Inside the misunderstood culture of furries

The furry community has a message for the rest of the world: Their culture is not about sex.

In fact, people in the furry community are largely annoyed about how their community has generally been portrayed by mainstream media outlets.

Most feel like depictions of sexual fetishists wearing furry costumes and cavorting at wild parties are inaccurate and downright unfair, say experts.

For the unaware, we’re talking about a worldwide community estimated at hundreds of thousands strong who call themselves the furry fandom.

They’re made up of old and young, all genders, CEOs, blue-collar workers, singles, couples, parents, students, LGBTQ and straight — all who celebrate fantasy animal characters with human traits.

How do they celebrate? To each, their own. The different ways run the gamut.

For example, do you have an unusually powerful fascination with Bugs Bunny?

Well then, you might be a furry.

Maybe you like to doodle original animal characters that reflect your alter-ego or persona, aka your “fursona.”

Again, you could be a furry.

What if you love your animal character so much you want to wear a costume of it?

You very well may be a furry.

For many furries, putting on their costume sparks a fascinating metamorphosis.

Take longtime furry Joe Strike. When he puts on his reptilian costume, Strike transforms from self-described “pretty mellow guy” to a character he calls Komos.

“I become very sinister — very forceful and intimidating,” says Strike, author of a book on the fandom called “Furry Nation.” “It’s so much fun to become that other person — this kind of mysterious, alluring character. Some women really take a shine to him and it’s really a blast.”

Because the colorful furry costumes get the most attention in the media, it supports the perception that furries are all about costumes. But they’re not.

In fact, the co-founder of the first furry convention doesn’t own a costume at all.

“If you honestly believe that furry fandom is about costuming, then you’ve missed the point,” says Rod Stansfield, perhaps better known in the community by his pen name, Rod O’Riley. “Saying furry fandom is about wearing fur suits is like saying ‘Star Trek’ fandom is about wearing pointy ears.”

Original ‘ConFurence’

In the 1980s, Stansfield and his partner Mark Merlino — during visits to science fiction conventions — realized the furry fandom was becoming a bigger thing of its own. By 1989 they organized an “experiment” they called ConFurence Zero at a Holiday Inn in Garden Grove, California: the first known “furry convention and seminar.”

Although only 65 people showed up, including only two or three in costume, ConFurence Zero started a movement of sorts.

It gave momentum to the fandom, later resulting in similar conventions such as Califur, Canada’s VancouFur, Australia’s ConFurgence, Eurofurence and Anthrocon, which is now held yearly in Pittsburgh. Last summer’s Anthrocon, one of the biggest, drew about 8,400 people, including nearly 2,000 in costumes, according to the event website.

“We don’t feel like furry fandom is something we created, it’s something that was there,” Stansfield says. “We were just the guys who introduced it to itself. We just came up with a goofy new way for fans to talk to each other — actually meeting, face to face. People took that and ran with it.”

Three decades later the fury fandom is much bigger, using the power of the internet to reach out, organize, engage with each other and share — via videos, podcasts and art.

Pocari Roo, Barton Fox and Stormi Folf are just a few of many furries who host video channels on YouTube discussing fursonas, affordable fursuits and other topics. “I simply want to help the world understand our fandom a little better,” says Stormi Folf, who prefers to use his fursona “for reasons of privacy and safety.”

“I’m known as a furry but only family and close friends know my real name,” he said.

Furry lingo

It’s a subculture just like any other — including unique terminology.

For example, a “greymuzzle” is an older member of the furry fandom. “Bronies” are fans of the “My Little Pony” toy, TV and movie franchise. A “therian” is someone who feels an intense spiritual identification with a nonhuman animal. A “babyfur” is interested in age play and young or childlike characters. Milfurs are furries who are current or past members of the military. Here’s one more: Furries who are into costumes are called fursuiters. And yes,