Folsom Street Fair

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A Folsom Street Fair banner (using the Leather Pride flag) hangs from a city lighting pole and marks Leather Pride Week in San Francisco, California.

Folsom Street Fair (FSF) is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair held in September, that caps San Francisco's "Leather Pride Week". The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as "Folsom", takes place on Folsom Street between 8th and 13th Streets, in San Francisco's South of Market district.

The event started in 1984 and is California's third-largest single-day, outdoor spectator event[citation needed] and the world's largest leather event and showcase for BDSM products and culture.[1] It has grown as a non-profit charity, and local and national non-profits benefit with all donations at the gates going to charity groups as well as numerous fundraising schemes within the festival including games, beverage booths and even spanking for donations to capitalize on the adult-themed exhibitionism.

The coordination agency, Folsom Street Events (FSE) is a registered charity and has also started similar events in Canada and Germany. In San Francisco they also manage Up Your Alley Fair and special events like the "Folsom Street Fair Formal Leather Gala" with Joan Rivers which celebrated the 25th anniversary, the annual circuit party "Magnitude" (Official Saturday Night Dance Event) which has a leather subculture focus and a relatively new Official Closing Party called "DEVIANTS Adult Arcade".[2][3][4]

Origin of the leather subculture[edit]

Main article: Leather subculture
A mixture of kink and leather subcultures mix at the festival. The man on the right may be into uniform and military interests while these other 2007 fair-goers seem to be interested in animal roleplay including a bare-chested man with his "pony".

Although sadomasochism has been practiced for many centuries, the modern gay leather scene in the United States developed beginning in 1945 when thousands of gay servicemen were given blue discharges from service after World War II and came to the major port cities of the United States to live in gay ghettos. In 1953 the film The Wild One appeared starring Marlon Brando and the more butch gays began to imitate him by wearing black leather jackets, a black leather cap, black leather boots and jeans and, if they could afford it, by also riding motorcycles.[5] Many gay servicemen had played sex games with each other where one played the top and the other played the bottom. In the 1950s, the magazine Bizarre familiarized people with sexual fetishism.

History of the leather community in San Francisco[edit]

The first proto-leather bar in San Francisco was the Sailor Boy Tavern, which opened in 1938 near the Embarcadero YMCA and catered to Navy boys looking for some male-to-male action.[5]

Folsom Street has been the center of San Francisco's men's leather community since the mid-1960s. Before centering in the South of Market neighborhood, leather friendly bars were located in the Embarcadero (Jack's On The Waterfront at 111 Embarcadero 1952-1963, On The Levee ?-1972), and the Tenderloin (The Spur Club at 126 Turk - raided and closed in 1959, The Why Not at 518 Ellis - opened and closed in 1960, The Hideaway at 438 Eddy - raided and closed in 1961). The first leather bar in SOMA was The Tool Box, which opened in 1961 at 339 4th St and closed in 1971.[6] It was made famous by the June 1964 Paul Welch Life Magazine article entitled "Homosexuality In America," the first time a national publication reported on gay issues. Life 's photographer was referred to The Tool Box by Hal Call, leader of the San Francisco chapter of the Mattachine Society, who had long worked to dispel the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate. The article opened with a two-page spread of the mural of life size leathermen in the bar, painted by Chuck Arnett, a patron and employee.[7] The article described San Francisco as "The Gay Capital of America" and inspired many leathermen to move there.[6]

The first leather bar on Folsom Street was Febe's, on the southwest corner of 11th and Folsom, which opened July 25, 1966. The Stud bar, which opened in 1966 at 1535 Folsom St., was originally a Hell's Angels hangout; by 1969 it had become a dance bar for hippies on the margins of the leather scene and had a psychedelic black light mural by Chuck Arnett (in 1987, it moved to 399 9th St. at Harrison). In 1967 A Taste of Leather, one of the first in-bar leather stores, was established at Febe's by Nick O'Demus. As of late 2009, A Taste of Leather announced it would be going out of business after 43 years.

In 1971, the modern bandana code came into use among leather people.

