RACE BANNON: San Francisco – A Gay Kink Destination
21 August 2020
Race Bannon AKA member LoneWolfPig has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. In this first article in an ongoing series he talks about the roots of Folsom Street Fair and kink in San Francisco.
Anyone who studies sexuality seriously knows that kinky sex has been around as long as people have been recording histories. Kinky sex is nothing new. Gay kinky sex is nothing new. But in the early 1960s a bar called the Why Not opened in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco and a new chapter in gay men's kink was born.
What was deemed gay leather culture had earlier roots in the United States. Chuck Renslow became the manager of The Gold Coast in Chicago in 1958 and created the first leather bar there. Almost as soon as the Why Not had emerged as a leather haven for gay men, the Tool Box opened in another area of San Francisco and lasted for a decade as an iconic leathermen's socializing and cruising palace. Leather bars and the consensual hedonistic culture that sprung up around them made San Francisco a place kinky gay men wanted to live and visit.
While leather bars and the community of men that grew around them was not exclusive to San Francisco, the City by the Bay ended up developing a unique and robust world in which gay men reveled in their collective consensual debauchery.
For an American city, San Francisco is quite liberal and progressive in its politics and culture. Since the late 1800s when the city was a bustling mining boomtown and active port, local attitudes have continued to lean liberal and permissive. Freethinkers and nonconformists have always been drawn to San Francisco since, and among them those from the LGBTQ and kinky communities.
Fast forward to contemporary San Francisco. It's still quite liberal. It's still a place where LGBTQ people can live in relative peace and be recognized at the highest levels of city leadership and social circles. It's still a city that is more likely to accommodate those of us who live on the fringes. It's still a city with a vibrant and robust kink culture for all, including a large community of gay men from all walks of the erotically adventurous spectrum.
In the future I plan to write more about my beloved current home city. But for now, let me invite you to one specific event that shines like a beacon for all kinksters to gather, commune and play – Folsom Street Fair.
There are certainly such large gatherings elsewhere. Berlin, Chicago, Antwerp and many other American and European cities play host to various kinds of events catering to men who embrace a kink, fetish or BDSM aesthetic. But in terms of sheer numbers, nothing quite compares to the estimated 200,000 that show up for Folsom Street Fair.
Many assume that Folsom Street Fair began as a gay leather event. That's not quite accurate. Yes, leatherfolk were certainly at the first Fair and some were integral to its organization, but the Fair was birthed by a wide cross section of people and not necessarily as the celebration of leather and kink that it's become today.
The first Folsom Street Fair was an attempt by two community activists and organizers, Kathleen Connell and Michael Valerio, to preserve the San Francisco South of Market neighborhood that was being threatened by aggressive gentrification and commercial development. Developers had their sights set on a large section of South of Market from which they intended to displace many businesses and residents.
Amid the background of aggressive South of Market gentrification that was displacing an entire community, Connell and Valerio started to work under an umbrella of the activist organizations in place at the time that were attempting to resist and mitigate such gentrification. Their collaborative community-organization work eventually led to the first Folsom Street Fair in 1984 and they named it "Megahood."
Since its initial community activist origins, Folsom Street Fair has morphed over time from a celebration of the South of Market neighborhood and its inhabitants to one that has come to be known as the world's most famous celebration of the many manifestations of leather, kink and fetish.
The Fair is not exclusively gay male. While I feel confident in saying that the preponderance of attendees are gay men, the Fair welcomes people of all genders, orientations and kinks and this hasn't been a problem. For some, it adds to the experience where kink and fetish gay men can be entirely themselves as part of the throngs of people who represent the entire spectrum of kinky folks across the world.
But for the men reading this I feel confident that if you attend Folsom Street Fair you will have a few days you will not soon forget. What has sprung up around the Fair is an ever-growing number of sex and play parties, dances, kink educational offerings, bar events, and more. There are dozens of choices for the men visiting during the Fair Weekend. Folsom Street Fair takes place this year on Sunday, September 29, 2019.
Oh, and if it helps in urging you to attend the Fair this year, I believe Recon are partnering with the nonprofit producer of the Fair, Folsom Street Events, to host Full Fetish San Francisco. I hope to see many of you there and at this year's Fair.
For information about the Fair and the Full Fetish San Francisco party, visit folsomstreetevents.org.
Race Bannon has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. He's authored two books, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service, was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way American psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company, been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, and appeared in numerous documentaries. He currently also writes for the Bay Area Reporter and on his blog