At 10pm the driveway of the San José Marriott is blocked with a large crowd of tigers, marmots, weasels, and dragons. Some of them are smoking, others are simply hanging out. Dan and Bobby arrived at the hotel earlier that day, and they are waiting for me in the crowd, slowly guiding me into a parking spot like marshallers at an airport. It’s Further Confusion, and I’m here to attend my first furry convention.
Furries, for those who aren’t aware, are folks who enjoy the concept of anthropomorphic animals. This can be on the scale from enjoying furry fiction to wearing a tail to dressing in a complete ‘fursuit’. Some of the fursuits include animatronics, cooling systems, and computerized light effects and can cost $3,000 to $10,000 or more.
The car is completely filled with our tails, clothes, and photography gear. I’ve got two 9’x30′ paper backdrops, a bunch of light stands, high-powered strobes, soft boxes, and of course a camera. We wrangle everything up to our room on the 17th floor and stack it against the walls of our hotel room. I’m not a light packer, but this sets a new record for a weekend away from home.
Emotionally, I’m wrecked. I’ve been in a leadership training class with Glassdoor for the last day and a half; an intense seminar on communications and feelings. And just before driving down to San José, I’d talked with twenty developer candidates for two hours trying to find a web developer with the sort of drive and passion that Glassdoor needs. After all of that, my brain is kind of melting from walking through a hotel lobby filled with people who look like this…
To make things worse, furries don’t usually communicate with words. They will squeak or simply mime their intentions, cartoon expressions of emotions and desires with paws and body language. And due to the design of fursuits, furries have very limited peripheral vision. Crossing a room filled with furries is an obstacle course of dodging a fast-moving Pegasus while avoiding wildly gesturing lion and badger paws.
So, we don’t hang out in the hotel that night. Instead we go to nearby Original Joe’s, where I have a martini and a rib steak, rare. It is delicious and comfortably bracing, and gives me the strength to return to the hotel where we dance for a while, humans and furries bouncing in the disco light of the Marriott Grand Ballroom while a DJ spins electronic music.
Then we head to the Party Floor.
Now a normal floor at the Marriott looks like this:
But the Party Floor is not like other floors. Every guest on that floor agrees to throw room parties every night for the duration of the con.
The elevator doors open on the fourth floor of the San José Marriott, and the first thing we notice is that the floors have carefully been sealed with plastic wrap. The second thing we notice is that we’ve missed some partying. The third thing is that the entire hallway smells of anise.
It’s 1am on a Thursday night, and the only party still operational is an absinthe party at the far end of the hall. The room is small and packed. When we finally make our way to the bar, the bartender is a guy who looks like Justin Long in black leather. He drunkenly looks for a cup that hasn’t been used, staring into the same cups over and over like a bizarre version of the shell game. Finally Dan grabs the whole mess of used cups and goes into the bathroom. He reappears 5 minutes later with 10 crystal-clean cups, and a grateful Black Leather Justin Long distributes the remaining absinthe amongst three of them before collapsing into a chair. It’s the first night, and he looks devastated to realize what a room on the party floor entails. If you saw his face, a mixture of confused intoxication and self-imposed exhaustion, it would break your heart.
The rest of the room has the look of a Party that has Gone On Too Long. We were cornered by a mildly drunk Tech Worker from Minneapolis who Is In The South Bay for a Month. He told us of his philosophy of furry conventions (“Have no preconceptions, man, and prepare to have your mind blown!”), and told us that he was going to start the next big internet company. On each double bed a small pile of people were cuddling and grooming one another. Two guys rubbed the exposed tummy of a skinny boy laying on the window sill while the boy made kitty noises. Occasionally a group of people wanders into the room, takes it all in, and then quickly heads off in search of a different party.
As for us, we go to sleep. Tomorrow is a big day.
Friday is our first day running the Further Confessions photo studio, but that only begins at 4pm, and we have the morning to attend convention sessions with topics like “Guided Meditation: Become Your Fursona“, “Furry Ham Radio“, and “Mummy Unwrapping“. But soon it’s time to set up the studio, so we haul all of our gear down to the concourse and start to set up. Our photo studio runs from 4-8pm and I take 143 photos. Each participant writes into our Confessions Book, to combine later with their portrait.
We do the same thing on Saturday and Sunday, running the photo studio each day from 1-4. In the rest of the time we attend sessions (“Live Animal Event“, “Adult Anatomy and Physiology“), check out the art show, and shop in the Dealer’s Den to shop for tails and porn. The whole event is pretty wonderful, and I feel myself becoming a Furry Evangelist, wanting all of my friends to come share the experience. (I do convince Francisco and Elijah to visit, but they both do so briefly, before fleeing back to the mundane world.)
By the end of the weekend I’ve taken 472 photos of over 200 individuals. The most challenging was when 27 furries showed up wanting a group photo. All of their suits were made by the same craftsman, a studio called Made Fur You, and they wanted a shot of them all together. My team were amazing. Dan got a model release for each of them and explained the process. I’d lead them onto the backdrop and position them, and Bobby would assist in wrangling the furries. It took about an hour overall, and for a good part of the time the entire area around the studio was surrounded by Furries in various stages of undress, some with their heads off and talking while others stayed fully-suited and made exaggerated toe-tapping gestures of impatience. There was a random videographer with a steadicam rig who kept swooping through the entire mess as well. It was wonderful chaos, but we finally got everyone in place, tweaked the poses (“Lab wolf, please lean a little to your left!“), and took the shot. I think it’s pretty wonderful:
Would I come back? Without a doubt. Will I be wearing a fursuit? That remains to be seen, but I’ve commissioned ears and a tail, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first step on a slippery slope.
And I love it.