I look at my sad, home-brewed bunny ears; they’re like a tuxedo T-shirt at a black-tie gala. What am I doing?
Last October, as my birthday party wound down, two mischievous friends suggested we migrate over to Frolic, a monthly event where furries from all over the Bay converge. I was nowhere near drunk enough. “So you’re suggesting I spend my birthday at a gay nightclub, gawking at a bunch of guys in animal costumes? I have a better idea: not doing that.”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a little cultural tourism as much as the next guy – monster truck rallies, Ice Capades, etc. – but this was too much. My loose understanding of furry-dom was that people dress up like sports mascots and have freaky anthropomorphic sex. That’s kind of a private thing. It struck me these folks might want one safe night where they didn’t have to deal with outsiders.
So we skipped Frolic that night, but my amigos wouldn’t let it drop. Over the next month, they assured me we would approach the event with maximum sensitivity, and the moment we felt like intruders, we’d bail. They knew they’d planted the seed, and curiosity would get the best of me. I caved.
After the blasé ticket taker stamps our hands with a fluorescent paw, it takes roughly two minutes to feel overwhelmed. The Stud is a Ralph Bakshi cartoon come to life, a psychedelic Noah’s Ark of garish upright mammals. Dozens of furries are grinding, bouncing, and canoodling while club music is spun by a DJ in a pink and green bunny suit. Grainy old cartoons and sinister clips from Donnie Darko loop on the wall. In the middle room, a trio of foxes dry-humps on the pool table amidst piles of stuffed animals. A blind man wearing a rubber suit and leopard headdress canes his way through the crowd.
Suddenly, a long-haired feline the color of a cherry Popsicle locks me in his sights. Dragging his oversized paw down my chest, he growls out a provocative, “Me-ow!” I need a drink.
After a pint glass of gin (Stud barkeeps are brutally generous), my fear is replaced by swelling appreciation for the furries’ mad artistry. An upright horse is dressed in full bus-casual: hooves extended from a pinstriped shirt that is carefully tucked into polyester slacks. A badass wolf wears acid-washed jeans, a leather jacket, and a T-shirt that says “Furr Fagg.” A posse of scary dudes don rubber Doberman masks paired with S&M hardware or skintight wetsuits. I see a dejected-looking skunk moping about like post-heartbreak Pepé Le Pew. One sporty tiger jaunts around in a hoodie (my friend suggests it’s a Treyvon Martin tribute). A wounded giraffe wears a bandage.
But let’s not forget the foxes, lots and lots of foxes. There are foxes with menacing snarls, winking foxes, and foxes with goofy grins. There’s a lady fox, a motocross fox, a Robin Hood fox, and a fox dressed as a Boy Scout. One fox is in swim trunks with a bulge the size of a small dog. A fox with glowing eyes perches on a barstool surveying the crowd with detached arrogance. He has reason to be cocky: We later see him talking, his animatronic jaw moving in sync with every word. This is some next-level shit.
Frolic is the creation of Aaron Merritt, aka DJ Neon Bunny. Aaron is an organizer of Bunny Jam, the now-defunct dance party staged in quirky, off-brand locations (like abandoned fire stations and porn warehouses). The jams were invitation-only, costume-mandatory – if you showed up sans costume, you’d get “bunnified” at the door. There were strong sexual undertones: Stud co-owner Mikey McElhaney says the bunnies hooked up like, well, bunnies.
Aaron also used to organize Further Confusion, the annual furry convention in San Jose. This massive event is about networking and merch, a place to connect with costumers and learn about the newest innovations in fur. There are panel discussions and workshops; everything is fairly PG.
With Frolic, Aaron tries to create an event that spices up Further Confusion’s approach with the free-spirited, dance party feel of Bunny Jam.
A flag on the wall proclaims Yiff!, a verb that can mean anything from snuggling to “straight fucking,” according to Aaron. I spy lots of petting and tickling and hand massages, but there are also some raunchier things going down. I see a dirty dog get a hand job on the pool table. In the bathroom, I stumble on an acid-wash wolf playacting a BJ. From time to time, one furry purposefully leads another by the hand outside the club; I can only imagine what comes next.
But by many accounts, actual fursuit sex is rare. A handful of costumes are custom-built for getting it on, but they aren’t too common. “Those are the tighter costumes, with less padding and accessible crotches,” Frolic attendee and part-time weasel Jack DeVries tells me. For most furry outfits, intercourse would be an unwieldy mess. Jack’s weasel suit, for example, has big muscular haunches that would make sex awkward (if not impossible). And even if it were feasible, Mikey says furries invest too much money and effort to muck up their costumes with bodily fluids. “Have you ever tried to clean synthetic fur?”
Mainstream media tends to focus on the dirtier aspects of furry-dom, all of which are on display at Frolic. Aaron explains: “Frolic is a dance party at a gay nightclub. It’s just one small element of a much bigger subculture.” In the world outside the Stud, furries are similar to LARPers or Renaissance Faire actors; it’s lighthearted role-play.
I meet Patricia Peterson near closing time at the Stud, one of the rare costumed females in attendance. Patricia tells me it took months to build her Ratgirl costume, obsessing over every feminine detail – making the haircut symmetrical, sculpting lush foam eyelashes, etc. She wanted her character to be cute, but it’s not a sex thing. Happily married to a non-furry, Patricia sees Frolic as a night to live out loud behind a protective layer of costuming. “As Ratgirl, I’m more ready to dance, more ready to giggle, more ready to squeak,” she says. “It’s me, but cranked up a little.”
Patricia considers Ratgirl an extension of her natural self (akin to a spirit animal) but some furries adopt totally foreign personas. Jack tells me that many of his friends are nerdy tech guys with passions for anime and video games. Furry outfits lend them a little swagger, a borrowed dose of toughness. “It gives power,” he explains. “I’ve got one friend who likes to play this mean, aggressive wolf. Guy is a total sweetheart in real life.”
The Stud’s Mikey is currently in the market for a new fursuit (he muddied up his bunny costume on a whiskey-fueled Easter misadventure). Though he doesn’t consider himself a true furry, he relishes the chance to be someone else for a night. “When I put on a fursuit, it’s like dressing in drag,” he says. “I can become one scary bitch.”
After my first Frolic, I return again, staying until almost closing. This may seem odd for a straight guy with little interest in role-play – certainly my girlfriend raised an eyebrow – but goddammit, Frolic is fun.
Here’s the appeal: It’s a trippy, vibrant contrast to so many forgettable nights on the town. My fears of being an outsider are quickly assuaged; if you’re respectful, all are welcome under Frolic’s big tent. For a couple of evenings, I have the rare opportunity to be immersed in someone else’s ornate subculture.
Jack asks if I’d be willing to wear a fursuit to Frolic, which gives me pause.
I used to dress up in a plush aardvark costume for my college job at FAO Schwarz, dancing, waving, and hugging kids. I remember my self-consciousness slipping away inside the suit. It certainly wasn’t a turn-on, but that’s beyond the point. I could be a guy who didn’t mind dancing in public, who lacked inhibitions, who was fun and free-spirited. I can understand the allure.
But would I take it to the next level? Sadly, no. I honestly don’t have enough passion for a real costume (not to mention time, energy, and cash). While I’m happy to whip up some construction-paper headgear, drink too much gin, and mingle with the fur-suited masses, I suspect that’s my limit.