Wednesday, 29 June 2016

An intermission: I did a thing!

Oh lord another 6/7 months goes by and I don't update this. I've been really busy lately and this has just fallen by the wayside.
In any case, as a break from the alphabet theme, I wanted to make a post about what I was doing a few weekends back;

I went to a furry convention! Not only that I had a amazing time.

For those who don't know what a furry is let me try and explain (this goes double for those who immediately get a really strong image in their mind).

The Furry Fandom (or furries for short) is a subculture of people interested in the anthropomorphism of animals. I.e. animals with human characteristics, or vice versa (think Disney's Robin Hood, or Zootopia). That is probably the simplest and broadest explanation, but it doesn't really explain who furries are, or what they do. I've decided to look at what people did at the con as a viewport into the subculture. Often it's easy to start with what someone does, rather than trying to define it or explain the why's behind it.

The subculture is really diverse and defies description; my attempt is really focused on what I've experienced. Furries have a really bad reputation, which is largely unwarranted. There might be some truth in some of the things people say but almost nothing applies to 'all furries'. Take everything with a pinch of salt.

This might seem like an odd place to start but the furry fandom is like any other subculture; a group of people with a shared interest. It doesn't matter if you're thing is rock music, computer games, anime, horror films, or anthropomorphic animals when you get together with like minded people it's easier to make friends and feel at home. It might not be the first thing you think of, but a major part of these subcultures is growing and maintaining friendships; furries are no different.

Cons are amazing for this; most of the con was spent meeting people and hanging out. Sitting and chatting with a drink just like anyone else would; I could have easily been at a sci-fi or gaming convention half the time and not much would have been different.

Sex & Porn (not what you think!)
Ok, I'm going to address this really early and quickly then go into more detail later. The Furry fandom is NOT, I repeat NOT entirely and solely about Sex and Porn. It's not a fetish group. It's just a group of people with a shared interest. Like anime, Star Trek, comic books, etc, etc, etc.

That said, and I'll go into more detail later, that doesn't mean that it's entirely clean and PG, it really isn't, there was fair amount of porn (tastefully) available; it's just not the defining characteristic. I mentioned I was going to the con to a few people and had to explain to several that no, it's not a sex thing, no it's not a kink thing, yes Izzy is fine with it because IT'S NOT A SEX THING.

Most furries have at least one, if not several Fursonas (furry persona); these are alter ego's or characters, often representing or reflecting part of their creators. Some people put a lot of time, thought and energy into their fursonas, some less so.

To express these fursonas people will often create or commission artwork illustrating their fursonas, this often includes reference sheets; a fully detailed rendering of their characters appearance. These can then be used as a basis for further commission work, for others to include in their artwork, or form the basis for building fursuits.

I'll cover fursuits in detail later since they deserve their own section; but it's important to note that most of the stuff  bellow is largely immaterial when limited to just artwork. It only really becomes apparent when people are expressing their fursona in the form of a fursuit.

What animal or creature people choose for their fursona is normally related to their personality, or things they like. For example someone with a fondness for dogs might choose a canine fursona. They may also be based on the characteristics of the creature in question. Foxes are a common thread usually because of their playful and excitable nature (or at least their perceived nature). They can also be mythical or non existent creatures and even monsters; there were a fair number of dragons at the con for example.

There's a perception that furries care A LOT about their fursonas and treat them with real reverence. In my experience (largely via the people I know / met) people treat them more like much loved RPG characters. Yes they may mirror part of you, or help you express something which you normally find difficult, but at the end of the day it's all about fun and self expression rather than deep personal discovery, or connecting with some kind of inner soul (see otherkin).
As a quick example; A personal friend of mine has two fursonas (N.B. I'm sure the person will be able to tell who they are, I don't want to put words in your mouth so let me know if I've missed the mark here!) This is largely my interpretation of things they've said and how they act rather than things directly said to me.

One is a friendly dragon who like hugs and tea, and is female. Why choose this for a fursona? Because they a friendly person who likes tea and dragons. It's that simple.

That said, they were saying that they felt like this dragon character was a kind of reflection of themselves. Not that they truly deep down felt that they were a dragon, but that the style and aesthetics of dragons appealed to them. I've not spoken to them directly about it but I suspect it's something to do with their strong, ancient, wise, and mysterious nature. It's similar to what I was saying about faries in a previous post.

They also said that they had recently had a hard time nailing down the characters, well, character. This kind of makes sense really. It's hard to translate yourself in to a character since being yourself comes so naturally.

