Let’s Talk About Furries: A Look At An Unusual Fandom

Furries

When you go to a multi-genre fan convention, it’s pretty much an absolute guarantee that you’ll see at least a few people in costume (cosplay, as it’s officially called,) and Lacey’s trip to ConnectiCon this past weekend was no exception. She snapped photos of people dressed as everything from Plants Vs. Zombies to Ace Ventura, but one particular style of costume may lead to head-scratching: the fur-suit. Several convention-goers wore outfits that looked like the types of mascots seen as sporting events and amusement parks, but more original looking with wild colors that helped them look unrelated to any mainstream animal character. Some simply wore street clothes with faux animal ears and tails attached. Those folks represent a very real and frequently misunderstood subculture that may include about a million people worldwide: the furry fandom.

First of all, it’s important to understand just what it means to be a “furry.” It isn’t exclusively limited to people who dress up in fur-suits – it refers to people who have an interest in the world of anthropomorphic animals, which may include artwork, literature, movies and TV shows. Virtually everyone has been exposed to media that features animals displaying human-like traits: Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, for example, can walk on two legs, communicate in human language, and wear clothes if needed. Almost all members of the furry fandom have had a special interest in these types of characters since childhood, commonly started by TV shows (Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures,) video games (Star Fox, Sonic the Hedgehog) and novels (Watership Down, Redwall.) Disney’s output plays a particularly strong role, with countless Millenials growing up on “Disney Afternoon” shows such as Adventures of the Gummi Bears, TaleSpin, Bonkers and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Several movies, including  The Lion King, deserve a mention as well, including what’s frequently cited as one of the most definitive “furry” movies: the 1973 adaption of Robin Hood.

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While it’s already-established characters and stories serve as a springboard for the interest during childhood, active furry fans demonstrate their creativity as they get older. Many write about and draw original characters of all species (not limited to fur-covered ones,) often creating “fursonas” to represent themselves. Role-play is another aspect: it’s a fascinating phenomenon, for example, when a person who’s incredibly shy in real life will “become” a whole new character of a different species via a role-play session and/or putting on a fur-suit, and suddenly become incredibly outgoing. Several documentary TV shows have explored this: one episode of National Geographic’s Taboo featured a 24-year-old psychology graduate and Ph.D student named Courtney Plant who dresses in his custom outfit of a bright blue kitten named Nuka. Also, an episode of My Strange Addiction showed a 19-year-old college student named Lauren who runs around in public while dressed in a pink-and-white fox suit, as a means of imitating her fursona Kiira. As it turns out, Lauren turned to the fandom to ease the depression she felt after losing her father several years earlier.

Although the concept of anthropomorphism certainly goes back a long way, it wasn’t until 1980 that the term “furry” was born at a science fiction convention to describe a drawing from the serious-natured, animal-starring comic Albedo Anthropomorphics. The interest gained momentum with fanzines published throughout the decade, with the first furry convention happening in 1987. Luckily coinciding with the rise of the Internet and newsgroups, the movement grew even stronger around the world in the 90s, with even more conventions springing up. For example, Anthrocon attracted 500 attendees was first held in Albany, New York in 1997: now based in Pittsburgh, the attendance this year was ten times that high, contributing $6.2 million to the economy and raising $31,255 for the Equine Angels Rescue charity. The furry fandom, like all other fandoms, may not be perfect, but it clearly has some very good-natured people: one is 49-year-old Tony Barrett, who goes by the name “Dogbomb” on the art site FurAffinity. A devout animal lover, he’s gained respect for not only being brave enough to go fur-suitting in public, but brightening others’ days in the process. One of the most touching stories involves a chance meeting with a wheelchair-bound woman named Sarah, whose cerebral palsy prevents her from doing much more than moving her eyes. As her caregiver told him: “she really loves dogs but doesn’t get the chance to interact with them very often. A talking dog will be the highlight of her week.”

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Of course, since being deeply engrossed in animal-based media and sometimes dressing as one isn’t considered “normal” behavior for teenagers and adults, the public’s perception of furries could stand to be improved. The news media, to be fair, has given a few decent “fluff” stories that portray furry conventions as events of good-natured whimsy, but others take the lower road: a guest on Jimmy Kimmel, for example, described a convention as a bunch of “freaks” getting together to wear animal costumes and “end up having sex at the end of the night.” The truth, however, is that when polled, two-thirds of furries are either ambivalent or not interested in incorporating the interest into sexual activity. There’s a line between comedy and outright lying about a lesser-known group to extract some cheap sensationalism at its expense, and I think that line on Jimmy Kimmel crossed it. Even if most people in the furry fandom were interested in that behavior, the real question is: why does it matter? If an activity or interest doesn’t hurt anyone, than any “hate” it endures is a result of insecure people who feel disgusted or threatened by something strange to them.

