Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lieutenant Pandez, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fur

I like to think of myself as part of a very accepting community, and as an accepting person. I've written before, on this blog, about how geek culture should exist to be the warm, embracing hug that all of us need after years of being "that weird guy," or, "That girl doesn't talk much. Do you think she might kill us all?" We, as a group of outcasts that is slowly becoming more and more powerful and mainstream, have a responsibility to be as open and accepting of whatever comes our way. And I try to live by that philosophy. When I met my wife, I hated Star Trek with a passion. Now I can tell you which captain I think is the best, and even argue the point. (Still Picard.) No one's perfect, but I think I do a pretty good job. But there was one area that still just creeped me right out.


According to CSI, this is the Furry Murder Rush, right before they EAT YOU.

If you've been on the internet for more than a week, you know about Furries. They're a group of people who feel, as I understand it, that they're closer to animals than humans. They pick a specific animal, whether its a real one or a fantastical one like a unicorn, and they dress up like it whenever they can. Some of the time this just involves a pair of cat ears and a tail, but a lot of Furries sink a lot of money and time into constructing the kind of costumes you might see at Disneyland - big, cuddly, furry animals. Hence the name.

And yes, a group of them does enjoy adult pursuits while wearing the big furry outfits. It's called "yiffing." This is the laser focus for what most people know about Furries, and certainly what I knew about them. I had thought it was just a sexual thing, and a gross sexual thing at that. And that's the thing these days, isn't it? If something's a little off, it must be perverted. That's why people think Bronies are child molestors, after all.

Then, last week, I first heard of Lieutenant Pandez.

The one on the right, in case you were wondering.
Lt. Pandez (although his pips make him a Commander), is one of those rare breeds of Double Nerd. While he may be a giant, furry, panda-cat hybrid, he is also a Starfleet Officer.

The Lieutenant first appeared on my radar on Reddit this week, when he shared this set of pictures:

The look on Patrick Stewart's face.
When Mssr. Pandez posted these images, the haters came out of the woodwork. And this is Reddit, which can alternate between the most welcoming place in the world, and a living engine of pure hate spit from the depths of hell. I jumped into the thread, all set to watch the fireworks fly as people took aim at this weirdo deviant. Then...something strange happened. I watched the good Lieutenant take on his haters with a humor and understanding - he won each and every one of them over with a smile. Soon, his detractors were his defenders. After all, they said, it's just something he likes. Why should we judge? Soon, the anti-furry posts were downvoted into the darkest depths of the Gamma Quadrant, and the thread was full of love and acceptance.

Someone asked the giant anthromorphic man what his favorite story of meeting a Star Trek celebrity was. He told us about the first, second and third time he met Levar Burton.

The first time was fairly standard. He came to one of the tiny photo booths they have at conventions, snapped a picture with Levar, exchanged a few kind words, and that was that.

The second time, he wanted a picture with his real face in it. So when he went into the photo booth with Levar Burton and Brent Spiner, he took off the Panda head. Levar still recognized him (possibly because he was still wearing the feet), and remembered his Furry name.

...At this point, my brain is filled with a mental image of Levar Burton saying "Hey, Pandez! Good to see you!" This fills me with joy.

Anyway. He leaves the photo booth, puts his head back on, and goes back to the convention floor. A few minutes later, he gets a tap on the shoulder. Levar Burton is standing behind him. He looks him over, now in the full Cat/Bear suit, and simply says "Much better."

Star Trek has always been about tolerance. In the 1960s, Gene Rodenberry had to fight every day to keep a black woman on the bridge of his ship. In the 80s, the crew of the Enterprise took a member of the race that had been their greatest enemy and welcomed him to the crew with open arms. Even the more war-heavy Deep Space Nine is filled with the message that the universe can only move forward if we are all more open minded. The cast of Star Trek has embraced this. When I went to a Star Trek convention in San Francisco, I was constantly impressed with how much they took care of their die-hard fans, no matter how socially or physically awkward.

With that said, Levar's reaction is not surprising. But it is a good example of what my wife calls a "teachable moment." I looked at that story, and thought long and hard about how I'd been acting. And then I did some research. Turns out, most Furries are not in it for the sexy times. Most furries genuinely feel better in a different body, and with a community of people that understand and accept them. Who can blame them?

Really, in the end, isn't that how we all got here? We're geeks. Nerds. Freaks, even. And we've gathered into this tight knit little group because we were outcast and tortured for who we are and what we love. For years, sure, we tried to make ourselves the cool kids by excluding and looking down our noses. But the reason geek culture has grown so much in the last two decades is because we left that behind, and started opening our minds and our hearts.

No, not like that.
If Trekkies and Star Wars nerds and Browncoats and Whovians can all sit together in one giant hall one to twenty times a year, we can open the circle wider. We can let the Bronies in. We can let the Twilight fans in. And we can let the Furries in.

After all, they're just like us.


  1. As a furry who's been joked and laughed at a lot by my school, my friends, but mostly by people who don't know and understand. As I read this, I couldn't help but shedding a few tears because we can accept everyone, for who and what they are, but most people can't look past some things. This has made my day and most likely my best furry moment.

  2. I am beyond honored to have you write this about me. I'm just you know.. there... just being me. The fact I was in any way inspirational - and to have THIS kind of article done... I'm not articulate enough to say thank you properly. :)

  3. Great article and very well said!

    That first photo happens to be of me (as Vin) and my friend Howee Husky. I'm happy to see it put to good use.

    And yes - like any other fandom we're in it just to have a good time and make friends, and we're very open minded and welcoming in general.

    Probably only a quarter of furries actually own costumes (fursuits), and I'm pretty certain only a fraction of them wear them "dress up whenever they can." Each costume is a unique persona that the wearer identifies with (or as), and it could be for any of hundreds of reasons. I'm in it for the performance/entertainment aspect for example, so I wouldn't suit up unless there is a receptive audience (i.e. furry meetups or children's events). The costumer next to me might be into it because she feels more noticed, or because she wants to escape the "real world" for a while, or maybe just because all her friends do it too. But there are hundreds of reasons.

    I wouldn't say I feel "closer to animals than humans" either. Personally I feel the furry community has taught me how to be more human!