Put aside what you've read about furries in Vanity Fair, or seen on CSI: When 2,500 furries come to Pittsburgh in June for the Anthrocon 2006 convention, they will not be having sex in animal costumes. At least no more than any of us.
Furries are merely folks with an affinity for animal characters who are given human traits -- an ancient Egyptian god, for instance, or Tony the Tiger. Some furries enjoy getting into full costumes of their favorites. Some just like being around anthropomorphic animals for their transformations and their cartoonish aspects. And a very few would prefer to actually be the animals.
In June, some 2,500 furries will hit Pittsburgh for Anthrocon 2006, the world's largest gathering of anthropomorphized animal fans, with convention-goers coming from as far as Japan and Australia.
"If you look at American culture, we are steeped in animal imagery," says convention chair Samuel Conway, a commercial chemist who keeps a furry stuffed hepatitis virus with great big eyes atop his computer. "I don't think there's any person on the earth that could not recognize Bugs Bunny." While he acknowledges that not everyone would want to be Bugs Bunny, he says furries are no weirder than sci-fi fans. They'd just rather be rabbits than Jedi knights.
The convention will feature speakers, presentations, workshops on costume-making and the Masquerade, a fursuit showcase. Though the folks in the suits are the most obvious and visible participants, they are in the minority -- only 175 of last year's 2,400 attendees.
Anthrocon is also a charity, having raised more than $50,000 by auctioning furry-related tchotchkes. This year, the Western Pennsylvania Wild Animal Orphanage, a sanctuary for big cats in Uniontown, will be the recipient of the furry largesse.
Despite their wild image from Vanity Fair, MTV and CSI, furry conventions aren't about kinky sex between weirdos gussied up in foxy costumes.
"My little old white-haired parents go," says Conway.
Appearing in a full fursuit is a serious commitment, one that most furries at the convention won't attempt. Handmade fursuits can run into the thousands of dollars, with some of the finest examples featuring articulated jaws, ears or tails.
"The costumers have a hard and fast rule: They do not take off any part of the costume, especially when there's kids around," Conway says. That's what the alarmingly titled "headless lounges" are for -- a convention spot where those in full suits can remove their animal heads without fear of breaking anyone's suspension of disbelief.
"I don't have a suit myself," says Conway. "They are dreadfully hot."