Entertainment » Culture

'Up Your Alley' Re-Kinkifies SoMa

by Race Bannon

Beer and bondage at the 2012 fair
Beer and bondage at the 2012 fair  (Source:Rich Stadtmiller)

With the quickly approaching Up Your Alley street fair and the vast array of related events that take place around the same time, San Francisco is poised to yet again celebrate the leather and kinky among us in a truly special way. This year Up Your Alley, produced by Folsom Street Events, takes place on Sunday, July 27, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The fair is centered on Dore Alley between Howard and Folsom, continuing on Folsom from 9th to Juniper and the adjoining block of 10th Street.

Many people assume that Up Your Alley and its big brother, Folsom Street Fair, have similar origins, but that's not quite true. Gayle Rubin, Ph.D., author of Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader , and the person many consider the world's foremost authority on San Francisco leather history and South of Market history in particular, says this of the fair's origins.

"In contrast to the Folsom Street Fair, which eventually became a leather event, Up Your Alley was a gay and leather event from the start. The first Up Your Alley fair was held on August 25, 1985 on Ringold Alley. The fair was the brainchild of Patrick Toner, who was that year's International Mr. Leather, and Jerry Vallaire. The first Up Your Alley was focused primarily on AIDS and was structured entirely as a fundraising party. It was billed as a 'block party and tea dance' and as a carnival to raise money for three charities: the San Francisco AIDS Fund, the Gay Games II, and Community United Against Violence."

Dr. Rubin explains the fair's move from Ringold Alley to its present location.

"In 1987, the third Up Your Alley moved over to Dore Alley where it was usually referred to as the 'Dore Alley Fair.' It was still mostly a small street party with charity booths, food and drink, and entertainment, although the celebrants themselves were usually the most entertaining feature. It changed significantly and began to converge with the Folsom Street Fair when ownership and management of both fairs were placed into a single nonprofit corporation in 1990."

By the mid-80s the AIDS crisis was worsening and its impact on the fair's organizers was significant.

Dr. Rubin recounts, "As the original owners and founders of each fair moved on to other projects, and as some of them were diagnosed with HIV, they began to worry about the longevity of these events and plan for a longer future. Kathleen Connell stepped down as co-producer of the Folsom Street Fair in 1986 and was succeeded by Jayne Salinger. That year, Valerio and Salinger incorporated the Folsom Street Fair as SCAN, the South of Market Community Association. Toner and Vallaire had already established Up Your Alley, Inc. as a separate and independent corporation. In 1990, both the SCAN and Up Your Alley corporations were terminated and the two Fairs were merged into a new organization, SMMILE: South of Market Merchants' and Individuals' Lifestyles Events."

In 2003, SMMILE became Folsom Street Events, the organization that continues to produce the fair to this day. Folsom Street Events operates as a community nonprofit with proceeds from Up Your Alley, Folsom Street Fair, and other events it produces contributing over $5 million (yes, you read that correctly) over the years to a wide array of charities and worthwhile causes. So remember, when you contribute your donation at the fair's entrance, you're actually helping a lot of people with your money.

Over the years the fair has changed, grown and morphed into what it is today. I talked with Bob Goldfarb, a former Board member starting in 2000 (when the producing organization was SMMILE) who also served as the head of Security, Vice President and eventually President for two years. At that time SMMILE did not have an Executive Director. So Goldfarb produced Up Your Alley for the years he served as President.

Goldfarb offered this regarding how the fair has changed since he helped produce it.

"The fair has grown and physically moved slightly since I was President," he said. "There used to be a parking lot on Dore Alley where we had the food court and fair headquarters. That space is now occupied by the apartments at Dore and Folsom. In those days, the fair was Dore Alley plus Folsom from 9th to 10th. It's expanded to include Folsom from 10th to 11th as well as 10th Street. Recycling and composting collection have been added. Then and now, the fair is all about self-expression. There were more guys in leather back then. Now guys are expressing themselves in different ways. It's still a hot, sexy, good time and one of my favorite days of the year!"

