September 12, 2018 News » Cover Story

Local furries explain the oft-misunderstood community of their clawed, pawed and feathered friends 

The sound and the furry

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Many people tend to have a general understanding of furries, a term for those who dress up and roleplay as anthropomorphic animals, but others still think of furries as sexual deviants in fuzzy costumes.

Those who have seen the furry-centric episode of CSI know enough to understand that furries are some kind of weird, paraphilic internet phenomenon for people who have strong feelings about My Little Pony. However, that’s a pretty reductive and increasingly inaccurate description of the vast collection of diverse individuals who make up the furry fandom within broader nerd culture.

In fact, furries are finally starting to make inroads in mainstream popular culture. Furry gamer SonicFox recently won EVO 2018, an eSports event, and was interviewed in his fursuit by ESPN. Kelly Townsend, an Arizona state representative, used her fursona (furry persona) as the icon on her official social media accounts. And Violent J of Insane Clown Posse developed a fursona after his daughter found the fandom.

“We don’t have official media. There’s no canon of furries. When you’re a fan of furries you’re just a fan of some person: other furries,” explains Chip, a red fox who’s been a furry since he was a child. (The Indy has withheld last names due to requests for privacy, over concern of ridicule and harassment.) “I always had a feeling like I didn’t want to be a part of humanity. I had a strong dislike for people, so I made up an animal character and later found these people online with animal nicknames.”

Most furries start exploring the fandom by creating a fursona, which can be entirely unique. “Furry is really a user-based experience, it comes down to what each individual makes of it,” says Ash, Chip’s coyote wife and host of her own furry-centric youtube channel (tinyurl.com/AshCoyote). “There’s a lot of different kinds of furries. Some people have this elaborate fantasy world in their heads, but for others their fursonas are just a direct projection of their personality.”

click to enlarge Though not every furry has to be “furry,” dog, wolf, - fox and otherwise canine fursuits are very popular. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Though not every furry has to be “furry,” dog, wolf,fox and otherwise canine fursuits are very popular.

On July 29, the Colorado Springs furries held their very first “Springs Tails” fursuit walk. Fursuits are the fandom’s iconic animal costumes — the physical representation of a fur’s fursona. The furries met in Acacia Park, walked a few blocks down Tejon Street, popped into Zeezo’s (of course), and then grabbed some food at Bingo Burger.

“It’s modeled on a very successful event in Arvada, called ‘Arvada Tails,’” says Petra, a white bunny with a gothic fashion sense. In addition to organizing the first Springs Tails event, Petra started a weekly meetup for Colorado Springs furs, and is on the staff of DenFur, Colorado’s newest furry convention, which took place Aug. 24-26 in Denver.

While furry is not an exclusively LGBTQ phenomenon, it skews pretty gay due to its obvious LGBTQ appeal. “Furry allows you to try out different identities,” says Chip. “If you’re not sure if you’re gay, you can roleplay as a gay character. If you’re not sure if you’re trans, you can roleplay as a different gender. Furry allows you to experiment.”

The International Anthropomorphic Research Project (furscience.com), an academic body that analyzes, reports on and peer-reviews all things furry (yes, really), reports that 78 percent of furries identify as non-heterosexual, plus 2.1 percent identify as transgender. This means the furry fandom has one of the few cultures in which LGBTQ people constitute the majority population, and queer cultural norms and perspectives have helped to shape the fandom.

Boiler, a Denver-based kangaroo and furry artist, describes how LGBTQ people used the furry fandom as a way to express queer identities during the ’90s, when queer representation consisted entirely of Ricky from MTV’s My So-Called Life: “A lot of our foundation was based on LGBTQIA+ participants because furries didn’t judge and because we were inclusive. This is a safe place to be yourself, express yourself. That produced a lot of content that was LGBTQIA+-friendly during a time where there was barely any content dedicated to that in the regular world.”
Chip, a staff-member for DenFur, adds: “We really try to make sure the staff is LGBT-inclusive. We want everyone to feel welcome, supported and represented.”

Since furries have no official media, it’s up to the furries themselves to create content. “As an artist within the fandom you sort of play a central role — you bring people’s ideas to life,” says Boiler. “There’s something really powerful in that.”

Fursuits are basically wearable art, an expression of oneself, and many furries construct their own. Others splurge on costumes made by professional fursuit-makers, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Avedis, a wolfdog, makes his own fursuits. He’s 16 years old and participates in the all-ages meetups in Colorado Springs. As the fandom has expanded, it has started attracting a younger audience, which makes sense when you consider that it centers on drawing and dressing up as an adorable cartoon animal.

“I’m still a young fur,” Avedis acknowledges. “My parents just have to drive me to meets until I get my license.”

The influx of young furs inspired Joelle and Carrie to start the youtube channel “Moms of Furries” (mofurries.com) after they discovered their children were interested in the fandom. “The difference between our perception before FurCon [a big California convention] and after was the main reason we decided to put out our first video,” says Joelle.
click to enlarge A dapper rabbit and a lolita axolotl show off their unique fursuits. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • A dapper rabbit and a lolita axolotl show off their unique fursuits.
“We’ve been told that some furries use our videos to tell their parents,” adds Carrie, “or some parents have watched our videos to feel more comfortable taking their kids to a con.” Their advice for parents of young furs: “Don’t show a reaction until you’ve researched the fandom for yourself. Push past the inappropriate, sensational stuff that’s easy to find. Find the creators you would want your kids to watch.”

