Probyn-Rapsey—Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder

Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al

by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey

[Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. 2011. “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al.” Society & Animals 19: 294–301.]

Critiques Gerbasi et al on a few points:

  • while they work to define “furry,” the study does not try to define “human”
  • elides the controversy surrounding “gender identity disorder” diagnosis, thus legitimizing and furthering the pathologization of non-normative sexualities
  • does not address animal studies and “humanimal subjectivities”
  • gives subjects the choice of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual to choose from (more normative sexuality), and does not include respondents who choose other types (pan, omni, a, demi, etc)


This is a response to an article published in Society & Animals in 2008 that argued for the existence of a “species identity disorder” in some furries. Species identity disorder is modeled on gender identity disorder, itself a highly controversial diagnosis that has been criticized for pathologizing homosexuality and transgendered people. !is response examines the claims of the article (and the design of the study itself ) and suggests that the typology it constructs is based on unexamined assumptions about what constitutes “human” identity and regulatory fictions of gender identity.

Keywords furry fandom, gender, gender identity disorder, sexuality, species identity disorder

Annotation Summary for: Probyn-Rapsey – Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Furries and the Limits of Species Identity Disorder: A Response to Gerbasi et al. Fiona Probyn-Rapsey”

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““Furries from A to Z (Anthropocentrism to Zoomorphism)” (Gerbasi et al., 2008) is the largest psychological study of furries published so far.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here I wish to problematize this study with regard to its design, its objectives, and its utilization of gender identity disorder as a foundation for species identity disorder, the implications of which will be of particular inter- est to those working in the area of animal studies and “humanimal” intersub- jectivity speci”cally.”

Page 2, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““humanimal” intersub- jectivity”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Furries are of particular interest in relation to the question of humanimal intersubjectivity because, like other anthrozoomorphics with whom they some- times overlap (such as therians, cynanthropes, weres, animal people), furries can potentially confound assumptions about what constitutes the “human.””

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “!at the control group was made up of psychology students is perhaps an important factor here; this group may display an increased sensi-tivity to normative behaviors and “disorder.” Furries, apparently less likely to judge other furries along the lines of personality trait disorders, might be dis-playing subcultural loyalty to the group, or perhaps by the very fact of their subcultural formation they are more open to di!erence in ways that do not con$ate di#erence with psychiatric disorder.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “!is “proposed construct” of species identity disorder does indeed require further analysis, not least because of its basis in gender identity disorder, whose controversial history is left out of Gerbasi et al.’s discussion.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Indeed, their bibliography does not re$ect any consultation with the literature on the sub- ject of gender identity disorder, other than references to the DSM-IV (Ameri- can Psychiatric Association, 2000).”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It is worth noting that while gender identity disorder is problematized by approaches that position gender as a cultural and political formation constituted by regulation, transgression, and normativity as well as change and variation (Haraway, 2007; Butler, 1990, 2004; Burke, 1997; Connell, 1987, 1995; Sedgwick, 1994; Garber, 1993, among many others), it is also disputed by many psychologists whose work Gerbasi et al. might have been more likely to consult for their study.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Homosexuality was dropped from the DSM in 1973, but as it was dropped gender identity disorder came in (and was made o%cial in the 1980 edition), leading many to argue that gender identity disorder represented the past, dif- ferently worded, enabling the continued treatment of homosexuality as a psy- chiatric disorder”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A diagnosis of gender identity disorder requires the satisfaction of the fol- lowing criteria: “rst, a strong and persistent cross-gender identi”cation and second, persistent discomfort with one’s sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex. !e latter criterion is very loosely de”ned and can include, for boys, “an aversion towards rough and tumble play and rejection of”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “male stereotypical toys, games and activities,” whereas girls must show a “marked aversion towards normative female clothing” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 537). Many critics have pointed out that such “symp- toms” cannot be said to amount to a psychiatric condition but that the diag- nosis itself points to a social investment in gender norms”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the “dis-torted unattained” type, were the ones most likely to be diagnosed with the proposed construct of species identity disorder. !is small minority becomes enlarged, however, in the concluding para-graph of the paper where “distorted unattained” becomes “distorted,” thereby including two distinct groups under one heading, as in the following passage: ”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““[P]arallels between distorted furry dimension and GID criteria are remark- able. Distorted furry types may possibly represent a condition we have tenta- tively dubbed ‘Species Identity Disorder’ ” (Gerbasi et al., p. 220). Here the diagnosis slips from requiring both being “less than 100% human” and “being 0% human” to only requiring the “rst criterion—being “less than 100% human.” !e implications of this rhetorical slip are a vast shift in proportion, since it triples the number of furries who are potentially diagnosable as having species identity disorder (from 31 to 99 [or 46%] of the 214 furries who answered).”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “emergent “eld of animalstudies. A number of scholars in that “eld are rethinking the strategic “ction of the study’s a priori “100% human”—a “ction that renders the “human” ”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “complicit with speciesism and, in Derrida’s words, perpetuates the “sin againstrigorous thinking that contains all nonhuman species to that word ‘Animal’ ” (Derrida, 2002).”

Page 6, Stamp (I don’t like this)

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Signi”cantly, Gerbasi et al. take the trouble to de”ne what they mean by “furries” but not what they mean by “human,” and so phrases like “objectivelyhuman” and “100% human” remain a priori assumptions.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the two groups (the psychologists and furries) may well have very di#erent ideas about what constitutes the human (and what constitutes a dis- order, for that matter).”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “!e survey misses an opportunity to allow furries to de”ne what they might mean by “human” and by their critique of the human.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In relation to sexuality, the research limits the range of possibilities by ask- ing furries a supposedly open-ended question about their sexuality, but one that has only three possible answers: “heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual””

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “If they did not use recognizable (and arguably normative) terms like homo-sexual, heterosexual, and bisexual, they couldn’t be counted. !is represents a paradigm problem, a problem of designing a study around normative humansexualities and excluding and pathologizing what is left out. !ere is potential for furries to be more than merely on the wrong side of “100% human,” what-ever that means. Indeed, the gaps in the data in this study reveal some missed opportunities to think about furry fandom in terms of the paradigm shift that it might represent.”

Page 7, Underline (Red): Content: “Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge. —— (2004). Undoing gender. London: Routledge.”

Page 8, Underline (Red): Content: “Derrida, J. (2002). !e animal that therefore I am (more to follow). Critical Inquiry, 28(2): 369-418.

Haraway, D. (2008). When species meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s