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First Time at Folsom Street Fair? What to Expect

Updated: Sep 21, 2022 08:03
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It’s Folsom Street Fair, motherfuckers. Whether you’re about to indulge your polite curiosity or debut your sadomasochism, here’s some of what to expect.

Citywide traffic.

Throughout the city, hotels and AirBnbs run scarce. Traffic standstills accumulate on South of Market streets beginning early Sunday morning. Freaks from every corner of the nation (and the world for that matter) will flock to the city this upcoming weekend. It is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious event, having spawned yearly counterparts in New York City, Toronto, and Berlin.

The closer you get to Soma, the more telling the signs: stunning latex corsetry, scantily clad muscle-bound men, pups led on all-fours by their Sirs. The fragrance of tanned leather and skintight rubber lingers on MUNI metro lines L, M, and K as each train running through the Castro dumps kinksters into Soma by the trainful. Since the very first festival in 1984, Folsom Street Fair draws hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.

Free entry, but…

You should definitely donate to the dozens of volunteers, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who keep the Fair running. You’ll have plenty of chances to cash-line the coffers when you’re stripping down to your jockstrap at the gate.

Pro-tip: Bring cash! Who knows how many card fees you’ll avoid.

Hella Crowds.

If you have even a drop of claustrophobia in your body, you might want to prepare yourself. People packed the Fair shoulder-to-shoulder pre-COVID-19, covering every inch of available pavement. What kind of people, you ask?

Adults only!

The Fair is closed to anyone under eighteen years old, so please leave your kids at home with a guardian, and don’t shy away from explaining in their terms what their parents are up to this weekend. San Francisco is home to some pretty radical folks, but like Folsom Street Fair policy states:

“If you want to ‘expose’ your child to alternative sexualities, there are other ways to do it—read a book, watch a movie, or attend a conference. Our gates and security volunteers will stop you, discourage you from entering and reinforce our policy directly with you (repeatedly). Find a babysitter; and, enjoy a day with your adult fetish friends.”

People turning looks.

 

You will see some exquisite handiwork; intricate harnesses, neoprene masks, tailored leather suits polished and perfected down to the pocket square. Feel free to ask about these wearable works of art, who made them, how long it took. Always request permission before taking pictures anywhere, anytime.

Violet Chachki and her pet, Boomer.

People of every shape, color, size.

Folsom Street Fair isn’t just for the trim and muscular. The kink community knows no boundaries it hasn’t made or accepted for itself, embracing virtually every body type.

First-timers.

Maybe that means you! Whether you’re vanilla as a Starbucks frappuccino or about to spread your kinky wings, you’ll meet others in the same boat if you’re social enough. Go with at least one friend whom you can check in with and vice-versa, and establish a meeting place in case you get separated and your cell service jams.

*For fuck’s sake, please wear your sunscreen. The city only permits nudity within the thirteen square blocks of the Fair, meaning over 400,000 folks will be showing more skin than usual. If you’re feeling liberated, don’t hold back, but do prepare. The mark of a Folsom first-timer is a sunburn with the shadow of a harness stenciled in.

Old-timers.

People at every stage of adulthood indulge in their kinks. Don’t judge. I long for the confidence of an old man wearing nothing but flip-flops and a cock sock.

Tourists.

Know the difference between reverence and staring. It’s okay to be amazed by somebody’s stunning ensemble. Just don’t be one of the many gawkers who disrespect the Fair each year. Let Folsom remain as founded, a judgment-free zone.

Inconvenient hunger and thirst

Not the Biblical kind. First, eat a decent meal before you go, and be sure to take a refillable water bottle. Sure there’s food and water for sale, though it will cost two of your limbs (you get one back at the end, but it probably won’t be yours). 

Yes, you may witness sex acts.

As per comedian and total DILF Dan Cummins: “The Folsom Street Fair isn’t just a gay pride parade. It is a gay pride parade fucking another gay pride parade…just a celebration of leather fetishism and pure homosexual anarchy.”

It’s an explosion of half-hard dicks and hippie tits. That said, don’t expect an orgy under the sun. Public sex is still illegal in California, and San Francisco is not exempt. “California courts have found ‘public’ to include, among other places, an automobile, motorcycle, a common hallway in an apartment building, the area behind the service counter in a men’s clothing store, a car parked on a public street, a private movie booth at an adult bookstore, and a massage parlor.”

You will however most certainly encounter sexually charged scenes; doms showing off their impressive whipping skills, cheeks made redder with every snap of a flogger. It’s hypnotic, the crack of a crop meeting flesh, the sound of needs fulfilled. Regard the permission you’ve been granted to watch the scene as the privilege it is. You just may discover your flair for voyeurism.

As always, please don’t record without prior consent.

Some unethical shit.

I wish every single entrant to the Folsom Street Fair simply showed up to have fun. While this is largely the case, it’s never completely true. You might see a person tease someone else simply for living their life. Maybe someone’s trying to join a scene where they’re not wanted. Maybe there’s a gawker filming something they don’t have permission to. Don’t hesitate to intervene, because these things are never okay. Go ask that creep, “What are you doing right now?” Block somebody’s invasive, craning iPhone. Folsom Street Fair is not a free-for-all, and anyone who thinks otherwise is in for a rude yet justified surprise.

Drug use.

Our head honcho demonstrates a proper Folsom weed allotment.

Listen: people will drink and get high this weekend. Folsom is a space for sexy, queer grit carved from time itself, “public” for a day and then private for a whole ‘nother year. Drug use shouldn’t be the focus, nor should it be made problematic. For every person imbibing, someone nearby is abstaining. Plenty of people do Folsom sober. Respect those choices, handle your use, and test your supply. Look out for one another like we always do, and drink some goddamn water. 

To meet and make friends.

My favorite part of Folsom Street Fair is seeing a huge portion of my friends all in one day. Another favorite part of mine is meeting like-minded faggots who are into much of the same shit I’m into. It’s a good Folsom when you’ve bounced back-and-forth, meeting up and pairing off with friends both new and old. That’s the best way to cover the most ground.

Ideally you charged your phone to 100% before you left your apartment, giving you plenty of chances to net some new numbers. Perhaps you’ll run into someone you thought you already knew, only to meet a whole different side of them. Exercise a little savoir-faire and be cool when you see them at the next office party, seminar, or family get-together. For the most part, what happens at Folsom Street Fair stays at Folsom Street Fair.

Fantastic afterparties.

Optimally you’ve gotten the latest round of vaccines it takes to be around people these days. Good thing too, because venues across the whole city will be hosting Folsom-related events. Big-ticket parties cost hella and sell out fast. Broke-Asses like myself will be patronizing local hotspots like SF Eagle, Lone Star, and Powerhouse, where cover charge is somewhat reasonable.

To miss at least one good function.

Folsom is an enormous event with countless attachments, official and otherwise. You can’t attend it all (and please, don’t try). Not to worry; this is why you’ll have to return next year.


Reading this after an amazing Folsom weekend? Do the smart thing. Book an appointment at Strut or City Clinic.


Like this post? You’ll LOVE Stuart’s newest zine!

Snag this limited edition, hand-signed zine covering twenty years of Stu’s musings on San Francisco! Learn more right here.

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Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.

1 Comment

  1. September 21, 2022 at 7:49 pm — Reply

    It would be safer if they just didn’t have it in person again this year, but if people reading this DO show up…
    Get vaxxed (COVID and m-pox)💉
    Get bossted (COVID omicron bivalent)💉
    Mask up (theme your N95 to your costume)😷
    Social distance ↔️

    Don’t add to another potential super-spreader event.

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