Freakin’ at The Freakers’ Ball

San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair

A few years ago, a friend took me to San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair, “the world’s largest leather event.” No, they’re not selling purses. The Fair is the culmination of Leather Week, “a seven-day celebration of all things leather and kink! Each year, the week before Folsom Street Fair is filled with motorcycle rides, the Leather Walk, special events, sex parties and other fun activities.” (quote)

I knew what I was getting into, and I’m not easily shocked by anything consenting adults want to do or have done to them. Some other tourists, however, may have been misled by the mayor’s welcome letter, in a brochure handed out all over town, describing this as a “family event.” Uh, Addams Family event, maybe. I did see a few families of mild-mannered middle-American tourists, looking very lost and confused at the Fair.

For me, it was weird, wild, and fun. As you can see in photos at the above-linked sites, it’s a sort of S&M carnival and parade, with people wandering around in various states of undress, and the bits that are covered are generally covered with leather. As a straight woman, I can enjoy crowds of gay men – more often than not, they’ve got bodies well worth leering at, and I don’t have to worry about them leering back (not at me, anyway).

In the context, I could understand the profusion of leather chaps (like cowboys wear, except that real cowboys wear trousers under them), chains, etc. Given the “hellfire” theme of many of the S&M clubs represented, I could also understand the demon costumes: huge leather bat wings, horns, and tails. Some people wore elaborate leather masks like gargoyle heads, others more standard S&M face-covering masks with zippers and chains, and studded leather collars and leashes.

One costume left me completely puzzled. This person’s head was skillfully made up, wig and all, to look like one of the dancers from “Cats.” But his or her (I couldn’t tell) blubbery, barrel-shaped body was covered from neck to toe in a bright purple rubber jumpsuit. Sado-masocats?

There were participatory events, but I declined to be spanked, especially in public. I simply enjoyed watching the sea of leather-clad humanity flow by. Part of the amusement for me was running into people I knew who did not at all expect to seeme there. Nor I them. One colleague caught me completely by surprise. “Not wearing your usual buttoned-down look today,” was all I could think of to say.

*article title from a song by Shel Silverstein:

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