Caution: the following essay contains strong sexual themes that may be too graphic for some readers. NSFW version available.
I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to get out of Folsom Street Fair when I decided to go this year. It would be my first time and people have always told me I’d love it. This felt odd seeing as how I am not a big fetish guy. Rather, I’d describe myself as “vanilla kink.” So if anything, this could be great opportunity to have my mind BLOWN. For some, space is the Final Frontier. For me, it might just be one of the world’s largest fetish festivals.
Though my first challenge was to figure out what in the hell to wear for the fair. I do find leather sexy so I own a couple of harnesses myself. Thankfully some friends kindly let me borrow their gear so that I could have more options - leather boots, more harnesses, a black jockstrap, and some wrestling singlets. I took photos of seven options and sent them to various friends. Each of them selected something different.
For the fair itself, I wanted to wear the least clothing possible without being totally naked. I narrowed it down to two choices. The first was my white jock with tube socks. If anything, I’m more of a vintage guy than a leather guy so it fit my personality. The other was a black jock (borrowed) with leather boots (borrowed) and a harness (mine). I felt like a total badass wearing it and it truly fit the Folsom style.
On the one hand, I wanted to stand out. On the other hand, I wanted to fit in. I couldn’t decide! Which do I choose? WHICH DO I CHOOSE?! This is where I am a bit of a weirdo. Not too many people would have an existential crisis about how to dress for their first fetish fair. So naturally, I panicked and packed it all (on top of my regular clothes) hoping that none of it would explode out as I handed my bag to the nice woman at the airline counter.
One of things about Folsom is that the weekend is packed full of parties - most in the style of the gay circuit party. This was something I had never really done either, but I’ve always been a little circuit-curious. There were multiple parties happening day and night. Instead of having an existential crisis about choosing these, I decided just to follow my friends choices which were often cheaper anyway (because I’m a broke ass writer).
Our Friday night kicked off with the bear party known as Bearracuda. I had been to these before and loved the attitude of all body types being accepted. And although I love a good bear, I found myself trying to flirt with a non-bear couple on the dance floor.
In truth, I’m not that good at flirting. I struggle to offer more than a smirk and a second of eye contact, and then turn away as I don’t know what to do next. It’s up to my flirty counterpart to make the next move. It probably wouldn’t be so difficult if I drank. But in my recent choice of sobriety, flirting has become more difficult than ever.
As the night wrapped up, the couple (now incredibly drunk) put the pressure on to go home with them. I turned them down as it felt like breaking one of my cardinal rules: never hook up with someone just for the sake of hooking up with someone. On the other hand, I figured this was Folsom and the weekend was all about letting go of my inhibitions.
As nice as they were, I shouldn’t have let go of my inhibitions. Being so drunk, both of them kept dozing off during our play time. Then neither of them seemed to get on the same page with what was okay and what was off limits. My being dead sober left me wide awake and way too aware of it all.
Then one passed out while other then kept saying, “Yeah, fuck me baby.”
For me, being called “baby” is a total boner killer. He said it like ten times and with each demand, I got softer and softer. Finally I called it a night and ordered a ride back to home base. Of course as I tried to casually slip out the door, I realized I had grabbed the wrong phone and had to sheepishly go back and knock to get the right one.
The next day, my friends wanted to go to Mr. S Leather - a huge bondage gear and fetish clothing store that’s been around for nearly four decades. Evidently this is a big event in itself as the store hands out beer while it’s packed with people shopping.
Upon arrival, I immediately got separated from my friends and had to explore on my own. When I turned the corner to go into the harness section, I was startled by a guy in a sling getting pounded right then and there. Nevertheless, this was more of a surprise than a shock. I had seen this kind of thing in bathhouses and just didn’t expect it to happen right there in the store. Thus my mind wasn’t super blown.
I then met a handsome, hairy employee working in the lube section. Evidentially BOTH of us were bad at flirting time and we kept skirting around our attraction to one another. He kept showing me a number of lube options as we continued to flounder and miss these perfectly slippery segues.
Per the lube salesman’s suggestion, I tried on a harness that everyone ended up loving. I barely escaped from the store without dropping $200 on it (remember: broke ass writer). Fortunately I had to leave to go hang out with one of my best friends who relocated to San Fran a couple years ago. He and his partner were intellectual quiet types who had no major desire to participate in the weekend’s shenanigans.
However before meeting them, I decided to make a quick stop at a daytime party called “Big Muscle.” I had no intentions of going to this party, but I wanted to stop out front to say hello to a couple who did go to this event. I met one of them on the train coming in from the San Fran airport and was struck by his overwhelming good looks. He wanted me to come by so that I could meet his partner as well.
“You should come in,” they both suggested after our introductions.
“No,” I told them. “I have to go meet up with some local friends.”
“That’s too bad,” they said. “The dicks are just starting to come out.”
“Dicks are coming out?!” I perked up like a groundhog who had been dying to see his shadow.
When they told me the cover charge was only $15, I felt like I’d practically be saving money! I called my local friends and told them I’d have to see them at dinner instead. I felt a bit like a douche, but c’mon… DICKS!
I entered the venue to find an overwhelming scene of half naked men dancing everywhere - on the floor, on a stage, up the walls, on balconies. Three minutes and forty-eight seconds later, dicks did in fact come out. I promised I’d only stay an hour. Though seeing as how dance-floor-dicks were also new to me, I wound up staying until the end at 6pm.
I rushed over to meet my local friends for dinner and was suddenly transported to an entirely different world. The restaurant was nice and suddenly I felt stupid slutty wearing torn up jean shorts and a muscle tee cut so thin that I was practically shirtless. These friends told intellectual jokes that went over my head and reminisced about how ponderosa pine trees smell of butterscotch. I adored them. Things were calm. I actually needed this.
