You Can Do That With Anything: An Interview with Dominic Rodriguez about Fursonas
Paul Cunningham spoke with filmmaker Dominic Rodriguez over the phone about the furry fandom, custom-made fursuits, Anthrocon, exploitation, sexual identity, and his debut feature-length documentary, Fursonas—a controversial “whistleblower” film challenging the perceptions of both furry and non-furry audiences from all over the world. Rodriguez’s film offers viewers a closer look into the personal lives of several very different furries, all while refusing to provide any easy answers to an incredibly complicated question: What is a furry?
Paul Cunningham: You’ve been traveling across the country recently from film festival to film festival—uh, what have other furries been saying about Fursonas?
Dominic Rodriguez: It’s been really, surprisingly positive, um—the reactions that I’ve gotten from people who have actually seen it. I think because it’s also starting a conversation. And it’s just that people care about this community so much when they’re in it. So I’m just there and listening to different perspectives and stuff, which is important. And I feel there is something about this particular movie, at least in the way I rationalize it—it’s sort of the idea that it exists outside of what’s in those 80 minutes, because it also has to do so much with media, so the things that I’m saying, and the things that other people say, and the discussions that it kind of invites are all sort of part of that experience. So that’s why the movie’s perfect. [Laughs] And then you write, Said sarcastically in brackets.
PC: What do you think the biggest misconception about the furry fandom is?
DR: Whenever people ask me that I usually say—
PC: Do you even think that’s a fair question to ask you?
DR: Yeah, I think it’s absolutely fair. What I usually say to that—because there’s probably a lot of misconceptions and people have things that bug them. To me, a small misconception, for example, would be, like, that we all wear suits. Like, that’s a thing that a lot of people think. I think a lot of people think, like, ‘Oh, it’s just the people that have these costumes.’ And, so, for whatever reason, furries get worked up about that. I guess the reason why is—maybe it looks like the only people doing this are people who are like obsessed with it. So I guess that’s fair. And then the bigger misconception would be that it’s just a sex thing. And I always try to stress that, yeah, it is a sex thing for a lot of people. But I think even that the people that it is a sex thing for, it’s not just a sex thing. Because they’re making friends and they’re in a community—it just makes it like—I just don’t want to see it simplified. Usually people put that on it. Kind of a simplification. But it should be taken seriously. Because sexuality is identity. And identity is really important.
PC: Exploitation seems to be a fear of some furries. Like you’ve said, some people haven’t seen the documentary yet, but they’re already worried about being exploited in your film. I’ve seen the documentary twice now and, uh—I’m not a furry—but I think there’s a very noticeable difference when you watch someone like Boomer the Dog in Fursonas as opposed to watching Boomer the Dog on that one episode of Dr. Phil. At one point Dr. Phil tells Boomer that he’s missing an awful lot in life. He pretty much reprimands Boomer because Boomer doesn’t contribute to society—like, work, make money. He even makes sure to point out Boomer’s virginity, which felt inappropriate. And this sort of thing happened on Tyra Banks too with Chew Fox and you get Tyra asking questions about furry sex and then the camera immediately panning from face to face and people look all shocked [gasps exaggeratedly] and these TV shows feel like they’re attempting to make persons into a sort of sideshow-esque spectacle.
DR: Absolutely. I think some people think that—especially in the furry community, or maybe even in general—there’s this idea that there’s just some things that, like, no matter how you spin it, like—some things are impossible to approach without judgment, and I don’t agree with that. I think that, like, kind of anything can be treated sensitively. For instance, Boomer. It’s just that some people—well, most people—the moment they saw him in the film—before they saw the whole film, there was just a huge negative reaction. Then it’s like, well, this guy cannot be in it. There’s no good that can come from this. And, on one hand, it’s like, they doubt my approach. Right? And they’re like, You’re going to be exploiting him. You’re going to be exploiting us. But then there’s also this thing like, Even if you mean well, this guy is just so crazy, that there’s just no way that people aren’t going to get something negative out of this. Because there’s just no way. Even if you want to treat it sensitively, you can’t. And I don’t agree with that. And I think that’s why, at first, I wanted to open the movie with Boomer. Because I knew the moment you see him, you are going to judge him. Your brain—when we see somebody who looks like Boomer does, a lot of people’s first reactions are, like, it looks like a crazy person. But I think you can’t ignore that. You have to embrace it. But then if you quickly get away from that and just spend enough time with him and listen to him talk and really sort of empathize with his perspective—and I really think you can do that with anything. Like, anything…
PC: I agree. And I think—and, so many people hate his fursuit. I guess it’s—well, I guess it’s not a fur-suit, maybe, but a paper suit that he calls Papey. Even since the film’s been released, I keep seeing furries online who find his suit—offensive—
DR: Well, the Flayrah article even. In the comments, did you read where the guy was like, I didn’t say this in the interview, but, you know, if Boomer had a proper fursuit I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I went nuts! I went nuts when I read that! I was talking to my boyfriend and was like, What the fuck kind of comment is that? And the idea that this is—I’m not going to say anything that for sure. I don’t know anything. Certainly, you can’t just say that it’s not a good fursuit. What something like that says, is, that this is not a celebration of individuality and creativity. It is fashion. It’s the cool kids who can afford the good fursuits that are the ones who should be celebrated. And that’s so fucking shallow. And I hate that.
