Benjamin Riley spoke to one member of Australia’s fast-growing furry fandom about misconceptions, community, and how dressing up as an anthropomorphic cartoon animal can be the most liberating thing in the world.
Over a couple of drinks after work in a beer garden in Melbourne’s Collingwood neighbourhood, Matt Sim explained the origins of his character, Makoh.
“I sometimes find myself being awkward or shy — this character would be outgoing and very social,” he said. “It’s how I would envisage myself as the perfect me.
Makoh is an African wild dog. He is both a character, and Sim himself. Makoh is Sim’s “fursona” — who Sim becomes when he puts on the $4000, custom-made suit that allows him to act out this idealised version of himself.
Sim belongs to Australia’s burgeoning furry community. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what it means to be a part of that community, but for the most part it revolves around dressing up as and having appreciation for anthropomorphic cartoon animals. Far from the image of middle-aged men dressing up like mascots to have sex.
“There’s the people who dress up, there’s the artists who draw artwork, which often the characters are designed off of to make the fur suits, and then there’s writers who write fan fiction, and people like myself who appreciate all of this,” he said.
For Sim, furry is a hobby, and a community based around that hobby.
He’s 23 now, and he’s been living in Melbourne since moving here from Dunedin a few years back. Sim first got into furry when he was 16, through online chat rooms. He bought his Makoh fursuit less than a year ago, so most of his involvement in the community has been as an admirer. He explained that, largely due to the costs of a good quality fursuit, only a minority of people in the community are what’s called “fursuiters”.
As a concept, Sim’s fursona Makoh is only a couple of years old.
“I talked with my friend who’s an artist, and we sat down and formed this design of my character,” he said.
Once Sim was happy with the design, he got in touch with a well-known American fursuit maker who goes by ByCats4Cats (he’s since branched out into other animals) to have Makoh created. Between manufacturing and shipping the suit from the US to Melbourne, it cost Sim around $4000 AUD. He could have paid a lot less (though even a cheap fursuit will set you back around $1000), but Sim explained the best quality fursuits are highly prized in the community.
There aren’t a lot of people wearing suits at most “furmeets”, though there are usually specific events organised for fursuiters.
The furry community is now a huge part of Sim’s life, and knowing people online meant furries were the only people he knew when he moved to Australia. He said the majority of his friends are furries, including his boyfriend.
That’s another thing: the community is really gay. Sim estimates that in Melbourne, the community is around 70 per cent male, and most of those men (as well as most of the women in the community) aren’t straight. Sim said it goes hand-in-hand with the shy, awkward archetype of the furry fan. Furry fandom is both a haven for outcasts and a space to try being something different.
“It definitely helped me when I was younger to come into my own as a gay male,” Sim argued.
Some media coverage of furry fandom has drawn a connection between furry fandom and bestiality, which Sim vehemently rejected as both offensive and untrue.
Sim said most fursuiters would never have sex in the suit (known as “yiffing”) — their exorbitant cost is a good incentive to keep them clean.
“It can be a very sexual thing for some people. It can be a completely non-sexual thing for others,” he said.
After years spent admiring fursuits, Sim remembers what it was like the first time he went to a furry event as Makoh.
“I didn’t really know how to act. I felt slightly awkward at first, before I started to come into my own in it, because it’s a very interesting feeling being inside that fursuit… you overheat very quickly, and your vision is limited. But once that went away, it felt really liberating,” he said.
“It’s an interesting feeling when everyone finds you cute. Suddenly everyone wants your attention, everyone wants to be around you, everyone wants pictures with you, everyone compliments you. It feels good. I won’t lie, the attention is a good feeling. I have always lacked that in myself — I have never felt overly attractive.
“In some ways it feels fake, or that they just like what’s on the outside of you, but at the same time, it still feels nice,” he said.
“It’s made me feel more confident in myself, more confident in my own appearance, my own personality. I think I act a bit more outgoing. It’s in some ways changed me into that more ideal self that I thought of when I created Makoh. It’s liberating.”
This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer. Read the full article at: www.starobserver.com.au/features/community/freedom-in-fur/134400
Article | Benjamin Riley. Photos | Bodie Strain.