I asked Demetri Moshoyannis, the Executive Director of Folsom Street Events, what is unique about Up Your Alley as opposed to Folsom Street Fair.

He said, "If people are unfamiliar with the two events, I usually compare them with respect to size, scope, geography, and demographics. In terms of size, Up Your Alley is much smaller - 10,000-12,000 people on two and a half city blocks, compared to the nearly 350,000 people on 13 city blocks who come to Folsom Street Fair. In terms of scope, Up Your Alley is much more focused on BDSM play, whereas Folsom Street Fair is a more inclusive entertainment experience.

"In terms of geography, Up Your Alley attracts way more locals. Folsom Street Fair is a decidedly international audience. In terms of demographics, Up Your Alley is about 95% gay, bi and trans men whereas Folsom Street Fair is approximately 75% gay, bi, and trans men with many women and heterosexuals attending. In the end, it's really a matter of where you feel comfortable. Personally, I think it's good to have two very different types of fetish fairs - it offers variety."

A hot button issue lately in San Francisco has been public nudity. One of the stipulations in the nudity legislation enacted by the Board of Supervisors is that street fairs are exempt from the legislation. So if you're inclined, you can be naked at Up Your Alley. Moshoyannis was clear that nudity will be allowed at the fair. When I asked him how he and his organization were handling the nudity issue, he said

"We are handling it by... encouraging it? [laughs] Up Your Alley and Folsom Street Fair are some of the most nudist friendly street festivals. We are working with the Body Freedom Network by offering them a free booth space and allowing them to host a naked dance contest in the dance area at 3:00pm. So, if you're interested in how the issue is working its way through local politics or entering the contest, then stop by their booth on 10th Street. Also, we will have a coat and clothes check again on 10th Street, benefiting the Leathermen's Discussion Group."

As someone who considers myself a fairly serious and experienced BDSM and kink player, one of the things I've always noticed is that Up Your Alley seems to attract more of that sort of person than Folsom Street Fair does. Moshoyannis validated my observation when I asked him who he sees as the primary target audience for Up Your Alley.

"Gay men who are committed players in the leather and fetish scenes. Traditionally, we don't do much marketing outside of San Francisco (with International Mr. Leather being a major exception), but clearly the word has gotten out. Usually we encourage tourists or newcomers to try Folsom Street Fair first. Tourists tend to enjoy the spectacle and entertainment values at Folsom a bit more; and newcomers can enjoy Folsom by being voyeurs, by watching and learning. Up Your Alley can be pretty intimidating for someone who isn't a seasoned member of the community."

Every year I look forward to Up Your Alley and the numerous social, dance and play events that surround it. The moment I pay my donation at the fair gate and walk into the sea of leatherfolk, I am swept into a fully kink world that is extremely special to me.

We're so lucky to have that opportunity here. I arrive early and usually stay late because I want to savor every moment of that brotherhood bond that permeates the air. But I wondered if other have the same impression I do.

So I asked some people to tell me of their Up Your Alley experiences. One of the recurring messages I got from many people I asked was that they liked the local and smaller aspects of Up Your Alley as compared to Folsom Street Fair. While I myself love both fairs, for different reasons, it's interesting to get other perspectives.

Eric Burkett, a Board Member of Leathermen's Discussion Group and the current Leather Daddy's Boy XXIX, offered this.

"I like Dore for probably much the same reason as others do," he said "It's smaller than its larger, more famous counterpart, the Folsom Street Fair. Up Your Alley still has something of a community feel to it although that, too, has changed as it draws more and more of a mainstream presence. It's a little raunchier, a little more sordid, a little more fun. I like the feeling I get as if I were in on a secret."

Erick Lopez, a bartender at the Edge bar in the Castro and producer of Code, the Castro's only official leather/kink bar event, offered this.

