Up Your Alley Fair
San Francisco, July 26, 2015
Every year the city of San Francisco hosts a free, open-to-the-public street festival called Up Your Alley for the gay BDSM (bondage, discipline and sadomasochism) sexual subculture. It is generally regarded as the "Folsom Street Fair for locals," since Up Your Alley is not nearly as well known as its sister event. Even so, tens of thousands of participants showed up this year on July 26, many of whom were either naked or wearing "bondage gear" or fetish outfits. (As the picture above shows, this report contains some images of full-frontal nudity. NSFW. All photographs on this page taken at the 2015 Up Your Alley Fair.)
I last reported on Up Your Alley back in 2008, but the antics of the participants was so outrageously pornographic that merely documenting what happened that year got my entire domain added to many databases of URLs blacklisted for being X-rated, meaning my site was blocked for any users on networks with "safe search" settings.
As a result, this time around I'm going to avoid showing any actual sexual activity, and just keep to lighthearted commentary. But yes, there will be penises, so be forewarned!
Typical Up Your Alley moment. Yes, his shirt really does say "Kick Me in the Balls." Yes, he really did want passing strangers to kick him in the balls. (This fetish is known as "ballbusting.") Somehow, the adjacent sign announcing the "Apocalypse" seems depressingly appropriate.
This guy seemed the odds-on favorite to win the "Freak of the Day" award, until...
...a new champion arose! All hail The Freak!
The disturbing thing about events like Up Your Alley is that they provide total acceptance and a nonjudgmental "safe space" for people who are quite obviously mentally ill. An extreme exhibitionist like this guy for example, who sat naked on the public sidewalk in front of an elementary school with his legs splayed wide open (while filming the reactions of passersby), would in any other cultural setting be regarded as a dangerous lunatic in need of psychiatric help or involuntary commitment to a jail or mental hospital.
But here at Up Your Alley his antics barely merited a glance, much to his dismay; the goal of exhibitionism is to elicit shocked reactions from your victims. The tragic irony is that the only place he's free to expose himself without legal repercussions is also the only place where everyone is too jaded and blasé to care.
And he wasn't the only one doing this: All sorts of naked guys sat on the sidewalks throughout the fair exposing themselves.
Fetishists are apparently exempt from the national hysteria over race. White guys whipping tied-up black women? Not a problem. Of course, if any other group or subculture had racial "slave-play" as part of their behavior, they be accused of racism, hate crimes and microaggressions, and be chased out of town by a mob with burning torches.
Sometimes a single-level fetish isn't enough. These guys are not just into sadistic butt-paddling, but sadistic butt-paddling with hockey-sticks. Yes, to some folks, even hockey is erotic.
At the Up Your Alley Fair, locals were permitted to violate every imaginable social norm -- except, of course, the one sacred law that was rigidly enforced: garbage segregation! God forbid you should put a recyclable cup in the "trash" bin, or a plastic lid in the "compostables" section! The rules are so complicated and so vigorously enforced that most large events in San Francisco have municipal "compost police" who stand next to every garbage can issuing instructions and warnings if you do it wrong. The freaks dutifully obeyed.
Here and there throughout the fair, random perverts would stand naked in nooks and crannies -- such as this character, who looked like a mythological troll from some X-rated fairy tale.
The troll emerged from his lair to seize a victim, roaring and grunting incomprehensibly.
The inevitable question I get about reports like this is "Where were the police? Isn't this all illegal?" It's complicated. The police were there, as this picture shows, but mostly they just stayed around the fair's periphery. The legal status of public nudity in San Francisco seems to be in eternal limbo; a new law technically makes nudity illegal, but the law seems to be only ever enforced when nude protesters raise a ruckus at City Hall. Otherwise, a small number of full-time nudists still stroll around the city on a daily basis and never seem to suffer any arrests or legal entanglements.
That said, although "non-sexual" public nudity is de facto tolerated in San Francisco, sexual activity or "lewdness" in public is still as illegal here as it is anywhere else in the country. To that end, much more than at past events, the police did venture into the fair itself and patrol for blatant violations. It's not illegal to be freaky, however, so the cops didn't harrass or arrest anyone simply for being naked or perverted.
But, even so...was there completely blantant public masturbation going on? Yes.
