Bowling for Porcupine

It's not easy being furry

After four warm-up frames, Quasi emerges from the dressing room dolled up as a disco skunk (complete with car air-fresheners on his tail) and promptly rolls a strike. Tyger Cowboy, who dresses not as a tiger but as a wolf, takes a little longer to find his groove but eventually masters the two-handed granny technique and is creeping toward 100 by the tenth frame.

Although some furs' costumes resemble the chewed-up stuff of rookie-league mascots, hardcore fanatics have been known to spend thousands of dollars on their suits. Cowboy says he's blown a total of about $7,000 on a half-dozen suits. The wolf, replete with teeth purchased from a local taxidermy-supply store, is among the most elaborate.

By the second game, the two lanes feature a lion, rottweiler, skunk, bunny and wolf. Sunset's other patrons emit expressions ranging from good-hearted amusement to gape-mouthed befuddlement. The 'suiters, meanwhile, are having a veritable ball, dancing nonstop to the music and hamming it up for onlookers.

"Most of the time, you're probably safe in saying that they don't exactly fit in," says Mary Stadter, who, like Cowboy, sits on the board of directors of ShowMeCon, an annual science-fiction convention that will be held this year at the Four Points Sheraton in Earth City in July. "They're not the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader. You might see people who are tremendously shy in the real world, but in their suits, they're extroverts."

The sexually charged media coverage of the furs has hindered the group's acceptance in the sci-fi community as well, Stadter says. But she's quick to point out that Cowboy is chairing this year's ShowMeCon -- the first fur to achieve such a distinction in a St. Louis community that has long been dominated by Star Trek and Star Warsfanatics.

Castro points to the Trekkers' early struggles as evidence that furs need not adopt a Chicken Little attitude.

"Back in the early '40s, when they had science-fiction conventions the regular community thought it was the anti-Christ," notes the documentarian. "It wasn't understood or accepted -- much like the furries now."

Castro adds that a small subset of Trekkers fetishize Mr. Spock's tantalizing ears and engage in Vulcan-Klingon sex parties. In other words, no matter the group, there's always going to be a radically adventurous faction.

Cowboy agrees, citing Queer Nation's prominence in the gay community. "They were very flamboyant, very everything that most [gay] people aren't," he says. "In the Christian community, you've got the Moral Majority. In the black community, you've got Black Panthers. They almost go over that edge into insanity."

Correction published 6/18/03:
In the original version of this story, Spiked Punch the rottweiler was misidentified. His real name is Robert Norton. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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