None of my friends growing up could beat me at bowling. But there’s a first for everything, and it turns out a grown husky can take me – that is, if they have opposable thumbs.
A month ago, I joined my friend Jake at a furry meetup held, in all places, at a bowling alley. While I had known for years that Hinkle is a member of the furry fandom, this was the first time I was invited into this part of his life.
For those of you uninitiated to the furry fandom, it’s a community that is admittedly a bit bizarre to comprehend. As a subculture, the furry fandom is generally known as a community of people who enjoy roleplaying and dressing up in large, often expensive, “fursuits.” You can also be deemed a furry you enjoy drawing anthropomorphic art or simply like to participate in the fandom’s online communities.
Of course, the definition is a bit more complicated than that for those outside of the community. For many, the furry fandom is viewed as a group of sexual deviants with a very unorthodox fetish, and it’s hard to blame the mainstream population for these inaccurate perceptions. The portrayal of furries is often overly sexualized, with one of the more popular depictions of the fandom being displayed in the always-factual CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It also doesn’t help that some of the fandom’s most prominent members have been charged with a litany of sexual abuses.The mainstream media doesn’t help matters either. MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, in a spectacular display of an utter lack of professionalism, could not keep a straight face while reporting on an intentional chemical attack that hospitalized nineteen people during the 15th Annual Midwest Furfest at Chicago’s Hyatt Hotel.
At the bowling meetup I attended, many of the furries I met pre-suited were shy but very friendly and welcoming of my presence. After a few minutes, I was rather comfortable with the situation. And aside from a few scowling bowling customers, every one else was too. After all, it’s not every day you watch people run around in animal costumes in public.
Soon after purchasing our bowling shoes and tickets, the “fursuiters” went into a dining-turned-changing room. A few minutes later, elaborately decorated fursuiters filed out with a confidence that defied their shy personas. Immediately, these introverted people I had just stood in line with became, after adopting their “fursona,” — the type and name of animal they choose to be — some of the most confident, fun, and extroverted people I had ever met. Fursuiters and furries without suits gave out hugs, drinks, and even the occasional handstand freely as the night progressed.
And while most would expect such a public display of furrydom would rile the bowling customers, most were genuinely curious about the fursuiters running around bowling with their paws on. Many even requested pictures with the fursuiters – which all of the fandom enthusiastically participated in. And eventually, like most things, the novelty wore off. Everyone went back to their bowling games, only giving a cursory glance to the fursuiters and the rest of the fandom celebrations.
As the night wore on and I began to get to know the members of the Midwestern furry community, it was obvious that most of the furry fandom were just a bunch of folks that wanted to have fun and be accepted. Many told me stories of how they discovered their fursona and how it represented them.
To many furries, fursonas are as much as a part of their identity as their sexual orientation, gender, or race. Some even told me how they came out and learned to accept that they were furries. While all the stories are different, many started developing their fursonas at a young age after watching Disney movies or reading books like the Animorph series. Members of the fandom will also routinely switch between their birth names and furry nickname.
When I asked members about the controversy surrounding the furry fandom, specifically concerning the tabooed sexual activity, not one member of the fandom seemed fazed by the question. “You take a lot of pent up, sometimes socially withdrawn people, things are going to happen,” laughed Hinkle. “For a lot of furries who don’t go out in public, this is their dream.”
And it’s a dream that makes sense. For many who identify as furries, coming out is simply not an option due to the stigma. For that reason, an estimate of the size of the furry fandom is basically a wild guess. But things are changing. More furries are coming out, telling their stories, and setting the record straight concerning the representation of their community.
In the meantime, Hinkle and other members of the furry fandom will continue to be who they are, which is fun-loving with a touch of bizarre. “Yes, it’s weird,” admits Hinkle. “But that’s why I love it.”
And they’ll continue to beat me at bowling.