Furry Hunting

    I’m riding in an elevator at the Waterfront Marriot with a pirate, a Jedi, an elf princess and one frightened-looking middle-aged hotel guest. This is the OryCon 28.     OryCon is, according to their website, “Portland’s premier science fiction/fantasy convention.

    I’m riding in an elevator at the Waterfront Marriot with a pirate, a Jedi, an elf princess and one frightened-looking middle-aged hotel guest. This is the OryCon 28.

    OryCon is, according to their website, “Portland’s premier science fiction/fantasy convention."

    Before we move any further you should know this … I hate wizards, I hate elves, and I really hate unicorns. I don’t think pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman was far off when he said “science fiction tends to be philosophy for stupid people."

    Sure, I’ve had my run-ins with the nerd lifestyle, I’ve seen Star Wars more than once (who hasn’t?), I’ve played Magic: The Gathering, and once, a few friends and I tried to play Dungeons and Dragon. (We weren’t smart enough to figure it out. We were also 21 years old.) But I attended OryCon this weekend because I’ve always wondered what makes fanboys/girls tick. Why would someone devote so much of their life to something so seemingly meaningless?

    I figure the only way to understand someone is to jump right into the pool with them. In a noble attempt at journalistic fairness, I will attempt to suppress my contempt for science fiction and fantasy. For one day, I will become a nerd.

    ”Out of the frying pan, into the fire…"

    The first thing I noticed at the convention was the astonishing number of funny t-shirts. Nearly anyone who wasn’t adorned with some sort of geeky uniform had on a shirt that read something like, “It’s OK … I’ve had my shots," or “If I wanted your opinion, I’d read your entrails."

    The convention consisted of an endless number of panels, an art show, a masquerade ball and other general, geeky entertainment.
    There was a strange variety of subjects on the agenda. Besides the requisite Klingon and anime panels, there were also panels on flirting, pagan marriages and – I swear to god – a panel on how to give a good panel.

    And don’t forget the furries.

    The thing I feared and anticipated the most was having to meet actual furries. For the unknowledgeable, a furry is someone who likes to put on an animal costume, many of them say for spiritual reasons, but from what I know most of the desire is sexual.

    Furries scare the shit out of me, and for this reason I had to meet one.


Culture of loneliness

    I overheard many loud conversations at the convention, from the Borgs’ superiority to human beings to criticisms of President Bush’s foreign policy. The one unifying factor of these conversations is that they do not seem to be directed at anyone in particular. As I walked the floors of the hotel, I noticed that most of the attendees were by themselves.

    Are science fiction fans as anti-social as I imagined?

    What is the reason for the utter lack of social skills I witnessed? Perhaps it’s the air of superiority present in each conversation. Most end with someone stating a grand, ultimate truth, ostensibly negating any further argument. (“Second Life is far superior to Everquest … end of story.")

    Publicity head for OryCon 28 Andrew Nisbet III said he has seen in some science fiction fans “a complete lack of social skills," but that most are “fully functional."

    ”Clearly there is something in human beings that wants to belong to a certain group," Nisbet said. He thinks generally that science fiction and fantasy fans are “very accepting and very tolerant."    

    I imagine many attendees of OryCon came to interact with like-minded people and maybe make some new friends, but what I witnessed was a tiered society just like everywhere else. If you’re a girl and dress slutty (there was an insane amount of cleavage on display here), you can be sure to get attention, but if you’re a strange-looking teenager with a stuffed animal on your shoulder who likes to randomly quote Weird Al lyrics to strangers, you will be greeted with cold judgmental looks.

    Are Klingons extinct?

    I saw about 50 pirates at OryCon. I never quite figured out why a science fiction convention was overrun by buccaneers, but most people told me it was because the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is “hot right now."

    These pirates were nothing if not official, though. My photographer Ed noticed that, in true pirate fashion, one pirate did not wash his hands after using the toilet.

    What I expected before entering OryCon was a roomful of Jedis and Klingons. Over the course of the event I only met one Klingon, a soft-spoken man who called himself Praxis.    

    Praxis said this was his eighth convention and each year science fiction gets pushed out more and more. When I mentioned to him how I thought it was strange that pirates were everywhere, Praxis told me pirates and Klingons are basically the same thing. In fact, he said, pirates had abducted him the night before, took him up to their hotel room and got him “totally ripped."

    As I pondered what it must have looked like to see a roomful of pirates and a bumpy-headed space alien get trashed, I suddenly realized Praxis was staring at the Star Trek federation pin on my shirt that I had picked up at the convention to help me blend in. I feared he was going to lunge at me and bite my throat, or whatever it is that Klingons do, but thankfully he seemed OK with it.


    It seems most science fiction and fantasy fans view themselves as some sort of artists, but judging by the painting, drawings and sculptures on display in the gallery, I would assume it’s not much of a career.

