All of Us: An LGBTQ+ Burner Event to Take Pride In

Happy LGBTQ Pride Month! I am writing this post as I put together a playlist for the D.C. Burners Weekly Jam, a special Pride edition (thank you D.C. Regional Contacts!) in recognition of Capital Pride celebrations from June 7–10.

Queer Burners is also celebrating 10 years as a formalized and self-organized network of LGBTQ+ Burning Man Participants. This anniversary was one of the reasons why I decided to make the trip from D.C. to All of Us, an annual Ten Principles-inspired event for LGBTQ+ Burners and our allies, which was held in Upper Lake, California.

Two other reasons for my attendance were Toaster and Pretzel, a couple of queer Burners I had met at previous Burning Man Global Leadership Conferences (GLC). I also wanted to get to know some of my new campmates at the Burn this year; this is my first year with the Glamcocks.

I didn’t know anyone else attending the event — except for Toaster and Pretzel — and I don’t often throw myself into a situation where I only know a handful of people (outside of the annual Burning Man event and weddings).

But by the end of the weekend, I would come to realize that this was the first time I had experienced the closest thing to a whole queer community of LGBTQ+ people gathered together in the same place, along with our non-LGBTQ+ allies.

And So It Begins

I arrived on Thursday of the event and selected one of the four-bunk rooms in the main lodge rather than one of the smaller cabins sprinkled throughout the property.

One of the first people I met was Jeff Schick, mover, filmmaker and storyteller like me. In fact, he created the film about All of Us 2017, which I had been almost obsessively watching and sharing. My journey into exploring this community had begun.

Noon the next day would see my first and only volunteer shift, greeting people as they arrived in the early afternoon. I figured it would be a great way to begin meeting attendees, and it was.

This primed me to continue meeting people on my own — not having a network of established friends to facilitate introductions and not wanting to rely on Pretzel and Toaster, who were also event organizers. I told my partner it was probably the most terrifying thing I’d done socially in a long time.

Over the weekend, I would get to know and bond with my seven roommates and meet more members of my new Glamcocks family. And over the course of coffee and meals, I would also acquaint myself with other attendees, which included leaders and founders of theme camps in the “Castro” of Black Rock City, including BAAAHS, Gender Blender and Furngully.

Throughout the weekend, there were workshops, performances and dance parties. But my favorite parts were talking to people and getting to know what they were involved in, whether it was queer camps, other camps, on playa or elsewhere.

One individual was involved with the Playa Choir, and we discovered that we had sung together in 2014. Another, who founded Gender Blender, had just been to Midburn where they camped with my good friend and former neighbor, Quest, a Burner sib from another crib.

And the world got that much smaller, which I love.

The Art of Feelings

Speaking of things getting smaller, one of the 2018 art installations that had piqued my interest was presenting an appetizer-size version of its main course at All of Us: Singularity. The artist and team members were also at the event.

The sample piece was stunning to look at and crawl into. It was a 20-foot-tall bird cage containing a house that was head high, which contained a smaller replica of itself inside and another bird cage and another even smaller replica and so on.

At some point over the weekend, I realized the piece elicited feelings related to my aunt and her never-ending quest to make a perfect home for her family. Although things looked good on the outside and clean on the inside, this home belied the reality of personal and emotional turmoil that would end up tearing our family apart.

While I really liked the piece aesthetically, it was at this point I fell in love with it. It elicited such a specific emotional reaction about a personal tragedy, and I knew my experience of it would be very different from anyone else’s. In fact, this sparked the story I will tell at Center Camp this year.

That’s a Wrap

On the final night, there was a talent show where our drag queen M.C. invited the audience to share final thoughts about the weekend. I responded by sharing how the weekend was the first time I felt that I had gathered together with the whole queer community.

I briefly talked about how I had sung with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington for a little while, but had stopped because, although the group championed for LGBTQ equality, I wanted to be part of a queer group that didn’t just visibly represent the “G.”

