There’s a persistent rumor that Furry fandom was perverted by a bad ad for ConFurence.
by Patch O'Furr
- Was Furry fandom turned into a freakshow against it’s will in the 1990’s?
- Did the founders of ConFurence, the first Furry convention, run an ad in a “gay lifestyle magazine” that ruined everything?
This rumor has circulated for 18 years, but nobody has ever shown a supposed ad. Now, one Furry made the effort to dig up an obscure, rare 1997 publication, to show what’s really in it!
For context, this incomplete history of 1980’s/90’s Furry fandom gives a great look at how freaky, adult content has always been around… and always provoked overheated reaction. And at Flayrah, a poorly-written, half-baked attempt at prudish revisionism shows the kind of reaction that caused the rumor. The same Flayrah author became a rumor source, in the first quote below.
Here’s what the rumor always looked like:
Q: “I’ve always been curious at the ratio of homosexual/bisexuals to heterosexual furries in the community. The ratio seems a lot less equal outside the fandom, and I’m curious as to why.”
A: “It’s cause Confurence ran a add in a gay magazine in the 90’s and furry became identified with gays.” [sic]
– “Cannonfodder”, in 2010 – on Furaffinity Forums (a topic full of dishonest trolling.)
“Regarding Merlino’s marketing of ConFurence to the gay community through specialty magazines, this was confirmed at ConDorCon in the mid-’90s when furry artist Lia Graf directly faced down Mr. Merlino at a convention panel (where I was in attendance) and asked him if he had been doing this. He admitted to the action and said he felt that sexual diversity would do the fandom good.”
– Calbeck, AKA Scott Malcomson, in 2005 – on Wikipedia’s Talk archive for “Furry.” (This is hearsay to us. It’s easy to see how words could be twisted, by taking an affirmation of sexuality as saying more that wasn’t said. The “ad” below shows how dishonest this is.)
“Here at ‘ConFurence Central’ we’ve heard it that some people are worried about upcoming issues of something called ‘The Black Sheets’ or some such, a zine series that prides itself on digging up obscene dirt — in this case, supposedly setting its sights on furrydom.Well, here’s what we know…
These people, and for that matter many other rumored ‘dirt hounds’ in zines, on cable, from tabloids, etc., have not made contact with us. We have not provided them with any names, descriptions, situations, rumours, history, art, stories, or backgrounds. We have not spoken to any such group, and none of them have made themselves known to us, at least not such that it’s gotten back to us on the staff or the con-com.
Now, if folks chose to take information which we make freely available to the public (e.g., In-Fur-Nation or the Souvenir Books) and run wild with it, there’s not much we can do about it.”
– Rod O’Riley, cofounder of ConFurence with Mark Merlino, in 1997 – at Alt.fan.furry newsgroup. (An initial denial of advertising that was ignored. Any magazine could report anything without permission.)
“Merlino can’t be just a guy you don’t like, he HAS to be fucking SAURON, LORD OF ALL DARKNESS. WITHOUT HIS FELL TOUCH, FURRY WOULD BE A PANACEA, UNSPOILED. Also, the fandom COULDN’T have just changed over time… it was a plan of dark conspirators, working within the shadow to destroy the light!
The amount of import you dudes place on a goddamn hobby is insane. Go outside, drive to a bar, have a beer, watch a fucking basketball game, and talk to some real people in the ‘Really Real World’.”
– Ilthuain, in 2003 – at Alt.fan.furry. (Attempting to abate old rumors, which nevertheless carried on to now.)
In a comment at Flayrah, Dahan took on the “furban legend“. I consulted him for more:
“I’m not sure if I know *that* much about the whole controversy–while I was active in the fandom at the time, all I know comes from watching the flamewars on alt.fan.furry. I don’t have any first-hand communication.
It seemed to boil down to accusations that CF8 was full of gay guys looking for sex who knew nothing about furry, because Mark Merlino put an ad for CF in a gay magazine. At first, I don’t think anyone said which magazine. Later, consensus seemed to be that it was Black Sheets #10. As Andrew Greene noted on Alt.fan.furry, nobody who claimed to have seen the issue ever quoted what it said, beyond saying that it linked CF with bestiality.
