The rumor is: Parents around the country are expressing “concerns” over schools allegedly permitting students that identify as cats use litter boxes in public schools.
You can hear this idea being parroted by Nebraska State Senator Bruce Bostelman, without an ounce of irony or self-awareness:
Of course, it doesn’t matter how often or how thoroughly these allegations are debunked (and, make no mistake, they are debunked), that doesn’t stop people from spreading this false and damnable rumor on Facebook Groups like “Protect Nebraska Children”.
As a member of the furry community who also strongly opposes misinformation on the Internet, I feel it’s necessary and appropriate for me to expose the dark truths about this litter box story once and for all.
Who and What Are Furries?
Furries are members of the Furry Fandom, an art-centric participatory online community (with real-world conventions and events) consisting of people who enjoy anthropomorphic characters.
For one reason or another, furries are also a predominantly LGBTQIA+ community. If you took a large random sample of people, you’d expect at least 90% to be heterosexual and cisgender. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. But if you took a random sample of furries, that figure is now only 20%.
For this reason, furry hate was often used as a dog-whistle for homophobia in forums where overt homophobia was not permitted.
If you’d like to learn more about the furry fandom, I highly recommend the appropriately named 2020 documentary The Fandom by Ash Coyote.
Are Furries in K-12 Public Schools?
Overwhelmingly, no. The average age of the furry fandom varies from survey to survey, but 26 years old seems like a good estimate for the median age for survey participants (as of 2020).
Interestingly, the median age of furries was only 20 in the year 2011, which suggests that the furry fandom is consistently getting older.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t any furries under the age of 18. We just don’t have any data on them today.
Second, due to ethical restrictions, the IARP is unable to study minors (as parental consent would be required, something we cannot reasonably expect to obtain if a person has not “come out” to their family as a furry).Furscience
This is the only scientific data we have, and it’s not perfect, but you can actually extrapolate a reasonable heuristic for the magnitude of underage furs based on the change in adult median age over time.
Since the adults of the furry fandom are consistently getting older (median 20 in 2011, median 26 in 2020, which is a 6 year increase over 9 years), the proportion of people under 18 was likely at most 33% of the total furry population in a given year during this interval.
This upper limit assumes most underage furries continue to be furries in adulthood, a negligible mortality rate, and people are discovering the fandom younger than 18.
If a lot of furries discover the fandom after they turn 18, then 33% is probably unreasonably high.
If this proportion still holds true, then the median age for furries is still squarely in the realm of young adulthood, not childhood.
Do Furries Identify as Animals?
No, furries do not identify as animals in the way that these very dumb rumors would imply.
People that identify as a non-human animal are called therians (or more broadly, otherkin). Most furries are not therians, but some are.
Do Furries That Identify as Cats Use Litter Boxes?
No, this is a damned lie with no basis in reality. Even Snopes debunked it.
If you’re interested in the origins of this dumb rumor, Dogpatch Press has a deep dive into the history of it going all the way back to the 1990’s.
The Dark Truth About These Rumors
If it’s not true, why are Facebook Groups and GOP politicians spreading lies about furries and public school students all of the sudden?
Unfortunately, the answer is transphobia.
There is an emerging generational culture war about transgender people.
To many older Americans, the idea that a person could be anything other than male or female seems absurd, and the notion that anyone could change their gender is uncomfortable (but science is consistently on trans people’s sides here).
Most younger people don’t carry the same prejudices as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
This litter box rumor is both a dog whistle for generalized queerphobia (as the majority of furry hate always has been) and a weak satire of non-binary gender identities. “If they can decide they’re neither male or female, what’s stopping them from identifying as a cat?” is the premise of this bigoted reasoning.
Before gay marriage was legal in America, there were a lot of online arguments put forth by evangelical Christians and Republicans that, “If you make gay marriage legal, soon you’ll have people wanting to marry their pets and we’ll have to legalize bestiality.”
Which, yes, is a very dumb slippery slope fallacy, but the current furry panic certainly echoes their same delusional beliefs about alternative lifestyles.
In short, the entire premise of the “furry litter-box in public schools” rumor is to bully nonbinary and/or transgender students through a dog-whistle, so they can evade being cancelled for overt bigotry.
These people are showing their whole ass when they spread these lies.
Also, it’s interesting that the people spreading these lies are Republicans, who claim to want to “protect children”, but are also in favor of child marriage.
What Can We Do About These Lies?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify anyone in your life who believes these rumors (especially if they’re sharing lies from Facebook Groups that peddle misinformation), and then link them to this blog post.
I don’t expect it to persuade everyone, but it can save you the effort of having to argue further with them. Just copy+paste the URL and move on with your day, knowing you did your part to tell them, “You’re wrong, shut the fuck up.”
Where Did This Hoax Originate?
Allegedly, this entire hoax about “furries being permitted to use litter boxes in public schools” was started as a prank by a user named Tracing Woodgrains, a contributor to the anti-trans podcast Blocked and Reported, hosted by Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog (alternative mirror).
So—what does it take to persuade Libs of TikTok to tilt at windmills, to spread a moral panic over a falsehood? How can hoaxers break past her fact-checking, with nary a red flag to be seen?
A nonexistent man passed on a false tip on the basis of paper-thin evidence, then squirmed away at any attempts to nail down the concrete before finishing things off with a broken link to a Facebook group that did not exist.— How I Convinced Libs of TikTok to Publish a False Story
So there you have it. This entire thing is not only unbelievable, but fabricated for the sake of trolls’ amusement.