Furry: for some, the term may be foreign. For others, it may conjure up a range of connotations, from the positive to the downright disturbing. In recent weeks, furry fandom has been a topic of discussion for MUN students, after posters calling for the convergence of furries in the university were plastered around campus.

The posters are the work of MUN student and furry, Will Marshall, who also goes by the ‘furry name’ Chu Ward. He wants to reach out to furries to let them know they are not alone; in fact, there is a substantial and active furry community in St. John’s. Ward sat down with the Muse to discuss this community, as well as what being a furry means and the misconceptions surrounding the fandom.

At its core, the furry fandom consists of people who are interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters. According to Ward, there is no specific way to be a furry; people express their furry identity in various forms.

For some, being a furry means dressing up in an animal costume – known as a “fur suit” – and role playing or attending public furry events. Many “fur suiters” handcraft their suit, while others spend anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars having a suit custom-made. However, donning a fur suit is hardly something such furries do everyday.

“As any fur suiter will tell you, it’s actually very physically exhausting to wear one of those things because it doesn’t breathe at all and you’re in there sweating all day. It’s something that they plan in advance,” said Ward. “It’s usually in a very social context. It’s not just something they wear around the house whenever they feel like it.”

Ward says that for fur suiters, dressing up as an animal is a way to let loose and express themselves freely.

“It’s kind of like the anonymity of the internet. You’re behind a mask,” said Ward. “When people see you out in public they see a character, they don’t see you. So you can act how you would want to have your character act, instead of you just being in plain clothes like me, barking. In fur suits it’s more a performance than just a weird way of behaving.”

However, the majority of furries are not fur suiters. Many furries enjoy role-playing as an animal online, while other furries simply like to draw human-like animals or animals shaped like humans. For Ward, being a furry means role-playing online and looking at anthropomorphic art.

Ward says one of the biggest misconceptions people have about furries is that they are simply people who like to “dress up in an animal costume and have sex.”

“I’m not going to lie and say there isn’t sexuality in the fandom, but there’s sexuality in every single fandom out there because we’re human beings,” said Ward. “But it’s not what we’re about.” He adds that most of the hatred surrounding furries is based on ignorance and insecurity.

Just as there is a variety of ways one can be a furry, the level of connectivity people feel with their furry-identity also varies.

“Some people genuinely feel like maybe they were a mouse in a past life,” said Ward, explaining that some equate their furry identity to a form of shamanism. “Other people are just like no, it’s just a character I play as on the Internet.”

Ward says that for most people, being a furry does not mean feeling their expressed human identity is incongruous with their actual identity.

“The majority of the furries I talk to, if I were to ask them, hey are you really a wolf? They would say, uh no. There’s often a very large disconnect between what people do in the context of being a furry and how they actually feel about themselves as a person.”

When furries are figuring out what animal they should be, Ward says many are influenced by cartoons or anime they enjoyed as children; Ward’s furry animal, for example, is a Pikachu.

“There are lots of dragons, dragons is a big one. It doesn’t have to be anything real. Trying to role-play as a furry you have to presuppose some level of non-reality.”

When Ward was realizing he was a furry at age 14, he felt extremely alone, figuring he was just the “one weirdo in Newfoundland.” Through the posters he is putting up around campus, he hopes to connect similarly thinking furries to the broader Newfoundland furry community.

“With all the stigma that you get on the Internet you’re convinced that there’s something wrong with you. Finding other people, tangible people, not just on the other side of the screen, but people that relate to you and have likely felt the exact same experiences you have, really feels good.”

The furry community in Newfoundland currently consists of around 50 active members and is always looking to expand. Furries sometimes gather for picnics in the park, participate in social events like bowling, or meet up at conferences such as Sci-Fi on the Rock. Ward enjoys the open-mindedness of the furry community and the sense of belonging it fosters. He says that although his posters have only received a dozen serious responses so far, no one who contacted him had any idea there was a furry community in St. John’s.

“I’m convinced that if I keep at it, there’s going to be more furries out there that will know they’ve got a group of people who feel the same way as they do and they can feel welcome in that community.”

Anyone who is interested in becoming connected with other furries in the community are encouraged to contact Ward at chu_109@hotmail.com or on Skype at chuward.