When people who’ve never been to Burning Man before ask me, “What is Burning Man?” It is an almost impossible question to answer. It is a combination of so many things, and so many different types of people from many different walks of life. Of course there are those who’ve never been, yet think they know what its all about. “It’s a bunch of dirty hippies”, “its a huge orgy”, or “its a bunch of people on drugs,” are some of the most common stereotypes I’ve heard.
At the rate the event is growing, up to 50,000 people this year and 70,000 expected next year, it seems that the event may be attracting more and more men who attend thinking their $350 ticket purchase includes a guarantee of getting laid all week long. They seem to think that “Burning Man Women” are all horny sex fiends that just can’t wait to take their pants off for the first yahoo that walks by. When the reality differs from their pornographic fantasy induced expectations, well they may be in for quite a disappointment.
Of course Burning Man is a place where people can feel free to explore any number of sexual fantasies from group sex, to participating in the “harness races”- and please don’t ask me what that is. I’ve heard of some other really kinky things that go on that are way too graphic to describe. One year we camped next to a group of middle-aged swingers and were out with them when they all started taking their clothes off and messing around. I wasn’t really bothered by that, I just thought it was gross, but kind of funny. It was one of those crazy things you end up seeing at Burning man and laughing about later.
There are certain places within Burning Man, specific camps where people can go to explore this type of thing, but its not out in the open, and if this is the kind of experience you are looking for, then I recommend seeking out these camps. I’m all for people being free to explore their sexuality in any way they wish as long as everyone is a consenting adult and has not been coerced or forced into doing something they don’t want to.
The problem is that it seems there are some who think that free self-expression at Burning Man means the dissolution of all sexual boundaries. They think that they are “owed” some sort of sexual experience, and that every woman who goes is OK with being grabbed and stared at lewdly, she must be, right, if she goes to Burning Man? I’ve heard way too many horror stories from women who’ll never go back because of bad experiences, ranging from mild sexual harassment to full on rape. There’s a story I heard, about a woman who was dancing wearing very little clothing, and all these guys swarmed around her and started grabbing and touching her all over and she couldn’t get away from them. This is clearly rape, and these men should be in jail for what they did. I read about something similar happening to another woman.
In addition to being date raped one year at Burning Man (you can read my story in a separate post) I’ve had some other unpleasant encounters, from the time a guy I just met kissed me on the neck when I leaned in to hug him, to another guy who started describing explicitly what he wanted to do to parts of my body. Both of these encounters made me feel violated and I feel angry even now, years later when I recall them. (Of course, these incidents are few and far between and on average, most people will be respectful.) The real problem, is that there seems to be a large number of rapes happening there, and no one seems to be willing to address it or wants to admit that it happens.
One year I traveled to Burning Man with a girlfriend I had just met, and an older guy named Barry. He seemed like a nice guy and invited us to join his camp which sounded like a diverse and welcoming group of burners ranging in age from about sixteen to sixty, including his kids and some of their friends. Well this man pulled all manner of manipulative tricks to try and get one of us to have sex with him. I was assured before we left that all of my gear would fit in his truck, otherwise I was going to plan to rent my own vehicle. When they arrived to pick me up, he told me my stuff wouldn’t fit and told me not to bring my tent. He said he had a tent we could all share. After making a big fuss about that, it was found that my stuff could all actually fit in the truck. Later in Reno we stopped for the night and he wanted us to all share a room, and even though I kept saying I was going to pay for my own room, he kept ignoring me and insisting we all share one room.
The next day when we went to buy food, he said we didn’t need to buy any food, that he would buy some stuff and the group would feed us. I felt like he wanted to put us in a position where we were completely reliant on him for everything for the whole week, and his behavior seemed so controlling. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept telling me over and over that I didn’t need to buy food, even though I kept insisting that I did. He latched onto me for a few days, and every time I tried to go off and do my own thing he would follow me, even though I clearly said I wanted to go do my own thing. It seemed like when I left the group and tried to go off by myself he would deliberately follow me because he wanted to try and get me alone.
One time he came and sat down next to me and started rubbing my bare leg. I felt like I couldn’t say anything about it because he was our ride and that if I did the other camp members would think I was being a bitch. The issue came up again about the tent, he ended up setting up his tent and said we could sleep in his tent, and he was kind of pushing for all of us to sleep in it together. He ended up using the tent that I had brought, and it ended up collapsing half way through the week. I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke it on purpose so he could try to weasel his way into ours. Then he started complaining to others in the camp about how we weren’t including him and it hurt his feelings. He claimed that his feelings towards us were just “brotherly/sisterly.” but on the way home he kept asking my friend over and over if she would go to the hotsprings with him for the night and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Then he later emailed her saying that she should have had sex with him because he “took” us to Burning Man and that he was really angry about it.
While nothing happened to us that week, I feel like if one of us had gotten too drunk he would have tried to take advantage of the situation. I’m guessing that he trolls around online forums looking for hot, young girls looking to go to Burning Man who he can take advantage of. While my friend and I, being in our thirties, probably don’t really think of ourselves as “young girls” and don’t believe its inappropriate to socialize with people a few decades older than ourselves, we are clearly not interested in a sexual relationship with someone almost thirty years older. Ironically, this man seemed to attract a lot of interest from women his own age, but he didn’t want anything to do with them. He had some deluded fantasy that he was going to hook up with someone half his age.
Maybe the most upsetting thing about this situation, besides the fact that he made our week pretty uncomfortable, is that he’s the type who acts like “cool burner guy” He claims to be an artist, and goes around giving out these super ugly necklaces to everyone, and volunteers to be a Black Rock Ranger. I think that one thing people don’t realize is that anyone can volunteer to be a ranger. I doubt they do any sort of background checks on people or give much training. It sounds so official which I think can be a problem when dealing with serious crimes (such as rapes) or injuries. I hate to say it, I don’t want to see anyone arrested for smoking a little pot, or minor things like that, but I do think they need more trained professionals there.
In closing, I’d just like to make it clear, if you see a girl who’s young, and hot, and think that because she’s at Burning Man its OK to go up and touch or grab her, or make some sort of inappropriate explicit sexual remark, think again, you’ll probably just make an ass of yourself, and if you’re not careful of your actions you could even end up behind bars. Probably the best thing to do if you don’t understand what Burning Man is about and don’t know how to handle yourself is to stay home, or maybe you’d rather save your money for a cheap hooker at Mustang Ranch. You might have better luck there. Better yet, if you’re really desperate to get laid at Burning Man I’m sure some fifty-year old swinger would love it if you got it on with his wife while he watches.