HEADS AND TAILS
Being a furry is more than tails and roleplay:
it’s being a part of a community.
Words by Megan Ayscue | Photos by Jana Life
Ally is an orange possum with green eyes, fox ears, long red hair and large hips. She works two jobs, owns three cats, one small dog and a lizard and likes a good coffee. Ally is Alaina Rose’s fursona.
Rose has been a part of the furry community for 20 years of her 34-year life. Generally speaking, a furry is someone who likes animals with human characteristics, particularly anthropomorphic characters such as in “The Jungle Book” or “Zootopia.” Furries may also like to create their own furry-persona (or fursona) for fun or roleplay, either online or in person. There are some disagreements about where furries began, some saying it started at a science fiction convention in 1980 where someone’s drawing of a character from “Albedo Anthropomorphics” started a discussion group, while others believe older media, such as Disney’s “Robin Hood” or “Kimba, The White Lion” from 1973 and 1965, respectively, started the trend. Just liking anthropomorphic animals doesn’t automatically make you a furry, though.
“You’re a furry if you call yourself a furry,” Rose says. And Rose is unabashedly a furry. Rose draws furry artwork, creates fursuits, runs furry-related social media and attends furry events and conventions. Looking back, Rose even used to wear dishtowel tails when she was six. “I’ve just always been a furry,” she says.
Rose was introduced to the furry community through Sonic the Hedgehog, “when it was cool.” “That’s what I grew up with,” Rose says. “Any kid that was born in the ‘80s grew up with ‘Duck Tails,’ ‘Tail Spin,’ Gummy Bears, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ ‘Street Sharks,’ everything. We were like, ‘Yeah, no, anthropomorphic animals are par for the course for us.’” It was these shows and movies that introduced Rose, and others, to the community.
From Sonic fan art and wearing tails in high school, Rose now runs several furry community accounts and incorporates being a furry into her everyday life. She runs a Northeast Ohio furry group called NEOFurs on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. On top of that, she also occasionally weighs in on other local groups and runs her own Tumblr and art pages.
With hundreds of members in NEOFurs, running the account doesn’t come without its own set of issues. On Oct. 9, some members of the group met up at Cedar Point. They went in everyday attire, but wanted to enjoy the day with people of similar interes: being a furry. While there, group members discovered one of the people who came had recently “admitted to viewing child pornography” and was in legal trouble because of it. After learning this, Rose immediately banned him from the NEOFurs account. With more minors in the furry community than ever before, Rose says it was better to be safe than sorry, and she wasn’t going to stand for anything like that. If it happens to be a big misunderstanding, Rose says she might reverse her decision but “for right now, no. You’re gone.”
“The biggest struggle is holding members accountable,” Rose says. “The internet in the late ‘90s, there was a different sense of community. You had to work to find people to talk to, people with the same interests. … You had to dig to find people, and you had to really dig to find local people.” With that struggle to find people came complacency. Rose says it wasn’t uncommon to turn a blind eye to things from phobic tendencies to even illegal actions, like child pornography and bestiality. Speaking out against people who were doing wrong meant the possibility of being ostracized from the group as a whole. Rose says that the “call-out culture” nowadays is much better.
However, being a furry is still not “mainstream.” A councilman from Connecticut resigned from his job after it was discovered he was a furry. On his old furry profiles, Rose says there was nothing wrong; nothing illegal and nothing about sex. But because of perceptions of what a furry is, he still resigned. Despite stories like this, Rose believes furries will continue to be more accepted by society. Michael Zickefoose, another member of the furry fandom, says being a furry is “becoming more acceptable [because] we have this huge influx of people who aren’t young; they aren’t naive.”
While the furry community started out small, there are a lot of factors to its growth. Rose says media today such as “Zootopia,” a Disney movie about anthropomorphic animals, and BoJack Horseman, a darker Netflix show with anthropomorphic animals and humans together, has grown the interest in the furry community. Movies, shows and the internet as a whole have led more people to discover that furries exist, and the bettering community allows for people to explore what being a furry means without as much toxicity. There are also more conventions, meetups and websites for furries than ever before.
With so many more members, Rose says it’s easier to be selective with whom to hang out. Groups are quicker to not invite people who make others uncomfortable to meetups. Rose also says she needs to have more in common with someone other than “you’re a furry and I’m a furry so let’s be friends.” Her biggest issue is, as the admin of a larger group, she can’t exclude people she doesn’t like from local meetups who haven’t done anything specifically illegal or wrong. While managing her mini community, Rose has to be proactive. The wrong decision could reflect poorly on the NEOFurs group as a whole, whether that is blocking someone or not blocking them. C. Hillson, a friend of Zickefoose and also a furry, says, “You could be anywhere on the internet, and you’d have weird, creepy people you’d have to block.”
However, more furries today do not allow other members to get away with things they had in the past. Rose says groups like NEOFurs are quick to ban accounts that have been known to have or promote child porn or bestiality. There are some figures in the community as a whole, however, that remain despite these efforts. “With more minors and this bigger community, we just can’t have that,” Rose says.
