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Furries Tell Us How They Figured Out They Were Furries

"When I finally made the suit, it was this realization that it was like a second skin for me."

Photos by Hayley Stewart

If you grew up on the internet, you have probably already heard of furries. But what you think you know about them— Oh, they have sex in animal costumes, right?—is a harmful misconception that has plagued the fandom for years.

"The ubiquity of those representations of the furry fandom has been the only source of information that we've had [as a society]," one of the world's leading furry researchers, Sharon Roberts, told VICE. FurScience (aka the International Anthropomorphic Research Project), the research team Roberts is a part of, has found through their years of interviewing and surveying furries around the world that being a furry is actually an identity.

"There's a lot of furries who don't wear anything—it's just something they know about themselves," Roberts said. Though fursuits get a lot of attention, Roberts said it's important to remember that only about 15 percent of furries own these.

I went to one of the biggest furry conventions in Canada, Furnal Equinox in Toronto, to talk to attendees about how they figured out that they were furries and how integral the fandom has been to their lives.

Orion, 21, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

VICE: How did you find out that you were a furry?
Orion: I was dating a guy at the time, and he had a fursuit head that he was making. I fell in love with it that way. With the art online, I was trying to become an artist, and everything started falling in place. I started drawing a lot of anthropomorphic animals, and someone was like, "Oh you're a furry!" I was like, "What's that?" So I googled it and was like, "I am a furry!"

It just evolved from there, and it really took off when I started sewing. I started making cosplay costumes, and then all of the sudden somebody was like, "Oh you could sew fur!" I work at a fabric store, so I picked up some fur, and it's come a long way from there. I've been making fursuits for two years.

What does the fandom mean to you in your life?
My friends. They've become a part of my family at this point. I've dropped things in my life to help friends in the fandom if they need me. It's become a place that I feel at home and that, when I get into a fursuit, everyone loves you and wants to be your friend. If they don't love you, they respect that that's who you are and that's what you do. It makes me feel welcome.

What's it like being a furry on the east coast?
Uh, it's cold! So that's great for fursuiting. It's not as well-received as I hoped it would be. It's really coming to fruition with the local [fandom] conventions that I've been a part of... They've asked me to come in and talk about fursuiters so that people can understand that we're not scary. We're just people who love animals… I think that's a big step for the east coast.

As for the fursuits, how do you even begin to start making something so complicated? Did you teach yourself?
The craziest part is duct-taping your body. It's called a "duct-tape dummy." I used old pajamas, and you get a friend and literally make yourself a duct-tape dummy, and that's how you work your body pattern and that's how you get it to fit people so well. Then you add padding and tape over that. I have wings, I have a moveable tail. I have half hands, half bird claw things. Then you draw out how you want the markings to look. It seems really simple, but when I explain it, it becomes complicated.

How long did it take you to make your first one?
My first suit took me three months. This suit [I'm wearing today] took me two weeks. When I go at it full force, I can do an entire body in one day. A head is two days. But on top of a normal retail job, you have to break it up… I've made nine [fursuits] to date.

Is being a furry part of your identity and who you are, even when you're not in a fursuit?
Orion really helped me figure out who I was. I had a suit before and thought that was who I was. In university, I was so anxious and had horrible depression, so I started doodling this bird character. It was just this sassy, 'I don't take nothin' from no one' kind of personality. From that, I started feeling more of myself; I wasn't getting anxious going to school, and I had this feeling in me that I had this hippogryph personality coming out. I was fierce and I was being this thing that I always wanted to be, but couldn't. When I finally made the suit, it was this realization that it was like a second skin for me. I guess it's really changed part of me. I'm not overly shy and scared to be who I am. The hippogryph is an amalgamation of different animals. The eagle is proud and strong, the goat is resilient and fierce, and there's so many different things that came into it and made me who I am.

Azu's friend Vikxs shows off his badges

Azu, 30, Jersey City, New Jersey

Can you explain the badges to me?
Azu: The badges on a lanyard around one's neck usually represents their fursona… They'll have the badge of the previous con they've gone to and the patch of the current comic so that people can recognize them through their badges and character versus trying to put a name to a face. The best badges are the types of things they actually enjoy. Some people like less bling, others like more. Bling just means a jacket or lanyard covered in stuff. Some cons have competitions about who is the best blinged-out.

Can you tell me about how you figured out that you were a furry?
My parents couldn't keep me out of costumes at a very young age. I would go around, putting on red fur and flapping my hands saying that I was a fire-breathing dragon with a tail that I'd make out of felt... When I was in third grade, I moved to another school and I actually didn't have that great of a childhood. I had a lot of bad things happen where I was beat up constantly and was on the verge of death at one point… The only thing I remember seeing was the character Gabumon. And I woke up and was at home, and no one was at home.

If it wasn't for the Digimon character, I don't think I'd be alive. I was actually very close to death, and that was where the transition began to start as I began relating more closely to characters than people because people were mean and would pick on me. When I got to high school, I understood my character better, but I didn't find the furry fandom until college. Once I started researching things in college, I began working with mixed media and used different characters in my artwork… That's when I started to realize that furries was more than enjoyment, it was a semi-calling to myself. I found there were more people around me. It starts you on this process, and I've been on this process for well over 16 years.

