It’s still Pride Month for a few more days, so why not recommend a documentary that really presents the outer limits of what gay Pride means in some quarters? The DVD Folsom Forever: The Story of How a Kinky Rebellious Street Festival Captured the Heart of San Francisco (2015 Breaking Glass Pictures) turns an unflinching eye on the hardcore gay leather-and-kink scene that really defined a generation … and a major gay subculture often in the shadows.
Almost without exception, when Pride parades get filmed for local news stations, it’s the drag queens and kink/leathermen who dominate the images. The implication? Gay culture is a freak show. But in San Francisco, at least since the 1970s, it’s been the norm. Folsom Street was an industrial area — the city’s Skid Row — until the gays came in and opened bars and started to gentrify it. That, of course, cleared the path for developers to rob the neighborhood of its character for profit, and triggered, in 1984, a street festival to preserve the street and raise money for AIDS. Since then, it has grown into a kind of freak show, but one so unabashedly outre and proud, it revealed that the kink lifestyle wasn’t so far from the surface of polite society.
Tracking the history of how underground culture stepped boldly into the light of day, Folsom Forever is as much a history of the City by the Bay’s own coming-out as it is a document about the hardcore leathermen (and women) who tried to rescue a forgotten urban area.
But the film doesn’t just address the homophobic tongue-clickers who object to the nudity and brazenness, but even some of those within the LGBT community who think the behavior can go too far. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of propriety, this movie provides a no-holds-barred look at Folsom … and may whet your appetite to attend one day. It sure did mine. Freaky.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2015.