I also recapped how, just a week or so earlier, I had introduced some of my queer friends in D.C. to the work of a trans male choreographer from San Francisco, who was showing a new work in our city. This work explored masculinity through a trans and queer perspective. During a post-show Q&A, I asked whether their work had addressed or even broken down the silos, actual or perceived, of our queer community into separate “L,” “G,” “B” and “T” spaces, with little interaction.

As the M.C. closed the talent show by acknowledging those voices that were not present or represented, I realised — as if for the first time — that All of Us was not just an appropriate name for the event but an ongoing goal for the Queer Burner community and the Burner community as a whole.

And so I began plotting my return trip to All of Us 2019.


Photos by JR “Nexus” Russ

About the author: JR "Nexus" Russ

JR

Nexus is a D.C. native who started Burning in 2013. He received his B.A. in dance from the University of Maryland, College Park, and went on to American University for his M.A. in Arts Management. He is devoted to the District’s creative community, sitting on the boards of a dance organization and a storytelling one, as well as supporting several local theaters. He is passionate about building community through the arts, and unpacking issues around diversity and equity. One way in which this has manifested has been an ongoing storytelling project, providing D.C. Burners opportunities to tell true stories on stage throughout Washington. Beginning in 2014, this project now has a year round presence with seasonal performances and workshops at local and regional events.

6 Comments on “All of Us: An LGBTQ+ Burner Event to Take Pride In

  • Flamer says:

    Is it possible to be proud of something you didn’t choose. Like proud Americans… I don’t get it. You’re an American by accident of your birth. Same with being straight, it’s not something you accomplished, so how can you be proud. Same with anyone’s sexuality.

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    • Pretzel says:

      I think you can be proud of what a community, comprised of folks who may not have chosen to be part of that community, has accomplished. By coming together through hard work and dedication around joint causes that addresses the needs and concerns of a smaller communities as one joint entity is quite an accomplishment that was based on chosen action. One can certainly be proud of accomplishments.

      And further, although you may not choose your sexuality, you can choose your identity and how you express that identity. That’s why identifying as queer is so important to me, because I believe that queerness transcends sexuality and gender and provides an identity that’s goal is to unite a diverse community through shared similarities or even through shared dissimilarities with main stream culture. And therefore, it is very possible to be proud of queer identity because being queer is a choice and living queerly even among the LGBT community is not an easy path, but it is a rewarding one. I am proud of myself for recognizing my place in queer community and therefore departing from my identity as a gay male for a new identity as a queer person.

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    • Nexus says:

      When you say/type “Is it possible”, is that a rhetorical question? You say you don’t get it, but I’m hoping you’re commenting because you would like to. So I’m going to respond based on that, and my response…is it depends.

      There are a lot of things about me and my identity/identities which I didn’t choose…but I have chosen in a way to be proud of. Being a part of the Queer community is one of them. Being mixed Black and Filipino is another. Being a native Washingtonian is a third.

      But it’s not just being proud of those things, it’s about taking pride in what those communities and cultures have accomplished and contributed, and actively participating in them.

      Because I get what you’re saying, to a degree, not understanding how one can be proud of something that is passive, like one’s identity. But I think pride kicks in with how one’s identity informs their actions and choices, in work or even in play, and how they express themselves as individuals and members of a larger community.

      And in terms of one’s identify not being an accomplishment in and of itself (if we’re going with that aspect/association of being proud of something), I get what you’re saying, but for many minorities, simply surviving despite institutional and systemic inequity is an accomplishment. And thriving can unfortunately be the exception rather than the norm.

      So, final thought…Pride is different for everyone, kind of like the Burn. And while I can’t speak for others, I will say that I know enough people for whom simply living a happy, successful, and visible life as a queer person is more of an accomplishment than you might imagine, even today. And I would argue that that is more than enough to be proud of.

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  • Flamer says:

    What if you wen’t part of the community?

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  • Toaster says:

    What an amazing testament to a community I value deeply… and I mean burners as a whole and our place as LGBTQ burners among them. We strive to achieve radical inclusion and a desire to participate instead of an expectation to participate. When new voices come into this choir singing the 10 principles along with the rest of us we feel raised up… you sing beautifully. Thank you for this lovely telling of your experience with All of Us.

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