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This article was published 31/10/2014 (996 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sean Piper is a polar bear. Name is Borealis Aurora, and he’s a bit of a "crotchety old coot, a get-off-my-lawn-you-kids sort of guy."
Just so you know, Borealis favours Jim Beam; Black Label, if you please. "He’s a very picky polar bear," said Piper.
Some explanation: Piper’s day job is at a call centre. That’s how he makes his living. But Piper is also a "Furry," part of a worldwide fandom of like-minded individuals who share an "interest in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics."
At least, that’s the Wikipedia definition.
On a real-life level, it’s a subculture of folks who — for any number of reasons and back stories — either create or adopt "fursonas" that become their second skin. There are tens of thousands of them.
There are wolves, dragons, caribou, kangaroos, raccoons and fictional creatures called Sergals — and that’s just in Winnipeg.
"If you can think of it as an animal," Piper said, "it exists as a fursona somewhere."
Piper co-founded Wild Prairie Furs along with his girlfriend, Katrina Fuchs, who is also a Furry. There are about 120 members in their community, aged between 13 and 60, who range in occupation from students to cancer researchers to graphic artists to retailers. The bulk of Furs are in their late teens and early 20s.
"All walks of life, really. It doesn’t seem to be limited to any one niche," Piper said. "It’s a huge array. That’s what makes it a really great fandom."
The Wild Prairie Furs' inaugural event was a "furndu." The couple expected a handful of fursonas to show up at their home, but more than two dozen came. They even had to go out and buy more cheese.
"We’ve kind of taken off," noted Fuchs, a 28-year-old tattoo artist, adding that after connecting, mostly online, the members' next step was to arrange "furmeets." These activities include such modest outings as bowling and mini-golf. Or a visit to the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
At the outset, the plan was involve the children, too.
"There really wasn’t anything for all of us to do together, at least that didn’t involve alcohol," she added. "We thought, ‘Let’s do something where kids can come out.’ "
Visits to more public arenas, such as The Forks, draw more of a crowd. Said Fuchs: "Normally, we get mobbed by people wanting photos."
Of course, Fuchs’s two fursuits — a pink Tasmanian devil ("Squeaky") and a snow leopard ("Chinoa") — which she made herself, are of professional mascot-like quality. So kids might often instinctively offer their open arms for hugs.
It’s important to note not all Furries wear suits. Some are "partials" and wear only a tail or mask. Borealis Aurora, for example, dons only a puffy, polar bear-like tail on the back of his belt.
"Fur suits don’t make a Furry," Piper said. "Furry is more of a state of being. I’ve been one all my life. I just didn’t know it. It just sort of happens."
But the life of a Furry isn’t all snuggles and selfies.
Heckling is rare, but not uncommon; the most common agitators being teenage boys. Which might seem odd, because a large constituency of Furries are, in fact, teenage boys.
Piper understands the catcalls at some level.
"What we’re doing is not normal," he admitted. "When you see someone walking down the street wearing essentially a mascot suit they think, ‘That’s not right.’ And if that’s where they’re coming from, then they think, ‘We don’t like that.’ "
However, Piper said, the majority reaction is: " ‘Hmmm. That’s kind of strange and weird. I want to know more.’ That’s what we want."
That’s exactly why Piper has printed up calling cards to hand out to the curious with the group’s contact information. The group will also have a table at this weekend’s Central Canada Comic Con, held at the RBC Convention Centre.
Furry fandom has its roots in science fiction, dating back to the early ’80s (and even longer, according to some), and evolved with fanzines and fantasy cartoons featuring anthropomorphic animals. Today, there are literally dozens of major FurCons, in the mould of Comic-Cons. The largest, AnthroCon, is held annually in Pittsburgh and attracts upwards of 6,000. There are panels (How to Act in Public), workshops and even Furry fandom celebrities, such as a comedian named 2, the Ranting Gryphon.
Like Comic Cons, which were originally stereotyped as "geek conventions," FurCons, like the Furry movement itself, is gaining more recognition in the mainstream culture. For example, Furry fandom has been portrayed on major television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, 30 Rock and Entourage. But not all exposure has been positive. Early reports often focused on the perception of fandom in a sexual context.
Furries are well aware of the less-than-flattering portrayals and Google wormholes. Said Fuchs: "Almost everything on the Internet has some version of porn."
Piper said the entire motivation behind his memberships was a vehicle for activities (all non-alcohol, except for the New Year’s Eve party) that are gender and age-friendly.
"There’s certain stereotypes around it," Piper said. "We want people to know. Fur fandom is still very young. It hasn’t hit the mainstream level of Comic Con has enjoyed for a while. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing. If it stays the same, I don’t think anybody would mind."
For most Furries, fandom is some combination of creativity, expression, a love of animals and escapism. For example, Fuchs’ Squeaky fursona is based directly on a stuffed toy she had as a two-year-old. "He became real to me," she said. "He was my best friend."
Now Fuchs essentially channels what Squeaky would be in human form. "We tend to still have that little spark of our childhood imagination and creativity," she said.
"And wonder," Piper added.