Last week, when we told our friends about our plans to attend Anthro New England (ANE), they mostly replied with “good luck.” ANE is Boston’s premier furry convention, which annually hosts over 2,500 furries and enthusiasts. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get a closer look at one of the more unconventional subcultures.
A furry is someone who is interested in animals with cartoonized and human features. It is difficult to define what exactly a furry is because there are so many different elements and relationships to the community. There are those whose participation and interest originated from TV shows and cartoons with anthropomorphised characters. Others connect to the fandom through specific furry art, comics, music and general fiction.
The furry community officially took shape in the 80s, but it also had beginnings in the 60s through the sharing of fanzines. Fans were mostly able to speak and create a community through snail mail, but with the advent of the Internet, the furry community was able to pick up traction as members could now share thoughts and art with each other in real time and with increased ease and accessibility.
Years later, furries are paradoxically a very popular yet misunderstood subculture. For example, many people, upon hearing that we were going to a furry convention, recoiled in disbelief because of the perceived sexual side of it. The sexual aspect of furries is often overrepresented in the media. By all accounts, sexuality is secondary and often does not play a part in one’s relationship to their furry identity. Some outsiders to the community think that furries are people who engage in sex with animals. This assumption lacks any nuance and is made in complete ignorance about the subculture. It is akin to saying the most extreme members of any group represent the beliefs of the majority. This insinuation is as gross and damaging as saying that anyone who is into BDSM is into rape. The vast majority of furries engage in sexual activity that is safe, sane and consensual. Throughout our entire time at the convention, there was no event or person who even mentioned any acts with real animals, let alone condoned them.
ANE just celebrated its sixth year, and it has grown significantly from its humble start. Hosted at the Boston Park Plaza in Back Bay, the four-day event boasts many panels on figure drawing, character design, personal finance, cooking, the history and art of pie throwing, drag eye makeup tutorial and countless others. All of the panels were incredibly accessible and friendly. Participants were free to ask questions at any time to the experts, who then enthusiastically answered. Other panels served as meetups for different groups of furry identities and interests, such as motorcycles, STEM, public service, transgender furries, under 18 furries, those with racoon and goat fursonas, and much more.
The furry fandom has lots of overlap with the LGBT+ community, specifically the transgender community, and the panels and events at ANE were designed to cater to these identities. There were multiple panels and meetups for transgender furries, as well as a workshop for cisgender attendees to learn and understand how to be allies to transgender furries. These events are incredibly important for the fandom and individuals attending the event. These are spaces available for individuals who usually do not have the opportunity to meet with other transgender people. Many attendees travel across New England and even the United States so that they may exist authentically in a shame-free, trans-positive environment. It is important to have transgender spaces, and I imagine it is important to have transgender and furry spaces so folks can discuss the unique intersection between their identity.
An above average number of furries identify as transgender. It is difficult to give a specific answer why, but many individuals have cited the connection between having a fursona, a projected ideal of your animal self, as a way to relieve the discomfort with the gender they are assigned.The furry fandom provides an outlet for people to explore their identities beyond the constraints of their physical body. Additionally, there was a “Fursuiting with a Disability” panel explaining the nuances of disability and its intersection with being a furry. Informational sessions about alternative relationship structures and the different power dynamics were also available. The furry community is known for being incredibly accepting, welcoming and helpful. Providing informational panels and meetups that highlight the many identity intersections within the community demonstrates how much the members care for each other.
Though ANE stressed a nonsexual atmosphere, there were sexual health clinics available, including Harbor Health. The clinic provided HIV and Hepatitis C testing, which can be completed in a matter of minutes. At first it may seem counterintuitive to have testing for diseases that are thought to be spread primarily through sexual contact at this event, but both HIV and Hepatitis C can be spread in a multitude of nonsexual ways.The health services provided are easily accessible, free and rapid, in a setting that is inherently more friendly and inviting than a doctor’s office.
The vast majority of con-goers have a fursona in some form, either realized in a drawing, fursuit, written fiction or still in their head. In addition to a badge that granted access to the event, many of the con-goers had badges with their fursonas attached as a way of identifying themselves. These badges are often commissioned directly from artists at the convention and hold a lot of sentimental value as souvenirs they can bring to future cons to show their dedication to the community.
Fursonas are not static. Many people have different fursonas in different styles or animals representing the many aspects and facets of the community they are interested in. One furry told us they had a fursona for their art and then a different one for their music. In choosing a fursona, the actual animal can play a large or no role in the decision. One participant gushed about how cool they thought possums were even before they became a furry, and that’s how they chose their fursona. Another felt that their fursona was simply how they see themselves. In the same way that people express themselves in bitmojis, animojis or picrews, a fursuit — an otherwise normal raccoon donning glasses — is an expression of one form of a furry’s idealized self.
There was also an all day concert entitled “Animal Music,” which featured artists near and far to perform. We were lucky enough to catch the local band ‘Full Color’ and the Seattle-based headliner ‘1 Trait Danger’ (Full review with interview coming soon!!). We had a really great time at both shows. A novel part of the concert experience was the non-judgemental atmosphere. At some concerts, it feels like you have to look and dance a certain way to fit in, but that was not the case at ANE. It was lovely to dance and sing along to the music without being self conscious. The music was lively and energetic, and the crowd was able to match that energy, which made the experience stellar. While the animal music could be easily overlooked, especially if you are unfamiliar with the artists, it was great to catch a fun, live show.
We were surprised by the number of parents accompanying their children at the convention. Many of the con-goers we spoke to expressed deep admiration and respect towards the parents of young furries who were willing to bring them to community events. They wished that they had received the same support when they were that age and just discovering their interest in furry media. One parent accompanying two daughters let us know that he had a “great, fun time.” His daughter beamed and said she was happy her dad came to the con with her.
Given the constant caution we received before attending the con and our unfamiliarity with the subculture, we were both nervous about attending. But overall, our experience at ANE was eye-opening. Furries often get a bad rap for being overly sexual, annoying and generally off-putting to non-furries. Our time at the convention completely demolished our preconceptions. We spent the entire way home raving about our favorite parts of the day and the different things we learned and saw. So many individuals at ANE took time out of their day to take pictures, answer questions or speak to us about their involvement in the furry community. Many people told us how members of the furry community are kind and helpful, and by attending, we truly got to experience first-hand that kindness. If you have gotten this far in the article, I suggest looking into attending ANE next year because I cannot recommend it highly enough.
A very special thanks to all those who made us feel so incredibly welcomed at this event and to all the members of the furry community who made our day! This includes, but is not limited to, Remy, Camille, Xirius, Full Color, 1 Trait Danger, anyone who answered a question or took a photo with us and countless others.