What's the Deal With Furries? I Attended Furpocalypse to Find Out.

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

A walrus with a cane and monocle strode by me in the hotel hallway.

He was followed in quick succession by an alligator in a three-piece suit, a dog with piercings and a plaid skirt, and a rat with blue light-up eyes. I came to the elevator, which was packed with people in fursuits. "We'll take the next one," my boyfriend said.

I was surrounded by lions, tigers, and bears. Only I wasn't in Oz: I was at a furry convention.

Anthropomorphic animal sex, superfans, and fursuits

Furpocalypse is an anthropomorphic convention held annually in Cromwell, Connecticut. The three-day, sci-fi themed event draws anthropomorphic enthusiasts called furries from all over the world, and raises funds for wildlife and animal welfare charities. In loose terms, furries get off on dressing up in animal costumes (most commonly wolves and dogs), and feel sexually attracted to fellow furries. The subculture is at once strange and compelling; and its stories hold a bizarre fascination for civilians like me.

It's tricky to pin furries down under one heading, though, since they have no centralized canon to draw from. "There is no singular furry book, show, movie, or artistic work that ground the fandom around a central focus," says Joe, a friend and seasoned furry. "The only real qualifying statement that makes someone a furry is being a fan of anthropomorphic animals, which in and of itself is hugely broad."

The sexuality of furries runs along a spectrum. "On one hand you have people in it solely for the more sexual aspects of the fandom (fursuit sex, erotic art, etc.)," Joe says, "and on the other you have people who do not indulge in any of the sexual aspects of the fandom at all. Most are somewhere in the middle, in that they acknowledge and may participate in certain sexual aspects without it being anywhere close to the sole reason for their participation.

"The more titillating aspect of fursuit sex that a lot of people immediately associate with furries is not nearly as common," Joe says. "Suits are expensive and can be uncomfortable to be in for extended periods of time. Not wanting to damage or stain your suit, or trying to avoid passing out from heat exhaustion aren't very conducive to great sex. It's also important to know that most of the suits you see in public are not made for sex."

Furpocalypse is like an alt-reality Disney dreamscape

We arrived on a Friday night, when room parties were in full swing and planned activities like panels, games, and performances had drawn to a close. The furries were all over the hotel: mingling in the lobby, clogging the hallways, wandering the roundabout out front. Most went all out in full-body costumes; while others donned "partials" (three-piece sets of costumed head, hands, and feet). And some looked perfectly normal, save for small touches of their animal persona: a tail here, a pair of ears there.

While walking through winding corridors to one of the many room parties, people around me kept bumping into each other. Whether that was from imbibing a little too much already or their costumed heads' lack of peripheral vision, I couldn't tell. I showed my ID at a hotel room door to gain access to a party that would put a frat house to shame.

My boyfriend and I enjoyed a few drinks and conversation with the revelers, eventually stepping away from the party and hustle and bustle of the convention. We found ourselves standing outside the gate of the hotel's pool, where a projection of Zootopia (of course) played above the water. He put his arms around my waist, and I drew mine around his shoulders. The moment of tenderness was in stark contrast to the cartoonish reality we'd stumbled into; and was only interrupted by a man in a cape who wandered up to hand us peanut butter cups out of the pail of candy he was carrying.

The fursona is a carefully constructed archetype

"What name do you want on your badge?" the man at the registration desk asked me the following morning. "Dana is fine," I told him. But later, when I ran into Joe, he seemed disappointed.

"JUST Dana? How boring!" he joked. I'd apparently missed out on an opportunity to attend the convention with a chosen "fursona." Many furries chose a name different from their own to get more into character.

Uncool name tag affixed to my chest, I wandered over to the Artists Alley. There were at least six rows of vendors in the ballroom hawking costume heads, chew toys, mittens shaped like paws, fursuit cleaners, fursona sketches, lanyard name tags, and plushy tails. I tried on a purple fox tail. "It's handmade," the seller said. I looked at the price tag: $75.

Being a furry is an expensive hobby.

The furry costume designers were older women who made costumes in their spare time, and younger folks who worked full-time on the outfits. I spoke with several people who dropped out of art school to pursue costume-making careers constructing fursuits; each of which takes at least two weeks to make and sells at minimum for $2,500. Fursuits are designed to fit every part of the body: Some costumes are made by actually wrapping a furry in duct tape, then cutting the person out of it to get precise measurements for costumes that fit like a second skin. Add in custom claws, eyes, whiskers, and fur patterns, among other variables, and it's clear why being a furry requires a high level of artistic talent.

The furries I saw were after camaraderie -- not animalistic sex

After spending a few hours walking around chatting with artists and admiring their handiwork, I joined a large group of people lining the hallways of the hotel in preparation for the parade. Knowing how much these suits cost, I had a newfound appreciation as each furry passed by. Their pride in their appearances was infectious. The marching furries walked tall, strutting their way through the procession.

I stuck out my hand and collected high-fives as participants walked past me. Next, we went to the dance competition; where skunks and goats and wolves took the stage one by one and battled it out against one another as everything from pop to rap played in the background. My favorite performance involved a dog in a jersey and sweatband, basketball in tow, busting out moves to the Space Jam theme song. The judges gave constructive feedback to everyone who went on stage.

With all the activities, Furpocalypse felt more like a gathering of friends than a place for sexual deviants to congregate. In fact, throughout the entire convention the only public displays of affection I saw were of a platonic variety. Surely sexual aspects of the fetish happened behind closed doors; but if any sex happened during the course of the convention, I never saw it.

On the car ride home, as my friends and I playfully argued over the results of the dance contest (that Space Jam dog should have won), I was asked what I thought. And while the furry convention wasn't exactly "normal," one thing was for sure: It was fun.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dana Hamilton is a writer in New York City who has a passion for all things body-related. She writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and xoJane, among other publications.