“Furries”—a community of folks famous for their full-body animal costumes—are overwhelmingly white and male. We talked to ladies in the scene to find out what life’s really like behind the mask.
Her eyes are huge, and their bright green color pops against her scarlet hair. But the most striking things about her are her ears, mainly because they’re pointy and the size of pizza slices. As we talk, she gesticulates with giant fuzzy paws. No, I haven’t just swallowed a tab of LSD—I’m talking with a “furry,” one of the many men and women across the globe who identify with anthropomorphized animals. They draw pictures of their animal personas (“fursonas”), sometimes dress in full-body mascot-style costumes, have meetups with other members of the community, and occasionally even identify as part animal. The woman I’m chatting with is a part-time EMT who has attended 15 furry conventions since 2007. She’s dressed in a head-to-toe cat costume: her fursona is called K2. “I’m actually a cat who thinks she’s a dog,” she says, laughing through her mask. “My fursona is a little species-confused.” But in the furry community, the most surprising thing about K2 isn’t the species confusion— it’s the fact that she’s a woman. As a female in a heavily male-dominated scene, K2 is a rarity.
Before we go on, let’s establish what life as a furry is all about. Most trace the community back to U.S. sci-fi conventions in the early 1980s, and in the simplest distillation, furries are people who really dig talking animals, like the critters in Lion King or 101 Dalmatians. In fact, for many furries, those movies inspired their initial interest. “The Lion King came out in ‘ 94, and it was actually one of the first movies I went to in the movie theater,” says Fawnix, a 23-year-old “deer/fox hybrid” from New Jersey who is a moderator for the site NJFurs.org. “I definitely had a thing for that movie as a kid. But pretty much anything that had some sort of an animal star in it, I was all about.” Pam, an Idaho-based student whose fursona is a house cat, discovered her furry side seven years ago, almost by accident. “A friend had seen a self-portrait I had drawn, and I didn’t draw myself as I am in real life—I drew my fursona but didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. He saw it and said, ‘You do realize that you’re a furry, right?’ I didn’t know that other people like me existed.”
"The fandom is extremely artistic, and there are no boundaries to what you can create."
It’s tough to pigeonhole the furry community, since there are as many types of furries as there are spots on Cruella’s coat, and their tastes and proclivities run the gamut. There are some furries who enjoy the simple pleasure of partying with friends while clad as the cartoonish creation of their own making; this is called, appropriately enough, “fursuiting.” Then there are furries who are solely into the arty side of the scene, with a passion for drawing “anthro” animals. The furry community counts thousands of artists among their ranks, and there are numerous Web forums where they share their work. There’s even a small, fascinating faction of hardcore furries who consider themselves “therian”— a term for someone who feels spiritually part-animal or part- mythical-creature.
And yes, as you’re probably wondering, there are people in the scene with a furry sexual fetish. Not surprisingly, the most talked-about part of the fur world is the kinky one: furry sex has appeared on everything from CSI to Entourage. Because of the media spotlight on the erotic side of furriness, there is a huge misconception that furries are all a bunch of horndog deviants. To say this generalization frustrates furries would be an understatement, as the fetish community is actually quite small in the grand scheme of “the furdom,” and for many furries, the scene has little (if anything at all) to do with sex. In fact, all the female fur-lovers I spoke with made it clear that, while there is a sexual element to the scene, the community is much more about friendship and creativity than about boning in a hedgehog suit.
In truth, furries bear a stronger resemblance to Trekkies than any fetish scene you’d imagine. A self-proclaimed “nerd culture,” the fandom attracts those with a love for fantasy and sci-fi. And yet the furries are unique in that their fandom isn’t centered on a pre-existing show or book. Furries create their own characters, which can have as many feathers or fangs as they deem necessary. They are limited only by their own imaginations, making the scene enticing to artists of all stripes. Some estimate that 75 percent of furries create art for the community. Sari NeoChaos is a furry and artist based in Colorado Springs whose fursona is a “chaos demon,” a species she invented. “The fandom is extremely artistic,” she says, “and there are no boundaries as to what you can create. If you can think it, you can make it happen.”
"Some people just feel more extroverted wearing a costume, and it enables them to socialize." -Kilcodo
Once a furry has dreamed up her fursona, she may want to fursuit, in which case she can either build one herself or commission one online from specialty stores like Made Fur You or Kilcodo’s Custom Costumes. The latter is helmed by Kilcodo, a 27-year-old woman in Orange County, CA, who makes fursuits for a living (her fursona: a golden jackal). “Most of the work I do is either based off a design drawn by the customer or created exclusively for the customer,” says Kilcodo. “Visual reference is pretty important, since people are usually pretty particular about their characters.” It’s a lucrative gig, as masks can start around $800, with full fursuits starting at $1,700. In fact, only about 20 percent of furries own a fursuit, due to either the price or just a lack of interest.
