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Folsom Changes

Folsom 2019

It’s “Folsom time” again.  And yet, I’m nowhere near Folsom Street.  Nor, in fact, do I have any plans to be so this year.  Folsom has changed and I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to endure those changes in exchange for what is still left of it.


spec-ta-cle  (spĕk′tə-kəl)

A)      Something that can be seen or viewed, especially something of a remarkable or impressive nature.

B)      A public performance or display, especially one on a large or lavish scale.

That’s what Folsom started as.  That’s why Folsom started.  That’s what Folsom has always been about.  That’s what it was intended to be about and what it needed to be about.  That’s what it still needs to be about.

Back in 1984 the city of San Francisco had its eyes upon the South Of MArket (SOMA) area of the city with the intent of wiping it out and “renewing it.”  They figured this’d be a slam dunk as there was no community there to protest their plans.  It was just a place of bars, bathhouses and dark allies for the fags to fuck each other in.  They were right about the area having lots of those bars, bathhouses and dark allies but they were wrong about that not making for a community.  A special and unique community – the leather community.

The members of the leather community in SOMA decided they needed to do something to stop the city from wiping out the place they cherished.  So they held themselves a leather themed block party and called it the “Folsom Street Fair.”  It was a public celebration and spectacle of the leather community’s existence and that it was every bit as much of a community as was the gay community up in the Castro.

Even in 1984 this was a pretty transgressive act.  “Leather” was still pretty “edgy” then.  And not many were comfortable around “leathermen” dressed in their hides out in public during the light of day.  And here was this crowd of leathermen who weren’t just wearing their hides in public but were *celebrating* themselves in public.  Celebrating themselves in as public a spectacle way as they could – by having a “leather block party” on a public street right in the middle of the city.  A “leather block party” which, because it was on a public street, had to be open to the public.

That was, in fact, the entire point of the Folsom Street Fair.  It was deliberately a spectacle from its outset in order to establish the fact that the leather community was real, was valid, was legitimate, and was as deserving of respect and of preservation as was any other community there in San Francisco.

The Folsom Street Fair succeeded in that goal.  It succeeded not because it was some private hidden away thing.  It succeeded not because it was just some “bar event” like the CMC Carnivals (California Motorcycle Club Carnival) held at the various leather bars in SOMA.  But was, instead, a public spectacle rooted in just one place – Folsom Street.

Thanks to the public spectacle nature of Folsom, the “leather community” has become a nation-wide thing that itself is no longer hidden away and constrained to just being in leather bars and private clubs.  “Leather” itself has now gained a huge level of mainstream acceptance.  There’s pluses and minuses to this, of course.  But the pluses – you’re not now likely to get fired from your job if one of your coworkers finds out you’re kinky – outweigh the minuses.

For me, being part of that public spectacle of Folsom has been powerfully attractive.  Not to be an exhibitionist but to be an active part of it by joining the tens of thousands of other leatherfolk at Folsom as we all are in our hides or our latex or our cross dressing or our ropes or our other fetish finery.  There, letting our “freak flags fly” together, in public, in the light of day and reveling in the joy of such mutual spectacles we present to each other and to the rest of the world.

It's a heady and wonderful thing to be among so many of such similar mindset.  To be part of that tribe.  This, even if just so otherwise casually as attending the same public event as we’re all dressed up at.

It’s a reminder to each of us there that we’re not alone.  It’s a reminder to the vanillas of the world that there’s a whole bunch of us who like flying our freak flags and that, all in all, we’re nothing to be scared of.  Nor are we anything to discriminate against either.

All of this is only now possible because the folks “doing Folsom” back in then in 1984 made that choice for it to be such a public spectacle and then continued that year after year for the decades that followed.  Being a public spectacle is essential for Folsom to continue and for those who attend it each year.  We can go to private events all we want through the rest of the year.  But being out and about in public among so many other leather and fetish folk in public is only really possible on that one day of the year the Folsom Street Fair takes place.

That’s what has so long drawn me to Folsom and kept me coming back.  Coming back even when I couldn’t really afford to go there.  Coming back even as the crowds got even more jammed together at the event.  Coming back when the hotels kept jacking up their room rates.  Coming back even as the city of San Francisco became ever more hostile and bitter a place to be.

