OVER a couple of drinks after work in a beer garden in Melbourne’s Collingwood neighbourhood, Matt Sim explained the origins of his character, Makoh.
“He has a lithe build — I’m not fat, but I’m bigger than the character would be. He’s very friendly, where I can be a bit dickish at times.
“It’s how I would envisage myself as the perfect me. Even if I think of the perfect me as a human, it’s how I would transfer that over to a character. That’s what a lot of people think — it’s what they would be if they could be anything. That’s what I would be if I could be anything.”
Makoh is an African wild dog. He is both a character, and Sim himself. Makoh is Sim’s “fursona” — who Sim becomes when he puts on the $4000, custom-made suit that allows him to act out this idealised version of himself.
Sim belongs to Australia’s burgeoning furry community. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what it means to be a part of that community, but for the most part it revolves around dressing up as and having appreciation for anthropomorphic cartoon animals. Far from the image of middle-aged men dressing up like mascots to have sex, it seems that within some loose thematic boundaries, furry fandom can look like almost anything.
“To me, furry is a very broad topic,” Sim said.
“There’s the people who dress up, there’s the artists who draw artwork, which often the characters are designed off of to make the fur suits, and then there’s writers who write fan fiction, and people like myself who appreciate all of this.”
For Sim, furry is a hobby, and a community based around that hobby.
He’s 23 now, and he’s been living in Melbourne since moving here from Dunedin in New Zealand a few years back. Sim first got into furry when he was 16, through online chat rooms. He bought his Makoh fursuit less than a year ago, so most of his involvement in the community has been as an admirer. He explained that, largely due to the costs of a good quality fursuit, only a minority of people in the community are what’s called “fursuiters”.
As a concept, Sim’s fursona Makoh is only a couple of years old.
“I talked with my friend who’s an artist, and we sat down and formed this design of my character,” he said.
“I tried to encompass features of myself, but it’s also an ideal I have, this ideal character that I would like to be if I was in that position… both personality and physically.”
Once Sim was happy with the design, he got in touch with a well-known American fursuit maker who goes by ByCats4Cats (he’s since branched out into other animals) to have Makoh created. Between manufacturing and shipping the suit from the US to Melbourne, it cost Sim around $4000 AUD. He could have paid a lot less (though even a cheap fursuit will set you back around $1000), but Sim explained the best quality fursuits are highly prized in the community.
“There’s definitely people out there who do them cheaper, but those are often the people that aren’t as well-known,” he said.
“There’s the renown factor, the quality and the look of it… It costs so much because there’s so much patchwork in it.”
There aren’t a lot of people wearing suits at most “furmeets”, though there are usually specific events organised for fursuiters.
The furry community is now a huge part of Sim’s life, and knowing people online meant furries were the only people he knew when he moved to Australia. He said the majority of his friends are furries, including his boyfriend.
That’s another thing: the community is really gay. Sim estimates that in Melbourne, the community is around 70 per cent male, and most of those men (as well as most of the women in the community) aren’t straight. Sim said it goes hand-in-hand with the shy, awkward archetype of the furry fan. Furry fandom is both a haven for outcasts and a space to try being something different.
“It definitely helped me when I was younger to come into my own as a gay male,” Sim argued.
“It’s a very open community. There’s no ‘off-limits’ to just chat about, I find. Furries tend to be happy to talk about sexuality like it’s not a big deal.”
Sim was happy to discuss the subject of sexuality and furry fandom. He wants people to understand the community better, especially given the many misconceptions about furries. He said most wouldn’t even talk to a journalist about it, after a wave of mainstream media coverage a while back painted the community as completely sex-obsessed. Some media coverage of furry fandom has even drawn a connection between furry fandom and bestiality, which Sim vehemently rejected as both offensive and untrue.
Sim said most fursuiters would never have sex in the suit (known as “yiffing”) — their exorbitant cost is a good incentive to keep them clean.
“I won’t deny that there are some people that do that — denying that’s just stupid because it happens,” he said.
“It can be a very sexual thing for some people. It can be a completely non-sexual thing for others.”
Although only a small minority of furries have sex in the suits, furry fandom can be sexual in other ways. Sim said it’s common for people in the community to commission sexualised “pin-ups” of their characters, or just straight-up illustrations of their fursona having sex with another fursona.
“An artist generally won’t draw something without both parties saying, ‘hey, I want this drawn’,” Sim explained.
“It’s reasonably common, surprisingly, for people to have artwork drawn of say, them fucking each other. But that doesn’t mean that anything would actually happen between those two people, it’s just the characters.”
After years spent admiring fursuits, Sim remembers what it was like the first time he went to a furry event as Makoh.
“I didn’t really know how to act. I felt slightly awkward at first, before I started to come into my own in it, because it’s a very interesting feeling being inside that fursuit… you overheat very quickly, and your vision is limited. But once that went away, it felt really liberating,” he said.
“It’s an interesting feeling when everyone finds you cute. Suddenly everyone wants your attention, everyone wants to be around you, everyone wants pictures with you, everyone compliments you. It feels good. I won’t lie, the attention is a good feeling. I have always lacked that in myself — I have never felt overly attractive.
“In some ways it feels fake, or that they just like what’s on the outside of you, but at the same time, it still feels nice.”
Sim believes being Makoh has changed how he feels in his everyday life, outside the suit.
“I feel like a normal, confident person since I got Makoh,” he said.
“It’s made me feel more confident in myself, more confident in my own appearance, my own personality. I think I act a bit more outgoing. It’s in some ways changed me into that more ideal self that I thought of when I created Makoh. It’s liberating.”
**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.