I was totally stumped about what to wear to the Folsom Street Fair. I stood in my room in my favorite push-up bra, hands on my hips, staring into the closet as if the perfect outfit would magically separate from the rest and float out and onto my body. One after another piece of clothing was discarded: knee-high black boots were tossed to the side, along with my hot pink crinoline and a favorite form-fitting black knit dress.

What ever does one wear to an all-day outdoor public celebration of bondage, domination, submission, and masochism?

I, personally, was stumped but if I didn’t make a decision soon, I was going to end up having to leave the house in my underwear. That probably would have been perfectly acceptable at Folsom, but I was personally not into it.

And then it hit me: I didn’t have to dress up like a dominatrix in order to attend Folsom. The Fair is all about celebrating the weird and kinky in all of us, and my personal brand of weird and kinky doesn’t include corsets or spike heels or any rope at all. My thing is looking like a picture-perfect housewife, transgressive in my red-lipsticked normality; a feminist dressed up as the iconic image of subservience.

Sounds pretty damn dom/sub to me.

So I wriggled into my current favorite – a red and white 1960s full-skirted dress with a high collar and a slit in the front that gives a little peak at my cleavage, a matching one in the back to show off my tattoo – twisted my hair into a couple of victory curls, slapped on the bright red lips, and headed out the door.

Only to promptly get lost.

I moved to San Francisco less than two months ago and I don’t have a smartphone so despite my awesome pre-leaving-the-house Google Mapping skills, I found myself underneath an underpass next to a homeless encampment without any idea of which way to walk. Left? Right? Straight?

In the end the answer was “gay” as a gaggle of men wearing leather harnesses and little else strutted past me. I figured my best bet would be to follow their nicely formed bums as they swung down the street, so I tried to act inconspicuous as I rummaged for a pen in order to let them get ahead of me.

No one wants to look like a creep, even on the way to the Folsom.

The crowds thickened as I got closer to the 12th street entrance of the fair until I was surrounded by (mostly) men in varying states of undress. What “dress” there was seemed to be mainly of the leather variety: hats, harnesses, boots, and very, very tight pants, all buffed to various levels of shiny.

With both my gender and my knee-length cotton dress helping me feel distinctly out of place, I paid the ten-dollar donation (which goes to a long and impressive list of beneficiaries) and made it through the front gates.

Go-go boys danced right inside the entrance, looking perfectly adorable in their white and red jockstraps and giving just the right amount of thrust and bump to let the audience know that they knew they were desired. The vibe was pretty much like any run-of-the-mill gay club I’ve been to, with hot men milling around in various states of undress and sexual energy bouncing off the walls.

I looked around and thought, Well, this is kind of…bland. I’ve been going to gay clubs for years that don’t have a ten-dollar cover.

But as I walked further into the fair, the crowd started to thicken and I saw my first cock and balls swinging free in the sunshine. All of a sudden it seemed like no matter where I looked, I spotted parts that were definitely not being kept private.

My head swiveled back and forth, taking in the scene. A hairless Asian man walked by, a glazed look in his eyes, stroking himself harder. An older man wearing a lightweight button up shirt, linen pants, and Panama hat strode past with the prettiest leashed, bound, corseted “dog” I’d ever seen. They passed a young woman walking on her own, wearing olive-green cargo pants and a “halter top” that was made out of elaborately tied white rope.

Things had definitely taken a very clear turn away from “normal night out at the gay bar.”

I pulled my eyes away from the crowd and turned my attention to the booths running down the middle of the street. With over 200 vendors, the Folsom Street Fair has much the same setup as the neighborhood fairs you find in New York City or the Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown right here in SF. The streets were lined with people hawking their wares, but instead of regional foods and goods, you can find anything from high-end bondage gear to five-dollar piercings to a wide variety of lubes, and I overheard one man tell his partner, “Honey, that is not hair gel.”

I passed also passed the “coat check” staffed by a fetching young lady with blue tape X’s over her nipples. She had enough business to keep her working at a fast clip but considering the fact that it was a beautiful, sunny, seventy-five degree San Francisco summer day, you can assume that the pieces of clothing she was checking weren’t coats.

Interspersed throughout the long row of vendors were stages set high above the throng. I paused in front of one and watched a group of very, very fit men play Twister.

“Okay, guys! Left foot blue, right hand jockstrap!”

As they contorted into position, the red jockstrap found himself cheek to cheek with blue jockstrap’s ass. Clearly not one to miss an opportunity, he scooted a little closer and got right to licking.

While gay men and gay male… activities definitely dominated at Folsom, there was plenty of room for the ladies as well. At the intersection of 9th and Folsom I came across the Venus Playground, which was a fenced-off space designated for women and female-identified individuals.

Jaeleen Bennis, professional masseuse, couples counselor, professional Domina, and co-author of the Bondassage book, was hanging out at the women’s tent. She’s been coming to Folsom since 1989 and I asked her why she thought it was important to have a ladies-only space.

“The Fair started as a gay male gathering and it’s great to have a space where we can hang out, relax, and meet other kinky women, “ she told me. The women’s area was indeed full of sexy women in all shapes and sizes. I spotted one lovely corseted lady giving her equally gorgeous sub permission to talk to her friends, eyes gleaming with pleasure as she held tightly to the leash.

Outside the women’s play area, I found myself back in the growing, moving multitude of kinksters. About a block further down, I ran into a couple of straight male friends and stopped to chat. They excitedly described the suspension of a “super hot chick” they’d just watched, while a man next to me exclaimed “It’s Santa!” and took a picture of white bearded (and pubed) man wearing only shoes and a cock ring.

We moved on to a debate over whether or not the woman getting flogged in the public play station in front of us had real breasts, but paused for a moment as a trussed up, naked, blindfolded man with Abercrombie & Fitch muscles passed by. Other than the rope and blindfold, his only “clothing” was giant white angel wings made from real feathers. He glided over the crowd pulled by a phalanx of topless men wearing black leather fisherman-style pants and flinched blindly each time the cat o’ nine struck him, muscles rippling and shaking.

After that spectacle passed, I realized that my stomach was growling loud enough to be heard over the sound paddling the maybe fake-breasted woman was now receiving. I said goodbye to my friends and set off in search of food, but got waylaid by the Kink.com tent, where I stopped to see if Dane (my guide on a recent tour of the Kink.com building) was hanging out.

There was a small crowd outside the performer’s area, watching to see if anyone was about to break out the whips and chains. One performer didn’t seem too into the zoo-like aspect of the whole set up as she heckled the crowd. “Hey you! Stop being a looky-loo and participate! It’s pathetic,” she said in disgust, shaking her head at a man who looked like the kind of guy who would rub up against you in the subway and then scurry away while furtively feeling himself through his ill-fitting khakis.

I chuckled a little as I walked away, thinking, I was right. Even at Folsom, creeps aren’t welcome.

Because this is San Francisco and even street food is gourmet, I found a delicious fried chicken sandwich with a slice of yam, complimented with garlic aoli and served on a homemade roll. As I sat in the bar munching down, a fully clothed middle-aged couple walked in with secret, satisfied smiles on their faces.

They looked like they could be any Mr. and Mrs. Jones from any suburban ‘hood in America and they also looked so, so happy to be there. I saluted them silently and thought, Yup. That’s what kinky looks like.