"I love knowing I am surrounded by fellow pigs and kinksters," said Lopez. "I like that this one is a little more local (though I fear not for much longer). It's a chance for everyone else to see exactly who I am at a bigger level (not that I ever hide it). And a chance to meet and network with people who share similar views as mine."

Jorge Vieto, Jr., a Fraternal Member of The 15 Association, Board member of the SF Leather Alliance and the former Stop AIDS Project Leather Coordinator, said, "I like that it is a fun place to connect with local and like-minded kinksters that I otherwise wouldn't get to see during other times of the year. Also, it's a great opportunity for clubs such as The 15 Association to demonstrate our skills and outreach to newer folks. To me, Up Your Alley was important because one of my ways of 'coming out' as a kinkster happened in the context of this fair many years ago. I still look fondly at my first fair since it was in many ways a 'coming out' for me."

While the fair is primarily held so that locals can hang out and enjoy a communal, kinky environment, some out of towners also attend. Aaron Duke, American Leatherman 2013, is one such well known leatherman who travels the nation regularly attending leather and kink events of various kinds. I asked him how Up Your Alley compares to other events he's attended.

"There is nothing like Up Your Alley anywhere," said Duke. "People travel from around the globe to attend this one of a kind, legendary street fair. It's a public exhibition of what makes leather, kink, fetish and BDSM so unique. There are a whole host of events surrounding the weekend that cater to a wide variety of interests. There is always something for everyone. There is a historical legacy of this event. And it's also been an amazing generator of funds for many local and national charities throughout the years."

Various vendors are now an integral part of the fair. One of the longtime vendors is Mr. S Leather. I asked Richard Hunter, the owner of the venerable and iconic leather retail institution, what Up Your Alley is like from his perspective and why the fair is an important event.

"Mr. S has had a booth at Up Your Alley for many years, but we never wanted to sell anything at our booth," said Hunter. "That day was for playing, having fun and connecting with friends. So we flogged, and tied boys up all day and just wanted to be part of the reason San Francisco has Up You Alley. Personally, I think this event is much more a part of the gay men's leather community than Folsom Street Fair. It's still mostly gay men enjoying each other's company without all the tourists gawking at us. At the end of the day, it's always felt good to have spent the day out on the public street with like-minded kinky friends. Gotta love San Francisco and what we are still allowed to do here."

So get ready to have a blast at Up Your Alley this year. Make sure to also check out the calendar listings that accompany this column for an assortment of events you can also attend. There's so much going on that you may have to plan out your fun and play itinerary ahead of time.

Then after you've had a blast with this year's festivities, we can all look forward to next year when Up Your Alley will turn 30. Moshoyannis said his team is already preparing for it. "So far, we're not sure how we'll celebrate that anniversary, but the Board of Directors will help to decide those issues at our strategic planning meeting in January. Our anniversaries are always an exceptional time!"

I'm looking forward that, but in the meantime I'm getting my gear ready to wear at this year's fair and the host of other events I plan to attend this week as well. I hope to see many of my readers there. Let's have fun and revel in this amazing city that welcomes us kinksters with open arms.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him through the contact page at www.bannon.com

Leather Events, July 24 - August 10, 2014

There's always a lot going on in the San Francisco Bay Area for leather and other kinksters.

Thursday, July 24

5th Annual SF BLUF Dinner @ Don Ramon Restaurant
Leather, biker, or other gear required, $30 at door, 225 11th St., 6pm bar, 7:30pm buffet. Reserve seats by July 20 at blufsf@yahoo.com.

Friday, July 25

Ignition Meet and Greet @ Does Your Mother Know
Rubber Men of SF meet and greet, 4141 18th St., 6pm. www.rmsf.org

Paws Up @ SOMA StrEATFood Park
SF K9 Unit Annual Pup-Handler-Curious Dinner, no charge/dutch treat, reserved group seating in The School Bus, 428 11th St., 6:30pm. www.sfk9unit.org

Up Your Alley Kickoff Party @ Powerhouse
Hosted by the Bare Chest Calendar Men, 1347 Folsom St., 7pm. www.barechest.org

Play Party @ Blow Buddies
Official play space for Up Your Alley Fair, 933 Harrison St., 8pm. www.blowbuddies.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.

