Dominic Rodriguez Feared Coming Out as a Furry, But Made a Doc on the Misunderstood Community Anyway

Fursonas is a documentary about the Furry community. How you respond to that description (and the film as a whole, perhaps) will depend on how much you know about furries and how willing you are to set any (mis)conceptions aside to enjoy Dominic Rodriguez‘s engrossing film that looks at this subculture with an outsider’s eye and an insider’s heart.

For those uninitiated the doc begins by giving you portraits of various furries, people who are interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters, often drawing them out and embodying them with costumes. But very quickly the project — which began as a grad thesis project for 25 year old Rodriguez — becomes a larger indictment of the frayed relationship between furries and the media. While some members of the community have been vocal (appearing on local news, Dr Phil segments, and even Tyra Banks’s show) others (like the very vocal and ruthless “Dr Kage”) have taken it up on themselves to scrub the public image of a group that’s still unfairly maligned for the sexual connotations that the term “furry” elicits. That tension, between squeaky clean acceptance and unabashed pride in what and why they do what they do is at the center of Rodriguez’s film which had its premiere at Slamdance back in January.

Ahead of the Fursonas digital release, we hopped on the phone with Rodriguez to chat about his own involvement in the furry community (a fact he kept from his crew at the start of the project), how the film’s been received by audiences inside and outside the community, and on the furry’s decidedly white demographic breakdown. (We didn’t really get to talk cocksmiths, Bad Dragon, and dildos, but perhaps that’ll persuade you to catch the film and learn more about how they tie into the furry community at your leisure).

On His Journey To Make This Film

“Seeing the way the community was treated by the media and also seeing the way the community wanted to represent itself, I felt like nobody was really getting it right.”

I had been into furry stuff since I was like 12. I had always been kind of following it from a distance and online. It was just my thing, it wasn’t something I told people. And then seeing the way the community was treated by the media (and also seeing the way the community wanted to represent itself), I just felt like nobody was really getting it right. Everybody was picking one side of the over. I always wanted somebody to make a documentary about it. For a long time I didn’t want to touch it with a 10 foot pole because I was just weirded out. I didn’t want to be associated with it; I didn’t want people to know I was a furry. But then it was almost following me. Like, the fact that I moved [with my family here to Pittsburgh] where the biggest furry convention was. So it became my senior thesis film. It started as a 12-minute short and we expanded it after that.

It changed so much over time. I never quite knew where it was gonna end up. But I knew from the beginning I knew that I wanted it to be more than about furries. I wanted it to be more than furries. Not just sort of an educational type of documentary. It was kind of following organically how things happened. For a long time, my crew was very frustrated with me because I didn’t have a story. I didn’t want a story; I just wanted to hear these people ramble. I just didn’t want to make something up. I didn’t want to pretend like there was this greater narrative that didn’t exist. But I think that when you look into something long enough things begin to fall into place and it’s right in front of your face. I got to it in my own terms but it’s not something that I planned on.

On The Parallels He Sees To The LGBT Community

There are definitely parallels to other communities. The gay community is a good example. Take the pride parade, this idea of let’s embrace the things that maybe we would be judged on. Instead of trying to pretend they don’t exist. The furry community is at this interesting place; there’s still more of an effort to pretend like these things won’t exist. This didn’t make it into the film but somebody had a quote about how the furry community doesn’t get pride parades: we’re not at that place unfortunately.

On The Whiteness Of The Furry Community Represented

I think you can find any type of person in the community. The big thing when I started to talk to people, I just looked at the suit, basically. And their fursonas online. That was my criteria. Originally we didn’t have a money so it was more an issue of how close are these people to me? And of course, do they want to talk to me? Because I reached out to hundreds and hundreds of known suiters. For the most part, when I arrived at somebody’s house I didn’t know how much money they make, or what color they were. I obviously knew gender and I knew that I wanted a mother (because I thought that was really cool). But for the most part it was just a matter of who would talk to me. I didn’t bend over backwards to get a lot of diversity but I certainly was trying to get as much as I could. What you tend to see are young(er) LGBT guys—usually white guys. In my experience that’s what I’ve seen. You’re talking about a community that’s maybe 1 million people. And a fraction of those people are those that go to conventions. The majority of people are people who you’ll never see.

On The Film’s Reception

There are two sides that are interesting: how it’s received on the non-furry side and how it’s received on the furry side. On the non-furry side (where it initially screened back at Slamdance), people basically told me that they can draw parallels to other communities and that it’s not this obscure doc. It’s not just about this subculture. And then I think more interesting to me is how it’ll be received in the community. Mostly because it’s dealing with issues that we’re dealing with right now as a community and people that are in power. We’re at a turning point so I’m really curious and anxious to see how it’s gonna be perceived. So far it’s been really good. When we’ve done screenings, it’s sparked conversations and that’s my big think. I want it to think of it as a conversation piece and it’s important to have them.

Fursonas is available on VOD and digital platforms (including iTunes) as of May 10, 2016.