The first thing you need to understand is that not all furries are fursuiters. And the second thing is that very few furries or fursuiters are sex maniacs who need to be barred from contact with children.
All that said, Robert Armstrong (or Chiaroscuro, as his mongoose persona is known) doesn't see anything wrong with Connecticut libraries wanting to ban strangers who dress strangely and conceal their identities.
"I understand the libraries' concerns," says Armstrong, a Norwich resident and a chef who works at Foxwoods Resort Casino. He calls the recent discussions at a couple of libraries about prohibiting anyone wearing masks or costumes understandable and not a case of anti-furry discrimination.
"A library is concerned with children's safety, and that's perfectly reasonable," Armstrong adds. "Any kindly stranger with candy and a smile could come in and take kids out of a library."
He isn't alone among the furries in that opinion. "I can certainly see how [library officials] might be leery of allowing anyone in a costume to simply walk in and run about," says Samuel Conway, head of Anthrocon, the biggest furry convention organization in the country.
It's the potential attraction of children to folks dressed up like fuzzy Disney animal creatures that has librarians worried.
Back in August, an Enfield librarian got scared when a person in an animal costume came in and attracted attention from some kids. In Portland, reports about that incident led the local library's board of directors to call attention to its standing policy banning people from wearing masks or costumes (except for people doing it for medical or religious purposes).
A fursuiter is a person who enjoys dressing up in an animal or creature costume, often with a mask or headpiece that can entirely conceal or disguise the face of the person within. They form one portion of the apparently growing nation of furry fandom, a term used to describe "anthropomorphs," people who identify with or just like to dress up as animals or self-designed creatures.
Some furries (the fursuiters) do the whole bodysuit thing. Others, like Armstrong, occasionally wear a tail or ears or face paint or something as ordinary as a T-shirt with their animal identity on it.
They have conventions and events, just like Star Trek fans, who also happen to enjoy dressing up, wearing pointy Vulcan ears a la Spock or going fully masked as Klingon warriors.
In Pittsburgh, this year's big annual Anthrocon convention drew more than 5,000 furries, says Armstrong, who has been on that event's board of directors for the past five years.
Connecticut has its own annual Halloween-themed furry event called "FurFright," which is being held in Cromwell, Oct. 26-28.
Armstrong, whose Twitter handle is "Chef Mongoose," says he used to wear a tail to the conventions but stopped bothering after it was damaged.
"I wouldn't mind a fursuit," he adds, "but the going price for one is about $2,000." Armstrong says one friend of his paid $13,000 for a custom-designed fursuit.
Furries in general are really sensitive about what they consider unfair publicity. There was that Vanity Fair article back in 2001, the one that got into all kinds of alleged kinky sex stuff and triggered all sorts of sensational coverage.
"I can say with confidence that the sex is way overblown," says Armstrong, who's been part of the furry subculture for two decades. "Are furries having sex? Yes. But Presbyterians are having sex too," he points out, adding it's probably happening at about the same rate for both groups.
If you're particularly worried about those fursuiters dressed up in expensive lion or coyote costumes, keep in mind those things can be more than a little difficult for anyone with amorous antics in mind.
"They're like wearing a sofa," Armstrong explains. "It's not easy to do any strenuous physical activity when you're wearing one."
Some kinky fursuit stuff probably does go on at conventions on occasion, Armstrong admits, just like some kinky stuff probably goes on at any event when people are far from home and have plenty of alcohol and convenient hotel rooms. "I've heard some stories about Mary Kay conventions that would curl your hair," he says.
It should also be mentioned that fursuiters and furries in general are a different breed than the folks who dress up like Elmo in Times Square and Central Park and take money to allow themselves to be photographed with tourists and kids. One of those dudes didn't help the reputation of these costumed cash-hounds when he started screaming obscenities and anti-Semitic comments this summer, leading the cops to escort him to a hospital for a psychiatric exam.
Furries don't think of themselves as nuts or weirdos. And most fursuiters are in it simply to make themselves and others smile, Armstrong insists. "A lot of them like to go out and meet children," he says, performing at children's hospitals and schools "to make children happy."
He suggests that any fursuiter who wants to appear at a library should probably meet library officials in advance, provide identification and ask for permission. Anthrocon CEO Conway agrees.
"As much as I am a fan of fursuiters and support what they do," Conway wrote in an email response to a request for comment on this story, "I can also understand the library's position. I would hope that they might work with the fursuiters to allow fursuiters in by appointment."
The bottom line for Armstrong is that he doesn't think anyone at these libraries is discriminating against his people:
"I don't feel like it's picking on the furries."