Historically Speaking Leather and Gay were Synonymous in SF
The origins of the leather community in San Francisco date back to 1938 when Sailor Boy Tavern opened in the Embarcadero. Sailor Boy Tavern was a leather bar for guys in the Navy that craved some male action. It was so close to the YMCA I now understand why The Village People sang about it. Can I have my gay card back please? However, the Folsom Street Fair we know today would not start for another few decades.
The leather community in San Francisco started in the Embarcadero and Tenderloin neighborhoods. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Folsom street became the center of the leather scene. Febe’s, the first leather bar on Folsom street opened in 1966. However, the first leather bar in SoMa, or South of Market, where the Folsom Street Fair is now held, wasn’t open until 1961.
This was just the beginning of the leather culture in San Francisco. From here, Life Magazine, the Mattachine Society (the San Francisco Chapter) and another gay bar called The Tool Box played a vital role in making the leather fetish scene in this city famous.
Once Upon a Time Folsom Street Fair was a Gay Event
During the hight of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s the city of San Francisco started shutting down bathhouses and other gay venues in order to “clean up the city.” As a result, the leather community started a non-profit and began a yearly fair. This fair would, not only raise awareness of the lather-kink culture, but also served as a place where gay men could get vital information on safer sex practices now that central locations were closing.
In 1985 another leather-fetish event began. Up Your Alley, now known as Dore Alley is still a well celebrated yearly event. Dore Alley has more kink and more fetish and is considered a concentrated version of Folsom Street Fair. However, I have not been to this event yet. Just watch me! With so many amazing gay events to attend and report on, one only has so much time.
Today Folsom is the Largest Event of its Kind
The Folsom Street Fair attracts around 400,000 people yearly. Here, you will see it all. Leather shows of all kind. Nudity until you can’t stand it anymore (and why would you want to?) and people having an all around good time.
This event, still organized by a non-profit, offers booths and information about safer sexual practices for anyone that needs it. While here, I saw HIV/AIDS informational booths, safe sex booths, safer BDSM practices and even a donate-your-left-over-HIV-medication-for-people-who-cant-afford-it booths.
The entrance fee is by donation only. This means your cheap ass can donate a dollar and still get in! Who doesn’t love cheap sex on the street?
Folsom Street Fair is NOT a Gay Event
Although this was my first time at this event, I was expecting a giant gay event. This is not the case. I’m not saying it’s not fun but a gay event it is not!
At first glance you notice a lot of gay men. However, once inside you realize its pretty much 50/50. Fifty percent heterosexual and fifty percent homosexual.
Your eyes wander at the amazing costumes and lack of clothing as far as the eye can see. Some people are completely nude, others in jock-straps and some in leather/fetish attire. Here’s the kicker: some naked men are straight. Therefore, flirting with a cute guy is not the best idea. I say, stay away from that since you don’t know their sexual preference. On the other hand lots of men are with their girlfriends who are equally nude.
Women at the festival also partake in nudity of every kind. I saw more nude women than I cared for. While sipping my drink with friends, a straight couple began having sex on the sidewalk. No one cared but everyone watched or took pictures.
Many ‘hetero’ couples love this event because it gives them sexual freedom. They partake in the shows on stages. “Make this woman orgasm” barked a man on a stage welcoming heterosexual men to see who can make the woman orgasm the best. While on the other stage Gay Naked Twister had a large audience.
The lesbian and transgender scene had booths too. The entire queer umbrella is at this event. Chicks With Dicks, Dikes on Bikes, hog tied lesbians, you name it, they are here.
It is not a shocking event. It is freedom of sexuality and a no-judgment zone.But it is not the gay event I once thought.
What Made Folsom Street Fair a Gay Event?
While it started as gay leather event in the 80s it is no longer a gay only event. This event welcomes all sexual orientations.
As a gay male myself I went from gay bar to festival to gay bar and back to the festival. Considering its history and the fact that its located in the SoMa district, a district with lots of fetish and leather gay bars, one might think this event is gay only. Alas, it is not.
Most bars are very mixed while others are mostly gay. As I bar-hopped, I noticed some of the popular gay bars like Powerhouse, The Eagle and The Hole were mostly gay. At one point, I literally, saw a woman being eaten-out by many guys who took turns tasting the dish she was serving.
The Powerhouse was mostly gay and very decadent. Here I saw many nude men, lots of groping, lots of erect penises and lots of friendly men willing to take a knee.
As the night progressed and the crowd drank more, it also became more decadent. I watched in awe as I saw men bending over to make their Folsom the best yet. Even though everyone wanted to make it their best, the festival only lasts until 6pm.
Making friends is your best bet. Luckily I was with a friend but if you’re alone put on your friendliest smile and get your groove-on with a few fresh faces. I made friends easily and I was fully dressed.
The truth is the LGBTIQQAAPK (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, asexual, allies, polyamorous and kink) and everything under the ‘queer umbrella’ has fought so hard to be treated as equal. Now that everything is out in the open, heterosexuals want to partake in the gay parties, gay festivals, gay bar scene and gay bathhouses. It makes these events not gay anymore. To gay individuals equality means letting everyone indulge in our festivities but not everyone agrees on this.
Is Folsom Street Fair fun? Would I recommend it? Hell yeah. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.