They held the world’s biggest celebration of leather, bondage and sexual fetish in San Francisco on Sunday, and due to the event’s interactive nature, many people are now walking gingerly. “Enough is enough,” said Lowell Clark, pulling up his blue jeans after emerging from one of dozens of spanking booths at the 25th Folsom Street Fair.
Clark, a 30-year-old San Francisco waiter, conceded he was a novice at the booths, where men and women in search of stimulation were struck with whips, paddles or bare hands. Clark was last spanked at the age of 6 at the hands of his mother in Oklahoma. A stolen pack of chewing gum was involved. “I still don’t think I’ll steal anything,” Clark said. Still, he called the spanking a “stinging pleasure” that he would try “maybe once a year.” It was just another scene from the city’s most unabashed bash – a public display of all things kinky that covered 13 blocks in the South of Market neighborhood and drew hundreds of thousands of people, many of them not wearing leather in key places.
There were naked people selling bondage gear and naked people seeking support for measures on the Nov. 4 ballot. There were naked people with cameras, taking pictures of other naked people. One man wore only an 11-foot Burmese albino python, which curled around his waist. The arrangement seemed risky. The fair is fun but also important, said Al Waddell, a 58-year-old entrepreneur from Oregon whose Paddle Daddy flogging implements were available in mahogany, hickory and walnut. “It brings kink out of the closet,” he said as he tried to coax visitors a step further – onto his $645 leather sex sling, Complete with metal frame and stirrups. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with kinky play as long as it’s between consenting adults.”
A group of about 10 protesters standing outside the fair didn’t agree with Paddle Daddy. They passed out brochures that called homosexuality a “disorder” and urged voters to pass Proposition 8, which would prohibit same-sex marriage in California. “If you go in there, you see public nudity and street orgies,” said Anthony Gonzales of San Jose, the president of the St. Joseph’s Men’s Society, a Roman Catholic fraternal group. “We want to know why this is allowed on the streets of San Francisco without any sanction at all. … It’s anarchy.” Inside the partitions, bands played on two stages and people drank beer and margaritas. The many gawkers at the event were easy to spot: they were fully clothed, clung to the sidewalks of Folsom Street, and often stared with mouths agape.
“It’s great we live in a country where you can do this,” tourist Brian Churchwell, 34, of Seattle said as a topless woman was tied up and then suspended by ropes on a raised platform. More than 250 vendors sold whips and chains, tattoos and piercings, artwork, pornography, leather-scented soaps and oils, and products for those drawn to “bears” – men who tend to be, among other things, large and hairy. One booth offered “Free spankings for the religious right.”
The San Francisco Voice for Israel booth had just a few visitors, but the nearby Society of Janus Spanking Booth was packed. There, an announcer urged men to “drop trou” before leaning against a St. Andrew’s Cross and submitting to punishment. Enjoying the sight was Tora Engle of Sacramento, a 21-year-old “slave” in a black leather corset whose hands were bound in leather cuffs behind her back as she was led around on a leash by her fiance, 23-year-old Marcus Santos. “In everyday life, I’m dominant. I make most of the decisions,” Engle said. “With this, it gives me a chance to give up control, and Marcus takes the control. It keeps the balance in our relationship, so we’re both satisfied.”