A Google Image Search for “Terrie Smith” open on an iPhone

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A Wolf waiting for the Elevator on the fourth floor of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont Illinois / Midwest Furfest 2013

We’ve landed at O’Hare. At carousel 5, my bag does not have the “selected for inspection” sticker I expect, but they didn’t bat an eye at the x-ray machine, did they? At certain times of the year, airport security in every major city sees hundreds of what I’m carrying. The novelty peels off. I know the feeling. I’m about to take a shuttle to the office-park prison yard of Rosemont, Illinois for my dozenth or so furry convention, my coyote mascot costume tucked between extra sweaters in my rolling carry-on.

I already drank two of my packed lunch of behind-the-counter tiny bottles of Irish Whiskey (under 4oz!) and I’m cranky and cold, but my roommates for the weekend, fellow Colorado furs, have our room ready -nice and cozy- strewn with animal costumes, various leather restraining devices, a chainmail flail, rubber jumpsuits and a dozen boxes of nitrous oxide canisters. Mostly for your sake, I wish I could draw up this con report with the psychedelic horny fantasmagoria of my first furry con. But the night is dark and my muzzle is grey (I am 26!) and I honestly want to hit the hay already. I can’t give you, I won’t give you, the account of my furry convention deflowering. Since then, I have changed, and fur cons have changed rather rapidly around me (without me?). This most recent Midwest Furfest (my third attendance of this particular event) was the con where I took care of myself: ate right, slept more, drank less and still got the nastiest con crud I’ve ever gotten. I’m older and frailer now. Furry is different now.

The morning I left Longmont, my ex-boyfriend sent me a text message, wondering if I would be in town for the convention. He’s moved back to Chicago and would like to get back in touch. I am attending the con with my partner. Er…. my girlfriend. He wasn’t/isn’t a furry and she is. So anyway….

 

The people from the car show trying to clandestinely take your picture in the hotel lobby

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A weffy hands out doughnuts in the lobby at Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL // A hot cheetah with leek prop at Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2013, Denver, CO //
Max Goof and Goofy fursuit cosplayers at Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL

The shuttle driver is rigid, pulling us into the traffic circle. Fursuiters, insulated from the wind and cold by their costumes, spill out through the revolving door to the lower lobby of the hotel. This kinetic thrill courses through my guts out toward my fingertips gripping the handle of my rolling carry-on bag. We’re anxious to be out of our coats and into our itchy pelts. Something like a quarter or more of furries who attend conventions are fursuiters. The most visible public element of furry, costuming is increasing in its status within the fandom as a vital, though maybe not quite foundational element of participation. At my very first con (Furry Weekend Atlanta in 08), I may or may not have relied on some illicit herbal supplements to help acclimate myself to the culture shock of being around so many bipedal pink bunny rabbits. Years went by and I burned with envy to be one of them.

THE EXPERIENCE OF FURSUITING: It’s disorienting and uncomfortable. Your field of vision blinkered and diminished, the middle ground a puddle of murky shadows. Walking down stairs takes homework, comparable to descending in high heels. If you don’t quickly establish proper air circulation, you can overheat in seconds just wearing a mask. Furries with full-body costumes wear balaclavas and special sport undergarments from nosetip-to-toe, mostly as a barrier for sweat.

You learn to walk again, and to grasp door handles and room keycards and beer bottles with clumsy paws (I upgraded this year to a five-fingered set and have never been happier). People wave to you and squeal and take hasty cell phone photos in every snug spot and corridor and you learn to let the attention melt into your vanished peripheral. Squares furtively snap your picture, thinking you can’t see them. Some people ask, all blushing polite modesty. Some think you’re the cutest thing they’ve seen in the last ten minutes. Others want to fuck you. There are other suiters, suiters cuter than you, to hug and flirt and play with and share the same mesmerizing layer of over-the-top common reality.

