It was only last week, at a small Bronie meeting in Köln, that I first learned of the Lübeck furmeet and Vegas Bowling. Traveling has its advantages, the foremost being the unlimited number of characters and experiences waiting to be discovered. If you do it right, each individual trip will open multiple new doors. Each new adventure conjures the potential of even more, in an exponential fashion. After a seemingly small amount of such random see-where-the-road-takes-you type of trips, you quickly find yourself smothered with invitations and surrounded by activities. In the beginning it is you who are cautiously reaching out to new people, seeking acceptance, fleeing mundanity, and trying to find purpose. But soon — and with increasing frequency — people are instead reaching out to you with ideas and suggestions. This is amazing, and happens a lot faster than you’d expect. Friends are easy to make, even as an adult, if you simply don’t hide yourself — figuratively or literally— and, if the Bronies are to be believed, Friendship is Magic.
After a relatively short drive, about one hour from Kiel to Lübeck, on roads that are not quite highways but not quite rural, I arrive at a mid-sized bowling alley that looks as if it’s having an identity crisis, and isn’t sure whether it’s a nightclub or not.
Inside, the neon-colored lights fade and flicker between deep blues and purples, and the overhead audio system is pumping out mid-volume, high-energy dance music.
Lane signup is completed, in the casual and almost random fashion expected of such a relaxed, informal event, and a few humans quietly sneak away (and disappear) into a backroom — not to be seen again for hours — and are replaced by cute, fluffy animals of diverse colors and species.
As is usual at such public-facing events, confused children (and amused adults) cautiously approach some of the fursuiters and ask questions or request photos. This exact scene plays out hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times a week. At every furmeet, in cities all across the world, random people happen by chance to encounter the furries and the fursuiters, expressing and enjoying themselves. And, unlike what is propagated online, the vast majority of all such interactions are overwhelmingly positive.
Shortly into the festivities, one of the Vegas Bowling staff members pulls me aside and asks how to spell “furries.” I am handed a smartphone, with a draft of a social media post open, and I key in the word for them. Later, a few of the staff members request a group photo, which is cheerfully taken in front of the lanes. Everyone is having a great time, and everyone seems glad we are here.
As Furry Fandom increases in popularity, with some conventions even showing a 40% growth year-over-year, I wonder how many people, introduced to the fandom by tonight’s event, will ultimately join themselves. Behavioral Scientists understand that the more people are willing to openly participate in something, the more the rest are willing to join. Herd mentality and tipping point are two of my favorite psychology concepts, and both are poised to catapult Furry Fandom into the mainstream… eventually.
I didn’t bother trying to count how many hugs I exchanged. But even if I had tried, I would likely have lost count. The meeting wasn’t particularly large, it’s just that we all kept hugging each other. As the night progressed, the playful atmosphere continually increased. With every passing moment, the stress level of the group was visibly lower. Whatever worries of the day that were on peoples’ minds had gone into hiding, if only for the moment.
In between turns at rolling balls down highly polished wooden alleys, I made it a point to engage as many people in conversation as possible. I had brought with me some Identity Cards and made sure everyone had at least two. Anyone even slightly capable of speaking English was spoken to. It’s far easier to meet new people when you are the one taking the first step. Don’t be shy.
Meaningful conversation, including such topics as autism, gender identity, and transphobia, were discussed at length, alongside other, more lighthearted subjects.
At one point, as the event was nearing an end, PSY’s Gangnam Style started playing. The bowling briefly stopped, as a sporadic (and perhaps sarcastic) fursuit dance suddenly broke out, in beat to the popular song. I, as well as everyone else I could see, simply could not help from smiling at the absurdity of it.
As the bowling event concluded, many of us were readying to visit a local restaurant — the official furmeet venue. Despite — or perhaps because of — this being my first time to this city, to this furmeet, and in general my first time with this particular group, I was asked to save three seats. I had proven myself so interesting that the conversation must be allowed to continue.