Folsom Street’s Leather Invasion
by Jim Provenzano
Folsom Street Fair, the largest fetish fair in the world, and one of San Francisco’s biggest annual events, will fill South of Market’s streets with thousands of leather-clad people, and many wearing a lot less, on Sunday September 26. How do organizers manage such a big event?
“Even before it’s over, we’re learning lessons about the next year,” said Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis.
With two fulltime staffers who work year-round on Folsom Street Events, including the July Up Your Alley street fair, and the two dance and play parties the night before each fair, Bay of Pigs (last July) and Magnitude (September 25), recently added events include the formal dinner, the Thursday preceding the fair. This year’s performer is the hilarious Sherry Vine, whose Lady Gaga parody video “You’re a Homo” swept YouTube in popularity.
Sunday evening, fair events gets more diverse with Deviants, at the familiar Factory (525 Harrison St.) on September 26. This happens the same time as the popular Read Bad dance party and fundraiser.
“Real Bad tends to attract the Magnitude crowd, the gay guys who want to dance and get frisky,” said Moshoyannis. “Deviants is for everyone, women and trans folks, a more diverse crowd.”
How do Folsom Events decide which events to sponsor? “Some other events ask to be official, because they know the name has some cachet,” said Moshoyannis. “They pay us a stipend to donate. Some others don’t have that commitment to philanthropy. For those of us who do, we can unite.”
Last year, the fair events raised $330,000 for various Bay Area charities.
Understandably, such an event where sexual themes, nudity and kinky products are showcased rifles outsiders, and more than a few allegedly conservative complainers who obsessively document the bawdier goings-on, then distort their documentation as if it were commonplace. But for the most part, attendees enjoy the naughty aspect, dress up, or dress down, and have a good time.
The day itself can be exhausting for the uninitiated. Moshoyannis repeated what would seem common sense for most people. “Folsom Street events discourages bringing pets or children. We feel that the fair is not an appropriate place for them.”
Moshoyannis’ other big tip: “Pace yourself. A lot of people arrive and don’t know they’ve arrived probably in the middle of Leather Week. We have over 35 events. There’s something to do every day.”
From the annual Leather Walk to nightly bar events in South of Market, San Francisco will be full of leather-clad folks. The fair itself features several stages, including the popular dance area sponsored by Gold’s Gym. Live acts on two stages include Dragonette, Nitzer Ebb, Kent James’ Heavy Liquid, drag rockers Pepperspray, plus more rock, industrial, and electro bands. Several porn companies will group their booths in an area called Cell Block on 10th Street.
But don’t expect fair organizers to be at the late night parties afterwards. Moshoyannis and his crew will be setting up in the streets at 1:30 a.m., about the same time fair attendees are either getting underway on a dance floor or getting into bed.
In a city where bar activities are becoming increasingly restrictive via the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC), the fair itself enjoys a more relaxed legal code. The District Attorney’s office has been said to ignore complaints of public nudity, simply because there are so many cases. “Bars have to worry about ABC,” said Moshoyannis. “We report to the SFPD (San Francisco Police Department).”
Is the local environment more flexible for open displays of sexuality?
“The pendulum tends to swing back and forth,” said Moshoyannis. “I’m hoping that things will start to ease up slowly over time. In European bars, it’s not uncommon for a bar to have a back room. There are places in the country where this happens,” he said, mentioning the more heterosexual bacchanals like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Florida’s Spring Break near-orgies. “It tends to be really not much different. But there’s more attention on us, because it’s more gay and leather involved.”
So, is the Folsom Street Fair bringing a sort of normality to fetish and kink?
“It’s our goal to provide that freedom of sexual expression,” he said, “for people to explore their fetishes, where they can, in daylight, speak to one another and educate each other, beyond the fair. People coming from other places are inspired by what they see. And they take it home.”
For a full schedule of events, go to the BARtab calendar, and www.folsomstreetevents.org
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