Saturday, July 26

Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay @ de Young Museum
SF Defenders leather/kink outing, de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, 11am. www.sfdefenders.org

Beers, Boys and Bondage @ Mr. S Leather
Up Your Alley Edition of the Leather/kink social event, 385 8th St., 11am. www.mr-s-leather.com

Memory/Everyday Hero Celebration @ AIDS Memorial Grove
Bring a blanket, a picnic basket and some stories for a group celebration of our thriving, our memories, and the everyday heroes in our lives hosted by Rich Stadtmiller of RichTrove.com, Golden Gate Park, 11:30am.

Flagging in the Park @ AIDS Memorial Grove
Not specifically a leather/kink event, but lots of kinky folks attend, Golden Gate Park, 12:30am. www.flaggercentral.com/tag/flagging-in-the-park

Back Door Alley @ Powerhouse
Event hosted by Rubber Men of SF, 1347 Folsom St., 5pm. www.rmsf.org

The 15 Association Men's Play Party @ SF Citadel
A men's BDSM play party. 181 Eddy St., 8pm. www.the15sf.org

Play Party @ Blow Buddies
Official play space for Up Your Alley Fair, 933 Harrison St., 8pm. www.blowbuddies.com

Code (Up Your Alley Edition) @ Edge
Bringing leather back to the Castro, 4149 18th St., 9pm. http://qbarsf.com/EDGE/

Kontrol @ SF Eagle
Dress code enforced party, 398 12th St., 9pm. www.sf-eagle.com

Bay of Pigs
Official dance event of Up Your Alley, 525 Harrison St., 10pm. See website for ticket details. www.folsomstreetevents.org

Sunday, July 27

Up Your Alley Street Fair
Annual leather/kink street fair, see website for South of Market location, 11am. www.folsomstreetevents.org

Play Party @ Blow Buddies
Official play space for Up Your Alley Fair, 933 Harrison St., 4pm. www.blowbuddies.com

Play T-Dance @ Mezzanine
Post Up Your Alley dance party, 444 Jessie St., 5pm. www.ticketfly.com/event/581927

Phoenix @ Mr. S Leather
Men's rubber play party, 385A 8th St., 6pm. See website for pre-registration details. www.rmsf.org

Saturday, August 2

Santa Clara County Leather Association Annual Leather Formal @ Flames Eatery & Bar
A leather and uniform dinner, 88 S. Fourth St., San Jose, 6:30pm. www.sccleather.org

Friday, August 8

SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Meet & Greet @ Powerhouse
Kickoff for the SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Fetish Fair 2014 weekend, hosted by the Bay Area boys of Leather, 1347 Folsom St., 9pm. www.sfldg.org/fetishfair2014

Saturday, August 9

Whips in the Park @ Powerhouse
For men who want to throw whips together, part of the SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Fetish Fair 2014 weekend, hosted by SFLDG and Daddy Robert, location TBD (check website), 11am. www.sfldg.org/fetishfair2014

Group Fetish Fair @ SF Citadel
Annual BDSM demonstration and kinky fun fair, part of the SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Fetish Fair 2014 weekend, 181 Eddy St., 7pm. www.sfldg.org/fetishfair2014

Men's Play Party @ SF Citadel
Men's Play Party with The Men of GearUp Weekend, part of the SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Fetish Fair 2014 weekend, 181 Eddy St., 9:15pm. www.sfldg.org/fetishfair2014

Sunday, August 10

Casual Food Truck Lunch @ SOMA StrEATFood Park
Casual, no-host lunch at the food trucks, part of the SF Leathermen's Discussion Group Fetish Fair 2014 weekend, 428 11th St., 12pm. www.sfldg.org/fetishfair2014

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