Previewing Furry Weekend Atlanta
The warm, cuddly truth about sex and furrydom
In exactly two weeks, downtown Atlanta's Sheraton Hotel will serve as a playground for Furry Weekend 2012, a convention with more than 1,500 registered guests who identify as furries.
Furrydom is a subculture composed of fans of fictional animal characters with human personalities and characteristics (think: Beauty and the Beast, Avatar, Catwoman).
But while registered Furry Weekend guests will share each other's anthropomorphic interests through art exhibits, storytelling, and dance, as well as improv and sketch comedy, furrydom is a culture more largely regarded by the mainstream as a weird fetish where people dress up as animals and have sex with each other — and not just sex, but orgy sex.
"I went to my first convention expecting to be invaded with sex," says Lionel of Lion of the Sun Productions, an Atlanta-based furry costume maker and self-identified furry. "The truth of the matter is," he continues, "it was actually quite benign and tame. People talking, making arts and crafts, discussing artwork."
Since the convention started in 2004, it is common for nonfurries to drink mai tais at neighboring Furry Weekend tiki bar Trader Vic's, where a person can overhear statements such as "How do they put on condoms?" and "This is so weird."
Whenever I've overheard people pointing and laughing at furries, I wonder if they were bullied as a child (or adult). Sometimes we assume the worst of a group that exists out of the mainstream, even when we don't mean to. We're all guilty of it.
A good way to see past such stereotypes would be to visit the convention. Upon leaving Trader Vic's and heading over to the Sheraton, a person might see furries wearing fursuits, or animal costumes that can range from basic, a tail and ears, to partial suiters, mascot-style suiters, full suiters, or ultrarealistic suiter. Only about 200 registered furries, or 12 percent, fursuit at Furry Weekend.
Those unfamiliar with the furry community might consider fursuits sex paraphernalia, like a schoolgirl uniform or French maid costume, but the truth is that fursuits have a more spiritual connotation, as it is how a furry can best express his or her fursona, or animal alter ego.
"People have this idea that all these furries get into their fursuits and jump into a huge fur pile," Lionel says. "Generally speaking, with the amount of money people pay for their fur suits, they don't do that to them. It's a work of art."
Despite no formal training, Lionel made his first mask for a friend seven years ago when he realized, "Wow, this is actually quite pretty." Since then, the mechanical and electronic engineer has made furry costumes, complete with moving ears and jaw, night vision, ultrasonic hearing, and a cooling vest with an air circulation system. His most expensive masks cost $700 to $2,700.
Lionel does not have a fursona, but instead considers his inner African lion furry a part of who he is. "I was a furry as far back as I can remember. Honestly, about 8 years old. I was always fascinated by big cats, lions, and that sort of thing. Crawling through the grass. It's always been with me."
"For me," he says, "furry is an extension of my transhumanist aspects, which is the idea that eventually technology will be advanced enough that we can expand ourselves and experience things that we have never experienced, or at least that we can get back to experiences that we only imagined as a child, such as what it would be like to go thundering across the plains like a horse, or prowl like a cat."
The concept of furrydom originated at a 1980 science fiction convention when a character drawing led to the formation of a discussion group on anthropomorphic characters. And while, historically speaking, furry fandom's definition revolves around "the organized appreciation and dissemination of art and prose" regarding furries, it's the "sex with animal costumes" idea that really sticks out in people's minds.
I asked Lionel if he thought the Internet has helped or hindered people's curiosity of furrydom. "Are you going to run into furry porn? Yes. Does it exist, just like there's Star Trek porn and Harry Potter porn? Yes. But it's actually better because people can go to a website and convention sites and sites that are regulated, who keep an eye on what's going on and try to bring a better face to furry, because it's taken such a black eye."
Furrydom goes beyond a general appreciation for anthropomorphic animals. For some, their fursona is their spirit animal that helps guide them through life; while others appreciate the mysticism and magic, the idea that one day there will be another race with animal attributes; and some see animals as nature's teachers.
"The entire idea for me," Lionel says, "especially for Furry Weekend, it's about freedom. It's about expression. You're going to have individuals who unfortunately fit the archetype of the 'odd uncle,' and they're the ones that get the most press, because it's more salacious.
"This is something that really touches a deep extension of you, whether it's a love for anthropomorphic animals, or a spiritual connection. Go to a convention. Hang around. Make friends. Meet people. Don't go in there with the idea that everybody is out there to rip your pants off."