As I mentioned in my last post, I headed up to Folsom Street Fair last weekend with three of my friends from the Los Angeles scene. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, but I’m very glad that I ended up going. For those who are not familiar, Folsom Street Fair is the world’s largest BDSM gathering and is held every year in San Francisco. It has a very heavy Leather focus and is largely (but by no means exclusively) attended by gay men. I was warned in advance that San Francisco’s kink scene in general, and especially the fair, had a much stronger presence of Old Guard practices and high protocol.
In order to explain why attending this event was a rather big step for me, there are a few things that need to be established first. I identify as a spanko, and I didn’t really see Spankingland as being a subset of the BDSM community. I’ve always viewed it as a similar but parallel community that often gets lumped together with BDSM due to said similarities. At my worst, I can get downright snobby about the differences between spankos and “regular” kinksters. I’ve often felt slightly out of place in the general kink community. My move to Los Angeles and my involvement in the scene here, however, changed some of these feelings. I discovered that not only did I have a place within the scene, but I was able to become a group leader and event organizer. I even went so far as to get myself involved in local Leather politics on the side of female submissives with male Dominants. Despite these things, I still felt very ill at ease around anything stemming directly from the Old Guard tradition. It’s a tradition that was founded around something very specific which has nothing to do with me. Protocol has always felt to me like it was trying to force the wide world of kink into a tiny, black leather box. I want my relationships, my experience and what I participate in my community to be my own, with everything tailored to my needs, desires and comforts.
Still, no matter what other feelings exist, I love the people I’ve become close to through the scene in Los Angeles. Whenever I’ve felt like an outsider, or like I don’t truly belong, the people have kept me coming back. I headed up to Folsom mostly because of the people: I wanted to have an adventure with my friends. In a way, though, it was a quest for better understanding of the larger kink community and whether or not I belong within it.
We had a good time driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We had fast food, we chatted, we had a passionate sing-along rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and we honked the horn all the way through every tunnel. We rolled into San Francisco after dark and checked into our hotel, then showered and got ready to go to The Citadel, one of their local Play-Spaces. We met up with a friend’s (scene) Daddy and Mommy and headed over with them.
I’ve only played in BDSM Play-Spaces a handful of times, and I’ve never played anywhere that allowed sexual contact, so seeing the amount of straight out sex that was happening at The Citadel made me slightly uncomfortable. It isn’t that I’m any stranger to sex, it’s simply that sex and kink simply do not mix for me. My brain kept coming up with error messages as I observed a latex clad Mistress pegging a man in a sex swing right next to a man whipping a nude girl in high heels. Eventually, though, I got more comfortable, although I don’t think I would ever be comfortable being spanked in a setting like that. The dim lighting, the fancy, intimidating looking bondage furniture and the industrial soundtrack were cool, but they certainly didn’t “do it” for me.
None of us really ended up playing at The Citadel, but it was interesting to get to observe another city’s scene. Aside from the sex, it really didn’t seem that different than what I’ve observed at Play-Spaces in Los Angeles. There seemed to be a pretty even mix of men and women, and I didn’t feel any different attitude towards protocol or tradition. Maybe, it occurred to me, I was worrying about nothing. We got back to the hotel fairly late and I was too sleepy to go with my friends to Denny’s, so I went up to the room and fairly immediately fell asleep. I woke up later to eat the french toast they brought back for me with my hands, then fell immediately back to sleep. I love sleeping.
|It was a gray day at first.|
The next morning, we got up, spent a while getting dressed and then headed down to the fair. On our way over, we stopped at the store Mr. S Leather. Let me tell you: “unacceptable” does not even begin to cover my feelings towards the implements they sell there. They had metal canes, paddles covered in corse sandpaper, paddles made entirely of some kind of awful, dense rubber that made my rubber “running track” paddle (which is up there on the list of things that make me cry) look positively snuggly and things that they called “slappers” but I’d call “excessive force for riot control.” I also got to handle something that I’ve long considered “unacceptable”: a wooden paddle with a piece of tire tread set inside of it. I left there with a strange set of warm and affectionate feelings towards all of my implements ;).