And over decade later, I continued to see discussion in various fora about this supposed ad in a gay magazine that caused the supposed decline and sexualization of furry fandom, but nobody could provide any evidence of the ad. It was always a “I heard it on the internet, so it must be true!” sort of thing. So last year, I decided to plunk down the almost $30 for a copy of Black Sheets #10 (from Bolerium Books, in fact) to get the facts and see it for myself.
BTW, issue 10 says it was completed on 1/97, and CF8 was on 1/16/97, so it seems impossible that anyone would’ve been able to receive the magazine, write to CF for info, and receive a reply in time to actually attend.”
Below, for the first time, is an actual source of the whole rumor! NOTICE: it raises the “real animals” kink topic, one this blog has typically dissociated from to leave it separate. It appears now as historical context, not started by furry fans. “Black Sheets” wasn’t a Furry zine.
In pre-internet alternative culture, underground ‘zines were a front of radical free expression. No topic was off limits. Prominent outlets like Factsheet Five would accept and review all sorts – punk rock, anarchist and animal liberation publications, to the extreme, bizarre, and obscene. All subculture and counterculture was catalogued for reference, including political groups they didn’t support but wouldn’t censor. Even the KKK made it in – shining a light on who and where racism came from. It was the democratic principle of allowing opinions to stand or fall on their own merits. Here’s Bolerium Books’ 2015 catalog (PDF) of rare zines from that era.
Many independent publications were run off on a photocopier and hand-stapled, and passed direct person to person in the mail, with no filter whatsoever. “Advertising” in these often consisted of “you review my ‘zine and I’ll review yours.” More likely, it was “here’s some stuff I found.”
Black Sheets was one of those radical and freewheeling ‘zines. A rememberance of the publisher says:
Bill Brent published six editions of a landmark national resource guide for alternative sexualities, called the Black Book. From there, he launched a sassy, sexy little zine called Black Sheets. That, in turn, spawned Black Books, a tiny independent publishing house. Black Books and Black Sheets were pansexual. The company’s tag line, for a time, was “Kinky. Queer. Intelligent. Irreverent.”
Oozing (some would say “spurting”) Bill’s natural charm and perverse humor, Black Sheets came along at a time when the sexual landscape of San Francisco was being completely redefined. Bill had been an old school SF punk in the eighties, and brought a mosh pit sensibility and DIY aesthetic to the radical queer expression that was just getting started in the early nineties.
Each issue had a different theme. 1997’s Black Sheets issue #10, “Bestiality and Glamor,” is the one that was supposedly so influential that it ruined furry cons forever – despite being too rare for believers to share it until now:
There you have it… a pretty crazy page for sure, but:
- Not a formal magazine – it’s like a bulletin board anyone could post on.
- Many independent ‘zines had no paid ads. This isn’t presented as an ad (no prices, times, etc), but simply listing an address.
- It’s likely to be the responsibility of the zine editor alone. As far as we can tell, it’s not put next to the other info by permission of the convention.
The zine editor has passed away. The ConFurence organizers deny any connection. Perhaps the only other person who could give answers would be Gordon Spurlock (named as a submitter). Did he supply the con address? I asked him – let’s see if he responds.
At the time this was published (1997) I was familiar with free speech issues that bubbled out of the zine culture. The crazier addresses in there were known: one was for a man who went on Jerry Springer and published one of the few (or only) books on the “zoo” topic through a radical but respected NY publisher. Another, I suspect, is someone who still runs a sex toy company with low profile but devoted customer base. Actually, seeing this jogged my memory of seeing this very zine in a collection in the 90’s. I recall that the graphics were S&M cartoons (not exactly “furry”). The most interesting part was a funny, kinky fiction story about two theme park mascots having sex on a ride that put them in front of the public by surprise!
This stuff was native and self-generating. There was never a wall between this and “pure” groups. The subculture in zines paved the way for the internet breaking it wide open to everyone, for good or bad. Fred Patten’s articles about early Furry fan publishing shares furry zines. Check it out for a better look at what was happening at the time.