By Cody-Leigh Mullin

What do you get when you put a cheetah, a wolf and a housecat together in one room? The answer is not a disastrous brawl — it’s a typical meeting of the UC Santa Cruz Furries and Allies. And these aren’t your average furry animals.

A Furry, or Fur, is defined as someone who personally identifies with a specific animal. The Furry subculture is growing stronger nationally, with conventions and fan art rising to a new popularity. The UCSC Furries and Allies are a group of people with a common interest in exploring anthropomorphism and animal-like qualities.

Second-year student Michael Tierney founded the club to unite people with the similar interest and to give an accurate representation of who the Furries really are. He hopes that the group will be able to extinguish common misconceptions of Furries that are perpetuated in the media.

“A Fur is someone who, in some manner, personally identifies with an animal or animal spirit,” Tierney said. “It allows us to be identified as Furry but still show people that we aren’t that different. We aren’t a group of people trying to break away from reality.”

Tierney, who personally identifies with a cheetah, explains that his lifelong fascination and respect for animals led him to explore what is now known as the Furry community. After speaking to other students with similar interests, he realized the potential of joining together those with a shared love of animals.

“This club started [because of] false stereotypes and my friends unknowingly insulting the Furry community on campus,” Tierney said. “I really wanted to find more people and build the community a little bit stronger — because right now the Furry community exists, we’re just not unified.”

Meetings are held in the Cantú Center and focus on representations of the lifestyle in the media.

First-year student and club member Sebastian W. dismisses the misconceptions of Furries.

“You ask 10 people who Furries are and you get 13 different answers,” W. said. “I guess that’s a part of media publicity: make something sound much more interesting than it is, draw out and exaggerate where you can. We just want to break misconceptions, we aren’t all about sex. We just have a love for animals and anthropomorphism.”

Representational problems that the Furry community encounters include recent publicity in shows like “CSI,” “Entourage,” and “Sex2K,” that have solely focused on the most extreme Furs, commonly known as Fur Suiters. Fur Suiters are people who dress in full costume according to the animal they associate with. In actuality, the majority of Furs do not dress in full costume.

A Furry who goes by the name of Trapa is a co-chair of the Furry convention CaliFur. He acknowledged this perception of the Furry community as a common trait of society.

“Traditionally, subcultures of our society haven’t been well-represented,” Trapa said. “If you look at Star Trek conventions, when it’s represented you’ll always see someone in a costume and they will always be the geek. The fact that we’ve been misrepresented isn’t shocking.”

Despite stereotypes, Trapa sees the publicity as a step in the right direction for the community as a whole.

“There is always a positive to press or media coverage,” Trapa said. “While I don’t condone the negative coverage, I do like to see the silver lining. There have been several Furries who discover their Furriness mainly due to investigating information from shows [on television]. No matter how negative the representation is, at least something comes from it.”

Members like W. wish to clarify that there are many facets to the Furry community with various outlets for people to find their niches. In addition to Suiters, variations of Furries include those who choose to wear simple costumes, which generally include ears and a tail, in their everyday life. Costumes like these are more commonly seen in public and are becoming increasingly popular within mainstream fashion.

Another popular outlet in the fur community is anthropomorphic art. Artists’ renditions of “fursonas,” or animal representations of themselves, are popular souvenirs at conventions such as CaliFur or Further Confusion. W. recently attended Further Confusion in San Jose and was surprised to witness the emphasis on art within the community.

“This is a fantasy world where everyone can explore what they really want to,” W. said. “For some people, that is art. For others, it’s costuming.”

UCSC Furries and Allies plan to emulate the charity of local fur conventions by raising money and donating it to animal rights charities such as PETA, ASPCA and AfriCat.

Tierney hopes to be able to give back to foundations that help the many animals that he and others relate to and respect.

For Tierney, Furries are bridging the gap between humans and animals that society has encouraged, thereby making human characteristics and animal characteristics one and the same.

“I was raised with a high respect for all life,” he said. “When it comes to the connection between humans and animals, science is always trying to prove our superiority, and I wonder if it’s really true. I began this club because I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only one out there. We exist, we’re here, I know it.”

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