When I made the descent into Irving’s basement, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It was to be my first meeting with the Penn State Furries, the Happy Valley sector of the fan culture for people who like to, in its simplest form, dress up and pretend to be animals. My own naivety led me to expect someone like Todd Cleary from Wedding Crashers, or perhaps a unicorn-clad soul hunched up in the corner.
Instead, I found Cory Grube and Corey Friedenberger, two sociable and amicable members of the Penn State Furries club who are trying to bring the group back to its former glory.
Grube is a junior chemical-engineering major here at Penn State, and Friedenberger is a recent graduate and long time PSU Furries member. As someone who already had predispositions about the Furry community, the Cor(e)ys were quick to explain that the Furries are not a culty pack of weirdos.
“It’s always the bad egg that goes to the media and gives us a bad name,” said Friedenberger. “Most of us are just a bunch of people with the same anthropomorphic interest trying to have a good time.”
The Penn State Furries colonized in 2007 during Friedenberger’s freshman year, although the group’s membership eventually dwindled and became inactive with time. After hearing so many stories about the group’s former glory days, Grube decided he wanted to bring the club back to life.
“I was really disappointed at how stagnant the group became,” said Grube. “I just wanted to grow my friend-base, while growing the friend-bases of others at the same time. More friends all around makes the world a better place, you know? Also, I really wanted to see it reach a place similar to where it was when Corey was a student. Whether that’s possible or not, I have no idea, but we’re going to try.”
The Penn State Furries group is independent from Penn State to allow non-students to participate. While still based around Penn State, anyone from State College is welcome to join, per the Facebook group description:
“For all those tail-waggers out there who bleed blue and white! This group is for current and incoming Penn State students, alumni, faculty/staff, and State College locals who are part of the anthropomorphic furry community in one form or another.”
The casual, open-armed attitude also translates into a strong bond among the Furries in its group. Take, for instance, its membership flier: “YOU ARE NOT ALONE! THERE ARE TONS OF FURS IN THE AREA LOOKING FOR FRIENDS LIKE YOU!”
Grube said the group has no plan to affiliate with the university any time soon, because he wants to maintain its loose schedule and officer-less structure.
“Having officers or leadership positions makes it too bureaucratic, at least for my tastes,” Grube said. “For the purpose of getting to know people, I don’t want to be the leader or president or whatever, I just want to be a friend.”
Additionally, even among the Furries community, the interests are so diverse it would be nearly impossible to hold an actual meeting.
“We could offer things at meetings like an open space for furry art critique, panels for teaching a skill like sewing, useful for things like fursuit making, or what have you,” Grube said. “The group is so spread out in terms of interests, so for any particular topic, we might only have 10 or 20 percent of the group that would be interested. It wouldn’t be a very effective means for getting to know each other, which is the core purpose of the group.”
Friedenberger considered affiliating with Penn State when he first started the group, but chose not to for the same reason. Despite the economic benefits that come with being an official club, it would be too formal for this liking.
“There’s no real subtext or motive to the group,” said Friedenberger. “It means different things to different people. For some people it’s spiritual, some people are really into anthropomorphic art, some people really feel they are an animal trapped in a human body, and others are just people who like to party.”
The highlight in the life of any “Fur” is attending the various Furries conferences. In January, a solid contingent from the PSU Furries attended Setsucon at the Penn Stater hotel, which is focused on anime.
“Small cons usually exude a cozy, friendly feeling,” said Grube. “Lucky for us, we have a small convention right at the Penn Stater, Setsucon. It’s not a furry convention in reality, but an anime convention. Regardless, it still draws in a lot of local furry artists, enthusiasts, and fursuiters. There are two reasons for this: Many furs have another common interest, anime. A secondary reason is that furries like conventions in general, as long as they get to hang out with friends and have a good time.”
There are dozens of larger Furry conventions across the country, including Anthrocon, held annually in Pittsburgh, and FurFest. Furries sometimes spend thousands of dollars on costumes for these conventions, often going by their names and personas from Fur Affinity, the largest online Furry community in the world.
The once annual convention in Detroit, Furry Connection North, became so popular that they had to shut it down after six years. This video helps illustrate the scene:
The Cor(e)ys told me that cons often start small at various cities, only to become insanely popular. The parties get bigger and more wild, and eventually the convention moves another hotel, as was the case with Furry Convention North. I was told more than a few times that Furries really know how to party and that’s what the community is for a lot of people: a group of people looking to have fun. Just, y’know, in costume.
Here is a video from a dance competition, which is often a highlight of the conventions. The furry in gray is a former Penn Stater.
Here are some photos of PSU Furries from this year’s Setsucon:
What’s important to note about this group is that because their interest is so…unique, so is their friendship.
The Furry community is very accepting of people’s identities, especially in the LGBTA community. Discussions can range from weird stuff the Furs read on the Internet to casual conversations about sexuality — they come up all the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a con, a party, or even just at a coffee shop. Grube told this story from his last Anthrocon as an example of the virtue of the community:
“I feel like furs are more open-minded and chill about everything, in general. We were in our hotel, and it was probably 3 or 4 p.m. In fur-con time, that means it’s time to drink. So we’re going about that, when someone knocks at the door. We open the door, and some guy none of us know basically walks in while saying hi. He’s pretty smashed already, and offers us some beer. We proceed to have a conversation about lots of random stuff for probably 30 minutes before he left. None of us really knew what happened, but we were like ‘Eh he was pretty cool, I don’t mind.’ That’s the kind of chill attitude that lots of furs tend to possess.”
More than anything, though, Grube wants the Furries to be more than a label, more than an embarrassing sound byte or joke. At the end of the day, it allows a group of people to take their virtual interests and create friendships IRL. And really, that’s what the PSU Furries are all about.