Friday, November 24, 2017

Pride & Folsom: Revisiting Sexual Practices

A few years back, I attended Folsom Street Fair (Folsom), an event that aims to “unite adult alternative lifestyle communities with safe venues” in SF, while raising funds for charities. I've described Folsom to my friends as a NC-17 version of the larger Pride event that takes place about a month before Folsom. But that’s an oversimplification. While SF Pride (Pride) brands itself as “a celebration of diversity,” the diversity it celebrates is distinct from and privileged relative to the diversity Folsom embraces.

Admittedly, I enjoy Pride because it celebrates sexual and gender diversity. And what kind of self-hating joto (queer) would I be if I repudiated an event that welcomes other press-on nail wearing queers with open arms! Yet, I find Pride to be a politically sanitized event because it fails to acknowledge that folks are stigmatized not only based on sexual orientation, but also according to their sexual practices. Instead, Folsom is relegated the heavy lifting on that front.  

Attending Folsom is a visceral reminder that homosexuality is a recent social construct, a product of modernity. Indeed, homosexuals haven’t existed throughout history, even if there have always been individuals who’ve engaged (exclusively) in homosexual sexual behavior. Only when homosexuality became an identity, could individuals identify as gay. Today’s Catholic Catechism illustrates the distinction: the Church welcomes homosexuals, but repudiates and admonishes homosexual sexual practices. Under this “love the sinner but not the sin” logic, individuals who are exclusively homosexual and would, presumably, engage only in homosexual sexual practices are “called to chastity.” Notably, the church categorizes homosexual sexual practices as “sins contrary to chastity,” alongside masturbation, and pornography. Folsom, too, reminds us that perhaps what matters, and merits destigmatization, are folks sexual practices, and not only their sexual orientations or gender identities.

The last time I attended Folsom, it was a packed event. My friends and I had to jostle about the crowd to see the exhibits, which are meant to be educational, and pleasurable for the instructors/participants—and some spectators. There were exhibits on BDSM, Shibair/Kinbaku, pup play, erotic wrestling, and latex/rubber play, among others. On that day, Kink.com, a fetish porn studio that promotes consent, accountability, and inclusiveness in adult entertainment, dominated the main stage. My friends and I were instantly amused by the spectacle of a naked, leashed, and handcuffed, man in his 30s, and on his knees, being humiliated by a petite brunette dominatrix wearing a pencil skirt and stiletto heels. She directed the naked man to call her “mistress” throughout the performance, and demanded that he lick her heels as she walked him across the stage. She also asked the hundreds of spectators and passersby to humiliate the man by having them collectively shout “bitch” at him several times throughout the performance.

My friends and I were entertained and puzzled by the events unfolding on stage and rippling through the audience. I wondered: had onlookers gone from being mere spectators to active participants in a public sex act? After all, the onlookers followed the dominatrix's command, and contributed to the leashed man’s humiliation, from which he, apparently, derived sexual pleasure. Besides blurring/queering the line between intimate and public sex acts, and the acceptable and the fetishized, the show reminded me that the social progress associated with sexual practices among consenting adults has not kept pace with social progress in the gender and sexuality fronts. It’s not surprising, then, that Folsom is a smaller event that even some Pride attendees would, ironically, regard as perverted. 

In short, while Pride embraces all sinners, it doesn’t do nearly enough as Folsom does to subvert the sins according to which many Pride attendees continue to be judged by. And this should concern feminists because the right to fuck whichever consenting adult one wants should not be (morally) superior to fuck however one wants. 

1 comment:

Omar de la Cruz said...

Thank you for sharing that experience G. As someone who is an outsider to all of this but who has heard of it, it is really great to read about your perspective on what substantively goes on at these events. While curious, I've never attended because I feel like they're not a space that's meant for me. I would feel like too much of a phony or too voyeuristic, consuming everything I'm seeing at a space that wasn't really meant to be for me. You speak of how meaningful Folsom is because it goes beyond Pride in terms of subverting norms and I feel like if I were to be there I would be kind of ruining that. I guess it's along the same lines of why despite being born in raised in Oakland, a very short BART ride away from San Francisco, I never flocked to SF Pride. I know so many people who go to Pride for the spectacle and to party and that kind of feels like muddying and devaluing the event for me. Regardless, I'm glad these spaces exist for people to be able to feel truly free to express themselves without being judged.