Masked man at the fair

Many leather people went to the Embarcadero YMCA (at this YMCA, doing weight training while wearing nothing but gym shoes and a jockstrap as well as nude swimming were both allowed until 1975, when women could become members of the YMCA). Leather people who worked out at the Embarcadero YMCA took advantage of the opportunity to get together with sailors when they came into town and rented rooms at the adjacent Embarcadero YMCA Hotel.

By the late 1970s Folsom's Miracle Mile had featured nearly 30 different leather bars, clubs, and merchants, most within walking distance of each other. These establishments included, in the order they were established: 1968 - Off the Levee (by the same owner of On The Levee), The Ramrod. 1971 - The In Between (later renamed The No Name), The Bootcamp. 1972 - The Barracks at 72 Hallam St., off Folsom between 7th and 8th Streets (a gay bathhouse for people into hardcore BDSM—each room was arranged like a stage set to cater to a different fetish fantasy). 1973 - The Red Star Saloon (connected to the Barracks) (which featured new artwork by Chuck Arnett), the End Up (not a leather bar but a dance bar; however, many leather people who liked to dance went there), Folsom Prison, The Ambush, Big Town—a gay leather shopping mall on the south side of Folsom between 6th and 7th Streets. 1975 - Hombre, The Catacombs (for those into hard core fisting), The Emporium. 1976 - The Trading Post, The Slot (for those into hardcore flagellation), The Hotel (later renamed The Handball Express—a place for those into hardcore fisting). 1977 - The Brig, The Balcony. 1978 - The Arena, The Roundup (later renamed The Watering Hole—a place for those into urolagnia), The Quarters, Black & Blue, Folsom Street Baths at 1015 Folsom (a BDSM gay bathhouse, later renamed The Sutro Baths in 1980—the slogan of the Sutro Baths was "A rainbow of sexual preferences", which was inscribed on a banner above the orgy room, located where the main dance floor of 1015 Folsom now is. The Sutro Baths also admitted women and transsexuals). 1979 - The Stables at 1123 Folsom (for those who liked to dress as cowboys), The Trench (for those into hardcore urolagnia), The Hothouse on the northwest corner of 5th and Harrison (another BDSM gay bathhouse), Tailor of San Francisco, Mister S Leathers. 1980 - The Plunge—a gay BDSM bathhouse with a swimming pool on the northwest corner of 11th and Folsom (in 1983 the swimming pool was covered over and became the surface of the dance floor of the popular bisexual dance club The Oasis). 1981 - The Eagle at 398 12th St., as of 2010, was San Francisco's oldest leather bar, as well as its largest with its extensive outdoor patio, and it hosted many popular barbecues and beer busts to benefit charitable organizations; however, it closed in June 2011 due to a dispute over its real estate. The Eagle has subsequently reopened in 2013.

The predecessor of the Folsom Street Fair was the CMC Carnival (California Motorcycle Club Carnival), a gay leather BDSM dance (with DJs and a rock band) and fair, with vendors and a back room for casual sex, held on the second Sunday of November every year from 1966 to the last one in 1986 at various indoor venues including most often at the Seafarer's International Union Hall (referred to as Seaman's Hall for short) in the Embarcadero area of SOMA. In the early 1970s, the CMC Carnival was attended by a few hundred people and by the time of the last large CMC Carnival in 1982 at what was then the Yellow Cab Building at Jones and Turk in the Tenderloin, it was attended by over 4,000 people.[8][9]

The "CMC Carnival" was organized by one of the leather motorcycle clubs, the California Motorcycle Club, with the help of other gay motorcycle clubs. The members of these gay motorcycle clubs rode mostly Harley Davidson motorcycles and on periodic weekends rode their motorcycles to outings at picnic grounds in the Sierra Nevada. The first gay motorcycle club in the United States was the Satyrs, founded in Los Angeles in 1954. The first gay motorcycle club in San Francisco was the Warlocks, which was founded in 1960, followed by the California Motorcycle Club, also founded in 1960 later in the year. By the mid-1960s, San Francisco's South of Market district had become the center of the gay motorcycle club scene and was home to motorcycle clubs such as the Barbary Coasters (founded in 1966) and the Constantines and the Cheaters (both founded in 1967).[10]

