Furries have spent a lot time being the butt of jokes, considered by even 4chan as perverts and serious weirdos, a seedy underbelly of the internet. But does the most maligned group online deserve such a terrible reputation? After spending three days among furries at a convention this weekend, I can confirm they are indeed huge weirdos, but they also have an endearing wholesome earnestness. And more importantly they are really, really fun.
Anthrocon is the largest furry convention in the world, held in Pittsburgh since 2005. Approximately 5,000 people attended with 1,000 of those in full fursuits. The distinction between those in fursuits and those without isn't an accurate meter for level of dedication. The suits start around $2,000, so many who would like to wear a suit simply can't afford it, especially younger furries in high school or college. A group of recent college grads I spoke with all wished they had suits but it wasn't in their budgets. Meanwhile, the convention admission is a reasonable $60 for 4 days.
The Pittsburgh convention center has a main large hall for vendors of furry accessories and an "artists alley" where you can commission artists to create artworks of your furry character. In smaller rooms, there are panel discussions, meet-and-greets for groups by species, and board game rooms. There was also a talent show, dance competition, and performances by a furry acrobat from Japan. At night, a ballroom turned into a booze-free dance party.
People who didn’t have full costumes typically wore just a fuzzy tail or a pair of ears, and were mostly in their early 20s. Though I couldn’t see the faces of the people with full costumes, known as “fursuiters”, several furries told me they estimated that the fursuiters were about 80% male, and averaged around 21-24 years old.
I met several couples, gay and straight, who attended together. One couple, “Aphox,” a female fox, and “Balto Woof,” a male wolf, met at a previous convention while working at the sales booths in street clothes, and later started attending together in costume. “Balto Woof” works for a custom fursuit company, and had lent “Aphox” the fox costume she wore.
A furry named “Taiko” dressed as a german shepherd is a theatre major in college who focuses on lighting design. “I always hang around actors, but I wanted to do this because it helps me get over that stage fright stuff,” he explained. “They can’t see my face, so I feel more open.”
Taiko's favorite part of the convention was getting such a positive reaction from Pittsburgh natives who are now familiar seeing the furries downtown each summer. Outside the hotel attached to the conference center, passing cars honked and families stopped on the sidewalk to take photos of the furries with their children.
During a panel talk about professional fursuiting (being a mascot or theme park actor), “Yippee Coyote” described his fursona: "It's me, but more confident and outgoing. It's me but better." I can understand the appeal of wearing a costume for people who with social anxiety; it offers them a way of inventing a space where their comfortable acting out and showing a different side of themselves.
And yet the sexual deviancy hovered like a big furry elephant in the room. Though everyone I spoke to disavowed the sexual aspect, one only had to look at the artwork being produced in the artist alley to see that this it's very real. Pornographic comic books and art prints were being sold next to scented candles and key chains. The event offers special badges for underage fans, with restrictions to entry to certain activities, like a room where people could play a card game similar to Magic the Gathering but with furry tentacle rape hentai cards.
I do believe them that the appeal is not all about the seedy underbelly of interspecies copulation. The event had a certain joyfulness and camaraderie that you don’t feel at similar “geeky” events like a comic convention or even a brony gathering. However, I’m still not convinced that it’s all as PG as some of the more upstanding members might have you believe. After all, it’s a culture that has invented the onomatopoeic term “yiff” just to describe their sexual encounters.