Folsom Street Reflections

Last Sunday was my fourth Folsom Street Fair, but only my second as a semi-out submissive, and my first as a submissive who’s had a glimpse into the larger BDSM world. Or at least, the part of that world I can sort of identify with.

The fair is largely directed at a gay male audience, which makes sense — that’s how it began, and that’s the general constituency of the neighboorhood where it takes place, in a portion of the SOMA district that might as well be known as LeatherDaddy Town. Unfortunately for a het girl like myself, that means there’s not a whole lot of booths offering anything I’m interested in. And because my partner and I are both vegan, I certainly wasn’t expecting that we’d be walking away from the fair with a brand new cruelty-free (hah!) faux leather whip.

But those aren’t really complaints — like I said, it was to be expected. What I hadn’t counted on was how overwhelmingly crowded it would be; every year it seems to be even more packed than the year before. What’s more, every year I notice more and more obvious “tourists,” people who attend the fair to gawk and point at the freaks. I’m not talking about people who aren’t in fetish gear or who aren’t marked in some way as kinky. (Hell, I wasn’t wearing my collar, and my beat-up sneakers and dirty Carhartts didn’t exactly scream “submissive.”) I’m talking about people who actually point and stare, people who somehow feel that it’s okay for them to talk loudly about how crazy this is and how “too extreme” or “just too much” that is. Listening to that sort of dialogue permeating the fair made me feel even less “safe” than usual about being a submissive, about being one of those perverts — when the fair should be, I thought, a place where I could feel comfortable.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a place for exhibitionists, and for people who gladly wave their freak flag, who flaunt their sexuality as perversion, who dress up in fetish gear and wear their collars and leashes and don’t seem to mind when people ask to take their pictures.

(Maybe I’m just jealous.)

At any rate, we did find one point of interest: the Society of Janus charity booth, where a small donation got you a good spanking or flogging. The excellent tops, many of whom were professionals, were fantastic to watch. One of them, a man who had just finished a truly beautiful dual-flogger session, came over to us. Looking me in the eyes, he said, “like to give it a try?””I can’t,” I stuttered, not knowing exactly what to say. I couldn’t say that the idea wasn’t appealing, but my partner and I hadn’t yet found a situation where we’d both be comfortable playing with a third party.The man looked at my partner. “How about you, then?””I don’t bottom,” he said immediately, and the man laughed.”Well, okay then!” he said, and walked over to another woman just entering the booth. Later, he was taking a turn on the microphone to call for donations, and looked to me and my partner. “You can donate even if you don’t want a spanking. Come on, man. If you won’t let me beat on your woman, at least donate a few bucks.”My partner laughed, and handed over a few dollars. He turned to me. “It’s worth it just to watch him some more.” But after a few minutes, he asked, “would you want to go in there?”

I was taken aback. The last time we’d discussed playing with anyone else, he was extremely reluctant, and wasn’t sure if he could handle seeing or knowing about me bottoming to someone else. “You’d be okay with that?”

“I think so,” he said. “I mean, it’s a very controlled environment. And it isn’t…it seems less intimate. You’d sort of be bottoming, not submitting.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Part of me thinks, ‘yes, definitely, I would love to,’ but I think I might be too…shy.” Up until the moment he asked, I had thought that given the opportunity, I wouldn’t hesitate to get in the booth; but once it became something real, something I could indeed do, right now, I was feeling something like stage fright. And the fact that the flogging sessions were being photographed by dozens of anonymous people in the crowd didn’t make me feel any more comfortable with the idea. We left after a while, and I felt a little let down. And as we got on the BART to head home, I kept thinking, “I should have….I should have.”

Of course, the feelings of regret dissapated with the first stroke of our new flogger, at home, and the ones to follow eliminated any other worries I’d built up over the day…

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