The Burning Man Principle of Radical Self-Expression

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Dear reader, my intent is that you will, as a result of reading this article:

  • React with “oh, wow, I feel like I know a lot more now”
  • Feel better about yourself
  • Have a nicer life
  • Be more empowered to culturally oppose a large amount of negative and flat-out-wrong information on this subject.

Feeling Free

Seven nights ago, on September 1st, 2018, I was standing solemnly and topless in front of the Burning Man effigy while it was on fire. It was a beautiful, starry Nevada desert night. The shape of my hard nips matched the chill of the night air as well as my internal emotions, even as I was feeling the warmth of the fire on my skin. I was surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded people. For me, it was an inspiring time. My eyes glistened with tears of intense joy. I felt primally, vibrantly alive -- and delighted to be there.

Offcially, Burning Man is over for 2018, but I continue to live by its principles. One of these is “Immediacy.” Another is “Participation.” Another is “Radical Self-Expression.”

Two nights ago, most people driving along highway 80 twenty miles east of Reno, NV were probably unaware of the comforting temperature of the night air, and how brightly the stars shone as they contrasted with the exceptionally dark rural desert sky.

Not me. I decided to exit the freeway, and go enjoy the night. I parked at the bottom of a dark, rural, desert off-ramp where it was abundantly clear that I was the only person around. I got out and stripped until I was … let’s just say, very scantily clad.

I stood solemnly and happily, on that lovely Nevada desert night, looking up at the stars. I felt deeply happy to be alive. I also felt very aware of my nature as a sexual being. Just being there was a turn-on. I wasn’t fully nude but my mood nevertheless combined a serious, deep happiness with the excitement of the skinny-dipping I had sometimes done as a teenager.

Feeling Wary

Suddenly I saw headlights approaching. Another car was coming down the off-ramp. I didn’t know who it was. Regardless, I hopped back into my car. While sitting in the driver seat, I quickly downgraded my dress code to something more conservative.

Next, some red, white and blue lights managed my expectations, and a Sheriff’s deputy appeared at my window and inquired with some curiosity what I was doing. His flashlight was also illuminating some sexy, lacy, pink, elegant underwear lying on the road, right by the driver’s door of my car.

These events nicely exemplify much of the difference between being at Burning Man, and not. In both cases, I had been standing scantily clad under a starry Nevada desert sky, happy to be alive.

In the context of Burning Man, no problem. Having other people around only added to my joyous mood; it meant more people smiling at me and at whom I was smiling. As to the law enforcement people who were around: most were Black Rock Rangers, fiercely protective of the Burning Man principles; the rest were Pershing County Sheriff’s deputies or Federal Rangers, and at Burning Man they tended to also be a lot more tolerant including as to public nudity. By their standards, topless or not, I was being a model citizen, and they left me alone to enjoy my night.

Outside of the context of Burning Man, big problem. Instead of enjoying the night while surrounded by like-minded people, I had actively avoided others and instead I had specifically chosen a solitary off-ramp in the middle of nowhere. When someone else did approach, I immediatelly assumed they would be hostile to my values. I didn’t even know whose car was approaching, and yet my immediate thought was “I’d better go dress more conservatively.” The potential of other people being around was worse than being alone; the actual presence of other people just made it worse yet.

That this other person was a law enforcement officer made it even worse. He asked several questions. I was very much on-guard and aware of the “talking can harm but not help” premise, as in: the job of a law enforcement officer is to gather as much evidence as legally permissible, to arrest when a particular tipping point has been reached, and to then let the justice system take it from there.

However, in contrast with that, there’s also the common-sense social-decency premise, as in: it’s not inherently an adversarial dynamic and it’s a mistake to assume that every law enforcement officer is out to get me.

Perhaps this particular officer deserved some polite civility as long as I didn’t incriminate myself. As Martha Stewart found out, it’s possible to get into serious legal trouble just by saying the wrong thing to law enforcement even if prior to that one has done nothing illegal. Also, saying the wrong thing doesn’t mean that one was actively lying. Simply being confused enough to provide conflicting answers can get one into legal trouble.

There’s also the concern that if I play it hard-ball then maybe I’ve made the dynamic unnecessarily adversarial, which might inspire reciprocation and then who knows how the situation might play out. For example, my dress code might have already been recorded by his dash cam as he was driving up, in which case I might already be in legal trouble depending on what the law considers to be too scantily-clad.

Basically, it was a mine-field of a situation that could have ended up with me trying to figure out how to post bail in some county jail dozens of miles away from where I live.


What a stark contrast! At Burning Man, it was fine to be scantily clad. Having people around was a good thing … outside of Burning Man (a mere five days later,),d a hundred miles further south) , the culture was stifling instead.

Dress code is only one aspect of potential self-expression. I’m focusing on that because that’s as wild as I got, at Burning Man. However, there are many ways in which one can express oneself.

At Burning Man, "radical self-expression" is a formal principle to be embraced. Outside of Black Rock City, even more so, because civilian life tends to have a stiflingly hostile environment, so there's resistance to overcome ... albeit with caution so as to avoid trouble

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                                                   Written By: Tanya Charbury

Tanya is a former model and former sex worker including being a former Dominatrix. She's also a professional writer and speaker on subjects ranging from sexuality to software engineering. She is a transgender girl and has been out as such for more than 5 years. She's a free-market girl, and by implication is adamant that anyone's consensual sexuality, including sex work, does not deserve threats of violence nor actual violence from any individual or group, least of all a government.


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