‘Up Your Alley’ fair hurts so good

The world of BDSM flooded San Francisco’s Folsom Street Sunday, transforming South of Market into a kink-lover’s wonderland.

The event known as Up Your Alley, held since the 1980s, attracted thousands of kink-savvy and partially- to fully-nude participants.

As bright sun shined overhead, people – primarily gay men – were flogged, hit, tied in bondage, and whipped on the streets. Leathermen prowled the streets, some walking masked as “leather puppies.”

Dressed in revealing leather clothing, River Strongman told SFBay:

“I found a lot of power in the leather community. … I feel like leather is one of the most sexiest, powerful things you can ever wear – and if you can stand proud any day outside of an event like this and wear leather, you’re going to make it somewhere in life.”

A man identified as Karl (left), flogs River Strongman (right), 23, a kink, HIV, sex-positive and mental health activist from Los Angeles, Calif, at the Up Your Alley fair in the South of Market district of San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 30, 2017.

The sex-positive kink, HIV, and mental health activist explained that leather has a role in BDSM far greater than just sexuality:

“It’s about connecting with somebody on a very deep emotional, soulful level.”

For Rivers, leather is a very important element in kink.  At the event, he participated as a submissive partner and was flogged – whipped repeatedly with multiple leather tools.

Bryan “Smash” Manteranch was dressed in a suit of leather armor topped off by a pup mask; pup culture is a sub-group of the leather community.  He became interested in leather through his involvement in fetish groups.

Bryan “Smash” Manteranch, 45, an IT professional from Santa Cruz, Calif., drinks beer through his pup mask at the Up Your Alley fair in the South of Market district of San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 30, 2017. The mask is representative of the pup culture, a sub-group of the leather community.

Drinking beer from a plastic cup through his pup mask, Manteranch howled in his pup persona:

“This is just an identity that I had created for myself.”

Manteranch explained that the pup community was dominated by dominance and submission play and had a “pack hierarchy,” a social system similar to that of the animal kingdom:

“A lot of people find a great deal of escapism into an animal persona. … We live in this fantasy world and for those hours or days … there’s no politics, there’s no drama. There’s moments where I get misty-eyed this weekend because I can’t believe this is my life and I’m having this much fun; I’m surrounded by so much love.”

Up Your Alley, organized by Folsom Street Events, is described by the group as the better-known BDSM festival “Folsom Street Fair’s dirty little brother.”

On the far end of 11th Street, fair-goers participated in a small whipping and bondage arena held by The 15 Association, an organization for men who engage in BDSM.

Ken Briggs, 75-year-old retiree, talked about bondage and his 15-minute session at the kink fair:

“I love it. … It’s hard to explain; I’m tied up but I’m free.”

Briggs said he had the freedom to choose to relinquish control and give up his ability to choose what happens to him during bondage.

For others, the fair was more simply an occasion to have fun.

Justin Gehl, a corporate trainer with ten years of experience at the fair, said:

“You have everyone around you that is being themselves. … It is a great opportunity to just be free.”