Sunday came and so did the actual street fair itself. I returned to my conundrum of what to wear. I had actually worn the black jock and harness to Bearracuda. Still though… do I fit in or do I stand out? God, I hate making decisions. I opted for the white tube socks and jock vintage getup and threw on some tiny shorts and a tank over it. I didn’t want to touch my bare ass on the public transit seats.
When I arrived at Folsom Street Fair, I could hardly pay attention to the surroundings because I suddenly had two missions: 1. coat myself in sunblock and 2. find food as fast as possible. Fortunately I met up with another Denver friend to help me achieve both of these.
But before food, I had to stop and get a photo of two guys getting it on in a window from a second floor apartment. This surprised me. It was hardly even noon yet. That’s WAY too early for window sex. Or I guess the real shock was that they didn’t care that any of us onlookers were taking photos. My slight exhibitionist side felt a little envious of them.
Other friends joined us and we began venturing our way through the crowds. We witnessed people being tied up with rope while others were getting spanked with paddles. We saw the puppy play pen where guys dawned leather dog masks and trotted on all fours. I didn’t understand. None of this was blowing my mind. Obviously I needed something more obscure. I needed the folks my friends warned me about.
Where was the fisting booth? Where was the woman sitting in a baby pool of urine (to clarify… the urine would be from adults, not babies)? And where were the guys who fill their balls with so much saline… they become huge and grotesquely hang between their legs?! I wanted my freaks, dammit!
I began to wonder if this was an unfortunate side effect of living such an open minded and exploratory life. I enjoy being a spectator of all things unconventional so that I leave no stone unturned. But what happens when you unturn all the stones? Is my curious nature just like heroin? Is enough never enough? Had I already reached my "Final Frontier?"
In order to feel our boundaries slightly pushed, I challenged some friends to at least go full monty with me in the middle of the street for a photo. None of us had ever done such a thing - especially with so many people around. We bared our junk and got the shots. And yet this didn’t feel all that thrilling either.
Then something occurred to me: as we took our dicks out for the photo op, no one around us actually cared. There were no double takes, no whispers behind our backs, and no shaming of any kind. In my pursuit of shock value, I realized that I was completely missing the best part.
We were existing in a world where everyone could be their most unconventional selves and NO ONE WOULD CARE. I have heard about this kind of thing happening at Burning Man (another item on my bucket list), but I didn’t realize I could also find it here. When it came to obsessing over which outfit I’d wear, it ended up that it never really mattered. All that mattered was whichever one felt best for me. THIS was what I came to Folsom for - not to necessarily find a fuck, but rather to not give a fuck.
For the rest of the day, my fascination turned from my craving of shock value to my new found sense of comfort. I let a straight couple smack me in the rear with their newly purchased paddle. I hopped on a random guys’ back to take photos of a gay sex show happening on stage. And I signed up for the Mr. S newsletter so I could make my first attempt at flirting with a guy in a pup mask. Instead of wanting the day to be something else, it turned into exactly what I needed it to be. Oh, and apparently I just missed the guys with the saline balls.
That evening, my friends and I went to the closing party called “Deviants.” In my newfound sense of freedom, I decided to challenge myself on my sober flirting skills. Instead of quickly looking away after my eye contact and smile, I’d make my way over and introduce myself to these men. Each guy got easier than the last. I even made out with a few of them too.
At the end of the night, I came face-to-face with yet another decision: go home with a dashing ginger or hold out for the after party that would be riddled with orgies. I chose the ginger. He was a fellow writer and seemed kind (and also coherent).
Instead of getting it on right when we got through the door, we sat and ate sandwiches while asking each other deep and personal questions. Conceivably this was my fetish: uninhibited human connection - be it from sexual expression or deep conversation. Of course, taking a shower with him before going back home felt pretty damn good too.
The next morning I woke up feeling slightly baffled by the weekend. Had it been overwhelming or underwhelming? I just didn’t know. Either way, my final day in San Francisco had arrived and I wanted to do something easy and local. Ideally I would have gone to Marshall’s Beach - a nude beach right by the Golden Gate bridge. Except I didn’t know how to get there and all the locals were hurting too badly (from alcohol and drugs, not my flirting) to take me. So I settled on going to Dolores Park.
I ordered up a ride share and upon getting in the car, I was bombarded by yet another good looking gay couple in the back seat. We made conversation and they informed me, ironically, of their own plans to go to Marshall’s Beach. I fished around for an invite and luckily they took the bait and invited me along.
As we made our way onto the beach, we stumbled upon something none of us expected to see: fisting... fisting on a beach… where sand was present. However it wasn’t just any old beach fisting. It was, in fact, a fisting train - three men, two fists, and a whole lot of love. This was apparently not typical for Marshall’s Beach. Either way, my mind was officially (and finally) blown!
My new found friends and I didn’t engage in any fisting of our own, or any other sexual activity for that matter. Rather we laid out, chatted, took photos, and just soaked up our afternoon of spontaneous, naked camaraderie. Maybe this was another fetish for me: random, impromptu social nudity. Most people find it incredibly weird, and yet, for me, it makes me feel alive and intensely engaged with the present moment. My brain doesn’t wander off to worry about money or my work. And perhaps this is what fetish is all about.
Before I came on this trip, I read an article online about the “38 Folsom Street Fair DOs and DON’Ts.” Number twenty-eight said “Don’t expect Folsom to change your life.” Then number thirty-nine said “Do expect Folsom to change your life.” So did Folsom change my life or not change my life? The answer to both… is yes. I had reached some kind of frontier over that weekend. But, in the end, frontiers are never really final.
Thank you, San Francisco, for the unforgettable weekend. I look forward to being inside you again soon.