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Furry Friends

Interview by Bob Boster | Issue #16

Porsupah (née Jan Paxton), a computer programmer, is a curiosity that came into my life through work. Porsupah invariably garners attention everywhere he goes, whether because of his accent (he’s from England), dress, or strong opinions. He’s the sort of person you’d call "interesting" in the same way you might categorize someone else based on his or her lifestyle choice. I say lifestyle choice because I believe it’s appropriate to allow his "hobby" the kind of seriousness we normally associate with sexual preference or religious affiliation.

Porsupah is a furry.

You may have heard of these people; you could call them fans of all things anthropomorphic. They are interested in fiction, films, comics, zines, cartoons, fan art, fan fiction, and online communities where animals have human characteristics and minds. The anthropomorphic agenda covers all aspects of human behavior, including sex. Since many mainstream furry titles are directed at kids, this makes for a natural source of controversy: six-year-olds looking for Lion King web sites may wind up on furry sites with Disneyesque characters that look like Hooter’s employees.

Anyway, Porsupah is something of an elder statesman within the furry community. He’s been involved for years, helped set up one of the first furry MUDs, regularly attends conventions, and has lived in an entire house of furries in Silicon Valley. We met over quality beers and his laptop (to review some convention video) a few months ago.

What brought you to furrydom?
I’ve always been furry. I’d contend most furs have. It’s quite common for people to be able to recount instances from their childhood of, say, sympathizing with the werewolf in old horror flicks, or feeling that the loss of tails was a bad move by whatever deities claim responsibility.

Would you call this group of people a "community?"
It is. Some people hate to be called "furry," but most are perfectly happy with the label. Some people really hate anything to do with sexuality in furrydom; others like it. It’s a very broad range of interests.

What’s the breakdown at a convention like Confurence, in terms of homegrown material verses mainstream characters?
I’d say maybe 75-80 percent are people’s personal characters, with the rest taken from mass-marketed titles.

Is there any kind of division between people who build their own character and those who adopt a commercial character?
Actually no, it tends to be more, "Does it look good?"

What about between people who have fur suits and those who only participate virtually?
Oh yeah. Few people can make suits. It’s definitely a positive attribute, just as, say, being an artist is.

How many nonmainstream characters are well known within the community?
Not very many, maybe a dozen.

Are people excited when there’s a new fur-oriented character in mainstream media?
Yes. Dedicated fans of The Lion King have set up a MUCK where people carry on the same settings, some of the same characters, and new ones. I believe there are also RPG [role playing game] sessions. Then there’s Mu-Shu from Mulan. And Miko from Pocahontas was very popular, helped by the fact that Mattel put out a very nice plushy [stuffed animal] of him. In the past, the Uncle Remus characters, Brer Rabbit, and Rolf Fox.

Of Song of the South?
Yes. Which is still well known, although at least in the U.S., Disney barely acknowledges it. Others? I daresay there were some people who were very disappointed with the recent Wing Commander film [adapted from the popular game]–the Kilranthi, who are supposedly felines, turned out to have rather cheesy fake rubber suits that looked reptilian.

What’s this [on the Confurence video]?
RooSIG. Kangaroo Special Interest Group. That’s one feature of Confurence–you get panels dedicated to a particular species or genus.

Do people tend to adopt characters such as the Warner Brothers’ stable [Tweety, Sylvester, Bugs Bunny]?
Sometimes. The trick is keeping them in character. Almost always you’ll find that they start off in character and then as the months go on they’ll diverge in their own way.

What hasn’t been done yet?
Some people are aiming for better realism, like mouths and eye motion. Tail design, too. I don’t think anyone’s come up with a convincing quadrapede design–that’s got huge challenges in it itself, but I’m sure there are people working on it.

What’s the relationship of the fur community with the plush community [collectors of stuffed animals]?
The plush community is pretty much a subset of furrydom. There’s definitely a sexual element for some people.

How much of that stuff is out in the open at the conferences?
People walking around with plushies quite happily. There is some overlap even with zoophilia, which is a controversial topic with some people, quite understandably.

[back to the video] There’s a Minnie Mouse.
Yeah, thankfully I’ve not yet heard of any case where studio’s copyright holders have been nasty.

Is the hotel braced for the next Confurence?
I think they’ve hosted sci-fi cons so they’ve probably had Klingons around. DuckCon (in Chicago) is interesting in that it’s not a purely furry con, it’s a sci-fi con that developed a furry track. So, at the same event, you’ll have skunks and Klingons in the same elevator, sometimes talking about beach-front properties.

One problem with your suit is that you can’t really drink in it.
You have to use straws or go to secluded areas to take off the head. Of course, it’s a big no-no to be headless in public. To break the illusion.

Are there any mainstream fur-oriented releases considered to be passé, or inappropriate, or negative?
I’m not sure, I tend to not dwell on things I don’t enjoy. Some people might view The Lion King that way. There was a comic put out a couple years back called Skunk that a lot of people felt had a very negative portrayal of furrydom.

What’s the general breakdown of species?
On the MUCK there are a lot of wolves, big cats, some other dogs, like coyotes. Those make up at least half.

Do you feel like furrydom is growing?
Yes. Confurence has grown by about 20 percent each year to about 1,200 attendees. grew off of a little mailing list, which grew off rec.arts.comics.