Up Your Alley fair returns to SF

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022
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Attendees enjoyed the 2018 Up Your Alley street fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Attendees enjoyed the 2018 Up Your Alley street fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter

After a two-year hiatus thanks to COVID-19, Up Your Alley, aka Dore Alley, is returning. While excitement around the popular street fair's return is palpable, so too is the reality that, in addition to COVID, there is yet another disease outbreak to factor in.

While there's every reason to expect that, for the thousands of folks who descend on the intersection of Folsom and Dore streets this Sunday, July 31, the fair is going to be as sexy and fun as it always has been — public flogging demos are coming back! — there's also the new reality of monkeypox to deal with. Since rearing its ugly head at two major European LGBTQ events earlier this summer, monkeypox has been making its way through the LGBTQ community, particularly among men who have sex with men.

A member of the orthopoxvirus genus which includes now-eradicated smallpox, monkeypox is generally regarded as significantly less serious than smallpox but, for some, it can still be potentially deadly and, for many, an outbreak can be quite serious nonetheless. In San Francisco, as of July 26, there have been 222 documented cases.

According to information from the City of San Francisco's website, "Most people get well from monkeypox without pills or treatment of any kind. But for some people monkeypox can be serious."

Race Bannon, a gay man and long a leader in the city's LGBTQ kink and leather scene, said there are simple strategies for navigating this latest health issue at the fair. Bannon, 68, noted that although casual contact is not a high risk activity, he suggested guys think about leaving their shirts on through the fair since monkeypox can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.

"A little restraint, pardon the pun, is probably warranted right now," said Bannon, the Bay Area Reporter's former leather columnist. But, he added, more serious considerations should be taken into account, as well, particularly in as sexually a charged atmosphere as the fair.

"I think men should reconsider any anonymous sex connections for now," said Bannon. "That includes at sex venues, and sex with men they do not know ahead of time. I think it is the time, right now, if you 're gonna play, play with men you know. Even if you do play with men you know, ask, so people can assess the risk assessment."

Another leader in the city's kink scene, Frank Strona, a gay man and incident management team lead for monkeypox with the San Francisco Department of Health, agrees. But Strona added that a casual brush between two shirtless individuals isn't likely to spread the virus, though nothing is 100% certain. There are considerations - rashes and sores on folks' skin are something to take into account, he said.

"It depends on how developed their rash is," Strona told the B.A.R. "If you have open sores on your skin, are you sunburned and blistered? I wish I could say yes or no. What I really can say is it's a varying spectrum. It's less likely for brief quick moments of passing somebody, but you can't rule that out completely."

Plenty of folks will be attending play parties over the weekend, as well. The fair is about sex, after all. Strona suggested attendees apply the standards learned from COVID to their sexual encounters.

"Well, I think they need to really be communicating with the hosts," he said. "What are the host's cleaning procedures? Now, remember they do not need to use super strength cleaning, but they do want to be thinking about routine cleaning. If I were going to attend a play party this weekend, I would bring my own towels. I would bring my own play sheet so that I know everything's been laundered, and it's the only thing that's coming into contact with mine and my partner's body. I would bring my own rubber gloves and I would probably bring my own cleaning wipes just so that I can make sure any equipment that I touch, that I want to play with, I've wiped down before. And as a courtesy, I would often wipe it down myself."

If you're not feeling well, "take the higher road," he said, "and maybe not attend every event or really honestly self-assess."

Performance artist Franzia Kafka showed up to the 2018 Up Your Alley as a sexy Mr. Monopoly but was asked to leave because political statements aren't allowed at the fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Of course, it isn't all sex at Dore. There's the business of sex, too. There will be plenty of businesses and organizations there to sate fairgoers' desires. According to Folsom Street Event's list of exhibitors, visitors can expect to see booths from groups as diverse as Bitches Love Leather and PantherProwls, makers of all manner of leather gear and whips and floggers, to the Bare Chest Calendar guys and Bear Thug, designers and manufacturers of sexy underwear for hirsute gay, bi, and trans men.

There will also be plenty of groups to help people navigate their kinky life while maintaining their health: San Francisco Department of Public Health, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention, and others will have booths at the fair.

For many, though, the event is just about getting out and seeing people.

AJ Huff, a queer man and local rubber enthusiast, and one of the organizers of the monthly pansexual event Rubber Ducky, said Dore is a chance to see folks and wear his gear out in public.

"Getting a chance to get out and see people I haven't seen in a while, and just socialize," he said. "Be in gear and meet some people."

Bob Goldfarb, a gay man and executive director of the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District in which the annual fair takes place, said he's looking forward to seeing friends and meeting people, but the fair also presents an opportunity to promote the work of the leather district. The district will have a booth at the event.

"We want to get the word out about the district," he said, "provide education, and give people the opportunity to join and participate in whatever way they would like."

For those looking for particularly iconic San Francisco souvenirs, the leather district will be selling district branded pins as well as hankies in black, red, yellow, teal, navy blue, and gray, Goldfarb said.

While they won't have an official presence at the fair, the men of Onyx, a national organization for men of color who love leather, will be hanging out on Dore Alley itself, just outside the Powerhouse Bar, said San Francisco chapter president, Graylin Thornton. That's where he intends to be, smoking a cigar, he added.

Onyx members will hold their monthly bar night the Saturday night before, also at the Powerhouse, from 6 to 9 p.m. The San Francisco chapter threw its first play party back in May, selling 167 tickets, and has another planned for September, Thornton said.

The 15 Association, that leather and kink stalwart, will be back with its popular outdoor play space, according to the club's president, Christopher Wood, a gay man.

"We will have crosses, bondage tables, and benches for fair attendees to use. It is also a great place to meet other players from newbies to experts," Wood said. "The night before, The 15 hosts its men's play party at Transform1060."

Speaking of Transform1060, the play space has a lineup of events, Wood added, starting on Thursday, July 28, with a men's kink party called Unleashed. The following day, July 29, there will be a newer party, Lust, that "centers on queer kinksters of all gender identities." On Sunday, the day of the fair, CumUnion will hold their own men's play party at the venue.

Up Your Alley runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, July 31. For more information, visit the event organizer's website.

For information and resources about monkeypox, check out https://sf.gov/information/monkeypox or https://www.mpox.tips/practical-advice

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