 

In an idle moment, a friend will ask to try on your coyote head and you will feel jealous of the precious seconds they are wearing it.

 

The Alley, the Den, and behind the black curtain

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Ad for vintage furry writing //
Inflatable Digimon Pool Toy, Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL

The furry economy is fluid and adaptable to the niche-est of niches, where cottage industries can spring up around much desired subjects, proclivities and fetishes. I have friends whose sole income comes from operating a furry porn pay site or building fursuits or serving as the art director for an erotic furry trading card game. It’s the most fabulous geeky entrepreneurial hustle in the world.

Furry conventions have space set aside for the various commercial endeavors. Anyone can sign up for a lottery for a spot to sell their own artwork, often on-the-spot cheap commissions or highly-collectible personalized con badges. There is also the option of renting booth space in the Dealers’ Den, where there is more freedom and variety of things available for purchase. It’s a mixed bag with apparel ranging from dismal meme-inspired tee shirts to brightly colored fur-lined leather bondage gear. Synthetic fur tails of various species are ubiquitous, and Japanese kigurumi, full-body hooded pajamas resembling dozens of animals are recently very popular.

Elsewhere you can find comics and furry literature publishers and catalogers of vintage fanzines and other such furry ephemera. There’s even a company that builds custom gigantic inflatable pool floaties.

Bad Dragon, the subject of a tittering Vice profile, is a much beloved maker of high-quality sex toys in the imaginative likenesses of the genitals of various fantasy creatures. Pornography in various formats is available everywhere, although strictly censored and separate from milder material.

Unlicensed merchandise relating to the children’s cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has risen to striking prominence in the Den since the show began airing. Many writers including myself have taken pains to distinguish furry from a fan culture surrounding any particular product, so it gives me pause to see how naturally Brony fandom (adult men who self-identify as fans of the show) has adapted and integrated with furry on such a scale. There is a strong element within furry of engaging with animal-related pop phenomenon, either personalizing a relationship with a mass product, queering, smearing and breaking it down, or simply pornographying it for its own blessed sake. But this is often in a context of liberation. My envisioning of the fandom is a space for open-minded but ethical perverts of all persuasions. How then, does this intersect with a fan culture that can be seen as plundering its ownership of the show from the girls it’s specifically made for – Girls who represent the demographic whose own engagement with media in a personal way is so often dismissed and denigrated as fake or un-serious or deranged?

I always love the art show, which has a separate section for matted and framed cartoon porn. This Terrie Smith pin-up really ties the room together!

The DIY furry comics culture has been vibrant since the days of Albedo Anthropomorphics through RRUFFURR, but has been largely sublimated by the internet. Printed comics and zines are background radiation at cons, and the zine culture is passionate but limited in its depth and breadth. No fur con can mimic the experience of a Small Press Expo, and oughtn’t to do so, but I ache for more of a cultural crossover between my two beloved non-overlapping magesteria of the Furry and Indie* or whatever comics scenes. I should either be passing out zines in fursuit or wearing my fursuit at small press shows.

For real I would love an original Terrie Smith pin-up for our home office.

 

:AIRHORN: :GUNSHOT SFX: :DROP TO THE FLOOR:

The line for the dance competition finals snakes around the corridor outside the ballroom. Regular finalists are furry celebrities, attracting fans who remove their clothing as they step to the dance floor. Fan favorites like Phor, Zeke, and OMGSparky are musically literate in current hip hop and EDM. Individual personalities vary, but a house style of dancing has emerged that utilizes locking and highly-gestural arm movements that seek to transcend the communicative limitations of hot, bulky, highly ungainly costumes. Just existing in a fursuit is a test of endurance. Performers like the flourescent coatamundi Step are exhalted for the raw aggressive physicality they bring to the dance floor.

The dance competition is a juried event, a clumsy approximation of televised dance troupe competitions, with the previous year’s winner invited as the guest judge in suit. There exists a yawning naked charisma gap between the panel and the performers.

