If you’ve watched Disclosure, Netflix’s documentary about transgender media representation, (and if you haven’t you should!) and are looking for another trans-led documentary, I would like to suggest The Fandom. The film is the directorial debut of Colorado Springs filmmaker Ash Kreis, who is known within the furry fandom, people who enjoy drawing and sometimes dressing up as anthropomorphic animal characters, as Ash Coyote. The Fandom is the first feature-length film she has worked on since she came out and transitioned in 2015.
“I’ve been in film since 2006,” says Kreis, who worked professionally as a cinematographer. “I did that for years; it was something I absolutely loved.”
Despite a promising career, Kreis lost many professional opportunities after transitioning. “In 2015 I was working on an indie film in Denver, and another film called Being Evel with Johnny Knoxville. That was the last professional project I worked on,” she says. “At the time I was living as a gay man, and I had a hard time talking about my relationship because a lot of my clients had religious values. ... The biggest employers for production in Colorado Springs are all megachurches, religious organizations or missionary groups like Focus on the Family and The Navigators. It makes it really hard if you’re someone else, the ‘other,’ to feel comfortable and to get work in a lot of situations. There were a lot of client bases that just sort of evaporated for me.”
Since her transition, Kreis has been making something of a comeback using platforms like YouTube to continue producing the content she loves.
The Fandom provides a fascinating look at the crossover between a number of “nerd” subcultures that gave rise to furry fandom in the late 1970s. Kreis sought out furry founding fathers Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley, who are still a part of what she describes as a “gay, furry polycule [a polyamorous relationship]” in California.
Through interviews and archival footage, Kreis tells the story of the development of the furry fandom from the first Japanese anime club in the U.S. in the ’70s. “They would bootleg signals from Japan using a tower in Hawaii and record it to those big old U-Matic tapes, not VHS,” says Kreis. “... Sci-fi, anime and furry were all once one collective group. It’s really just nerd culture distilled.”
[pullquote-1] The first official furry convention, Confurence, was started by Merlino in Costa Mesa, California, in 1989, after mainstream sci-fi convention organizers asked the furries to please find their own convention.
Kreis says the LGBTQ roots of the fandom persist in today’s furry community.
“Our first furry cons are showing up right as the AIDS crisis is going on,” she says. “I believe that furry offered a safe space for expression during that time of persecution of LGBTQ individuals. Eighty percent of the fandom identifies as ‘queer,’ 12.2 percent identifies as transgender,” according to furscience.org, the website of the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, “and if you compare that to the numbers in the outside world that’s an absurdly high percentage. It’s a queer community.” The Williams Institute at UCLA reports that 4.5 percent of the U.S. population is some form of LGBT, and .3 percent is specifically transgender.
From that original convention in 1989, the fandom gained popularity each year, filling hotels, and spawning additional conventions across the country. Kreis documents the growing pains, and drama, as the subculture gained mainstream media attention. A sensational 2002 MTV documentary focused almost exclusively on the sexual aspects of the fandom, which led to rifts between the broader, majority LGBTQ furry community and furries who wanted to present a sanitized, antiseptic image of the fandom.
While certainly covering a niche subject, The Fandom provides thorough historical context to make it appealing to both furs and normies alike. If you have an interest in the development of “con culture,” or how the LGBTQ community found outlets during the politically repressive ’80s, or if you want to support a local trans creator, it is worth watching. You can see it for free on YouTube.