Reflections on an American Furry Convention

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to travel from my home in London to the Rocky Mountain Fur Con in Denver, Colorado.

There were several of the [a][s] crew also attending RMFC. Zik—who has written a series of articles looking at furry communities around the world (“Foreign Furry Fandoms“)—challenged me to write an article about my American experience.

I grew up in Australia and moved to the UK about 5 years ago. The United States is, to me and to about 6.8 billion other people, a foreign country. Visiting an American furry convention as an outsider, and spending time with American furries, is an interesting and challenging (and thoroughly enjoyable) experience.

RMFC 2014 was my first American convention, outside of a visit to an smallish Elliott’s back in 2008. Aside from that I have been to Midfur (now Confurgence) in Australia, Eurofurence in Germany, and both Confuzzled and RBW in the UK.

The obvious point of comparison for RMFC is Confuzzled. They are very similar in size and age:

This is the caption
RMFC started in 2007; Confuzzled started in 2008

While I will use Confuzzled as a direct comparison, my comments generally apply to other non-American conventions I’ve attended.

It’s easy to mistake normal cultural differences (and the resulting culture shock) between the United States and elsewhere for furry differences. There are significant differences in culture, surprisingly so given the worldwide prevalence of American culture, but they aren’t the topic of this article.

The biggest challenge is the American tendency towards Amerocentrism. It is easy for an American to assume that American furry culture is furry culture. Here are a few simple examples of Amerocentrism, all committed by my [a][s] colleagues:

  • The inherent premise behind Zik’s title: “Foreign” Furry Fandoms. He is implicitly stating that American is “domestic”; anything else is “foreign”, and imagines that assumption holds for his readers.
  • Zik again, writing: “We Americans are hardly exposed to foreign furry culture beyond the artists we watch on art websites.”
  • Makyo, during the [adjective][species] panel at RMFC, talked about furry racial demographics. He attributed changes in our collective racial profile to changes in the American furry community, neglecting to consider that furry’s growth worldwide might have significantly contributed to any changes.
  • Klisoura, asking about race in the Furry Survey, uses the same racial categories as the American census. While that is appropriate for American audiences, it is not reasonable to have a separate category for (say) Native Americans and Pacific Islanders while lumping all Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Thai etc (all with measurable furry populations) into a generic “Asian” category.

This Amerocentrism is very understandable and no big deal, but it does colour my reflections on my American convention experience. I suspect that some of my thoughts may be interpreted as criticisms. They are not: if you are American, please keep in mind that you and I have different points of reference.

The biggest difference between Confuzzled and RMFC is affluence. Confuzzled is a significantly more expensive convention, and the attendees are significantly more affluent.

The approximate cost of attending each convention, assuming that you are staying in the hotel and sharing a room:

  • RMFC 2014: US$375
  • Confuzzled 2014: US$605

(I have made a few assumptions to reach these numbers, and tried to find comparable room options. It is certainly possible to reside at either convention for less.)

It’s worth adding that the RMFC and Confuzzled hotels are very similar, in size, in amenities, in room quality, and in location. They are both convention hotels on the outskirts of a moderately-sized city (Denver is 630,000; Birmingham 1.1m). They are both excellent venues.

To measure affluence, I’ve looked at each convention’s charity fundraising. I’m assuming that furries are equally likely to want to donate, and so donations roughly correlate with disposable income.

  • RMFC 2014 US$5000
  • Confuzzled 2013 US$19,300

(I was unable to find the 2014 Confuzzled charity donation. I have asked and will update the article when I get a response.)

This all makes sense. While RMFC is a big con, it largely serves the local population. Furries travelling from overseas or looking for a special con experience are much more likely to attend one of the really big American cons, perhaps Anthrocon or Midwest FurFest.

Confuzzled, on the other hand, serves the very large UK furry population, and only competes with Eurofurence for the UK and continental European furry populations. (Many European furs attend both.) Confuzzled also attracts furries from countries that do not qualify for the US visa waiver program, such as Russia, parts of Eastern Europe, most of South America, and most of South-East Asia. Those furries who travel will, on balance, tend to be more affluent than those who are local.

