Weres and Furs - Just what is the difference?
A lot of people, on discovering their 'animal sides' and the presence of an online community find themselves baffled by numerous terms, definitions and labels. In particular, there is always a lot of confusion and mixing up between the terms 'Were' and 'Fur,' and what the precise difference between the two, if any, is. People generally like to categorise themselves, and thus beg to know which group they fit into.
A Matter of Opinion
As with everything else to do with animal spirituality, everything here is dependent on personal perceptions, opinions and experiences. The terms 'Were' and 'Fur' are just labels - for which, as you might have read by now, there are certainly no concrete definitions. And with no real definitions for labels, there can be no real, expressible and notatable differences between them. If you feel more inclined to call yourself a Were rather than a Fur, then no one can stop you, and likewise no one can question you about whether or not you really are entitled to call yourself what you do.
That said, just as someone who jogs around the block once a week can't really call himself and athlete and would probably get kicked out at if wanted to join the Olympic team, so there are one or two basic 'premises,' if you like, that you probably want to be aware of before rashly jumping in at the deep end and making a fool of yourself.
The Continuous Spectrum
It has to be remembered here that nothing is black and white. I can only convey to you my personal opinions, and you should read into this no more than that. In other words, find a website which attempts to follow a similar purpose and there's almost certainty that the explanation given there will differ from what I have to say here.
I have always viewed the entire Were and Furry communities, and the whole idea of animal association to be somewhat akin to a sliding scale, or continuous spectrum. In other words, it is one single group or class of people with no clear way of being able to split them into two or more groups. Using the above example, it's like placing our man that jogs round the block once a week near one end of a scale, a professional runner at the other, and noting that the majority of people who indulge in running will fit somewhere between the two.
So at one end of the scale, I place those people with a strong interest in anthropomorphic artwork, costumes or similar of one or more species, and no other real interaction with an 'animal side,' other than perhaps liking being around animals, etc. These people are definitely Furry Fans and would look severely out of place in the Were community. They are our once-a-week joggers who'd make a fool of themselves calling themselves professional athletes. Of course, just because they're at one end of the scale doesn't make them any less than anyone else on the scale - they just share different opinions and experiences, and theirs are just as valid as anyone else's.
At the other end of the scale are people who able to physically transform into their desired (or maybe undesired) animal - the Weres, in the sense of the word with which most people are probably familiar with from Hollywood. Depending on your views on the possibilities of physical shifting at the current time, this may or may not be only a theoretical point on the scale.
Once the two endpoints are established, everyone else, including the so-called Furry Lifestylers, 'fits in' somewhere between them. I put 'fits in' in inverted commas because it may not be possible for someone, or they may be unwilling, to pin themselves down to an exact point. Again, being to the right or left of someone else doesn't make that person's position in the community any less credible; it's merely a matter of opinion.
Dividing up the Masses
In a theoretical world, where everything was black and white, well-defined and someone either fitted a description or didn't, it would be possible to divide up this scale into three with two vertical lines - and thereby sorting people into each of the three 'labels;' Furry Fans, Furry Lifestylers and Weres.
Above: In an Ideal World?
In our non-theoretical world, the principle is the same, but we have to allow a severe overlap to take into consideration the greyscale nature by which we live. And while there is usually a clear distinction between someone who just likes animal art and someone who feels a deep spiritual connection to a particular animal, it is at the boundary between each of the three groups that the confusions can occur. Someone who places themselves to the right of a Were on the scale may call themselves a Furry Lifestyler and find they fit into that community better - and likewise with all the other possibilities. The overlap is probably so great that it may be that the middle group of people really can't be distinguished apart as a separate group.
With this in mind, the communities you'll find online make no attempt, usually, to be exclusive to one particular group or another. If you fit in to any one particular group, all well and good; if you don't, then don't automatically take it to mean that you should find a different label for yourself. While I'd be lying if I said everyone got on well with everyone else regardless of where they see themselves - after all, it is probably human nature (and indeed, that of other species too) to try and appear above others - and indeed some Weres look down (incorrectly so) on Furs as being 'too unserious,' while some Furs regard the Were community as being 'too snobbish' - in general, people do get on well with each other.
So, what exactly is the difference?
You've probably noticed by now that I've not expressly touched on the question I really set out to answer - namely the differences between Weres and Furs. That's because there are none that can be put down on paper without disagreeing with someone else's personal, and valid, opinions. They are merely just labels, a means to an end for trying to categorise things.
In my experiences of talking with other people from all aspects of the communities, it is generally true that Weres have a very profound and spiritual connection to a particular animal or animals. They may 'mentally shift,' voluntarily or involuntarily, whereby in their minds for a period of time, they think they are that animal and act like so. They may also have recurring dreams in which they assume a different species, or see themselves and experience physically changing into the form of another animal. In rare occasions, they may feel as if they are actually able to shift physically in real life, and certainly many Weres feel as if they've been born an animal in a human body - the 'wrong body' - and would give up anything if they could achieve physical transformation.
Furry fans, on the other paw, are on the whole (but not always) less inclined towards the spiritual side. They may share a deep love for one or more species, and enjoy related artwork - often anthropomorphic - making and wearing costumes, plush collecting and a whole variety of other similar animal-related interests, but most of the time, they don't regard themselves as having been born into the wrong body, don't 'mentally shift,' and generally are not so keen to change species in real life. Not that this makes them anything for, say, Weres to look down upon; it's just a different point of view.
The third group, the Furry Lifestylers, is much harder to try and classify, as it crosses both areas of grey. Quite often, people opting for this label share many similarities with Weres and just prefer the alternative title, or find they fit in better with a different group of people. In general, these people still share a deep spiritual connection with one or more animal species, and are often still seeking the goal of physical transformation. It may be that they feel their connection to their animal side doesn't go deep enough to call themselves a Were, or they may feel that they 'don't shift strongly enough' or something similar, but generally it's down to personal preference.
These are by no means exclusive, and you should not sit down and try to categorise yourself from the very holey explanation I've tried to put across. It is, indeed, perfectly plausible to call yourself a Were, but still have a strong interest in anthropomorphic artwork or costuming - I fall into that category myself. And vice-versa. Then there are people who dislike any form of label being attached to their heads, and don't call themselves anything - or make up another term to describe themselves.
If there's just one thing you should have learnt from reading through this, it should be to trust your own opinions, to believe in, and to go with them.
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by "Lone Wolf" unless otherwise stated