.Further Community: FurCon Returns

In 2018, at the former Caffe Frascati in downtown San Jose (now Nirvana Soul), I noticed a piece of art on the wall I hadn’t seen before. The image showed an anthropomorphic lion, leopard, wolf and fox drinking mugs of coffee at a wooden table. The top of the drawing read FURRIES LOVE COFFEH! Thanks, Caffe Frascati! and on the frame, Furry Friends from “Fur-Con” Convention – January 2010. 

I’d never attended the city’s annual furry convention, but it was hard to miss when the city’s cleverly backronym’d “Further Confusion” rolled into town. Each year, avid con-goers excitedly awaited their cross-country Twitter friends’ arrivals. There were the flyers decorating businesses across downtown, not to mention the black-and-neon-green wolf dog standing next to me in the grocery store line. FurCon felt as quintessentially South Bay as orange sauce. 

This weekend, Further Confusion returns to McEnery Convention Center for its 22nd iteration. Founded in 1999, FurCon has steadily grown over the last three decades, reaching over 4,000 attendees in January 2020, its last in-person convention. Yearly art sales at the convention have surpassed $50,000. The weekend of panels, game tables and DJ parties also raises money for area charities each year—past recipients include National Alliance for Mental Illness Santa Clara, Stanislaus Wildlife Rehabilitation and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This year’s charity partner is Muttville, a senior dog rescue, rehabilitation and foster program in San Francisco. 2023’s “Millennium Edition” FurCon brings back the “Bay Battle” dance-off and “Fancy Friday,” as well as featuring a “Furry Logic” escape room.

Devin Gabriel, a musician who grew up in San Jose and now lives in Los Angeles, has attended FurCon for over a decade. Gabriel recalls their first brush with the convention, among a group of high school friends. 

“It was 2010 or 2011—we didn’t buy badges, but we just hung out in front of the Convention Center and at Cesar Chavez [Park].” 

Gabriel laughs, remembering that while he’d already begin to discover furry art and media online, he “sorta tried to pretend I didn’t know what was up, you know.” The Misfits t-shirt he wore (a subcultural signifier in its own right) sparked a conversation about punk music with a British fursuiter (someone in a full-body mascot costume), whom he never met again.

“Everyone is so down to talk,” Gabriel says. “It feels like a lot of social barriers drop for everybody, even among other conventions I’ve been to.”

FUR A WHILE

“I go to cons and see people I’ve known for decades now,” says Red XIX, 2023’s executive secretary and a former chair and vice chair. 

An accountant by day, Red says he was interested in mascots and mascot costumes from a young age before discovering the furry art community on message boards and other platforms online. He attended the very first FurCon (which drew 691 con-goers), and was on FC’s board of directors from 2013 to 2017, when he joined the official staff as a charity liaison. 

With artistic roots in ’70s alternative comics, the community aspect of furry culture evolved from comic and sci-fi conventions. The community’s early days consisted largely of discussion groups and room parties for fans to collectively fawn (pun intended) over their favorite anthropomorphic characters. When the early ’90s renaissance of online communities began––bulletin board sites, IRC channels (Internet Relay Chat, an early prototype for public and private chatrooms) and others––furries were some of the first to congregate. Red mentions the 1990 roleplaying game FurryMUCK, one of the earliest online “virtual worlds” where players could interact with each other as their (still primarily text-based) characters, or “fursonas” (a portmanteau of furry and persona). 

“Furries seem to have always been earlier adopters of technology,” Red notes, a sentiment easily observed with enough time spent on Twitter. 

In support of this, Gabriel points out the person known as Chise, the fursona name of a vaccine researcher who went viral for covering her role in developing the Moderna COVID vaccine. Chise, who has protected her legal identity due to doxxing fears, has also spoken out prominently on Twitter against fake news and fearmongering around COVID and its vaccines. While some have disparaged and discredited Chise for her public furry identity (her Twitter icon is a brown-and-white pine marten in a lab coat), it’s hard to argue that the aesthetic and novelty of her fursona got people to pay attention to complex medical news. 

The furry penchant for adaptation proved particularly useful in a post-pandemic world. FC 2022 had already been planned when the Omicron variant spiked; responding to community concerns, it was decided the con would be held online. As it turned out, one longtime con-goer—an illustrator and coyote fur who goes by Rain—had created a virtual reality Convention Center, using videos of McEnery to replicate its layout for VR-connected attendees to walk around the convention as their fursonas.

Having come up from Southern California with friends to attend FC the last handful of years, Rain’s fondness for the con coincided with a growing interest in 3D modeling and VR chat. “Knowing that FC 2021 wouldn’t happen,” they recall, “I asked myself ‘how hard could it be to build the courtyard?’ I started gathering what references I could from the County Registry, Google Maps, even the artist’s portfolio for the big statue out front.”

Seeing in-progress photos Rain had posted, FC staff reached out about incorporating the setting into their schedule of Zoom panels and events for the now-virtual 2022. 

“I was more than happy to oblige, but that just meant I had a month to take it from ‘janky 3D world’ to a ‘ready for public’ world,” Rain says.  “I think I landed somewhere in between with what I presented that year.”

“That’s a perfect personification of furry,” Red says of the project,  “where it’s like: ‘hey, we just had our event canceled because of this unexpected thing––okay, cool, let’s go ahead and build some new artistic way to interact, and hold it that way.”

Q-MMUNITIES 

The technological aspect is one piece of the Bay Area’s presence as a global furry hub. Another, arguably, is the overlap of furry culture and LGBTQ communities. The Bay, of course, has long been a landmark of queer and trans history. The 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, for example, saw local trans women fighting back against police harassment 3 years before the more widely publicized Stonewall riots––a history commemorated by the city in 2017 with the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District. 

