It’s a Thursday afternoon in a small town in the Netherlands. A group of young girls gather on the stairs that lead to my front door. Not because they like me so much, but because a dragon-like creature was chilling there, a rare sight in a small town like this.
She is known as Eserdia Brightpaw and she is a furry. Wikipedia describes Furries this way:
The furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics.
There are quite a lot of stereotypical ideas about Furries. Mainly that they are people who like to have sex dressed up in costumes. I can’t deny that that was the idea I had, which is not that strange considering the mostly negative media coverage. Not much is known about the Furry community because either people think it is weird and don’t bother asking, or people judge before they have even spoken to a Furry, which contributes to fuel the negative image.
Eserdia was willing to speak to me about her hobby, because she knew that I wasn’t going to twist her story. And I was genuinely curious what the Furry community is about. So Eserdia visited my home and dressed up in her partial cosume. Head, tail and paws. We ventured outside to take some photos and immediately the group of girls tackled us.
“Take off your head!” one of the girls said and she attempts to remove the head herself. Eserdia’s boyfriend, her ‘bodyguard’, tells the girl not to and explains exactly what Eserdia is and why she is dressed that way. “Can you come scare our dads?” they asked. Eserdia follows, the girls leading the way. The kids seem genuinely curious although a bit reserved and they can’t stop touching her tail. We tell the girls we have to move on and we walk a bit farther down the road to take some pictures in front of a tree.
Quite a few people stop and ask what is going on. One man comments that he was looking into buying a house in this town and that he definitely would now that he saw Eserdia prancing around. Another woman encourages her to continue doing what she wants to do. She knows a lot of cosplayers and says that people will judge you anyway. We return home to get something to drink, which is the ideal moment to ask some questions.
I ask her about the stereotype making the rounds, and notice that Eserdia gets a little worked up. “I think I can speak for a lot of Furries when I say that being a Furry is mostly about entertaining other people. We like to dress up and we feel comfortable with that and it’s mostly our goal to make peope laugh. There are a lot of people in the Furry fandom and in the community. There are volunteers at hospitals who do special things for children. There are people who are Furries for their jobs and they get hired for parties. So at the core it is all about entertainment and making people smile.”
Which makes a lot of sense. Why do we accept characters in fur suits in theme parks but not in our day to day lives? I asked her how she got into the Furry community as it isn’t something you see every day.
“A couple of years ago I was in Breda with a buddy of mine and there was a Furwalk going on. So people were dressed in their fursuits walking around town and having fun interacting with other people and interacting with each other. And that caught my attention because I always had an interest in animals to begin with and I had just started learning about anthropomorphic animals a.k.a furries. So when I saw them I started to talk to them and they gave some information and then I spent roughly seven years looking and watching and learning from the Furry fandom, learning from the Furry community. At some point I had the great opportunity to get my own fursuit.”
In our conversations before, Eserdia mentioned that people create their own characters and turn those characters into fursuits. For Eserdia it was the other way around and I wondered how she built her character around her suit.
“Well my current costume is actually very cheaty. It was a premade costume so it is not my design. I made it into my character but the design was made by the suitmaker and she had that one premade and up for sale and I was the lucky buyer. I made my character around the suit but in other cases people make a character first, they draw it and build a personality around it and then they have a suit made. But I kind of did it the opposite way.”
She continues: “I still have two characters I would love to have a suit made out of, a fox and a sheep. I still have some work to do on both and I have a lot of saving up to do because the suits are not cheap. The average partial suit, so my suit which is just the head, the hands and the tail would averagely cost you between 750 euros up to 1500 euros. And for a decent full suit, you would pay around 3000 euros.”
It isn’t cheap to be a Furry and as people are quick to judge, I ask Eserdia if she ever just goes into town dressed in her suit. “Well, I’m kind of new to actually walking around in a suit so I had some practise rounds to test the character and to test the behaviour of the character around town. I got a lot of mixed reactions do I’m probably not going to do that too often. I will mostly be wearing it to festivals or cons and things like that.”
I wonder how it feels to have to deal with these mixed reactions when you are doing something that you love. When I look at myself, I occasionally put on some funky makeup which results in my mother telling me I look like a clown. I know that hurts but what is it like to hear it from strangers and why do they react so negatively towards furries?
“I think it depends a lot on where you go and how the people think about Furries and what they know about it, which is not a lot in most cases. People tend to hold back a little in their reactions and try to not interact or look away when they see someone in a fursuit. Children are the most interesting to interact with. They can be very enthusiastic or scared or curious or very annoying because they want you to take your head off and that is an absolute no go because that takes away the magic. Then they know for sure it is just a person in a suit and you want to be the character in the suit. When you go to Disneyland, it is different. Those are characters people know, for instance if they see Mickey Mouse, they don’t doubt it is Mickey Mouse. When you see a random animal walking around, most people react like what the hell? Who are you? What are you? What are you doing? They want to know who is in the suit.”
Every Furry has someone with them at all times. A ‘bodyguard’ so to speak. Eserdia’s companion is present as well. “The vision in a fursuit is very very limited. I can’t properly look down or behind me. You basically need an extra pair of eyes to instruct you. For instance, if there is a small child in front of me, I won’t be able to see that. So I have someone with me to inform me that there is someone in front of me or behind me. That person is also there because when I am in suit, I generally do not speak. Again, this is to not take away the magic of the character. So he also has to do a lot of the talking for me and instruct people who do not know a lot about fursuiters and what the rules are. For example, you can’t just go up to someone and pat them on the head because you can actually hurt someone in a suit. You don’t want people to just touch you in unwanted places.”
I ask Eserdia’s companion what his take is on the whole Furry fandom. “It’s very scary for me actually. I’m constantly watching out for her to make sure nobody does bad things to her because it is a social stigma. People tend to react very badly so I have to watch out for her. Someone who wants to shout or touch her or push her, it’s scary. If someone does have a bad reaction, I push them back, I tell them not to do that or I warn security. I make sure she is okay and I protect her. If I explain to them what is happening, they usually respond well but if it is just a person filled with their own stereotypical ideas then they will not react positively and then I will ask them to leave.”
To end our interview, I ask Eserdia what her plans are for the future. “My first official run with Eserdia will be at Castlefest which is on August 4th. That is the first test run. I am planning to wear her more often obviously and I want to save up to make her a full suit. At some later point I will definitely get more suits.”
I personally got a much better idea of what it is like to be a Furry, but I ask Eserdia if there is one thing she would like to say to people who are still not convinced.
“I’m not here to tell you that the stereotypes you’ve heard about do not exist because they do. But in the core of the fandom it is all about entertaining people. That is all that matters. We are here to entertain you and it is very hurtful if you think otherwise.”