Why am I an internet raccoon? It’s both a simple answer and the story of my entire development as a person.
I have always had a wild imagination and been fascinated with expressive fantasy. Secret magic, fantastic worlds, cartoon melodrama, unlimited possibilities. Emphasis on cartoons—I loved cartoons. It started as early as I can remember. I remember being absolutely enthralled with an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—the one where Mikey turns into a human—in daycare at age 4. I was also obsessed with Disney’s Pinocchio in preschool, even winning a costume contest as the puppet in my mom’s labor-of-love makeshift outfit.
I received an NES for Christmas around age 5 and took to it like a duck to water. My kindergarten journals are stuffed with drawings and references to Mario and Mega Man. In early elementary school I wrote Mega Man fan fiction on the classroom’s Apple 2. I remember pouring over laminated pages of old Nintendo Power issues for whole library periods. Games back then held tantalizing secrets that were only traded on the playground and I would often daydream about all the possibilities. I wanted to be a robot like Mega Man or (eventually) a badass like Sonic so badly.
I attended a Southern Baptist church from birth and graduated up to the big-kid Sunday School classes during this period. Not surprisingly, I was “born again” at the first opportunity. Telling a kid with a big imagination and a love for endless possibility that both eternal life was attainable and essentially anything was possible…it only strengthened my desire for fantasy and magic.
Struggles and Speed Bumps
My thirst for the incredible did meet some headwinds. My younger brother was born around this time, and that changed the dynamic for me at home considerably. I was comfortable getting a lot of attention and having my curiosity fostered, and I wasn’t too happy having to share with my new sibling. I grew out of it eventually (and I am very glad to have a younger brother), but I think it did push me into introversion and rumination about my dreams quietly and to myself.
I was also a handful in early grade school—teachers would often tell my parents that I wasn’t satisfied with the pace of learning and would argue and push back often. I remember my dad telling me to “keep it to myself” if I knew the answers to questions and to “let the other kids have a turn.” This cemented a weird notion that A) I was somehow different (more imagination fuel) and B) this was something to keep a secret. And I obliged, becoming more introverted.
I soon developed an identity as a nerd and started to regard anything “traditional” as negative (e.g., strength / fitness, sports, girls / dating, trendy clothing, my appearance, and pride). Bullying followed, became an issue and really drained my self-confidence. For the first time in my life my grades started to drop—I still remember staring at a C on a report card like my life was over. Luckily I was surrounded by supportive teachers and was able to get back on track for the rest of grade school, but that pivot in personality was pretty stark in retrospect. It’s almost like I felt I needed to be much more protective and careful of my outward identity, and I started to really avoid and dislike attention.
Feeding My Imagination
My life continued to be full of clearly-formative, fantastic fictional experiences. Here’s just some of what I remember being fascinated by:
- Early-90s Cartoon Network: Captain Planet, Fantastic Max, The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, The Jetsons, Looney Toons, Ronin Warriors, and Scooby-Doo
- The dark themes in Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
- Star Wars: the original trilogy, the extended universe books, the CCG, the music, the games, all of it
- Re-runs of The Centurions (including VHS recordings, toys, a Halloween costume that won another contest, the works)
- Power Rangers: toys, costumes, and self-insertion fantasies. I distinctly remember being enamored by the Green Ranger arc and frantically sending in a letter to a contest to (not) win a Dragonzord dagger.
- Life No. 7 “Lab Animal” of the Garfield: His 9 Lives television adaptation
- The Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon (SatAM) by DIC that aired on ABC. A combination of my love and identification with video games, paired with the scarcity of the show’s airtime and the narrative’s decidedly dark tone, turned it into a religious experience for me.
- Night of the Vampire Robots, my first introduction to anime and another VHS-recorded, repeat-viewing, struggling-to-understand-emotions experience
- Later in grade school, all the stuff you’d expect: NickToons, Toonami, Pokémon, Digimon
Back to late 1996: a book series came out that would dominate my imagination for years: Animorphs. I scooped up the few books that were out at the time and devoured them within hours of purchase. My AOL screen name, my only Juno email account, my first few ventures into HTML and the web: all Animorphs references. I followed the series for years and only dropped it toward the end of its run because of ramping high school commitments.
My first dating relationship (6th-7th grade) revolved around our love for the book series and, you guessed it, dolphins (?). She was very into dolphins and we were very into Animorphs, so why not? We pretended to have dolphin alter-egos and developed silly backstories for them—it was pretty magical, honestly. During this time I outlined and wrote several chapters of what was essentially Animorphs fan fiction. A boy stumbles across a cult determined to halt medical research into animal hybrids. He discovers he can turn into a dolphin and was the result of the research and pulls together a team of other research experiments to defeat the cult. I called it The Top Secret Secret—I was clearly a really creative kid!
(Wait…was my first fursona a dolphin?)
Until high school I had either no internet or basic, capped dial-up access through a 20-hour-a-month AOL subscription. Unless I went to my grandparents’ place in the city. There they had high-speed internet, and there we went nuts: downloading every pirated software and game I could find, burning Dreamcast discs (Sonic Adventure 2 ❤️), you name it. During this time I started connecting online with AOL Instant Messenger and LiveJournal (back when you had to be invited to the service by an existing user).
Shortly thereafter (midway through 11th grade / age 17), I discovered the term “furry.” I had taken the art elective for my high school IB program and had recently joined DeviantArt, and both lit a renewed fire of curiosity under me to explore and create. Somehow or another that led me to discover LunaYoshi’s personal website (still live!) with adorable chibi drawings sorted into categories: “Yoshi”, “Anime”, and “Furry.” Light bulb moment: this is what you call cute anthropomorphized animal drawings! Transformation! Cartoons! Video game characters! Furry!
