8 Reasons Black Rock City is the Queerest Place on Earth

  1. 9/27/2018

istock/wundervisuals

Bronersexual. n. A normally heterosexual bro who experiments with homosexuality while at Black Rock City.

 I couldn’t help but laugh when I read this definition in the BRC Weekly (the newspaper distributed at Burning Man).

Like all great satire, it has some truth to it. Personally, I prefer the less judgmental “Burnersexual” for a person who sincerely uses the freedom Burning Man affords them to explore the boundaries of their sexuality, and other elements of who they are. You see, the Playa is more than just a drug and sex fueled party in the desert. It’s a spiritual experience that transforms lives year after year.

Growing up, rave culture is how I discovered and accepted my bisexuality. I first heard about Burning Man seven years ago at a Psy-Trance rave outside Mexico City. I was a wide-eyed fifteen year old boy who couldn’t yet speak English, chatting with an older white man in his 30s who couldn’t speak Spanish. Fortunately, he could speak Italian, so I was able to understand him – sort of – when he told me all about the most radical party on earth. I instantly knew that I needed to experience it. Now, as a young adult who just survived my second Burn, writing from the relative comfort of my loft in downtown Los Angeles, I can confidently say that my real home is on the Playa and here are a few reasons why.

1. People are comfortable with ambiguity.

Burners have a word for everyday life outside Burning Man. They call it the “Default World.” We call it that, because social norms tend to force people into this or that “default.” If you’re a guy dating a girl, the default is straight. If you’re a guy dating a guy, the default is gay. But we bi folks know that real life is more nuanced than that. The open embrace of ambiguity at Burning Man, where everyone is encouraged to be themselves without such limitations, is fertile ground for bisexuality.

2. Men express affection with other men.

At Burning Man, guys aren’t as protective of their personal space. Even straight men are simply more comfortable expressing affection for one another with long hugs and deep personal conversations. It doesn’t feel weird or self conscious, and nobody says “no homo.”

3. Labels are less threatening to people.

Burners are comfortable with any sort of lingo you throw at them. Whether I call myself fluid, pan, poly, or any of the other colorful words we individuals use to describe our bisexuality, it doesn’t make any difference to a Burner. What matters at Burning Man is that people are sincerely themselves and accepting of one another regardless of the language we use to describe ourselves.

4. You don’t need to “prove” your sexual orientation.

Like many bi people, in the Default World I am constantly asked to “prove” that I’m bi. People drill me about my dating history and my sex life, asking me “gotcha” questions like “do you date more girls or guys.…”  At Burning Man being bi is seen as normal and natural and not as something that requires passing a polygraph (or penisgraph).



5. Experimentation is encouraged.

Along with the physical discomfort of camping in the desert, we are encouraged to leave our emotional comfort zones.

I had a magical experience with one of my straight buddies, where after spending a lot of quality time with him riding on our bikes around the Playa all night, I introduced him to the ‘queerbourhood,’ (most people call it the “gaybourhood” but I wanna be inclusive) a place where most of the queer camps are located.

I asked him if he has ever been attracted to a guy. His response was “I have never been attracted to a guy, but I find you attractive. That doesn’t mean that I am bi, but I am curious about it.” His openness was refreshing and we ended up cuddling that night. The Playa gave my friend a space to reevaluate his attractions without judgement or risk.

6. People come out of the closet as straight.

Another funny experience: one of my Burner camp mates, a straight guy, was bemoaning the fact that he isn’t attracted to men. “It must be easier for you to get action as a bi guy,” he said. “I’ve experimented with men in threesomes and in one-on-one encounters, but I couldn’t get it up,” he said with a sad face. He seemed genuinely disappointed that he’s straight. Don’t worry, I reassured him that he’s perfect just the way he is and that I love him no matter what. It was a refreshing role reversal.

7. Polyamorous families are visible.

While cruising around the Playa, I visited one of my favorite camps called PolyParadise. It’s a camp full of Polyamorous Burners who celebrate our capacity to love multiple people at the same time. Of course, Poly Burners come in all shapes, genders, ages and with all sexual orientations – but the majority of them, yes, tend to identify as bi.

It felt great when I heard multiple people talk about their multiple partners. One woman I met casually told me “I have two husbands. They’re both bi. Sadly, I can only be legally married to one but I consider them both my husband. And they are each others’ husbands.” She then introduced me to her bi girlfriend who accompanied her to the Burn. I asked where her husbands were. “Oh. They stayed home to take care of the kids,” she replied.  As a poly man, this was one of the highlights of my Burn.

8. Burners don’t give a fuck what people think about them.

In the Default World, there’s a lot of social pressure causing anxiety in folks who worry about what others are saying about them behind their backs. Out on the Playa, people can let go of all that toxic fear and just be themselves. I don’t worry about judgment, because Burners tend to see quirks or eccentricities as something beautiful. We embrace the weirdness.

One of the core principles of Burning Man is Radical Inclusion. That’s what queerness is all about: making everyone feel welcome and accepted by celebrating the things that make us different.

As bi people, we defy simplistic black and white categories, understanding that everything, as well as sexuality, comes in different shades of gray. We are accustomed to coming out over and over again, redefining ourselves with each new experience. Burning Man is a space where everyone is encouraged to think and act this way, not just us bi folks. On the Playa, all are free to redefine who they are and redetermine who they want to be when they return to the Default World.

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Damian Emba
Damian Emba is a Mexican American artist, activist, translator & writer. A Contributor at Bi.org, Damian also Coordinates Spanish Language & Youth Outreach for amBi - the world's largest bi social community.