I truly enjoyed being part of that public spectacle as I was dressed in my fetish finery.  There amongst all my other leather and fetish brothers and sisters in their fetish finery making a public spectacle of themselves alongside me.

Since the first Folsom Street Fair I attended back 1991 I’ve always made a point of getting back to Folsom each year.  Even if I had to whittle my stay down to literally just flying in to the City that morning, changing into my leathers at the airport, taking the subway into town, “doing Folsom” through the day, and then scooting back to the airport to catch my flight home that night, I made sure it happened.  I only missed a Folsom when I was so damn poor and unemployed that I couldn’t rationalize the expense and swore that I’d be back the next year bigger and better to make up for it.

But, I’m not going to Folsom this year.  And probably won’t be going back next year either.

For several years now I’ve felt the event change.  It’s not just the crowds being even more crowded.  The crowds have always been crowded at Folsom, in my experience.  And for me, that just means more people there who’ve come together to be part of that public spectacle and thus more to share the joy of it with.  It’s not the “tourists” or the “vanillas” either.  They too have always been a part of Folsom since I first started going.  In many a way, the presence of such non-leatherfolk are essential to Folsom’s success since Folsom’s message of; “we’re here, in our fetish gear and we’re proud” is exactly what those “tourists” and “vanillas” need to hear.

What’s changed however, is the attitude of the people running the Folsom Street Fair itself and for too many of the people making themselves an official part of it.

The Fair has become larger and larger and more commercialized in order to pay for its increase in size.  That has shifted its priorities and its focus.  To me, it now seems far more regulated and controlling.  The organizers seem more “uptight” and less facilitating of the event’s joy.  This isn’t a comment about the sex there or the nudity there.  That seems a constant over the years.  I think it laughable when I see it.  But I also recognize that the folks waltzing ‘round in just their birthday suits or proudly stroking themselves off on the street corners are just pursuing their fetishes as I pursue mine – be it fully dressed.

More than just the attitude of the organizers has been that of the folks operating within the event.  Two specifics here, the “Ask First” shitheads and the folks running the bootblack booth illustrate this change in attitude perfectly.  And they, more than anything else, have really soured me on what Folsom has now become.

“Ask First” started in 2014 with its official goal of:



This, as if there aren’t already plenty of laws on the books concerning assault – sexual or otherwise, harassment – sexual or otherwise, and lewd or inappropriate behavior – sexual or otherwise.  No, Ms. Holloway created her “Ask First” campaign specifically to justify controlling everyone around her.  This, in the name of “consent.”

Yeah, Folsom can have no few weirdos and “sketchy” individuals who act in a creepy manner.  It always has.  It’s a public event and thus the public gets to show up.  And amongst the “public” there’s gonna be some who simply behave badly.  We have laws already on the books to deal with that.  For the petty tyrants and control freaks like Maxine however, that simply won’t do.  She and her ilk want to be able to fly their freak flags in public but require everyone else around them to treat her like she’s at some private event where her privacy comes first.

She, and the entire “Ask First” campaign she kicked off is a direct insult to the very principle of the Folsom Street Fair and why it got started in the first place.  Had people like Maxine been there back in ’84, and been as listened to as she is now, then Folsom most likely never would’ve happened.  Or it would’ve died out so quickly as to have never made a difference.  Having a bunch of control freaks and petty tyrant harpies lecture the public that “you can’t take a picture of me without asking first” would’ve been death for Folsom. 

It still is death for Folsom. 

It’s a display of self-entitlement and authoritarianism I find wholly repulsive.  It is antithetical to everything Folsom stood for and what it still needs to stand for.  It is a denial of those principles and an assumption on the part of everyone wearing one of Maxine’s little yellow stickers that their rights to “privacy” while attending a public event somehow outweigh the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press – as applies to photography in a public place, and of why Folsom started.

