In late September, at the Tennessee General Assembly, a Republican local elected official asked Tess Stovall, executive director of the state’s Public Charter Schools Commission, whether any schools allowed “fur, children who identify as cats or dogs”.
Tess Scovall may have answered no, another parliamentarian expressed her concerns: “Unfortunately, I hear that in my rural areas there are schools that maybe don’t say it publicly, but accept kids who identify as snakes, cats — whatever — and they give them litter boxes.”
Several media quickly clarified that there was no evidence of the existence of these cat pupils or such litter boxes. But while this rumor should have been silenced by now – Reuters has published four fact-checking articles on the subject since the beginning of the year – it has been popping up regularly in the US for about a year.
A misunderstood subculture
In 2022, more than a dozen school principals in Colorado, Michigan and Texas, among others, had to explain that they had not put litter boxes in the toilets at their institutions. And while there is no picture of these furry children or teenagers or any direct testimony, about 20 right-wing politicians continue to talk about them, each time adding new details: according to a local Nebraska elected official, a cat student would already have poop on the floor; cafeteria tables have been lowered to allow furs to eat like animals, according to a Texas assemblywoman.
“Fur is a strange subculture. Since people don’t understand it well, they tend to believe shocking things.”explains Trace Underwood, a web journalist who is part of this community. “Most furries don’t think of themselves as animals, they’re fans of anthropomorphic animals. There’s a small subcategory of them who consider themselves transspecies or ‘other gender,’ but even then, there’s no garbage involved.”
Furries primarily belong to an online community where fans exchange art and stories on forums, with a few meetups and conventions where they can wear their disguises and participate in role-playing.
“Most furries don’t think of themselves as animals, they’re fans of anthropomorphic animals”, explains reporter Trace Underwood. | Tyson Erick via Wikimedia Commons
“The Furry Suits (fur suits) are very expensive and uncomfortable to wear for a long time. On the other hand, it can happen that people have ears or tails on. It is therefore conceivable that students have already gone to school with cat ears or wolf tails, but there is no evidence that they ask for litter boxes., says Trace Underwood. The NBC News site actually interviewed two furry high school girls who sometimes wear cat ears, very rarely at school, but have never used a litter box.
An urban legend repeated everywhere, without proof
The rumors spread on Facebook and through conservative Twitter accounts such as Libs of TikTok: each time a few images without context are presented as symbols of the excesses of the woke back at school. From there, this urban legend has been taken up at the highest levels of Republican spheres, by elected officials sitting in Congress in Washington or running for national elections.
Republican JD Vance, campaigning for senator from Ohio, was recently a guest on a radio show where the host started talking about students who thought they were dogs and called themselves “Fido.” JD Vance, slightly ahead in the polls for the November election, countered that he found “crazy that [son] country has come to this… with schools doing this without parental consent”.
Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who represents a Colorado district in the House of Representatives, also recently brought up litter boxes, but also the fictional case of a student reprimanded for stepping on a classmate’s tail. Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, meanwhile, recently wondered: “Why do some school districts have litter boxes for students who identify as furry to pee in??”
That said, maybe it’s not that surprising when all that lying about furs persists in a party where many elected officials flatly refuse to accept that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. But on social media and during public meetings, many have parents also brought up this story about litter boxes, outraged that schools accept such behavior.
homophobia and transphobia,
For the right, this story so well illustrates what it considers the excesses of gender ideology that it continues to spread it, despite the absence of evidence. The underlying idea is that American society has become so subjugated“LGBT Ideology” that students no longer only identify as trans or non-binary, but as animals.
For years, homophobic conservatives have argued that if two men or two women could marry, people might soon be able to marry their dogs. Today, the panic surrounding furries plays a similar role: it is to say that if a girl can become a trans boy, we will soon accept students identifying as cats.
Similarly, the right-wing journalist Matt Walsh wrote a book, Johnny the Walrus, about a kid who thinks he’s a walrus. In the story, the mother thinks her son should have surgery and live in a zoo. As with the litter rumor, it’s about making fun of trans identity, suggesting that it’s as absurd for someone seen as a man to identify as a woman as for a boy to be a walrus.
Since the Covid-19 epidemic in the United States, schools have become real political battlegrounds. Associations of parents opposed to vaccines, masks and school closures emerged in 2020, then redirected their energies towards criticizing certain anti-racist educational approaches and raising awareness of LGBT+ issues.
Instead of creating productive discussions about how to solve these problems in schools, the situation has escalated to the point where teachers who refuse to censor books dealing with LGBT+ issues are being accused of being pedophiles and communists. Teachers deemed too militant are hounded on social networks, and shared anecdotes (a teacher explaining gender-neutral pronouns to first-graders, for example) end up on Fox News, where the threat of mass brainwashing in schools is regularly discussed.
The right-wing press loves to talk about trans species, which are a very marginal group anyway. This is how Naia, a trans woman who spiritually considers herself a wolf, has previously been a guest on Fox News and other right-wing outlets. She explains that she knows very well that she is not a wolf, that she is usually integrated into society, but that she sometimes runs around the forest as if she were one.
This woman seems quite eccentric and is not forcing anyone to be trans. But the right wants to portray it as the beginning of the decline of Judeo-Christian civilization. This anxiety is perfectly crystallized by the rumor of furries, which would symbolize the disappearance, due to “wokism”, of all traditional norms and the boundaries between male, female, human and animal.