When a pale, lanky fanboy skips through a downtown crosswalk wearing little else than pointy ears and a fox tail, it can only mean one thing: FurCon has returned to San Jose.

The city’s annual hot mess, where thousands of men and some women let their guard down to celebrate fetishism in one of its most colorfully public expressions, FurCon—short for Further Confusion—is a stuffed animal freakfest. An eight-foot octopus perched on two legs intentionally bumps up against strangers in an elevator. Two upright dogs bend over to sniff each other as if a simple hello won’t do. A wolf with a lusty smile, wagging tongue and happy blue eyes aggressively humps an inflatable Shamoo as onlookers snort and laugh and take pictures.

One of a growing number of so-called anthropomorphic events held across the country, San Jose’s fuzzfest has grown into a free-for-all,  a squeamish source of pride for a city that built a convention center with ambitions of hosting technology industry trade shows and instead got Disney’s evil twin. More than 3,000 individuals, many dressed in their animal best, attended the five-day event held at the McEnery Convention Center, making San Jose home to the second-largest furry convention in the country.

“There is no other venue that can house us. We got too big for our britches,” says Lee Strom, a FurCon co-founder and organizer who goes by the fandom name “Chairo.” Fandom is the term used to describe the scene, while people who dress up in animal-like costumes, a.k.a. furries, take on “fursonas” in their “fursuits.”

The only thing more popular than portmanteaus at FurCon are hugs between strangers.

Strom sits in a wheelchair, having recently broken his hip, while wearing a bland black T-shirt, sandals and pants made out of faux fur. He admits his injury takes a little shine off the transformation of a middle-aged man into an absurdly large auburn-colored raccoon, but there seems to be no lack of enthusiasm.

“We have the most dense amount of fans here in the Bay Area,” Strom proudly declares. “There’s more [furries] on the East Coast, but there’s more people here in a 100-mile radius than anywhere else. And they come to FurCon from almost any country in the world.”

The culture of furries has been documented in the last decade, and the media has not been kind to them. From a Vanity Fair feature in which some subjects interviewed showed a cringing lack of self-awareness to episodes of CSI focusing on costumed sexual congress turning criminal and Johnny Drama getting freaky in a bunny costume on Entourage, there is a preconception that anyone who attends these events has little interest in anything other than bumping uglies in odd outfits or raping a plushy.

“That’s the mainstream media. They want to boost ratings,” Strom says, before conceding that FurCon does have its fair share of wierd shit. “But if you go to any convention, there is going to be things going on in rooms, people doing their own thing. And [the media] focus on that because that’s what brings in the dollars.”

But outside of the stigma that comes with dressing up as a racoon, bear or fox with tits, FurCon features a variety of events that simply cater to creativity: costume construction and graphic-design classes intermingle with discussions on writing, dragon mythology and dances akin to a “Where the Wild Things Are” rumpus.

“Some just want be social, some just want to learn things, and some just want to show up,” Strom says of the attendees.

The benefits to San Jose, a city starved for revenue, aren’t limited to inducing chuckles on the street. Meghan Horrigan, director of communications for the convention center, says that on top of an estimated 2,000 hotel room nights being booked by attendees during the slow season of January, there is a trickle-down economic effect of more than $1.2 million. No matter what city officials or hoteliers think of FurCon and its attendees, money is all that matters, and the convention center happily signed a three-year agreement with organizers before this years’ event.


There is also the money donated by FurCon, a nonprofit, to local animal-related charities, such as Town Cats in Morgan Hill and 13th Street Cat Rescue in San Jose. In its first 13 years, FurCon donated more than $140,000 total, Strom says.

Virtual Forest

Scotty the Minotaur, which is exactly what one would expect—a 46-year-old man in a Minotaur costume—is one of the few “fursuited” attendees willing to grant an interview that includes the use of speech. An arranged interview went sour when it was learned that the guide would only communicate with hand signals like a theme-park mascot.

“The people who are really good at performance don’t like to talk because it ruins the character,” explains Strom.

But in talking with Scotty the Minotaur and his bearded friend, Badger—who are both from Las Vegas—the culture of FurCon starts to make some sense. Aside from weekends such as this, the friendships between furries are almost entirely virtual.

“The best part of the convention is interacting with people that you know online—putting a face to a name,” Badger says.

A good chunk of FurCon attendees network by spending the bulk of their free time attached to keyboards, gaining connections through message boards and games such as World of Warcraft.

“It’s great to interact with people online in an IM [instant message] environment,” Scotty says, “but meeting someone in person brings a whole new dimension to a friend relationship.”

Some friendships only grow more candid at FurCon. One man in his late 20s from Denver, who asked not to be identified, admits “a lot of people are afraid [to be interviewed on record] because of being prejudiced.”

But during the course of the weekend, the man found the same could be said for some personal relationships. “I saw a friend from middle school,” he says. “We didn’t even know” we’re both furries.

The expense of joining the anthropomorphic culture has costs. There is the emotional toll that comes from the fear of being ostracized by family, friends and co-workers, and then there is the physical and economical toll. Costumes, which are usually custom made, can cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.  And as Scotty the Minotaur admits, wearing the “fursuit” can be a test of one’s fortitude.

“I wish I had a digital thermometer,” he says. “The only time I’m comfortable is walking outside in the winter. You’d have to be insane to do this. It’s like wearing a couch.”

Before leaving, Scotty the Minotaur considers the greater meaning about fandom and FurCon.

“It’s just a way of getting in touch with your ultracreative side,” he says.

A hand extends to his hoof to say thanks, but Scotty the Minotaur retreats.

“Fursuits don’t do handshakes,” he says. “We do hugs.