Last updated: May 26, 2024

Yup, I finally did it. I went to Frolic. But I didn’t just go to a San Francisco nighclub on a Saturday night. It was, contrary to all reason, the first time I ever attended a legitimately furry party of any kind. Seriously. I still haven’t even been to a proper convention, yet. Despite having discovered the fandom back in the golden age of Deviant Art and the VCL some twenty-odd years ago, it did in fact take me this long to actually rear up and trot on over to where all the other fans congregate.

I don’t know if it’s a “good thing” or a “bad thing” that my premiere bona fide furry excursion was at Frolic April ‘24. Evidently, I had missed the initial installment of Frolic – the better Frolic, the “real” Frolic, if the older Bay Area furs are to be believed. Personally, I have no frame of reference. All I know is that The Foundry on Folsom Street is accommodating and accepting. I rather like the folks who work there, however brief our interactions.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that attending Frolic per se was a bucket list item for me. But I must admit it is remarkable I had never attended for so long, despite full knowledge of the event, despite living in close proximity to the space, and despite an actual desire to go. Well, now I have to live in a reality where I did take that plunge and deal with the consequences. Not that’s a bad thing.

Hanalei was not always a zebra. Like many fursonas (fursonae?) she has evolved with her creator, reflecting a person’s changing self-image and aspirations. The earliest depictions of Hanalei from my high school sketchbooks actually reveal a wolf girl with a quiet demeanor and an overwhelmingly Y2K fashion sense. Halter tops and exposed midriffs galore. But what Hanalei truly is, though, is a trailblazer. She is always one step ahead of me. That is her role: to navigate through the fog of life and show me the way to somewhere better.

Hanalei is literally a rock star. I am not. Not yet, anyway. And you know what rock stars need? An audience. When I donned the costume for the first time, I immediately was compelled to grant Hanalei the audience she deserved. I proudly marched out that door, determined to realize her true potential – my potential.

Even the mundane experience of hoofing it to the bus stop had turned into something new. I was struck by my own shadow cast by the overhead streetlights, evoking a warm yet unfamiliar feeling as I suddenly remembered I had a tail and large ears on top of my head for once. It looked right. Correct. I was more myself than ever before, and yet, the look was completely foreign to me. What a conundrum.

Not one but two persons – commonplace homo sapiens, I mean – complimented my appearance as I passed by. I mean, I did look hella cute, if I do say so myself. This eloquent equine was covered hoof to eartip in zebra stripes with a multicolored miniskirt which swung with the confident swagger in my gait. I was seeking to be looked at, after all. That’s essentially the point of going to an event like Frolic: to be looked at and accepted (and perhaps admired) by others without fear of judgment. And to let loose and have fun, of course.

There was also – snort – that guy who pulled over in a lame attempt at cruising. Did he seriously think he was going to get some with a zebra mamacita that night? Regardless, it was trivial to show disinterest and he sped away without incident. The Muni arrived shortly afterward. I clomped aboard and was whisked away to the mystical land of Folsom Street.

I’ve always admired the showcase of diversity, the sheer variety of bodies across furry media. Philosophically, that’s nothing but a reflection of the diversity of actual human beings. But it’s more impactful and far more fun to see this fact illustrated in living color as you step inside and willingly mix in the menagerie. You are instantly dazzled with countless permutations of wings, ears, feathers, muzzles, tails, fur and even antennae in all colors and configurations. Even the very notion of what counts as an “animal” is tested, when you notice you’ve been shimmying alongside a dragon sporting blood-red wings of a gargoyle for the past thirty minutes.

Anthropomorphic bodies take up more space than ordinary human bodies. The added volume from all those animal features means you’ll bump into your fellow clubmates in novel ways that you do not experience in typical crowds. Your thighs will get slapped by somebeast’s swishing tail, your excited paws will inevitably strike an oversized mascot head while bopping to the tunes. But it’s fine, simply apologize and move on. We’re just people underneath the fursuits, after all.

Strictly speaking, the music wasn’t that great. Generic, four-on-the-floor house beats and more anonymous EDM than an automatically generated Spotify playlist. But the music itself isn’t the point. No, it’s really all about taking advantage of the rare opportunity to shake your literal tail feathers, to strut your stuff in wild abandon.

So you can imagine the excitement of the crowd when an awesome song does come on. There is no greater thrill than a nightclub chock-full of grown adults 21 and over completely losing their shit when a techno remix of “Just Can’t Wait to Be King” suddenly takes over the speaker system. Serendipitously, I had found myself in a sparsely populated corner of the zoo when it happened, which granted me free reign to vogue hugely as I sang along with Simba: “Everybody look left / Everybody look right / Everywhere you look I’m standing spotlight!”

I would be remiss to not at least mention the presence of kink. There, I said it. At Frolic, some puppies aren’t permitted to roam free as they are lead on a leash by their masters. You gotta admit you’ve considered the irony of wearing leather at an event that is three-quarters populated with animals. Some people are barely clothed at all. Fortunately, it was easy enough for me to toss all that to a shadowy corner of my consciousness and focus on the dancing. Not everything at Frolic is for me, and I’m okay with that.

You can be whoever you want to be in cyberspace. You can easily hide behind a profile pic or digital avatar and no one would be any wiser. If you claim you’re a camel-hyena hybrid supermodel with dichromatic eyes, provide illustrations to prove it and publish nothing to say otherwise, then it is simply true. No wonder the furry fandom has such a robust web presence. Indeed, I’m positive there exists a small population who knows little ol’ me only as “that zebra girl on the internet.”

Sure, I’ve been to nightclubs before. I’ve even attended numerous costume parties in the past. But by far the most unexpected aspect of my evening was the realization that I had met a guy in real life – exchanged Telegram usernames and everything – and he still only knows me as that zebra girl! Frankly, I am still reeling over the bizarre circumstances of our encounter. My cartoon self collided someone else’s reality. Boggles the mind. But I’m all here for it, and I not-so-secretly want it to happen again.

On one paw, it’s just a boozy costume party set to cheap dance music. But that would be missing the point entirely. Even with the visual interruptions of kink and fetish occasionally on display, attending Frolic is still an important milestone for me. I have no good reason for not participating sooner. Hanalei needs to be seen.

In plebian dance clubs and rock concerts overpopulated with insufferable normies, humans overcome with joy will emit uninteresting yelps of “Woo!” and “Yeah!” Truth be told, I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt the urge to “Woo” in my entire life. But at Frolic, you instead will hear a din of awoos, barks, whinnies and cawws. Completely cacophanous and absolutely sublime. Pardon the cliché, but in a very palpable sense, it felt like home. And if home is nothing but where your people are, then I’m sure I got pretty dang close to it.

In the African savanna, a zebra’s stripes serve to blend in with other zebras with whom they herd closely, making it difficult for a predator to discern one individual target from the next. But my stripes were there to stand out. Hanalei’s grand debut, the first time she leapt from the sketchbook to the outside world to be witnessed by other human beings, could not have gone any better.