Their other fursona is almost a polar opposite. It's a horned, hoofed demon who is male, and surprisingly sassy. The demon has a lot more character to it; especially when it comes to how they move while in fursuit; it's a lot more primal, darker and more tricksy but with an edge of sinister. There is also something about it that feel masculine, something they themselves have said. To me it seems like a really safe, fun and expressive way to explore the more masculine aspects of their psyche.

I'm partly over analyzing here because it really grabbed me as a great example of why I find the fandom interesting.

When most people think of furries they probably picture a bunch of people in big mascot outfits, and yes that's a fairly accurate picture to be fair; fursits are probably the most iconic and notable thing about furries.

Fursuits are simply a costume of a particular fursona. They're not dissimilar to costumes stage, TV, or even LARP characters might ware, in concept at least. Wearing a fursuit isn't actually all that different from playing a character either. Most furries refer to the act of wearing a fursuit as playing that character. Similarly some may refer to a character being played by a person.

It's a performance, even for those who feel a very strong bond with their fursona. And as I mentioned above the same person can act very differently when playing different fursonas.

But what do people do in a fursuit? In truth? Largely not a great deal it would seem. At the con it was mostly walking the con floor as the character. There were some fursuit orientated activities such as dancing and some silly games but by and large it was an excuse to play their characters, pose for photos, etc.

This is probably for the best. I've heard more than one person describe wearing a fursuit like being inside a sofa; you can't see properly, breathing isn't great, you can't really drink or eat anything and going to the bathroom is impossible. It's also relentlessly warm and sweaty. Walking around for an hour or two is hard enough, having sex would be both extraordinarily difficult and unrewarding. Yet people think it's a thing furries regularly do.

One notable thing about fursuits I wanted to cover is the inherent anonymity. While most fursuits are crafted to one specific person, they can be worn by anyone roughly the same size and shape meaning that you don't always really know who is under all that fur and padding; even if you know the suit (admittedly I think sharing suits is fairly limited).

Some people find this concept intimidating, and while I can completely understand that (especially outside con environments) it did result in some interesting experiences and thoughts. The biggest one being unconscious bias and/or prejudice.

When someone is in a fursuit you can't see the colour of their skin, their age, the gender etc. All you see is what they want you to see, via the veil of a fursuit, and how they act. From that you build up a picture of who this character is; not necessarily the person. It was a really interesting experience; and in some ways quite liberating. I met a few people after I had, unknowingly, met their character and was often fairly surprised at the person under the head (as it were). It made me stop and think; to question myself about how I see people, and what judgement I make (knowingly or not) about them.

I mean I didn't have some kind of 'Oh god I'm a racist' epiphany or anything like that, but it did cause me to pause in a way that little else ever has. If anything it taught me to be more thoughtful and aware of unthinking bias; which can only be a good thing really.

LGBT aspects.
Somewhat unsurprisingly people who are happy to explore their psyche via animal traits are fairly happy to explore there own gender and sexual preference. They're also very accepting of LGBT people; and there seemed to be many in attendance even though Birmingham pride was the same weekend.

Normally when I've been dressed up in public I get this feeling where people have noticed but are trying not have. It's not that I feel they don't approve or aren't supportive, or that they even care but they've noticed none the less. I didn't really feel that at all, even from the hotel staff. It's probably the closest I've felt to normal while dressed up, even when just with friends or even at home.

I wore a few nice outfits and got a chance to actually wear my nice Dr. Martens boots which I've hardly worn so it was all great :)

Ok, so the porn thing ...

Everyone has things they find alluring or sexy. Almost everyone has some kind of kink and/or sexual fetish; even if they don't talk about it, really understand it, or accept it. It's a fairly normal part of being interested in sex.

Just think about that for a second. Almost everyone you meet; be that walking down the street, in a shop, over the phone, at work, in the pub, wherever; they most probably have something specific they like, even if they've never actually done it. And there's a massive range of things ... which I'm just going to gloss over; suffice to say it's broad and expansive.

A lot of people find talking about their kinks embarrassing and uncomfortable, even to their partners let alone anyone else. Others however don't, and in fact find it fun and interesting to talk to people with similar kinks. A lot of this happens online on forums and chat rooms. The BDSM community, for example is enormous, by and large extremely friendly, and welcoming. And while the perception might be that the community simply facilitates sex, it's almost always not the case. It's much more about sharing experiences, ideas, concepts, good porn, etc.

As I've said before, there's a perception that furries are very promiscuous and that the fandom is geared towards that. From what I've seen however I'd have to disagree. Most furries know what they like, and aren't afraid to talk about it, especially with one another; and since the fandom is heavily skewed towards artwork it is often expressed as porn, which is inevitably on the internet, and similarly inevitably fairly easy to find.

