Only In SF: Folsom Street Fair, Open-Air Sex Fest, Deemed Too Mainstream

Categories: Only in SF

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​Two weekends ago, throngs descended on Folsom Street for the world's biggest and most famous leather festival. No, not a trunk show of fine riding boots or Italian aviator jackets. As any true San Franciscan knows, "leather" refers to bondage, S&M, fetish gear and the people who get off on it.
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All Photos/ Calibree Photography

Yes, corn on the cob was on sale and District 6 supervisor candidate Jim Meko set up a campaign booth. Yet, as if you needed a reminder, Folsom Street Fair is very far from your ordinary civic affair.

Where else can you see a naked dudes in Mexican wrestling masks jerking off on the sidewalk? Two cops (dressed in hot cop costumes at least) exchanging slobber? A man getting his juicy, voluptuous ass smacked with a paddle? The pony play folks? The flogging? Men with rubber butt plugs in the shape of a tail? ("Too bizarre," remarked one
guy looking at the tail. "Too bizarre.") There were the two guys banging in a second floor window for the crowd below; one spectator repeatedly brayed, "Get it in there!" My personal favorite: The four ladies in bondage gear who peed on stage.

Of course people complain about all this -- it's too mainstream.

Even back in 2004, a Chron article remarked that the fair was "losing its raw edge," becoming "bigger, more commercial and more mainstream." On tribe.net one observer noted, "What I don't like abut the Folsom Street Fair is it is too commercial. What I mean is that there are too many booths that are not fetish or SM." Oh, and then there's the gripe about the crowd: "It's hard to have something of that nature before you get a lot of vanilla people to come in and
looky-loo and check it out," says one leather community member (who, like other leathermen we interviewed, didn't want his name used, while criticizing the fair).

Has the apocalypse come to Folsom Street, or are San Franciscans simply snobs?

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What's next? The Backstreet Boys?
Folsom Street Events Director Demetri Moshoyannis says we need to step back and get some perspective here. "Hearing the feedback that it's too commercial, I say tell me which of our sponsors are too commercial -- they're porn companies, lube, alcohol. We're not being sponsored by Virgin Airlines and Honda cars. Get a grip. I feel we get lost in the bubble that is San Francisco and people need to get out a little."

Moshoyannis spanked us with a dose of reality: Sponsors cover the base costs like Porta-Potties, dumpsters, and street
cleaning, which allows the organizers to donate the gate to charity. Last year's check was a whopping $333,000, Moshoyannis says.  Actually, he says the fair only keeps a $10,000 to $20,000 surplus from the event each year. "At the end of the day, the commercial aspect helps us do what we do for charity," he says. (One leather guy, again anonymously, complained, "Thought it's not for leather charities ... The money is getting sucked out and going other places.")

Of course, some of the complaints from the leather community are as inevitable as the early Green Day fans who said the band sold out when they found success. And there's no denying, Folsom is a raving success, with the moniker of the San Francisco street becoming the biggest marquee name in the global leather community.

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Why must you taint us with your hetero-normative behavior?
 
In fact, in recent years, the fair's organizers have trademarked the name, earning a licensing fee from Folsom North in Toronto (before the event dried up), and from Folsom Europe in Berlin (still going strong). Folsom Street East in New York City had ripped off the name for years, giving it "common law rights" to the name, Moshoyannis says. So now, in what can serve as a nice bit of trivia at your next dinner party, you can tell everyone the NYC festival owns the rights to the name in the New York tri-state area, while San Francisco's Folsom Street Events owns the rights to it in all the other
47 states.

Moshoyannis says this isn't as much about becoming a chain, but protecting the dignity of the name. "I think it's important for every community to have certain pillars and markers....To the extent there's name recognition and value in that name recognition, I'm proud of that." The last thing you'd want your S&M street fest to become, after all, is undignified.  

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You call this edgy? Yawn.
Gay leathermen who want a more exclusively gay scene still have the Up Your Alley Festival, Folsom's smaller, edgier, more local cousin. Yet some Folsom Street leather dudes complain (anonymously again) even Dore Alley is getting too big. "It's becoming too publicized, too well known, too commercial, so some people are saying we should start a third fair for gay men in San Francisco."

But Moshoyannis says the fact Folsom draws the full spectrum of the leather community -- including women and straights -- should be celebrated, not jeered. 

"We take it for granted. It doesn't happen anywhere else," Moshoyannis says.

So put a butt plug in it, San Franciscans. It turns out your event is a success.

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