“This is the highlight of my year,” Thumpie Bunny Eve shared with photographer Arthur Drooker, while sat atop a piano, wearing high heels, exuding sexuality—and wearing a rabbit costume. This was just one scene at Anthrocon, the world's largest convention for anthropomorphics, the humanlike animal characters more commonly referred to as "furries." Anthrocon is the latest stop on Drooker's Conventional Wisdom tour, during which the photographer has brought his lens—and his audience—into the weird and wonderful world of eccentric conventions, from Santas to sexual explorers. We've been following him for a year now, as he accrues imagery for a book-in-progress, and Anthrocon is most certainly one of the highlights.
During the 4 July holiday weekend, furries made their way from around the globe to Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center and, according to Drooker, turned it "into a wild kingdom." He notes that this year’s gathering drew a record 5,861 attendees—the most since its inception in 1996. Drooker further contextualizes the scene: "Imagine a mass meeting of mascots and you get the idea." That said, through his own reporting, Drooker discovered the roots of anthropomorphics and cleared up a lot of misconceptions the community has befallen.
First, “A furry is a fan of walking, talking animals; the idea of making animals more like humans, or making humans more like animals,” Drooker learned from Dr Courtney Plante, a psychologist who is conducting a long term survey of the fandom, and a furry himself. "What that entails for everyone differs considerably." Further, Drooker makes two noteworthy observations. Furries hail from various backgrounds and they aren't necessarily in costume; a tier dubbed the "fursuiters" are in fact the ones who come adorned, sporting anything from "inexpensive tails to elaborate full-body costumes that cost as much as $5000." Additionally, the convention is dominated by a family feeling—one that runs contrary to its media portrayal as being hyper-sexual.
The vast, vast majority of furries who have suits, it’s a cherished thing, part of your self-identity. A lot of them don’t think of it in a sexual way. It’s not what it’s there for. It’s not what you do with it.
"Sex in a fursuit is nearly impossible, if not totally undesirable. Donning one of these thick faux fur creations is 'akin to wearing a sofa on your back,' as furries often describe it," Drooker shares with CH. "A fursuit limits one’s dexterity and vision. The temperature can climb to over 100 degrees in there, causing dehydration if one doesn’t take a water break or wear a cooling vest." Rather, “The vast, vast majority of furries who have suits, it’s a cherished thing, part of your self-identity,” Dr Plante says. “A lot of them don’t think of it in a sexual way. It’s not what it’s there for. It’s not what you do with it.” Rather, it's an expression of a fursona—an animal identity that symbolizes who the wearers are or what they aspire to be.
At Anthrocon, people can comfortably embrace their fursona, embraced by a like-minded community. "Every species of the fandom felt celebrated," Drooker says. "There were meet-ups for cats (Feline Friendly Furry Fiasco), reptiles (Gathering of the Scalies), even rats and mice (Rodents!)." On top of this he observed activities as far fetched as "games such as Pawpets Gone Wild and Whose Lion Is It Anyway?" As well as workshops like Transfurmations, in which tips were offered up on both fursuit construction and character development. The convention also featured a nightly dance. Altogether, "Anthrocon was a zoo like no other," Drooker concludes. But moreover, those inside this special world shared the most important observation: the outside world is changing and the prejudice against furries is slimming. Maybe many of the smiles found therein will soon break free.
Cool Hunting was invited to follow Arthur Drooker behind-the-scenes as he continues to survey and photograph conventions around the US. All images in this ongoing series are by Arthur Drooker.