The Down and Dirty of the Dust: Let’s Separate Burning Man Facts From Fiction

The Down and Dirty of the Dust: Let’s Separate Burning Man Facts From Fiction

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Get ready for the dust, boys! Tomorrow, April 3, ticket sale registration kicks off for Burning Man 2019, a weeklong, desert-based amalgam of socio-political experimentation, public art installations and pansexual revelry, taking place Aug. 25–Sept. 2.

Since its inception in 1986 San Francisco as a simple summer solstice celebration, Burning Man has evolved into a massive event that attracts over 70,000 participants to Black Rock City, Nevada, each year.

Over the decades, the dust-covered festivities have taken on an air of mystery to the uninitiated, so we’d like to myth-bust a few Burning Man misconceptions for both “default world” civilians and “Burner virgins” alike.

Fact or Fiction: Burning Man is just a week of doing drugs in the desert.


While chemically induced, altered states of mind are certainly an aspect of Burning Man, they’re only a fraction of the experience. Burning Man is first and foremost a temporary alternative society of disparate tribes and camps governed by its 10 Principles: (1) Radical Inclusion, (2) Gifting, (3) Decommodification, (4) Radical Self-Reliance, (5) Radical Self-Expression, (6) Communal Effort, (7) Civic Responsibility, (8) Leaving No Trace, (9) Participation, (10) Immediacy.

A daytime party in the Burning Man gayborhood

While the details of the 10 principles of Burning Man are beyond the scope of this article, feel free to head here for a more in-depth exploration of the event’s governing precepts.

Notice that the societal template of Burning Man doesn’t include “Radical Beer Busts” or “Radical Day Tripping.” In fact, the Burn hosts several sober communities, like the queer-centric Camp Stella, which provides safe spaces for those seeking a non-substance-based experience. Burning Man is more than just a party; it’s whatever lifestyle one chooses. 

Fact or Fiction: Burning Man has its own slang.


As with any subculture, the Burner community has developed its own vernacular.

Photo by dvsross

Here are some basic terms to help you navigate a conversation with dust covered dudes on the playa:

Default: The every day world outside of Burning Man.

Playa: The Spanish word for “beach,” it’s also applied to dried-up lake beds, like the one on which Black Rock City sits. The term has become pretty much synonymous with Burning Man.

MOOP: An acronym for “Matter Out of Place.” The principle Leave No Trace means that anything not native to the playa (aka MOOP) must be removed by the end of the Burn.

Shirtcockers: Burners who wear only tops but no pants. It’s also known as “Donald Duck-ing” and “Winnie the Pooh-ing.”

Sparkle Pony: A slur for those who don’t adhere to the 10 Principles of Burning Man, specifically Community and Radical Self-Reliance. They don’t help out when building and deconstructing camps, nor do they provide anything of value to their fellow Burners. (It’s like the playa’s version of that lazy, entitled twink who just lies there uselessly during sex while you do all the work.)

Virgin: Someone attending Burning Man for their first time.

You can head here for a more detailed “Burban Dictionary.” 

Fact or Fiction: Burning Man is a 24/7 orgy.

Mostly fiction

As with drugs and alcohol, sexual activity isn’t a requirement of Burning Man, and minors and asexual folks are as welcome on the playa as anyone else.

That being said, there’s a plethora of opportunities for horny homos on the playa. Comfort and Joy is a gay camp notable for providing a large, harem-esque tent open to any man looking to get his rocks off, complete with complimentary condoms, lube and an entire room full of slings. The tent is open ’round the clock, so in this sense, yes, one actually does indeed have the option for a 24-hour orgy.

An aerial view of Black Rock City, 2012 (photo by Steve Jurvetson)

Then there’s Astro Pups, a queer camp that gifts public shower sessions for other male Burners, often with hands-on assistance. It’s important to acknowledge that as the week progresses, one’s hygiene — especially in the loincloth area — becomes increasingly gross. So the Astro Pups’ showers help one “Freshen up the what’s-gone-sour” (to quote Amy Sedaris). The Pups also provide a tent immediately adjacent to the showers where freshly scrubbed Burners can engage in the cleanest possible sexual depravity before venturing back into the dust.

Fact or Fiction: Burning Man is expensive AF.

Fact and fiction

To some extent, the price tag of Burning Man depends on how much a person can pay and what that person is willing to pay. Tickets normally cost around $400, but for those nervous they may not snag one before they sell out, Burning Man also offers pre-sale tickets that cost around $800. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also reduced-price tickets for low-income Burners, assuming they can provide proof of income ahead of time. 

Photo by Christopher Michel

Beyond ticket prices, Burners need to budget for staples like food, water and lights. As soon as the sun goes down, the only lighting on the playa is what you don yourself. If you’re not properly lit, you run the risk of getting plowed down by an art car shaped like a giant mushroom or a Final Fantasy airship or whatever. 

Then come the costs of semi-necessities, like bikes. Unlike other cities, Black Rock City doesn’t have public transportation, so getting around depends solely on yourself. If you don’t have access to an art car, a bike is your best — and pretty much only — option.

Then there’s the cost of housing accommodations. Basic tents can be purchased on the cheap, but those with a bit more disposable income can shell out money for fancier options, like yurts (large circular tents similar to those used by bedouin tribes). For those who really desire the comforts of civilization in the middle of inevitable dust storms, RVs are a reliable choice, but be warned: rentals for an RV run about $1,000 per person for the week. 

Burning Man can be as expensive as you want it to be, but expect a bare minimum of the $400 ticket.

Fact or Fiction: Burning Man has its own gayborhood.


Like any other metropolis, Black Rock City has its own LGBTQ enclave. The structure of the city is modeled after the face of a clock, and the gayborhood traditionally resides in the “7:30” sector, acting as a home for dozens of queer camps. (Find more info on these camps here.)

Most prominent is GlamCocks, which is equal parts playa party palace, LGBT community center and dirty gay desert frat. While this camp offers workshops and seminars throughout the course of the day, the best times to swing by are in the morning and at night.

Before noon they serve up cold brew coffee to visitors, and after the sun sets, GlamCocks really shine with neon-splashed, themed nightlife events with psychedelic lighting, hot DJ sets and live performances. The GlamCocks’ ranks include RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Courtney Act and Willam, so you can typically expect an interesting stage show.

In the sweaty hours between these coffees and nightly bacchanals, beat the heat by hitting up the GlamCocks’ neighbors at Paradise Motel. This flamingo-pink trailer park-slash-Jonn Waters wet dream is notable for serving snow cones to visitors and, more interestingly, letting patrons cut the line in exchange for flashing their dick or breasts — or both, depending on the person.

Fact or Fiction: I’ve never once had to wait in line for a Paradise Motel snow cone.


Head here for more info on Burning Man 2019, and here for info on purchasing Burning Man tickets.

Featured image by Christopher Michel

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