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SAN JOSE — By Sunday morning, after partying all weekend in heavy, head-to-toe animal costumes, many FurCon attendees outside the convention center downtown had scaled down to just their tails or paws.
As much as dressing up like a plush, cartoon version of a wolf, fox or ferret has become an identity, or an alter ego, even “Furries” need a break.
“The struggle is real, man,” said Jordan Leach, 24, who swung around his thick blue, black and white tail as he slid into a booth at The Flames restaurant Sunday morning for “Bottomless Mimosas.” If he were wearing his outsize fox-coyote hybrid head, he wouldn’t be able to eat anything bigger than a cracker and would need an extra long straw for a drink. Still, he said, “even when I’m not in full fur suit, I’ll always have my tail on.”
After a weekend of parades, poker and dodge ball tournaments, the 20th annual FurCon in San Jose that has attracted some 3,500 Furries is wrapping up after its “Dead Dog Dance” Monday night.
Furry creatures take part in a dog sled race during festivities at the 12th annual Further Confusion convention at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose on Jan. 24, 2010. FurCon celebrates the anthropomorphics genre with people dressing as furry creatures that have human and animal characteristics. (Gary Reyes/Mercury News)
Furry creatures take part in a dog sled race during festivities at the 12th annual Further Confusion convention at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose on Jan. 14, 2010. FurCon celebrates the anthropomorphics genre with people dressing as furry creatures that have human and animal characteristics. (Gary Reyes/Mercury News)
While outsiders might still find the idea of adults assuming an animal persona a bit bewildering, the Furries say they’re not that much different than other costumed subcultures, like Trekkies dressing up like Klingons and Cosplay fans dressing up like Game of Thrones characters. Some are even cross-promoting, like a group of Klingons did at the Marriott Hotel on Saturday night. Like other sponsors, the Klingons handed out free drinks from their room on the 4th floor, the “party floor” at the hotel, which installed wall-to-wall clear plastic tarps spanning every room and hallway.
As much as FurCon has been a non-stop party — and stigmatized by the sexualized nature of some of the activities — Furries say it is a welcoming place for people who feel marginalized or unaccepted by larger society.
“I come from a conservative family. I’ve struggled with my sexuality. This has helped me come to terms,” said a 30-year-old East Bay man, who only felt comfortable giving his Furry name, Ozzy Koala. “Radical self expression is a big part of it. Once people are putting on animals suits, everything else is out the window.”
Furries have attracted many from the LGBTQ community, as well as those on the autism spectrum, he said, who are looking for accepting, creative communities.
“There are a lot of Transfurs,” he said of transgender Furries. “It starts with putting on a costume that is literally a different gender. People get to feel what that’s like for the first time.”
For another convention goer from the East Bay, also uncomfortable giving his real name, “this was the social environment that gave me the ability to say I’m OK with myself.”
Many Furries became captivated by anthropomorphism — giving human characteristics to animals — as children by watching Disney’s talking animal classics, like Bambi and Lion King, or watching Looney Tunes’s Bugs Bunny.
“When I was a kid, I was like, I wish I was an animal, damn it,” said Leach, who also goes by the name “Foyote.” “Just think how it would be to be an animal and be able to talk.”
Not everyone at the convention wears an animal costume, which can become overwhelmingly hot. The custom, plush costumes can be expensive, between $2,000 and $10,000. Some are equipped with flashing LEDs that light up tails and make eyes glow, and liquid cooling systems inside.
“But if that gets damaged, you’re leaking everywhere,” said Russell Bumala, 30, of La Honda.
In costume or not, Leach says he is happy to express himself.
“It’s been such an extreme positive life change,” he said. “It’s opened me up socially. I was living a boring life before I got into fandom. Now I’m having a great time.”