In spite of the prevalence of content from graphic artists, writers and other creators within the fandom — note the existence of the fan-voted Ursa Major Awards, furry fandom’s equivalent of sci-fi’s Hugo Award, or horror’s Bram Stoker Award — it’s the iconic fursuits that garner the most attention from non-furs. Usually brightly colored, and adorned with horns, fangs, wings and cartoon eyes, it’s the fursuits that people often think of when they hear the word “furry.”

Wearing a fursuit provides a unique sensory experience, says Chip. “It’s heavy, it’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s like looking through paper towel tubes. It’s very quiet and dark.”

While physically uncomfortable, fursuiting has some very positive psychological effects. “It helped me find myself,” Ash, who’s transgender, explains. “I am a very introverted person, so not being able to express outwardly who I was, I found that by performing in a costume it makes you turn the lens on yourself. You slowly begin to dissect who you are, and then become yourself in a weird way. It pushes you in a more outwardly expressive direction.”

Furry cons are the pinnacle of the furry experience. They bring together artists, writers, fursuiters and fans for a long weekend of intense fun. 2018 was the first year for DenFur, and the theme was post-apocalypse, an intentional metaphor for the reconstruction the furry community has undergone since the dissolution of the previous Colorado furry convention, Rocky Mountain Fur Con. RMFC ran from 2007 through 2016, and was canceled in 2017 due to threats of violence.
“Our community experienced a shockwave when RMFC died,” says Boiler. “It was explosive, and destructive, sort of like a bomb. It hurt. It sucked to lose our one and only convention. Conventions mean a lot to some of us — it’s how we see our scattered friends, and sometimes we don’t get to see our friends except once or twice a year via these events. So when DenFur was able to reclaim that space, it was like rebuilding from something tragic.”

The story behind RMFC’s demise is interwoven with some intense furry infighting. Politics in the fandom, like everywhere else in America, caused divisions between people and groups. The quickest way to become fursona-non-grata in furry circles is to engage in partisan political discussions, as escapism is a big part of being a furry. There are plenty of places where you can yell at people about politics, but there are very few where you can dress up like an animal and roleplay with other animals.

Unfortunately for some furs, as feminist Carol Hanisch once famously said, “the personal is political.” The furry fandom’s internet presence overlaps with plenty of other niche groups: trans people, artists, tech industry types, and those who frequent 4chan, a popular messageboard site. The toxic content of 4chan’s /pol/ (or “politically incorrect”) forum has been tied to issues like Gamergate, mass shootings, and the rise of the alt-right in American politics.

While researching this article, I was unable to find anyone willing to speak on-record about the Furry Raiders, an alt-right group within the fandom whose pattern of behavior is alleged to have contributed to the death of RMFC. A number of furs I spoke to even urged me to drop that angle completely, but ignoring a problem — especially one rooted in the vitriol of far-right politics — isn’t going to make it go away. “‘If folks don’t make it an issue, it’s not an issue’ is kind of how the fandom functions. And if it is a problem, if a majority see it as a non-issue, nothing is done unless folks shout loud enough to the right people,” says Andi, a mint chocolate clouded leopard and Siberian lynx hybrid.
Your reporter, Heidi Beedle, diving headfirst into furry culture. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Your reporter, Heidi Beedle, diving headfirst into furry culture.
Gears, a bat-eared fox/dragon hybrid and one of the judges of DenFur’s dance events, has first-hand experience with furry politics: “I’ve been called the N-word,” she says, “made fun of because of my race as well as had my opinion looked down upon because I am a woman of color.” But she tries to stay optimistic. “Overall, my experience in the fandom has been amazing. There have been ups and downs, but that’s life. Nothing can be perfect.”

As a member of the DenFur staff she hopes to positively influence the culture of the con and is “more than ready to help anyone that has a problem.” DenFur staff worked diligently to correct the missteps of RMFC by removing known troublemakers, offering pronoun options on badge ribbons (the prevalence of “they/them” ribbons was a clear indicator of the need for gender-neutral options everywhere, not just at conventions catering to anthropomorphic animal enthusiasts), and providing plenty of content for furs of all ages.

Their work paid off, as DenFur had 2,086 attendees, making it one of the top 10 furry conventions in the world in terms of attendance, in its very first year. (Perhaps that’s confirmation that people enjoy gender-affirming safe spaces free from right-wing polemics.) Panels at DenFur covered topics like artistic techniques, 
fursuit construction and mental health. And the con included risqué comedy performances and group discussions of vore, a niche roleplay about eating someone, or being eaten alive.
Less difficult for non-furs to swallow, the essential dance competition features professionally trained dancers in fursuits. And the furcons also serve as a tool for philanthropy. This year DenFur raised more than $15,000 for Freedom Service Dogs of America, an Englewood, Colorado, charity that trains rescue and shelter dogs to be service animals.

“I’d encourage anyone who’s considering joining the fandom to give it a chance,” suggests Avedis. “I fell in love with the community once I got to know it. If you have any friends who are furries, ask them about their fursona or why they enjoy the fandom. We don’t get to talk about it that often, so that’s a surefire way to make a furry happy!”

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