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Greetings From VancouFUR

March 29, 2012 | by  |  Features

“You have to be careful,” he warns. He’s burly, impeccably groomed, abundantly serious, and calls himself Aphinity.

“This is a very sensitive community. You need to be pleasant. You need to smile. You need to tell them what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it for, otherwise they will shut you down and they won’t talk to you ever again. Understand?”

He’s dressed in plaid and suspenders, an outfit conforming to the theme of this year’s convention: “The Great White North”. Around him is chaos: lines sprawling across the lobby, tables being set up and furnished with antique printers, handprinted signs being taped to walls. Encircling the door to the main conference room, a crude igloo has been fashioned out of strips of painted cardboard. A Husky in a Mountie outfit strolls past. Two people nearby are wearing tails. An aging gay man with leopard ears and a rainbow maple leaf tattooed on his calf shouts “We have a lineup!”, and lets out a cheer.

Understand?

No, frankly. But, then again, that’s why we’re here, in the lobby of VancouFUR, the city’s first Furry convention, seeking the answer to one simple question: Exactly what the hell is a Furry?

The reason behind Aphinity’s cryptic warning is still something of a mystery to us (as was the extensive media vetting process we were forced to undergo at a Tim Hortons in Burnaby less than 24 hours ago). Drawn in by nothing more than the prospect of a chuckle and a colourful photojournal, our knowledge of Furries is limited to two simple facts:

1. They are a community who enjoy dressing up as, acting like, and celebrating anthropomorphized animals (read: animals with human characteristics).

2. It may also be a sex thing.

So, exactly what the hell is a Furry?

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

“Furries began in 33,000 BCE,” explains Star Wonder, during an afternoon workshop entitled Understanding Furries. “Evidence of this was found in cave paintings in Spain and France – images of humans with animal heads. They felt that these animals were their guiding spirits, and that it was a part of them, and who they were.”

Star Wonder and co-host Kuviare (whose collar and tail, he insists, are worn at school, home and work) explain the use of anthropomorphized animals in ancient Egypt, describing hybrid gods such as Thoth, Ra, and Anubis, and liken the modern movement to the Native American practice of invoking spirit animals.

“It’s a way to regain that connection to nature,” Star Wonder explains. “Going back to our roots. It’s a way of being comfortable with yourself, and with your sexuality and personality. When I was little, I would eat cat food, and go in the litterbox. I never told anyone, but I went in the litterbox.”

It becomes apparent that, questionable toilet-training notwithstanding, Star Wonder and Kuviare treat being a Furry as more than simply a hobby; for them, it’s a crucial part of their social and sexual identity, and the animals they’ve chosen are intended as an  extension of themselves.

“It’s like coming out of the furry closet,” Star Wonder explains, “in the same way you have to do if you’re gay.”

The pair make a point of detailing the difference between “Furry Fandom” and the “Furry Community”, noting (with the utmost seriousness) that there is a deep internal divide between those who simply enjoy anthropomorphized animals, and those for whom being a Furry is a lifestyle choice.

“We’re trying to get people to stop saying ‘Fandom’,” Star Wonder insists. “Fandom implies that you’re fond of it. But being a Furry – it’s all in your heart; it’s part of who you are.”

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

According to our hosts, less than 10% of Furries wear the full-body “fursuit” (a number reported as anywhere between 10 and 25% in independent studies), and even less don the infamous “mursuit” – a furry outfit with exposed genitals. While the pair carefully abstain from discussion of the community’s adult leanings, they make the point that notions of Fursuit intercourse popularized by the mainstream media are not only inaccurate, but, due to the likelihood of overheating, completely impractical.

“Nobody has sex in the fursuits,” Star Wonder says, gravely. “You would die.”

But, if only a small minority are “suiters”, virtually all have created a “Fursona” – which involves the creation of an animal identity, a name, and, in many cases, an elaborate backstory. No self-respecting VancouFUR attendee would be caught without a laminated tag hanging from their neck, featuring hand-drawn avatars above names like Silvermink, Indigo, and Fisk. While some are easily identifiable as canine or feline species, others have created hybrids to suit their needs (co-chair Coal Silvermuzzle, for example, identifies as a “folf” – a mixture of fox and wolf). Some, such as Kuviare, have multiple Fursonas, each with a different set of characteristics.