Did that public masturbation sometimes escalate to public oral sex? Yes.
Were people jacking each other off in plain view of everyone? Yes.
The legal distinction between semi-tolerated mere "nudity" and strictly illegal "lewdness" basically comes down to this simple question: flaccid or erect? SF police will generally shrug and walk away from a nudist with a "non-sexual" flaccid penis, but are supposed to arrest any guy sporting an erection in public. However, as this picture proves, that distinction was ignored at the Up Your Alley Fair. And it's not like this was in some obscure corner of the festivities -- as you can see, it was next to the fair's official medical tent in the exact center of the action.
And yet the police strolled right by and did...nothing. So I suspect they were instructed by the Powers That Be to keep a hands-off approach as much as possible, lest strict enforcement of the law start a riot and/or more political arguments.
Even so, having said all this, I think the mere presence of the police strolling around helped to suppress some of the more absolutely mind-boggling public sexual behavior seen in previous years at the Up Your Alley Fair, as docomented here at zombietime. In that earlier report, I photographed Up Your Alley participants publicly ejaculating, performing anal penetration, urinating on each other, performing oral sex in plain view of everyone, and in general engaging in much more extreme behaviors than I witnessed this year. That earlier zombietime report went viral and caused City Hall to pressure the fair's organizers to clamp down on the more outrageous antics, and to allow more police patrols. So as outrageous as this may all seem to non-San Franciscans, it's not nearly as outrageous as it used to be. (Though I'm purposely making this report a bit less X-rated and not showing all the photos I took of public sexuality on display, instead focusing more on the humorous side of things, because this time around there is no real political angle to the essay.)
The Z.Z. Top look -- what I like to call "sadobilly" -- seems to grow in popularity every year.
This year I was expecting to see a lot of pony-play and brony action, but was shocked at how little I encountered. This naked guy in the photo-bomb classic "rubber unicorn head" was the closest I came to meeting an equine-American.
Well, there was also this guy, but his self-confident comportment suggested to me he was more of a dominant horse-master who whipped his human slaves rather than the traditional other way around.
No, instead of everyone play-acting as horses, as I had naively assumed, at the 2015 edition of Up Your Alley it was another animal altogether. For some reason, unexpectedly, one specific fetish dominated all others this year: dogs.
That is to say, men dressing up as and play-acting as dogs -- not a bestiality fetish for sex with actual dogs (though, lord knows).
The new name for this fetish is "puppy play." And it was only after my initial astonishment at witnessing hundreds of men dressed as dogs that I learned that puppy play is indeed a massive fad in the gay community at the moment:
"Surely you've heard of puppy play: It's surging in popularity among the gays, and, if history is any guide, will be surging among the straights in five years when we've moved on to something else.
Let's be clear about this. Puppy play means role-playing as a dog, down on all fours and barking, and yes, it's weird."
To my mind, it's not so much "weird" as it is embarrassingly childish. Most of these puppy play guys didn't come off as sophisticated postmodern sexual deviants, but rather as dorky kids out trick-or-treating on Halloween.
This impression was unavoidable at the Puppy Play Kennel, which was far and away the most popular booth at the 2015 Up Your Alley Fair. At any given moment, between ten and fifteen "pups" were let in to the kennel to frolic and fondle each other in front of the passing crowds...
...while dozens of other pups waited in line for their turns.
My assessment was that "puppy play" was as much about being a dog as it was a variant of baby play -- role-playing as a baby or toddler. The "pups" rarely snarled or barked or acted like adult dogs -- instead they cavorted and nuzzled like canine newborns craving attention.
Puppy play purists claim that puppy play is a kind of Buddhist no-mind meditation:
"If you're having trouble understanding the appeal of puppy play, just imagine how amazing it would be if there were a form of group relaxation where you could empty your mind of all your cares, forget all of your responsibilities, lower all of your defenses, and bypass small talk forever. Now imagine that vigorous cuddling and praise are key components of this relaxation technique.... All a puppy has to do is relax and switch their brain from that of a logical calculator to a reactive animal."
While that may be true for a few, for most of the pups at the fair, the entire fetish was self-evidently "performative" -- that is to say, just a way to show off and draw attention to oneself. If it really was just a way to "empty your mind," then you wouldn't have a craving to do it in front of an audience.