    The art on display is a mix of naked large-breasted fairies, copyright-infringing fan drawings (X-files, Lord of the Rings and one bizarre drawing of Russell Crowe) and, of course, those goddamn unicorns. Nearly every painting consists of two tried and true talismans: giant swords and giant breasts.

    I spoke with guest artist Betty Bigelow, also known as Rena Bassilvergoran, about fan art. She seemed genuinely excited to speak about her pieces. One, entitled “Mistletoe Elf," consists of nothing but a muscular, nude male elf coyly covering his middle-earth with mistletoe. I’m no fan of elves, especially nude ones, but it was somewhat refreshing to see a representation of feminine lust in a barren desert of male sexual retardation.

    When Bigelow speaks of science fiction, she can barely contain her joy on the subject. One of her drawings, “A Small World of Hope," is about how, according to her, “science fiction impacted the real world to change how people react to the real world."

    I have no idea what that means, but it seemed to make her happy, so I let it be.

    Bigelow left me with a new tool for my seduction toolbox: the elvish pickup line “Gerich tele velui," which translates to “You have a lovely ass." I can’t wait to try that one out next time I’m getting it on. Nothing gets a woman hotter than elvish … right?

    Furry hunting    

    In a panel called “What is a furry?" I finally got down to the nitty gritty. Gene Armstrong, vice chair of OryCon and himself a furry, spoke to a room of mostly unsuited furries, although many had ears and tails on. The only furry who was completely furred out sat in front of me. He was a purple-haired dog, with a giant tail and what looked like a scaly sort of armor. He scared me.

    Armstrong spoke of the fur contingent in Portland (apparently it’s considerable), in which animals are the most popular (lizards are out, otters are in), and only briefly acknowledged sex within furrydom. Armstrong identified as a dragon/cat mix, and said that he’s disgusted by humans because, “Dragons have magical powers. Humans hunt dragons, so I don’t like humans."

    When sex is brought up, many of the unclad furries get red in the face. It’s as if they are ashamed. I wonder why?

    The word “yiff" was used repeatedly, and it wasn’t until I looked it up later that I realized what it meant. Yiffing is when two furries rub up and down on each other to sexual completion.    

    While the furries pondered the intricacies of their lifestyle, I tried to get a better look at the purple-haired dog furry. At first he seemed comfortable in this setting, laughing, howling wildly and enthusiastically interjecting his opinions, but looking closer at his forced intonation, his fidgeting and his non-stop adjusting of mask and wig, I saw that wasn’t the case.

    Then he looked at me. For a second I glance into his wild, wide, unblinking gaze and I see the scared, lonely, isolated person inside. A person who must adopt a completely new persona in order to belong.

    Is this dog a representation of many of the people at this event? Everyone seems to be acting in one way or another. Are the humans dressed as dwarves trying to become someone new because they do not like themselves? When I buy a new shirt or pair of shoes, am I hoping to become more acceptable in society’s eyes? This scared dog’s vapid gaze says so much about the human condition that I have to look away.

    And that’s when I realize the whole room is staring at me.

    I’ve just been asked, by the dragon/cat moderator, which animal I feel most connected to. I rack my brain. Is this a trick? Are the furries trying to initiate me? If I answer monkey or tiger, will they leap out of their chairs and fur-pile on me in an erotic fervor and yiff me into submission?

    Hastily, I say the least erotic animal that comes to mind: an amoeba. To a silent crowd I explain that I’ve always felt a connection to single-celled organisms, protozoa and some germs.

    They look disgusted. After a few seconds of uncomfortable laughter, the furries attempt to accept my strange response. It would be incredibly contradictory if a room full of social misfits who scream for acceptance were to reject their microscopic-loving brethren.

    It was oddly satisfying that I managed to disgust a room full of men who like to ejaculate on stuffed animals. Quite a feat, if I don’t say so myself.

    Songs in the key of geek

    Walking into a room with a sign on the door that said, “Jam in the key of C," I found what I was looking for.

A roomful of pirates, aliens and noblemen were singing a sea shanty together, improvising lyrics and tapping their feet. Actual brotherhood and respect seemed to exist in this room, and for once I actually witnessed community. Everyone was smiling, and my ironic detachment began to temporarily fade, when one of the musicians begins to sign Bob Dylan lyrics. I actually start to enjoy myself. I like Dylan and he likes Dylan, maybe we can all just get along, geek and the cold-hearted journalist finding a common bond.

    That’s when I heard the howling.

    The purple dog furry had made his way into the sing-along and I immediately jumped back into disconnection. But I will always remember those few seconds of respect.

    I’ve learned that community exists everywhere, even the seemingly anti-social. I’ve found a newfound respect for geeks and nerds and dweebs. They’re trying just like everyone else, trying to belong to something greater then themselves.

    But furries still scare the shit out of me.