“I didn’t think it was going to be in-person, but here we are,” remarked Dylan Phaneuf from San Francisco. 

Phaneuf is referring to the Folsom Street Fair, which, as with the majority of the Bay Area’s popular public events, was held virtually in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the annual leather and BDSM-focused street fair returned to San Francisco’s South of Market District on Sunday. The large crowd, Phaneuf among them, was all the proof needed that the move from online and back onto the city’s streets was very much welcomed.

“I’m enjoying the general atmosphere, the public displays, the performances. It’s an amazing celebration of sexuality, of fetish, of queerness,” said first-time Folsom Street Fair attendee Matt, who didn’t give his last name.

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Dubbed “MEGAHOOD2021,” this past weekend’s fair continued the tradition of highlighting a key LGBTQIA+ subculture in San Francisco’s historic Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District — with the added consideration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I appreciate the ‘proof of vaccination to enter’ [rule]. And it’s outdoors, so I felt it was safe to come,” said Matt, who is from Los Angeles and was there with his boyfriend.

There was much to see and do at Sunday’s fair. Along the span of Folsom between Eighth and 13th streets, a variety of vendors had set up shop, including those selling fetish items; beverages were available for purchase, such as a $7 White Claw; bars and cafes were open; music and BDSM demonstrations were held on the three performance stages. And, of course, there was the crowd itself. 

“I didn’t know people were going to be straight-up nude,” confessed Emily Van Buren as she glanced around. Van Buren, visiting from out of town, had heard about the event from a friend and wanted to see it for herself.

“It’s like the stereotype of San Francisco that people might have, like people in the Midwest. But not in a bad way,” Van Buren said of the Folsom Street Fair.

With the skin-exposing, tight-fitting leather and latex attire, the pet play outfits — and the nudity — attendees embraced the opportunity to express themselves and, importantly, be themselves, openly and on the streets of this LGBTQIA+ inclusive city.

As Phaneuf said, “It’s people being real. It’s bringing our community together.” With a smile, he added, “You can just be yourself here.”