While the furry community contains people of all genders, sexualities and walks of life, many of its creators and representatives identify as gay and/or queer––like Chise, who sports a rainbow flag alongside the science-related emojis in her Twitter bio. FC embraces furry’s prominent queer demographic in their programming, through events such as “Transgender Furs Meet & Greet” as well as offering free HIV testing the Saturday of the con through a partnership with Santa Clara County Public Health’s mobile testing lab.

As a nonbinary person, it’s easy to see how furry can play a vital role in exploring and celebrating a queer identity. A fursona in its many possible manifestations is a safe and fun outlet to try on a new name, new behaviors, even a new body. As a population long dehumanized and othered in mainstream culture, both explicitly and through fictional representation, there’s a reclamatory power in identifying with an animal.

Until very recently, queer youth on the road to understanding themselves had few choices for finding reflections in books, movies and TV. At a time when these narratives weren’t yet easily accessible, the ambiguity and world-straddling nature of anthropomorphic animals and fantasy creatures became the perfect canvas for the Saturday cartoon-watchers wondering why they just feel different than the other kids. 

“I’ve heard it described as, furry is the act of exploring yourself through anthropomorphism,” Red explains. 

One’s fursona can be any animal the creator might imagine, with endless color combinations of coats, feathers or scales. Beyond that, the character can have everything or nothing in common with its real-life human creator. Red, who makes his own fursuits, has several fursonas and delights in creating new ones to explore different aspects of his personality. So far he has a fox (that would be “Red”), a frog, a “mama bear” type character, a “Woozle”––those long, weasley creatures that menace Winnie the Pooh––and is currently working on a meerkat. 

For a furry, the visual research is half the fun, Red explains. Sourcing and analyzing the physicality of real and cartoon animals (Timone being the obvious meerkat inspiration, for example) inspires Red’s character exploration.

“[I start to imagine] what would it be to be this big bouncy character with a big tail, like—a more lighthearted version of myself.”

Showing his in-progress meerkat on Zoom, Red explains how he creates the shape of the head with upholstery foam, sticking pieces of it to a covered head base (not unlike shaping plaster around a mold) before carving out the details with boxcutter blades. From then, the head base is covered in duct tape, creating a pattern with which to cut out the shape of the fur being used—a “shell” that fits over the head, which can then be sewn on.

DIY fursuit-making can appeal to the dedicated hobbyist seeking a physical manifestation of their fursona without breaking the bank. 

“I’m definitely an amateur. There are people who do this for a living,” Red says of the craft—his costume construction, as solid as it looks, runs on the simpler side of fursuit building. “I would say the average fursuit now runs about $3000-5000, there are suits that have gone for $10,000….they are, you know, living works of art.”

Due to this issue, Red particularly appreciates the open attitude among fursuit creators, shared advice often passing between them. There are “no trade secrets,” he tells me, another domain of furry where the dominant mode is to welcome newcomers.

Red also makes sure to point out that one doesn’t need a fursuit to be a furry or create a fursona. “Probably the majority of furries do not own a fursuit,” he explains, noting the labor and resource-intensive process of creating a fursuit. “But of course when you walk into a convention, the first thing you’re gonna notice is the 8-foot-tall rabbit.”

DIFURSITY

The diversity of furry interests, identities and community involvement was something both Gabriel and Red emphasized, though each was careful to state the individuality of their experiences. 

“Every time I’ve watched a furry interview I get annoyed, because it seems like everyone tries to downplay the sexual aspects of it,” says Gabriel. “I am here to say that furry is a weird sex thing, and that’s not a bad thing!” 

Laughing, he clarifies. While of course the many facets of furry culture are frequently nonsexual, its erotic side deserves to be celebrated, not shamed. Wary of attacks on other nonconforming modes of queer expression, Gabriel is adamant not to let right-wing purity culture dictate the narrative.

“I met my partner because he drew furry porn on Twitter. I followed him, we found out we lived near each other and then we started dating. I owe so much of my life to horny furry stuff that I would feel bad not mentioning it. And I honestly do not think FurCon is even in the top 5 weirdest sex things that have happened at the Convention Center. I mean, have you ever seen a car show?”

A subculture that is both so diverse and so sensationalized, that attracts a variety of age groups for as many reasons, can be difficult to wrap one’s head around. It’s understandable why ambassadors of furry culture might feel tempted to de-emphasize the adult side of the culture when the fandom also contains a percentage of minors. But considering the boundaries enforced at conventions and socially, this hesitation seems less grounded in reality and closer to fears based on queer respectability politics. FC’s 18+ art vendors and panels are sectioned off with badge-checking volunteers, and the convention website’s Code of Conduct makes community values explicitly clear. In addition to prohibiting overtly sexualized costumes and Hate group associated attire in the convention space, the CoC sports the section subheader “Costumes are NOT Consent!” With no shortage of poor-faith press, the community has little patience for people and behavior that give furry a bad name.

Regardless of their presence in the public eye, the furries of Further Confusion carry on as they have for over two decades: welcoming newcomers, sharing art, and continuing their legacy as downtown’s most creative party animals. As a 20-year veteran of the scene, Red sees an overall uptick in mainstream society’s furry acceptance. 

“We’ll hear references to furries on talk shows and TV. Overall the perception seems to be very positive, and honestly I’m a little surprised,” he says. “I thought we would probably stay in the weirdo bin a little bit more. It’s heartening to see.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow this was so informative! as a self confessed ignoramus on this topic I feel like I really learned a lot on this multifaceted world, I hope they all have a fun and safe time at the convention. Happy to hear they have that where they can be themselves.

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  2. Great article. We are glad to be BACK and we thank you, San Jose for inviting us

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