Gay Male Identity@ Burning Man

Having spent my virgin year at Burning Man in 2009, I went as a blank slate. Although I had almost a year in the Burner culture in Vegas, experiencing the people there was almost culture shock. In my personal burner blog, I wrote a trip report detailing a lot of observations. I noted there was a lot of differences in the area of how women were treated and sexual identity.

Burning Man is a sexually charged place. It is as if for every ten camps there is one related specific for sex. Orgy camps abound, there is a wide use of drugs, and people dress in outlandish costumes bordering on silly. Or… is this the 70’s sexual revolution when gays were finally telling the world they were busting out of those closet.

While attending, I observed and watched as many people as possible. In spite of the “radical inclusion” principle in Burning Man and “radical self-expression” I found many straight men deeply insecure in their own sexuality. Incidentally, there was a lot of objectifying of women by men or by themselves in order to get attention.

The costumes and the unleashed behavior of the heterosexuals and repressed majority of the default world represented in the sex, drugs, and the party-hearty were the things WE queers already went through in the 70’s in mass; what many gay youth do to rebel already. We have lived this.

Frankly, I found the queers of Burning Man living closer to a default comfortable existence while the heteros acted out under the guise of being “creative” while being simply ridiculous.

Am I being too hard in my assertion? Is it fair? What matters is that the arch-type has shifted. I see gay people comfortable with their identities, selves, image while the heterosexuals are scrambling in insecurities with identity and sexuality.

This was a blanket analysis while not defining all heterosexual men. There were some major differences in the men I met out there and the expression of who they were. Preconceived notions were turned upside-down.

  • There were a lot of men with long, beautiful dreads and skinny, malnourished bodies that I find particularly sexy in my own sick world. They represented the conceptual hippie man. (Side Note: Fucking Hot!) Yet, ironically these men I expected to find liberal attitudes, but what I discovered was almost consistent inner conflicts with their own sexuality; or mine as it were if I was the one flirting with them.
  • There were strong male personalities, often easily defined as the narcissist, or egocentric male who were so indomitable in their pursuit of anything there was no concept of failure. They were handsome men strong in their sexual identity and confident without the time or need to entertain my flirtations. If they did, it was  out of kindness but were quickly excusing themselves for their pursuits of the female.
  • The average man anchored in the world was a grounded and humbled soul, yet few and far in between. He took flirtations with a smile as if entertained and charmed with them. His sexuality was not in question, but nor was it a driving force in his life.

Not to get lost in what this article is about… it is focusing on the male sexuality of Burning Man reflecting the Gay Male. While the feminine spirit is strong and a force in Burning Man that is formidable, my perception is that it was lost in the glare of the overwhelming amount of women objectifying themselves.

Through all this interaction, the gay people blurred into the background almost as the heterosexual couples blur into the background of the default world. They were not trying to make a statement with regards to their orientation or sexuality while the counterparts were screaming it from the trees (not literally).

When two young men walked through center camp holding hands I just watched them for a little while and was touched by their comfort in their world, with each other, as a unit. Meanwhile, a naked man walked by with four or five fake penises next to his own; all of them looking real and really confusing onlookers. An older man strolled through with brightly colored latex chaps and a g-string barley concealed under a thin layer of tutu.

Gays in the Burner World… well this whole thing came from San Francisco 25 or so years ago. Though I only met one of the founders of that age, I see in this a distinctly heterosexual white male celebration of self exploration. The gays did that, doing that on another vibration, but left feeling like the ones looking back waiting for them to catch up. Them.

8 thoughts on “Gay Male Identity@ Burning Man”

  1. I re-posted this on the Burning Man thread at Tribe.Net and really got my ass reamed. I considered deleting it, but am holding off. I would LOVE to have a woman’s perspective.

  2. Very good observation, the term I learned my first year was “Playasexual”, when you go to Burningman, all sexual identity is left at the Gate. You can be gay, straight, bisexual or unsexual as need be. That’s why so many straight men show up at Stiffy lube and Afterglow to experience what they cannot at home. But alot of straight men take it as license to abuse or objectivefly women; such as in the Critical tits parade keep secret their route to discourage photography and leering. The large amount of people, freedom of expression, principles and Art does give one the anonminity to act contrary to when youre at home; but if done in respect to each other and to ones true self worth too, it can be fun! Just my thought.

  3. Yeah… I posted this on Tribe and got kicked in the balls a lot over it. Granted there are some sharp points presented, but it was meant to spawn conversation. On my web site I chronicled my ventures as soon as I got back.

    I suppose my experience will vary a lot this year… going with a different attitude and an eye for more fun with the boys. who–whoooo

  4. i really liked your journal entry. i also find straight guys at burninman to be weird. i have had fun with them in cnj though. last year i got jumped by one at our camps meet n greet and he humped my leg, now we had only met online and hung out in our camps chat room, and he works at a fetish club. but i didn’t know he was straight, so i lusted after him for a few days and then found out he was straight. which is all good but don’t hump my leg if you don’t want that cock in your ass. hope im not being to crude. but anyway. there are definately some macho straight folk at bm who are scared to have their manhood questioned by all the sexual stuff going on, i think they overcompensate by wearing utilikilts and being all butch in setting up and tearing down. i also am apalled sp? by the girls at the clubs that do their titty dances on the platforms, so i generally stay away from them but they are definately ogled by the frat raver types.