These gay motorcycle clubs also organized many benefits for charity at various leather bars. During the 1970s and early 1980s one could see many dozens of motorcycles belonging to people who were members of these clubs parked up and down the length of Folsom Street on the Miracle Mile. Unfortunately the membership of these motorcycle clubs was decimated by the AIDS crisis beginning in 1982.[11]

In 1979 the newly formed San Francisco lesbian motorcycle club, Dykes on Bikes, led what was then called the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade for the first time[12] and has done so ever since (since 1994, the event has been called the San Francisco Pride Parade). By the mid-1980s, lesbian motorcycle enthusiasts in other cities began to form motorcycle clubs.[10] In the 1980s and early 1990s, lesbian leatherwomen were often involved in helping to care for gay leathermen who had been stricken with AIDS.

Some leather people of the 1960s and 1970s felt that one wasn’t really a leather person but just a poseur unless one owned an actual motorcycle, preferably a Harley Davidson.[13]

Beginnings of the Folsom Street Fair[edit]

The community had been active in resisting the city's ambitious redevelopment program for the South of Market area throughout the 1970s. City officials had wanted to "revitalize" the historically blue collar, warehouse, industrial district by continuing successful high rise development already underway on Rincon Hill.

But as the AIDS epidemic unfolded in the 1980s, the community's relative autonomy from City Hall was dramatically weakened. The crisis became an opportunity for the city (in the name of public health) to close bathhouses and regulate bars, which they did beginning in 1984.[14]

As these establishments for the leather community were rapidly closing, a coalition of housing activists and community organizers decided to start a street fair. The fair would enhance the visibility of the community, provide a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information (e.g., regarding safer sex) that bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute.[14]

Thanks to the success of the first Folsom Street Fair, the organizers created the Up Your Alley Fair on Ringold Street in 1985. This fair moved to Dore Street ("Dore Alley") between Harrison and Folsom in 1987.

Atmosphere[edit]

Bondage demonstration with Van Darkholme at the 2003 Folsom Street Fair
Partial suspension bondage demonstration at Folsom Street Fair 2005.

As one of the few occasions when sadomasochistic activities are encouraged and performed in public, it attracts a considerable number of sightseers and those who enjoy the attention of onlookers as well as hundreds of photographers and videographers. Although the costumes and activities are frequently transgressive, many attendees find the event "eye-opening" and positive.[15] On the other hand, the event has at times drawn public and internal criticism for its bawdy atmosphere and broad tolerance of lewd behavior,[16][17] and it is a regular target for unsympathetic organizations such as Americans for Truth about Homosexuality.[18]

The organizers have reportedly earned a great amount of trust from city officials as they have demonstrated not only an exceptional level of community and volunteer support, but also have risen to be a role-model for other street fairs in San Francisco which have faced opposition from various neighborhood groups. With the assistance of the high-profile Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the gate donations totaled more than $300,000 in 2006 and the methodology emulated at other street fairs like the Sisters' Pink Saturday, the Castro Street Fair and San Francisco Lovefest.

The fair annually draws 400,000 visitors,[19][20] including kinky leather fans from around the world, and is the third-largest street event in California, after the Tournament of Roses Parade and San Francisco Pride parade.[21][22] Each year, net proceeds from Folsom Street Fair, including gate donations and beverage sales, are given to qualified local charities. These include charities working in public health, human services, and the arts, as well as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who lead the organizing effort at the gates. The event regularly generates over $250,000 annually for charity.[23]

Fair organizers present one or two live stages for alternative bands and artists. Previous headlining live acts have included Austra (band), Little Boots, Miami Horror, Ladytron (DJ Team), Dragonette, Imperial Teen, Berlin, The Presets, Monarchy, The English Beat, MNDR, Light Asylum, Shiny Toy Guns, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, Nitzer Ebb, MEN (featuring JD Samson of Le Tigre), My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, The Limousines, and Ladyhawke. Over time, the fair is becoming more and more well known as a venue for top-notch, international underground musical talent. There are one or two dance areas with DJs and cage dancers, featuring DJ sets from the likes of Tony Moran, Manny Lehman (disc jockey), The Cucarachas featuring Tom Stephan, and Mark Moore of S'Express. In 2006, Folsom Street Fair introduced a women's area, first dubbed "Bettie Page's Secret" then changing its name in subsequent years to "Venus' Playground." In 2007, an erotic artists' area was established as well with a performance art stage appearing in 2013 in honor of the 30th fair.