PC: Do you mind if I ask you about your fursuit?
DR: Yeah! I mean no. [Laughs] I don’t mind.
PC: [Laughs] Well, uh. You’ve described it to me before as a very distinct fursuit. I was just wondering how one goes about purchasing their first fursuit. Or, I mean, was it something you designed yourself or—
DR: Well, this one—they’re all, like, custom made. And so, this one is from a maker called Made Fur You. It’s “fur” spelled F-U-R.
DR: That same maker, her name is Syber—she did Grix’s [one of the furries profiled in the film] fursuit. And a lot of other people’s. She has such a unique style. When you see one of their suits you can just tell. And I just wanted to get—I looked at a lot of makers, but, like that one was kind of special to me. Especially because when I met Grix, he was the first furry that really—when we were out together in the woods—it felt like he just really owned it, and had a lot of fun with it. And there was nothing awkward about that encounter. Like, it was just fun and he was happy to be there. And that had a pretty important effect on me. And made me want to maybe do this. Maybe made me want to consider this.
PC: His fursuit had the very unique flopped ear, right?
DR: Yeah! And, as far as when I was talking to her about the suit—I wish I was skilled at crafting. But I had a vision in the sense that I wanted it to be kind of natural colors and tones and look toony instantly and not too realistic, but mostly I just told her to make it brown.
PC: I mean, I like it.
DR: I’m glad you like it. I like it too.
PC: Some furries are angry that your documentary didn’t focus more on furry art. But I also know you introduced each furry in your film with an illustration. I thought maybe it was an attempt at still acknowledging the artwork as an important part of the culture. Those illustrations were all done by furries right?
DR: I remember somebody was defending the movie that had seen it and people kept making these comments like, Unless they say that, you know, that these people don’t represent us or something, you know, then people are going to get confused. And the one guy said, “Well they don’t say it, they show it. You know, they show it by kind of having all these kinds of people—they let you figure it out as an audience.” And that was kind of what I wanted to do with the art. I’ve seen documentaries that focus on art and I guess it shows people drawing art and stuff like that… If I was going to show art, I wanted to show it in a way that was kind of unique and showed the connection that people had to it. I think we—I love the way we have the few pieces of art in the movie. I know people think we should have more in it, but for me it’s not about how much we have. I commissioned each one of those pieces of art from a different artist in the fandom. A lot of them are really well known. A lot of them are very famous artists. And each one of those artists are from a different country. There’s one from Russia. There’s one from the UK. To me, I think that’s so cool. Because it’s worldwide and connecting all these places to the fandom. Different furry art styles. So I feel like we definitely have art. It’s just shown rather than talked about and I guess that’s the problem people have with it.
PC: Right. There is a variety of furry art styles. I’m thinking of Boomer’s photomorphs and his “Dogface” pieces right now.
PC: But, yeah, it’s probably going to be very difficult for a filmmaker to accurately represent everybody and every style.
DR: Well, yeah. And the other thing, too, is, I think people get hung up on—and it’s not just furries—but that it isn’t very informational. I don’t think it’s necessarily the kind of movie where you learn a lot. But, it’s not as much, like, educational, you know? It’s not like we go to great lengths to clarify a lot of things. There’s not even really a point in the movie where we say what a furry is. It’s all just kind of—you just get a gist of things. And I think that bothers some people as well.
