Holding our Ground
by Race Bannon
It's not a secret that the Bay Area, San Francisco in particular, has been losing spaces in which us kinky folks gather. Bars. Play spaces. Meeting and class locations. Conference and contest venues. Kinky retailers. All have experienced challenges in recent years due to the economic realities of a growing city amid the rapid urbanization of America.
Recently, Beatbox, a beloved dance club that often hosted events for the kink community, closed its doors. And Alchemy, one of the few dungeon play spaces available to local organizations and play party promoters, also announced that it was shuttering. We've been down this road before and it's a bumpy one. The Bay Area is not alone. Other cities are experiencing similar problems.
Gay bars and clubs continue to have difficulty remaining profitable, including those that cater to the leather and kink crowd. Dance club spaces are feeling the pinch of rising rents and development as those places become prime real estate acquisition targets. Leather and fetish organizations are having difficulty finding suitable, affordable spaces in which to meet. Leather conference organizers tell me local hotel conference space has risen in price considerably, if they will accept our kind at all. Dungeon and play space options are shrinking.
Taken together, the situation looks bleak. If we want to maintain a functional kink community that has enough opportunities to meet face to face, we need to consider ways to mitigate the declining situation.
Hookup apps and sites are great, but do we really want an entirely virtual scene? Imagine a world where there are no physical gathering places where we can meet, learn, play, organize and discuss. That's not an appealing scenario. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to ensure that such a reality does not happen.
Now, I'm a realist. I'm aware that increased LGBT acceptance, the compartmentalizing of our scene into more granular networks, virtual cruising and communications, and the rising expense of real estate are all likely to continue to exert their pressures. That's just the way it is. I get that.
At the same time, the optimist in me wants to believe that we can keep at least a reasonable number of such places operational.
I've been a kinkster long enough to have developed a strong network of like-minded friends and connections, but what about the newcomers? Yes, they can certainly meet online and that's without a doubt the new connection paradigm. However, there is value in fostering in person meetings and interactions. Anyone who knows me knows that I have embraced the online, app and social media world fully. Even so, I realize there is no viable replacement for staring another person directly in the eyes and connecting on that visceral level.
So, how might we all contribute toward improving the situation?
One obvious solution is to give our business to those places that do currently welcome us with open arms. And by this I mean they overtly reach out to our kind, not just tolerate us. I've often heard lip service given to supporting businesses and venues that welcome us, along with tirades about the dire situation of losing them and how we must not let that happen. Then, many of those same people rarely frequent the same places they were so desperate to keep around.
I recall one online conversation in which a self-identified leatherman took offense that a local bar, known for being a regular leather and kink hot spot, charged him a door cover charge even though he was wearing full leather.
Really? Have we come to that? Are we going to get bent out of shape because a bar adds a cover charge? Do we feel that somehow our leather fetish absolves us from contributing to the survival of that business? With attitudes like that, our bar scene will indeed be doomed.
Luckily, I don't think most people think that way. I think most realize that in order for these places to keep their doors open, we're going to have to contribute to their coffers. It's Business 101. Rising costs of doing business mean rising costs for the customer. That's just how it is.
Let's support our businesses and venues.
Of course, one of the more common complaints is that we can't afford to pay more. I'm sure for some that's true, but should not those of us who can afford to pay more do so in order to keep spaces open for not only our benefit but for others who might not be as financially solvent?
A friend of mine once offered this reality check when someone said there wasn't enough money to support a certain kind of local kink venue. He offered as but one counter that an estimated 400-500 guys from San Francisco go to International Mr. Leather weekend in Chicago every year. With hotel, travel, registration, meals, parties and incidentals, it's probably a $2500 tab. 400 times $2500 is $1 million, which he suggested was more than a decent down payment on a new kink community building which was being floated as an idea at the time.
Even if the IML cost estimate is a bit high, that's still a lot of money spent every year for a few days of out of town entertainment. Could we not funnel at least some of that cash toward our local businesses, events and venues? I think we could, if we had the will and dedication to do so.
The bottom line is that it's up to all of us to support our communal spaces. If we don't, the leather and kink scene in our area and elsewhere will become but a shadow of its former self. I don't think we want to see that happen.
Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him through his website, www.bannon.com.