It’s really hard to convey how transformative it was to be given a label to the themes and visuals I had adored my whole life. I remember sitting in the computer lab after school with a friend, showing him the art websites and trying (and failing) to relate my epiphany. It quickly led me to local communities, message boards, more LiveJournal friends, validation, and really…my people.
Within weeks of my discovery I felt the need to be a creator in this space too. It’s honestly embarrassing to think back to that time in my life and the emotional overload I was experiencing. I remember taking my sketchbook on a camping trip with my dad, spending a lot of time emulating LunaYoshi’s style and sketching her characters over and over. I could tell he didn’t get it and I really didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling. I was, in every sense of the word, obsessed.
My Own Playable Character
LunaYoshi also hosted / sponsored a bulletin board called “The Aurorium” that was filled with furry fans and budding artists. I quickly joined the board and tried to become involved with the community. My first stop: the art assignments category. Occasionally, “assignments” were posted, small prompts to get people drawing and thinking out of the box. The first assignment I participated in: “Draw your character as an animal that starts with the first letter of your last name.” My character?
I realized at that point that most people on the board had an original character (OC), or “fursona.” An animal that start with R…rabbit, rat, reindeer, rhino…raccoon? I liked raccoons—they’d come up to our porch sometimes, get into the trash cans, or show up in the woods randomly.
I used to ride home with one of my neighbors from high school. The next day I asked him, “Chris, if you had to pick an animal that represented me, what would you pick?” He thought for a moment. “I dunno, a raccoon?”
That night, after my typical volunteering stint at Teen Court, I saw a family of raccoons scurry up into a large palm tree in front of the courthouse on the way back to my car. This sealed the deal for me. Raccoon it is.
And it felt great at the time. I didn’t see many other raccoon characters on the board or around the small network of sites I frequented. Those that I did see tended to be grey so I went with brown instead. And I didn’t feel any pressure to over-design him—I loved the idea of being just another brown raccoon in the crowd.
Now to name him! Like a total nerd, I propped open our large dictionary one night and started thumbing through the Rs, wanting some alliteration for my character’s name. I am somewhat ashamed to say that my handle, my blog, my web domain, my species, and whatever else is attributable to the term came from my mom’s suggestion. I walked into the kitchen and just straight-up asked her what a good last name would be for a cool, confident raccoon character, and somehow she just rattled off “radi-coon.” Yes, perfect. Thanks Mom! Rad.
Into a Larger World
Over my high school career I ended up drawing my character three times. I wish I had stayed with it and developed the interest, but I had my paws in way too much at the time and I’m happy I at least have these attempts to look back on.
In my last month of high school, a fellow LJ user and local acquaintance discovered that I was a furry. We started hanging out and meeting up with some like-minded locals at the mall. It was…awkward…but good! It took a little bit to acclimate but it was a worthwhile experience. Remember mall food courts and arcades?
Exploring a new community and making new friends really helped me seal the deal on my IB experience and the dreaded month of testing. And the rest is history: the community has helped me navigate my queer identity, express my yearning for imagination and fantasy well into my 30s, and find my partner of 14+ years.
It really was my first foray into a larger world outside of the hermetically-sealed bubble of my upbringing. Despite it being a rather rough period of my life emotionally, it helped me mature and catch-up on many missed years of proper socialization and real-world experiences. I met ton of good folks, formed tight, long-lasting friendships through college, and have continued to develop new, vital ties ever since.
The Furry Identity
To me, furry means: someone that’s more likely to share an upbringing like mine; someone that’s used to falling outside of the norm and lives with a more open mind; and someone that’s not afraid to love cute things, watch cartoons for the rest of their lives and to cherish their inner child forever. Not a bad deal.
What makes a furry? Based on my experience and the stories of friends, it often involves some or all of these ingredients:
- High expectations and/or pressure early in childhood (externally or internally)
- Perception of being a social outcast at some point in childhood
- A strong, sustained preference for imagination (fantasy, sci-fi, cartoons, etc.), probably strengthened by the previous points
- A bit of chance
What I’m trying to stress here is that it feels much less like a choice of participation and more like an identity or bent that has developed my entire life. I have chosen to accept it and cherish it but it is very much me whether I like it or not.
But that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive to those like me! There are many layers to the furry community from a passing interest to a deep-seated identity and I support everyone finding their own place. I ask the same thing of everyone in my life: patience, empathy, and an open mind. Everyone’s had a different journey and everyone is dealing with something—better to start there than stereotypes.
Trash Can Raiding
Like any good character, I have a raccoon backstory. From Bunker Club 2: Fine-Tuning:
Nintendo announced the GameCube, and back then we only heard about it through periodic gaming site updates. I was in 8th grade going into 9th, I didn’t have a job, I had no way to get money, and I didn’t have any allowance to speak of. I loved Nintendo, was like head-over-heels for the new console, an instant fanboy, and devoured the news I could find about it. But I had no idea how I was going to pay for it.
At the time, Sprite was running a promotion where you could turn bottle caps in for just a few cents—at most you were making $1 a day.
I was in the IB program and wasn’t zoned for my high school, so my dad had to pick me up. He couldn’t snag me until an hour after school let out.
Talk about an origin story for a raccoon before he knew he was a furry: I would walk around the entire campus after school every day, Monday thru Friday, and dig through the trash cans to find the Sprite bottles. I’d come home with handfuls of caps, more than enough to redeem up to the limit every day. You could only use the points for certain things, but one was a Walmart gift card. In the end, I was able to redeem the caps for $175 of the $200 it cost for a GameCube. I waited 12 hours in line at my local Walmart to get it on launch day.
Coincidence? Sure. But I’ll continue to believe in magic. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go read Animorphs again. 🐾