Reflections on an American Furry Convention

18 Aug 2014 |

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to travel from my home in London to the Rocky Mountain Fur Con in Denver, Colorado.

There were several of the [a][s] crew also attending RMFC. Zik—who has written a series of articles looking at furry communities around the world ("Foreign Furry Fandoms")—challenged me to write an article about my American experience.

I grew up in Australia and moved to the UK about 5 years ago. The United States is, to me and to about 6.8 billion other people, a foreign country. Visiting an American furry convention as an outsider, and spending time with American furries, is an interesting and challenging (and thoroughly enjoyable) experience.

RMFC 2014 was my first American convention, outside of a visit to an smallish Elliott's back in 2008. Aside from that I have been to Midfur (now Confurgence) in Australia, Eurofurence in Germany, and both Confuzzled and RBW in the UK.

The obvious point of comparison for RMFC is Confuzzled. They are very similar in size and age:

This is the caption
RMFC started in 2007; Confuzzled started in 2008

While I will use Confuzzled as a direct comparison, my comments generally apply to other non-American conventions I’ve attended.

It's easy to mistake normal cultural differences (and the resulting culture shock) between the United States and elsewhere for furry differences. There are significant differences in culture, surprisingly so given the worldwide prevalence of American culture, but they aren't the topic of this article.

The biggest challenge is the American tendency towards Amerocentrism. It is easy for an American to assume that American furry culture is furry culture. Here are a few simple examples of Amerocentrism, all committed by my [a][s] colleagues:

  • The inherent premise behind Zik's title: "Foreign" Furry Fandoms. He is implicitly stating that American is "domestic"; anything else is "foreign", and imagines that assumption holds for his readers.
  • Zik again, writing: "We Americans are hardly exposed to foreign furry culture beyond the artists we watch on art websites."
  • Makyo, during the [adjective][species] panel at RMFC, talked about furry racial demographics. He attributed changes in our collective racial profile to changes in the American furry community, neglecting to consider that furry's growth worldwide might have significantly contributed to any changes.
  • Klisoura, asking about race in the Furry Survey, uses the same racial categories as the American census. While that is appropriate for American audiences, it is not reasonable to have a separate category for (say) Native Americans and Pacific Islanders while lumping all Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Thai etc (all with measurable furry populations) into a generic "Asian" category.

This Amerocentrism is very understandable and no big deal, but it does colour my reflections on my American convention experience. I suspect that some of my thoughts may be interpreted as criticisms. They are not: if you are American, please keep in mind that you and I have different points of reference.

The biggest difference between Confuzzled and RMFC is affluence. Confuzzled is a significantly more expensive convention, and the attendees are significantly more affluent.

The approximate cost of attending each convention, assuming that you are staying in the hotel and sharing a room:

  • RMFC 2014: US$375
  • Confuzzled 2014: US$605

(I have made a few assumptions to reach these numbers, and tried to find comparable room options. It is certainly possible to reside at either convention for less.)

It's worth adding that the RMFC and Confuzzled hotels are very similar, in size, in amenities, in room quality, and in location. They are both convention hotels on the outskirts of a moderately-sized city (Denver is 630,000; Birmingham 1.1m). They are both excellent venues.

To measure affluence, I've looked at each convention's charity fundraising. I'm assuming that furries are equally likely to want to donate, and so donations roughly correlate with disposable income.

  • RMFC 2014 US$5000
  • Confuzzled 2013 US$19,300

(I was unable to find the 2014 Confuzzled charity donation. I have asked and will update the article when I get a response.)

This all makes sense. While RMFC is a big con, it largely serves the local population. Furries travelling from overseas or looking for a special con experience are much more likely to attend one of the really big American cons, perhaps Anthrocon or Midwest FurFest.

Confuzzled, on the other hand, serves the very large UK furry population, and only competes with Eurofurence for the UK and continental European furry populations. (Many European furs attend both.) Confuzzled also attracts furries from countries that do not qualify for the US visa waiver program, such as Russia, parts of Eastern Europe, most of South America, and most of South-East Asia. Those furries who travel will, on balance, tend to be more affluent than those who are local.

It's worth adding that the cost of travel is much lower in the United States. Most RMFC attendees come by car.

  • price of petrol in the US: 0.98c per liter*
  • price of petrol in the UK: US$2.18 per litre*

(*Earlier version of this article quoted (wrong) prices per gallon. 1.0 liter = 1.0 litre. These are 12 August 2014 prices, ref)

The lower cost of RMFC lowers the barrier to entry, and therefore attracts a more socio-economically diverse crowd than Confuzzled. This is indisputably a good thing, but it does have some knock-on effects that make for a different congoing experience.