But the term "puppy play" could not fully explain the complete range of canine behavior throughout the fair: there seemed to be a significant amount of overlap and intersection with various other types of dog-related fetishism, including:
Leather dogs, or dressing up as and acting like vicious and dangerous guard dogs -- a variant of the semi-taboo fascist/Nazi/secret-police sadistic torture scene;
Furry dogs, a subset of the ever-growing "furry" scene in which people get sexually aroused dressing in cartoonish animal costumes;
Slave dogs, a blend of pure "puppy play" and the more standard master-slave relationship, which in this variant becomes an owner/pet relationship.
(This guy even had a human slave and slave dog attached to the same leash.)
Otherkin or therian dogs -- people who believe they actually are dogs. In this chaotic setting it wasn't easy to discern which attendees actually took their dog roles seriously, but some certainly seemed to. The "otherkin" community comprises people who identify as nonhuman (often fictional) creatures, whereas "therian" is an otherkin subset of people who identify as real-world animals; "dogkin" is a rarely used term to refer to therians who think they are, in factual reality, dogs.
How many people at the fair were in each category? Impossible to say. And the categories most likely just blurred into each other, with no distinct dividing line between the various sub-sub-subcultures.
Some even took the dog sex-fetish theme into new directions, such as...
...rough trade dog ("rough trade" being an old slang term for the excitement of anonymous gay sex with random strangers who could be dangerous or violent)...
...and bespectacled obese dog.
Most comical were the lazy poseur "pups" who couldn't be bothered to wear a sweaty dog mask on a hot day, but who still wanted to indicate their membership in the puppy play subculture with the shorthand gesture of wearing a tail.
Some couldn't even get that right, and wore their dog tails in anatomically impossible locations.
A furry/otherkin raccoon watches the pups at play.
Is there a fetish for stinky underarms? Do you even have to ask?
I don't even want to know what the name of this particular subculture might be.
A fully-clothed run-of-the-mill standard San Francisco street bum plonked himself down smack dab in the middle of all this insanity, and proceeded to get drunk as if he wasn't surrounded by thousands of naked and half-naked perverts. In an oddly reassuring way, he seemed like the most normal person there.
In the '60s when the sadist fetish subculture first flourished, there was an unapologetic enthusiasm for Nazi uniforms and regalia, not because sadists actually embraced Nazism as a political philsophy, but because the cultural image of the Nazi epitomized cruelty and dominance, which the sadists found sexually arousing. But outsiders, seeing all this Nazi-themed porn and costumery and role-play, became suspicious that sadism fetishists really were Nazis or crypto-Nazis, so over the decades the subculture has abandoned overt Nazi iconography. Instead, they now exhibit a sort of non-specific fascist/totalitarian secret police vibe, as we can see here, with expertly tailored leather quasi-military uniforms but lacking any identifiable historical references.
This guy, whom we saw above and whom I refer to as "Viagra Dude" for obvious reasons, is a regular at many outdoor sex/gay/fetish events in San Francisco, and was the subject of a mini-essay about exhibitionism I wrote in an earlier report, which bears repeating here:
"...The pre-eminent sexual fetish at the [fair] is the one least discussed: exhibitionism. This man, for example, is an exhibitionist, as were a great many others at the fair. Exhibitionists derive sexual pleasure from having people watch them engage in sex. You, the observer, are a participant in their sex act, whether you want to be or not. That's the point, the source of the "thrill." If you attend the Folsom Street Fair [or Up Your Alley Fair], to a certain extent you are knowingly agreeing to be "visually raped" and to participate in the exhibitionist sex of others, just by being there to view it. Almost always, when someone at the fair began to masturbate, a crowd would form to watch: and by so doing would voluntarily become second-hand participants in the solo sex act -- just as you the viewer are doing right now."
Confirming my theory, Viagra Dude himself later emailed me to brag about how aroused he was to have his photograph publicized on the Internet, and thanked me for helping him to visually rape even more unwitting victims. And here I am, years later, enabling him again.
But his unrepentant misbehavior serves my purpose too, to demonstrate in an irrefutable way to the rest of the world that some of people who attend these events are in many cases not just crazy but malignant as well.
