The Fur Amendment

“It’s funny that the most interesting thing about our convention,” MediAtlanta speaker Karla Bowsher mused Saturday night, “is someone else’s convention.”

Bowsher was strolling through the Westin hotel in downtown Atlanta, just a few blocks from the SPJ regional conference we hosted earlier that day. She, me, and five other MediAtlanta speakers were lured inside by intense journalistic curiosity.

The Westin was hosting Furry Weekend Atlanta, a gathering of 2,000 “furries” and their fans. If you don’t know what a furry is, you can read the ponderous Wikipedia description. But here’s my own simplistic, journalistic version…

Furries are perhaps the most laughed-at legal subculture in America. In varying degrees, they enjoy dressing as anthropomorphic animals – think of a cross between college football mascots and the suited characters who lumber through DisneyWorld, but with an anime and sci-fi edge.

Some furries get sexually aroused wearing these suits, which can cost thousands of dollars. Others just enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being around a critical mass of fellow outsiders – who, for that one weekend, are suddenly the insiders.

Like everything else journalists are forced to describe in only a few words, these are just the broad strokes, not the subtle shadings. Since it’s so hard to define them, you can imagine how misunderstood many furries feel. Popular culture tends to malign what it can’t define, and it’s worse for furries because of their cute suits.

But the more we spoke with the Furry Weekend attendees, the more the MediAtlanta crew – which included Michele Boyet, Gideon Grudo, Cassie Morien, Tom O’Hara, and Chris Persaud – admired them. That was partly because they were so willing to speak to us.

I’ve covered other subcultures as a journalist, from Jewish gun-lovers to Nazi submariner re-enactors. But I’ve never met a group more willing to talk freely about their scene, even as I heard catcalls from the public walking by the Westin. O’Hara chatted with one furry for 15 minutes, delving into the topic of the sexual practices and sexual orientations of both furries and their fans.

Furries embody everything I value as a journalist: Thick skins (quite literally) and an outsider’s view of the rest of the world, but with its own tight-knit community that won’t exclude anyone with an open mind.

Grudo, who helped coordinate last year’s annual Will Write For Food weekend, suggested a similar event called Will Write For Fur: “We should publish a furry convention newspaper the next time they do this.”

I agree. The journalistic value is plain…

If reporters and photographers can sensitively cover this subculture, capturing its essence in a way that enlightens the public while still informing the furries themselves, that’s the pinnacle of our craft.

If you’re interested in joining us, email me. We’ll need all the help we can get. I predict this SPJ grant application is gonna be a hard sell.

Tomorrow: Read about MediAtlanta itself, as reported by the staff at The Red and Black, the independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia.

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