Quick: What pops into your head when somebody says “furries?”

Chances are it’s one of two things:

A) “Who? I don’t even know what that is.”

B) Some kind of scene involving people dressed in large, fuzzy animal costumes and doing things that, on the NSFW meter, range from kinda-sorta to very-very. It’s an image often followed by groans, chuckles or cheap jokes from people who are vocal about being non-furry.

For those who said A: “Furries,” generally speaking, are people who create “fursonas” — avatars of animals with human characteristics — and express them via costumes (called fur suits), art, fiction and/or role play. Dogs, wolves, foxes, bears and horses are among popular fursonas, often affixed with creative twists and personal touches. That said, a fursona is not a requirement: One can simply be a fan of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic artwork. Furry has no strict guidelines and is designed to be an inclusive and widespread community, encouraging imagination and creativity. Furries meet online and at conventions, including the annual Anthrocon in Pittsburgh which drew more than 5,000 attendees in July.

For those who said B: Furry is not mainly a sex thing. This stigma, that it’s merely a sexual fetish, has been partly responsible for the community’s difficulty gaining acceptance from the world at large.

Just ask Damon Stango, a furry and the producer of Unleashed — which he says is Philadelphia’s first bimonthly furry dance party. “That’s always the big one,” he says, chuckling, when asked about common misconceptions regarding the furry fandom. “I think what attracts people to furry has nothing to do with sex.”

For some, there is a sexual side, he says, but it can be chalked up to the Internet’s unofficial Rule 34 to fandom: If it exists, then there’s a sexual component to it.

“The fandom is definitely not sex-based,” he stresses. “It is definitely attractive to people who didn’t quite fit in, maybe in their younger years. I know personally: That’s how I felt,” Stango says. He discovered the fandom as a high school senior after researching The Lion King on the Internet. Similar to Star Trek, Doctor Who or various anime fandoms, the furry demographic is one that has no qualms with being labeled as nerdy. “I think it attracts what would be your stereotypical nerd or geek. It’s definitely for folks who have a vivid imagination.”

The fur suit, a visual key that many associate with the fandom, is not even that common within the community, according to Stango — a decent fur suit generally costs close to $1,000 — but can be a tool for the more introverted participants.

“[The fur suit] is a way to bring your character to life,” he says. “It’s a means of self-expression. I’m a big believer that the mask is a means to unveiling the person underneath.

“This population is pretty introverted. That fur suit can enable someone to express more extroverted personality traits that they always wanted to express but didn’t quite have the nerve to … before.”

Stango organized the first Unleashed in May as an easy way for Philly furries to gather and network in real life, especially if they can’t make it to Pittsburgh or Irvine, Calif., for the conventions. After two successful one-offs, Unleashed will begin in earnest as a regular event at Center City nightclub Tabu next Friday.

“It’s pretty much just a giant dance party,” Stango says. “We bring in performers, so we have people from the drag community, the burlesque community, people who want to show off their talents. We also have our DJs.” Missing from his description is the heavy petting, sexual deviance trope. These furries aren’t looking for that kind of a good time. They just want to dance.

A therapist by trade, Stango recognizes the value of alternative expression. A regular event like Unleashed can be vital for a local furry community, he says, just as any forum and source of socializing can be for a fringe group that is often misrepresented and taken for a joke. For a subculture that lives primarily on the Internet, Unleashed could mean a lot.

“My main goal would be to provide a forum for expression for folks who may not be able to travel all the way to conventions,” he says. “I just want Unleashed to be a gathering place.”

Unleashed featuring performances by PocketCub and Brenda Banks, Fri., Sept. 19, 9 p.m., $12-$15, Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar, 200 S. 12th St., 215-964-9675, tabuphilly.com.