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