Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

September 3, 2005 Burning Man: Costumes, sex and nudity.

There’s a lot of talk about the nudity in connection with Burning Man, especially among those who have never been. Actually, though, most people are clothed, at least partially. In fact, most are sufficiently clothed to pass public decency laws, though many would certainly draw considerable attention on a city street or in a suburban mall. Lots of men are in sarongs, skirts, kilts, or dresses. Lots of people of both genders are in what might be swim trunks or bikini bottoms or thongs, and little else. Women wear

nothing on top (going “top-free,” as someone later called it), or halter tops, or pasties, or flowers painted around their nipples. I only saw one woman with no clothes on at all; a lot more men are completely nude. Well, not completely – everyone has sunhats, socks, and shoes. And, let us hope, a lot of sunscreen. Total nudity is not particularly remarkable here. The people who attract attention are the scantily clad ones, in fishnet body stockings or the skimpiest of miniskirts. They are the ones who project sexuality by hiding something; the others simply seem to be dispensing with the hassle of clothes.

Most of the scantily clad are young, slim, and attractive. Some are positively stunning. But I’ve seen men with huge bellies hanging over thongs and middle aged women displaying pendulous breasts and bulging stomachs. One mother-daughter pair was topless and stout. The mother’s breasts had visibly been reconstructed after surgery, as she had extensive scars and no nipples. But she wasn’t shy, and if anyone else noticed, they certainly weren’t paying it much attention.

Much of the release from inhibition here is about sexuality, in costumes, toys, theme camps, and, I suppose, behavior. As I write, a woman dressed to resemble something between a harem resident and a Persian warrior is posing for photos nearby. A number of men have fake erections strapped over their genitals – an elephant

head with raised trunk on one, a rhino horn on another. In Center Camp a man was sending a radio-operated erect penis to chase after women, some of whom responded with lascivious efforts to entice it their way. Couples posed for photos as if performing oral sex.

Of course all of this can lead to misunderstandings about intent. In every porta-john is a sticker from the Bureau of Erotic Discourse – BED, as they point out – a theme camp devoted to open discussion of that possibility. The sticker reads “Yes means yes. No means no.” I’ve seen a number of provocatively dressed women sporting buttons that read simply “no means no.” One of the basic rules of the City is “don’t touch without asking, don’t photograph without asking.” So I didn’t photograph nude people unless it was by accident, because I didn’t want to ask and have them pose; I prefer to take candids. Problems still arise, though; the BED wouldn’t be needed if they didn’t. A man was charged with two sexual assaults, and amazingly enough, they caught him. Who knows what else happened that was more ambiguous and never even got reported?

Continue to the next entry.

Return home.

Unless otherwise indicated all text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht.