A General Introduction
Three Branches of the Community
First and foremost, don't panic no matter what. If you think, looking at the previous page, everything looks frightening, just remember that I, and indeed all the rest of us were new here at some point too (not that some of us like to admit it!), perhaps wondering what on earth was going on like you may be now.
Secondly, you will find almost without exception that in the majority of the Were and Fur communities all round the world, people are very friendly and only too willing to answer questions and problems newcomers might have. Some even see it as their role to make sure as many people who need it and who are out there can gain access into whatever part of the community they feel happy with, so don't feel that you are going to get turned away by making yourself known. There is plenty of online documentation (including the resources at this site) to help you find your way through some of the confusion you may have been met with, and I have gathered links to some of the most popular of this material together at the foot of this page.
Disclaimer: Please note that what I talk about below is for real. This is not wishful thinking or role-playing in a lot of cases, and people who fit solely into the latter category should possibly read through with an open mind, or failing that, go on somewhere else. What I say is my opinion - that of others may be different, and there is no one way to define any one thing in black and white. It may offend some readers, and may not be suitable for reading by children. You have been warned.
Very broadly speaking, the online community is split up into two main parts, with a very uncertain dividing line between the two. If, in searches on the Internet, you've ever come across the terms "Were" and "Fur" before, then this is what I'm talking about. A lot of the time, people like to see themselves as belonging to one group or another, but there is a very significant number of people who like to have one paw in each half, and who see attributes of both groups in their personalities. Then there are people who don't like to be associated with a given name, and so will label themselves as something different - I know Weres that prefer to call themselves Therians because of the imagery the word "Were" conjures up. There are also folk who dislike having any labels attributed to them whatsoever.
The most important thing is that the path you take is dictated by you, your instinct, interests, and by no-one else. Despite what you may have read out there, there is no "test" you can take to "tell if you're a Werewolf," and there are no set guidelines that dictate a rigid set of descriptions for being a Were, a Fur or whatever. Of course, humour is abound, but also your mind can be stimulated to help it make its own decision as to which way you might like to go from here - and this is what I shall attempt to make it do.
I shall continue to take a conventional approach and talk about Weres and Furs separately, but there is no reason for you to stick rigidly to what I say as if it's the bible - remember, everything here reflects my own opinions. Feel free to check out some of the other excellent resources out there, and come to your own decisions.
If you feel that the descriptions I give sound as if they describe you (but remember, there are no rigid definitions), or you are particularly interested in learning more, then click on the "I am interested and would like to learn more..." link at the bottom of each section.
One main group of people who you may or may not come across are people who call themselves "Weres." Of course, this usually conjures up the images brutal savage creatures who appear round about the time of the full moon, and inevitably fall foul to a silver bullet. Given the frequency of such stories in newspapers today, this is obviously not the case, and the modern-day Weres usually think more in terms of a spiritual connection to their phenotype (species of animal etc.) rather than actual physical transformation. This isn't to say, however, that the latter is disregarded altogether - in fact a lot Weres see it at their ultimate "goal" in like to be able to physically transform "or to "shape shift") into their phenotype.
To avoid such confusion, some Weres prefer to call themselves Theriomorphs or Therianthropes, while you may hear of the term "Spiritual Therianthrope" - all of which are designed to remove the old Hollywood movie ties to Werewolves.
Many Weres (and I like to use a capital "W" to avoid confusion with the verb "to be") will tell you that they "shift" - with a variety of prefixes: mental, sense, dream, sometimes physical. Asking a Were what shifting means or involves will probably generate twice as many different answers as Weres whom you have to paw. The best I can offer is to say that it involves in some way getting more in touch or closer to your phenotype, such that, either in a dream, or as a state of mind, or even physically to one extent or another, you feel that you are that animal. To shift is not just to think wishfully about becoming.
If you are after a very crude (and I mean crude) definition of what makes a Were different from a Fur (described below), then perhaps one way of putting it is that Weres experience what they describe as "shifting" in some form or another. Once again, however, the grey line is very grey, and you will come across both Weres who say they don't shift but feel the term "Were" is more relatable to, and Furs who prefer that label but who say they do experience shifts.