Unfortunately, the organizers of Folsom have demonstrated how far from the event’s roots and purpose they have strayed in their support of the “Ask First” campaign.  It went from a few individuals handing out their little stickers to the group’s having their own booth at the next Folsom to the group’s having a far bigger booth that enjoys pride of place in the Fair’s layout.  As a result you’ve now got legions of self-entitled sanctimonious little shits running around the event doing their best to destroy it even as they believe themselves to be oh-so-terribly righteous and politically correct in doing so.

Among the places this self-entitled sanctimonious “Ask First” tyranny has infected is the bootblack booth at Folsom.  And that really pains me.

I enjoy boots.  I enjoy getting my boots shined by a bootblack who also enjoys boots.  I could go to some professional bootblack, at an airport or train station or in some downtown office building, and get him to shine my boots.  But there’d be no energy to it.  And I’d find that diminishes the joy I get from wearing my boots.  So, if I can, I will always get a leather community bootblack to work on my boots.  The energy of that can be wonderful.  As such, a bootblack booth at Folsom has been the perfect thing.

First off, it’s at the Folsom Street Fair so there’s plenty of “leather energy” there to start with.  The bootblacks working the chairs there are all bootblack titleholders of some level or other so they’re all also into boots and into their craft on as emotional a level as the folks wearing those boots.  So that becomes a mutual thing of sharing that joy and that energy.  There’s also the fact that parking yourself at the bootblack booth at Folsom is a wonderful way to be at the event and be part of the event at the same time.  Getting your boots shined can be a very sexy thing.  There’s a whole D/S dynamic of it and it can take on an aspect of a “public scene” just by sitting there and having someone so diligently working on your boots.  Thus a bootblack booth that is so visible to the rest of the people at the Fair adds to the Fair’s public spectacle aspect and enhances what Folsom is all about.

Until recently, that is.

At first, the bootblack booth was just some chairs set up on some crates such that the bootblacks could readily work on the boots.  That was fine but it did leave everyone out in the sun.  And while San Francisco sunny days can get quite cold even in September, they can also get pretty hot.  Especially for folks in their hides and working steadily in that sun.  So the bootblack booth organizers eventually got a pavilion style tent canopy to be set up and provide some overhead protection for both the bootblacks and the people getting their boots shined.

And that was great.

It was a wonderful opportunity to sit down and relax for a bit while both getting your boots worked on and at the same time still be able to enjoy the public spectacle of everyone else at the Fair filing on by.  This, as they enjoyed your being part of that public spectacle as well as you got your boots shined there at the Folsom Street Fair.

Now however, the bootblack booth organizers have lowered that pavilion canopy so that you essentially have to look under it to see who’s inside it.  All anyone sitting up in one of the chairs can see is the inside of the canopy and mostly just the shoulders on down of anyone outside it.  This essentially removes you from Folsom the moment you sit in one of the bootblack chairs.  That’s not an addition to the event but a subtraction.  It diminishes the entire event for anyone spending time at the bootblack booth.  And it essentially deletes the bootblacking experience for the rest of the people at Folsom as well.

Worse, the organizers of the bootblack booth have now instituted a “no photography without permission” policy within their booth.  Yeah, the poison has seeped that deep.  The lack of understanding and acknowledgement of Folsom’s history has corrupted even the bootblacks.  It’s more self-entitled control freaks being their petty tyrant selves.  Oh, they’re all so enlightened and righteous but they’re also entirely smug and sanctimonious about it.  They’re doing the “right thing” and will hear no words to the contrary.

Thus it is yet another aspect of Folsom that is being destroyed.

And taken as a whole, I found that to be too much.

The City itself has become more of a bland and self-entitled place.  The Castro is now a dull and devoid thing.  What gay culture is left there now is more a parody of itself put on for the tourists.  It has no uniqueness to it anymore.  It is now no more special than any other “gay section” of any other major metro area.  So there’s not even that as a draw any more.

And the changes in what Folsom used to be compared to what it is changing into now is just repulsive to me.  It’s become increasingly filled with people who “don’t get” and are actively hostile to any criticism of why they’re destroying what made Folsom so unique and wonderful to start with.

Thus I really have no desire to be back there this year.  And probably won’t go next year either.  There’s simply too many things getting in the way of enjoying it make it worthwhile.  And I count that as a true loss.


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Until later then,


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This page was last updated on: 29 September 2019