As a werewolf who’s part of the furry fandom, I enjoy fursuiting.
To a lot of people outside of the fandom, fursuits are probably the most visible part of it. Private meet-ups, discussions and artistic endeavours in a niche subculture usually stay fairly well-contained within it, but the elaborate and expensive animal costumes we sometimes wear during public gatherings tend to end up on the camera rolls of passers-by, and from there tend to splash across social media. To most outsiders, in fact, we are those guys who dress up like animals. If we end up featured on TV, whether in fiction or in a documentary, most likely the show’s portrayal of furries will revolve mostly or entirely around fursuiters.
In fact, not every furry has a fursuit; for instance, of the roughly 7,500 attendees at Anthrocon 2017, currently the second largest annual furry convention on the planet, there were almost exactly 1,500 fursuits counted at the Fursuit Parade. While a significant number of fursuiters who attend Anthrocon don’t participate in the parade, it suggests that close to 20% of attendees owned a fursuit, and this is consistent with Parade participation as compared to total attendance for several previous years.
Why do it, though? I’ve often been asked by people outside the fandom what the appeal is.
To me, the fundamental appeal of wearing a fursuit is becoming someone different. It seems obvious to say, but people react to a towering werewolf in a completely different manner to how they react to a tall, thin white guy with glasses. But it’s more than simple outward appearance. Fursuiting is not simply wearing a costume and standing around in it, it’s slipping into a completely different mindset. I have freedom to express personality aspects completely different to the way I normally present myself to the world. Usually, I suffer from social anxiety, which makes me timid, quiet and afraid of unintentionally causing offence or boredom.
As Vex, I feel liberated to be more confident, to speak louder, to express myself in ways I wouldn’t usually. When people look at me, they see me, but when they look at Vex, they see someone completely different. All the normal expectations that people have about me aren’t present. That doesn’t mean I feel I have licence to violate personal boundaries or act without consequence, of course – merely that I can do things I would never do as myself.
I once discussed my anxiety and my other issues with a friend, and I commented off-hand that I don’t really suffer from these problems when I wear my fursuit. She noted that it meant that I already had an idealised version of myself that was attainable under specific circumstances – really, all I needed to do was to learn how to channel that version without use of an animal costume.
As with all forms of art, costumed performance has its limitations, but performers can find new expression in working around those limitations. Vex’s eyes don’t move or blink like a real animal’s would, and apart from his mouth – which can open and close – there’s no parts of his face that move. Emotional expression has to be done mostly through body language. This leads me to express myself physically in a way I normally don’t – when it comes to body language, I’m usually fairly reserved and shut-off.
I’ve seen this use of an alter-ego measurably improve people’s lives. Non-binary people suffering from gender dysphoria can portray characters matching their gender identity. People of colour aren’t judged for their complexion when beneath a fursuit, but equally have also found ways to express and celebrate their ethnic and cultural identity through their character. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs enjoy fursuiting just as much as the able-bodied. There’s a lot of prejudice that can be escaped, however temporarily, through portraying a nonhuman character.
I also enjoy entertaining others. Part of the appeal of having a fursuit, for me and I think for the majority of fursuiters, is the reactions that portraying a character provokes from others. Laughter, surprise, curiosity – seeing people react to the unexpected and unusual. Consequently, one of my favourite features of Anthrocon is the central area of the city it takes place in, a unique aspect I feel makes it superior to other conventions. Given its position in the cultural district, there’s a large amount of public foot traffic, which allows for a lot of interaction with the public. I think it’s one of the reasons Anthrocon gets so much local attention in comparison to other similarly-sized events of its type.
There’s also the aspect of art appreciation. Fursuits themselves are works of art – bespoke, usually unique creations. No two fursuits are exactly identical, although the studios that manufacture them tend to have a distinctive style that can be recognised from character to character. Some fursuiters have even gone as far as to obtain fursuits of the same character from different makers – one such fursuiter, Syber, has a veritable “clone army” of the same character, each by a different creator. As one commentator put it, “it’s much like seeing many drawings of a character, each one done by different artists.”
When I see many fursuits together in one place, especially in something like a parade or a photo lineup, it’s like a living art show, displaying the talent of both the makers who produce the fursuits and the performers who wear them. I get to examine different styles and approaches to the art form, from the realistic to the cartoony, and experience the creativity of the people who dreamed up these characters.
Ultimately, I can only explain why I personally enjoy fursuiting. Other people who do it will have different reasons for enjoying it, and some won’t be able to explain them – and that’s okay! I don’t think it’s necessary to have a reason to enjoy things that don’t hurt anyone else.
But it turns out that performative escapism is actually really fun. I highly recommend it to anyone even the least bit interested in it.