THIS weekend, hundreds of furries from around the world are descending on Sydney for a weekend of socialising, drinking and video gaming.
However, the burgeoning fan culture – in which participants spend thousands on custom-made animal suits and meet up at cafes, bars, parties and conventions – has been lampooned by the media worldwide as a deviant sex-crazed cult.
The common accusation is that the gatherings of anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics become wild orgies, where furries get it on with one another while donning their flamboyant suits.
To make life even more awkward, the obscure subculture has associated with bestiality and reportedly infiltrated by right-wing extremists and white supremacists known as “alt-furries” – claims which many in the furry community have strenuously denied.
Aussie furries who spoke to news.com.au ahead of this weekend’s sold-out Harbour City Fur Con, a massive fan gathering in Sydney’s CBD which will be attended by well-known, international furry speakers, said those looking for sex in an animal suit make up just a tiny minority of those donning the colourful costumes.
“Being a furry is really just about a bunch of people who get together to hang out, play video games or have a drink,” said Elrico Cattaneo, who has been part of the fan culture for about a decade.
The 24-year-old from Canberra, who often goes by the pseudonym Captain Otter, said furries are often fans of anime and computer games who are drawn to a particular character.
His eureka moment came aged 15 and he saw a piece of animal artwork digitally sprayed onto a wall inside the modification of the popular first-person shooter game Half-Life.
“I just really liked the way it looked and the colours, so I searched it on the internet and it just started from there,” he said.
His mate James Marshall, who goes by the furry name of Prince Panda, was sucked into the fandom in a similar way and said it was a strange moment when he realised he was into it.
“I reckon every furry in Australia thinks the same thing when they realise it. You think you’re the only furry in Australia,” he said. “Then you realise you’re not.”
The pair started to meet with other furries regularly at a Canberra cafe and they immediately made friends, but they also say there were a few “weirdos” among the Aussie community who were clearly just interested in sex.
“It’s like almost every other fantasy or science-fiction fan culture – like Harry Potter or Star Trek in a lot of ways,” Mr Cattaneo said. “You only have to give it a quick search on the internet and you’ll find a lot of really raunchy sexual stuff associated with those fan cultures too, but you wouldn’t say all fans of Harry Potter or Trekkies they are perverse. It all depends on the person.
“Sex is definitely part of the furry fan culture, but I don’t really care. It’s not the part everyone should be focusing on.”
However, the underground subculture has gained a notorious reputation, especially after a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode called “Fur and Loathing” which depicted sex-crazed fursuit-wearers as violent and promiscuous deviants who got jiggy with it en-masse at organised orgies.
And, when Mr Cattaneo’s parents found porn associated with the furry subculture on his computer when he was just 15, he was thrown out of his family home and he hasn’t spoken to them since.
He said his father was disturbed by the reputation of the fandom and accused him of joining a “Hitler-worshipping sex cult”.
But Mr Catteneo said life as a furry only got better from there. He has since travelled the world, attending furry conventions and meeting fans who inspired him to organise his very own convention – the Harbour City Fur Con taking place in Sydney this weekend.
“Some furries are really weird and there’s only a small community in Australia, but you can meet some really cool people through it,” he said.
“You can go to pretty much any major city and just go on Facebook and you can meet up with people who are into the same thing.”
He said the “weird” furries – such as those into furry foot fetishes or overly into the sexual aspect of the culture – can be spotted a mile away because of their over-the-top, rainbow coloured fursuits.
“We call them ‘fursuites’, which is a codeword which basically means someone with a really bad fursuit,” he said.
A decent fursuit is a big source of pride for a furry and it isn’t just some tacky Halloween outfit you pick up from a costume shop.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that furries have sex in their suits,” Mr Cattaneo said. “A decent fursuit will cost you around $US5000 ($A6720), so there’s no way you’re going to ruin it by doing that in it.”
In order to buy one of these half-decent fursuits, Mr Cattneo says fans must wrap themselves in gaffer tape to make a makeshift bodycast which is then shipped overseas to specialist designers.
The custom-built suit, which can take months to make, is then shipped back to the happy customer, adding to the “phenomenal” cost of the suit designer’s time and labour.
Some furries have even been rushed to hospital after wrapping themselves too tightly. But Mr Marshall and Mr Cattaneo say sometimes you have to suffer for your art.
Otherwise, a suit can be made at home for a few hundred bucks or furries can have a “bad” costume made locally for around $1000.
“I have seven suits and sometimes it’s hard to decide what to wear,” Mr Cattaneo said. “But, I think it’s a bit like getting a new pair of shoes – sometimes you just want to wear something because it’s new.”
The pair say posing for pictures on social media is now a huge part of the subculture. Furries often have multiple profiles for their different characters.
Recent changes to Facebook to combat fake news and fake troll profiles has meant thousands of furry accounts are being deleted by the social media giants.
However, the furries aren’t going anywhere and they have flocked to Twitter, where they can have as many profiles as they like and freely share explicit content while they are at it.