It’s worth adding that the cost of travel is much lower in the United States. Most RMFC attendees come by car.

  • price of petrol in the US: 0.98c per liter*
  • price of petrol in the UK: US$2.18 per litre*

(*Earlier version of this article quoted (wrong) prices per gallon. 1.0 liter = 1.0 litre. These are 12 August 2014 prices, ref)

The lower cost of RMFC lowers the barrier to entry, and therefore attracts a more socio-economically diverse crowd than Confuzzled. This is indisputably a good thing, but it does have some knock-on effects that make for a different congoing experience.

The RMFC art show is very obviously smaller, and of generally lower quality than the Confuzzled art show. Not only is it several times smaller, the works of art attract less bidding.

Again, this makes sense. A high-profile American artist will probably be more inclined to exhibit art at one of the larger conventions, in the hope of attracting more bidders and ultimately more money. This does create a possible niche for RMFC: artists creating something less mainstream will have more visibility, and may sell work that might otherwise be ignored. However this hasn’t yet happened at RMFC, if it ever will.

By comparison, the Dealer’s Den at RMFC is similar to that at Confuzzled. This makes sense too: people with wares to sell will want to attend as many conventions as possible.

There are fewer fursuiters at RMFC. I present this as prima facie: I think that is would be obvious to anyone attending both conventions. RMFC 2014 attracted 303 to the fursuit parade out of 1354 attendees (22%). I don’t have numbers for Confuzzled, but I have asked, and I will update this article when I receive a response.

The relative dearth of fursuits at RMFC is a natural outcome of its comparative affluence. But it’s a pity: fursuits are awesome.

On a related note, there was also less costuming and theatrical dressing (in public) at RMFC. Confuzzled hotel staff tend to either walk around with dumb grins, or exhibit mild symptoms of shell shock.

A second big difference between RMFC and Confuzzled, and a very obvious one if you spend much time in Britain, is the attitude to alcohol.

The Americans are subject to a higher legal drinking age of 21. Confuzzled is an 18+ convention, the legal drinking age, so all attendees at Confuzzled can legally drink. Three years might not sound like a lot until you consider furry’s age demographics:

  • Under 18: 14.2%
  • 18 to 20: 25.2%
  • 21 and over: 60.6%

A full one-in-four furries can drink alcohol (legally) at Confuzzled but not RMFC. And of course any older furries with friends in the 18-20 bracket will be similarly affected.

The Confuzzled hotel bars are packed full of furries from the early afternoon until the early hours of the morning. RMFC is very different:

The difference is less to do with quantity of alcohol consumption (although I’m sure that furs in the UK are heavier drinkers), and more to do with the social environment of drinking in the UK. Alcohol is a social lubricant at Confuzzled; a reason to sit down and converse. Such a general social hub isn’t apparent at RMFC.

I strongly suspect that much of the socialising and RMFC goes on in room parties. Outside alcohol is cheaper than buying from the hotel bar and nobody is checking IDs. It’s a pragmatic solution, but it comes at the cost of the collective experience.

As an aside, there didn’t seem to be any large fetish-themed room parties at RMFC. For those who are so inclined, the ability to express an unusual sexuality in a large group can be a highlight of the entire convention. Such parties are often publicly announced on Twitter and forums leading up to Confuzzled. Either these parties didn’t happen at RMFC, or were more private.

There is a broader range of ages at RMFC. I’m guessing that this is because the furry community started in the United States, and so there are more folk who have been around for a while. There are notably more furries in their 40s, 50s and 60s: again, indisputably a good thing.

Interestingly, there were a few young children at RMFC, presumably children of furry couples. They helped create a fun, inclusive environment, and helped make RMFC seem more diverse than the largely young male monoculture that exists at Confuzzled.

My final comparison is probably an unfair one for the organisers of RMFC. Confuzzled is a superbly organised convention, and comfortably outstrips any convention I’ve been to. RMFC suffers in comparison.

