Dated April 16, here is an article in the online "College" section of USA Today:
The article has interviews with furries Cory Grube and Chris "Kalahari" Evans, with additional material from Samuel "Uncle Kage" Conway.
In his free time, Cory Grube likes to do what every other college student likes to do: go out with friends, see a movie, try a new restaurant and — on occasion — don a giant homemade snow leopard suit and wander around downtown State College, Pa.
“A lot of times I’ll just like to put that on and go wander around downtown, usually late at night on the weekends or something when there are a lot of drunk people around,” he says. “It’s just fun to pretend to be something that you’re not or that you can’t physically be. Like a giant snow leopard.”
And he’s not alone. Grube, a senior studying chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, is part of the growing community of “furries,” or people who enjoy dressing up as — or simply just admiring — anthropomorphic animal characters. Furries develop “personas,” a kind of alter-ego based on an animal of their choosing, with names such as “Razgriz” or “Fenrari.” They then often share their characters with people by creating online profiles or attending various fandom conventions around the world.
In the past, some have associated furry fandom with fetishized, criminal or bizarre activities. But for most, being a furry is simply a way of getting involved in a somewhat offbeat art scene.
“I think it’s the furries that get out in the spotlight and do these outrageous things that give everyone else a bad wrap and kind of keep the community hidden away for fear of public ridicule,” says Chris Evans, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Georgia (UGA). “What really sparked my interest was the artistic community, that there was this incredible amount of creativity and it didn’t seem like other fandoms. I hadn’t drawn artwork in years and this gave me the initiative to start up again. I felt like I had a place that I could express myself and be heard again.”
Evans’ persona is a fox named Kalahari, which he says was a natural choice for him since foxes are “intelligent, quick, slight-of-build and rely on their minds more than their physical strength.” Although he doesn’t have a fur suit, he sometimes wears a foxtail in public. Despite recent attacks on furry conventions in the U.S., he says he hasn’t yet experienced any kind of discrimination, something he attributes to the accepting mindset of UGA and Athens, Ga.
“I’ve been able to wear a foxtail out to the supermarket on a couple of occasions … and people gave some looks, but I never noticed any negativity and the kids really seemed to love it,” Evans says.
According to WikiFur, a popular website for furries, the fandom most likely has its roots in the 1980s, when anthropomorphic cartoons and anime characters first began to gain widespread popularity at conventions. With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, Grube says furry culture took off with the Millennial generation — something that is increasingly evidence on college campuses.
“I’d say the reason that it’s really getting so big predominantly in college-aged students is the fact that the Internet kind of started really evolving when these people were kids, so that’s when they got introduced to it,” he says. “A lot of people are starting to hit that college age and coming into campus knowing that they’re interested in it, and now they have — with Facebook and lots of other social media online — ways to connect with the people at these campuses.”
Grube says he first became interested in furry fandom in high school while playing online games and chatting in forums dedicated to cartoon characters. When he got to campus, he immediately joined the close-knit group Penn State Furries — something he says was one of the best decisions of his college career.
“It’s really been a great experience to make long-lasting friends … there’s just a great experience of community here and it’s really been something that’s kept me motivated to stay involved,” Grube says. “When I’m in my suit, I’ll be hanging around downtown and I’ll just get lots of people cheering, come give me a high-five, get a picture with me. There’s really next to no backlash anymore. That’s kind of a thing of the past at this point.”
And that community is growing across the country.
At Anthrocon, the largest convention for anthropomorphic animal lovers in the world, more than 6,000 furries are expected to be present this year — the biggest turnout in the event’s 18-year history. Despite common misconceptions about what it means to be a furry, Anthrocon chairman Samuel Conway says no one person that attends the event is the same.
“The misconception is that we’re all fat, 45-year-old virgins who live in our mothers’ basements. I am none of the above,” says Conway, who holds a Ph.D in chemistry from Dartmouth College and works in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. “No particular kind of person is the kind to attend Anthrocon. Anyone out there with the depth of imagination to picture a cartoon animal is pretty much welcome.”
Furries that attend the convention often dress up in giant costumes that depict their animal persona, and participate in dance competitions, a large art show and dealer’s rooms with a variety of cartoonish paraphernalia. But Conway says what really makes furries different from other fandoms such as Star Trek or anime lies in their innate creativity.
“That is what sets us off — we are creators, we’re not consumers. All the other fandoms are consumers of something that studio has turned out, that a writer has turned out,” he says. “All of the other fandoms, they can point to a TV show, to a movie, to a book and say ‘This is what we’re all about.’ But furries, what we’re all about, it’s very personal — it’s a mystery to the outside world.”
Why be a furry? Conway says the answer is simple.
“Basically walking, talking animals is what we’re all about,” he says. “Why? Because it’s fun — why the heck not?”