The litterbox myth

Illustration by Ash Cheshire.

October is no stranger to urban legends, dating back at least to Washington Irving’s 1819 Halloween favorite, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Of course, over the last several decades, the Halloween myth making has revolved around razor blades in the candy — or unfounded fears of households handing our drugs to trick or treaters. 

Yet there is another urban legend I want to discuss today. Initially making the rounds in Canada last October, this one has finally reached a fever pitch as it has turned into right-wing anti-trans fodder while we veer into a contentious and vital midterm election.

It has been brought up by talk show hosts and podcasters, and even mentioned by both United States Representatives Lauren Bobert and Marjorie Taylor Green. The latter claimed it was another example of “woke ideology,” a term itself that was becoming a right-wing dog whistle. 

I speak of the myth that litter boxes are being provided in schools for students who identify as furries. 

For the uninitiated, furries are part of a long-standing fandom of anthropomorphic animal characters. Over the last couple decades, the fandom has grown, leading to large conventions and activities for those with fursonas, some of which go so far as to wear full body fursuits. Think, for example, of the general look of animal-based sports mascots, or perhaps the characters from Walt Disney’s “Zootopia.”

The large majority of furries, it is worth noting, do not “identify as animals.” Rather, it is a hobby, a costume, and something those in the fandom enjoy being a part of. The bunny head can be safely stowed away in a box when not in use, and the rest of the outfit tucks into the closet. 

It’s also a popular subculture to mock, which plays into this urban legend. Its use in right-wing circles, however, has less to do with furries as it does with transgender people, even if there is often a fair amount of overlap between the two. 

For a number of years, the right — and particularly right-leaning Internet trolls and other provocateurs — latched on “I identify as ___” language as a way to mock transgender identities. 

When you see that language being used, however, it isn’t typically from a transgender person, but from someone mocking a transgender person, coming up with lubricious examples such as “I identify as an attack helicopter.”

Or, in this case, the mockery is in identifying as an animal.

The urban myth is a simple one: in order to accommodate students who identify as furries, schools have set up litter boxes in school bathrooms. It’s always presented as a “things have gone too far” tale, usually about a local school that is nearby, but not too nearby — lest anyone verify the story.

Yet, so far, no such story has proven to be true. The only reported example of anything that approaches reality comes from the Jefferson County Public School District, where some classrooms had “go buckets” full of kitty litter — but rather than being placed for furry students, they were part of their school shooter protocols. 

Jefferson County is also home to Columbine High School, where a 1999 school shooting left 12 students and one teacher dead, and the “go buckets” were for students who may need to relieve themselves should such a shooting happen once more.

While school shootings remain an altogether too frequent occurrence, it’s unlikely that the “go bucket” was the source of this myth, and certainly isn’t a part of its continued staying power. 

Over the last few years, the issue of trans rights in schools, particularly around restroom accommodation and sports participation, have become hot button topics. It is hardly a stretch to go from discussing the very real and very legitimate issue of providing safe, welcoming facilities for all students, trans and otherwise, and mocking those needs by discussing litter boxes for students who might identify as a cheetah or a husky. 

It is, essentially, the same thing that came up during the battle for marriage equality as some in the right-wing, for example, opined on how it would lead to people marrying box turtles or other creatures. This, too, was proven to be ludicrous.

Much like then, the right doesn’t have a legitimate argument against transgender people, other than diversion or scare tactics. Unlike the myth, there are real trans and non-binary students out there who do need to use restrooms at schools, and need to have appropriate facilities they can use.

Restrooms seem to be a recurring theme in civil rights battles, from “white” and “colored” restrooms to fights for ADA-compliant restroom facilities, this remains a key battleground. Without appropriate public restroom access, one’s ability to access much of public life is reduced greatly. 

A decade ago, it was the “transgender bathroom predator” that was the predominant urban legend, with many pushing the belief that allowing transgender people the ability to use a bathroom consistent with who they are would lead to an increase in “female identifying” men assaulting women in the bathroom. 

That legend, too, seems to have the validity of litter boxes for furries or weddings for turtles, as the right continues to flail for good reasons to deny transgender people their rights. 

By using this “schools are offering litter boxes to their furry-identifying students” myth, the right-wing is seeking to delegitimize a real need, and do real harm to non-mythical students. 

Let’s not let them reduce our needs to the stupidest of urban legends.

Gwen Smith thanks the furries she consulted with before penning this column. You’ll find her at

Newsletter Sign-up