My brother came out to me as a furry about a year ago. Actually, he came out to my sister. He was talking to her on the phone and telling her about a big summer picnic he was going to with friends in Kentucky. “We’ve got all kinds of fun activities planned,” he said. “But it is going to be so dang hot in my fur…” He let the word trail off into a long pause. “In your what?” my sister prompted, knowing that he sometimes stumbles for words. “In my fursuit,” my brother said with an apprehensive sigh. The jig was up.
My sister immediately called me. “Did you know our brother is a furry?” she asked. “His name is Jaru. He’s a dingo.” It was like she was speaking a foreign language. I didn’t really know what to make of any of it until, a few months later, she sent me a photo of Jaru with her two kids. As they wrapped their tiny arms around the giant, floppy-eared Australian canine, the joy on their faces was undeniable. And although I couldn’t see my brother’s face behind the snout, it was clear from his body language that he, too, had never been happier.
I met Jaru for the first time this week. He came to Dallas for Texas Furry Fiesta, one of the largest furry conventions in the world (according to WikiFur, it ranks fifth). He invited me to tag along, so I spent Saturday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Dallas. This year’s theme was Lone Star Wonderland, and more than 4,000 people attended. Catherine Downes joined me and took some wonderful photos, including this portrait of Jaru with a new friend. I learned a lot. Here are some of the highlights.
- It’s not about sex. It’s not a fetish; it’s a fandom. Furries are fans of any form of media that portrays anthropomorphic animals. Think: Charlotte’s Web, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Lion King, Zootopia, Rocket Raccoon. Any type of walking, talking, or otherwise humanized furry creature serves as a form of inspiration and a means of connection. Think about the last time you wore an animal costume for Halloween: mine was a fuzzy onesie bunny with a giant satin carrot that my mom made for me in the fourth grade. It felt like pajamas. It made me want to hop. It made other people smile at me.
- Not everyone wears a fursuit. Only about 20 to 30 percent of the fandom are suiters. The rest are nonsuiters, meaning they don’t dress up. They may still have a fursona, though, that they portray through artwork or badges.
- You’re not limited to one fursona. Some days you feel like a lamb, some days a porcupine? You don’t have to limit yourself. I met several furries who had four or more.
- Fursuits aren’t cheap. Although a new generation of furries are watching YouTube videos and sewing their own, traditionalists can spend upwards of $1,000—some as much as $15,000 or more—for elaborate suits that may include blinking eyes, animatronic jaws, and LED dinosaur spines.
- Don’t sneak up on fursuiter. They have extremely limited tunnel vision (imagine that you’re looking through two toilet paper rolls) and can’t hear too well in those padded heads.
- It’s not just about mammals. There are birds, reptiles, fish, and lots of made-up creatures. Like Dutch Angel Dragons.
- The 6-2-1 rule is standard. Fursuiters are easy to distract, so they sometimes need to be reminded of the basics of life during FurCons: six hours of sleep, 2 meals, and (at least) 1 shower per day. This is a mantra.
- Scritches are where it’s at. Part of the appeal of the furry fandom is inclusivity. Have a physical disability? You can re-cast it with a costume. On the autism spectrum or have trouble socializing? You can chirp, bark, or purr. Need a hug? Everyone is handing them out for free. But be prepared: hugs entail a telltale scratching across your back, known in the fandom as “scritching.”
- Cameras are like catnip. Fursuiters may be shy IRL, but when suited up they are asking for attention. Take their photo, please.
- Furries care. For all 10 years of its existence, Texas Furry Fiesta has adopted the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) as its charity. The big cat rescue sanctuary in Bridgeport, Texas, houses more than 30 big cats, including two bonded mountain lion males, Apollo and Lakai, that needed a new home after the Dallas Zoo closed its Cat Row exhibit in the fall. This year alone, TFF raised more than $20,000.
- Jaru likes to dance. My brother wouldn’t dare cut a rug, but Jaru will shake his tail all night on the dance floor. Then he’ll shower, sleep for six hours, and wake up in time for the breakfast buffet—refreshed and ready to scritch.