Upon entering the fair itself, I felt rather uncomfortable by the variety of people representing their various niches that surrounded me. There were a ton of gay leathermen, naked people, people in medieval garb, furries, ponyboys and girls, those in corsets, those in latex… the list went on and on. While at first I found myself looking around to see if there might be even one other spanko in the crowd, after I got more comfortable with my surroundings I came to an interesting conclusion: there were no two people in this crowd who had exactly the same kink experience or desires. The community was a fragmented group of people who were all okay with each other. There were people from Old Guard Leather groups next to young women with pigtails and their boobs out. There was a shibari booth just down the way from a group into puppy play. There was a free HIV testing clinic next to a booth about barebacking it.
|There was even a girl dressed like this 😛|
There was an incredible variety of vendors there. There were corsets and jock straps and fur tails and butt plugs. There were solid metal paddles and rubber canes that could take (if I remember properly) 32,000 pounds of force. There were wooden paddles that I wouldn’t bother buying because one scene would leave them in pieces. There was even a t-shirt that was appropriate for me:
|I think it’s on the back so it can be read while I’m over a lap, where I belong 😀|
I also suspended my sense of self preservation for a moment and bought this unacceptable thing:
I mean, seriously, that’s like, what a panda eats. It just feels dull when tested but after the lag is full of ache and bite. Have you seen how thick that is? Is that even legal? Why do I DO these things to myself? Also, my face is amazing in that photo. I just need to point that out.
What’s more important, when I wandered off on my own part-way through the day, I was able to have one on one conversations about the history of the SoMa (or “South of the Slot”) scene with a number of older men who had been around for a long time. I found it a great honor that they would choose to share their oral history (please, no puns!) with a young girl from a very different niche than them. I found my feelings of prejudice practically melting away and my respect for what all of us do growing. Folsom Street Fair taught me that there is no right and wrong in the community as long as it doesn’t harm anyone and everyone gives consent. I always knew this in my mind, I always believed this for myself, but I feel like the community validated this for me. The Spanking Community is my home, but I feel very OK with my home being a subgroup of a big, crazy scene full of all types of people and activities.
I’ve long felt spite about the fact that women were not included in the scene for a very long time and that prejudices against them still exists in some Old Guard circles. I expressed this to an aging man that I met at one of the quieter booths when he asked me about how my experience was as a young woman in a place where there are still a few “Men Only” signs. What he said almost brought tears to my eyes. He said:
“I regret the way we treated the women, especially the dykes, early on, but it’s true: we didn’t make the scene for everyone. We did it for ourselves. We did it because it was in our blood. We did it to create the first place where we could be free and safe. We did it to protect ourselves. We did it for love and passion. We did it because we had to. Now that everything is said and done, I want nothing more than for everyone to do the same thing for themselves. Do what you have to do to be happy, but for God’s sake, don’t get AIDS.” (This is paraphrasing. I did not tape record any of the conversations I had during this hour or so that I spent exploring and asking questions, since I didn’t really plan on taking oral history, but I really wish I had and I intend to next year.)
I showed the man my bandage from where I had just been given a rapid HIV/Hep screening and told him that I tested negative. I saw in his eyes the pain of being a survivor when your friends are dead or dying from a horrible illness. I wondered about the people he was thinking of as his eyes glazed over for a second. I, too, thought of the people I’ve lost to AIDS already and those that I’ve been slowly losing over the years.
I know it is off-topic, but it is extremely important to me. Know your HIV status. Practice Universal Precaution. Teach your friends how to stay negative. Test even if you don’t think you have any risk factors, especially if you play in public spaces. Those men in our community that died of AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s (including the philosopher Foucault, who I am in love with on an intellectual level) simply did not have any way of knowing what they were up against. There was no research. There was no education. With the information, prevention strategies and prenatal treatment options that we have now, there is no reason for anyone new to be infected. We have the power to let education spread more quickly than the virus.
When I finished these conversations, I felt taken aback and very introspective. I didn’t talk to anyone about them until today: I came back to my friends and kept what I’d been doing to myself until I had time to process it. I then had some fun messing around with awesome people at the SoCal Shibari booth, then my friend’s daddy took us to get Indian food and introduced me to Mulligatawny soup, thus changing my life forever. Seriously, it was the best thing I ever ate. I ate most of it, even though it was supposed to be for sharing >_<. Then we helped pack up the our friends’ booth and headed home. The drive home always feels a lot longer than the trip there, but we got into a lot of important and frank conversations about our lives and histories. I got home feeling too tired to move, but the experience was one of the most educational ones I’ve ever had. It’s a beautiful thing to observe your own mind opening.
Wow. Amazing post. We have Folsom Street every June here in NYC as part of Gay Pride Month. Members of TES covering the entire spectrum (gay, straight, bi, etc) volunteer at Folsom and hang out to have a good time. Glad to see it works the same way on the West Coast.
Your views on the divide between BDSM and the spanking community are dead on.
Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for this excellent, insightful post. I hope you do go back next year and capture more oral histories. Like the Delta Blues musicians, these are important stories that deserve to be heard.
That is one thick mother effing cane. Lol. Thanks for sharing, it sounds like it was very interesting and fun.
Thanks Bonnie! I am really looking forward to going back next year and being better prepared to preserve the stories.
Lea- RIGHT!? I’m still not sure what I was thinking! :/