On Wednesday, Netflix dropped the trailer for its latest high-concept reality show: It’s called Sexy Beasts, and it approximates blind dating by having all of its contestants wear animal heads throughout the courtship process. And you thought they’d never top Love Is Blind! (The show is a remake of a BBC series.) As the trailer racked up millions of views, it didn’t take long for “furries” to start trending on Twitter. But was this show actually in any way furry-approved? To find out, I called up Joe Strike, the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture and a certified greymuzzle, i.e. veteran furry. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your first impression upon hearing about Sexy Beasts?
I watched that trailer, and oh, boy. I think it’s very exploitative of the furry community. It’s going to get a lot of attention, a lot of notoriety. I was already reading the comments under the under the trailer, and there are still a lot of furry haters out there, and they let their feelings be known in those comments. Some of them were pretty nasty. I don’t know if anybody from the community is involved in the creation of the show, but I’d be surprised if they were.
Do you think Netflix should have consulted with a furry?
I think Netflix knows exactly what they’re doing, and Netflix knows exactly what they want. There is a very widespread awareness of furries, and a lot of it is from a negative perspective. I think that even if they don’t come out and use the F word, they are hoping that people, critics and viewers, will throw that in there just as some of those comments did on YouTube. There’s always been a “Oh, look at the weirdos” kind of thing. I think this is definitely playing into that. But this is not going to shame furries because we’re used to getting this kind of reaction, to a lot of people looking at us this way.
Plus, these aren’t even really furries, because real furries would never wear just a head and no fursuit, right?
Actually, it’s just the opposite. It’s what’s called a partial. If somebody can’t afford a full fursuit, they commission a maker to make a partial, which is just the head, paws, tail, and then from that, they can add a full body suit as their finances improve. So this is aligned with that part of the furry thing. But also, a very common misconception about furries is that we all wear fursuits: wrong! Judging from convention attendance, only about 20 to 25 percent of furs suit up. The rest just wear a T-shirt featuring an anthro critter or the tail of their fursona’s species.
Did you have any thoughts on how the contestants were pulling off the furry-adjacent look?
I do have to say some of these animal heads are pretty cute. I have nothing to criticize them on that. Although I think the porpoise is kind of creepy. I liked the panda. There are definitely more attractive ones than others. The mouse is not bad. There’s a fox, a very cool fox. Foxes are very popular in the furry community.
Does anyone in the furry community ever dress up as a porpoise or some of the weirder ones? I mean, you know, a porpoise is smooth, not furry.
Well, I am a Komodo dragon in the conventions, so that’s definitely not furry, even though it’s part of the furry fandom. I do have a friend who used to wear a whale head—I forget which particular species of whale—but you hardly see anybody like that. I’m starting to see a few insect fursuiters, which is something you didn’t originally see way back when, so it is starting to broaden out somewhat.
Do you think there’s any way this show could be good for the furry community?
I don’t think this is going to do any good for us, except if there are references made to furry in reviews or whatever, and people will see, “Furry? What’s this?” and they’ll go online and they’ll discover that the furry community is about.
One of the reasons I wrote Furry Nation is to say, you know, “Hey, furry pride.” We’re part of the scene here. We’re no more or less weird than any other kind of fan group. Our thing happens to be for anthropomorphic animals, cartoon animals, or storybook fantasy animals. There is a natural human tendency toward anthropomorphism. There’s a desire to see animals and humans on a closer wavelength, closer together, to merge them. And I think that’s growing throughout society—not just in the furry community, but the fact that the furry community is growing is another sign of that. Things like this show and The Masked Singer and also Sweet Tooth are signs that the zeitgeist is moving toward an appreciation of anthropomorphism that we haven’t had in the past.
Have there been any representations of furries in the media that you would point to as positive?
Oh yeah. You can always tell when something is made fun of affectionately versus when something is made fun of to put it down. Are you familiar with an animated show called We Bare Bears? It’s about these three anthro bears that live in San Francisco, and they’re more or less accepted in human society. In one episode, they wind up with little plush versions of themselves and they can talk. And one of them says, “I like to dress up as a cat when no one’s looking.” That to me was like a friendly little wink in our direction.
In your time in the furry community, have you ever seen a scenario play out where people get romantically interested in each other before they see each other’s real faces?
People have met that way. I have a partner who is a walrus in the furry world and, you know, it’s funny, ’cause when I saw him outside of his suit—you know, the walrus is big and bulky, he wears a padded thing—I went, “You’re Furio?” He’s a skinny guy. And then one day I get an email from him and he says, “How are you, you sexy gator?” That kind of sparked our relationship. If people find each other attractive in their suits, they may find each other attracted out of them as well. So I would not be surprised if people start relationships with other furs based on their fursuits.
Do you think you’ll watch this show?
I have Netflix, so I may watch the first episode or two. I’m not a fan of these dating–slash–reality shows, because they’re just kind of voyeuristic. But I would watch it just to see how they treat it. And once I get the idea, I think that would be enough of the show for me.