Examples include fewer events at RMFC, and the ad hoc nature of many of those events. The event venues and the convention staff supporting those venues were often underprepared, and it was clear that little or no rehearsal had taken place. Many were, to put it bluntly, amateur.

The facilities for fursuiters were adequate, but a long way from the Rolls Royce treatment they receive at Confuzzled. Again, this an area where Confuzzled excels, so I suspect that the comparison is not fair.

There were very few signs in and around the hotel celebrating the convention and its theme. And it was clear that the conbook was assembled quickly: it didn’t include any information on the convention events (a pocket schedule was provided instead), the quality of the art and writing submissions were, um, variable, and in general gave the impression that insufficient time was allowed for proper editing.

84-conbook
A page from the RMCF 2014 conbook

Of course, the real reason for attending any convention is for the social environment. Here, RMFC was brilliant. I find it difficult to reasonably describe how much fun I had.

I travelled with three other furs from the UK, and we all had a ball. I got to see some old friends, meet a few people I previously only knew online, and of course I met many, many new awesome animal-people. I walk away from RMFC 2014 with friends for life and, in the most vital way, a richer and happier man. The love in the air at the Denver Marriott Tech Centre last weekend was palpable.

I am in debt to the organisers of RMFC, the attendees, and the furry community in general. I will be back. If you see me, come say hi.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

Before posting a comment, please read our Code of Conduct

19 thoughts on “Reflections on an American Furry Convention

  1. Great article! That’s the sort of candor I was hoping to see.

    I think the convention staff might actually like your perspective as well. Your criticisms are valid and there’s always room for improvement.

    It’s also interesting how two conventions can look similar in the numbers but actually be completely different. That’s one of the hesitations I have writing about non-American furry conventions that I want to overcome someday (by stowing away on a cruise ship to Japan, of course.)

    Thanks for the write-up :D

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was surprisingly challenging to write, because I wanted to talk about ways that RMFC is different but without dwelling on the negatives. Hopefully I got the balance right.

  2. Not only does RMFC’s locals-attracting nature and lower cost make it less affluent, but the US is still in an economic slump in a way that the UK and several other European countries simply aren’t right now.

    As for the conbook, I don’t think it’s an issue of lack of quality so much as diversity of ability. Showcasing artists whose abilities are still developing isn’t necessarily a lack of quality. Obviously if the RMFC conbook staff had a glut of submissions they would be more able to select according to the cream of the crop, but considering the social and often informal nature of the furry fandom, it becomes less important to have the work be technically good and more important for the art to match the theme and show significant effort put into its creation (that is, to be clearly a labor of love).

    1. Hi Tica. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and pointing out the US economic slump. It’s something I hadn’t considered: it makes sense that it’s a factor on top of everything else.

      I know what you mean about the conbook as well. As you point out, there are two drivers when it comes to highlighting furry art: a desire for quality, and a desire for inclusion. These two things are sometimes in conflict. Personally I’m torn: at times I find myself wishing for more criticism of furry art; others I think we should be going out of our way to celebrate everyone who contributes love and effort to create art for our community.

      In the case of the RMFC conbook, I agree with your guess that the editors didn’t have a glut of high-quality submissions. But there are other issues, not just the (subjective) quality of the art and writing: there are blatant mistakes that didn’t get edited out. You can see a few typos on the page I highlighted in the article, errors like “concurred” instead of “conquered”. It would have been nice to see them fixed before publication.

      But! Everyone who puts their time and effort into a convention does so on a volunteer basis. And it’s a remarkable effort to organise such a great weekend for 1300+ furries. It’s unfair of me to be too critical… hopefully the article doesn’t come across that way.