  5. One thing about Burning Man is that people have very different experiences based on what they do, who they’re with and their mindset. For instance, I’ve had people tell me that it’s just a giant rave with everyone doing drugs, but I didn’t find drugs to be that obvious where I hung out. I’ve read forum posts from people claiming everyone is really unfriendly to you if you’re not cool or beautiful or wearing a costume, but that was also far from my experience.

    I have to wonder how you determined who was straight and who was gay. For example, how did you determine the sexual orientation of the guy with the fake penises or the guy in the latex chaps? I found it difficult (and unnecessary) to determine anyone’s sexual orientation at Burning Man. With few exceptions, sexual orientation rarely came up in my dealings with people. Of those guys that I determined were straight ( I didn’t go around asking and I don’t think it was a visible trait, but occasionally there was mention of a wife, girlfriend, etc), I found them all to be very cool and chill about my sexuality and theirs. And same with the gay men. In fact, my experience was that sexual orientation pretty much disappeared at Burning Man. Perhaps this is only a reflection of where I chose to hang out, who I chose to hang out with, and my own mindset.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems that much of your observations about straight males (as expressed in your bullet points) seems to deal with how graciously someone accepted your flirtations. No one is required to reciprocate sexual advances, and just because a guy is not comfortable with your advances, it doesn’t mean he isn’t comfortable with his own sexuality. If you were flirting with me, and I was not interested, I would probably remove myself from our interactions pretty quickly as well. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable in my sexuality, it makes me not interested in you or dealing with your sexual advances.

    I have no idea what you mean about women objectifying themselves. Yes there were lots of beautiful women of all makes and models who were sexy and scantily dressed. There were also lots of beautiful men who were sexy and scantily dressed. Women are sexual beings just as men and in a mostly adult environment such as Burning Man, they are just as allowed to express their sexuality and explore sexual freedom (something that can be more dangerous outside of Burning Man). I noticed you never complained of the men objectifying themselves. Do you believe that men aren’t objectifying themselves at BM, or are they held to a different standard? You seem to have distinct ideas of who women should be and how they should behave at Burning Man. Nothing wrong with feeling sexy or being sexual. Even I, a balding pudgy middle-aged man, sometimes felt a little sexy at Burning Man.

  6. @Tim… yes…. many well made points and thanks everyone for their feedback on this entry. I hate when people just blast their words back at me without any meaning… because this entry, and my original entry on was not done in malice.

    How did I perceive their orientation? Well, sometimes it’s hard and there is no obvious sign. The two guys I mentioned were distinctly straight from my perception. People have a glow off them and it radiates an energy if they are willing to share it… I see this in many people. It can be an over dominant male energy or something more fae. I’m drawn to that.

    It’s hard to explain without sounding like a bad Lifetime character or something from the SyFy channel… so I apologize at my lack of prose.

    About women: I saw a lot of women using their sexuality to get attention, as if their bodies were nothing more than cheap toys. There was this hunger for acknowledgment or certification of their selves sought from men in a lot of circumstances, oddly among many women who were quite beautiful on the outside.

    On the other hand… I saw a lot of women not “pretty” by some people standards that were still being worshiped by men who either had a different definition of beauty or were more pansexual (seeking a soul connection).

    Like I said, these were all my observations. I put it out there welcoming dialog. Thank you all for your comments so far… they are ALL very much appreciated.

  7. How can anybody blast you for what your experience was? It was your experience so, it did happen.

    Everything below are my random thoughts.

    I can relate to some of what you experienced, and some I can’t. I didn’t see BM as a sexually charged place and I didn’t have sex. I’m sure I could have, but I wasn’t looking for it. I did go to a few of the places where it was happening, but I was a but nervous to partake.

    I didn’t run naked, but I could have. I didn’t ride an art car, but I wish I did. I wish I would have ventured out and met people from other camps. I’m hoping that through this site, I’ll now have friends to visit at other camps. I’m really looking forward to this.

    Regarding sexuality. I treated everyone as if they were playasexual.

    I made a decision before driving up that I would spend a week not judging anyone, about anything. Everyone I met was the same, be it man or woman. I did a pretty good job until the burning of the man. For some reason I was standing right next to a bunch of hyper-straight acting, obnoxious, 20 something guys. I’m pretty sure they had just arrived for a wild weekend party. All of them had the perfect ‘Burning Man’ costumes, bought right off the mannequin. I remembered my decision not to judge so I took a breath, sat back an observed.

    Some people may think that my experience was a bit bland. Yeah, I guess to some i was, but for me it was a perfect was to be introduced to the BM experience. This year will be different. Hopefully you’ll find me lounging in other camps chatting with my fellow burners.

    Wow that was random.

  8. 1. I would love to see a posting about your observations @Craig
    2. Sounds like @Craig went with the right attitude… I am a person who studies people and am intrigued when I perceive their energy. I try to understand. I try to make sense out of it from my experience and perspective; which may not be the right answer but as close as I can get.
    3. I found on Tribe’s Burning Man board and on ePlaya which are both busy Burning Man message boards that there are no shortage of pontificates (right word?) and ironically, the 2 that attacked me did not have a single personal picture and bit of personal information about themselves on their profiles.. my panties were in a square knot, baby! I left the Burning Man Tribe but still dip into ePlaya for info once in a while….

    …my point being it is easy for people to be rude. Whether it is on the phone, via a chat system, or posting on a board. That person on the other end ceases to become human and we are treating people like they mean nothing. ‘MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” … greatest statement I can think of for now.

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