Dominic Rodriguez was two years into making his first documentary, an intimate feature-length glimpse into the world of furries, before he revealed to his own producers a secret he’d long harbored: He, too, was a furry.
“They didn’t know for two years that I was a furry myself, and that I had been interested in this since I was 12 years old,” Rodriguez told The Daily Beast, calling from his home in Pittsburgh. “Nobody knew.”
Secrecy and silence is, sadly, a common occurrence in the world of furries, or persons who spiritually, artistically, or sexually self-identify with anthropomorphized animals.
Just as furries were beginning to find ways to find kindred spirits pre-Internet, the post-’90s glut of trash TV talk shows and sensational news media trumpeted their lifestyle as a deviant sexual fetish—and the majority of them have fought to stay in the shadows ever since.
But the sex stuff is only partly true, insist several avowed furries in Fursonas, Rodriguez’s warm documentary portrait of life within the furry fandom. (Another fun fact: Furries, like 98 percent of film critics on Rotten Tomatoes, love Zootopia!)
Sure, sex is a healthy portion of furrydom for many. Varka, a furry who makes and sells a popular line of fantasy-based sex toys through his Bad Dragon label, even brandishes a few colorful—and functional—phallic designs for the camera. “We made this stuff which we call ‘cum lube,’ because it’s your idealized fantasy cum,” Varka declares, proudly squishing a dollop of the patented viscous faux-ejaculate in his hands.
But take it from Bandit, a middle-aged gentleman who, when he’s not getting “party fun” in a gray fluffy fur suit inspired by his dearly departed pet dog, sports a leather collar with a rather standard T-shirt and jeans ensemble.
“If you’ve ever had rigorous sex naked, you know how much you sweat,” Bandit explains, dispelling the legend that furries are constantly having furry sex in the sweltering head-to-toe fur suits that can cost several thousands of dollars. “You would die.”
Rodriguez spent three years chronicling the fandom as he simultaneously became deeper entrenched into it, finding that the furry fandom takes all kinds—suit wearers, non-suit wearers, mothers, couples, gay, straight, bisexual, people whose sexuality is innately intertwined with their animalistic alter egos, and people whose identification is strictly prurience-free.
“For me it started out very private,” he confided. “I was growing up with it, finding furry porn… for me it was just a private, embarrassing interest. I wasn’t active in the scene. I didn’t know any other furries. I had never been to a furry convention before. But I knew enough that I felt like the media that I’d seen on the fandom wasn’t really doing it justice.”
“But the responses from the furries wasn’t accurate, either,” he added. “I wanted a film that was more complex and had more layers to it. For a long time I just wanted to see that—I didn’t want to make it, I didn’t want to have to be the guy who was a furry, talking to the media. But it felt like it was kind of meant to be.”
The media, many furries come to believe, is not to be trusted—at least, according to the teachings of the man known as Uncle Kage (pronounced kah-geh). His real name is Samuel Conway, and he is a pharmaceutical chemist and biomedical researcher by profession, a doctor with a Ph.D. from Dartmouth, and the CEO and chairman of Anthrocon, the largest convention for furries on the planet.
Since taking leadership of Anthrocon in 1999, Uncle Kage, 50, has become a de facto charismatic leader of certain furry circles, making appearances at conventions in his signature lab coat with a glass of wine in hand (also a Kage signature).
He was featured in a 2001 Vanity Fair article about the fandom, and at a certain point after it was published seemed to take on a stricter anti-media stance, urging his flock to shun the journalists who might only exploit the aspects of furry culture perceived to be negative—i.e. the kink.
Rodriguez invited Uncle Kage to take part in his documentary, but in the film says that fizzled out when the furry celeb insisted on having an editorial say on the final cut. Instead, Rodriguez weaves in controversial footage of Uncle Kage’s public appearances at furry events, and chances upon a golden opportunity when Kage takes to the Internet to answer Web questions during one of his famous booze-fueled “wine streams.”
More shocking, however, is footage of Kage teaching furries at convention panels not to trust the media, giving lessons on how to deflect and even “play dumb” if queried about just about anything by journalists. With a relentlessly menacing magnetism, he comes off as both father figure and punisher to his congregation: the David Miscavige of the furry fandom.
In another scene culled from publicly available footage, Kage openly ridicules a well-known furry named Boomer the Dog, a gentle-voiced free spirit who made headlines for his attempts to legally change his name to match his fursona. Kage’s message is clear: If you embarrass the furry community, you’ll pay.
“We’ll take you out back and skull-fuck you,” he half-jokingly declares in one shot. In another video, he refers to another well-known furry figure, a woman named Chew Fox who found herself ostracized by the community after playing up an extreme furry caricature on Tyra Banks’ show, as “that fucking bitch.”
These are intimidating expressions to hear from a vaunted leader of a community built on self-expression and acceptance—even moreso, Rodriguez found, when he brought Uncle Kage’s more hostile protectionist tactics up to his subjects.
“I knew even when I started it that furries were pretty protective of their image, and kind of defensive—I guess why wouldn’t they be?” admitted Rodriguez. Perhaps unsurprisingly he and his colleagues were kicked out of Anthrocon, which imposes extremely limiting rules for attending media, just for having a camera rolling, he says.
Rodriguez wears his opinion of Kage on his sleeve in the film, not-so-subtly questioning the ideologue and his leadership of the furry community.
“If this was a fictional film he would be a clichéd supervillain. But truth is stranger than fiction,” laughed Rodriguez. “I think that there are ones that have known about him and what he’s about for a really long time, and I think that they’re glad that somebody’s challenging him and sort of knocking him down a peg.”
“But then I also think there are the ones that never really looked that deeply into what he was saying, or how it might affect some people negatively. Sometimes that can be a hard truth to take.”
Uncle Kage, Rodriguez admits, may have been forced into his protectionist bubble after being burned one too many times by bad press over the past two decades. But he believes the furry leader is more harmful than helpful to the furries of today.
“I don’t think the community needs to be that resistant to media now, but that’s my opinion,” Rodriguez said, careful to emphasize that he speaks only from his experience and for those in the community he has met. “That’s what’s radical about this movie, as far as furry documentaries that are made by furries go, I guess: that it actually dares to suggest that the media is not to blame.”
“I don’t necessarily think that they’ve always been out to get us—to try to ruin us,” he said. “I think maybe it used to be worse and it’s gotten better. That’s arguable. But for the most part, if we just stopped caring so much I think that we’d feel a lot better.”
Earlier this week, Rodriguez confides, he discovered that he’d been officially banned from the upcoming Anthrocon in June when he tried to register his name on the event website. That’s OK, he said. There are plenty of other furry conventions, like Reno’s Biggest Little Fur Con, where he’ll be next week.
“Furry is not going anywhere,” he said. “I think there’s no threat to furry—but if there is something that’s going to bring about the downfall of furry, it’s going to be us.”