Furriesburgh: My Day At AnthroCon 2019
By Kailyn Walters
What is a Furry?
This is a phrase you may hear, or may even think yourself, when July hits Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA is known for a lot of things- primarily its industry built on steel production, which is alive and thriving in 2019, or its rich history which is abundant in the landscape from beautiful bridges down to the streets alive with modern innovation. Amongst our namesakes; the Steel City, The Hollywood of the East, The Drinking town with a hockey obsession- lies the capitol of the Furries.
A Furry is described as a fandom culture centered around the interest of anthropomorphism, or animals with human attributes. If you have ever watched anime, or browsed Deviant Art, or seen movies like Disney’s Robin Hood, you have seen the concept of furries even if you didn’t recognize it. In 2003, the hit show CSI: Las Vegas aired the episode “Fur and Loathing”, which would stick with many as their definition of furries. The episode’s crime centered around a man who was found dead in the desert, who had been found still dressed in his fursuit- a mascot style costume customized by one to represent their animal “spirit” or “fursona”. The investigation delved into the world of the furry fandom and led its investigators to a furry convention. During the investigation, the furry way of life- acting out your inner animal by walking on all fours, interacting with others in an animalistic way by “scratching” or “scritching” painted a picture of furries that was stereotypical and deviant.
“Are You A Furry?”
When my husband and I became fans of the 4th generation of My Little Pony; MLP: Friendship Is Magic, a fandom was born. The demographic of adult males who became fans shockingly were referred to as Bronies, and it soon picked up and crossed over into the furry fandom as well. Some people would lump these fandoms together and see them as one in the same. For a few years, at conventions or in discussions, people would ask when talking about our love for the show, “oh are you a furry?”
I’ll admit these irritated me quite a bit for a while. “We’re not furries…” I’d say with a scowl. “That’s a completely different thing.” I’d say, as if to pull myself and my husband out of the pit of stereotypical, negative association that came from other perceptions of the furry fandom. However, the crossover did exist, and it was hard to dismiss when visiting conventions for MLP: Friendship is Magic. Among the vendor halls were merchandise made by fans of anthropomorphic art of the main characters. In the Brony fandom itself, there are fans who take that anthropomorphic interest into the realm of sexualized fan art or fan fictions. It’s not something the fandom is proud of, but it exists, and we still welcome those fans every year at conventions, or in the fandom in general. This seems to be the perpetuating stereotype, when in reality this is a small percentage of the fandom as a whole. Most of the Brony community is made up of men like my husband- geeky, awkward, quiet or socially awkward men who love good cartoons. While I’m not an expert on furries, I can probably infer that this is the case with many fandoms, including furries. There are always going be to extreme or perverse fans in every fandom, but those fans are very rarely “the norm”.
I’ve been attending conventions for a long time, so as a seasoned con goer it is hard to remember what it was like to look at a fandom from the outside, as someone completely oblivious to the world of fandom. Since 2006, AnthroCon has made Pittsburgh their home for the second largest furry convention in the world, much like BronyCon turned the Baltimore Convention Center into the biggest MLP convention. When we attended BronyCon 2014 for the first time, the locals did their best to appear welcoming and interested, but Bronies were still something people were not as familiar with. As our group drank our way through the BronyCon Bar Crawl, televisions reported on the phenomena of the Bronies in typical misunderstood fashion. I could hear the disdain in some of the locals, and on the news coverage. When we left the convention in full cosplay to grab lunch at a steakhouse recommended in our BronyCon program, we were looked at as if we were another species. Our waitress indulged us, asking questions and trying to understand “what we were”, why we were dressed up as pastel colored ponies, and why on earth we’d walk into a swanky restaurant in full cosplay. It was the first time something like this happened, but it certainly wouldn’t be our last. In Pittsburgh however, the furries are met with a mixture of awe, humor, interest and confusion. Local radio stations love to talk about it, the economy embraces it, and locals flock downtown to see the annual Furry Parade or just walk around to witness this phenomenon which has somehow ingrained itself as part of our culture. Yet despite all the hoopla, despite the ongoing 13 years this convention has taken place in my city- I have never gone downtown to see the annual attraction of the furries.
When the idea was brought up to me by my husband, I thought initially we would go downtown and have a lunch date and mill around the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and observe the furries from afar; not because I was scared or thought negatively of them- but simply because I didn’t know what one did at a furry convention, and a lightbulb went off. I’ve been to several conventions big and small, and at every one the structure is the same for the most part. There are celebrities or community guests, panels, vendors, and cosplay. Did the furry conventions have this structure? What would that look like? Did they have community you tube celebrities? What kind of panels would they have? Would con goers all be in fursuits acting out their animalistic sides? I realized that this was my chance to truly observe a fandom as an outsider, and come away with an accurate opinion, not the opinion of the media or the naysayers. True, I could have gone and been a bystander and thought the furries were cool from afar, but the only way for me to really understand was to immerse myself in the fandom as an outsider. So, we bought tickets to AnthroCon, and attended the convention. We walked the vendor hall, watched the parade, sat in panels, took pictures with fursuiters and experienced AnthroCon for ourselves. This is what happened.
