So, you think Florida is weird? You don't know the half of it.
In Fringe Florida, St. Petersburg journalist Lynn Waddell lifts up the rug we sweep the really strange stuff under. Just look at her subtitle: What the heck is a furry, anyway?
Well, here in the land of theme parks, it should come as no surprise that there are people who enjoy dressing up in animal costumes. Waddell notes that there are hundreds (at least) of them in the Orlando area alone. For some it's just the fun of the costumes, but when she attends a fetish convention in Tampa, it's clear that for some the motive is what's called "furotica."
That fetish con also leads Waddell to enthusiasts of "pony play," which seems like a confluence of bondage fetishism and the horse craziness little girls sometimes enjoy. (Many in the pony play community are women.) People like "Ponygirl Lyndsey" dress in outfits that combine leather bustiers with a mane, tail and hooflike boots. At a bondage dungeon in Largo, Waddell attends a pony play competition.
Although a good bit of Fringe Florida is devoted to sexual fetishes and activities, with chapters on "King of Trampa" Joe Redner and swingers communities, Waddell looks at other fringes as well.
She attends a bacchanalian mud bogging event, replete with more Confederate battle flags than a real Civil War battle. She visits the genteelly shabby Spiritualist town of Cassadaga, where a walking tour includes a casual reference to "where someone saw a wood nymph." She goes to the Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park in Orlando, where tourists are greeted by a low-budget Nativity scene in which Mary is portrayed by what is clearly a blowup sex doll in a dress and veil. She hangs out with an all-female biker gang called Leather & Lace during the testosterone fest that is Daytona's Bike Week. She visits Gulf Breeze, where for several years almost everybody in town saw UFOs regularly - and they seem wistful that the spaceships have stopped appearing.
Waddell brings both a wry sense of humor and a journalist's open mind to all the communities she visits. And that, really, is what she finds: communities. It seems that in Florida, no matter how strange your proclivities may be, there are people who share them, out there on the fringe.
* * *
Fringe Florida: Travels Among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles
By Lynn Waddell
University Press of Florida, 266 pages, $24.95
* * *
Meet the author
Lynn Waddell will be a featured author at the 21st annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 26 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.