“A lot of people are nervous and just want to get a fursuit and be a part of the community,” Star Wonder concludes. “But they already are in the heart. You need to take your time to develop that persona. It can take days, months, or years.”

Star Wonder and Kuviare, it seems, are something of a pair of Furry Activists, pushing for acceptance and rallying against the persecution they perceive; one can easily imagine them talking of Furry Pride, or leading marches for Furry Rights. But, for all the talk of identity and spirituality, the question remains: exactly what the hell is a Furry?

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

Internationally, the community (or fandom, if you prefer) has existed since the late 1980s (its link to the cave paintings of 33,000 BCE remaining, as yet, unverified), born from a primordial soup of Star Trek Conventions, animated films, and DIY fanzines, and has grown to the point where Anthrocon (billed as “The World’s Largest Furry Convention”) brings close to $3 million annually into the Pittsburgh economy. Apart from conventions, the community exists largely online, in forums such as Fur Affinity, and through online role-playing games like FURRYMuck, and Furcadia (billed as “a magical world where the animals have learned to speak and walk upon two legs”). There is no accurate count of British Columbia’s Furry population, however “B.C. Furries”, the local discussion board, claims 970 members, and the convention itself has, on its first morning, already received 152 paid pre-registrations. By late afternoon, the event has expanded to several dozen attendees, circulating through the lobby, purchasing Furry-related merchandise in the “Dealer’s Den”, and spending time in the alarmingly-titled “Headless Lounge” (which, to our disappointment, is merely a place where overheated fursuiters can go to cool off). We pass a thrilling 45 minutes at a workshop entitled “Traditional Tailmaking”, learning the basics of crafting the perfect rear adornment – when it comes to sewing, we’re informed, medium tension is best, and, when attaching a tail to one’s belt (as is customary), it’s important to sew two loops, for increased “tail stability”.

“When I attach a tail,” our host explains, gravely, “I want a solid support system.”

We wander the convention for a further hour, exploring the Dealer’s Den, venturing upstairs to an area known as “Free Play” (which turns out to be less exciting than it sounds), and having a 10-minute conversation about photography with a chipmunk in a hawaiian shirt.

“This chipmunk got lei’ed!” he exclaims, chuckling, indicating the flowers around his neck.

And it’s then, shortly after attending a spirited game of fursuit musical chairs, that we encounter Mountain Blue Fox Joe.

Photo Credit: Liam Hanham

His costume, which is 25 years old (and one of five fox-themed outfits he’s constructed), is specially engineered and tightly-fitted to “dissipate the heat” (and is, according to Aphinity, “one of the best suits in the Fandom”). LED lights are contained in the tail, and the head itself features elaborate animatronics allowing it to snarl, blink, and move its ears – all achieved through the use of tongue-activated switches.

“Like they use with deep-sea divers, and astronauts,” he explains, proudly.

A self-confessed “Trekkie”, Joe claims to spend six months of the year operating a goldmine in the mountains of Alaska, working underground, a job he’s performed in isolation for 28 years. Joe has been building suits (“costuming”, as he calls it, before sheepishly adding “they keep correctin’ me”) for 25 years, first on his own, and then, much later, as part of the community. He insists that there’s no sexual element to the lifestyle, maintaining that his material is “all G-Rated”. Instead, he likens it to a religion, again relating the community to the Native American practice of utilising totem animals.

“It’s all, uh, it’s all clean fun,” he insists. “It’s like going to Disneyland every day. Basically. It is Disneyland. You become Disneyland. Every kid goes: ‘Daddy, I wish I could do that.’ So, I says: ‘Why are you wishin’?’ I says: ‘Do it! Make these suits! Don’t let anybody stop ya!’”

