By Tim Susman
There’s no Ellis Island-like place to enter the furry fandom, but there are a few commonalities that are unique to the community of fans of anthropomorphic animals. When you start hanging out with furries and decide you want to identify as one yourself, you’re asked, “What species are you?” and “What’s your name?”
Furries, in community settings, create anthropomorphic animal avatars for themselves, and to avoid having to say that phrase, we call them “fursonas” (furries also love making plays on words with animal names or the word “fur”). Some people’s fursonas are “me if I was a fox-person”; others have intricate backstories from worlds made up by the fan. Some are descriptive; others are aspirational, with qualities you wish you had (and these can be achievable, like getting more buff, or fantastical, like having magic powers or being ninety feet tall). The names themselves are made up like fantasy names, sometimes incorporating words significant to the fan, sometimes just things that sound good. The Fantasy Name Generator has a “Fursona Name” generator that is based on their analysis of fandom names: about half, they say, are standard fantasy names; the other half are some descriptor combined with the fursona’s species—e.g., “Nightwolf” (in fact, there’s a joke in the fandom that “adjective-species” is how everyone makes up their name, and that has inspired the name of a blog about the fandom: http://www.adjectivespecies.com).
Whatever the species and history, your fursona’s name becomes the name you’re known by in the fandom (at conventions, the most common practice is to have only your fur name on your badge). When I started publishing stories in the fandom, I used my real name rather than my fursona name because I wanted my writing to be visible outside the fandom—that is, until I started writing and publishing furry gay male erotica. By 2017 standards, it was (and still is) fairly vanilla, but this was 2000 and I was working in the tech industry in California: there was a high probability that any prospective or current employer might find information about me on the Internet. But writing these stories was important to me because there was a sentiment going around the fandom at the time that a story could either be good or erotic, but not both. I happened to like good stories and novels that included adult content, but there weren’t a lot of examples out there, especially not gay furry adult content. I wanted to change that.
I decided to act as though I were joining the fandom again: I created a new fursona and name. “Kyell” was a name I’d been kicking around for a while, which had the advantage of having a familiar sound (it’s pronounced like “Kyle”) with a unique spelling (when you pick your name in the fandom, you want to make sure you don’t know anyone with that name). I liked the sound of “Kyell,” so I picked that. For my last name, I flipped through a phone book and came up with “Gold.” The names sounded good together, so I went with that. What’s more, “Kyell Gold” sounded like it could be a real name, which was good because I was going to use it as the byline on writing. As for species, I picked a red fox, because by that point I’d tried a couple different ones and foxes—small, clever, and adaptable—fit me better than anything else.
For a while, that was just a name I wrote under; I continued to attend conventions under my first fursona name. But I wrote more and more as Kyell, and my books under that name started to gain attention. Eventually they led to me being invited to conventions as Kyell. This posed a problem. I wanted to keep my two identities separate for several reasons, so I expanded a little bit on Kyell’s backstory. He was from the southeast, and wore hats and flashier shirts than I did. The persona was easy enough to pull off—I thought. At my first convention I sported a Southern accent for the whole weekend, about which the best thing that can be said was that it was consistently regrettable. Only one person called me on it, a fellow from the South who couldn’t place my accent. I told him I was from “all over” just to end the conversation.
Juggling my two identities became stressful. I attended one convention where both my identities were asked to do panels, at one point in consecutive alternating blocks, so I was putting on and off a hat and jacket between panels. Online, it was easier, but necessitated a lot of “coming out” as both of my identities were active in the fandom’s then-small writing scene. I might be talking to people as one identity and they’d want to discuss the other and I’d have to say, “Er, that’s me.” In most cases this was fine; in one case the person had a dim view of my work as Kyell and it soured the relationship.
There was another side to creating a new identity, too. Kyell began to get a lot of fan mail, and while responding to most of it was a pleasure, certain emails were more difficult (many of the “would you read my story” or “I have an idea for a story” variety, but also questions I’d already addressed over and over). I’m often impatient with people, but I didn’t want to be curt with fans who loved my writing and wanted to connect with the author. So I thought of Kyell as the author I would’ve wanted to write to when I was nineteen or twenty and awkward (and I was, then, and I did write awkward letters to authors). I put together all the wonderful, lovely responses I’d gotten and read on the Internet about authors’ responses to fans, so when I was answering emails as Kyell, it was easier for me to be patient. In addition, because I was writing about gay relationships in a positive manner, I started to get emails from young gay people in difficult situations. Many of them didn’t have anyone in their life that they could discuss being gay with. I hadn’t started writing books to become a counselor, but I tried to give the best advice I could while also pointing my fans to other resources that might help them. Being Kyell became more than a pseudonym; it became something of a performance.
I mentioned that some fursonas are descriptive and others are aspirational. I think that most are some combination of those: an amalgam of the best parts of ourselves with the parts we’d like to add. That’s what ended up happening with Kyell: I consciously made him a better person than I felt I was—more patient, more prone to listening and understanding and offering compassion, and the more I interacted with people under his name, the more those behaviors became habitual.
At the end of 2010 I was laid off from my tech job, and my husband (who took the identity of “Kit Silver” as a play off my name—he’s a white wolf) encouraged me to write full time. Around that time, the success of Fifty Shades of Gray destigmatized erotica to a certain extent, so I became less strict about keeping my two identities secret. I let go of the Southern accent, but kept the hats and the flashier shirts because I liked them.
Most of the fandom knows me as Kyell now. My original fursona is still around, sort of, in that my close friends who’ve known me pre-Kyell still call me by that name. And the furry writing scene has grown significantly in the last five years, becoming very much its own thing. Examine a table of contents from any anthology published in the fandom and you’re likely to see a mix of furry names and real names, if not predominantly furry names (example: the recent Gods With Fur or Hot Dish 2).
My adventures in pseudonyms continue: in the SFF world, I began publishing under my real name, but then as Kyell I began writing non-erotic works and joined queer SFF associations under that name, so now “Kyell Gold” is listed as an official alias in my SFWA directory listing (and it is with sales of one of Kyell’s books that I earned membership in SFWA). The SFF world has been extremely accepting of my alias, which has made things very easy for me (except when I’m deciding what name to put on my badge). And recently I began writing fan fiction that I didn’t want to associate with either my erotic fiction name nor my SFF writing name, so I created another pseudonym for that. But I haven’t written a backstory for that guy.