"Every time you see a RAINBOW, GOD is having GAY SEX." The goal, you see, is to taunt and mock defeated Christians, to rub their noses in it.
Another good example. "Jesus forgot the safe word." In hardcore sado-masochistic roleplay, the "bottom" can stop the torture session by calling out a "safe word," indicating that he can no longer endure the pain. This shirt recasts the Crucifixion as simply a gay S&M session gone bad. Hahahahaha.
Can someone explain to me why a gay man would adorn his body with tattoos of Che Guevara, who famously hated homosexuals as "counter-revolutionary" and imprisoned Cuban homosexuals in brutal slave-labor camps? Is this tattooed man stupid? Insane? Sadly misinformed? Or -- my theory -- could he be a new breed of masochist who forces himself to worship the very person who would torture him?
Some fetishists spend hours and hours perfecting their sexual personas and subculture costumes...while others such as this guy spend maybe one minute pulling a piece of fabric over his head as a makeshift mask -- boom, ready for prime time.
Which exact fetish subculture has "beach towel and Mexican wrestling mask" as its uniform? It's difficult keeping them all straight.
Now here's a guy with an honest shirt. Freud-era psychologists once theorized that homosexuality was caused by fear of the vagina dentata -- women's genitals equipped with teeth, a deep-seated mythological phobia in our collective unconscious which some men never overcome (or so the theory went). Wearing this shirt ("#CUNTCAKE") at a gay street fair raises the question: Were those old psychologists on to something?
The purpose behind this "cock sock" is not to keep the penis warm, but rather to make it appear much longer than it really is -- his member only filled the first inch or two of the sock, and the rest was just stuffing. Note also the chest and stomach hair shaved into either a puppy or bear face.
Of all the messages and phrases you could possibly choose to permanently tattoo across your back, why "By Demons Be Driven"? Is that the message you really want to advocate to the world? Alternate explanation: "By Demons Be Driven" is a heavy metal song from the '90s, but the song's lyrics ("He pulls us from nails/Shatters our bones/Leaving us crippled and strewn/Boiling my corpse in the blood of his children/Praying for his god to prevail") aren't particularly inspirational.
How can you "Kill the Hate" without killing the haters?
What I can never successfully wrap my mind around is how events like this are obsessed with "barebacking" (having unprotected anal sex)...
...and how much of the porn on sale glorifies barebacking...
...and even though everyone acknowledges that barebacking was and is the leading cause of HIV transmission in the gay population...
...despite all that the Up Your Alley Fair is supposedly a benefit for nonprofit AIDS-prevention groups, some of whom had HIV testing booths adjoining the bareback fetish booths. The end result is that the fair itself encourages the exact behavior which causes the problem it claims to help. Is there some fragment of rational consistency here that somehow eludes me?
Remind me not to eat in this guy's restaurant.
Man? Woman? Baby? Adult? Creepy? Super-duper-creepy? So many unanswered questions.
Few tourists ever find out about Up Your Alley, but those that stumble upon it (like this couple) are in souvenir-photo heaven.
A foot fetishist set up an unpermitted "Free Foot Massages" booth, and some female attendees in all naiveté volunteered to be his unwitting victims.
I puzzled over the meaning of this outfit for a while until I finally got the joke: California's official nickname is "The Golden State," and the slang term for urine/piss fetish activity is "golden showers." At least I think that's the reference.
The fact that I know what a cum pig is, yet can't figure out the meaning of the "m" logo, is itself kind of alarming.
Love/hate at first sight.
The gay fetish community accepts people of all shapes and sizes...just so long as you are a pervert.
Some young attendees went for the "Justin Beiber" look, in one case here augmented by a "rapper's giant gold chain" accessory.
And yes, there really is a Justin Bieber gay-sex fetish, a subset of the "twink" and underage fetish, as revealed by the category of "Boy Crush" porn DVDs for sale at several of the fair's booths. (Image purposely zoomed-out to make the video covers hard to discern, for legal reasons. All models depicted on third-party videos are over 18, presumably. Whew!)
But mostly the fair was just a lot of "bears" standing around with their dicks hanging out.
What am I saying? Upon further reflection, everyone at the fair was perfectly sane and normal. Who am I to judge?
[To comment on this report, click here to visit the comments section at zomblog.]
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