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

However, for all the talk of spirituality and identity (and Disneyland), it still doesn’t effectively answer the question: exactly what the hell is a Furry? There’s a party line of sorts here, a uniform portrayal of the community that contains more than a little spin, and isn’t entirely satisfying. As it turns out, there is another side to the Furry Community, a side not explored during the daylight hours, a side whose very existence is denied by people like Joe. And it’s a side we might never have glimpsed if, following our talk with Joe, we weren’t abruptly accosted by security.

“Oh, it’s only you,” the guard says, rounding the corner.

“What?”

“Oh, we were told there was media poking around, asking questions. We didn’t know it was just you guys.”

“Somebody called security on us?”

It takes only a moment to ascertain the culprits – a mink, a rabbit and a cat who passed only moments earlier, regarding us with suspicion – and only a further second to chase them down.

“Did you call security on us?” we ask.

They nod, nervous.

“Why?”

As they explain (speaking only on condition of anonymity), they disagree with the portrayal of their community being fed to us throughout the day by people like Aphinity and Blue Fox Joe, insisting instead that the heavily-downplayed sexual aspects of the community are not only present, but prevalent.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

“Which is, I don’t think a lot of people want to say,” Rabbit explains. “As gets mentioned by some people: ‘It’s a teeny, tiny percentage of people for whom this is about sex.’ I think it is a significant percentage of people for whom this is about sex.”

“I feel like it’s the party line that it’s a tiny minority of people for whom it’s about sex,” Mink agrees. “I feel like there are a lot of them. I feel like the public image of Furries would be better if people kind of would own up to that, rather than being paranoid about it, and running around telling everyone it’s not about sex.”

“Of course, for some people it’s about sex,” Rabbit adds.

“Everything is about sex for some people,” Cat interjects. “So are shoes.”

Mink nods.

“But I feel like our public image would be better if we-”

“-stopped lying,” Rabbit interrupts. “I know there will be people who will be like: ‘Finally!’ But not everybody. And there are people who are absolutely not lying – it is totally not sexual for them, and they are deeply confused by those of us for whom it is sexual.”

The sexual aspect of the Furry Community, though by no means universal, is most visible in “Yiff” Art (Furry-related pornography), but also includes character-based role play, and the practice of “tying” – which, according to Star Wonder and Kuviare in the late-night, adult-only version of Understanding Furries, involves intercourse using manufactured genital covers shaped like the knot at the end of a dog’s penis.

“It has a very deep spiritual connection for some furries, myself included,” Kuviare explains. “To tie with someone is to mark them as yours, and to unify the connection.”

An instant later, he pulls out a laser pointer, and Star Wonder pounces, cat-like, attempting to chase it down.

“She can’t help it,” he chuckles.

We head for the exit less than 10 minutes later.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

But, in attempting to reach the doors, we’re met by a storm of protest; dozens of people who want to talk, want to continue the discussion, want to tell their story; people who don’t care if we’re being pleasant, if we smile, if we tell them what we’re doing and who we’re doing it for.

So, exactly what the hell is a Furry? For all of the organizers’ paranoia, for all of the deep internal division, for all of their fears about public perception, for all the slightly unsettling realities of mixing cartoon characters and sex, Furries appear to be nothing more than a harmless community of social outliers, people who desire a grander, more exciting identity that their upbringing or their social status couldn’t provide. People who have discovered, within a community that is a bizarre mashup of other subcultures, a place where they can be gods and goddesses and celebrities in a way their regular life would never allow.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

“A lot of people who fall into the ‘geek’ subset of people tend to gravitate toward stuff like this,” Mink confesses. “I think, for a lot of people who had issues growing up, it’s a bit of an escape to go online and interact with people they don’t feel are going to judge them.”

“Conventionally attractive people are already getting laid a lot,” Rabbit adds. “They’re succeeding really happily, trotting along through the average world. They’re much less likely to be looking for anything else.”

“You know what would make your article a lot more interesting?” Cat asks, as we begin packing up to leave. “If you figured out what species of animal you would be, and put that in your story.”

