How furry is it?
Silicon Valley subculture of stuffed animals is the largest in the world
On the way back from a popular Palo Alto coffee house, Adam Riggs - also known as Nicodemus - stops at his car to show off a new raccoon suit. Sporting a furry blue headpiece, the Silicon Valley computer programmer begins to wave like an amusement park mascot.
"My first costume was a fluffy rat with large eyes and a pair of headphones," says Riggs. A panda suit came next, followed by a mouse jester. "I also juggle," he adds.
By day Riggs cranks out code from the headquarters of a large Silicon Valley-based tech company, but by night he's an animal - even if just a stuffed one.
"I wouldn't want to flatter myself by saying intellectual people enjoy these kinds of mental fantasy postulates," says Riggs, who authored a book called Critter Costuming in his free time. Furries are hard to define, he says, but they are known for being techies - even if the converse isn't always true.
Long considered the technology capital of the world, Silicon Valley is reportedly home to the world's largest furry population. "I got into the furry scene when I started working in high tech, and wasn't getting out much." says Tom "Howling" Geller, a self-proclaimed wolf (and depending on his mood, sometimes a fox or mouse). "The furry community suffered after the dotcom crash, but it's coming back."
Bay Area postings on Pounced.org, a dating site for scruffy puppies and friendly foxes, outnumber those from any other region. The Internet Furry Proximity Locator, a geographic site that plots furries by zip code, identifies Northern California as a national hotspot.
Each year 2,000 human-like-animals attended Further Confusion - the Bay Area's annual conference, and the second largest furry gathering in the world. In contrast, only 300 anthropomorphics attend the Rocket City FurMeet in Alabama. New Jersey's last Cape May Fur Meet hosted only 14 furries. Anthrocon, the largest furry convention, is expected to host 2,500 this year. The meeting will be held on July 5th in Pittsburgh.
Along with workshops on costume making, conventions are typified by hours of dancing, role playing and general rowdiness - all instigated by programmers and artists in animal suits. "It's a way for people who are normally in their heads to connect with their bodies," says Howling.
But even if the theory that "smart people like to dress up in animal suits" explains the predominance of certain geeks in furry land, it doesn't explain the absence of others. Furries say internet junkies, electrical engineers and computer programmers are more common than bioengineers or geneticists. Journalists - also a brainy bunch - are not common attendees.
Puzzlingly, animal behavior specialists and ecologists are also rarely sighted - perhaps explaining why raccoons wear t-shirts and orcas carry umbrellas.
But this process of humanizing an animal is what being a furry is all about, says Howling.
"Many people feel their body doesn't match their real self," he says "for some they may feel too fat, for some they are the wrong gender. Furries are reconciling the discrepancy between the animal self inside and the physical body they were born with."