As a whole, it looks like the furry fandom is mostly comprised of good people who just want to express their creativity and explore what it’s like to be something else. I discovered this fandom’s existence when I was a young teen, and while I’m not really interested in it to the point of going to conventions or anything, I can certainly understand the appeal. After all, I think loving animals is a part of human nature (well, the positive side human nature at least,) so it shouldn’t be such a shock that some people find animals particularly fascinating, even after childhood has ended. When it comes to developing a better understanding of the furry fandom, it’s better to research online instead of relying solely on the media, which of course values entertainment above fairness.

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About the Author

Mark Theroux

Mark is g33ky about a lot of things, including music (especially his hero “Weird Al” Yankovic); movies (just about anything goes in that category); TV (ranging from older Simpsons to Breaking Bad to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic); and video games (he started with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for Sega Genesis, and his modern consoles of choice are the Nintendo 3DS and – most recently – Wii U.) Some of his other favorite things are cats, Chipotle burritos and long walks on the beach. His least favorite things include poison ivy (the plant, not the smokin’ Batman supervillain), rude people and the inevitability of making a typo or two.

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20 Comments

  1. Ekim Flow July 25, 2013 Reply

    It’s A Very Good Story About The Fandom,Shows Others That Their Not A Bunch Of Weirdo’s That Do Bad Things.There Are Some Who Put On Their Fursuits And Go Visit Sick Children In Hospitals And Elderly In Nursing Homes.The Public Love It When They See Fursuiters And Are Thrilled To Have Their Picture Taken With Them.

  2. Author
    Mark Theroux July 25, 2013 Reply

    Hi Ekim Flow – thanks for the compliment! 🙂 I was glad to provide a positive perspective of the fandom, since a lot of people seem to misunderstand it.

  3. Matt Klein July 26, 2013 Reply

    Quite possibly one of the best articles regarding the fandom I’ve read. There’s so much negative press; yet when the actually note-worthy stuff comes up, the media (and a good chunk of the internet) sweep it under the rug. You are a brilliant example to turn to if any mainstream magazine or journal wants to publish a story about the fandom, and I hope you go far with your career. 😀

  4. Author
    Mark Theroux July 26, 2013 Reply

    Hi Matt – thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot to me, and I’ll make sure to keep trying my best! 😀

  5. Thank you for writing this. It’s great to have an educational and positive article on this subject.

  6. Jack Hinton July 26, 2013 Reply

    It’s nice to see a positive outlook on the fandom for a change! Thanks for writing this article, intelligently-written discourse on the furry fandom is quite tricky to find.

  7. This article is writting with such great structure! I really like the angle taken Mature piece written with unbiased facts. It is nice to see as well the truth about furries and they are not all like what is displayed on tv and such.

  8. Author
    Mark Theroux July 26, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your compliments Nleon, Jack and Emily! I’m glad I could provide this. 🙂

  9. Tony Barrett July 26, 2013 Reply

    Well said, and thank you for including me in your piece. The fandom is a wonderful group of people and I’m lucky to a part of it. Thank you again for an unbiased and accurate article.

  10. Author
    Mark Theroux July 26, 2013 Reply

    Hi Tony – you’re welcome! Thank you for being a good person, too! 🙂

  11. SK Skunk July 29, 2013 Reply

    Another thank you for a balanced article! The furry fandom, for all it’s quirks, is surprising for what one would not expect. I stayed away for years, both from the typical media reporting, and the idea that seemingly childish things need to be discarded in adult life. What foolish thinking. I found such renewal; the creativity, the friends, bringing smiles and laughter to so many people, furrys and “normal humans” alike. It may not be for everyone, but everyone can have a laugh along with us!

  12. Author
    Mark Theroux July 30, 2013 Reply

    You’re welcome, SK! I’m glad it turned out so well for you! 🙂

  13. I gotta say, as a teenage fur, lots of people my age often think that I’m sexually active. At one point, one kid two years younger than myself said this upon hearing I was a furry. “Uh, furries are people who dress up in animal costumes and buttf***.” Needless to say, I was disgusted. Thank you for shedding some positive light on the fandom for what it is: a large group of people who like to have fun and with an interest in anthropomorphic animals.

  14. Author
    Mark Theroux August 2, 2013 Reply

    You’re welcome, Glacien – that’s exactly what I wanted to convey! 🙂

  15. Autie Angel August 8, 2013 Reply

    well i love furries and ive been trying to get enough fabric to make her and i was wondering where you could get the fabrics :3

  16. Author
    Mark Theroux August 12, 2013 Reply

    Hi Autie – sorry, I have no idea. ^^; Try Google “fursuit fabric” and some should come up immediately.

  17. Jillian Tehrani January 25, 2014 Reply

    i love this, this will help make the furry fandom better, and being a teen fur is really hard, cause of things like CSI and some other shows that at one point had furries in them made my dad think that if i went to a furcon that there was just going to be sex >.< but hes now understanding more and more, but i love this little bit you did :3

  18. Caliber Seraphim August 13, 2014 Reply

    Fantastic article. Sending this to the station to be shared.

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