If you thought that of a "Were" was too broad and obscure a concept, then that of a "Fur" is probably tenfold as much. This is because the notion of a "Fur" covers many different ideas - it can be used to describe any person from those who simply take an interest in an animal cartoon character to those who feel so connected to a particular animal that it is only their dislike of the word that prevents them from calling themselves a "Were."
Because of this, a lot of the more serious Furs started to break away from the cartoon fans, and formed more or less two groups, with the same old hazy line down the middle as everywhere else. On one paw, there are the "Fandom Furs" or "Furry Fans", whose interest lies in anthropomorphic (animals with human characteristics) artwork, stories and cartoons, and on the other, the so-called "Furry Lifestylers," who can be thought of as seeing animal traits in their own personalities, desires and habits. Even though the divide is unclear, there is some tension between the two groups because of the silliness of some of the Furry Fans and the attitude they take to the more serious Lifestylers.
Furry Fandom is dealt with in a separate section below, but bear in mind that the ambiguous words "Fur" and "Furry" will be used all over the Internet to describe both groups of people.
So, what are the "Furry Lifestylers" about? A crude ay of putting it is to say that they are people who find and feel comfortable with animal traits in their own personality and world-view, and indeed, in their lifestyle, hence the use of the word in the first place. In particular, anthropomorphic animals (since this is the basic meaning of "Furry"), but anyone who feels they relate to a non-anthro animal (and this can include animals of the scaled variety, or even mythical animals) should not feel discouraged from joining in with the Fur Communitiy. So a Lifestyle Fur with cat as his or her phenotype might, for example, like to meow, to groom themselves, or perform other "catty" things. Alternatively, they may see more subtle aspects of a cat showing through in their general personality. There is no one and right way of defining what is and what isn't to be considered "Furry."
You will also find that many Lifestyle Furs have an interest of some form of another in Fursuiting - the art of animal costuming. They perhaps see it as one way of living out their inner animal personality, or at least become closer to it. Similarly, Furry artwork and stories may feature, though perhaps not in the same way as a Furry Fan whose interest is likely only to be in terms of these.
"Furry Fans" are essentially people with a healthy interest in animals (in particular, anthropomorphic ones), where their interest lies in artwork, comics, stories, films and similar things. Usually, but not always, this is where the bulk of their interest lies, and they don't see themselves in the same way as the Furry Lifestylers. So someone with a healthy interest in Bugs Bunny would technically be called a Fur. Of course, this doesn't make them any less credible or serious, it is the ambiguity of the word "Fur" that causes all the problems.
A lot of Furry Fans are also into "Role-Playing." This is when a Fur, either over the Internet or by means of board games or live-action role-play, temporarily takes on the persona of a Furry animal (again, this doesn't mean it has to have fur, but implies a generally anthropomorphic nature) and acts out his or her fantasies through this medium.
One word of warning, however. Many Furry Fans (and indeed, Furry Lifestylers) have a strong interest in sexuality. As such, it is important to have an open mind, and not to prejudice someone because of their beliefs. Although there is by no means a link between Furry Fandom and graphically sexual material, a lot of the artwork involved, and similarly some of the role-playing, can get very sexually explicit, and care should be taken - particularly if you are a minor coming into the community.
In short, either a little or a lot, depending on your personal perspective of the community and its values. While both these terms are really just 'labels' and nothing more, a lot of newcomers seem to quickly get confused and feel that there is a distinct difference between the two and that they should place themselves firmly under the canopy of one or the other.
There are many other online resources, some of them excellent, to be found out there which are designed to help newcomers into the community without intimidation and while letting them make their own decisions. If you are in this situation, you might like to have a look at some of the links below, though bear in mind that they tend to reflect the authors' views, so, in some cases, may have a slight bias towards Were- or Furriness.
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by "Lone Wolf" unless otherwise stated