PC: Yeah, again, as a non-furry, I guess, ultimately, my takeaway from your film was that furry doesn’t mean just one thing. It can mean many things. I knew very little about furries before watching Fursonas. Having seen it, I don’t feel as though I know everything about furries now, but I do know a lot more than I did. I do think I have a gist of the possibilities within the fandom. Like, to go back to what you were saying about its connection to sexuality, I know now that it’s not necessarily just a sex thing. But, yeah, it is a sex thing to some furries. I get that. I also realize that not all furries necessarily own a fursuit. Another thing that I think is worth mentioning is my own conversations with other non-furries. Other non-furries—when they’ve seen me sharing links to Fursonas on Facebook or something—have asked me if a furry is someone who is into bestiality. Do you think your film is going to help lessen that kind of stigmatized thinking?
DR: I hope so. Okay, so, I talked about how I think there’s nothing that I think can’t be treated sensitively. And how I like the idea of kind of challenging people’s worldviews and kind of making people feel sympathetic to ideas that maybe they never think they would be. But that’s an example of something that we don’t really have enough time to treat sensitively. Because it’s such a hot-button, easily exploitable kind of thing. In my experience, that’s not a big part of the fandom. The chances are if you meet someone, they’re not fucking animals. But there are people that fuck animals because we’re talking about a community with maybe a million people in it. So, there are people who are murderers…
DR: Again, just picture how huge it is. There’s definitely going to be anything if you look for it. But part of what furry is is: human and animal. So that’s why I don’t really associate [bestiality] with the fandom as much.
PC: So when it comes to what is shocking and things like shock value, a lot of people who have seen the film seem kind of hung up on the scene with Varka, the Bad Dragon cocksmith. And the cum lube . . . I guess fake cum is kind of shocking. But, for me, what was more shocking was when Uncle Kage was calling someone a “bitch” or threatening to “skull fuck” somebody.
DR: As far as Bad Dragon goes, I think it’s just something that’s hard not to put in your movie. When someone is just playing with fake cum in their hands! That’s the kind of thing where I’m like, This has to be in the movie! But I think, also, there’s lots of really interesting, crazy things that I filmed that didn’t end up in the movie. And the reason why he’s [Varka] in the movie is because of his perspective, right?—because he actually has really interesting things to say. And that’s something I try to stress to furries when they worry about what non-furries will think. And like . . . obviously everyone loses it when they see Varka with the dildos and everything, but then they listen to him, you know? For the most part, because it goes beyond that. So I think that’s cool. And I think the difference, obviously, with Uncle Kage is—you listen to what he’s saying, and yeah, it’s really shocking.
PC: Is Uncle Kage one of the main reasons you snuck into Anthrocon as opposed to paying to attend?
DR: I paid for anthrocon! What are you talking about?!
PC: I thought some people were saying that you snuck in. Or saying something about you not having permission to be there—
DR: Oh of course they are. Of course they’re saying that, aren’t they? (Pauses) So we filmed at Anthrocon. As far as how it went? Honestly? I was a little ill-informed because I did not know that you needed to have a media badge if you were just a dude with a camera. I was under the impression and, again, you know, this might be my fault, but I thought that if you were with a news station or a, you know, an official channel or something then you are supposed to alert them and they have to escort you to make sure you’re not just sticking your camera in random furries’ faces and asking them about their sex life. But lots of furries just shoot video there. I was there. I was a furry. I was shooting independent film. I wasn’t with any production company or anything at the time, when I was there. And then when we were asked questions—they were asking if we had press passes. No, we’re not really the press. We were in this kind of weird area. And so they brought us back. They asked us to stop filming. And we did. And then, you know, I broke the rules because I used the B-roll footage in the movie—in my movie—without showing it to Uncle Kage and his board of directors. Because I knew what the policy is—they’re allowed to recommend changes. If you do not make those changes, they’re allowed to pull their anthrocon footage out. That’s what you agree to when you go to Anthrocon. And that was always kind of hanging over me. Like, how was I going to deal with this issue. But, it turns out, from talking to our entertainment lawyers—all this stuff is fair use. Sucks. We broke the rules. But—I think they needed to be broken to prove a point. That’s also why there’s so much drama in this community. There’s just so much on the internet and everybody is just trying so quickly to just like form their opinions and ship them out and so they’ll just make shit up. Like they’ll just fucking do that, man.
PC: I’m very glad Fursonas exists. I honestly believe it will do more good than harm. And as I’ve said before, I’ve never seen anything like it.
DR: I enjoy it. I don’t know if you’re allowed to like your own movie. I’ve been told you’re not supposed to. But I like it.