Get spanked (or vaccinated) at SF’s Folsom Street Fair

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Prepare your whips, chains and masks — of both the N95 and leather puppy varieties — because San Francisco’s most venerated kink event is back this weekend, and it’s making shifts to keep things fun and freaky in the midst of a changing world. 

As an event centered around diverse and unique variations of physical intimacy, Folsom Street Fair has encountered its share of challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the new threat of monkeypox infections, organizers have needed to take extra steps to keep fairgoers safe this year.

Folsom Street Fair’s executive director, Angel Adeyoha, said the logistics of planning this year’s event amid two different public health crises have brought up feelings of both anxiety and elation. 

“We want to put on a really great event. I think we’re at our bare levels where we can get the thing done beautifully,” Adeyoha said. “But it’s definitely been harder to get folks to sign up to volunteer. Everybody’s life has been more uncertain for a lot of reasons, and we want to honor that.” 

The fair is working closely with the city’s Department of Public Health this year to administer 2,000 doses of the monkeypox (Jynneos) vaccine at the event. COVID vaccines and booster shots will also be offered, as well as sexual health outreach. Events and content have additionally been scaled back to give fairgoers more space from one another — which lends itself to a different experience from previous years, when being squashed into a throng of scantly clothed bodies was quintessential to the Folsom Street Fair experience.  

“A lot of public health depends on education. Reaching a large crowd all at once like we do is a big opportunity,” Adeyoha said. 

Adeyoha said the increased need for public health outreach and community organizing over the last couple of years mirrors the event’s earlier history, when it served as a grassroots effort upheld by the city’s “sexual outlaws” to fight gentrification in the SoMa neighborhood and provide community support during the AIDS epidemic. 

“It almost feels like a throwback to me. The path we’re on is an echo of the path that we started off on, where we had a community crisis due to a pandemic. We had to rely really hard on each other, and we had to kind of figure it out as we went,” Adeyoha said. “And guess what: Nobody gave us a manual for doing large events after COVID. We have had to really be intentional and careful. And I think that’s helped us.”

As the years went on and the event became more commercialized, it started to lose sight of its original purpose: “It got a little — what are kids saying? Lost in the sauce,” Adeyoha said. “And I feel like now we’re mirroring the straight-up weirdness of the ’90s. Like, where it was just like a place for people to come and let your freak flag fly.”

Part of that effort has included diversifying Folsom Street Fair’s leadership team as well as the events it offers. 

“We have a long history of being a pretty white, cis-led organization,” Adeyoha said. “That balance is tipped now, and we’ve got a lot of everybody on the board. We needed to work really hard together to build a team to do this, and to have long, heartfelt talks about what’s best for our community, and how we’re serving our community. ”

Most people on the event’s leadership board are now people of color, women and nonbinary people, Adeyoha said.

Events and content at this year’s fair also feature a diverse array of activities and performances, including a drag stage hosted by the Stud and Oaklash, as well as the playground stage, with a dance floor and performances specifically for women and trans people. Fairgoers can also enjoy a bondage stage hosted by Kinky POC Bay Area, a social group for people of color interested in BDSM, and Twisted Windows, an erotic performance art group led by LGBT+ people of color.

For Folsom first-timers, Adeyoha’s top advice is to show up as yourself — don’t feel the need to splurge on leather gear or erotic toys if that’s not your vibe. They also recommend hydrating, applying sunscreen and pacing yourself, as the energy and vibrancy of the fair can be a lot to take in. 

“This year feels like the early days of my organizing in the leather and kink community. It feels like people are more engaged. And it feels like there is a real opening for people to bring their vision in really cool ways,” Adeyoha said. 

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