Saturday is usually the busiest day at every con, and I knew there was no better day to go. As I walked up to the entrance, employees were setting up chairs all around the convention center, and on the sides for the parade. Flocked on either side by colorful bird and fox fursuits, I took in my surroundings. The energy was undeniable. The line for registration was long, and thankfully we registered and paid online so we could pick up our badge quicker than those who hadn’t paid or registered yet. The volunteer who processed our badges asked if we had been to AnthroCon before, and I shook my head. “It’s our first time.” I told her, and with a smile she handed us our welcome bags and informed us about everything from where the con office was, to the programs. We had an hour to kill before the parade, so our first stop was the vendor hall. We passed groups of attendees, some still in suit, some with just heads on, some in regular clothes with paw gloves or fuzzy foot styled slippers. Some were taking cat naps, somewhere playing cards, some were charging their phones, and some were just taking a well needed break. The Vendor hall interested me because while I knew we would see fan art, I wanted to see the costume parts. How much does a furry head base run? What does a pair of cat ears or paws cost you? The answer varies of course, but I was surprised to see wire jeweled cat ears for as low as $20. I was also pleasantly surprised to see some MLP fan art and took a picture with a fursuiter who was in costume as a changeling from the MLP: Friendship is Magic show that my husband and I are fans of. The vendors were friendly and warm, and even a few welcomed us as we discussed it being our first time at the convention.
The parade started at 2:00pm, and we were lucky to grab a seat near the beginning of the parade route in the shade. It was in the high 80’s, and humid and I could only imagine how hot the fursuiters were. In front of us and around us locals and attendees held signs passed out by our tourism department VisitPittsburgh.com that read in our signature black and gold colors “I Love AnthroCon”. As fursuiters traveled back to the convention center to line up for the parade, I took the moment to snap some pictures and observe. Smiling children posed with furries, furries interacted with one another expressively by putting their paws to their face and jumping in excitement, and people clamored into their seats with anticipation. No matter what you can attend, or if you have never been before to any, a rule of thumb regarding cosplay is always this- Cosplay is NOT consent. Please ask before touching, hugging or photographing someone. I made sure to politely ask before I took any photos. No one told me no, and no one shied away- in fact everyone I approached was extremely welcoming and friendly. Some fursuiters had signs that read ‘free hugs” and hugs were abundant from children, adults, and other furries. That kind of positivity is contagious in a convention setting, and you could feel the happiness in the air. It does not matter if you are a politician, a scientist, a janitor, a man, a woman, gay, transgender, adult or child- it doesn’t matter if you wear a fursuit, ears and gloves, a head or a tail or nothing at all- the message rang loud and clear: Furry is for everyone.
The parade lasted for about an hour and a half, and the reception was something I was extremely proud of as a Pittsburgher. Amidst the signs of “I Love AnthroCon” were pride flags, cameras, and voices of acceptance. The crowds cheered, their cameras flashing, and arms extended for high fives and low fives, hands slapping furry paws and the energy was so palpable and happy I wondered why I never came downtown to see it before. While the majority of the fursuits were cute and cartoonish, some went in the other direction- there were some very scary Halloween style costumes, and some very realistic looking costumes as well. Peppered among the kitsunes, foxes, dogs, cats and birds were dragons, grim reapers, werewolves and even marine animals like sharks and dolphins. There were also some mystical anthropomorphic animals with multiple eyes, mouths and arms. Some suits boasted LED lit eyes and stripes, movable mouths and voices.
So…What does one do at AnthroCon?
Panels are part of every convention, and AnthroCon was no different. I didn’t know what to expect- what kind of panels would you have at a convention for furries? Would the programming be about the costumes? Or were there just big gatherings of furries roleplaying? The answer is this:
The type of panels varies in interest just like any other con. While AnthroCon’s main location was The David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the host hotel for the con, The Westin Hotel hosted many panels as well. Some panels were about costuming and fursuits/fursonas, others were about a myriad of topics ranging from The Wacky World Of Sonic The Hedgehog, to Furries and Individuals With Autism, to Fursuit Price is Right. They even had a game room equipped with consoles and board games for guests to rent and play. There were also large rooms for themed Free Play, which seemed to be for gathering in your fursuits, and doing things such as kickball, or more roleplay/character interactions. We attended the Sonic The Hedgehog panel, and the room soon filled up with attendees in fursuits, regular clothes, and accessories. When a really interesting fursuiter came in, interacted with everyone with a perfectly cartoonish voice, I watched the exchange. The setting was relaxed and there were laughs, and fun conversations between everyone. There were about 30 people in the room, some were kids under the age of 13. When the fursuiter took off her mascot head and revealed an attractive 37-year-old woman who is a comic book artist, I will I admit I was shocked. Listening to the panel, watching the exchange between content creator, and fan I felt like I could finally see the appeal. When I cosplay, for me it is about the connection I feel to that character- I know some individuals adopt the character’s mannerisms or speech, but not all cosplayers do such things. For some it is just about dressing up as a character you love, for others like me it is about sharing something you are passionate about with those who also get said passion. I feel the same could be said about the furries in all their varied forms.
What I Learned At AnthroCon
Attending AnthroCon did give me a more accurate opinion of the furries and what they are about, at least personally. I found that by experiencing AnthroCon firsthand I was able to dispel the myths that Fur and Loathing instilled in my psyche long ago, and I was able to see that the furries are like many other fandoms, and it isn’t because the interests cross over. Fandoms at their heart are about inclusion and community, acceptance, and sharing something you love with others who also feel that same affection. Not once during my day at AnthroCon did I see anything that upset me, not once did I feel uncomfortable, and not once did I see or hear anything that would give credit to any of the negative comments or misconceptions about the furries in general. I saw joy, acceptance, tolerance and pride.
I guess you could say it left me with quite a warm, fuzzy feeling.