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A robot bat on the internet

Anyone who has perused any recent bio of mine, or the homepage of this very website, will have seen one particular phrase listed alongside various other identifiers.

Robot bat on the internet.

At some point, you may have wondered what makes this such an intrinsic aspect of my identity that I list it alongside pronouns, my sexual identity and my job title.

How is it something so engrained in how I choose to portray myself that it extends to my professionally-oriented profiles and avatars?

It all started 17 years ago…

The internet-savvy of you may have already pegged that I am a “furry”, a member of the fandom (or, by some definitions, the entire subculture, akin to goths or punks) regarding the appreciation and affinity for anthropomorphic animals.

I’ve been a furry for over half of my life, first getting involved in the fandom in 2005, and while my relationship with the fandom as a whole has waxed and waned over the years, it is ultimately an accurate description of my interests and a useful shorthand to use, even if the very definition of a “furry” is a bit of a broad and nebulous concept.

For furries, a frequent—but not universal—means of expressing this anthropomorphic affinity is through the creation of a “fursona” (literally a portmanteau of “furry” and “persona”). Their own, unique anthropomorphic animal to make or commission artwork of, write stories about, and cosplay as.

A common misconception is that furries personally think they are, spiritually or psychologically, their fursonas. That is actually therianthropy, a belief system that is independent of—if sharing some Venn diagram space with—the furry fandom.

For most furries, myself included, a fursona is simply an avatar. I’m a robot bat on the internet after all. The robot bat isn’t the first fursona I’ve had, she (yes, she’s a she) probably won’t be my last. One’s identity and self-expression will change over time, and for many, it feels wrong for their avatar to not change with them.

Righting a historical wrong

Unfortunately, being one of the weirder groups in existence, a great amount of negative press coverage about the furry fandom exists. As I write this, an extended period of coverage is circulating in the American conservative media about how schools are being “forced” to accommodate pupils who “use litter trays” because of their “furry identity”, in what is clearly a thinly-veiled attempt to relate this non-existent issue to the battle for transgender bathroom rights.

The story is, naturally, nonsense; and every school district that has been targeted for supposedly doing this has denied it ever happening, but it’s an excellent example of the raft of exaggeration and outright fabrication that has followed the furry fandom around for literal decades.

As a result, the fandom has evolved to consider the matter as taboo as the media has made it out to be. Furries talk about “coming out” to their families as being furries, scared that in doing so they will be ostracised when in reality their interest is no more unusual than being a fan of Star Trek or a sports team or the Twilight books. Those are interests freely shared and discussed amongst friends, family and colleagues, so why should anthropomorphism be any different?

There is a change in the air, however. Some recent coverage of the furry fandom has actually been positive—covering everything from Coronavirus vaccine development, to trending entertainers and IT workers—but in almost all these situations the people involved obfuscate their identities for fear of backlash.

The furry fandom launched my career

I made my first website in 2003, a simple site about The Sims that I think capped out at six or seven pages. Over the next couple of years, I would make a couple more tiny sites about The Sims, and one to share mine and my classmate’s crude Flash animations.

In 2005, I first became involved in the furry fandom. In the space of a couple of years I had gotten involved in several websites: a fanzine, a news site, a media organisation, a wiki, a social network. I was designing and/or writing code for all of them. I pretty rapidly went from working on dinky, little personal websites that had gotten a couple of thousand visitors in their entire lifetimes to sites that were doing those numbers every day.

I learned an immense amount working on those projects. Not only in writing code, but in design, collaboration, source control, security, managing a community, managing attacks against that community, working for scale, and probably a thousand other things. Keep in mind this was all when I was still a teenager! I was volunteering time after school and on weekends, helping others pursue passion projects with little hope of ever breaking even—never mind make a profit.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the furry fandom for aiding in my development, and it was projects such as these that filled out my early CVs and job applications. It would be disingenuous to hide or deny my connections now, so why bother?

My brand!

A minor point, but having a distinctive “mascot” of sorts is a form of branding. I’ve tried many times to come up with a name and logo for my own stuff that could stand the test of time. These attempts never worked. Long time followers may remember when this site was named “Querkmachine” (a username still used in places), then “Grey’s Adventures in Web Design”, then just “Grey’s Adventures”, until finally simply using my actual name as it does now.

My fursona, conversely, is almost like a built-in piece of branding. One that, in the medium-term, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be happy with. I’m not a freelancer, so I don’t really need to sell myself very often, but a CV or a portfolio with goofy little robots dotted around it is absolutely a memorable and personal touch.

And, lastly, I’m transgender—I don’t particularly care to have my face plastered around the place, so having a unique, identifiable, me-but-not-me persona to take my place is extremely useful.

So, why a robot bat?

Bats are my favourite animal. They have been for pretty much my whole life. I love how they’re so unique—they’re the only group of mammals capable of true, sustained flight—with an evolutionary divergence so lost to history that the oldest fossils ever discovered already resemble modern bats. The closest living relatives to bats include horses and dolphins. That’s how unique they are in the animal kingdom.

I love how they’re also not unique—one-in-five of all mammal species alive on Earth are bats. Yet that proliferation has also served to foster uniqueness, there are oodles of variety across bat species, from diet to appearance to habitat, but each one manages to be special and uniquely themselves, despite all being the same.

You can probably tell that I really like bats. I even collect bat facts for fun.

And robots? If not for website development, I had always imagined I would work in robotics. I just think they’re neat.

And that’s really it. I don’t hide being a furry because I don’t have a good reason to, and if anything it would probably have been detrimental to the course of my life if I had done.

I also don’t push it. My interests are mine, I don’t rave about meets or furry creators or post random furry art into random conversations. I just have a few robot bats dotted around my website and set as my display pictures.

She’s my fursona, my brand, my beliefs, my interests, my history, and really—she’s the most me you can get without being me.

Thanks for reading!

My robot bat, waving you goodbye.