How Furby fandom became a haven for the queer and neurodiverse

Oddbody Furbies bring a community of autistic, LGBTQ+, and disabled people comfort and joy.

Mar 3, 2020, 7:33 am*

Internet Culture

Siobhan Ball 

Siobhan Ball

furby fandom

Shutterstock (Licensed)

Furby fandom has made the occasional headline over the last few years, surfacing from its own little corner of the internet to shock us with wonders like Long Furby, the slightly upsetting Furby organ, and fOrb, an orb of many faces, none screaming.

https://operation-forb.tumblr.com/post/174898899995/forb

While other collectors generally prioritize toys that are in pristine condition, and would never dream of reducing their value by opening the box and playing with them, Furby fandom is a little different. Partly a result of the fact that the original line is readily available and not actually worth very much—discouraging the sort of collector who prioritizes rarity and price—Furby fandom revolves ar0und loving, decorating, and even modifying their Furbies in all sorts of exciting ways.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B4nUWnCpq2S/

These Furbies go on adventures, wear neat little outfits and jewelry, and are often given distinctive personalities by their owners that come out in their social media feeds.

Most mods are relatively small. People swap out their Furby’s eyes and faceplates for custom ones, often featuring glitter, bright colors and cute, fantasy designs.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5KyVPBpiOJ/

Or sometimes they sew the toys entirely new skins, after carefully removing the old ones first.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5JUUaYpQ14/

Lovingly known as “naked Furbs,” many crafters like to dress their temporarily skinless buddies in socks while they clean or remake their outer layers, so they don’t get cold or embarrassed. (Or, sometimes, for the more practical purpose of protecting their bodies from paint while they redo their faceplates).

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5JF219pZuY/

Then there are the “oddbodies”: Furbies subjected to large-scale modifications in elaborate and fantastical ways, often with an accompanying back story and an online persona managing to combine the adorable with the sinister.

Root

Take Hodgepodge, a Furby-faced creature with an elaborate crocheted body, whose creator, Root, chronicles her adventures as a multidimensional being on their Tumblr. Hodgepodge, we are assured, means humanity no harm, and only wishes to eat as many pennies as she can get her many, grubby paws on while relating vague and unsettling visions of the future.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B01MOHsJmeo/

Or Sandwubby, inspired by Long Furby and the sandworms from Beetlejuice. According to her maker, Amanda, who runs the furbybones Instagram account, Sandwubby “enjoys crawling on the beach and into your heart.”

Though you’d be forgiven for expecting otherwise, there’s nothing of the internet edgelord in the oddbody and other modified Furby communities. They know how ominous and unsettling their creations are but unironically love them, leaning into the cosmic horror aesthetic with absurdist, Lovecraftian humor. One post on a meme page reads:

“Do you care if I take the skin off of the Furby?

I want to make him a God. Once he is free of his sinful flesh he can begin the path towards enlightenment. he will take care of us. Also I want to soft hack his circuits.”

 

The Furby fandom, especially that subsection of it dedicated to oddbodies, is all about embracing the monstrous and the weird and calling it lovable. This has a lot to do with the demographics of the fandom; it’s populated largely by LGBTQ+, autistic, and otherwise disabled creators—all people with a long history of being labeled monstrous by society. And they are responding by reclaiming the idea of monstrousness for themselves.

Sydney, an autistic oddbody Furby owner, told the Daily Dot that “something about the eldritch feel of them connects with me; the stranger and more alien, the better. Once I’d seen long Furbies were a thing, I was compelled to make one myself.” Amanda of furbybones elaborated further, explaining that the “unwanted members of society rebel against societal norms by being out and proud, whether with their disability or their queerness. In a way, the oddbody Furbies are a rebellion, too. If they’re going to be weird, they might as well be super weird. You know you aren’t the norm, but that’s something to be celebrated instead of looked down upon, and people love that! Once you show off your oddbody, you find others like yourself.”

Julian, a trans, bi, and autistic oddbody fan, said, “I admire oddbodies because no matter what shape or size they are, they are loved by the community and it’s really comforting to me to see that.” This approach by the fandom, and the love and care they show damaged Furbies, is one of the major draws for disabled community members.

Root discovered the fandom during a long period in which they were bed-bound. “The thing I found most captivating was the way people used all sorts of skills and crafts to engage with their toys,” they said. “People would fabricate, sew, glue, crochet, and photograph. They would set stages for their Furbies as backdrops, take them on adventures, and interact with other blogs. There’s really nothing like it anywhere else.”

But the way in which people reacted to “broken” Furbies really touched Root. “If a light sensor didn’t work, that Furb was blind,” they said. “Furbs with hypersensitive tilt sensors were nervous. and nobody threw them away. As a disabled person dealing with the alienation many disabled people face when the world is inaccessible, that meant a great deal to me.”

So-called disabled Furbies are so beloved that they often sell for higher rates than their more typical brethren, with one fan even traveling miles to retrieve this Furby that was found half-buried in the desert (said Furby is now a fandom celebrity).

A furbie that was half buried in the desert from mildlyinteresting

Furbies are also often used as comfort objects by people with autism, anxiety, and trauma. Like many autistic Furby owners, Arizona, who also suffers from anxiety, enjoys using her Furbies for self-stimulating behaviors, or “stimming“. She told the Daily Dot, “I find just simply messing with the beak & eyes of a Furby or petting its fur to be a comforting method of stimulation. On top of this, I have anxiety as well, and I find that Furbies are also comforting in stressful situations.” It seems that the combination of their soft fur and cute faces, along with the illusion of a friendly presence created by their interactive nature, make them perfect for stimming, grounding during panic attacks, and coping with the often conflicting needs for companionship and solitude.

Sydney went into detail about the companionship aspect that Furbies provide. “For me, people are hard to connect with,” he said. “I’ve gotten good at pretending to be like everyone else, and it’s rare I’m able to stop masking and be myself. I don’t relate to people for the most part. Furbies are a lot like friends to me, sort of in the same way that a cat or dog would be. They’re a comforting presence that won’t judge or give confusing signals. They give me a feeling of safety.”

As for the LGBTQ+ fans, part of the appeal of Furbies comes from the fact that they are, canonically, non-binary—which is a big draw for trans and non-binary people.

https://tarotfurbyandchill.tumblr.com/post/163190276984/all-furbies-are-nonbinary-angels-spread-the-word

Furby fandom is also very accepting, which allows for LGBTQ+, disabled, and neurodiverse people to be part of the community. “The love can be shared, and you love the Furbies and each other for the weirdness, for the quirkiness, for what makes them all different,” said Amanda of furbybones. “A lot of the people I’ve seen in the Furby fandom are young queer/disabled kids, and they need to know they’re worthy of love. If finding that love is through oddbody Furbies, then I’m going to do my best to keep supporting this community.”

So if you love the cute, quirky, and very, very weird and are looking for a warm, welcoming community to hang out in, you should stop on by. Just don’t call their beloved creatures “cursed” or they might show you the forbidden picture of the wind chime of human teeth (just to show you what cursed really is).

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*First Published: Mar 3, 2020, 7:30 am