Do you know how difficult it is to get in an elevator when the guy next to you is in a six-and-a-half-foot canine costume?
I’m at Further Confusion, one of the largest annual meet-ups for furries. Thousands flock to San Jose each year to socialize, drink, and party. It brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city and quite the spectacle for locals to gawk at and snap cell phone pictures of. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
…what the hell?
To quote the aforementioned guy in the big red canine costume, furries are “People that are into anthros. You know, anthropomorphic, human things?” At least that was the elevator pitch given (through his giant mask) to a uniformed, and very confused, marine.
“Like Bugs Bunny?” the marine offered. They both settled on the notion that the fandom was into stuff that was “Sort of like Chewbacca,” a sentiment that was reinforced when a passing group of furries included at least one with a lightsaber. An incoming elevator emptied out upon seeing this group of costumed furries waiting in the lobby, insisting they taking their spots by calling out “Suits in! Suits in!”
If there is one safe assumption to be made about furries, it is that they (at least those active in the con scene) are geeks, and the more artistic ones at that. The big nerd cultural staples were all present and accounted for, from Dr. Who and Star Trek to all things anime. The entire Further Confusion event was themed after the Scott Pilgrim comic books and film, and – like most things – the furries present seemed to take have had taken that to heart.
For every furry, a suit
If you have heard of furries before now, it’s likely been in the context of “grown men prancing around in animal mascot outfits.” And it’s certainly a facet of fandom life for many a furry, as FurCon was populated by hundreds of these costumes. Many come in species you recognize: your wolves, foxes, dogs and cats; but you’ll also get mythical beasts, from dragons to demonic creatures that defy description.
They make look simple, many of the less garish models resembling a bunch of felt stapled at the sides, but this is anything but a quick and easy business model. Most of these fursuits are major art projects, proudly and prominently shown off by those that wear them. Some of them boast LED eye lights, “follow me eyes” that seem track a person’s moments around the room, and even the rare animatronic jaw or ear movements.
Even for those not possessing an advanced engineering degree, suits are an investment. Prices quoted to me ranged from $600 for a partial (meaning a group of suiting accessories lacking the bigger body costume) to $2800 for a pimped out outfit from a maker named LatinVixen. They may look like they should be cheerleading a local high school soccer match, but fursuits are serious business.
The codes of behavior while in these fursuits vary just as dramatically as the creatures that attempt to represent. Some step into costume and engage in simple hotel lobby behavior, standing around and figuring out which Thai place to get lunch at with their friends. Others perform in cartoonish pantomime, engaging other fursuiters in the kind of antics and gesticulations that wouldn’t be out of place in an amusement park. Some speak openly, others will flail about dramatically if someone else “breaks the magic” by not acting like a giant purple bunny 100% of the time. It all looks exhausting.
But not all furries are fursuiters. Whether it’s because of cost, self-consciousness, or simple lack of interest, a strong majority of the fandom simply operate in street clothes. I got a lot of percentages thrown my way during FurCon, the average casting around 20-25% of furries as active ‘suiters. If we take the couple thousand people at Further Confusion as a sample size, the figure pans out.
What kind of people are we talking about here?
One of the more prominent stereotypes I found in my cursory research of the fandom pre-FurCon is that “it’s just a bunch of gay guys in sweaty suits.” The term “fur fag” is a popular slur amongst internet trolls, for example, and one the furries have already repurposed into a catchphrase on t-shirts. While I couldn’t play Kinsey and confirm every attendee’s orientation, the percentage of gay men is handily greater here than in life at large, but still nowhere near a majority.
Before I could even check into my hotel room, I was hitting dense pockets of estrogen from all directions. Again, not quite the 51/49% split of the population writ large, but women made up a noticeable chunk of FurCon attendees. Many in either steampunk attire or t-shirts referencing 80s/90s cartoons. The crowds seemed largely white, so unless the fursuiter population is entirely Latino, FurCon is about as diverse as any other geek-related convention.
Because whatever gender, race, or sexual orientation Furries come in; they are all most certainly geeks. The average BMI is definitely and noticeably above average – a theory confirmed by the local masseuse acting out of the Dealer’s Den area of the convention space – but so is income level. Neckbeards are rampant, but most are also working and entry-level professionals, which explains how one could charge $2000 for a fursuit. The games and computer industries are –not unexpectedly – well represented.
