[Update 5/5/12 – Queerburners.com has written a response to this article]
There hasn’t been much chatter on the Interwebz after Burning Man’s Regional Conference, which took place a month ago. We found some commentary from Queerburners, who have their own RC (Regional Contact) community representative. They presented the concerns of their community, as discussed in depth a couple of weeks prior at the QBLS – Queer Burner Leadership Summit.
Burner Toaster sets the scene for us:
The one VERY IMPORTANT thing to remember is the word Queer before any of these terms is NOT EXCLUSIVE and not derogatory. We have some great hetero or hetero-adjacent friends that are a part of the community of all genders
…Burning Man has an amazing network and a lot of people within it looking to make things happen. However, the means to achieving these things has changed. Along with the 501(C)(3) status of the new Burning Man, it’s minions are taking their projects in directions with more legal protection and mechanisms to protect assets and resources under various legal entities.
The network is looking to cultivate more community based projects and are looking for ways of embracing more people into the concept laid out in the 10 principles. That means developing community relationships by sharing our culture and we were given a lot of examples of how to do that and what people have done in their communities.
…The 3 day plus summit brought 185 representatives from around the world to network and share resources. Everyone was bringing questions about their own projects, regions and Burning Man related plans. Out of the 185 attendees approximately 60 were Regional Contacts and the remaining were various Community Leaders.
Regional Contacts are officially placed representatives from Burning Man who are geographically located (in almost all circumstances) and have a couple of ‘jobs’: 1. they help protect the brand and report back to Burning Man when it is being abused. 2. many help build community events and cultivate the relationship between Burners in their area.
Community Leaders are people in the Burner culture who have emerged and are cultivating the community without any official recognition or remuneration.
Neither get paid for what they do and are voluntary roles.
…The word Regional was was called into question and with the recent invention of the Meta-Regional roles. Meta-Regionals are a layer between the Regional Contacts and BMHQ. Some are geographical and some are specialized in areas like event planning, conflict resolution or other things relevant to helping stitch the R.C. network together.
Further info from Burner Mark:
…There was a heavy focus on enculturation and methods of welcome, what is touted as, the magnitude of Burgins who would be joining various camps this year. It is a reality many camps have to speculate as they lost many ‘family members’ because of the ticketing issue that unfortunately plagued the event for 2012. With the new blood comes a question of commitment to the established communities.
- required introduction and familiarity in a formal setting of the 10 principles and how they apply to a Burgin’s arrival on the playa before being approved as a member of the camp…
- or a camp meeting on playa where newbies are expected to go through an indoctrination of 10 principles and expectations as members of said camps
- some require a sponsor; someone that makes sure they have a ‘partner’ and has their back. This is in case of hydration, food or altered states of consciousness
It has also forced camps to evaluate their management of resources and person-power to new methods of dealing with their infrastructure.
It seems like the major concern of the Queer community is safety. With the large influx of newbies heading in, will they all be respectful about personal space, boundaries, and self-expression? Here’s Toaster again:
Vulnerable means EVERYONE! Although we talked about women for the most part, we also talked about our drag queens and trans-gendered people.
At Burning Man many of us have come to feel we live in a place called Home. It is a place where we have learned to drop our guard. Our guard, walls, shields, anxiety protect us from the harsh realities of the default world. The dog eat dog of society where live 52 weeks a year versus where we are thinking about gifting and hugging everyone we meet is something very special.
Unfortunately, these concerns were brushed aside by the BMOrg, particularly Action Girl who is no longer with us.
Why this level of concern? And is Burning Man listening to OUR concerns? I brought this to Burning Man as OUR main concern as it was related during the QBLS.
- I wrote a report on the QBLS that got noticed and started a dialog. On the private Regional Contact list the topic started to get some serious attention but it devolved into something of a joke among the R.C.’s and this was confirmed by a Meta-Regional as well as other R.C.’s who are active on the list.
- In a main hall discussion I asked about steps Burning Man would take to help assure personal safety:
“With the influx of so many people who are not familiar with the Burning Man culture and lifestyle expected at Burning Man in 2012; is there any plan to increase security for personal safety?”
... As usual I was shut down very fast by Andie Grace (aka ActionGrl) when she said: “Everyone attending Burning Man is responsible for their own safety“. And there it died for the day on Saturday. In the main hall this was not a place to chose a battle.
…In the end… Yes, we are all responsible for our own safety so we have to work together to make sure we have safety valves in place for ourselves. It made me smile to talk about the Drag Queens, Drag Kings and Bull Horn use employed by some camps as a great way to defuse situations. Humor and being vigilant is the key and we can help each other with that.
Instead of a response that acknowledged the concern or worry that has been echoed by many of the female population out there already the response was very cold and concise. She called me out by my default world name so she knows WHO I am . I AM not anyone special, but I have been a voice for a long time and sometimes the occasional thorn. However, I sincerely wonder if the question had come from any of the heterosexual women in that audience would we have seen the same kind of response either by delivery (tone) or maybe got a bit more consideration
Burner Mark shares that these topics were high on the agenda at the prior QBLS :
Someone did ask about something that created a lot of concerns and appreciation, but there were some revelations in it. “Why would the queer community require official representation like a regional contact [paraphrased]” – While the answers were varied there came a lot of dialog about queer vulnerability at Burning Man.
We are at (Burning Man) a place where we have dropped our guard, for the most part, and have made this a place of free expression. Whether it is our girls who are enjoying the day without a shirt or having safety in their camps from gawkers and intruders OR our boys dressed in drag walking the Esplanade we receive abuse and degradation foisted on us in spaces we assumed were safe and not all of us have the whit or self-absurdness to defuse it with humor.
SAFETY was the biggest concern while out there. Vulnerability to homo-phobic or sexually aggressive people was described as a problem. Several stories were shared that were quite profound and some wondered if Burning Man really was aware that we see these things as a risk to our safety.
…SAFETY at Burning Man can be found, for the most part, in the way the Placement crew has kept queer identified camps cloistered together. Having a gayborhood (usually about 7:30 & E) and the less official gay ghetto on the other side of the city provide a cocoon, as it were, of safety in the familiar.
Not all situations can be resolved with quick and witty retort but having a megaphone can work… especially if it is covered in fur and bedazzled with rhinestones. We got a lesson on quick and witty and a playful way of dealing with awkward situations through humor as well. From a missed chore to a call for action, a megaphone is an attention getting tool. Some fierce queen arriving in camp? Make it a runway show with a megaphone!
We also had a discussion on how camps can deal with romance on the playa… or better reduce drama in various forms. Many couples who go to Burning Man leave as singles. While in some cases, relationships that were not Poly suddenly become that, and there are questions about boundaries and space. Poly Asylum and Poly Paradise are two camps that generously provide course work on dealing with a lot of these emotions and connections. Poly Asylum has even offered drop in clinics for you and yours and yours or whatever the combination might be.
Camps that have to deal with Poly or ‘open relationship’ situations and have over the years have come up with ways to deal with the safely and physical space needed in such relationships.
- Separate tents was one suggestion
- Scheduled dates was another
There were a lot of great ideas exchanged over this idea. You should not spoil the cohesion of the camp because you cannot manage your own emotional needs.