How I Went From Ridiculing Furries to Cheering them On in Five Panels or Less
Guest post by Isaac. Isaac is that guy who is still pretty much a human, but definitely not Mundane. He likes red pandas, chocolate, and improv. You may have seen his apology post on Reddit, found him putzing around the FurNet IRC, or attempting to become America’s Next Top Popufur on Twitter as @isaacapologist. He will be at Midwest Furfest, probably. Say hi. Be gentle.
In many ways, I like to think that I ended up at a furry convention in the way that many furries end up at a furry convention: alcohol, combined with an unhealthy sense of curiosity. But the reality, I think, is even a bit more interesting than that, so I’d be happy to expand on the perfect storm of circumstances that led to my attendance at FurCon 2015, and subsequent headlong fall into the rabbit hole that is the Furry Fandom.
It’s December. I've just recently moved to the Bay Area, to help out a friend with a new job working in the Silicon Valley. He’s much the introverted type, I’m much more of the outgoing type, and he invites me to live out in CA for a few months to help him get acclimated and make some new friends. As I've since discovered, neither of us is really good at ‘going out’ to make friends, we rather prefer to just organically meet people. In practice, this works out about as well as you might imagine.
So, we are spending one of our many weekends in our living room, drinking wine, he playing video games on his computer, me watching Netflix, and I stumble upon the documentary about Bronies. I, being mildly intoxicated and fascinated with countercultures, decide to indulge in the Brony documentary. I then decide to indulge in a second Brony documentary. By this point, I am both fabulously drunk, and fabulously fascinated. I have an inception-style we've-got-to-go-deeper moment: If there are two documentaries about Bronies, there’s got to be one about furries.
I’d like to say at this point, a lot of what follows is going to make me sound like a terrible person, and, if I’m being honest, yes, I was being a pretty terrible person. I’d like to say here that my drunkenness doesn't excuse any of my assumptions or motivations, but I present them here as honestly as possible in the interest of transparency.
I stumble upon the YouTube 3-part series entitled Furries - An Inside Look. I think, wow, this is going to be a grand old time. If you’re not familiar, the series in question basically is just an aggregation of interviews with furries, how the fandom intersects with their lives etc. I’m rewatching this as I write, and even as I watch I know exactly what I had been thinking at the time. I’ll spare you my exact thoughts here in an effort to not offend anyone, but the conclusion that I came to was: These people are such freaks. and my follow up thought: What better place to see the freaks than at a freakshow?
I should also note at this point that I moonlight as an actor, and an extremely common acting exercise or part of character study is to go out and study people. This is also fairly common among most people, known as people-watching. Now, my roommate has noticed my fascination at this point, and at some point I divulge that furry conventions have to be the greatest people-watching to ever exist on the planet. We start a quick Google search, and, in perfect serendipitous coincidence, Further Confusion is a few weeks away, and only a few miles from our apartment. We buy (We are nothing if not dedicated to the stunt) tickets, imagining the great time we will have, laughing at the ridiculousness of these strangers in animal costumes.
Skipping ahead a bit, since then I have:
- Been to at least half a dozen fur meets, probably more.
- Sort of dated a furry?
- Attended “Frolic” - a monthly furry night at a bar in San Francisco.
- Created a “Furry Twitter.”
- Spent a definitely-not-insignificant amount of time on FurNet IRC.
Along with what I will assume to be many more experiences at the very hands of the furry fandom. Most of these were the result of invitations extended to me after my post on Reddit, apologizing for my malintention in the attendance of FurCon 2015. But where did the change happen? Both my roommate and I can tell you the exact moment where we changed from this is hilarious to this is fucking awesome. However, rather than just jump right to that, I would love to go into how hard we tried to dislike furries first.
So, we’re registered. It’s not long until the con, so we are already looking at the schedule, planning which panels we are going to attend. We are, of course, looking for the most outrageous panels to attend. “Alien Sex” “The Adult Dragon Panel” “Totemism” and “Love, Sex, and Fur” (Sorry Makyo!) are some of the panels that catch our eyes. Now, since we are not too heavily invested in this, we opt to not take the day off work, and only attend the con on Saturday and Sunday, eliminating a few of those panels as options for attendance.