“Well, why did you choose your animals?” we ask, pointing toward Mink. “What are your mink-like qualities?”

He hesitates.

“You know… I don’t really know…”

“You look like you have very soft hair,” we offer.

Mink sounds touched.

“I do have soft hair,” he replies, grinning. “And I like fish.”

With that, we depart into the rain, leaving the Furries behind. On the SkyTrain home, we find ourselves examining those around us, wondering what their species might be – what their grander, more exciting identity might entail. The skinny, bearded fellow in the 80s high-tops. The greying, bespectacled older woman in high-fastening corduroy pants. Mink. Rabbit. Ocelot. Musician. Athlete. Journalist. Gods and goddesses and celebrities.

Exactly what the hell are Furries?

1. They are a community who enjoy dressing up as, acting like, and celebrating anthropomorphized animals (read: animals with human characteristics).

2. It may also be a sex thing.

Oh, yeah, and if we were going to be an animal, it would be a fox, combined with a duck, combined with a female sheep.

Figure it out.


[Editor's Note: The original version of this story ran with an incorrect spelling of "Aphinity".]

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, subTerrain, and SadMag. If you think THIS is neat, an expanded "This Day In Vancouver", is now available in book form, in bookstores everywhere, and online at Anvil Press.

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15 Comments


  1. That was actually a great article, thanks for taking the time to write it.

    If you want to know why we’re so suspicious around the media, it’s because there have so often been media portrayals of our community/fandom that focus only on making us look like weird freaks and fetishists rather than people with a different hobby.

    I mean yeah, it is sexual for some people but that’s because human beings are very sexual creatures too. =)

    It’s nice to see journalists who take the time to treat the subject like we’re people, that doesn’t happen often enough.

  2. Now I’m not one to deny people what they enjoy if it doesn’t harm anyone else.

    But seriously, likening Furry play to Native American spirit animals is very likely incredibly offensive to those who legitimately believe in spirit animals.

    People had one spirit animal, that they likely discovered after a pretty hard peyote or fasting trip. They didn’t choose one they liked then make 3 or 4 alternate possibilities with elaborate fictitious back stories.

    It’s adult dress up pretend time, face it. I’m not saying don’t do it, just call it what it is. Owning up to it being adult pretend time actually makes you come across as more adult because you don’t give a fuck and enjoy yourself.

    It’s like when raw vegans make a crust out of mashed nuts and berries, put some kind of sauce that’s another mash of things and put more nuts and berries and leaves on top and try to call it a pizza.
    It just isn’t, and trying really hard to convince people otherwise makes you come off as desperate and not entirely confident in what you do.

    Do whatever you want if it doesn’t harm other people, just call it what it is.

  3. Also, my name is legitimately “Tiger”.

    Like on my birth certificate, it’s not my “Fursona”.

    Just thought I’d clarify.

  4. Ah, I’ve been waiting for this to come out. It’s nice to read a story that actually finds the middle ground between “furries are all pure as the driven snow” and “furries are all twisted deviants”. It’s a nuanced community with a wide range of expression.

    Tiger: We discussed that, actually, though it didn’t make it into the article. The three of us were also unhappy with furry appropriation of the Native American concept of spirit animals.

  5. To Mink, Rabbit, and Cat… Thank you for taking the time to participate in creating this article. Because the truth is that no single community is a united force where all participants are the same. Being Furry means something a little different to every one, but all communities are like that. Every community from pro-choice to your average trekie who really doesn’t know shit about how the warp core works but loves the Trek community all the same. All communities have their own internal divisions, that just life.

  6. I think the only thing this article failed to do is point out that there are people who don’t take the fandom as seriously as others, where it’s not a lifestyle, just an interest or hobby.

    @Tiger,
    As far as people taking offense; Many people who liken it to having an animal sprint really have a religious/spiritual belief thy often refer to them selves as therianthropes. Also who the hell care who gets offended, religious people are always annoyed at something.

