Whips, chaps, chains, oh my! (Oh, and also a hella ton of queer eye-candy.)
Three weeks after I first moved to San Francisco in 2011, my roommate asked me if I wanted to go with her to a “leather fair.”
“I think it’s like an artisan fair,” she said. “Like leather boots and purses and stuff.”
She was, of course, referring to the Folsom Street Fair. Spoiler alert: it was not an artisan boot fair.
Since its inception in 1984, FSF (Folsom Street Fair) has been one of the biggest kink and fetish festivals in the United States. According to its website, it’s the biggest leather fair in the entire world. And when I say leather fair, I don’t mean boots and purses—I mean the cured hide that’s used behind closed doors and between the sheets.
Starting at Folsom and 8th Streets, spanning over 13 blocks, the (free) festival features food, bars, live music, fetish gear for sale, and approximately 400,000 attendees dressed head to toe in costumes, leather, chains, studs, or nothing at all.
On that day in 2011, I went home having been exposed to numerous sexual fetishes I hadn’t even heard of in my 19 years of existence, and went back the following year decked out head to toe in leather, spent the entire day dancing on a stage, and have been back every year since.
Even if you don’t think kink fairs are your thing, but you’re curious, you can still go and have a great time.
New to the city? Been here for a couple of years but haven’t made it to FSF? Haven’t heard of it until this very second? If you’re considering losing your Folsom St. Fair virginity this year, but aren’t sure that you’re ready, check out our list of what you can expect to prepare you for the big day.
1. You will see naked people.
Like, probably more than you will see clothed people. There will be naked people behind you in line while you’re buying a beer, dancing near you in the crowd, standing next to you eating a hot dog. FSF is one of the few days out of the year that almost anything goes.
However, one of the many great things about FSF is that everyone is there to celebrate and express themselves. When it comes to the dress code, there are no wrong answers. FSF is all about acceptance and expression.
And, if you do want to get naked, the festival has a coat check, so you can stash your clothes there while you go have fun.
2. You don’t have to participate
FSF is all about doing you. If you meet a hot stranger with a paddle and you feel like being spanked, do it. If you want to hop on the stage and dance, do it. If you want to wear pants, have a few beers and respectively observe, do it.
3. It’s basically like a normal street fair
All day long, festival goers will be dancing in the streets, drinking, eating, hanging out, and celebrating—just like, you know, every other street fair. Except for, many of them will be naked. It’s dope.
Whether this is your first, fifth, or 15th time going, the number one most important thing to remember, for all Folsom Street Fair attendees, is: have fun, and, as Oprah says, "live your best life."
4. Kink-shaming is not okay.
It’s 100 percent okay not to participate, but it’s 100 percent not okay to point at, laugh at, or judge something you don’t agree with or understand. See something on a stage that makes you uncomfortable? Go hang out at a different stage or area of the fair. See someone doing something sexual that freaks you out? Don’t go home and try that with your partner. Boom. Simple. Don’t judge or make anyone feel uncomfortable because of your discomfort.
The Folsom St. Fair is a safe space. Let’s keep it that way. So, go ahead gang: get your freak on (responsibly)!
// Sunday, September 24, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. The entrance is located at the cross-section of Folsom and 8th Streets. Like I said, the festival is free, but a donation of $10 given to The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or more will allow you to take $2 off all drinks bought at the festival for the duration of the event.
I'm Jessica. I've been freelance writing since 2012, have a BA in journalism, have run the social media for four different organizations, have my own travel blog, and have traveled to sixteen countries (and counting).