Gregory (baracudaboy) wrote in furrymedia,
Gregory
baracudaboy
furrymedia

Greetings From Vancoufur


http://thedependent.ca/featured/greetings-from-vancoufur/


MARCH 29, 2012 | BY JESSE DONALDSON
“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.
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