by David Wraith
Many people are familiar with Burning Man, the annual weeklong festival that draws as many as fifty-thousand people to the Nevada desert each year. What fewer people know is that all over the country there are regional “burns” (smaller, weekend camping events inspired by Burning Man) based on the same creativity, non-conformity and principles of the big event.
People who attend burns, or “burners,” attempt to create community where the values and rules of the mundane world are questioned and challenged, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a high cross-pollination between the burner, poly, kinky and nudist communities. To call the burner community sex positive would be an understatement.
Right here in the heart of flyover country, there are not one, not two, not three, but five regional burns within a two hour drive from St. Louis. At the risk of sounding biased, my favorite regional burn is the one put on by our very own St. Louis burner community. They’re called the Gateway Burners and their event is The Gateway Burn. I spoke with event coordinator Caz Ran and burner, Chris Koehler. Koehler is the owner of the Teenie Wienie Tavern, a mobile bar about the size of a phone booth; it has a maximum capacity of about seventeen people and can comfortably accommodate four.
David Wraith: What the heck is a “burn” anyways?
Caz Ran: It’s a gathering of like-minded people who have agreed upon guidelines for interaction. Our gatherings often involve an effigy fire, art and theme camps. We’re trying to engender a culture that is nearly impossible in the default world.
Chris Koehler: It’s a temporary utopian community.
How do regional burns relate to Burning Man?
Chris: They have the same agree upon social constructs.
Caz: As burning man got larger and larger, it seemed necessary to create smaller regional burns with more giving and less barriers to entrance than Burning Man.
Can you explain the principles of a burn?
Caz: I’d like to talk specifically about “decommodification,” which states “In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.”
It’s a giving economy, not a barter economy. The entire economy is based on gifts. If you have something that someone wants, give it to them. If someone has something that you want, ask them.
Chris: It’s about respecting people’s boundaries, asking permission. If you give something to somebody, there’s no expectation of getting something back. I think that has gradually developed as a principle.
How did Gateway come about and what makes it different from other burns?
Caz: It was developed to fill a need. St. Louis, as a major city in the Midwest, justified having a community large enough to hold its own burn. Gateway chose to be an art-focused regional burn. Some of the other regional burns developed out of the “rave” community. Gateway developed out of Burning Man and the art community.
Speaking on that, each year we’re able to offer several thousand dollars in art grants. This year we were able to give away $4,000. We’re on schedule to have even more art grants next year. If you’re interested, please apply at www.gatewayburners.com.
Why do you think burns are a natural fit for the sex positive community?
Caz: One of the things that makes a community like Gateway possible is our basic system of communication: asking before taking. This dovetails with the communication principles of sex positive.
And really because you’re fun, and we like to have fun!