The Folsom Street Fair is back, bringing the kink to San Francisco

On the BART train from El Cerrito, Troy Dayton and Stell Bahrami dressed like any other couple heading to San Francisco on Sunday morning.

But as soon as they left the station, they took off their civilian clothes. Bahramy was completely sadistic in a see-through shirt, and Dayton was wearing a mesh T-shirt and leather shorts. When they arrived at the Folsom Street Market, they blended in as easily as civilians on the BART.

“I’ve been following this issue for the past few years,” said Bahrami, who is attending the show for the first time. “I love quirks and fetishes, and that’s where I want to be.”

About 100,000 people liked her on Sunday, the largest leather rally of them all, at the Folsom Street Market for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown. Energy was pent up after last weekend’s LeatherWalk and Leather Pride Fest 2022 were cancelled by rain.

The Folsom Street Fair’s sister event, Dore Alley, was held last July and required proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter, and the threat of monkeypox hung over the event. There was also a renamed Folsom Street Market last year to deliberately keep the crowds low.

“It’s much smaller,” said operations manager Jukie Schweit. “There is more fear.”

The only fear on Sunday is getting sunburned everywhere you don’t normally see the sun.

“As far as I’m concerned, COVID is over,” said a man named Tom who flew in from Indiana for the event, he was working, and he was with the man named Tom who came with him bare Apply SBF 50 sunscreen to the back.

There were 85 exhibitors, a 60% decrease from the 2019 show. Dore Alley also employs this strategy of making booths more spaced apart so people don’t crowd together. But that won’t work at Dore, and there’s no reason to expect it to work at Folsom Street.

“My guess is it’s going to be crowded. I heard thousands of voices,” said a first-time attendee named Nikiya G. before the crowd arrived. G. is 6’6″ and wears Stilleto boots, fishnet socks, leather miniskirt and studded choker.

“I’m no stranger to this,” says G, who is a non-binary identity, and says they feel more at home in that identity than they’ve felt at Folsom Street Market in past years.

It’s no longer purely gay, man to man,” he said. “It’s all over the place. “

Cory and Mary Akers, a 30-year-old couple, were driving from Rocklin (Placer County). She dresses for the fair and he doesn’t, and upon arrival she decides he will be punished. She had him shell out $160 for a leather whip, and she was learning wrist movements before using it.

“At some point, I’m definitely going to whip him,” she said. “I let my strange flag fly.”

Less than 20 minutes into the show, Bahrami, 33, and Dayton, 45, found their way to Primal Woodworks, a maker of solid furniture in the East Bay. One item in demand is a kneeling board. The other is the paddle.

Dayton volunteered to kneel first. “A little goes a long way,” he told Bahrami at the exit. “Stand up so you can get both cheeks,” said booth operator Scott Eddington, giving Bahramy his instructions. A group of people gathered to take pictures as she tried various paddles. That’s what they came for, so Bahrami felt compelled to give it his all.

“I really like that sting,” he said at one point. He later described the experience in more nuance: “It’s not something I enjoy right now, but it’s a pleasure to trust that someone else will bear your pain.”

Bahrami also enjoyed her ending. “It felt really empowering,” she said. “I can take people to a very vulnerable place.”

They didn’t buy kneeling pads, but the bazaar was still young. There are four long exhibition areas to cover, as well as side streets. Maybe they’ll shop again on the way back to BART.

Sam Whiting is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @SamWhitingSF

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