You said you're waiting on a fursuit you ordered. When you get your fursuit, how will you feel?
It's been over a year, and it'll probably take another year. I'll probably end up crying very badly because yeah, it will be one of the happiest days of my life.

Nosferatu, 15, Oshawa, Ontario

VICE: When did you know you were a furry and how?
Nosferatu:
Grade 6. I was home sick, and my friend invited me over and was like, "Yo, come over, I have some videos I wanna show you," and I was like, "No, I'm watching Pokémon." Anyways, long story short, I went over and they were like Anthrocon videos. I didn't really question it much but I was like, "I want one." So I told my mom and she said, "Oh, it's just a phase." Then I told her how much people make by making these suits and she was like, "I guess you could try and make some with local materials." I made my first suit in the summer going into Grade 8 and I kept making them until I got to here.

How did your parents react to you getting into the furry fandom?
My mom was pretty accepting of it. We went to Anthrocon, and she was pretty alright with that… She knew nothing about it actually, so I told her everything about it.

What does the furry fandom mean to you?
I know that a lot of teenagers who go through high school have it rough but of course, I'm 15, I'm in Grade 10, I still have two more years. It's just something that I look forward to, it makes me happy, I like making suits, and I've had some people commission me [to make them]. It's cool. 

You go to a Catholic school? Do your classmates know your a furry?
Yes… I've never been formally bullied. I know some of my friends think that it's pretty darn weird, but some of them just go along with it and say, "Oh, furry trash." And I'm like, "Yeah, I am furry trash!" My art teacher, I'm actually really good friends with him, he's asking me and I'm talking with the vice principal, but they want me to make the school mascot.

Is this something you'll be a part of for the rest of your life? 
Probably. I don't really see what could stop me.

Cake, 21, Kingston, Ontario

VICE: Can you tell me about how you figured out how you were a furry and that's how you identified?
Cake: I had a couple friends that were into the fandom, and I didn't really understand it. But being first into like anime and going to anime conventions, I learned more about it and how this is such a creative outlet with so many different ways to express it... So I was like, "I can get down with this!" I made myself a character, and then I got up to the point of actually commissioning someone to make a suit for him, and here I am now at my fifth Furnal Equinox!

What does the fandom mean to you in your life?
It's a huge creative outlet... Here, art is everywhere. The costumes, you can see just how much time and effort a person put into that. You see all of the artists just doing what they love and selling what they've created, and it's just a nice community. It's all about self-expression and creativity. Just good vibes and good people and really good parties.

Could you tell me about the parties?
We are literally party animals… With the suit, without the suit. I mean, be careful obviously, you don't want to drink too much when in a costume because you can't always get out of them easily.

How do you feel about the public's perception of the furry fandom?
I feel like everyone's just going to misjudge what they don't understand, right? So I encourage when people to come up and ask, "So what is this? What are you doing?" I love telling them that it's a big creative adventure. It's a group of people getting together and just sharing that. Anime conventions are just super duper fun and comic conventions are great, but this isn't celebrating what someone else has done. This is celebrating what we have done, and it's just so much more social and fun, and all you gotta do is ask.

Can you have more than one fursona?
You can have more than one fursona of course. It's a creative outlet, and if you create a character for yourself and then decide, "Meh! I want another character to represent this side of myself," you can do that for sure. Or, you can have characters that don't even relate to you at all.

Kin, 27, Pittsburgh

VICE: Can you tell me about how you figured out that you were a furry?
Kin:
The whole aspect of getting into the furry fandom, I really loved Disney movies like Lion King, and it was just a big influence. Around high school, I met a few other furries who were in my high school, and I really liked the art and I became interested in it.

Can you tell me about how you feel in your fursuit?
To be able to get into the mindset of Kin—whenever I get into the suit, I play the character almost as if I was Kin. Taking off the head almost ruins the illusion completely. Kin is a female. I'm actually transgender. I'm a MTF, male to female.

Do you feel that being a furry is just as much a part of you as your gender identity?
Oh yeah. Furry is just really important to me. It's almost like a lifestyle for me.

What do you think about the public perception of furry fandom?
It all depends. Like my dad, he doesn't like furries. Because you hear it all over in Pittsburgh that we poop and pee in litter boxes… No, we don't. It's not something we do. They're all exaggerations. Like, there's the sexual aspect as well. There are sexual aspects sometimes, but even in normal human life, there's sexual aspects. But definitely with the whole fandom, a lot of it is very clean and family-friendly.

What does the furry fandom mean to you?
It's definitely somewhere that I'm accepted. It is its own kind of society when the convention comes on. And everything is so peaceful and nice. It's almost a kind of reprieve… You don't have to worry about who you are and what you're trying to be. In any situation, say you're a steel mill worker, you have to pretend to be straight and pretend to be normal; but here, you don't have to worry about that… Everyone cares about each other.