This, and the general openness most furries have about their sexuality has formed this reputation; by and large it's unfair. Yes furries like their porn, but I don't think they like porn and sex more than the average person, they're just less inhibited and have fairly odd tastes.
The big problem.
Like any subculture however the furry fandom has some black sheep (ha!). You sometimes hear stories of people wanting to change their legal species like someone might change their legal gender. Channel 4 for instance recently did a program entitled ‘The Secret Life of the Human Pups’ which introduced people (notably 3 men) who liked to dress up as, and pretend to be dogs.

While these people may be part of the fandom, they do not by any means represent it. They're the outliers. Have you ever been part of a subculture, or even something like a political party and found yourself being stereotyped by one specific extreme viewpoint or aspect of that group? That's kind of how most furries feel about it. Same as trans women getting lumped in the same group as drag acts, something I've mentioned before.

It's not fair, but it's understandable. People find it easy to jump to conclusions, and when the most obvious and apparent example is the one being pushed by media (because it's sensational and / or really weird) the cultural mentality can become really fixed. For how long have gay men been shown on tv as limp wristed queens? Or how all Germans are Nazis (Godwins)? How many of these are actually accurate? Practically none, but they often have some (if tiny and/or historic) root in reality.

Part of why I'm writing this is to try and dispel some of the misinformation around furries. Much as I write this blog to try and help inform people about trans issues.

Some expected questions.

While writing this I knew some questions would likely be forming in the minds of a few. Here are some answers; feel free to ask some more if you like.

So are you a furry now?
Short answer? Maybe. Long answer; I don't know. I certainly had a really great time and met a lot of interesting people. I guess it's been something on my periphery for a while so maybe? I don't know. I do know I'd like to go again, if for no other reason to hang out with the people I met again. I'm certainly happy to call myself a furry ally, if not one myself (I think some would just say I'm in denial however).

Why did you decide to go in the first place?
I'd been invited by a friend of mine since she thought I'd enjoy it, and that I'd get on with a lot of the people she knew. It sounded interesting and, as I said above, it was kind of on my periphery anyway. The thing that tipped the scale for me was the thought that if I chose to dress up I'd probably A) be really quite safe and B) go unnoticed what with the GIANT ANIMAL SUITS. I wanted to see how that would feel.

What's the strangest thing you saw at the con?
Honestly, probably a guy walking around in a t-shirt, jeans and bright red knee high stiletto boots. And it was just the shear juxtaposition of it that caught me off guard.

Oh there was the cyclops anime facemask thing. Which did just flat creep me out.

I don't believe you about the not a sex thing. 
I'm not going to lie. There was porn. It was tastefully hidden but really easy to find if you wanted it. There were probably people hooking up and doing stuff, but that was entirely behind closed doors. As I said, furries know what they like and don't mind talking about it. However there were really strict rules about what was, and wasn't allowed in public.

I personally didn't witness any evidence of people hooking up, but there were a few rumors flying around. To be honest most of the people I spent time with found the idea of hooking up at a con for casual sex really off putting and unsettling in a 'well each to their own but no thanks' kind of way.

What was that about Otherkin?
It's fairly easy to conflate furries with otherkin, but they're really not the same thing. Furries are interested in the aesthetics and style of anthropomorphic animals. Otherkin believe that they are in part or entirely not human. To use a clique a 'fox trapped in a mans body'. While there might be a bit of overlap between the groups most furries aren't otherkin, and many find them a bit strange.

What's animal are you / What's your fursona?
I don't know / I don't really have one. If I had to pick something I'd probably go with some kind of woodland creature or spirit. Possibly something like a deer? It mirrors the graceful yet powerful thing I mentioned a while back.

I still think it's weird and nothing you're going to say will dissuade me.
That's fair, It's a weird hobby and I think most furries would agree. That said, try to keep in mind that it's probably less weird than you think and that all furries want to do is have fun and express themselves, and that most of the media you see isn't really reflective of the average furry. And as strange as they might be they have no more chance of being a threat to you than any random stranger might.

Final Thoughts
I had a lot of fun. I think I'd like to go again next year. I met a lot of people, and made some friends. I would say however it's not for everyone; I defiantly felt overwhelmed when I arrived on the first day, like I'd made a really bad mistake and wasn't going to have fun, but after having a drink and meeting a few people I started having fun very quickly. I also managed to dress up a fair amount, which was great :)

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