My Blog List

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ground zero

Last weekend I was in San Francisco. As part of my planned “entertainment,” instead of going to the symphony or the opera or even to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), my sexually unaligned friends insisted that I go with them to the most hard-core, open-to-the-public gay event of the year: Dore Alley gay leather fetish fair. Pretend you are an anthropologist, one said, when he saw the expression on my face. So I followed him, passed the orange street barrier, and entered the dense crowd of men.

The Dore Alley event is not designed for the squeamish among the hetero population. It is the most in-your-face-I’m-gay extravaganza San Francisco has to offer. And while gawkers are certainly welcome, as many participants are by definition unrepentant exhibitionists, one should try to blend in, if only out of respect for the blatant counter-culture expressionism.

I tried to act nonchalant and inconspicuous as partially naked men dressed in what looked like Nazi paraphernalia walked by me, but that was almost impossible, since I am obviously a woman who does not wear black leather straps and stilettos too well. To the credit of the naked Nazi look alikes, I must say, they had absolutely no interest in me. I stood on the sidewalk and took pictures, and no one bothered to give me a second look. (see above)

There is something to be said about middle aged men who don’t possess the statuesque silhouette of a Michelangelo’s David or Bacchus and still have the audacity to walk completely naked on the street, with their anatomy hanging out for all to see. I am not sure what this type of nudity is supposed to mean, but it certainly made me extremely uncomfortable. This is not the innocent nude beach, family-friendly nudity. It is provocative nudity intended to unnerve the softhearted.

And so I was unnerved. But at the same time, I must say that it was quite an amazing experience to be in the middle of this display of what some people might consider as perverted sexuality, and feel completely safe. Because that day, on Folsom street, I was the strange Other; yet not one person cared to question my presence or look at me unfavorably.

A lot of the guys who come to Dore Alley are just guys. Many are beyond the stage of making a statement about their gayness. They accept it, their family accepts it, their friends accept it, they’ve been out of the closet for years, without apology, without having to explain or prove a point. Many are just gays in a hard-core gay festival, like the Greeks in the Greek festival, the Italians in the Santa Rosalia festival, and the Japanese in the Obon festival.

I guess sometimes what looks like the most unusual place to be in, is actually a very ordinary one. There must be a lesson here.


  1. This one is from the friend who can't figure out how to put a comment on my blog: via email:
    Thanks Galia for making my day! Your last post is hilarious and I really like your conclusion :)

  2. Sounds pretty unnerving allright.
    Did you see the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence? They were my favorite part of the fair...
    I bet you'd look fantastic in stilettos!

  3. If you click on the photograph (which I took on my digital camera) you will see two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in the crowd, one wearing a white scarf and the other in a purple thingy. They had a very strong presence in the fair.

  4. Here's another comment I received via email from the friend who took me to the Dore Alley Fair:

    Dore Alley is mostly gay leather fetish, while Folsom is mostly straight. So it's not really a gay thing, its a fetish thing. The
    biggest BDSM communities are straight. At Folsom you will see lots of leather fetish and dom women and their partners.

    In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, "This is not the benevolent nude beach, family-friendly nudity. It is a provocative nudity intended to unnerve the softhearted." is not correct. It is sexual. So if one
    sees sex as something negative then this would not be benevolent.

    I find expressions of human sexuality in all of its forms to be healthy and benevolent. And it is not intended to "unnerve the softhearted". That would be a protest where they were trying to show it to people who didn't come to the fair. It is in fact the opposite, it is for people who wish to come, not the general public. You were merely the victim of having been amongst wild gay men (particularly me) who would want to go. Only a small fraction of the gay people in SF are part of the leather community and go to Dore Alley. The pride parade on the other hand is intended to be a public statement and so they parade down Market Street. The pride parade is broadcast on TV. Dore Alley is only for the participants who choose to attend and so is not.

    Again, this is just my not particularly well informed opinion. It's really cool that you're doing a blog.

  5. I changed "benevolent" to "innocent," because I did not intend to imply that the the observed behavior was malevolent. (even though there were mostly males on the street.)

  6. Tellingly, you mention Bacchus and reference a Greek festival.

    In The Bacchae, Dionysus' immortal lineage is questioned by those in power, resulting in tragic consequences. Every society needs its outlets. In mythological terms, it has to set aside time and space for honoring Dionysus, a complex diety who will have nothing to do with our mechanisms of sense-making, self-control, and propriety.

    I submit you walked right into one such ceremony.

    And see? Not a scratch.

    Come Monday morning, with Apollo rising, most of the nuns and the bears probably got up, put on their business casual, had their coffee, kissed their honeys goodbye and went in to work.