Sargent Snow, 24, Midland, Ontario

VICE: What's the military regalia you have on?
Sargent Snow:
 I've always been interested in the military and I wouldn't mind joining them one day. But I do a lot of airsofting, which is like paintball, so I throw on my airsoft gear and go out.

Tell me about how you figured out you identified as a furry.
I actually found out about the furry fandom by accident. I created my Facebook profile in 2012, and back then, they required you to have a Facebook profile picture. Because I didn't have any pictures of myself, I was looking online and found a picture of this cute little dog-looking thing. Then people started asking me, "Oh! So you're a furry?" And I was like, "What the heck is a furry?" So I looked more into the fandom and I was talking to some of my friends who were fine with me being a furry and I was like, "Well, what kind of animal do you think best represents my personality?" And they all either said a dog or a fox. So I decided to go with a fox.

What does the fandom mean to you?
It's a nice, friendly, almost family feeling. I don't get along very well with my family and just coming to the convention and having people go, "Hey! How's it going! Been a long time." Everyone's friendly and loving and caring, and it's just really, really nice.

What's the challenge of being a furry and living in a medium-sized town?
I try to get out as often as I can. Living in Midland, it's not a very furry-friendly area. Just people aren't used to anything besides what they classify as normal. But nowadays in society, nothing is normal. It's just people aren't used to it, so you get a lot of weird looks. More smiles than looks really, they think it's cute or cool or whatever.

What do you think about the public perception of furries due to misinformation in the media? There's the the CSI episode...
CSI, NCIS Los Angeles. I think personally that before people start making assumptions, they should do more research... I was fursuiting one day in London (Ontario), and a lady passed me by and said, "Oh, you're not a furry, are you?" And I was like, "Yes I am." And she was like, "Oh, so you guys all just have sex and get together?" and I was like, "No, that's not what I do." There's a lot of us that don't do that. What people do behind closed doors—like, if you go to Comic Con, you're going to get Batman screwing Superwoman. People are into all kinds of different stuff. That doesn't mean the entire fandom is like that. That's a huge thing that gets thrown around a lot.

Rose, 28, and Arcanox, 22, Chicago

VICE: Can you tell me about when and how you knew you were a furry?
Arcanox:
I knew about the fandom probably three years before I joined. One of my coworkers at school, I work in tech support at a university, and my coworker was a furry. It seemed like a cool thing, but I don't want to be one of them. One of them. One of those weird people. I did some research, and I just decided that there is no "them." It's a great fandom that does charity events and lets people express themselves.

Rose: For me, I've always been into costuming… I noticed that fursuits were another next level costuming thing and so I was like, "Hey, I wanna try this," and what I ended up getting was a white wolf that scares everyone now. It was a graduation from more simplistic cosplay to more complex costuming like this or the quadsuit I have where you are on all fours. It requires a lot of exertion because you're on all fours and on stilts.

How much do your fursuits cost?
Rose:
I have ten right now and another five coming. My most expensive one was $8,500, and that was from a maker called AutumnFallings, which is the golden cup or Lamborghini of fursuits... Most of them are in the $2,000-$3,000 range.

What role does the fandom play in your life?
Arcanox:
It's a big part of my life. I have this spreadsheet so I know which conventions I've planned on going to this year so that I can make sure I take the time off. I get to go to all of these cities like, Toronto is such a cool city. I get to explore the country and the world by going to these conventions. Then these conventions themselves are really cool. It's a pretty big part of my life at this point.

Rose: For me, the fandom's primary function is friendship. Prior to joining the fandom, I didn't really have many friends, I had already graduated college. Once you graduate college, all your friends go home… and I was like, "Hey, I'm here, I'm alone, there's not much going on in my life anymore." I guess the second thing that the fandom means to me is the charity work. I recently became a guest of honour at a convention in Wisconsin because I tried to help the charity work that goes on down there, and I ended up raising $2,000 to help this animal shelter… The whole con raised $25,000.

What do you wish that the public knew about the furry community?
Arcanox:
Usually on the internet when I tell people I'm a furry, even in real life, people are like "Ew, does that mean you have sex in those costumes?" and it's like...

Rose: No, those costumes are too expensive!

Arcanox: I'm not going to pay several thousand dollars and ruin something like that. It's not a sexual thing at all. I'm asexual.

Rose: So am I.

I've actually met quite a few asexual furries today. Is that common in the fandom?
Rose:
There's a lot of LGBTQ people here… I am agender.

Arcanox: A lot of times people in minority groups like that… They get a lot of discrimination in public, and for them to be able to put on a costume… People don't focus on that part of you, they focus on your fursona. It helps to offload some of the stress of that, and it just is a better way of expressing yourself. I also know that there's a lot of people who are gender nonconforming, like non-binary. Being in a fursuit, people don't see your real face, they don't assume things about you or know what gender you are, they just look at the fursuit. It's a way to express yourself as you truly are.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Follow Allison Tierney on Twitter .