San Francisco Folsom Street Fair Inspired Ally
by Lynnea Dally


California had just legalized same-sex marriage. It was one of the biggest advancements in the rights of same-sex couples to realize their own version of the stereotypical, vanilla American dream. But perhaps we should ask ourselves: is the vanilla version of the American dream something worth aspiring for to begin with? 

Participants of the Folsom Street Fair have celebrated and championed their right to escape conformity and spice up their lives for over a decade. A painfully hedonistic event, the Fair fills San Francisco’s streets with more whips, cuffs and leather than you can shake a fist at. In fact, the bondage/sadomasochism street fair was one of the most interesting events I’ve ever attended. 

I quickly realized I had dressed conservatively in pants, a tank top, and high-heeled boots. As I approached the event, a forty-something gay couple sidled up waiting for the crosswalk. I couldn’t help but smile to myself at their intriguing combination of assless chaps and pleasant conversation.

As I paid and entered the parade, I found myself in a wonderland of kinky sex. A quarter of the men there wore kinky outfits, including leather, harnesses, and even gags. A scattering of women wore corsets, nipple clamps, or handcuffs. I even saw several men completely naked except for leather cock rings. 

Walking among the crowd of normally-and kinkily-clad attendants, I realized that this event represents of the sort of acceptance that should be going on every day outside of Folsom. It gave me hope that one day, individuals who are queer or kinky or swingers or enjoy any sort of relationship other than the ideal heterosexual norm will just become an everyday, accepted part of society without having to conform.

I felt part of a rebellion of sorts, a challenge against passively accepting the vanilla. I also felt like a sexual orientation minority, as I was greatly outnumbered by men loving men. I was ignored by booths advertising gay gyms and bathhouses, and I found only one shop that even carried vibrators or dildos. The rest were filled with kinky torture implements — cuffs, cock rings, harnesses, etc. — all made for men. I felt slightly excluded, yet appreciated the chance to feel that opposite side of the fence. Experiencing a taste of it for myself has made me more determined to support queer rights wherever and whenever I can. 

As I walked down the street I passed the charity spanking booth, donated money, and prepared to be dominated. But too uncomfortable to be flogged in front a group of strangers, even for charity, I admit I chickened out.

Further down I saw confidential HIV testing, a reminder that all activities have their risks. After a while, all the shops began to mesh together in my mind, and even the novelty of assless chaps and men making out in the street seemed to lose its appeal. I smirked at the thought of a kinky sex fair getting boring, and decided I had seen enough.

Looking back, I feel proud to have been part of an event that embraced the different, the minority, and the unusual. And I vow to do that a little more in everyday life.