For students looking to get involved and find a community, there are over 600 registered student organizations (RSO) on Tech’s campus to choose from. One of Tech’s most tight knit communities is the Society of Furries at Tech, also known as SOFT.
After becoming an official club in 2018, SOFT has served as a visible point of contact and gateway into the greater furry community at Tech. People who identify as furries are members of a subculture that revolves around a common interest in animals that have human personalities and characteristics. A large part of the greater furry community is hosted online, with many furries connecting with each other through Discord and other online communication platforms. SOFT runs in a similar, casual fashion, with their members primarily creating community through their club group chat. Without regular meetings, members of SOFT will instead often organize social events such as bowling, movie nights and parties.
According to their constitution, the group is made up of dozens of students who are interested in “anthropomorphic animals, media involving them, and/or the idea of anthropomorphism in general.” While that definition of interests may seem broad, it highlights a unique aspect of the furry community. As Lab — a fourth-year CM major utilizing their fursona name for the article — explained, the furry fandom comes together over a diverse range of interests that stem from a lack of a central source of fascination.
“Where it differentiates from other communities is fandoms typically have a source and furries are not tied to one designated source. You know, Star Wars fans have Star Wars, Marvel fans have the MCU or the comics or whatever. But the total sheer quantity of animals with human characteristics and behaviors is so vast it’s like there’s not really one source,” said Lab.
Because of this, the journey towards identifying as a furry is different for everyone. Certain books, shows and movies, such as the “Warriors” novels or the 2016 film “Zootopia,” that heavily feature anthropomorphic characters, are cited as piquing the interest of many in the community, including Minori, an AE alumna also using their fursona name, and former president of SOFT.
“I guess it’s sort of been like a thing that I’ve drifted into for basically my entire life. When I was a little kid, it wasn’t really something that I thought much of just because, you know when you watch television shows and all the characters are animals and it is just normal kid stuff,” said Minori. “When I was in elementary school I was a ‘Warrior’ cats kid and that was kind of my first exposure to I guess something sort of furry adjacent.”
Others within the furry fandom, such as Alex Nguyen, a first year ME major, explored their interest through art. “I got involved with the furry fandom in my freshman year of high school because I liked drawing animals, and a high school friend introduced me to the furry fandom through its artwork,” said Nguyen. “The furry fandom is very appreciative of artwork because it allows us to express ourselves and our creativity through our animal personas.”
The creativity of the fandom is heavily displayed throughout the music, art and development of individual fursonas that are created by members of the community. The membership of SOFT hosts an abundance of artistry, with some members using their engineering skills to create elaborate fursuit features and Nguyen using their talents to create a successful art business selling furry-related merchandise out of their etsy shop (etsy.com/shop/SammyTheTanuki).
Perhaps the most prominent part of furry culture are the fursonas created and portrayed by members of the community. While some take it one step further by creating full-fledged fursuits, which are mascot-like costumes commonly made by sewing faux fur over a foam cast base, not every furry has a fursuit. Even though fursuits have become largely associated with furry culture in the public eye, Nguyen explained that outsiders’ perception of fursuits is not always accurate.
“Not all furries have fursuits! This is a huge misconception that we all like to dress up in animal costumes. The majority of furries don’t have fursuits, and those who do have fursuits don’t wear them all the time,” said Nguyen.
The creation of a full body fursuit is not only a large financial investment, with some fursuits costing upwards of three thousand dollars but also requires a labor of love between designing, gluing and sewing life into their fursonas. Lab, who has gone through the process of making their own fursuit head, explained the general attitude of SOFT members regarding fursuits and the upwards trend in prices from fursuit makers. “The fursuit making process from Georgia Tech furries has ranged from ‘I’ll do it completely on my own’ to, ‘I’ll do it with some friends’ to, ‘I’m just going to get a job in the STEM industry and pay someone else to do one for me,’” said Lab.
“I don’t know if anybody’s told you, but fursuits are not cheap. The price, by and large, has tripled in the past four years. I think in part because of the pandemic and in part because it’s like hey, there are more and more people who do this full time for a living and like they deserve to have nice things. So it’s reasonable that they should up their prices.”
Full fursuit or not, the process of making a fursona can be an incredibly vulnerable and self-reflective process. Minori explained what makes the development of a fursona so personal. “Being able to create your own character with its own kind of personality really allows you to kind of compartmentalize and explore different parts of yourself at different times,” said Minori.
“Being part of the furry community is a very intimate experience, I would say, just based on the fact that you are creating a character that is supposed to kind of reflect either who you want to be or some part of who you are.”
SOFT and the greater furry community have traditionally been considered a safe queer space. For many furries, including Nguyen, Lab and Minori, creating their fursonas have helped them experiment with their gender expression. The members of SOFT have a casual screening process to help maintain their close-knit space. “We have a process for new members and it’s not particularly strict … but there’s a degree of privacy that needs to be maintained,” explained Lab.
“There’s a lot of young queer people who, you know, we are in Georgia. So there’s a lot of people who can’t talk about it. They don’t want to talk about being part of such a queer friendly space to their parents.”
Another reason many furries are not public about their hobby is the negative connotations surrounding the community and sex. “There is also a huge misconception that we are all neckbeards or sex deviants. The furry fandom is more open to sexual expression, and yes, there is a NSFW side of the fandom, but most of us are simply normal people,” explained Nguyen.
Despite being connected to a school organization, Tech’s furry community has not been safe from the fetish associations either. Lab explained how SOFT has been discussed in public forums in the Tech community. “I remember, it was either freshman or sophomore year on the [gatech] subreddit, somebody said, ‘If there’s a furry club at Tech, are we going to be allowed to start a BDSM club?’ It’s like, okay, that seems a little like overreaching…I think part of that is just sort of the demonization of queer people in general as being sexually deviant and that has bled over to the furry community.”
In the face of struggles surrounding the public image of furries, SOFT’s members maintain a welcoming community of students excited to share their interests with each other. For Minori, SOFT has given her a sense of belonging.
“It’s almost like a sense of solidarity. I think generally speaking, growing up kind of knowing that I am definitely a furry but not really engaging with the community was very alienating in some ways. You feel like this is a very niche and very weird interest that you have and like, at the time, it was of course, much more stigmatized, I think than it is now,” said Minori.
“So being a part of the furry community very much kind of makes you feel like you probably grew up thinking you’re very alone, but you’re not alone. Finding that there were other furries at Tech that was really like, wow, that’s so cool that I have friends here at school who live within five minutes of me and I can just really express a part of myself that I’ve been very self conscious about for my entire childhood.”
Students interested in learning more about SOFT can view their organization page by visiting gatech.campuslabs.com/engage and searching “Society of Furries.”