higgs_raccoon (higgs_raccoon) wrote in furrymedia,

Furries turn downtown San Jose into wild kingdom

Here is an article, dated January 19, 2015, in the San Jose Mercury News:

It concerns Further Confusion 2015.

SAN JOSE -- The green-eyed werewolves, foxes in top hats and spectacle-wearing mice formed a fantastical wild kingdom, searching for camaraderie in one of the most curious celebrations of creative expression in Silicon Valley.

San Jose's annual FurCon kicked off last week and goes through Monday, converting the San Jose McEnery Convention Center and three downtown hotels into a colorful and odd collection of larger-than-life furry characters. The furries, as they call themselves, are people who love animals -- both real and fictional animal characters -- dress up as animals and collect anthropomorphic art.

"It's just expressing your creativity and being something else for a while," said Alexis Rudd, of Sonoma, who designs costumes for furries and animal puppets.

The 3,000 furries looked at times like a collection of sports team mascots or characters out of Aesop's Fables. But for many, the five-day convention, dubbed Further Confusion, marked a space where they could shed the identities they have at work or with their families and become, for a brief while, a dancing cheetah, cuddly and affectionate shark, party-loving dragon or tenderly shy unicorn.

Few costume-clad furries talk. Instead, they shake their giant animal head or offer a purr or squeak. Most only use their animal names, such as Moo or Spottacus, and basic identifying traits such as appearance, gender or profession become moot points.

"I don't have to explain anything, and I can share what I want," said Marie, a longtime Bay Area furry who was selling handcrafted goods at FurCon. She declined to share her last name because of what she called her conservative job in the legal field.

"It's a community you can always go back to," she said. "You can be a three-headed werewolf with wings, and I'm going to talk to you seriously."

The annual San Jose convention is one of the largest events of its kind, put on by Milpitas nonprofit Anthropomorphic Arts and Education to raise money for a charity. This year Rocket Dog Rescue, a San Francisco-based volunteer canine rescue organization, will receive the funds raised at FurCon -- where real four-legged furry creatures mixed with the human attendees at the event.

Beyond the money for charity, event organizers estimate that FurCon -- now in its 16th year -- brings about $3 million into the local community, with visitors spending money on hotels, restaurants and transportation, said Sam Rasmussen, FurCon's media liaison.

The Bay Area furries scene has blossomed in part because so many tech workers participate. The chairman of this year's convention works for Google; other furries said they worked at Yahoo, Apple and startups.

Some said the creative freedom encouraged in the furry community, which is unwaveringly judgment-free even when confronted by utter weirdness, is a relief from the rigors of coding and stress of deadlines.

At FurCon, attendees showed off their animal suits in a parade while Maroon 5's "Animals" appropriately played in the background; faced off in a dance competition; joined myriad social events including speed dating; and attended workshops in writing, drawing and puppetry.

"When you get a lot of people with open minds in the same room, it's a huge party," said convention Chairman Jeff Bowman.

But furry fandom -- the term for the community that gathers online and at furry conventions -- was also a buzzing center of commerce. Artists, costume designers, graphic novelists and comic book dealers crowded the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the convention center.

Furry fandom isn't just a fetish or a weekend lifestyle -- it's also a booming and lucrative business. On Saturday morning, costume designer Deanna Petro had just sold a hand-sewn gray wolf costume for $4,000. Animal suits can cost $1,000 to nearly $10,000.

But the lingering question many outside the community might have is: Why would anyone want to spend the day dressed up in a sweltering costume and adopt the personality of a mischievous wolf or flirtatious kangaroo?

For some furries, it's just that they really, really love animals.

"One day, I thought, 'What would it be like if I were a cat?' " said Cassy Abbott, 20, an art student from North Hollywood wearing a $1,900 cat costume. "It's fun to be acting like a cat, running around and nudging people and purring at them."

But for a lot of furries, there's more to it. It's the freedom of adopting a new identity behind the protective layer of a disguise. While many of these furries attend the same conventions, they recognize each other only by their animal persona -- and most took care never to remove their costumes during the convention, even though some of them heated up to 120 degrees and others required that they walk on all fours in a physically grueling display.

In costume, there's less fear of judgment. The closest most of the non-furry community gets to this is a really elaborate Halloween costume.

"People have expectations of you," said David Benaron, a four-decade furry, doctor, Stanford University professor of pediatric medicine and startup CEO. "When you're in this sort of costume, biases and judgments go away. I feel completely comfortable, and I'm not poised in the boardroom or watching the IPO market."
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