  3. Hi there! I just wanted to pop my head in, and let you know that someone who’s in charge has read your post, and will take your points and analyze them carefully to try to make next year’s convention run even more smoothly. First off, thank you for your article. It is a very interesting comparison, and it is very nice to see an objective opinion. Since I had been going to RMFC for several years, obviously it’s more difficult for someone like me to step back, and look at it critically. Often, we focus on the positive feedback, and have a more difficult time when someone offers critique.
    Being a graphic designer, I’ve not only a thick skin for criticism, but I am willing to take it in stride. I’ve volunteered my time to develop the convention book, all of the convention’s collateral, signage, and organization of submissions for the last 4 years (until this one, since I’m now Director of Marketing.) Every single year, we have the same problems: we have a deadline to print, and everybody waits until the last minute to enter submissions to fill our pages. We certainly do go through what feels like an exhaustive editing phase, but clearly things were missed. Having done publications for art magazines before, I can tell you that this is a pretty consistent problem. I will undoubtedly be reaching out for more editors for RMFC 2015 to try to weed out even more typos, and even have had some offers already.
    As far as the art is concerned, Tica above is correct. What you see in the convention book is nearly every single submission that I have received to fill the pages. I only rejected artwork because it either didn’t match the convention theme at all, or because it was adult-themed.
    There’s another difference between the RMFC and Confuzzled that I think plays into effect when discussing the difference between the two conventions. I was surprised to learn when talking to Matt of Confuzzled that they only take pre-registrations. If we had the same policy, our attendance would only have been 750 this year. This is important, because it affects how much money we can spend in the time leading up to the function. It gives Confuzzled an upper-hand because they know exactly how much money they can spend to make the convention awesome. I can’t get into details about how much money we spend before the convention, but there’s quite a bit, and we try to be very careful about not putting ourselves into debt. With our painful lesson several years ago, we’re probably now one of the more fiscally conservative conventions out there. For some perspective on how difficult it is to make projects, we were only expecting another 15% increase this year. Instead, we were pleasantly blindsided with a 35% increase, which means that we did run out of some materials by the end.
    That’s about all I have time for. I thank you for your kind words directed at our staff, as they all work very hard to put on the show. We will work diligently to make next year’s convention even better, and hopefully with some improvements. I am also delighted that you had a great time, and would be even more so if you are able to come next year as well!

    -Eagle

    1. Hi Eagle. My thanks for taking the time to respond in such an open, details, and good-hearted way. It is very generous of you to do, and really interesting to read your comments as well.

      The number of walk-ins you managed over the convention (600 or so!) is extraordinary and I can see that this makes a big difference in the way you must run the convention. Of course you must be conservative with money, so it must be difficult to ensure you are able to handle however many people turn up each day. Given those numbers, your team did a remarkable job.

      I will certainly be back at RMFC. I really did have a terrific time: it was easily worth the trip and the jetlag and everything else. Thanks again, especially for the time and effort put into running the convention itself. Attending this year’s RMFC was ons of the highlights of my year, as I know it was for the three other London-based furs who travelled with me. We all appreciate your time and hard work and intelligence.

  4. I go to four or five local conventions a year and not just furry (furlandia). I am attended local comic-con(Rose city comic con), anime (Kumoricon), science fiction (Orycon), Gearcon (Steampunk) and multi-genre (Newcon) Interesting article but I think there a few more reasons . Of course it cheaper to move around the US than Europe, I guess even with the advent of budget airlines. Fuel is cheaper and we do not have a Vat tax structure, few states do not even have a sales tax. In addition the closeness of European countries means you have amore diverse crowd. Still being many cons family tolerant to friendly in the US, we have a more diverse age of attendees.
    As for Hotel bars, while room rates are cheaper, hotel restaurant bars are notoriously expensive. I can buy a bottom shelf bottle of liquor cheaper than the well drink at a hotel bar. Some cons Hotels do make allowances with a special menu some do not. Many con are at business class hotels that cater to affluent business persons with expenses accounts or a good tax accountant where high prices are not that much of an issue if its OPM (Other People’s Money) or a tax write-off.
    AS for lack of event most cons are either formally or professionally ran like Rose City Comic con or Orycon, or fan ran like Kumoricon, Furlandia and NewCon. While professionally are run smother they can be single focus like Rose City’s pimping has been celebrities or Orycon snobbishly proclaim we are a writer con (pretending to be a general sf con), readers and fans need not apply. Furries take more fan ran model; there is a core evens but panel are ran by attendee volunteers. If one like to see an even one can organize and submit for a panel, sadly there a dearth of volunteers. I regularly run panels at Kumoricon and Newcon, I hope to do better at Furlandia.
    As for fetish related, aside for the fan I strongly disagree with your obsession on sexuality and the fandom, you have to remember we in the US suffered a huge stigma that furry are a fetish due to a spat of bad media (CSI, Sex 2K, ETC), with reporters, producers, bloggers, and shock jocks over blowing and sensationalizing the fandom for shock value and some more flamboyant activist in the fandom. Not only it makes it more difficult to relate to grater fan community, hotels are not going to support the con. A good example was the demise of Foxmas. They had publicly advertized the more “ sexually mature aspects” of the cons but lost the Hotel when the atrocity tourism sit Something Awful broke the news.

