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A Modern Woman's Guide to Burning Man

Culture

It’s that time of year again: Burning Man.


A time when tens of thousands of people from around the world gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create a temporary, participatory metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.

As a past attendee, I can attest to just how radical and life-changing of an experience Burning Man really is. It’s more than just a city in the desert or an art festival -- it’s a culture of possibility among a network of dreamers and doers.

So instead of buying that flower headcrown and changing your Facebook status to “desert woke,” you’ll need to mentally and physically prepare yourself for what might be the best, most enlightening, and potentially challenging week of your life.

Have questions or need advice? Well, in a world where Google can’t answer everything, Alexa is unavailable without wifi, and SIRI STILL DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING, this guide shares the real information you need to Burn right.

First, let’s cover the basics:

THE LINGO

Yes, you may use these as #’s when you harass the internet upon returning

Black Rock City (BRC): The annual, temporary city created by the Burning Man (BM) community

Burner: attended the festival at least once; pursues a way of life based on BM principles

Burn Virgin: You

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): A harmless mental disorder caused by the overwhelming scope of things to do and see in BRC; may lead to sleep deprivation.

Gremlins: People who turn into little party monsters once the sun goes down, exposed to bright/neon lights, or fed various things.

MOOP: Matter Out Of Place; litter, debris.

Playa: think “beach in Spanish,” not “promiscuous individual...” (though you’ll find both)

Sparklepony: Derogatory term for one who fails to embrace radical self-reliance (overly relies on the resources of friends/community). Often fashionably attired, since they packed nothing but costumes.

Theme camps: Tribes with communal space for members; offer interactive opportunities (music, art, events, food, etc.) to festival community

The 10 Principles: the core of BM: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, Immediacy

Moving onto those #Burning questions on your mind.

FAQ’s

What not to ask the internet

Q: An entire week outside? Will I have to pee in a bush?

A: Of course not -- there are no bushes in the desert.

Not only are there are clean portapotties (at the beginning of the day at least), but it’s also highly unadvised to excrete outdoors (hint: that’s MOOP). Leave no trace of doodoo behind.

Q: Am I completely cut off from the outside world?

A: No -- there’s a BRC postal service to keep in touch with muggle friends.

If you arrive before all 70,000 expected attendees, you might have cell service. But only use your phone to CAPTURE photos, even if you’re one of the lucky few with signal. It’s against BM etiquette. Plus, if you POST on social media, your boss will know you’re not completely off the grid. Enjoy answering emails in the desert.

Q: Do I have to join a Theme Camp?

A: Not if you prefer doing WAY MORE work yourself, especially on vacation.

People in camps are assigned different roles and shifts (kitchen, bartending, building, etc) which means you don’t have to spend your entire day surviving/working. You can instead go enjoy the marvelous art and activities other camps are offering.

Q: Is there really a sex dome? Naked people? Weird Sh**? Drugs?

A: What ye seek, ye shall find...

But don’t worry. Ye is safe and ye personal space is valued.

Q: No Rules...as in I can do WHATEVER I WANT?

A: #ExpressYourself

But keep in mind that Burning Man takes place on federal land, and is subject to local, state and federal laws, including those involving illicit narcotics. Officers are on-site.

Q: But how do I clean up without running water?

A: If you’re Greek, Windex.

Other options include solar showers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, dry shampoo, etc. There’s also a theme camp that offers a “human carwash.”

Q: What if I get hurt at the Festival?

A: You’ll die.

  1. There are FREE emergency medical services with volunteer EMT’s and doctors. I may have tested it out first hand last year … Best X-rays I’ve ever had.
Q: Is it true that everyone at Burning Man is on drugs?

A: Only on days that end in Y

No. In fact, many participants are sober, and there are even support groups (like AA meetings) that take place! Plus, SO MANY camps offer free drinks and enough fun to keep you entertained legally.

And now for the fun stuff…

HOW TO BE THE BELLE OF THE BURN

Prep like your momma made you: though you don’t necessarily have to tell her you’re going

The more you plan in advance, the more carefree fun you’ll have. Plan your outfits day-by-day, what you’ll eat (snacks vs camp provided meals), create a checklist of what you’re bringing, and figure out how you’re getting it all there and back (return journey is arguably more difficult). Reminder: don’t be a sparklepony.

Tried-and-tested ways to have the best f***ng experience ever.

Items to always have on your person: Strap it to your fanny or put it on your back

A Quest/protein bar, moisturizer, sunblock, goggles (sunglasses alone won’t help during dust storms), bandana, chapstick, water bottle, hand sanitizer, cup with lid, a notebook/pen, your ID (it’s still 21+ to drink), and a tampon (even if just to gift to someone unprepared).

Make a loose agenda: #noFOMO

Though your plans will always change (like when you meet those New Zealanders that ask you to witness their wedding 5 minutes from now) identify the must-SEE’s and must-DO’s in advance. Give yourself a guideline of what you want to experience outside of partying.

Go Glamping: Girls don’t poop -- but if we did, we’d prefer to do it in an RV.

If you have the means to do it, do it. Save up and stay in an RV, or make friends with people who have one.

Give Superior Hugs: the average BM hug lasts WAY longer than a civilian hug -- and it’s MAGICAL. Give hugs out like candy on Halloween.

Bike, Babe: Treat bikes like boyfriends -- dress them up, take them with you, and lock them down.

1- Unique bikes are easier to spot in a sea of THOUSANDS. Wild designs and materials (fur, totems, lights, etc.) will satisfy your inner child.

2- Even if you’re going somewhere closeby, you’ll meet people who want to explore...don’t get left behind without a bike handy.

3- Burners don’t steal (I’ve seen laptops, passports, wallets, etc. returned) but Gremlins often mistake bikes as their own or think “they’re borrowing it.”

Network: Float like a butterfly, but don’t sting like a bee

Many influential artists, creators and leaders have called the Playa home (Elon Musk, Heidi Klum, Katy Perry, etc). Set your intention to rub dust-bows with inspirational people, and spend time with strangers. But don’t schmooze, it’s against the code. Friendships may carry into the real world, but don’t lead with that.

Volunteer: BM is not a spectator sport

There are so many opportunities to keep BM running by getting involved and meeting badass people. You can sign up for shifts at Center Camp including: postal office, lamplighting (an epic nightly ceremony), Moop, at theme camps camps, etc.

Make Fashion Your Passion: BM is like Halloween for adults (even though Halloween is really for adults)

Go all out with your costume -- headdresses, jewelry, props, wigs, hats, glitter, body paint, statement pieces -- and have people appreciate the art you’re wearing. TIP: recycle old clothes, get combat boots, shop at Goodwill, braid your hair for one hair-do, and go faux-fur.

Gift, gift, gift: you are what you give… (but seriously, Usher)

They say happiness can’t be bought, but it can be shared. Who needs money in a world where everyone gives time, love, and tangible items like food, trinkets, etc.?! The Playa is a desert oasis, contribute accordingly

IN CONCLUSION

You should drop everything and go Burn.

All humor aside, it’s hard to paint a picture of just how impactful and life-changing Burning Man was for me. I went in with the intention of finding myself -- and because I was prepared, I did that plus way more.

I let my guard down and explored strange ideas with new friends of all ages, and cried an embarrassing amount of times. I questioned my spirituality, mentality and social constructs. I prayed, meditated, and mourned. Witnessed marriages, sunrises, and art. And frankly, I partied pretty damn hard. But for a week, I let go of who I “thought I was,” and instead, allowed my authentic self to be who I am.

I hope you’ll experience the magic as well. You’ll understand when you arrive and they welcome you home.

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.