Mainstreaming the Culture

One cannot go to Burning Man, as a queer person, and not see there is a large LGBT presence if you are looking for it. In 2011 Huffington Post writer and blogger Oscar Raymundo (@OscarRaymundo on Twitter) made some awkward observations in an article he posted way back when.

  • One side of the coin: Not everyone at Burning Man is in touch with their desire to be part of the LGBT community in Burning Man or out… and the variety of gray lines in between. Some choose simply to not put any kind of rainbow flag on their experience whatsoever.
  • Other side of the coin: Some actively engage in queer events, sex and other LGBT offerings.

In 2013 this author met a participant of Burning Man who at 33 years of age, 14 years of Burning Man, had come out of the closet that year AND was going to his first Queer event at Burning Man. It seemed I discovered a purple unicorn in the crowd, but as my experience grew with people in 2013 I met more just like him.

Demographics

The company that runs Burning Man is called The Burning Man Project (formerly Burning Man, LLC) and have  sexually-attracted-toasked participants to complete an anonymous census every year and published it on their web site, but in 2013 they started an online census that provided great live information on attendees. Queer Burners is not affiliated with any official channel to Burning Man.

2013 Census Report | 2012 Census Report | Previous After-burn Reports

Much of the data is selectively compiled and presented significantly down-playing the LGBTQ role in the city. While we have been attacked in the past by some of the regional community (Regional Contacts and other members of the community – this story was already told in older posts – so refer to those) for having a Gayborhood, The impact of LGBTQ on the event itself, whether mainstreaming or not, is very significant.

The data above shows a full 3rd of the populace LGBTQ or blurry lines at least during the time of the event as of 9/2013. This includes a collective number of burners who were willing to answer the census randomly. The data does get updated on the link provided for 2013 and as of this date is still taking information.

Queer Burners

Well, outside of this project (this web site) we can clearly see there are a lot of Burners out there who are LGBTQ++ even if they are partaking in their own way and not with the Gayborhood or any other gay, lesbian or other camps/events/whatever. Blurring into the mainstream is a comfortable place for a lot of people.

It is the dream of some that we all mesh into one society anyway, which I believe is what the creators of Burning Man dreamed of with no lines for orientation, race or gender. It seems so Utopian until you point out this ideology was created by three white, heterosexual males* and then it sounds a little aryan nation. It’s not, just idealistic.

Embracing our ideological and social differences is as important as embracing our radical self expression. If that means you mainstream or engage other LGBTQ people that is an individual call.

Conclusion

While this project (QueerBurners [dot] Com) will continue to cater to LGBTQ++ Burners this includes mainstreamers, people who have their sexuality as part of their experience, and our friends who do not fit the cookie cutter shapes (straight and otherwise).

We are not fighting the BMorg (The Burning Man Project leadership) but we are fighting not to be marginalized. The existence of the Gayborhood has a very important purpose. There are people within the BMorg that are our friends and understand why the Gayborhood has an important role at Burning Man.

Everyone uses the space for their own needs temporary or not. This is Radical Inclusion at it’s best and we plan on keeping it that way.

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*Original Founders: Larry Harvey, Micheal Mikel and John Law

Critical thinking….

This author has thrown a lot of jabs at BMorg and has lobbed quite a few compliments as well, so I think it has been pretty balanced. Alas, while critical feedback has come right back for a variety of reasons I stood tall with feet planted in the ground defending the ideology behind my Queer Burner projects.

Queer Burners as a Project

It has been 5 years of this project and I am hoping to see it expand in the next 9 months with your help. Along the way, some people in BMorg and some members in the LGBTQ community have seen QB and the existence of the Gayborhood as an idea in opposition to the 10 Principles and Burning Man ideology. Frankly, it seemed like the people making the most noise knew the least about it.

At the 2013 and 2012 Queer Burner Leadership Summits (the first two years of such an event) it was determined that the Gayborhood was an oasis for Queer Burners for several reasons that served a special purpose:

  • Security for LGBTQ people
  • a place to connect easily with other LGBTQ people and their friends
  • and a place for people to explore their boundaries.

With the critical feedback there may have been some truth in the bad information.

  1. The Gayborhood promotes exclusion by keeping people inside the zone or people outside the zone

THIS IS NOT TRUE: or is is in some cases. And it always is ‘some cases’; but that comes down to individual responsibility. I heard about someone in the Comfort & Joy Village  who had a camp responsibility who was so focus on his tasks but forgot to enjoy themselves. Why some people never really leave their camps defies explanation, but it does happen. Is that the fault of the Gayborhood or an individual choice?

Queer Camps Win, Lose, Drawl

While the Gayborhood and camps stretching out from it have created a fantastic space for many years; even longer than I have been a burner, I watched it become and vital and important space over the last 5 years plus. I saw Comfort & Joy as well as Camp Beaverton/Gender Blender be the nexus. They created some amazing energy and it has drawn in so many great camps and parts of their Village.