Surprisingly, another group heavily represented here is veterans. Especially among the older furries – the average age looks to be mid-to-late twenties – some form of service is not unheard of. A search for furry communities outside the con space backs this up; even the smuttiest of art-centric sites have a sizeable group of users identifying themselves as having been in the military. Basic training must include some things they didn’t show us in “Full Metal Jacket.”
What unites all furries is a fursona. Other than a bastardization of the English language, a fursona is exactly what the compound word implies: a furry persona. These ‘sonas can either be one of multiple characters a furry will role-play as online/while suited up/at cons/etc., or a totemic avatar they feel represents either their public or private self.
The selection process, from how it was described to me by multiple furries, is a “bullshit your way to happiness” routine. Pick your favorite animal, color, and personality archetype, and BAM! Fursona engaged. A particularly verbose furry dictated to me an epic tale of self-discovery that lead her to her ‘sona of choice, and a normally talkative guy just kind of shrugged when asked how he came up with his eight-foot beefy dragon avatar.
There are those that have genuinely convinced themselves that they are the reincarnated spirits of, or trapped in their human bodies away from, their fursonas. The most well-known being the Dragonkin, those that publically believe themselves to actually BE dragons. If they were present at FurCon, I found none. Most furries I spoke scoffed at the notion with the same eye roll you’d get asking anyone outside the fandom. Not as many disgusted grunts, though.
So do they have sex in these suits or what?
Most coverage of the furry fandom ends with the question of fursuit sex. It’s either the writers of “CSI” painting the fandom as an enclave of sexual deviants with a mascot fetish, or the much rarer bleeding heart web-journo insisting it all is a purely a nonjudgmental social experience. Both trains of thought are right, and they are also wrong.
The instant impression one gets on the floor of a furry convention is a complete lack of inhibition; a kind of inhibition that can only come with the assurance of not having to worry about any normals throwing their opinions all over the place. These are geeks unplugged, celebrating dozens of niche entertainment staples and getting wasted on alcoholic snow cones. Whether it’s improvising fursuit encounters in the hallway or throwing a rave, it is all done with an impressive gusto.
So it is no surprise that sex is met with an equal fervor. There are many that will insist that the practice of being furry is a perfectly chaste one. Those people are wrong. While the Art Show gallery consisted entirely of non-erotic paintings and sculptures for the bidding, a perusal of the Dealer’s Den would yield at least two “ADULTS ONLY” books, art CDs, or comics for every “clean” one. You would also find a lot of artisan soaps. Not sure if that ties into sex somehow, but with multiple tables boasting dozens of scent varieties, furries definitely seem to like their soap.
There is, however, a distinction that needs to be made. When holding a furry porno comic next to a fursuit, one quickly comes to the realization that we are working with two very different interpretations of character. The same horse-dude that has the overblown proportions in suit form will look drastically more humanoid when put to ink. Granted, he’ll still likely have a two-foot dick, but most artistic interpretations (at least on display at FurCon) take more from traditional art than fursuit parameters.
Whether acting as a social lubricant or an excuse to flex those old high school drama muscles, most fursuit interactions – at least in public – tend towards goofing around and not giving any manner of fucks. The transformation is something to behold, fursuits seeming to operate as a gigantic mask more than anything. Whatever personality type zips themselves up in a fursuit (or buttons up, or velcros up, I have no idea how one gets into these things,) they are shameless exhibitionists the minute the head is put on. Hold up your camera phone, and they will pose like drag queens at a dive bar.
There is certainly a subset of furries that use their fursuits for sex. They call them “murr suits” and, like any other fetish one can or does not want to conceive of, there is a site dedicated to it in the furry-internet ether. There were also persistent rumors of orgy rooms and an infamous suite for fursuit naughtiness at FurCon, but I could not confirm its location. Not that I was would be strong enough to research it if I got a room number.
A search into the most common art sites associated with the fandom (e.g. Fur Affinity, Weasl, SoFurry) were enough of a research base to determine that yes, indeed, furries are into sex. The sociality of conventions and fursuiting may be open to all ages, but at its core this is an adult community, in both major senses of the word. With millions of user accounts between them, erotic art is far and away more highly trafficked. And what a sordid variety of art it is.