Folsom Street East[edit]

Since 1997, a smaller event called Folsom Street East has been organized in New York City by GMSMA. There is no affiliation between Folsom Street East (NYC) and Folsom Street Events (SF).[21][24]

Folsom Europe[edit]

Folsom Europe was established in Berlin, Germany in 2003 in order to bring the non-profit leather festival concept pioneered by the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco to Europe.[25]

Folsom Fair North (FFN)[edit]

The Toronto version of Folsom Street Fair was dubbed Folsom Fair North, FFN or FFNTO][26] and was held every July since 2003. The FFN was canceled permanently in 2008.

2007 poster controversy[edit]

François Sagat at the Folsom Street Fair 2009

For the 24th annual event held September 30, 2007, the official poster artwork was a photo featuring well-known LGBT and BDSM community members in festive and fetish attire including Sister Roma "as players in an innovative version of the culturally iconographic" The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, complete with table draped with the Leather Pride flag and "cluttered with sex toys, whips, and various (BDSM) restraints".[27] The image by FredAlert[28] was used on the official event guide and produced as collector's posters that were displayed throughout the city as advertising for the event. Some conservative religious groups criticized the image as anti-Christian and blasphemous, although media outlets noted that parodies and homages of the Last Supper painting like Renée Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper are numerous, including ones by The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Phish, That '70s Show, Robert Altman (in the film MASH) and the Boston Red Sox.[29][30] Chris Glaser, a gay clergyman and interim senior pastor at San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church agreed that "they are just having fun" with both the painting and the notion of 'San Francisco values,' stating he thought it was "tastefully and cleverly done."[28]

From a press release about the poster, Andy Copper, Board President of Folsom Street Events, a non-profit organization, stated, "There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the ‘Last Supper’ painting. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations."[31] and "We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is - nothing more or less. Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. The irony is that da Vinci was widely considered to be homosexual. In truth, we are going to produce a series of inspired poster images over the next few years. Next year's poster ad may take inspiration from 'American Gothic' by Grant Wood or Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' or even 'The Sound of Music'! I guess it wouldn't be the Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though."

The Catholic League, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council targeted the largest mainstream sponsor of the event, Miller Brewing Company, threatening to boycott their products for the company's support of the event and allowing its logo to appear in the ad.[32][33] Miller asked for its logo to be removed from the poster with a statement on its website: "While Miller has supported the Folsom Street Fair for several years, we take exception to the poster the organizing committee developed this year. We understand some individuals may find the imagery offensive and we have asked the organizers to remove our logo from the poster effective immediately."[34] The Catholic League dropped the boycott within a month[35] with no evidence of Miller's sales being affected.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives who represents San Francisco and who is also Roman Catholic, fielded a question on this image as part of her Friday morning press conference.[28] She responded,