    1. Hi Acton, thanks for the comment and your insights into the convention experience. As you know I have very little experience with American cons, furry or otherwise, so your thoughts and clarifications are very interesting.

      I know what you are saying about the cost of the hotel bar, however I can report that the cost of a typical drink is very, very similar at RMFC and at Confuzzled. To choose an easy point of reference, a bottle of Budweiser cost $5.50 at RMFC (http://www.marriott.com/hotelwebsites/us/d/dentc/dentc_pdf/Lunch%20Dinner%20Menu%20June%202014%20website.pdf); £4.60 at Confuzzled (http://www3.hilton.com/resources/media/hi/BHXMETW/en_US/pdf/en_BHXMETW_RoomServiceMenu_Feb2014.pdf). Prices for other options, like spirits, are also close. It is much, much cheaper to BYO as Confuzzled, as it is at RMFC. So I think it comes down to a combination of cultural differences and general affluence, rather than price.

      I also really appreciate your point about attitudes towards sex in general. The United States is more conservative when it comes to outward displays of sex, so it makes sense that people will be more private (or at least less visible). You are right to point out this as a factor in the differences between the two cons, so I’m pleased you’ve added this to the discussion. My thanks.

  5. I suppose it should be pointed out that at least some US cons have dispensed entirely with the idea of even making a conbook in the first place, so I’d give credit to RMFC for still going through with the effort of creating one even if the quality is not necessarily top notch!

    I have also noticed that the European conventions I have attended (even the tiny ones) do take a much more “professional” approach to their main events than any American convention (even the large ones) – for one, the amount of organization and effort that must go into the Eurofurence Pawpet show is staggering. I am not sure why this is – one guess might be that Europeans have more vacation/leisure time to pursue volunteer efforts and hobbies; another might be that the fandom/convention traditions on different continents have simply grown in different ways with differing emphasis over the past decade (in-room socializing and semi-private parties in the US; public hanging out and structured events in Europe) without any particular underlying cultural reason.

    By the way (since another commenter mentioned it), it is not really true anymore that the US is in an economic downturn but Europe is not. If anything, in the past 1-2 years the situation is now the opposite.

    1. Hi Procyon, thanks for the interesting comment.

      I had no idea that conbook are a thing of the past at some conventions. I’m surprised – which cons are you thinking of?

      Thanks also for thinking about the extra challenges required to organise and run a convention in the US. There are of course differences, and I failed to mention those in the article. The amount of effort required is immense, and it takes a lot of commitment from a lot of people. Thanks for adding this to the discussion.

      1. Califur has not had a conbook in several years. (I thought I remembered going to at least one other con lately and there not being a conbook, although I can’t remember specifically which one.)

