Buff up your cowhide and dust down your harness… here are some of the biggest fetish festivals and kink gatherings coming up in the US to start planning for now:
Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco
Folsom Street Fair should be on the travel bucket list for any leather, kink, or queer BDSM devotee. It’s one of the very few occasions when the kink community comes together and takes over an entire stretch of San Francisco‘s leather district (officially recognized as such by the city in 2018)
The Folsom Street Fair takes place in the SoMa neighborhood (South of Market Street), between 8th and 13th streets. It dates back to 1984. Folsom was first held as a protest event against redevelopment in the area, and to offer supportive space for a gay community amid the AIDS crisis. It has grown since that time to become California’s third biggest, single-day outdoor spectator event. It attracts around 400,000 participants, of all sexualities and genders, although it remains primarily queer. Most of its net proceeds go to nonprofits working in public health, human services, and the arts.
Mates Leather Weekend, Provincetown
The summer season may be over but Provincetown continues to pull in queer visitors through the fall with several themed weekends. The Mates Leather Weekend runs at the end of September/beginning of October (when the temperature is a little more leather and rubber-friendly!). The 2022 festival, the 25th gathering, runs from September 29 to October 3. Organized by local resident, and leatherman, Rick Conley, it welcomes men and women.
Events take place at Atlantic House, Aqua Bar, The Vault at Crown & Anchor, and the Boatslip, with a ‘First Mate Contest’ and ‘Rubber Ball’ among this year’s events. There’s also daily drop-in health screening and a portion of the funds to the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.
It’s followed each February in Provincetown by the annual Snowbound Leather Weekend, organized by the same team.
Pig Week Fort Lauderdale
This wild gathering came about after its founder visited Europe and was blown away by some of the kinky parties he visited.
“Pig Week Fort Lauderdale got its start after I went to some of the more sex-centric events in Europe and realized that there was nothing like it here in the United States,” Chad Bush told GayCities in 2019. “The ones that we do have are more genre-specific. I try to remain true to my tagline ‘All men are pigs,’ allowing people from all different segments of our population to have a space to explore their inner pig.”
He says he doesn’t think all men are pigs, just the ones who want to attend the event. To this end, he tries to make sure they discover a safe space to explore their wildest fantasies.
Pig Week Fort Lauderdale launched in 2015 and has grown year-upon-year (pandemic withstanding) Expect leather events, pool parties, cigar socials, gym sessions, underwear parties, and even naked shopping sessions.
International Mr. Leather, Chicago
Chicago’s International Mr. Leather convention is one of the biggest leather festivals in the world. It pulls in visitors from across the globe and has gone to great steps to diversify in recent years, welcoming trans participants, the pup community, and other kink lovers. A trans man, Alistair LeatherHiraeth, won the most recent International Mr. Bootblack title this year.
The 2023 festival was a special one. It marked the sapphire anniversary (45 years) of the International Mr. Leather contest.
Besides the contests, expect plenty of associated parties to explore your leather fantasies. It’s not all about wild hedonism, either. There’s also a huge market space, exhibitions on leather scene history, and—for any 12-steppers—the chance to attend daily recovery sessions.
International Mr. Leather is all about celebrating and supporting the leather community. It’s the reason visitors return year after year.
Up Your Alley, San Francisco
Up Your Alley, also known as the Dore Alley Fair, is the smaller sibling to Folsom Street Fair. It dates back to 1985 and takes place over the last weekend in July. It also takes place around Folsom Street—between 9th and 10th streets—and Dore Alley. Street vendors sell kinky goods and art, and there’s also a stage for performances, DJs, and go-go’s. It’s not as big as Folsom but still offers plenty of sights and mega sex appeal. It attracts around 10,000 participants, and organizers are proud of the party’s political edge.
“Who we are and how we fuck has always been political,” say organizers on the official website. “Up Your Alley was founded to champion sexual liberation in a historical time of crisis. We join with everyone fighting for justice, visibility, and a new system that upholds us all.”
Folsom Street East, New York City
Folsom Street East has been running for the past 23 years in New York. It’s a smaller version of the Folsom Fair in San Francisco but is not actually connected to that event and is operated by its own non-profit organization. Folsom Street East’s most recent S.L.U.T.S festival (‘Sex, Love, Unity, Trust, and Safety) ran June 17-19. There was an outdoor block party at the intersection of Christopher and Weehawken Street, plus events at associated partner venues like Rock Bar.
Folsom Street East subscribes to a world, “where sexual self-discovery and fulfillment is supported by an environment that is safe, sane, and affirming. Where access to a diversity of fetish/kink community spaces is expanded and fear of stigma and negative repercussions are diminished. Where all people are empowered to challenge sexual norms and embrace and add to a broad spectrum of sexual identities and expressions.”