Seven Awesome Things I Learned About Furries at Tails and Tornadoes 2021
2020 was a sad year for convention lovers, but thankfully, 2021 has been one heckuva comeback. And in between new conventions like Tulkon and old favorites like Tokyo OK, much to my furry-loving daughter Lucy’s delight, we had the chance to check out Tulsa’s amazing furry convention, Tails and Tornadoes Fur Con.
Lucy just about flipped her lid when I told her we would be checking out Tails and Tornadoes Fur Con for TulsaKids Coffee Nebula. Located at the Marriott Tulsa Hotel Southern Hills in Tulsa, OK on September 3-5, 2021, Tails and Tornadoes was a three-day event filled with activities for furries and friends of all ages.
We knew we were in the right place because there were all sorts of adorably plush fursuits milling about the lobby and parking lot. The hotel looked like it had been taken over by furry school mascots getting together to let their whiskers hang down. The girl herself proudly decked out in leopard ears and her demigirl flag as a makeshift cape, Lucy was bowled over by some of the amazing fursuits we saw, each lovingly crafted by its bearer or someone else.
As we mingled and socialized with various furries mammalian, avian, and even reptilian, it was a bit like we’d stepped into Wonderland. Here, there were two pastel canines dancing whimsically. There in the corner, a group of merry furfolk playing cards, cheerily if inadvertently echoing “Dogs Playing Poker.”
I’d seen a few furpeople at genre conventions in the past, but it was nothing short of wondrous to see so many gathered together at once. And while I was at Tails and Tornadoes, I learned quite a few things about furries.
1. It’s a misunderstood fandom.
Sadly, there are some amazing fandoms out there that are just completely misunderstood in mainstream culture. Take bronies, the adult fans of My Little Pony who have been hypocritically derided in mainstream culture. Although most people tend to think of bronies as male, the fandom really includes everyone. But in the public imagination, too many people imagine bronies as a sort of caricature of lonely guys, when in reality, it’s just another fandom filled with people who love the show and enjoy expressing that love through loads of super creative fan art.
Somehow it’s completely fine for grown folks to play with lightsabers, collect Marvel gear, and enjoy LEGOs, but it’s not cool to obsess over magical creatures having fantastical adventures based on magic, friendship, and personal growth. When my kindergarten son went through a “My Little Pony” phase for a while, I fell in love with the MLP world all over again just as I had when I was a kid in the ’80s. I especially loved the way the new series focused on talking about feelings, compassion, bravery, and growth all framed in fairly complex worldbuilding and lore.
When I would tell folks that Arthur wanted My Little Ponies for his birthday or Christmas, there were people who responded enthusiastically and others who just flat out ignored that request and got him more traditionally “boyish” gifts. And through that lens, it started to look like much of the negativity toward bronies was gender-biased, a reminder that although geek culture has come a long way from when it was considered embarrassing to love comic books, we’ve still got a long way to go. I wondered how people would have reacted if my former officemate, who decked his office out in DC toys and merch, would have been into Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle instead of Superman and Batman?
And that same sort of misunderstanding is what I first encountered when I learned about furries for the first time. Like most people, the first time I learned about furry culture was through sensationalized media that painted furries at best as a curiosity of sad, strange misfits and at worst, to put it euphemistically, as an adults-only subculture. But as is often the case, it only took meeting some folks in the furry fandom to realize how patently reductive and insulting those representations are.
2. Creating fursuits is an art form.
One of the reasons Lucy has always been into furries is that she’s drawn to artistic expression. And just like any cosplayers, many furries put countless hours — if not years — of effort into creating and perfecting their fursuits. They’ll learn all kinds of skills along the way, consulting other furries and tutorials throughout the process on everything from how to cut and measure foam to sewing skills.
And there is no “correct” way to create a fursuit. The main thing to know is that furries put their hearts and souls into the fursuit creation process, and most fursuits end up looking pretty anthropomorphic. A fursuit can be a full fursuit or a partial one, and it can be completely clothed or look more like an animal would. And creating a complete fursuit is a spendy venture. According to The Billfold, a complete fursuit can cost $3000 or more.
Of course, for furries who find the process daunting or lack the time, there are also plenty of professional furry shops who are always happy to create a custom furry. And even if a furry pays a shop to create their cosplay, there is still an art to imagining and customizing one’s own original character.
3. There’s no bad fursuit.
Okay, so what if you work hard to make your own fursuit but you just aren’t that good at it yet? Or what if you don’t have the money to invest in one? If you’re worried that folks will give you a hard time or you’ll feel silly, fear not. One of the great things about furry culture is that it’s super encouraging and positive. Not everyone has a fursuit, and those who don’t have perfect fursuits are treated with the same welcoming spirit as everyone else.
4. A lot of furries create digital art.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for very long knows that Lucy has loved wearing cat ears and drawing animals since she was too young to write her name. She’s been calling herself “Lucile the Cat” (now “Lucile the Random Cat”) since she was in second grade.
