Furries? Yes. Furries.

What a strange stock photo?

The furry fandom is demonized by popular TV shows and scandalous exposés as merely a sex fetish, but at the Midwest Furfest these fans are more artist than deviant.

The convention was held in Rosemont, where over the weekend furry enthusiasts could buy artwork, costume pieces and listen to expert panelists talk about the fandom.

The furry fandom defines a subculture of people who are fascinated with animal characters with human personalities. Many design and make their own full-body costumes and emulate a “fursona”, an animal character that they have created. Some only participate in the artwork surrounding the fandom, while others perform at children’s hospitals for charity.

“There are so many things you can get involved with,” said Thumper the Rabbit, a DJ at conventions who has been suiting-up since 1996.

Thumper saw the fandom begin online, back when the internet was just evolving. Chat rooms and forums sprouted a group of like-minded people and as the internet and social media began to grow, so did the fandom. The Midwest Furfest has become the second-largest furry convention in the country and continues to grow, 5,606 attending last year.

“The fandom is about celebrating each other,” said Jimmy Chin, an artist who also goes by Yippee the Coyote.

Each fursona is intricate, taking aspects from animated characters and traits from the human’s real life. Tail maker Lascivus Lutra relates to his otter fursona because of his happy and friendly demeanor. Other furries choose a fursona opposite of their own nature to play out a different personality when in their costume.

“I put a lot of thought into it when I first began,” said Lutra about his fursona.

Lutra learned to sew from his grandmother when he was a child, and when he got into the fandom he helped others with their costume pieces. When the popularity of his craftsmanship grew, Lutra decided to start a business named Otterly Amazing, which now sells a variety of animal tails.

Lustra’s introduction to the fandom, like many other furries’, was a “CSI” episode titled “Fur and Loathing”. The episode revolves around a night of sex and drugs, where a furry is mistaken for a wild animal and shot by a farmer. Many assuming depictions like this one make the fandom shy away from media, turning away publications like VICE and TMZ from covering conventions for fear of being smeared and generalized.

“I think it’s a huge disservice to the diversity here,” said Thumper, “we’ve got the rainbow here.”

The fandom recognizes the hobby includes sexual fetish for some, yet they do not define themselves by it. Thumper equates it to being a sports fan. People may be sports fans, but that can mean one person likes soccer, while the other likes hockey. The same concept applies to the furry fandom; some use it as a sex fetish, while others use it as a creative space.

Many of these furries, like Thumper, feel ostracized from their normal lives, who keeps his real identity a secret at these conventions. The online community and the suits keep a level of anonymity that many find comforting.

“They have to put their suit on to be themselves,” said Thumper, “that’s their outlet.”