  • To find out more about LGBTQ Camps at Burning Man see the older Camps Lists and the Groups section here on the site.

While we have had a wonderful variety of camps in the Gayborhood and it is my hope to see more diversity in that moving forward. Some camps have been around a long time and in some cases very comfortable in their identity or schtick as one might say. Along that lines in some cases a reputation earned or not.

GlamCocks

What can I say about this camp is but they have an amazing infrastructure and a presence that just radiates and calls people in. This year a movie came out called Meet glamcocksthe Glamcocks to their credit got them a lot of acclaim and was featured at several film festivals. In 2013 they had an amazing site at Burning Man on the 7:30 Plaza where they would be highly visible.

  • Clicquish, self-absorbed, L.A. and N.Y. attitudes on the playa
  • Twink filled camp, very unfriendly, unwelcoming

While this author visited their camp on several occasions and had similar perceptions, it became clear to me that this really was an amazing camp that did not deserve this easy labels. While these were a lot of young and attractive people in the camp dismissing them on the basis they were bringing the wrong idea to the playa was unfair. Yes, they dance to their own beat and if that makes you feel unsure then find another camp to enjoy.

Another camp that gets some curious dust is Astropups

AstroPups

This is a group that have been on the playa for a long time. AstroPups are also one of few highly structured camps on the playa annually with a very well greased machine 4975816313_2b15a74de8(no pun intended) and infamous shower system. Do they ever leave their own camp?

  • Non-participatory, anti-social, exclusionary
  • Bear body type focused and their friends

While the Pups have an amazing and hard working group of great people, their camp is always open and welcoming to people. They are a little careful who is invited beyond the front because in the last couple years there has been more criticism on their most popular feature: showering with Bears. A group shower that is a lot of fun.Whether they venture beyond their amazing camp is all – again – an individual decision.

Conclusion

Seems like a lot of critical feedback forgets some very special things: the 10 principles. And whatever your radical self expression is it can be less than radical and more chill if that is how you roll. So,

  • let’s stop bashing someone’s vibe because it does not mix with yours and find somewhere that does
  • find the positive nature of your new experience over how theirs is not your groove.

Especially in the case of the Glamcocks above: my initial experience was like a couple people who shared their thoughts but after some reflection I realized that it was more my baggage then the perception. I looked at them again with a visit and saw the absolute beauty in these camps. So drop your baggage at the door and find the positive in your world rather than staying in the negative.

2 Tribes: Burner v. Faerie

This last weekend this burner joined a celebration being held by another community that I have been told is very similar to queer burners. It is very likely some of the original people who brought us Burning Man were Faeries; or better known as Radical Faeries.

They too started off in San Francisco and sought land outside the city for the expansion of their mission that would, after many years, still be a hub of joy and liberation for many. While we have the Black Rock Desert, the Faeries earliest property purchased under their church was called Wolf Creek Sanctuary up in Oregon. Now they have several properties all over the world that celebrate their uniqueness.

Within our Burner community we do have a core of Queer Burners that are also Faeries and marry the two worlds almost seamlessly. San Francisco based Comfort & Joy are mostly members of the Radical Faery community with their amazing play on gender identity and radical self-expression.

Similarities

One of the first things I heard someone say at the gathering, independent of the knowledge of my Burning Man present, was how much Radical Faeries value Self-Reliance. It’s not a unique factor in the world, but my mind immediately went to one of the 10 Principles: Radical Self-Reliance.

On the chores board I saw MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) as the top item on the page and again I saw something else that came from the Burner world. We know many Radical Faery-Burner people have been on Wolf Creek and the influence is there. It goes both ways.

The recent screening of James Broughton’s “Big Joy” (link broken) movie was all about Radical Self Expression and was featured at the Frameline film festival recently and San Francisco faeries took loving ownership of making sure people all over the world knew of this film. Seeing it at this Faery gathering was amazing.

While visiting Wolf Creek there were 2 people present who ever attended Burning Man including myself, but the influences are fairly evident and acknowledged by many members. Consider that just more than a year ago the president of their parent organization (Nomenus) was a burner.

Differences

As similar as the worlds are there are differences in philosophies more than basic principles. Many faeries are fairly witchy or hold to some spiritual ideals that reach well beyond what many burners hold on to, but that is not an absolute.

The largest difference, based on this particular experience, is that there is a significantly reduced focus on the party. Though the event I went to was a requested sober event, there were some (self included) that indulged. Chemical stimulants were no where on the property; it was much lower key than most burner occasions.

Comparing

These really are apples and pears in they way they compare. Both are fruit, sweet and tasty, but the sensitivity and pulse of the community runs on different blood types.

The writer has been hanging out with Faeries for almost 2 years on a very part time basis getting more and more involved over the last year. This year started off with Faery celebrations like Saturnella, Beltane and most recently the SGRF (Spiritual Gathering for Radical Faeries).

The touching part of each of these communities is how closely knit many of the participants are and how much love of the environment and their spiritual siblings.

More from Toaster on his personal blog

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