We fill the rest of our schedule with a combination of what appears to be “main events” and ones that satisfy our perverse curiosity about what the fandom “really is.” Fursuit parade, a jazz show, the dance competition, the talent show, a fursuit head carving, and, our first panel “Exploring the Fandom Through Data.” Before the panel, though, and our very introduction to the furry fandom, was the Fursuit Parade.
And so, we arrive at the San Jose Convention Center. For a moment we get lost in the large building, stuck in the volleyball tournament that concurrently occupies the space, and we are sure that we look just as out of place there as we might at the furry convention. After a few moments, we catch sight of a person with a tail, and follow them to the opposite side of the convention center where we discover registration. We end up in line behind a group of four teenage girls, each with a fursuit head and tail, huskies in four different colors, chaperoned by what we assumed was the mother of one of the children.
This instantly had an effect on our perception of the con. We whisper dumbfoundedly to each other that this may be a lot more normal than the internet would have led us to believe, our first moment where we doubt our intentions for our attendance. However, after a moment, the person to approach in line behind us is wearing a leather harness, and a trench coat over that, topped with a fedora, so for the moment, our prejudices remain intact. We obtain our tags, foolishly adorned with our real, full names, our con books, and all the all the other swag you get at registration. We dig through our little pocket con guides, and head upstairs to the Atrium for the first thing on our schedule. The Fursuit Parade.
As we head upstairs we notice people are already lined up throughout the hall, we find a spot near a post. We worry for a moment about all the pictures that we are about to be in the background of, placing ourselves at the convention. As a new hire at an high profile tech company, and an actor with a public persona to uphold, this seems like bad news to us. Of course, we learn later that the Chairman of the convention works for that same high profile tech company. Our apprehensions are overcome for the moment as the fursuiters begin their parade. We snap picture after picture, remarking at the master craftsmanship of some of these fursuits, and I think we realize for the first time that the furry fandom is more than a casual hobby to many members.
After about half an hour’s worth of fursuits march by, we move on to our first panel: Exploring the Fandom Through Data, which you may already be familiar with if you are reading this article. I won’t go into too much detail on this panel, and just say that as ⅓ theatre major, ⅓ economics major, this panel was basically a wet dream of information about counterculture and I loved every moment of it. I was taking notes on my tablet through the whole panel just because I found it so genuinely fascinating. I imagine around here my thoughts about furries would be something along the lines of: yeah, furries are really fucking weird people, but I guess they are, in fact, still people…
The rest of the day passed without much fanfare. I think we quickly got our fill of, but eventually became desensitized to, the number of harnesses, latex suits with crotch zippers, people (and animal-people) on leashes, etc. We had explored the dealer’s den and seen all manner of tails, furry porn, and even an erotic furry trading card game, which I now know to be Furoticon. It was later in the day now, and we were still feeling amazed that this was really a thing, but we found it easy to maintain the idea that we were somehow “above” all of it, even as we headed into our last event of the day. The fursuit dance competition.
We took our seats near the back of the main stage, merely assuming that it’d be good for a quick chuckle, and then we’d be headed home, spending the evening talking about all the madness of the day we had experienced. We assumed incorrectly, because from the moment the first person began their routine, we were hooked. Oh man, I gained, and now hold, an insane amount of respect for fursuit dancers. First of all, they can dance a hundred times better than I can as a human, not to mention in a suit that’s thirty degrees hotter than the rest of the room. There was a distinct moment where we looked at each other during a routine and just had a moment of eye contact that said oh man, we are totally in this right now.
From that moment forward, we had an unironic good time, whether it was watching a bunch of people in fursuits acting like “real” animals hitting around a beach ball, or witnessing an onstage proposal during the talent show, while a dragon played piano and a wolf played violin. There was definitely no lack of holy shit, we are here, and having a blast, this is surreal moments, but we definitely enjoyed ourselves immensely in spite of all that.
And thus ended my existence as an anti-furry human being. I've already introduced some of what has happened in my new, admitted “furrier” life since then, and I’d love to write more about my interaction with the furry fandom for [a][s] in the future, but for now, consider this the “extended edition” of my apology. It’s been an incredibly interesting few months, and I’ll say one thing to finish here: I may not share all of the interests of the furry fandom, but I share the end goal with all of you: having a good time, and enjoying a sense of community.