Au pays des peluches

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On January 27th 2010, an article entitled "Au pays des peluches" ("In the land of the stuffed animals") was released by the French canadian university student-written newspaper, Montreal Campus, published by the Université Du Québec à Montreal (UQAM) in Montreal, Canada.

The furries that were interviewed were:

Reception[edit]

The article was very well received by the local group, being deemed fair and objective. Following the publication of this article, Firebreath was approached by the CBC's french side to do an interview live on the radio.

Translation and Transcription[edit]

Incognito, animal fans play as dogs, bears and foxes. Unlike their cousin the mascot, they even go as far as wearing expensive costumes to bring their characters to life.

Black nose and brown fur, Firebreath is an adorable golden retriever that kids love. However, this doggie with big paws is named Marc, a sympathetic young man who works in the multimedia field and helps his blind mother. This university graduate is neither a mascot or a dangerous insane person; he's a furry. Furries have an interest in animals and anthropomorphism, in other words they give animals what basically are human characteristics. Many of them go as far as wear a costume representing their animal of choice.

However, not everyone agrees on the definition of the term. "Ask ten furries and they'll each give a different answer" explains Marc, "Some are only interested in animals, others have an interest in the art and even a small number believe to be animals reincarnated in a human body."

I met in the January frigid cold, in a park near the old Montreal Forum, some representatives of the Montreal Furry Community - they are about 250 according to the concerned party - and they aren't easy to ignore. Proudly showing off their fursuit, the four of them reel in the looks of curious passersby. Most of them don't care, but children, with their smiling laughs, seem to love their beautiful fur. The happiness of the four grown men is easy to see. "When I wear my fursuit, people have a big smile" explains Paws, a red-coated cat, who is an engineer when he retracts his claws.

Such a costume costs upwards of $1000, which explains the small percentage of furries who own one. "In fact, maybe 20% of the furries have one." explains Thierry, also known as Big Bad Bear, proud of his recent acquisition. "It was much less a few years back." The costume is therefore far from being essential to be part of this fandom, which means a sub-culture specific to a group of fans. Also, furries hardly ever advertise themselves in public with such gear, reserving it mostly for meets organized by the community.

Lifestyle? Simple hobby? Roleplay? Every furry sees the movement in a different way. "It's a way to get away from reality" expresses Big Bad Bear, a brown-furred affectionate bear. "When I'm my character, I become someone else; I'm an actor. It's also a way to change my life. As a human, we love to play. Being furry, it means making your imagination work; it allows you to get out of your routine."

What reasons motivates furs are very different, which cloaks the fandom with a mysterious aura. "Why are we doing this?" asks Firebreath. "Nobody can really answer that. I guess because we want to, that's all."

For François Gauthier, sociology professor at the UQAM University and sub-cultures specialist, the reasons are elementary. "Their character, it's a way to express their identity. In our current society, you're not given an identity in advance. You have to build it. Therefore, being furry, is an identity niche."

A badly perceived community Unknown by the public at large, sometimes made fun of by people crossing them in the street, furries are oftentimes wrongfully linked to the worst of deviancies. "Most folks think about us and believe that we wear a suit when we sleep together." sadly explains Thierry, referring to a CSI episode that portrayed a story of open sexuality. "In fact, it's a really small part of the people that do such a thing." Stereotypes on furs are many as well in newspapers and on the Internet, which makes the community uneasy towards the medias. The case of two furries accused of murder in England that was on the front page in December brought the spotlight on this relatively unknown subculture. "The fandom has an undeserved reputation." explains Firebreath, the nice golden retriever. "It's the freak factor; the media will speak of those extreme cases because they are the most visible."

To flee the sensationalist judgment of the big networks, furries gather on the Internet which is the principal catalyst of the community. Indeed, the web is littered with forums where members talk to each other on a regular basis, exchanging drawings and sharing their common passions. "But the Internet didn't invent anything." recalls Francois Gauthier. "The web merely gave a soapbox to every subculture." According to Thierry, one of the rare bears of the furry community, this social phenomenon exists since the dawn of time. "Furries always existed in our history." he explains. "Just think of the Egyptians with their half-man half-animal gods."

To reinforce the ties between its members, the furry fandom organizes conventions that have great success, bringing hundreds, sometimes thousands of people together. Furthermore, their generosity is incredible, as Firebreath, the comic relief of the bunch, proudly mentions. "Every convention supports a different cause. Last year's Furfright, in Connecticut, we raised about $10,000 in one weekend to help a dog protection organization."

Gentle and affectionate, furries still remain a mystery for most people. The cloak troubles people, for them unable to grasp the motivation behind the group of men and women that are part of our society but, for a few hours a week, seem to be thousands of leagues away. "My mom's really understanding." Marc confides. "She often tells me that if I'm not hurting anyone, then what's the problem?"