Leather Events, July 21 – August 7, 2016There's always a lot going on in the San Francisco Bay Area for leather and other kinksters. Thu 21 Night Scenes @ Mr. S Leather Single tails and whips with Danny Nguyen. Night Scenes is an in-store event to give customers the opportunity to see our gear in use in a live 'scene' by experienced players. 385 8th St., 6-8pm. www.mr-s-leather.com Kink 101 @ Wicked Grounds Join us for this quick orientation to the local kink scene San Francisco's own kinky street fairs. This session is perfect for folks who are making their first brave steps into the San Francisco kink scene or are visiting for Up Your Alley. 289 8th St., 7-9pm. www.wickedgrounds.com
Fri 22SOAR with Ms. SF Leather @ Alchemy SOAR and Ms. SF Leather host this benefit for Ms. SF Leather that includes a silent auction. For everyone who self identifies as queer - gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual, all the things - regardless of gender, and will focus on celebrating queer diversity. 1060 Folsom St., 8pm-1am.pm. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2579750 Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm. www.castrocountryclub.org Gear Party @ 442 Natoma Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.com Sat 23 Unleashed @ World Famous Turf Club Come out and get animalistic with Alameda County Leather Corps at their puppy/animal play themed fundraiser. 22519 Main St., Hayward, 3-7pm. www.aclcweb.org Code Konduct @ SF Eagle A Hanky themed night with hosts Cody and Harry and also the monthly BLUF Invasion. Free all night in leather/gear, $5 civilian rate. 398 12th St., 9pm-2am. www.sf-eagle.com Sun 24 FTM Much @ Wicked Grounds Are you kinky (or interested), FAAB (female assigned at birth) and identify as a trans guy, FTM, trans boy/boi, and/or similar? Join this monthly munch, every fourth Sunday of the month. 289 8th St., 1-3pm. www.wickedgrounds.com Leathermen's Discussion Group Beer Bust @ SF Eagle Hosted by Mr. SF Eagle Harrison Kong. Come socialize and enjoy the outdoor patio while helping to fund the San Francisco Leathermen's Discussion Group. 398 12th St., 3-6pm. www.sf-eagle.com Mon 25 Ride Mondays @ Eros A motorcycle rider and leathermen night at Eros, bring your helmet, AMA card, MC club card or club colors and get $3 off entry or massage. 2051 Market St. www.erossf.com MagneKink @ Strut Attracting queer kinky men to Strut. Race Bannon, Jared Hemming and Strut welcome you to this casual social event for San Francisco's kinky queer men. 470 Castro St., 7-9pm. www.strutsf.org Tue 26 Safeword @ The Citadel An inclusive, kink-oriented 12-step support group/meeting held every Tuesday. 181 Eddy St., 6pm. www.sfcitadel.org GameGear @ Wicked Grounds Game night hosted by Rubber Men of San Francisco. 289 8th St., 7:30pm. www.rmsf.org Wed 27 Leathermen's Discussion Group @ Mr. S Leather Studio Fireplay with Daddy John. 385A 8th St., 7:30pm. www.sfldg.org Leather/Gear Buddies @ Blow Buddies Erotic fun for leather and gear guys, $15, 933 Harrison St., 8pm. www.blowbuddies.com Thu 28 In Gear BLUFsf Dinner @ Don Ramon's Mexican Restaurant Annual leather/gear/uniform dinner to usher in Up Your Alley weekend. 225 11th St., 6-10pm. www.blufsf.eventbrite.com
Hog Wild - The Official Opening Party of Up Your Alley @ SF EagleFor folks of a certain mindset, we're throwing an old school kind of leather party. 398 12th St., 9pm-2am. www.sf-eagle.com Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm. www.castrocountryclub.org Gear Party @ 442 Natoma Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.com Sat 30 The Dore Party @ Mr. S Leather Join hundreds of the sexiest men in the world. Come find the gear that's going to get you laid. And who knows, you might just meet the guy you'll be spending the rest of the weekend with. 385 8th St., 11am-8pm. www.mr-s-leather.com The 15 Association Men's Play Party @ Alchemy A men's BDSM play party. 1060 Folsom St., 6pm-12am. www.the15sf.org CODE (Up Your Alley Edition) @ The Edge It's Up Your Alley Fair season and only one bar in the Castro has a monthly leather/gear night. Bringing leather back to the Castro. 4149 18th St., 9pm-2am. www.edgesf.com Sneaks @ Club Six Dore Alley weekend, the boys from Polyglamorous bring you a Berlin-style sneaker and sports fetish dance & play party. Guys, gear and hot times. 60 6th St., 9:30pm. www.eventbrite.com Bay of Pigs @ 525 Harrison Folsom Street Events celebrates the 10th anniversary of this over-the-top leather event. 525 Harrison St., 10pm-4am. www.folsomstreetevents.org/bayofpigs Sun 31 Up Your Alley @ Folsom Street between 9th and Juniper Up Your Alley is only for real players - and not for the faint of heart - where leather daddies rule the streets of San Francisco's South of Market district. 11am-6:30pm. www.folsomstreetevents.org/upyouralley Rough @ Mezzanine Official closing party of Up Your Alley weekend. 444 Jessie St., 6pm-2am. www.eventbrite.com/e/rough-tickets-22750630749 Mon 1 Ride Mondays @ Eros A motorcycle rider and leathermen night at Eros, bring your helmet, AMA card, MC club card or club colors and get $3 off entry or massage. 2051 Market St. www.erossf.com Tue 2 Safeword @ The Citadel An inclusive, kink-oriented 12-step support group/meeting held every Tuesday. 181 Eddy St., 6pm. www.sfcitadel.org Wed 3 Exiles Monthly Munch @ Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe Whether you're an Exiles member or not, we welcome you to come hang out with us and enjoy the company of like-minded kinky women (along with those self-identifying as other than male) who are 18 and over. 1805 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 6:30-9:30pm. www.theexiles.org Fri 5 Sober Kink Together @ Castro Country Club Officially a CMA meeting, but open to all Anonymous 12-step Fellowship members, 4058 18th St., 9:30pm. www.castrocountryclub.org Gear Party @ 442 Natoma
Gear play party (leather, rubber, harnesses, etc.) for gay men. 442 Natoma St., $15 (requires $5 membership), 10pm. www.442parties.comSun 7 Exiles Orientation: BDSM 101 @ Oakstop All those wishing to join The Exiles must attend an orientation so we can ensure that all of our members are introduced to basic BDSM safety and concepts. This is a fun, interactive class presented in skit format. $10 for nonmembers, free for members. Open to all women (and those who identify as "other than male") who are 18 and over. 1721 Broadway, Oakland, 1-4pm. www.sf-eagle.com