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