  6. Thanks for the interesting read. I have been attending this con for 5 years now and can say I see changes. You seem to have come at a time of change.
    This is the first year where they allowed impromptu panels. Normally panels are requested in advanced and submitted to a committy for approval. In 2013 I had to go through this process and was approved. This year I just went, saw there was nothing for canine furs, and threw together a meet place and time. Which fell flat on it’s face. >.>. Clearly this past process is a better choice. As it gives you a year to sort your thoughts, ideas and hopefully find people to help you along. ( I now have a cunning plan)
    As for the theme. It’s rarely reflected in anything more than the merchandising and the con book. Sometimes they elaborate on the theme by holding panels and suiters will dress accordingly. (2013 rocked)
    The con book has always been a showcase for up and comers. Much of it raw talent. Therefore it is limited to what you can do. It’s a mix bag of plesant suprise and what I can best discribe as “mmmk”
    In regards to your comparison. I have not been to any cons out of the us. Out of Denver frankly but I have made the effort to communicate and become friends with furs around the world ( I have a lot in the uk) I think there is a overall underlying continuity to furs all over the world. But yes there is a bit of a curtral change. Here in US, it’s true, a few things are hidden. It’s a dirty little room party band because some of the activities are questionable on its legality it’s hush hush and limited to a few friends. This leads to a feeling of exclusion for some and adds to hurtful feelings. I would wager in the uk, where the majority of the attendees are in fact able to drink and encouraged by either friends or the industry itself, there is a bit more Freedom and openess.
    Sorry I missed you but I hope we can meet when you drop back over across the pond. ~maiitsoh~

    1. Thanks for the comment and the perspective Maiitsoh.

      It may be that RMFC is currently changing as more and more people attend. A few local people here feel that Eurofurence changed in several way when it crossed the 1000 mark, so perhaps it’s a natural step-change in con dynamics. I’ll be curious to see how Confuzzled 2015 goes.

      Thanks for the comment about the impromptu panels. I was surprised to see the way they did that, and wondered if it was new or something that had worked for them in the past. It wasn’t always clear which panels had been added, and your experience suggests that was a problem. But then when you run a convention, there is no way to tell if things will work first time around: you just have to be brave and give it a go. So maybe that’s something they’ll change for next year.

      Hopefully I’ll see you at an RMFC in the future. And who knows, maybe I’ll see you at a Confuzzled one of these days. And good luck with your canine panel next year.

  7. It was quite interesting to read about the differences between the two cons. I have no similar experiences at all. I’ve been at the only two attempts for a national furcon in South Africa and we had 16 people at most. There are obviously more than 16 furs but you have to factor in who wants to and is able to travel. Hopefully that will all change soon as I’m supposed to be moving to Austria to study and attending Eurofurence is going to be high on my to-do list.

    1. Your experiences with South African get-togethers sound similar to some of the early furry gatherings in Australia, back when I first discovered the furry community. For a long time people would talk about a semi-mythical meet where a couple of dozen furries all met up together in the late 1990s. It seemed like we’d never see something like it again… until all of a sudden we were getting 50 furs turning up to house parties.

      There are loads of furries in Austria and of course Eurofurence is just around the corner. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to travel and participate.

      One question I’ve always been curious about the South African furs: how white are the furries? My guess is “very”, but I’ve been surprised many times before. Have you come across many black or coloured furs?

      1. I think there are more meets in Joburg but then again there are also more furs there. And more drama. But there is a steady increase in the number of furs here.

        I won’t be in time for this year’s Eurofurence (will only arrive end of October and actually getting some training in Germany first) but maybe next year.

        Yup, very white. There are a couple of coloured furs (surprising finding someone that knows the difference between black and coloured) but I can’t recall meeting a single black fur. I know of a one or two black furs but not in South Africa.

        1. What can I say, I guess I’ve read a lot of JM Coetzee.

          Thanks for the feedback – interesting. Any signs of a nescent furry community in more affluent parts of Africa: Namibia perhaps?

          1. Name was familiar but I had to Google him anyway. Got a Nobel Prize. I should probably read local stuff. Just it’s all serious and boring. No fantasy and stuff.

            I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of the surroundings affluent. Namibia is tiny and poor. Even in South Africa you’re mostly going to find money in Joburg and Cape Town. I knew some people from Namibia and one woman said her father was one of only three gynaecologists in Windhoek. More specifically, I can’t recall hearing about other furs in Africa. There may be some but I think furry needs a lot more money, free time and internet than most people in Africa will have. If there were other African furs they probably would’ve found the South African forum. Of course I could be happily mistaken but I doubt it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *