I'm taking a piss in the bathroom at the Crowne Plaza during Sunday's closing dance for the Rocky Mountain Fur Con. I'm not trying to eavesdrop. But it's sort of hard to tune out this particular conversation.
Two guys are talking about their poor showings in the dance off. One guy says he wanted to do the worm but couldn't because of his pants. His friend says, sympathetically, "Yeah, I bet one of those rings would get caught on your cock."
That's what happens at the furry convention. Just when you've completely adjusted to the culture, and all these people in animal costumes seem either normal or adorable, someone can't do the worm for fear of getting his cock entangled in his pants.
I should emphasize here that most of the furries are friendly, no more freaky than I am. I would be perfectly fine having almost any of them babysit my kids. I think.
Three furries scamper up the 16th Street Mall, posing for pictures with smirking twenty-year-olds. It's Sunday afternoon and I'm lost, but spotting the furries assures me that I must be close now. I wrote down the wrong address for the convention and I've spent the last twenty minutes wandering alone through the cavernous Downtown Sheraton. I should ask someone. Maybe they're up on the fifth floor or something. But I'm embarrassed, even though I know the stuff about furry sex is probably exaggerated. I'm sure Rocky Mountain Fur Con is not a giant orgy of enormous cartoon faces and anonymous underage genitals. But you can see it in the looks on the faces of the people the furries pass on the mall. The backwards glances, the mother holding her child close. The perception is out there that these people are devious, possibly even dangerous.
I like to think I'm pretty open-minded, but I catch myself hesitating as yet another Sheraton employee walks by me and nods in greeting. I'm not with the furries, I think.
That's a horrible attitude. We all have our own weird little thing; it's just a matter of perspective. I walk towards the front desk but turn away at the last second as a family approaches to check in. Pathetic. At last, I swallow my pride and get the doorman's attention. He asks me if I need valet parking.
"No, I'm good. Do you know if the Fur Con is going on here?"
"Not that I know of. Hey, do you know what conventions are here this weekend?" he asks another employee standing nearby. He looks back at me. "Fur Con?"
"You know, the people dressed up like animals," I say, trying to look disinterested.
"Oh no. No, that's not going on here," he says, not disdainfully but hurriedly all the same.
The furries are crossing Court Street now. One of them is dressed as a rabbit. His (her?) ears flop up and down with each padded step. Two women stand on the curb, gawking and muttering with suspicion.
Furries, I learn, are not just people dressed as cartoon animals in giant mascot outfits. Many furries have slightly more subtle getups -- just a tail or ears. Some have no costume at all. For several of the Con's attendees, furry fandom is just a thing they like rather than a thing they are. They collect the drawings of anthropomorphic animals and participate in online forums, but that's about it.
For most of the people at the Con, however, it is an identity. They've got an animal alter ego with a name, and that's what they prefer you call them. If you believe the rhetoric, these people are their "fursona," as in they are talking animals trapped inside human bodies.
After some horrible press a few years ago from the likes of Vanity Fair and CSI, furry culture became inexorably associated with creepy and possibly illegal sex. As more conventions spring up around the country, however, and furries aren't accused of a disproportionate number of felonies, there's been a sort of acceptance backlash. The Post and CBS4 both did stories about Fur Con this weekend along the lines of: "Look at these people in their wacky costumes. How fun!"
But they're wrong. It isn't just a fun diversion.
"A lot of Furs don't leave the house very often," says Rethala, who in addition to being a furry is transgendered. No stranger to feeling like a pariah, Rethala thinks Fur Con is vitally important to its attendees -- outcasts in many parts of their lives but not here. "The Con offers support and help to people who need it."
Rethala went to an online forum a couple years ago ("I just went there because I like dragons") and found other furries. "It just felt right. That's just who I am." I suspect it's that way for a lot of these people. Maybe you will incur ridicule, maybe not, but it doesn't really matter, because in that suit, you are invisible. Your insecurities cannot survive in a cage of shag carpet and mesh. People who walk with hung shoulders and quiet little steps put on a fursuit and positively swagger.
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Later in the day, there is a comment/complaint session after the closing ceremony of the convention. One of the early comments is to commend the staff of the Crowne Plaza for their hospitality. They have been attentive and kind, according to the commenter, who is greeted with polite applause from the assembled furries. Someone comments on how well the staff have controlled the smell. Again, polite applause.
And this is another one of those double-take moments. Because everyone is acting as sober as if this is a microchip convention, you sort of let comments like that slide over you. But hang on -- the smell? What he's referring to is the stench of a crowd of people in woolly full body suits in the dead of summer. And I've walked by several furries who do not seem to be believers in basic hygiene. The informational brochure each attendee is given at registration has an entire page encouraging people to bathe regularly. I picture Crowne Plaza bellboys with Lysol cans following furries through the public spaces of the hotel.
There is a bench set up by the curb outside the hotel. As I am leaving, a little after 9 p.m., there are two furries sitting on the bench, looking out at the wet night. One of them is cock-pants guy's friend from the bathroom. The other is a squirrelly girl with bushy red hair and black clothes. She's way too young for him. They're sitting a few feet apart and his body is turned slightly to face hers. I bristle.
But this is just the prejudice I couldn't shake back at the Sheraton. I would not find the same situation unsettling if I didn't know they were furries. They aren't even touching, after all, and I have no reason to believe he isn't her brother or something. They're probably just waiting for a ride home. And even if they didn't know each other before this weekend, there's nothing wrong with just talking. After all, he believes an animal's spirit resides within him, and she believes the same thing. The least I or anyone other non-furry can do is quietly let them have that.