Name a fetish; it’s covered when it comes to furry art. Muscle, fat, macrophilia, feet (called “paws”, because of course they are,) vore, hermaphrodites, ovulation, male pregnancy, breast growth, inflation, water sports, hyper endowments, it’s all here. I even discovered, to my chagrin, that things like dick nipples, cock/anal vore, and birthing were things that existed in porn form. None of this is exclusive to the furry community, just shown through an anthropomorphic filter and more openly embraced.
If site traffic is used as a barometer, art is also the main furry enterprise (even more than fursuit manufacturing.) Commissioning artists to draw your fursona, or badges for conventions, looks to be the chief financial interaction of furrydom. Chalk up another reliable source of revenue for the artsy folks.
But Gav, the more astute of you may be saying, let’s talk about the man-dressed-as-an-elephant in the room here. We have a fandom that celebrates a bridge between the human and animal kingdom, going so far as to dress and mimic their qualities, even to a sexual extent. Does this qualify as bestiality? These people certainly complain enough about being labored as such, right?
In short, not by any definition I’m familiar with (but yes, the “fursection” chants are both overblown and insulting on a grammatical level.)These furry characters are anthropomorphized to the point of being human with animalistic features for the most part, and bear little resemblance in size or features to their natural counterpart. Whether they are human with animal characteristics or vice versa is a something I have been unable to determine, and I doubt there is a consensus to be found.
While often ridiculous in terms of fetish material, even the erotic artwork tends to be very human in terms of sexual understanding and practice. Human/furry relations can be counted amongst the fandom’s fetishes, but most artwork depicts two or more anthro characters having sex. Often with little regard for correlating logic to genital size.
There are outliers, to be sure. This is an internet-heavy fandom, after all. While 25% may take the furry subculture to the level of fursuiter, a much smaller percentage may have enough of an interest in more feral animal sexuality to make the bestiality border uncomfortably blurry. A disconcertingly graphic panel late one night at FurCon went into extreme biological detail about the specifics of animal heat cycles and genitalia, with the purpose of making everyone’s fursonas more “accurate” to the real world. These disturbing fantasies were shrugged off by most furries I asked, this fandom definitely prides itself in being open. There are just certain things that even murr suiters should be shunning.
Is it JUST a sex/party thing, then?
The “fetish” label definitely looks to be a misnomer when it comes to furries. While it’s also not the “identity” label many proactive furries insist it is, “community” is not too much a stretch. Podcasts are just as common here as in any fandom, some furries even managing legitimate on and offline radio stations. There is even a print publishing firm for a variety of furry fiction, adult or not, with its own award for excellent writing.
Fursuiters aren’t necessarily shy about taking their $2,500 sabre-toothed wolf outfit to bowling alleys, movie theaters, or just around town. Unsurprisingly, local furry and fursuiter parties are not that difficult to find across the country. If they are really just felt orgies in disguise, they are advertising it pretty under the cuff.
Overall, there is a definite social/sexual split when it comes to furry activities. Daytime fursuit outings and community-specific Brony and/or gamer forums may be enough of a thing to require unique social networking platforms, but outside of cons, most furry activities look to be revolving around the production and discussion of artwork. And that artwork is, judging by popularity, pornographic more often than not.
Get enough furries together though, and the balance noticeably shifts to the social. Conventions and trade shows, beyond acting as dealerships for art (and soap) makers, seem to be expensive meetups to StreetPass, drink, dance, draw and generally hang out and shoot the shit. One of your tabletop gaming party is just going to be wearing a goat-man outfit.
If Further Confusion can be used as a measuring stick for the furry community at large, and herein it most certainly is being used as such, then furries are both everything and nothing you’ve heard about. The perverse fringes frequently hog the limelight, and are likely allowed to remain doing so thanks to the fandom’s almost offputtingly open nature, but generally these are geeks that want to hang out and/or have sex with anthro characters, usually as their own made up anthro character. You know, sort of like Chewbacca.
The porn traffic is rampant and ridiculous, a completely understandable offshoot of a group that doesn’t seem to do anything on a small emotional scale. I doubt I’m ever going to feel fully at ease amongst fursuiters, but the effect they have on those that wear them is fascinating. It’s an intricate and often expensive flourish on social morays, and like most things, is ultimately an excuse to let it be loose and geeky, be it socially, sexually, or the evitable mixture of the two.
Suits in! Suits in!