A Walk in the Wood: In Which I Go to the Folsom Street Fair

There are no pictures with this post.

It’s strange, I realize. Because if you go outside, particularly in smartphone-saturated San Francisco, and you are wearing an equestrian bit, or a sheer bodysuit, or nothing at all, you’re as good as consenting to have your ass and all the rest of you put on the internet.

But there are things I can’t participate in, and that’s one of them. For those people brave or horny or otherwise sufficiently compelled to go outside in full fetish gear, I will grant them one less picture on the internet, one less bit of exposure to anyone who cares to do a wanky little Google search.

Sorry, exhibitionists.

I’ve wanted to go to the Folsom Street Fair for some years now, probably dating back to my late nights of surreptitiously watching Real Sex and other HBO-sponsored contributions to my early sexual education. And finally, this year, I did. I didn’t dress up (except making a point to wear my traditional stompy boots), and I didn’t go to any parties. I just wandered and watched and stood in awe.

And saw penises. Oh yes, the penises, the infinite penises. Penises au naturale, penises minus hair and with tattoos and piercings, penises held wobbly and at half-mast by rubber rings and metal rings and little leather collars. Penises dangling under the bottoms of shirts like fleshy little pendulums, penises poking like inquisitive mice through the flies of boxers and sensible khakis*, penises bobbing up and down on naked dancers.


One I did not see: that of the 60-something man who faced away from me, hands proudly on bare hips, standing astride on these, using the easy sway of them to wave his penis like a metronome, like a languorous dowsing rod. I saw the orthopedic shoes and the knee socks atop them, the relaxed ass, but not the front.

And that is ok.

Beyond that, it was like a prom where sex is guaranteed at the end, and often during, all the horny people of the greater San Francisco area and beyond decked out in their fetishy best. An equestrian store’s worth of harnesses across shoulders narrow and wide, hairy and freckled and tattooed and not.** Horse tails, hooves, and dozens of eerie leather dog masks. Adult babies in playpens and furries posing for pictures. A full, delirious rainbow of brightly printed briefs. A parade of sexuality largely unconcerned with a cis-woman in her early 30s. And so I was left to watch – its own proclivity, of course.

When I happened by one stage, I was entranced by the rope play being demonstrated, the wide grin of the woman being tied up as her binder pushed her up toward the cheering crowd. Immediately after, I learned I can still be shocked, even to the point of gagging quietly in a crowd, as I did when I saw a woman pee, spitefully and delightedly, into the mouth of the man beneath her. I looked away, some.

And then: 24 ounces of beer, consumed fairly quickly. It was needed.

The rest? A dancer, engaging in my favorite kind of deeply demented, boner-confusing burlesque, stripping down to a rainbow-striped merkin that matched her wig, tail, and unicorn horn. A suspension act that lasted a glorious 45 seconds before something snapped, sending the performer a couple feet to the ground and the audience’s hands to their mouths. A beautiful pole-dancing couple, cups and bowls decorated with artful carvings of sex, a police officer who informed people that they didn’t have to cover their nipples with tape today. Today, it was cool to show everything, nips and all.

But most of all, Folsom was the inside brought outside. People bedecking themselves in the stuff of fantasy, unbothered by the fear of exposure, happy to be among the leashed and the leaders, their desires brought to the surface and the street, and paraded around for just one day.

Well, just one day of synchronized parading, anyway. Folsom Street exists at all times, as do sex parties, as do well-trafficked St. Andrew’s crosses and whips and people glad to wield and yield.

Dan Savage has called Halloween Straight Pride, the day that heterosexuals take to wander around with cleavage and bare skin and deliberate, grinning intent. Folsom combines the two, resulting in one big, loud, delightfully overwhelming cacophony of lust, and the knowledge that most anything that can be asked could be answered nearby by someone, by multiple someones, by a line of eagerly waiting someones. It’s always true, to a point, particularly in cities like San Francisco or New York or Seattle, but on that day, like candy doled out to trick-or-treaters, it’s all nearby and offered up, consensual and celebrated.

It may not be for you, but it’s good that it’s there for all of us. For every Texas that outlaws sex toys and every too-recently overturned sodomy law, there’s a man strutting a bit as he adjusts the thin suspenders keeping his tiny underwear in place, and a smirking woman leading her two partners with shining leather leashes, and a woman with impeccably tattooed breasts resting architecturally atop an engineering feat of a corset. The middle can exist because of what brackets it. And the edges need to be pushed, adjusted, redefined, and reexamined now and then to mean anything.

And so it goes, once a year in San Francisco. And I’m glad I got to witness it.


**My favorite: pink shoulder straps that connected across a wide back piece featuring… Hello Kitty. Beautiful, sir.