The RMFC art show is very obviously smaller, and of generally lower quality than the Confuzzled art show. Not only is it several times smaller, the works of art attract less bidding.

Again, this makes sense. A high-profile American artist will probably be more inclined to exhibit art at one of the larger conventions, in the hope of attracting more bidders and ultimately more money. This does create a possible niche for RMFC: artists creating something less mainstream will have more visibility, and may sell work that might otherwise be ignored. However this hasn't yet happened at RMFC, if it ever will.

By comparison, the Dealer's Den at RMFC is similar to that at Confuzzled. This makes sense too: people with wares to sell will want to attend as many conventions as possible.

There are fewer fursuiters at RMFC. I present this as prima facie: I think that is would be obvious to anyone attending both conventions. RMFC 2014 attracted 303 to the fursuit parade out of 1354 attendees (22%). I don't have numbers for Confuzzled, but I have asked, and I will update this article when I receive a response.

The relative dearth of fursuits at RMFC is a natural outcome of its comparative affluence. But it's a pity: fursuits are awesome.

On a related note, there was also less costuming and theatrical dressing (in public) at RMFC. Confuzzled hotel staff tend to either walk around with dumb grins, or exhibit mild symptoms of shell shock.

A second big difference between RMFC and Confuzzled, and a very obvious one if you spend much time in Britain, is the attitude to alcohol.

The Americans are subject to a higher legal drinking age of 21. Confuzzled is an 18+ convention, the legal drinking age, so all attendees at Confuzzled can legally drink. Three years might not sound like a lot until you consider furry's age demographics:

  • Under 18: 14.2%
  • 18 to 20: 25.2%
  • 21 and over: 60.6%

A full one-in-four furries can drink alcohol (legally) at Confuzzled but not RMFC. And of course any older furries with friends in the 18-20 bracket will be similarly affected.

The Confuzzled hotel bars are packed full of furries from the early afternoon until the early hours of the morning. RMFC is very different:

https://twitter.com/branstonhoss/status/498127183450492928

The difference is less to do with quantity of alcohol consumption (although I'm sure that furs in the UK are heavier drinkers), and more to do with the social environment of drinking in the UK. Alcohol is a social lubricant at Confuzzled; a reason to sit down and converse. Such a general social hub isn't apparent at RMFC.

I strongly suspect that much of the socialising and RMFC goes on in room parties. Outside alcohol is cheaper than buying from the hotel bar and nobody is checking IDs. It's a pragmatic solution, but it comes at the cost of the collective experience.

As an aside, there didn't seem to be any large fetish-themed room parties at RMFC. For those who are so inclined, the ability to express an unusual sexuality in a large group can be a highlight of the entire convention. Such parties are often publicly announced on Twitter and forums leading up to Confuzzled. Either these parties didn't happen at RMFC, or were more private.

There is a broader range of ages at RMFC. I'm guessing that this is because the furry community started in the United States, and so there are more folk who have been around for a while. There are notably more furries in their 40s, 50s and 60s: again, indisputably a good thing.

Interestingly, there were a few young children at RMFC, presumably children of furry couples. They helped create a fun, inclusive environment, and helped make RMFC seem more diverse than the largely young male monoculture that exists at Confuzzled.

My final comparison is probably an unfair one for the organisers of RMFC. Confuzzled is a superbly organised convention, and comfortably outstrips any convention I've been to. RMFC suffers in comparison.

Examples include fewer events at RMFC, and the ad hoc nature of many of those events. The event venues and the convention staff supporting those venues were often underprepared, and it was clear that little or no rehearsal had taken place. Many were, to put it bluntly, amateur.

The facilities for fursuiters were adequate, but a long way from the Rolls Royce treatment they receive at Confuzzled. Again, this an area where Confuzzled excels, so I suspect that the comparison is not fair.

There were very few signs in and around the hotel celebrating the convention and its theme. And it was clear that the conbook was assembled quickly: it didn't include any information on the convention events (a pocket schedule was provided instead), the quality of the art and writing submissions were, um, variable, and in general gave the impression that insufficient time was allowed for proper editing.

84-conbook
A page from the RMCF 2014 conbook

Of course, the real reason for attending any convention is for the social environment. Here, RMFC was brilliant. I find it difficult to reasonably describe how much fun I had.

I travelled with three other furs from the UK, and we all had a ball. I got to see some old friends, meet a few people I previously only knew online, and of course I met many, many new awesome animal-people. I walk away from RMFC 2014 with friends for life and, in the most vital way, a richer and happier man. The love in the air at the Denver Marriott Tech Centre last weekend was palpable.

I am in debt to the organisers of RMFC, the attendees, and the furry community in general. I will be back. If you see me, come say hi.