    I’ll call The furry fandom “adult dress up playtime” when we start calling NASCAR, “drive around in a circle time” or football “throw the leather ball around time” Lets make sure we apply your critique evenly and call all things What they really are.

  7. @LadyDarkKitten: You bet. I’m really tired of the disingenuous there-is-no-sex-here approach a significant subset of the fandom seems to take when asked about it by anyone who isn’t involved, and I think that does far more damage to the fandom’s image than honesty would.

  8. Well this was an interesting read…

    I like how the reporter was all “buddy buddy” then miss quoted many things.

    I also like how Star Wonder and Kuviare’s words were taken as “truth”. The unnamed Cat, Mink and Rabbit are in a way right. There is a sexual aspect but then again there is a sexual aspect to EVERYTHING if you look for it.

    Describing what furry is to a single person is like trying to describe the sun to a blind person. It’s different for everyone.

    In the end this article isn’t all THAT bad, it could be worse. The reporter on the other hand is a two-face. I hope to never see this person at any conventions in the future. It would cause the misrepresentation of EVERY fandom.

  9. First, thank you for your attention to our fandom, and to our community.

    I am disappointed that The Dependant chose to misquote a good number of our attendees to add to the considerable slant pushed with comments from “the mink” and this person’s friends.

    I’m afraid this article misses the point entirely and borders on merely aiming to prove a stereotype that the author entered the convention with. My warnings to Jesse were meant to show how often media, such as The Dependant, can slant the words of the minority to seem to be the words of the majority, and how some would be weary of that happening here. It looks like it was true, after all.

    I had high hopes for this article and am truly disappointed VancouFur’s good intentions were so abused, not to mention being personally insulted at The Dependant’s choice to misquote me and infer my lack of honesty.

    Thank you for the attention, but this article only serves to prove to me that The Dependant still has a lot to learn about seeking the truth vs shocking their audience.

  10. Which “slant” would that be, exactly? I thought we offered a pretty balanced take on it.

  11. Do you know what would make a refreshing article?

    When the media finally decides to focus on what we are instead of what we aren’t.

  12. Newbies in the fandom might think they’re doing something new and edgy by pointing out sex in the fandom, but I guess they don’t realize the media has focused on that to the exclusion of all else enough over the past decade.

  13. Feel like “sex” is yet the main focus of a furry article. Even though trying to state that it is not a sexual thing for most furries, it ends up doing the opposite. I can not explain why I am furry. I am “born this way”, I was furry way before I even knew there was such a thing as furry. For some of us, it is about feeling so connected to animals, you rather want to be one than be human. It has NOTHING to do with sex.

    “Do you know what would make a refreshing article?

    When the media finally decides to focus on what we are instead of what we aren’t.”

    I totally agree with Xydexx.

  14. Well, This article was interesting but a bit inaccurate.

    I really do have a large spiritual belief which has a deep and important meaning to me. But it does upset me when people claim that furry started at cave-drawings or in Egypt.

    The thing that articles like this ALWAYS get wrong, is that what furry IS, is different for every attendee of these conventions. The conventions are a place where different aspects of furry fandom can come and meet up with others who have the same feelings.

    For example, the people who like to costume, can come and see and visit with others who like to costume. Those who are into spirituality, or sexuality, art, writing, and history are all welcome to come and visit with others who like the same thing.

    The _ONLY_ common ground between everyone who attends a furry convention is that they like the idea of animals sharing traits (spiritual or physical) with humans.

    It’s very very simple, Murr-suits DO exist and are used, by a small number of people. The media likes to concentrate on these people, because these articles sell copy. This is why they like to take pictures of people who are dressed ‘extremely furry’

    To the people in the fandom who feel they can talk to the media and tell them the ‘truth’, you’re misleading yourself into thinking that the truth is the fandom isn’t about sex for some, and you’re misleading yourself into thinking the media is there to get the real picture. The real picture is BORING.

  15. Wow that was some photo shot of me and all others wear just as good but where’s the rest of the photos that wear taken in the hall by one of the photographers , I forgot the persons name, using a backdrop cloth

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