For Kilcodo, the appeal of furriness is obvious, and she doesn’t see the desire to wander around dressed as a plush coyote as all that complex or unusual. “Fursuiting is really fun,” she says. “It’s about creating a character, dressing up, playing around. For some people, they just feel more extroverted wearing a costume, and it enables them to socialize or perform.” NeoChaos can certainly relate. “Fursuiting lets me be who I want to be,” she says. “I’m very shy, but being behind a mask gives me the freedom to just be someone else for a little while and not get the weird looks. The suit’s getting the weird looks and the laughs, not you.” A 30-year-old “purple snow leopard” from Ottawa named Quyet Pawz agrees. “I have fun in costume,” she says. “It allows me to express myself more openly and reduces my stress levels. I also enjoy how other people respond to the costume—adults and kids experience magic for a while.”
Some furries say that being in costume allows them to express their true selves—for others, being behind a mask lets them escape their shells. Being a furry “gives me a place where I don’t have to hide aspects of myself that I don’t usually feel comfortable sharing with ‘mundanes.’” says Pam. “I love wearing my ears and tail, because I always feel like they should be there; I just feel more complete.” Fawnix first put on a full-body animal costume as an 11-year-old. “My friend’s dad was a producer and had a costume from a Nickelodeon miniseries in the ’90s. He brought it over one Halloween, and my eyes lit up. He let me put it on, and I just ran around the neighborhood. When I was a kid, I was really shy. But once you put on a costume, you can be charismatic. No one’s gonna laugh at you, because it’s not you—you’re this character now. Maybe me dancing on the dance floor would look horrendous, but put me in a fluffy costume, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, that’s the cutest thing!’ It takes a big load off.”
"When I go into a furry party, I'm like, 'Oh, these are my people.'" -Fawnix
Spending time among like-minded people is comforting for anyone, including those in the furdom. “I would say furry parties are probably the best parties I’ve ever been to, honestly,” says Fawnix. “Because everyone has an understanding about what everyone else is—it’s a camaraderie. When you go into a normal party, you see all these people and you’re like, ‘What are they like? I don’t know if I’ll get along with them.’ But when I go into a furry party, I’m like, ‘Oh, these are my people. I know they have similar interests to me, and I know we’re going to get along.’ It takes a huge amount of that stress away, and it takes a lot of barriers down.”
Like any modern subculture, furries have a huge online presence, and along with furry artists, and suit makers like Kilcodo, there are sites like FurAffinity, FurNet, and WikiFur that keep furries around the globe connected. Furries are also avid Facebookers and use social media to arrange meetups, or “furmeets,” many of which also function as charity fundraisers, typically for animal-rescue organizations. (The 2013 Anthrocon, the world’s biggest furry convention, raised more than $31,000 for Equine Angels Rescue, which saves abused or neglected horses.) A furmeet can be as small as six friends gathering at an IHOP or as many as 5,577 fursuiters meeting at the 2013 Anthrocon.
Reaux, a 31-year-old IT consultant with a bright, sunny smile, helps organize the FurBowl, a monthly furries bowling event in Delaware. In her downtime, she likes to dress as a plush, green-eyed deer (a “pudu deer,” to be precise). “Deer are my favorite animals, but I don’t feel like I look like a deer,” she says, laughing. “So I chose that one because it’s short and fat.” Reaux first discovered the furry scene through the Internet, and now, eight years and three fursuits later, she’s the administrator and co-owner of Delaware’s regional furry forum, The Furst State.
At one Delaware Furbowl recently, Reaux wasn’t fursuiting but instead wore a badge with a cartoon rendering of her fursona (a common practice among furries when they’re out of costume). There, in an arcade room overlooking the lanes, a constant stream of brightly colored foxes, wolves, and cats stopped to give Reaux a hug. “For me, furry is about friendship and sharing a common interest,” she says. “I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s a lot of people who were nerds in high school. I know I was. So now we come together and it’s like, ‘Wow, I have this family of friends.’” All around the room are a rainbow of creatures of different shapes and sizes, as if you’ve stepped into some alternate Disneyland, where the mascots drink Buds through their mask holes and tipsily play-wrestle on the floor. There’s also a lot of “scritching” going on—furry for hugging.
Like many in the fandom, Reaux identifies as pansexual, which she defines as “being attracted to someone based on personality traits instead of gender.” Sexual preference within the fandom appears to be as creative as the members’ animal personae—furries are an incredibly open-minded crew. According to the Anthropomorphic Research Project (a Canada-based team of sociology and psychology researchers), while some might identify as straight in their daily lives, when they slip into their fursuit, their fursona might be gay or bi. Furries even have their own dating site, Pounced.org. As with most sites, there are those seeking long-term companionship and those merely looking for a quick “yiff,” or hookup. In general, since the furdom is predominantly male, straight lady furries tend to have their pick of the litter when dating. Nemo, a furry artist who’s been a part of the fandom for nearly 10 years, agrees. “Females who aren’t taken are rare,” she says, “and they tend to get snatched up pretty quickly.”
