As a species, we sure seem to love putting on costumes. Becoming something we’re not is a narrative that’s existed in all forms of media for as long as we’ve been telling stories. Costumes can be so much more than just something you wear for Halloween, or what a character wears in a show. They don’t need to be disguises either. Anything past the basics of what is necessary to wear for survival is you choosing to present yourself in a specific way. You’re opting into a “style.” It becomes your costume. But costumes aren’t necessarily only for real life either. They’ve been something extremely pervasive on the internet as well. When you’re posting on Instagram, and selectively opting for the best photos with filters and good lighting, that constitutes a kind of costume as well. But you don’t even need to post pictures of yourself to be putting on a costume online.
In the real world, we’re somewhat relegated to who we are physically, and it’s hard for costuming to change that. You have a real, legal name. You have physical attributes that are hard to change. Just ask any trans person. You can do it, but it’s certainly not easy. Online however, every single part of your character can be built generally exactly as you’d like it to be. You can choose your name, your profile picture, your banner. All of those things are creating a costume for your online persona. It’s accessorizing in order for people to immediately understand more about you. But even past that, there’s also the kinds of things that you talk about, the people that you interact with, and the spaces that you hang out in. All of those things contribute to your online costume.
Here’s an example. Say you find someone on Twitter with a profile picture that’s an edgy looking anime character. Their banner is fan art of the same anime. Their name is something like “@blackclover13”. Just from that, you can make assumptions about who they are based off of the way that they’re presenting themselves. How about someone with a profile picture of a Greek statue, with a name like “@ThePowerOfMen” who regularly replies and interacts with tweets from the likes of Joe Rogan, Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson. Based on 5 minutes of looking at their online costume, you start to get an idea about who they are, even if you’ve never seen a picture of them and don’t know their name.
One group of people who have basically perfected the art of online costumes are furries. Because a fursona after all is one hell of a costume. At the start of the furry fandom, back when it was just the funny animals zine, a “fursona” was just a custom character that you created that you thought was cool. But, it quickly became commonplace for furries to use that character to represent themselves in online spaces. It wasn’t “Ted who has a character named xShadowwolf,” it was just xShadowwolf. And these characters became more and more complex over time. When it comes to creating a “fursona” as the kids call it, there are near limitless forms of self expression. Of course you have things like species and color and markings and size and accessories, but also just in terms of the situations that those characters are in. Unless you’re rich, or an artist with too much time, the kinds of art you can get for your character is limited. Do you want to get a YCH of your character hanging out on the beach, or going skiing? Do you want to get a commission of you taking a walk in the park, or taking a horse for a ride? All those things work towards the same point of building out a costume for who you are.
And all of those things are totally independent of who “you” are. You can use a fursona to be anything you want to be, which is something people who can’t be what they want to be in real life find very valuable. If you’re trans, your character can just be your gender. If you’re shy, your character can be confident and charismatic. If you’re short your character can be tall. If you’re weak your character can be strong. Results from studies done by people like FurScience show that people’s fursonas tend to be an idealized version of themselves. Who they wish they were.
The idea of an animal persona is something that as zoos we’ve adapted from the furry community. Partially, of course, because so many online zoos are furries anyways. But also it’s something that’s important for our community too. And it’s for somewhat of a different, more classical reason. Anonymity. Having a zoosona, as the kids may also call it, means that I can still have a whole costume on, that says as much about me as I want it to, while still staying totally anonymous. I don’t need to be worried about needing to be too reserved, or about having fun ways to identify myself. I can be a whole person on the internet with a name, and pictures, and a life, and that’s by being a raccoon.
I’m not a raccoon in real life. But, because I can create a zoosona, I can still be a person online. I can choose to be a raccoon because I think they’re super cool, but also because they have a reputation for being a little mischevious, which is something that can come in handy when trying to uproot social values. I can choose to be mostly pictures of real life raccoons instead of art because I want to seem more real. I can choose to call myself Tarro because I think it’s a really cool name. I can be upbeat, and generally funny, and create things that I hope entertain other people, because that’s who I want to be.
Without the ability to create these alternate versions of our selves, it would be so much harder to be a zoo. The fact that we can be loud and outspoken, and promote an idea so antithetical to a lot of society, is only facilitated by the fact that we can hide behind a costume. Even outside of activism, once you’ve met with someone else in costume a couple times and had those conversations, it’s a lot easier to tell whether or not they’re some you can take off some of that costume around.
And that’s the biggest difference between fursonas and zoosonas. They come from a very similar place, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. Fursonas are very aesthetic. Especially now when being a furry is pretty normalized. A fursona is an idealization of self, creating a character who you use to represent yourself. But, most people are wearing the costume for a show. Zoosonas on the other hand are more about creating a character to act as a stand in for yourself. They exist to be the person that you are but in a way where you don’t ever have to take that costume off. They aren’t necessarily just an ideal version of yourself, they’re you creating a safe way to engage with a community and content that you feel unsafe otherwise doing. As someone with both a fursona and a zoosona, my fursona is the person that I want to be, and my zoosona is just me existing in a space I wish I could exist in as the normal real me. That’s not to say that I don’t love my identity as Tarro. For sure a part of the reason I went with a raccoon is because I regret not having my fursona as a raccoon. It’s just a different way of looking at things.
I should say, this point of view isn’t going to represent everyone out there. There are people who have fursonas more for existing in a space safely. There are people with zoosonas who use them more like fursonas. There are zoos that don’t have a zoosona. Everyone’s experience is different. I’ve just been asked what the difference is enough times that I thought it would be worth answering the question. If you’re someone with a different experience, you’re just as valid too!
Anyway, thanks for reading!
Article written by Tarro (April 2023)
Find them at https://twitter.com/hereforthezoo
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