A couple of years ago, she got involved with a digital art community of young kids who also love to draw, a bunch of tweens and young teens who work together on collaborative art projects and sometimes chat or play games on Discord (I once listened in on an adorable lengthy conversation about the right way to toast bread). During the height of the pandemic, having this community was a godsend for her.
And one of the things these kiddos love to do is work on their OCs (original characters). It’s remarkable to me how, over time, Lucy’s primary OC has evolved in a way that reflects her own growing up. When she was younger, Lucille the Cat was a cutesy, feminine humanoid with purple cat ears and half her sandy blonde hair shaved. These days, Lucile’s ears are a muted yellow, and she has a long, bushy tail, glasses, and a gender neutral, gamer look.
Lucy has also created a digital “fursona,” an OC in the style of furries, named Star the Protogen. As Lucy explained, “A protogen is a humanoid animal of some type, as in the furry community, either not from space or from space, that is made to go to space and has very advanced stuff like armor that helps them. Since they’re made to go to space, there are probably a bunch of different protogens.”
I’ll let her explain it: “Some fun furry facts. Star the Protegen is a yellow protogen with fur that is so long that it just resembles hair. The marks on her protogen base are like little screens that have ‘X’ marks on them. The marks are Xes, and so are her eyes. Her armor is steel, and her screen is black. There is a spot on her armor where she can absorb food because she doesn’t have a mouth, just a screen. Star is made for cold planets. If they found a cold planet, they could send Star there. She is named after stars, since Star is a yellow protogen made for space and stars are yellow.”
Lucy says she would love to make her own fursuit for Star someday. “They’re really cute, but also I’d like to spend so much hard work on something that I can just work away all day in showing it off to everyone and being able to have that much fun. I’d like to be able to make a protogen fursuit with a working screen and everything. And some people have made protogen fursuits where if they get booped on the nose, their screen will crash!”
5. The furry world is a safe space for LGBTQ young people.
It’s an unfortunate fact that far too many LGBTQ teenagers and young adults are rejected by their families when they come out. According to youth.gov, as many as 20 to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, a number that disproportionately impacts Black and indigenous teens. LGBTQ youth are also four times as likely to consider, plan for, or attempt suicide than their cishet peers. That’s why having a safe and healthy space where they can be themselves without repercussions is essential. And for many, the furry world gives them that safe space.
This fantastic VICE article titled “How the Furry Community Became a Safe Space for Youth” explores furry culture and LGBTQ youth at length. One poll found that about 33% of furries self-identify between the ages of 15 to 19 years old, and many furry cons offer family-friendly programming aimed at creating a wholesome environment for these youths to have fun and hang out with other kids who just want to pretend to be animals.
Another poll found that only about 30% of furries identify as strictly heterosexual. But part of the beauty of the furry community is that when you’re a furry friend, who you crush on or date is really just a piece of who you are. There’s a sweet and whimsical quality to watching these kids dance around getting to be themselves without any judgment. There’s also a comforting anonymity to dressing up as an animal — you don’t have to be anyone or anything you don’t want to be. At the same time, what you choose to share is valued and celebrated. Lucy chose to wear her demigirl flag, and she was stopped by a few people and praised for her confidence and for sharing who she is.
6. The furry community is a safe space for autistic individuals.
For individuals and youths who are on the spectrum, having a safe and accepting place to socialize and make new friends is important. For many of the same reasons the furry community is a safe and healthy environment for LGBTQ youths, it is also a safe and welcoming space for autistic and non-neurotypical people of all ages. Some autistic individuals also find fursuits to be soothing due to their weight and texture, while others appreciate the lack of pressure to correctly read facial expressions and social cues. One study found that as many as 15% of furries are on the autism spectrum.
7. The furry community is incredibly welcoming for everyone.
One thing that completely blew me away about Tails and Tornadoes is just how amazingly sweet and welcoming everyone was. It’s always been our experience at genre conventions that generally, people who cosplay tend to be pretty chill and good-natured, but for furries, that effect is easily doubled. Just as non-neurotypical folks and LGBTQ folks feel welcome in the furry fandom, so do shy folks, not-so-shy folks, folks with different types of abilities, silly folks, serious folks, and basically, everyone!
As we maneuvered around the Tails and Tornadoes, furries were more than happy to pose for a picture or give a sweet hug. I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about how well I’d fit in as a normie mom with her kiddo, and the response I got completely blew my mind. Although some furries didn’t talk in character, they were still happy to communicate with high-fives or a little impromptu boogie. When we asked those who were talking about their cosplays, they were eager to fill us in and talk about their experiences in the fandom. Lucy was so high on all the positive vibes that she was buzzing for a couple of days afterward.
For the Love of Furries
Here’s the takeaway. If your kids are creative, shy, outgoing, weird, normies, neurotypical, neurodiverse, LGBTQ, cishet, literally any race, religion, or body type, and they show an interest in furries, I highly recommend encouraging them to follow their interests. You can learn more about kids and furries online or check out this awesome YouTube channel, Moms of Furries. And go ahead and mark your calendar now for next year’s Tails and Tornadoes convention on Sept. 2-4, 2022. Hope to see you there!