The Wonderful World of Furries: An Exploration
Furries. Role-players, artists, gamers, and other assorted creative types belong to this community that began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. Chances are, if you’re a person who has ever been online, you’re familiar with the term. But who exactly is a “furry” and what is the furry fandom all about? We were curious, so we decided to do a little research.
Merriam-Webster includes both “Furry” and “Fursona” in its “Words We’re Watching” section, explaining:
A rising usage of furry refers to people who have a keen interest in, or even dress up as, anthropomorphic animal characters, like those often seen in comics, games, and cartoons. The personalized animal identity of a furry is known as their fursona, the portmanteau of furry and persona. Fursonas can exist as costumes, online avatars, or even full lifestyles.
Merriam-Webster goes on to write:
What makes the furry community different from other fan-based ones (such as those of the comic or sci-fi genres) is that typically furries create personalized animal characters which are referred to as a fursona.
Cool, OK. Maybe all of us had a little crush on Disney’s Robin Hood (1973). But a childhood crush on a talking fox does not a furry make.
So how did an entire fandom develop out of people who are interested in anthropomorphic animal characters? Well, it sounds like sci-fi, fantasy, and comic conventions paved the way for furries to meet and gather. Retrospective: An Illustrated Chronology of Furry Fandom, 1966–1996 explains that no single date or event can claim birthing the furry fandom, but that “there is general agreement that it was around late 1983 or early 1984 that furry fans coalesced out of [sci-fi] and comics fandom and began an independent identity.”
This makes sense. Tons of science fiction novels include intelligent animals, and with the way these conventions are structured around panels and group meetings, fans of these particular types of characters could easily find one another and section off to discuss their shared interests.
In fact, it wasn’t long before the first Furry Convention took place. In 1989, the first-ever ConFurence was held in Costa Mesa, California. Sixty-five people showed up, and events such as “A Furry Starter Kit” and “Furry Costuming” were held. Since then, ConFurence has grown exponentially, becoming one of the longest running furry conventions ever held. In 1998, over 1,200 people attended. Since then, other furry conventions have popped up and are still ongoing, including CaliFur, Furlandia, Megaplex, and more.
So … furries … is it a sex thing?
Well, maybe. Yes and no. A 2018 CNN article reported that, no, “their culture is not about sex.” A BBC article from 2009, however, which will live rent-free in my mind forever, stated, “But, inevitably perhaps, there’s a sexual element too. In a recent court case in the UK, two men who met on a furry website, and shared sexual role-playing fantasies, were convicted of plotting to kill one of the pair’s adoptive parents.”
Cultures — even subcultures — change. Certainly two men convicted of plotting murder aren’t the norm in the furry community, and again, certainly something as commonplace and ingrained into every aspect of our lives — whether it be entertainment, health, or business — like sex, isn’t entirely exempt from the culture either.
The New York Post‘s What it’s like to have sex as a “furry” is an interesting read. In it, Dominic Rodriguez, furry and director of a documentary about furries, admits, “The sexual aspect of the fandom is a huge part of it for me,” but is also insistent that his point of view is not, and should not be, the only one. He says:
There are people you’re never going to convince, who could watch the whole movie and it doesn’t make a difference because they’ve made up their minds already. … I think if I can get anybody who isn’t a furry to even a little bit see these people as people, that’s what I’d want. The world is changing now; we’re having conversations about identity. It’s not the same world it was in the ‘90s when furries were in CSI episodes.
So maybe it’s not just a sex thing, really. Maybe the furry fandom, like many other fandoms, is simply a group of people who have banded together because of their love and appreciation for one specific piece of media — like Trekkies or gamers — who participate in conventions, make art, role-play, like dancing, and have sex with each other. Maybe it’s a community for like-minded people to feel more comfortable with social interaction inside the protection of a fur suit, and a subsequent fursona. After all, isn’t that the appeal of role-playing?
Dr. Courtney Plante, a founding member of The International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP), does research into the furry fandom over at furscience. He believes that “the interesting part of the story is just how surprisingly normal furries can be despite having a strange hobby.”
What do you think of furries? Is the furry fandom what you expected it to be?
Photos courtesy Getty Images
This article was originally published on December 28, 2020. It has since been updated.