It’s a beautiful summer day in Denver and the sun is beaming down on a small mob of people dressed in full-body fur suits. There are a bunch of wolves and other canines. A few rabbits, some cats, something that might be a skunk … Once the group is haphazardly organized, they head down the 16th Street Mall. The furries are on the march.
Alongside the almost two dozen fully suited furries are around three times that many other people from the Rocky Mountain Fur Con, Denver’s first furry convention. Some are there to help the fur suited folks navigate in the hot, heavy, peripheral-vision-blocking suits but most of them are just less innocuous furry fans. Some of them display simpler, partial costumes, such as tails or ears, others are indistinguishable from the normal Saturday crowd on the mall except for their con badges.
The line of furries spreads out as people stop them to ask why they’re costumed. Few people can resist slowing and gawking for at least a moment. Lots of people want pictures and the furries seem happy to oblige. Children have strong reactions; most love them but between a third and a quarter of the kids are afraid to some degree. Some kids just edge away from them, others cry or even scream.
After a little more than a half an hour, the furries head back to the confines of the Adam’s Mark Hotel, where the con is being held. About 200 have come to the hotel for the three day convention. Most are from Colorado, but some have come from as far as Sweden to let their fur hang out with others who share their passion and accept them. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I walked in to cover it.
I knew they like to dress up in fur suits or body paint. I’d seen a bit of furry art online and bunches of furry avatars in the virtual world of Second Life. Since most of the art I’d seen was erotic, and Second Life seems to exist mainly for the purpose of virtual sex, I figured this would be something like a cross between a swingers convention and Disney on Ice.
The first suited furry that speaks to me is a tall, black and white dog named Ari. It’s a little unnerving. It’s not that I’m worried he might hump my leg, it’s the eyes. I don’t know where his eyes are in the costume so I’m not sure where to look while we speak. After a few distracting, awkward moments I settle on looking at the costume’s eyes, even though I’m fairly certain I’m actually staring at the middle of the guy’s forehead. Once I do, I’m able to concentrate just fine.
It turns out that Ari is actually wearing a fur suit for the first time. He’s bouncing around, almost dancing, clearly enjoying himself. After a few minutes of answering my questions he grabs a man standing nearby and introduces me to Uncle Kage (pronounced Ka-Gay, as in Japanese).
Uncle Kage, a research chemist and self-described “hack writer and poor stage comedian” knows the furry world inside-out. He should, since he’s in charge of Anthrocon, one of the largest furry conventions nationwide. He also serves as sort of an unofficial spokesman for the community.
Which seems a little strange since he’s dressed as a mad scientist (his lab coat actually says so on the back) and not a giant bunny rabbit or something. I ask him about it and he tells me it’s a tradition he accidentally started long ago, when he used a lab coat as a costume once and basically never stopped. It isn’t directly related to furry fandom.
Or so he says. I mean, you have a bunch of people here whose most ardent desire is to be transformed into a human-animal hybrid. It sounds like just the sort of thing you’d need a mad scientist for… On the other hand, for a supposedly mad scientist, he’s awfully low-key. With his short, graying hair and smiling eyes behind round, wireframe glasses he looks more like the eccentric uncle that used to pull quarters out of your nose when you were a kid than a raving lunatic hell bent on warping the forces of nature to his own twisted ends.
After he briefs me on the basics of furry culture and history, we get to my question. What about the sex? He looks like he knew it was coming and he has plenty to say on the subject. First off, the idea that furry is completely or even mostly about sex is a myth. As far as he’s concerned, furry fandom is the same as any other group of people together for whatever reason.
“Is there sex in fandom? Yes. Is there sex in America?” he asks. “If the fraternal order of police have a convention, do you think some of those people are going to go up to a room to get friendly? This is a gathering of young people, so some of them are going to make friendships.”
It’s a fair point, but it occurs to me that the most of those theoretical groups, the fraternal order of police included, weren’t likely to have a room set aside for the display of erotic art related to their community.
He traces the origin of this misconception to a Vanity Fair article published in 2001 that focused on a few extreme individuals and conflated furries with zoophiles and “crush” enthusiasts. Since then, he says, these myths have been promulgated by an infamous episode of CSI that drew inspiration from the Vanity Fair piece and a recent MTV special that was staged. Even more pernicious is the myth that they’re pedophiles who dress up in funny animal suits to attract children. Uncle Kage tells me that cons are safe for kids, and everyone else too.
“If there’s something I see in the lobby that would offend my grandma, I tell them to get out,” he says.
He adds that any potential pedophile would likely face the wrath of the furries themselves if it were known. “If that happened at my con, there’d be a lynching.”
I never really bought the pedophilia thing, and the bestiality seemed pretty far-fetched to me too. But now Uncle Kage really had me thinking. Take fur suit sex, for example. Sure, the appropriate access flaps could be installed, but what about the sweating you’d do wrapped in one of those things? And then there’s the clean up…
“The cheap suits cost $2,000, the really in depth ones can be $10,000 or more. These people won’t let you get near them with a cup of soda, much less…” he trails off meaningfully.
Obviously these hurdles can be overcome by anyone dedicated enough. But clearly there’s less of it than I’d imagined. For one thing, not that many furries are all that furry. Only about 20 percent seem to own a suit or have any interest in doing so. At my request, Uncle Kage offers an estimate that only 10 percent of people in the furry community consider sexual aspects of their furriness to be highly significant or the most significant aspect of their furry identity.
A fully suited 21-year-old furry named Darkwolf gives me a slightly more lecherous take on it.
“Most of (furry art) is erotic art,” he says. “If you’re into cons, erotic art is half of it.” He admits to having a substantial collection of furry erotica and tells me of some furry sex clothing, such as boxer shorts with a functional appendage built in. When I ask him how many furries look at sex as one of the more significant aspects of furrydom, he gives me an estimate of 30 to 40 percent.
Another young furry, called PupE Okami gives me a much lower figure, 1 percent and offers his experience in outing himself as a furry.
“When I recognized myself as a furry everyone got the wrong impression, that I’m the bestial type,” he says. To him, being a furry is more about community and being true to what he is than anything specifically sexual.
With the kind of attention they get, it’s no surprise no one is jumping to tell me about the kinkier corners of their fantasy life. This is a community that feels misunderstood and saddled with an undeserved reputation as a bunch of sex-crazed perverts on the extreme edges of sexual expression, not to be trusted around pets, children or stuffed animals. The last thing they want to do is tell a reporter about wild, debauched threesomes between two dogs and cat.
I had kind of (OK, really) hoped to get a story full of sexual exploits so freaky you can go blind just thinking about them, but instead I ended up meeting a bunch of very odd, very nice people that seem to have gotten a bad rap. I’m sure they have their creeps and freaks, and I’m sure at least a few of the people I talked to downplayed their own kinks for one reason or another. I’m even more sure of something else: These people have far more in common with Trekkies or anime cosplayers than they do with swingers.
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As wary as Uncle Kage is of media attention, he realizes something far more mundane is at the heart of mainstream society’s distorted and pernicious view of the furry community.
“It all boils down to the consistent and universal and sad human tendency to stereotype,” he says. “They get a few little pieces of information and suddenly they know the whole story.”
If he could correct the wildly distorted ideas most mundanes hold about furries, he wouldn’t even mind if they furries were still looked on with scorn for their oddness.
“’Look at the freak?’ Of course, we should expect that,” he says. “We are freaks and we’re proud of it.” -- Cory Casciato