Above: More amazing backroom photographs by Vincent Couderc can be seen here.
I left at four in the morning to drive to San Francisco. Before the sun has fully risen, the hills outside L.A. look blue. Beyond them is the long, flat stretch of I-5 and fields of lemon trees. When I finally rounded a corner and saw Castro Street sloping down before me, it felt like I was coming home.
I lived briefly in San Francisco. It wasn’t the best experience, but it meant a lot to me, and I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the living situation had been more stable or the job more permanent. Would I have stayed? Driving in, I passed my old coffee shop on Market Street, the one where I used to sit on my computer sending job application after job application, none of which resulted in anything. None of that mattered now — I wasn’t here seeking a second chance. I was here for fun.
Going to the Folsom Street Fair, the largest leather festival in the world, is a bewildering experience the first time you do it. You are jolted awake to the fact that there are thousands of people in one city who love BDSM and fisting and all the kinks and fetishes you’ve been quietly, discreetly harboring, kinks you may have explored with one or two people before. Here you are, thrown into a sex pit, with playmate options from literally all over the world, including some of the sexiest people you’ve ever seen.
It can be too much. Your mind barely knows how to manage it. And it all happens in this storeyed little city, a place coated in legend and queer history and memories of libertine fun. San Francisco almost surprises you by being a truly beautiful city to look at. How can such sordid stories be housed in a setting so picturesque, so cute? But they are. And they still are, even after all this gentrification, all the soaring rent prices. That’s the wonder of it: San Francisco is still a city of sex.
This wasn’t my first Folsom. Having done all of this once 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 and the dance floor was dead. Wearing assless neoprene shorts, I walked from room to room wondering why the place was deserted. There were dance floors bathed in red light, empty except for a few guys dancing under the strobe. A couple guys were giving each other blowjobs on some lounge chairs. That was it.
I turned to leave and must have looked exasperated because someone said, “They’re all in the back.” I looked. The guy standing in the corner waved a hand to a far wall. “Around the corner.”
On the other side of a tarp hanging in a doorway, hundreds of men were milling through a sex maze composed of tarpaulin and metal fencing. Guys were fucking, fisting, and sucking each other in the dark. There was a stage in the middle where at least twenty guys were fucking on sex benches.
I walked all the way through, barely believing what I had stumbled into. Near the end of the maze, I saw a poor guy getting pounded over a table. The top was incredible, moving rhythmically and gently, then jack-hammering hard. The bottom was really struggling to take it, and after a few minutes had to pull off. When he did, I saw the top’s dick. It was enormous. I was standing there staring at it and didn’t realize he was looking at me. He was wearing a harness and biker cap. I kept walking.
I fingered (nearly fisted) a hairy muscle guy in a sling who wanted me to go home with him. I told him no. Two hot guys kept taking turns eating my ass. As the hours clicked by, the drugs were wearing off and people were starting to leave. I was getting restless — I had arrived too late. Thirty minutes before closing, I saw him, the amazing top, standing in a corner. He nodded at a fuck bench. I walked up and bent over.
Friend, he fucked me. He fucked me like I’ve never been fucked before. Then he took me back to his hotel room, fed me a cocktail of god knows what, and told me to get in an armchair on my knees, ass up, and don’t move. He put a blindfold around my eyes. Then I felt something, a toy, slick and round, push into my ass. It was big. Once it was in, he said, “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.” It felt like I was getting ripped in two. I started counting to ten, a trick I do, but my head was spinning, and by number eight, something happened. My hole simply opened. And he fucked me. And fucked me. And fucked me. And then when I was really loose, he started sliding fingers in. One after another, he counted, until all five were pushing in 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 them away. I instantly felt like putty, my body was hot, and I felt him slide all the way in. He was fisting me.
In, and out. In, and out. I breathed. And took it. And then, as I began to get restless, he said, “You’re tired.” And I was — I was empty. He took the blindfold off. The sun had risen. He helped me up, cleaned me off, and drove me into town to where I was staying. He dropped me off on the curb, and so ended one of the best 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 definitely tempered it. The actual fair happened almost as an afterthought. By the time I walked through the half-million attendees, I was spent. That night, when every leatherman in San Francisco was dancing at Real Bad or pissing on each other in the leather bars or having hardcore sessions in apartments across the city, I was curled up on a sofa, two blocks from the Castro, fast asleep.
All the slut-shaming and backlash from people over the years — from boyfriends, classmates, and people online — was erased. Folsom makes them paltry and insignificant. The doubts and shames and small daily apologies are burned away by good sex, sex that redefines your life and makes you feel as if you’ve finally found your tribe. You begin to grasp something that feels like identity. Whatever it is, you understand that it is yours and that you are defended and supported and fortified against the outside world, the world of churches and work uniforms, by them — the men and women down on Folsom Street dragging their single-tail whips along the sidewalk, tugging their gagged slaves by the collar, and the naked men tied to poles, screaming into the crowd, red lash marks crisscrossed down their backs. They save you from the life you might have lived. How can you ever repay them?
I understand now why people continuously make the pilgrimage year after year. Humans are pack animals — no one can survive without their family.