establishment.
I watched from deep within the pack, thinking that I was properly conveying adequate geekiness by sporting a T-Shirt of Gummy the alligator. Pfft, yeah right, I didn't even come half-way to competing with the overt displays of passionate vigor the majority of participants exhibited. Amidst the bright hues, sparkling manes, and flurry of waving tails, the one fat guy in an MLP shirt of Gummy looked like some poor schmuck who got involuntarily wrapped up in the traveling circus act.
Yet beyond the errant flurry of barks, yelps, whimpers, whines, howls, and snarls, I found myself in the middle of a very open group of individuals. Yes, onlookers would sometimes scoff, zealous parents would whisk their children away in a quick sheltering swoop; it's easy to label a congregation of several dozen grown adults dressed as bug-eyed magical woodland critters as being anti-social or developmentally challenged. It's so easy to. Even I held such prejudices at one point, prejudices I held not very long ago either. In fact, it's a niggling prejudice that still exists within me, I can still feel it, but it was so plain and obvious at how well these individuals would reach out to conquer that vestigial emotion within.
They weren't anti-social at all. I went in not knowing a single one of them, and every single one greeted me with a paw-shake and a huge smile...well, seeing as the huge smile was a part of the costume but I digress. Acquaintances quickly budded into on-the-fly friendships as I found myself helplessly indoctrinated into a tightly-knit circle of energetic showmanship and feral brohoofs. These people...I had almost no previous interaction with them, and within one hour, I was being treated like one of the pack.
The concept is quite simple to the diehard furries. They're a herd. A pack. A group of like-minded individuals who, in their suited decorum, become a collective presence that challenges the surrounding dominant herd of humanity.
And humanity...seems to not like being challenged.
Humanity wants to be the only herd in town.
Humanity demands its dominance.
"Burn in hell furfags!" Precedes the squealing rubber of a large black pick-up truck peeling into the intersection. The gruffy voice cuts through the reverberating chatter in a piercing sting weaving between the canines, felines, and equestrians, dragging through it a chorus of aggravated groans. A minor hush descends upon the crowd, but before the pick-up truck's revving engines could bellow obnoxiously into the nebulous distance the usual conversations emerge right back up where they were before like nothing had happened.
I wonder sometimes. I wonder if I've ever truly escaped bullying when I left my high school days behind me. It seems that with a professional job and real life taking precedence over the childish whimsy of my youth, it's much harder to afford the effort and time to even humor negative feelings towards others. When all you do is act like an adult all the time, bullying itself seems to become irrelevant.
But when youthful whimsy becomes a temporary escape for others, to simply have fun and cast aside all our adult-oriented troubles of work, bills, and relationships...are we introducing the possibility of childhood bullying back into the deck as well?
"Don't worry, about it," the girl across the table reassures me and my friend. Setting down her strawberry milkshake, she gestures towards the gathering of chipper furries resuming their regular(ish) activities. "See? Like water off a duck's back."
They're used to it. Something they had over me was years of experience to such bullying, and devloping a thick skin (pelt/hide/leather/carapace whatever). Despite all their efforts to invite and be extremely courteous and friendly to those willing to give them a chance, of course there are those still stuck in the childish mindset, a psychology muffled by the domination-driven id of humanity. The human animal. Humans see something as different, something that challenges their perception of establishment and society, a herd competing against their herd.
The evening progresses without further incident, as the enveloping line of parading fauna making their dinner orders thin out and coalesce into the grassy plaza in front of the In'n'Out.
A clattering of aluminum ricochets between the tables. A few pieces of detritus scatter under the pawed feet of an attendee who jumps back, looking towards a figure on the edge of the premises. I look up to the orange-furred individual, his fox head's wide bright-eyed smile unable to hide the jolt of panic in his posture as he points a shaking claw to something happening behind me.
Suddenly, I'm hit.
A splash of cold slimy muck slaps the back of my shoulders, spitting a lick of splattering condiments up my neck into the back of my hair. The lumpy pieces of the half-uneaten burger drag down my back, flopping carelessly backwards with a flat smack on the ground.
Turning around, I expect to see some laughing kids on skateboards. Instead, I spot the shadowed silhouette of three adult male figures bolt down the sidewalk, my age, one of them tossing aside the lid of a trashcan before leaping into a black pick-up truck.
Several pairs of eyes descend upon me, eyes of concern, eyes of worry, plastic eyes that are perpetually locked in that unmoving stare sculpted into the costumes. The pack has now turned to me, seeking guidance.
I had just been a victim of bullying. Adult bullying. It seems...when we retract back into our regressive states of childhood whimsy, just wanting to have a good time that challenges the orthodox expectations of us...it tends to drag others down to childhood whims as well. Whims like namecalling, acting ostentatiously, and throwing garbage at those they see to be different.
I had just been fursecuted!
Humanity would demand retribution. Humanity would demand action and reprimanding for the sake of its precious reputation. The same humanity that would even throw garbage at a pack of fursuiters just to make an arbitrary point about how it is wrong to be different, how it is wrong to challenge status quo.
Flicking a french fry off my shoulder, I respond with a jovial laugh.
If humanity is just some loathsome bully, I'm not going to drag myself into it. It's moments like these that become a baptismal rite of passage, a proverbial "make it or break it" situation where I must prove with sincerity that I can abide by their methodologies. With the same rhythmic uptake of previous passing abuse, the silence dissolves into a bubbling amalgam of upbeat chatter. A few more sit down at my table.
"Holy cats, dude!" A big-headed blue fox by the name of Razzle asks me. "That's the most badass MLP T-Shirt I've ever seen!"
"Where'd you find it!?" Follows up a blue fox named Dazzle. "I want one!"
Challenge the bully.