There are raves every night. I used to love to grind nastily with suiters at these things. Now I’m old and square and any kind of dancing involving the ass in any capacity is called twerking and I can’t do that any more.

Unlike the dance competition, the music at the raves is usually dreadful, but you dance anyway.

 

Furry after dark

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Artwork by Ataraxia on display during Furry Weekend Atlanta 2013 in Atlanta, GA

Do you remember the first time you saw a fursuiter and thought “oh my god, he’s really hot?” I do.

Furries are free to deny that weird sex is not a central element of this great weird social thing, but this thinking is backed by their own deliberate and reactionary cognitive dissonance. In the real world, furries exchange pornography to solidify bonds of friendship, integrate their fetishes into the forefront of their furry identities and meet at cons for casual sex. If you know the right friend of a friend, you get an invitation to each con’s sheath party, gear and pup-play get-together, babyfur meetup, XXX dead dog and transformation drawing circle.

Schrodinger’s digimon pool floatie in the lobby is at once a family toy and coveted fetish object.

I’m a champion of furry as a space for enlightened, ethical sexual liberation, but real-life sneaks in. There are many malignant spores of patriarchal rape culture that bloom in any free love environment. At this con I found myself having to almost immediately telegraph though my expressionless cartoon coyote eyes “Stay away from me. I know. What. You. Did.”

Exchanging erotic drawings is fun. My roommate drew my mouse fursona sheepishly beholding an ostentatiously athletic horse dude (!). I drew a lithe nude dog man striking a broadway pose, underscored by “HAIL CUM” in all capital letters.

During Midwest Furfest 2011 I attended an invitation-only party where I had to strip down to my underwear as a condition of entrance. I tried on a leather pup play mask and allowed myself to be reluctantly goaded into slapping a stranger’s ass. Arf Arf.

At that same con I smoked pot out of an apple in the backseat of my car.

Everyone really does love those dragon dildos.

 

This is my mate…

minutia

Fursuit photos event, Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL // My partner with her friend Ness at Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL, both costumes by Jillcostumes // Spiral’s head in the hotel room at Midwest Furfest 2013, Rosemont, IL.

I met my partner for the first time at a furry con, but we fell in love on twitter, each keeping it secret from the other for almost a year. I used to think that I didn’t want to date a furry. A great number of furries only date within the fandom, and I thought that loving a non-fur would provide depth and perspective that an insider could never give me. And my ex was a peach of a non-furry partner; non-judgmental, mostly bored by my accounts of my debauched weekends in Pittsburgh and Atlanta without him.

I had discounted how foundational this furry thing is: the animal stories I was raised on, the lull of David Attenborough’s gentle baritone, the centrality cartoon animal people have to my personality and profession and sexual wellbeing. How right it feels to be with someone who “gets” Tom and Jerry cartoons like you get Tom and Jerry cartoons.

A quandary with furry is that furries like to date furries, but by its nature as an internet centered culture, you’re likely to fall in love with someone far away. I bit the bullet, feeling like I would be just as poor and aimless in Colorado’s front range as I was in Savannah, Georgia and packed up stakes to move across the country and live with my lover. Not everyone can do this. One friend hasn’t seen his Australian boyfriend in two years.

With our deep and abiding weird love comes the tension. I can’t recapture the experience of my first cons, the exploratory euphoric sexual abandon when I identified as exclusively gay and single. She doesn’t get invited in after dark parties I might get invited to because she’s the wrong type of person. My friend Kilcodo put it aptly, “Furry is a boy’s club; really it’s a gay boy’s club.”

Furry has changed, or I’ve changed without furry. I feel left behind by a more and more technically sophisticated, irony conscious furry, a sexy and cool furry. But my lover and I show up, and we try and get up for the Chakat breakfast on Saturday morning. We hold paw in furry paw, as deer and coyote, and we are cute. People tell us that.

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