“I don’t get involved in the drama, that’s your thing,” Rose’s husband Tony Stark says.
Recently, there have been other issues the furry community has been facing as well. One of those is “Nazi furries.”
“Back in the day it was just like, ‘You know [those certain people] just like drawing [their character in Nazi uniforms],’ whatever,” Rose says. “That’s their fetish or whatever,” Stark says. “And it was relatively quiet,” Rose continues. “Even though they were assholes,” Stark remarks. “You didn’t have people who were outwardly speaking Nazi ideology. You just had people who were kind of drawing stuff and keeping to themselves about it,” Rose says. But then some furries would show up places in fursuits with Nazi uniforms and would be told, “That is clearly Nazi symbolism, you’ve got to go.”
“Nazi furries have been phoning in bomb threats, and they have to cancel conventions, and a bunch of them have been banned from local meets — not just around here, but around the country,” Hillson says. “These people are getting banned from conventions and getting conventions canceled. I mean that’s becoming a problem.”
“I think it boils down to the anonymity you have,” Zickefoose says. “You’re not you. So a lot of these people feel like they can get away with whatever. It makes me wonder if some of the people are even serious about it or if they’re rabble-rousing and intentionally trying to start up problems.”
“Even when it’s at its bad points and bad stuff is happening, like all this stupid stuff that’s going on with these Nazi furries, I’m not thinking about leaving the fandom or no longer being a part of it,” Hillson says.
There are lesser problems within the community as well. Some furries don’t like the illusion of fursuiting, when people dress in complex animal costumes, to be broken. This is a problem to “greymuzzles,” or older (35+) members in the furry community, more than others. Sometimes they don’t like when other furries “poodle,” or wear a head and just arm and leg pieces of a costume, or when members take of their heads even when it’s the middle of summer.
“I’m not here for your entertainment,” Rose says. It takes thousands of dollars and many, many hours to put together a full fursuit. Rose has no empathy for those who are upset when someone “ruins the magic” by airing out their suits.
Conventions, like AnthroCon in Pennsylvania, have special rooms dedicated for airing out suits, however. AnthroCon is in the summer and fursuits can get extremely hot, so for those who don’t want to break the illusion or those who have anxiety, like Stark, special rooms are set aside as a safe place to cool of.
“I’m a bitter, old and jaded furry greymuzzle,” Stark says. “But I also keep to myself, and I don’t get involved in drama because I’ve got better things to do with my time.”
“Headless lounges” have PVC pipes with air that heads can be placed on to dry while the person in the costume can sit and relax or drink some water. There are no cameras in these rooms, and they are separated from the rest of the convention. With over 4 million attending AnthroCon, Pennsylvania tries its best to take care of its furry friends.
Smaller conventions, Hillson and Zickefoose say, are the most at risk for being shut down from the groups such as the Nazi furries. Even more than the big safety issues, Hillson also says, “There have been furries who aren’t necessarily dangerous, like the Nazi furries threatening people, but people that just act up at conventions lately.”
Zickefoose says it’s because when you’re a furry, especially in a fursuit, people think they can act out more than they would otherwise. Both Hillson and Zickefoose still like the idea of owning their own suits one day, though. Possibly when they have the disposable income.
While Ally doesn’t have a fursuit of her own to wear, she often will wear one of Stark’s. She also has some pieces and plans to make her own. At her home, a “wipe your paws” mat lays outside the door. Upon entering, heads from fursuits lay in boxes to the left while every other surface is covered in games, books, stufed animals and art. One head, Tony, one of Stark’s fursonas, has a red mohawk, matching with Stark’s own red stripe. Large plastic bins are filled with paws, feet, extra fur, claws and materials, kept closed to keep Beans, one of the cats, from sleeping on the fabrics.
Stark says a lot of furries wear their suits because it helps them to cope with their social anxiety. Stark likes it because nobody knows who it is underneath the fur; he can be anyone. At places like AnthroCon, there are parades of fursuits during the conventions.
Rose’s friend, Lysa Anderson, is not a furry. She first found out about the community when she saw a “furry parade.” Some furries were showing of their suits, while others were showing of what they had — just heads, just tails, arms and paws and a mismatch of everything in between. “The only thing I didn’t like was how dingy some of the tails looked,” Anderson says. “One guy’s fursuit, though, was really nice.”
Rose told Anderson all about furries over the years, answering any and all questions she had. On sites like Tumblr, Anderson says that genuinely curious questions can be met with hostility. Rose was always happy to answer any questions. “It’s not for me, but I understand it now,” Anderson says.
That is the biggest step: understanding. With the culture inside the community improving, and the call-out culture improving, Rose says people not in the community are more accepting of furries. People understand the collective is not just “basement-dwelling dog fuckers” but they are intelligent people who have a hobby.
“We wake up and make fun of furries while we’re eating breakfast,” Hillson says. Zickefoose agrees, adding “It’s totally absurd, and that’s the best thing. … It is what it is.”