Animal Planet :: Furries Find a Place to Frolic
Driving through SoMa some evening last month, you may have been flagged by a group of people in tall animal costumes, including a vibrantly-colored prehistoric bird, a striped bear and a sexy, slender fox.
Those late-night revelers - a burgeoning international subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic characters with human attributes - were congregating in advance of last month's "furry" convention, which occurred in San Jose and drew several thousand attendees. But at the historic Stud bar on January 11, some 200 furries and allies gathered for dancing, drinks and to strut custom costumes ranging from a snake to that prehistoric bird that flapped his wings outside the bar.
"Furries are a new community birthed from the Internet some two decades ago. We know how to party and we watch out for each other. Lots of people from the tech industry come here for fun," said Aesop, who in costume is a manifestation of a childhood fascination with birds. By day he is a software engineer in San Jose. After talking, he turned to passing traffic outside the bar and flapped his wings.
Aesop and others at the party said that furries are stigmatized by their novelty and by hypersexual representation in the media, which have portrayed them as lewd fetishists interested in grotesque sexual encounters.
Salon.com posted an article in 2000 in which the author uneasily reflects on her subject, a "self-described computer nerd" who has sex with stuffed animals. That article was referenced by two interviewees at that party as to blame for the confusion about furries' mores. And last month, Silicon Business Journal suggested that furries were on an "acid trip" and enforced a "psychological realignment" on nearby office workers during the San Jose convention.
But at the party, a more balanced scene unfurled among a diverse crowd of leather-clad men, fursuiters (furries wearing fur costumes), and shirtless dancers. Some sexuality could be seen on the dancefloor, where a man thrust his body against a slender lioness.
But a pet-like affection abounded at the party, akin to tenderly petting a dog, and it appeared that many sought a furry warmth from each other. And many summed their participation as fun-seeking revelry.
"I literally walked in and a guy asked me to have an Irish bomb. They're so fun. They're on the right path to being socially acceptable," said 23-year-old Donnie Baker, a transgender female-to-male fetishist who wore a rubbery but kind-looking Rottweiler dog mask. He performs human-animal roleplay for Kink.com and designs furry costumes.
Some interviewees said that their childhood plays a role in their interest in furries.
"So many people here find memories from their childhood and tap into that," said a shirtless man named Cali Coyote. He reflected on the furry sensation he experienced as a child when rubbing his body against blankets.
And Aesop, the bird flapping outside the club, reflected on his childhood.
"I've always been a bird watcher since a young child. Now I've been a furry for over 20 years," he said.
Outside the bar, partygoers partook in "huggles," a furry term for a snuggle-hug. They held each other closely, rubbing snouts and fur-covered bellies. A man toting a fur costume around his waist enthusiastically spun illuminated yo-yos while another man cruised around the party in Heelys, or one-wheeled roller shoes.
The youthful and playful air continued into the club, where the pool table was adorned in a fur blanket. Day-Glo paintings illuminated by black lights created a psychedelic environment. Electro and progressive house music was played by DJ AudioDile (like crocodile), who has DJed at a variety of fur conventions. DJ NeonBunny organizes the Frolic events, and has a website focusing on his events (www.neonbunny.com).
Some people at the party were just getting started in the furry world.
"This is a regular thing now after having celebrated New Years at the Embarcadero. I've been doing it for a few months," said a goat furry named Hawthorne. He said that his character is interested in blank slates and traveling. He recently moved from the East Coast to work in the tech industry.
Some furries wear IDs emitted by the International Furry Association. The badges, which were seen on most fursuited partygoers, identify their fictional character's initiation date, nationality, birthdate, and show stamps similar to bumper stickers. Most fursuited furries wore these badges, which authenticate the furry as a true member of the community.
Cali Coyote, who declined to offer his job or age, described his character as being interested in music and displayed on his phone a costume that is being fabricated for $2,000.
A self-proclaimed "confessional singer-songwriter" musician, Cali Coyote is finding an outlet for performance through the costume, which is a common event at fur conventions. For the time being, he was shirtless and wore a brown tail, coyote ears, painted whiskers, and a black nose.
The dance floor was populated with as many fursuiters as typical clubgoers. Some attended in support of furry friends and others were unfamiliar with the culture and happened upon the evening.
Makesh, who declined to state his last name, stood near the fur-covered pool table with a group of friends.
"I'm coming out of the closet, and I'm here with my friends," Makesh said. He added that he's not familiar with furries but that he's "totally okay with it."
Frolic happens every second Saturday of the month at The Stud in San Francisco from 8pm to 2pm, $8 cover, $4 in costume. www.frolicparty.com www.studsf.com