The Folsom Street Fair (NSFW) in San Francisco is a huge event. It is the biggest leather gathering and the 3rd largest single day outdoor event in the world, so it’s the kind of thing you want to get to early if you intend to park within a five mile radius. On this day, thousands upon thousands of people will dust off their leather harnesses, shine up their latex, and get some very interesting tan lines from the one day of the year it’s pretty much guaranteed to be hot in the normally fog-covered city.
Every year you can hear the distant sound of cracking knuckles as the naysayers tightly clench their fists and condemn the events of “leather week” in San Francisco. Sponsors have been boycotted, supportive politicians are targeted, and attendees are mocked, making the fair quite possibly one of the most hated parties around. Despite all of this (or perhaps partly because), Folsom is growing exponentially. Over 400,000 people attend the event ranging from the curious people watchers to the deeply devout. There are a lot of people who come out who don’t practice BDSM or even claim to understand it but are willing to raise a glass in the live and let live spirit.
Amid the sales for corsets, floggers, sex toys, and fuzzy jockstraps with tails were also opportunities for free HIV testing, Hepatitis A & B vaccination, support for sobriety, mental health resources, and community organizations. The fair and many of the after parties raise thousands of dollars for numerous causes such as healthcare, equality, and support services. Social change is still the center point of the event and donations at the gate, beer sales, and charity spankings all go back into the community.
The South of Market district where the fair is held is home to many BDSM oriented businesses all of which pull out the stops to commemorate the day properly. Many people are familiar with the leather bars and sex shops but the Wicked Grounds CafÃ© was especially festive. Several days before the fair they proudly celebrated their 1st anniversary and put out an incredible spread for their 2nd Folsom Street Fair. Wicked Grounds celebrates sexual diversity every day of the year and maintains an incredible relationship with the local BDSM community. Bondage portraiture adorns the walls, custom sex toys are sold alongside lattes, and should you need a dog bowl for your submissive companion’s beverage all you need do is ask. On this particular day there was an additional spread of tasty treats with vegan and gluten free options as well as special VIP service in the back making it a welcome respite from the sun and a go-to meeting place for friends to catch up.
When I asked my friend Lilla Katt (NSFW) what the fair meant to her she said, “Folsom Street Fair is when kink comes out of the closet and gets to play in the sun for a day. It’s a celebration of our community and an opportunity to be a visible part of San Franciscoâ€¦and it’s a hell of a lot of sweaty fun.” When the pride flags go up in San Francisco you know it’s that time of year when you can kick down your closet door and throw confetti in the name of honoring the infinite diversity of human sexual experience. As soon as you get home and take off those uncomfortable shoes you can already feel yourself getting excited for next year.
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[Photos courtesy of the Baggaratzi]