It's a Constitutional question. It's a religious question. It's about as global a question as you could ask...I'm a big believer in the First Amendment. I do not believe Christianity has been harmed by the Folsom Street Fair.[36]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Cheap date - what to do?". Cnn.com. 
  2. ^ "Folsom Street Fair Formal Leather Gala". Folsomstreetfair.org. 2011-09-22. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  3. ^ Folsom Street Events Announces Joan Rivers as Entertainer for 25th Folsom Street Fair Gala: Formal Gala Serves as the Kick-Off to San Francisco Leather Week 2008.
  4. ^ Magnitude Celebrates 25th Folsom Street Fair: Annual Dance Event Thrives As the Official Saturday Night Dance Event.
  5. ^ a b "Bay Area Reporter". 40 No. 44--4 November 2010. Ebar.com. p. Page 31 Scott Brogan leather column:. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  6. ^ a b "Leather History Timeline-Leather Archives". Leatherarchives.org. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  7. ^ "yax-192 Life in 1964, part 1". Yawningbread.org. 1964-07-27. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  8. ^ For the history of the CMC Carnival, see Mr. Marcus’ leather column in the November back issues of the Bay Area Reporter, available at the San Francisco Main Library at 100 Larkin St.
  9. ^ "Leather History Timeline-Leather Archives". Leatherarchives.org. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  10. ^ a b "Past Out by Liz Highleyman-''Seattle Gay News'' Friday December 8, 2006 Volume 34 Issue 49—"History of the Gay Motorcycle Clubs":". Sgn.org. 2006-12-08. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  11. ^ For an exhaustively detailed history of the gay motorcycle clubs, see Mr. Marcus’ leather column, which ran weekly from 1971 to mid-2010, in the back issues of the Bay Area Reporter, available at the San Francisco Main Library at 100 Larkin St.
  12. ^ "Leather History Timeline-Leather Archives". Leatherarchives.org. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  13. ^ Townsend, Larry The Leatherman’s Handbook Original Edition 1972—See chapter near the end about picking out your motorcycle (this chapter is not in the later editions of the book)
  14. ^ a b Rubin, Gayle. "The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997" in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Light Books, 1998).
  15. ^ "Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco (Yelp)". 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  16. ^ Messing, Philip (2009-06-29). "Outcry Over Nude Bondage Block Party". New York Post. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  17. ^ Si Teng, Poh (2005-09-29). "Folsom Street Fair Not For Children". Golden Gate [X]Press. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  18. ^ LaBarbera, Peter (2007-10-03). "‘Tolerance Gone Wild’ in San Francisco as Cops Stand By Amidst Folsom Street Fair’s Public Perversions and Widespread Nudity". Americans for Truth about Homosexuality. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  19. ^ "Folsom Street Events produces biggest and best Folsom Street Fair on its 23rd birthday" (Press release). Folsom Street Events. 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  20. ^ Folsom Street Events. "Folsom Street Fair FAQ". Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  21. ^ a b Diana Cage (2005-09-21). "Radio Blowfish, Episode 4". Blowfish.com (Podcast). Retrieved November 19, 2006. 
  22. ^ charles. "Metroblgging San Francisco: Folsom Street Fair". Archived from the original on 2006-10-21. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  23. ^ Folsom Street Events. "Folsom Street Fair Beneficiaries". Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  24. ^ Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). "Folsom Street East". Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  25. ^ Folsom Europe e. V. "Folsom Europe". Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  26. ^ ffnto.com
  27. ^ Gerstein, Josh (September 27, 2007). "Catholic Group Threatens Battle With Miller Beer Over Racy Ad". New York Sun. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  28. ^ a b c Cassell, Heather (27 September 2007). "Folsom art draws fire from the right". Vol. 37, No. 39. Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  29. ^ "Catholic Group Urges Boycott of Miller Brewing Co. Over San Francisco Fair Sponsorship". Fox News. September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  30. ^ posted by Dan Savage on September 25 at 16:35 PM (2007-09-26). "Other Last Suppers: Where's the Outrage? | Slog | The Stranger | Seattle's Only Newspaper". Slog.thestranger.com. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  31. ^ "Folsom Street Fair". Folsom Street Fair. 2007-09-25. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  32. ^ 365gay.com Newscenter Staff (September 27, 2007). "Catholic Group Calls For Miller Beer Boycott Over Folsom Fair Ad". 365gay.com. Archived from the original on 2007-10-04. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 
  33. ^ Jones, Lawrence (September 28, 2007). "Offensive 'Last Supper' Fetish Ad Incites Uproar". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  34. ^ Miller Brewing Co. Age Check[dead link]
  35. ^ "Miller Beer Ban Ends With Apology 2 November 2007". Thomasmore.org. 2007-11-02. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  36. ^ "Folsom Street "Last Supper Ad" Sparks Controversy". KTVU. September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-29. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°46′22″N 122°24′46″W / 37.77289°N 122.41276°W / 37.77289; -122.41276