We all know Florida is weird. Those of us who are full-time inhabitants of this paradisiacal swampland know that better than anyone.
But just how weird are we? Weirder than you ever could have imagined, even if you're a devout follower of New Times' stories tagged "WTF Florida." Turns out, we barely scratch the surface.
Author Lynn Waddell delved into the depths of Florida's outside-the-norm cultures and cataloged her finds in her book Fringe Florida. So who were the most bizarre people she encountered in her research? Here, lovingly recounted by Waddell herself, are the freakiest fringe groups in Florida.
Disclaimer: No judgment here, y'all. Whatever floats your boat and all that.
5. Pony Play
No, this has nothing to do with My Little Pony (though yeah, Bronies have their own sub-culture in South Florida, too). "It's kind of an extension of the BDSM world," says Waddell. "One person is the pony and they wear the bridle and the horse tail, and then the other person acts as their master. They parade around and they compete like horses -- they have barrel racing, they have steeplechase, they do all these things," she explains.
Florida is even home to the three-time international Pony Play champions, Foxy and Sherifox. Waddell also got to know another couple, Ponygroom Tim and Ponygirl Lyndsey. "Ponygirl Lyndsey is transgender, she actually still physically is a man. That was really fascinating to me too. She feels more comfortable both as the opposite sex and as a pony rather than as a human.
"They were a wonderful couple and they were so gracious to let me into their world," she adds.
If you've seen the CSI: Miami furries and plushies episode (God, we miss that show), then you've already got a basic knowledge of this whole people-dressing-in-mascot-costumes-and-maybe-getting-it-on deal. If not -- Netflix, y'all.
"Technically the term 'furries' applies to all people who are into the anthropomorphism thing," says Waddell. "The people who dress up call themselves fursuiters."
And not everyone is into it for sexual kicks, she adds -- though many are. According to Waddell, furries get together in groups and at conventions, then the sexually charged ones might break off to "get yffy.... They have their own kind of lexicon"
You guys, let's please make #yffy happen.
You probably knew nudists existed, but did you know that Florida is a stomping ground for 13,000 or so of 'em? Clearly they're not limited to Haulover Beach.
"Florida has the largest concentration of nudist communities in the nation," Waddell says. In Pasco County, north of Tampa, there are somewhere in the vicinity of 13 communities of nudists, she adds.
"They do everything in the nude. It's not just people laying out skinny dipping, it's people who are serious about being nude."
And while they don't have their own grocery stores or doctors (they have to get dressed to get the essentials done), they're working on it, Waddell adds: "They're actually a voting bloc now."
2. Exotic Animal Enthusiasts
Most people can appreciate the majestic nature of lions, tigers or monkeys. But cohabitating with these wild critters takes things to another level altogether.
"The people who are into the big cats and monkeys and reptiles, primarily snakes -- they're all kind of a little different, just like the animals are different. [In Fringe Florida], I start the chapter [on exotic animal enthusiasts] with a woman who brings her monkey to a little league game. Every year she shows up with a new one -- it's her own personal menagerie. She has capuchin monkeys and spider monkeys."
Others have lived with lions or other creatures. Florida's climate has always made the state a natural incubator for exotic animal interest (hence the Everglades' python problem).
To clarify, spiritualism is an actual religion -- separate from the more generic notion of spirituality. These are folks who believe in a wide range of psychic or paranormal phenomena, such as communication with the dead. Florida has the largest community of spiritualists in the southeast, Waddell says. They live in a Cassadaga, a woodsy area northeast of Orlando.
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"There are over a hundred spiritualists that live there. They do all kinds of readings, from palm readings to seances. They will talk to your animals; some of them are like animal psychics. There's someone who's supposed to communicate with aliens. The man who showed us around said there are fairies. And, these things they call orbs which are these glowing light balls they say you can see in night at your photographs."
Waddell's book goes into detail about several other niche groups, including the sideshow community in Gibsonton, Florida; and the state's outlaw bikers. Undoubtedly, there is no shortage of offbeat, counterculture communities in the sunshine state.