Dated May 21, here is an article on syracuse.com, the website of The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York:
The article discusses this weekend's FurryCon, and includes interviews with attendees Hoth and Zeigler.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Today is the first day of FurryCon, the only anthropomorphic convention for furry fandom in New York state.
Rochester's annual five-day event unites hundreds of people who identify as "furries." They create their own characters based on favorite animals, then spend the weekend socializing, dancing and attending panels in character, sometimes in costume.
Furry fandom gets a bad rap, thanks to a string of kinky magazine stories and a "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" episode. Furries are well-aware of their public perception. They readily refuse interviews. All press are barred from FurryCon 2015.
Two furries agreed to chat for this story on the condition we don't use their names. We used their "fursonas."
Hoth, a furry from Central New York, will attend FurryCon this year. She says her fursona, an arctic fox, is very personal.
"Your character is what you feel you'd be like if you were an animal or anthropomorphic being, or a fantasy character of what you wish you were like," she said. "I don't walk around thinking, 'I'm a fox!'"
Zeigler, a communications professional from Skokie, Ill., has attended Midwest FurFest near Chicago three times and Anthrocon (founded in Albany) in Pittsburgh twice. His fursona is a jaguar.
"I don't believe my character is my true self, trapped in a human body," said Zeigler, 27. "It's an avatar, a way to represent myself in an artistic medium."
Historically, modern furry fandom splintered off the sci-fi cons of the 1980s, but people have been humanizing animals in art and literature for centuries.
Look at Anubis in Ancient Egyptian art or the coyote in Native American myths. Look at modern fairy tales, like Goldilocks and the three bears. Consider Disney's portrayal of Robin Hood as a fox. Aslan. Barney. Big Bird. They're all entry points into the fandom.
Conceptually, furries are pure science fiction. It's a draw for creative individuals. Many furries are artists or writers. But they're also bankers, teachers and business professionals.
Zeigler describes furry fandom as the bottom of the massive nerd totem pole. You've got your Whovians, your Harry Potterheads, Whedonites, Twi-hards and so on. Then you've got your furries.
"We're the people the Trekkies look down on," Zeigler said. "For a long time we've been the punching bags for the entire nerd hierarchy, but it takes a certain self-confidence to take that degree of wild mockery."
Furry fandom isn't a monoculture. Both Hoth and Zeigler can't speak for the masses, but they shared what they believe are the major misconceptions of furry fandom.
5 misconceptions of furry fandom
Misconception #1: Furry fandom = fetish
Let's address the elephant in the room, pun intended.
"The stereotype in the minds of those outside the fandom is that furries participate in one big, plushy orgy," Zeigler said.
He and Hoth blame that reputation on the "highly distorted" portrayal of furries in that 2003 CSI episode. The episode, titled "Fur and Loathing," depicted furries as sexual deviants detached from reality. Perverts in plush.
"It was hilariously inaccurate and it was seen by millions of people," he said. "That stupid CSI episode probably runs somewhere every single day."
In 2010, Skaneateles native and filmmaker Curt Pehrson attended the Midwest Furfest to make a documentary called "Furries: An Inside Look." (See it below.)
Pehrson interviewed several furries for the documentary and learned many reporters would focus on the fandom as some kind of kinky outlet.
"It makes furries very defensive," said Pehrson. "Some people will say they're sexually attracted to animals, and that's absurd. "It's like saying someone who likes horseback riding is sexually attracted to horses."
In any large group of people, particularly young people, surely a few would be inclined to experiment sexually? Hoth says some people do go to conventions with the goal of having a sexual experience.
"I don't really know how they operate at a con, because that's not my goal while I'm there," Hoth said. "Any fandom has weirdos, but they're typically the minority."
Zeigler hasn't met any.
"The idea of conventions as orgies is a complete myth," Zeigler said. "People have sex. The huge lie is that it's prevalent in costume."
Zeigler says the entire concept became taboo in furry communities because it's how they've been defined in popular imagination.
"It's been wildly damaging to the fandom's public image," he said.
Furries-2010-2.jpgFurries attend the Midwest FurFest in 2010.Curt Pehrson | Video still from "Furries: An Inside Look"
Misconception #2: All furries dress up like animals
Don't get furries confused with fursuiters.
A furry is anyone playing an anthropomorphic animal character, but a fursuiter is anyone who dresses like that character.
"So many people think furries all have a big, cartoony suit," Zeigler said. "Most people don't."
At conventions, he says maybe 10 or 15 percent will wear a partial costume: a furry glove, head, paw or tail. Others may look completely normal.
Hoth doesn't own a fursuit. They're expensive, ranging from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
"I'm big into the role-playing part of the fandom," she said. "The suits do cost a lot and I have different priorities right now."
Misconception #3: Furries dress like animals to shock people
Zeigler spent many years without a suit. He decided he wanted a suit after borrowing one and wearing it on a golf course.
"There were all these seniors there who loved it," he said. "We created a story for somebody to tell at dinner that night. It was so much fun to be part of that."
For him, it's about making memories. This year, he felt financially secure enough to buy a handmade jaguar suit. It will cost him $3,800.
"I went with one of the best," he said. "But I know a guy who spent $15,000 on a handwoven suit from a Hollywood special effects company."
At the biggest furry conventions, you'll find the highest-end suits. Some furries get light-up eyes, moving jaws or padding to make them look muscular.
"Some people find it intrinsically creepy and that's fine," Zeigler said. "They judge based on quarter truths, rampant misinformation and their own sense of discomfort with the entire concept."
Misconception #4: Furries are always in character
At conventions, furries are especially indulgent in their characters, so Zeigler says first-time attendees often assume this is how furries always act.
"People think furries live their entire lives in their suits," he said. "This doesn't define our entire existence. We have day jobs and 98 percent of our lives is doing perfectly normal things."
Most furries have to be working professionals, Zeigler said, because active fandom costs money. Attending a convention can cost $500 for one weekend.
Some furries legitimately identify more as animal than human, but it's just a fantasy hobby for Zeigler.
"If it's preventing you into being a contributing member of society, you're doing it wrong," he said.
Pehrson said some people take on characters as a hobby, while some use it as escapism, perhaps to address their own social anxieties.
"It's a creative outlet for some people," he said. "Maybe it's a bit weird but it's not hurting anyone."
Misconception #5: Furries try to convert people
Pehrson thinks this stereotype is ridiculous.
"I think furries are nice people and will invite people to come along, but it's not proselytization," he said.
Zeigler says furry fandom tends to go wrong when fans try to convince people it's normal, when people aren't mentally prepared to accept it.
"You have to acknowledge the quirkiness," he said. "But is it that much odder than a guy who puts on cheesehead and pays $500 to sit in the freezing cold and scream at the Vikings? We accept that as a standard in American culture. It's a matter of perspective."
No one egged him on to join. Zeigler first encountered furry culture as a teen. Someone in his class regularly wore a tail in high school. He later started dating a girl who was part of the fandom.
"I started going to conventions and met the most wonderful people," Zeigler said. "I was kicking myself for not joining 8-9 years ago."
Now he regularly plays golf, poker and softball with friends he made at furry conventions and meetups.
"It was the best thing that ever happened for my social life and overall being," he said.
FurryCon runs from Thursday, May 21 through Monday, May 25 in Rochester.