I left at four in the morning to drive to San Francisco. Before sunrise, the hills outside L.A. look blue, and beyond them runs the flat stretch of I-5 through fields of lemon trees. Five hours later, when I rounded a corner and saw Castro Street sloping before me, I felt like I had come home.
San Francisco was home for a little of last year, and that experience wasn’t great. My living situation was dark. I lived with bad people. It was a moment that many young gay men have in their lives when they realize that things could go to a scary place. I moved to the city with the intention of moving permanently and only made it a few months before deciding to go back home to Georgia. I’d rather not go into the details, but they involve a psychotic pornographer/conspiracy theorist and my ex-Sir. In hindsight, I should’ve known it’d be a disaster.
All in all, it was a very San Francisco story, and I’ve heard many like it. You move here, you’re young, you’re excited. You think you know everything. What a mess. But it was an educational mess and I’ve always wondered what my life would be like if I had stayed. If I had, I would have lived here over a year by now. What if I had survived the scary porn house and found a job?
I drove past my favorite coffee shop on Market Street, the one where I sat on my computer sending job applications every day, none of which landed. None of that mattered now — I wasn’t here for work.
Going to the Folsom Street Fair, the largest leather festival in the world, is bewildering the first time you do it. You need a guide. There are literally thousands of people from all over the world gathered in one small city. They all love leather and/or BDSM. Any kink you have, you can find others who share it — packs of others, hordes of others, so many others you’ll never meet them all. It’s not a convention — it’s a sex pit.
And it happens in this little city, which looks like a toy set, a dollhouse landscape. How can a place so beautiful harbor such sordid tales? And all of them are true. Yes, people complain that the city has lost its edge, as all cities have, but what remains is still the most sexually liberated place in the U.S.
This wasn’t my first Folsom. Having done all this before, I had a flexible itinerary and knew which parties would be good. On Friday night, I went to the Recon party, Full Fetish. I walked in at midnight. The dance floor was dead. I was wearing assless neoprene shorts. I walked from room to room wondering why the place was so empty. There were large, empty dance floors bathed in red light. A couple guys were making out on some lounge chairs, but besides them, the place was deserted.
I turned to leave and must have looked exasperated because the doorman said, “They’re all in the back.” He pointed in the direction. “Around the corner.”
On the other side of a black tarp hanging in a doorway — which I somehow hadn’t noticed before — were literally hundreds of men milling through a dark sex maze made of tarpaulin and metal fencing. Guys were fucking, fisting, and sucking each other in the dark. The music was loud. There was a stage in the middle where at least thirty guys were fucking on sex benches.
I walked all the way through. Near the end of the maze, I saw a poor guy getting fucked on a table. The top was incredible. His body moved rhythmically and gently, then jack-hammered, and the bottom yelped. He was struggling to take it. After a few minutes, he had to pull off. I saw the top’s dick — it was huge. I was staring at it and didn’t realize he was looking at me. He was wearing a harness and biker cap. But I kept walking.
I fingered a hairy muscle guy in a sling who wanted me to go home with him. I told him no. This request was repeated by many men. Who wants to go home? The fun was here. As the hours clicked by, the drugs started to wear off and people started leaving. I had arrived too late. As it emptied, I saw the god top standing in a corner. He nodded to a fuck bench. I walked up and bent over.
He started fucking me, then stopped and asked if I wanted to go back to his place. We went back to his hotel room where he told me to get in an armchair on my knees, ass up. “Don’t move,” he said. He put a blindfold around my eyes. Then I felt something, a toy, slick and round, push into my ass. It was hard to take, but he slapped my ass and told me to breathe. After it was in, he said, “Ok, get ready.” Then I felt the tip of his dick pushing in over it. I started to pull away and he grabbed me. “No boy. Remember what I said. Don’t move. Take a deep breath.”
I did, and in one hard push, he shoved his dick in. “Take the pain,” he said. “Get used to it.” I started counting to ten, a trick I do, but my head was spinning, and by number eight, something happened. My hole just opened. And he fucked me. Friend, he fucked me. He fucked me with the toy in, then without the toy in, then stuffed more toys in. I took them all and just wanted more.
I’ve only gone to that mental place a few times. I was just open. At one point he started sliding his fingers in until all five fingers were at the knuckle. He placed a bottle of poppers under my nose and told me to breathe. He held it there for a long time — “keep breathing” — then pulled away. I felt like putty, my body was hot, and I felt him slide his hand in. He was fisting me — something I’d only done once before.
“You’re taking my whole hand boy,” he said. “You like that?”
I could barely squeak out a reply, “Yes sir.”
In and out. In and out. I breathed. And took it. And then I began to get restless and he said, “You’re tired.” And I was — I was empty. He took the blindfold off. Sunlight was coming in through the window. He helped me up, cleaned me off, and drove me to where I was staying. He dropped me off on the curb, and so ended one of the greatest sex nights of my life.
I was sore for the remainder of the trip, which didn’t stop me from having fun the following days but certainly tempered it. The actual fair happened as an afterthought. By the time I walked through the half-million attendees, I was a ghost. The fair was great — it’s always great — but in the middle of a sweaty hug with a friend in full leather, I rested my head on his shoulder, and he understood. “Oh, no,” he said. “It’s time to sleep.” That night, when every leatherman in San Francisco was dancing at Real Bad or fucking in the leather bars or having intense BDSM sessions across the city, I was on a sofa, two blocks from the Castro, fast asleep.
That night was the kind of fucking that makes you feel powerful. In high school, guys teased me after I came out — I was weak and skinny and covered in acne. They said, “Alex wants a dick in his butt.” It was the only taunt they could think of for a gay teenager. But I did. I do. This felt like ownership. I was proud of being a bottom. I wanted to show it off. I was good at this.
All the slut-shaming from people over the years — intentional and otherwise — was erased. Folsom does that. It renders judgments meaningless. My doubts were burned away by beautiful sex — the kind of sex you carry with you as a talisman. The kind you keep in your memory bank as one of your foundational pillars, a rung on the ladder of your awakening.
When you really break into your kinks, you will have this feeling, and you will know it when it comes. Our fetish world isn’t perfect, but it’s magnificent, and magnificence has its moments. Every now and then you’ll be struck by it, as I was, and in that moment, pleasure will overshadow the ugly parts and bad people, the absurdity of it all.
This is why we make the pilgrimage every year. Because people need to feel this way — sexually validated, created again.
Next year will be wild.
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