But despite the romantic possibilities, life as a woman in the furdom isn’t always easy. The Anthropomorphic Research Project polled 820 furries at a recent convention, and 75.6 percent of them were male. So what’s it like to be a lady in such a fringe, male-dominated scene? The answer is complicated. Fawnix finds the gender imbalance a bit challenging at times. “I was a big tomboy growing up, but I do like the company of women,” she says, “and it’s kind of hard to find.” And while she cites the fandom’s generally accepting nature as its biggest draw, she admits that she has encountered outright sexism here and there. “I remember at one of my first party situations, I was flirting with this guy,” she says, “and this other guy came up and gave me a look, then turned to him and said, ‘Why are you talking to this vagina?’ So yeah. I was pretty off-put by that.” Fawnix would like for the scene to be more girl-friendly. “I feel like there are a lot of girls who would call themselves furries,” she says, “but they don’t go to conventions or meetups because of the whole male-dominated thing.”
Why is the furry community so overwhelmingly male? “I think there are several reasons,” says Nemo. “One is that the fandom developed off of the sci-fi community, which has been very male dominated. And it’s probably in part because of social standards that say it’s more acceptable for a guy to be that kind of nerd.” Some speculate it’s attributable to the many years during which men outnumbered women on the Web—where the furry community has historically met, chatted, and arranged meetups. A 2005 Pew Internet study found that “Men are more likely than women to use the Internet as a destination for recreation,” and were more likely than women to go there to “gather material for their hobbies.”
Since that study, the number of men and women on the Internet has evened out, which means the number of female furries is likely to grow. But online furry communities can still be a harsh place for some women. “In some ways, the fandom tends to be very accepting,” says Nemo. “But there are a lot of gay males in the fandom, and there have been a lot of people commenting on erotic artwork saying, ‘This would be better if it was a guy’ or ‘Ew, girl parts.’ And that made a lot of those females feel really bad about being female. I know I did.” The gender imbalance was “definitely something I had to get used to,” says Pam. “Now when I hang out with my friends, I’m mostly hanging out with guys, which was an adjustment.” And she agrees that much of the dark side of the furdom expresses itself online. “You don’t see a lot of sexism in your face in the furry community, which is nice,” she says. “But there is quite a bit of it online, unfortunately. I feel like that’s where the worst people come out.”
Pam agrees that the lack of women in the fandom is often extra-obvious in online chatrooms. “Any time a woman shows up, she gets mobbed by lonely male furries, which can be annoying and overwhelming. My ex did an experiment where he created a female fursona and pretended to be a woman while interacting with people online. He was shocked at how many men would immediately try to meet up with ‘her’ in real life or try to start online-sexting. That could easily scare off women who don’t want that kind of attention.”
One female furry is doing her part to make the scene more lady-friendly. Quyet Pawz works for Guinn’s Custom Creatures, a manufacturer of fursuits. She’s been a furry since the early ’90s and is an out-and-proud member. (There’s a rather adorable video on YouTube of Quyet debuting her fursuit to her parents.) Quyet founded Lady Furs, a Facebook group that serves as sort of an online support group for female furries. She says she’s generally more comfortable with women and started Lady Furs as a way for them to network and socialize better outside of the conventions. And its members are most appreciative. “Considering we’ve got over 700 members, there definitely seems to be a need for it,” says Lady Fur member Kiryn Draconis. “It’s important to have that female-only space where we can get together and talk without fear of being hit on. We’ve had discussions about things you won’t see in a male-dominated space, such as rape, abusive situations, and even menstrual problems. There has been a lot of support between the members in various ways.”
"It's important to have that female-only space where we can get together and talk..."
Lady Furs is also a means of combating the kinds of sexism some female furries have to confront. “I have witnessed women fursuiters being harassed,” says Pam. “People think that being in a fur suit puts you out there for everyone to say and do whatever they want around you, and it can get a little inappropriate.” Other ladies in the scene concur. “I know of women who have experienced harassment, assault, and worse at conventions at the hands of other furs,” says Quyet. But she says that, for the most part, the fandom has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for her. “I have met some fantastic gentlemen in the fandom—awesome people that I consider good friends. They’re some of the gems that keep me returning to conventions, and I’m always happy to see them.”
Courtney Plante is a social-psychology graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and he’s one of the researchers for the Anthropomorphic Research Project. Plante is also a furry, and when he isn’t studying human behavior, he’s a neon blue cat. He says his team has recently been conducting research on the experience of women in the community. “It really is a boys’ club in many respects,” he says, “and as such, it can put pressure on women in the fandom. Sometimes they feel pressure to be one of guys, and we find that females are more likely to gender-bend: that is, have more masculine fursonas. We also find that a lot of artists in the fandom are women, so this may be a way for them to validate being in it. Others get their foot in the door by being brought in by a partner or a male friend. We hope that, with time, as women begin to trickle into the fandom, there’ll be a shifting of this norm.”
Here’s hoping that one day, furries of all species and genders can rid themselves of the misconceptions and sexism that—pardon the pun—dog the scene, and feel free to be creative, hard-partying, wolves, hyenas, and dragons, free of prejudice. After all, in a cold, harsh world, we’re entitled to some escapism and release, in whatever form (human or otherwise) that takes. As Reaux simply puts it, “Sometimes, after a long, hard week, it can just be nice to dress up like an animal for a couple of hours, you know?”
By Johanna Gohmann
Photographed by Maria Rutherford
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2014 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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