What better way to celebrate and enjoy a beautiful, sunny Father’s Day than to trek over to the Folsom Street East festival? The 15th annual event was held this past Sunday in the urban valley of West 28th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues, under the watchful eye of the newly opened section of the High Line park. After all, hanging out during daylight with lots of sexy guys wearing nothing but skimpy scraps of leather, a healthy sprinkling of freaks, a little BDSM in the open air and some beer on tap was lots better than buying Daddy a tie and taking New Jersey transit out for a tedious day with dysfunctional family members. Instead, this celebration of sexual freedom offers what daddies really want: some rubber puppy paws, a plastic tail plug and a rubber dog hood for puppy play sessions.
Although you might think the event caters only to a fringe group, I bumped into a lot of my friends there. “I love leather, and I think this event is one of the sexiest of the year,” photographer Rob Ordonez told me. He and his friend, fashion designer Geary Marcello, are regulars and were dressed in typical Folsom Street attire, with matching spiked dog collars, leather straps, face piercings and tattoos.
When I arrived around 3 p.m., the block was crammed with mostly men, a few women (some in leather) and drag queens. And one living blow-up doll: A person encased in a latex mask covering his entire face, who was also wearing black latex—with balloons for tits. I pushed my way through the crowd looking for the press table on the other side of the block and thought about getting a beer ticket for $5 because it was starting to get hot (in more ways than one).
As I expected from photos I’d seen from previous Folsoms, some men were semi-nude and consisted of all different body types, ages and colors. Some wore leather chaps with ample ass hanging out, some wore other bondagetype fashion (harnesses being the most common) and some were just wearing average, everyday clothing. What made the day fun was the sense of adventure and friendliness of the crowd.
The stage shows were emceed by porn star personalities Mike Dreyden (who later participated in the most unique pie-eating contest ever conceived) and Will Clark. Sassy drag queen Peppermint performed and—although there were some wellplaced taunts from the average-looking gawkers on the High Line—it was a feelgood day.
My friend, nightlife photographer Teague Clements, seemed to have a great time. “It was a veritable cornucopia of sexual freedom: leather daddies with their lovers, lesbian doms with their boi slaves, muscular bears walking hand-in-hand,” he said. “And every now and then, people just… kissing. And yes, there were straight folks, too.”
But of course, kink was the theme.
International Mr. Bootblack 2011 was at his station cleaning and polishing people’s boots, with soap, polish and his tongue. T.E.S. (The Eulenspiegel Society) held flogging demonstrations and random guys were lashing volunteers. And yes, a few guys were actually wearing leather and latex dog masks.
Try as I might, I didn’t see any real public sex, although I’m told things can get racier as the fest ends and attendees enter the nearby Eagle bar. New York’s Folsom Street East is tame compared to its namesake in San Francisco and its sister event, Up Your Alley, which is known for its hard-core sex. The Folsom events in general are to support sexual freedom as a political act, but New York City has always been more prudish about public displays.
With the street fair being held near the High Line, when new luxury condos encroaching closer every day, you’d think the neighborhood would be outraged by the near-nudity. In general, onlookers seemed more curious—and even amused. According to Clements, when he left the fair accompanied by two friends and their slaves tied head-to-foot in rope bondage, “There was no drama, just looks and double takes on the street. But no stupid comments or confrontations.”
Cougar Perry, who’s writing a book about her experiences battling breast cancer, was enthusiastic. “It’s my first time at Folsom Street East. Many people thought I was a FTM trans man,” she explained. “I told them I was trans by default and that I am a breast cancer patient. I showed them my chemo port and my nippleless chest under my leather harness. People were fascinated, impressed and amazed! I actually made some new sweet, leather daddy friends. I had a blast!” As for me, it seemed like a typical street fair, complete with overpriced tchotchkes—just with the addition of lots of bare skin, jock straps, fetish wear, harnesses and pony hooves. My only regret was missing the infamous pie-eating contest in which guys have their butts smeared with cream pie and then have it lapped off by the eager tongues of their male teammates. For once, no one was worrying about calories.