Post Burning Man Thoughts Part Two (2/3): On Costumes
“Hell is other people.” — Jean-Paul Sartre
Now we’re going to talk about identity theft. Not the typical.
People think that quote is for a Larry David-like curmudgeon-y misanthrope who hates being around other people. It’s about association — without other people, we cannot know ourselves. #knowyourself #walkinlikeimernestbaker
Appearance is vital to me. For many years, I struggled feeling one way and being treated another. I felt different but was unable to express. After many years, my appearance expresses my individuality. I craved that expression my entire life…I need it…I cannot live without it.
At Burning Man, people like to become someone else. They leave their “default world” persona and step into a different, sometimes self-perceived better, version of themselves. For some, part of this is achieved through costume. Not temporary Halloween or theme party costumes. Burning Man costumes are meant to represent identity, either true persona, or one that lives only on Playa.
I dress as me every day. At the office, #indaclub, around the house, and at Burning Man. My appearance exudes the same identity. I don’t consider myself a peacock, but I appear different. I want to be judged for that.
At Burning Man, I can feel disconnected, lonely and lost.
My style no longer communicates my individuality because everyone is dressed different. I’m disconnected because I’m not judged.
That means my system of finding people is gone. I can’t communicate hey I have this kinda worldview because I wear this kinda outfit talk to me if you share that. I become part of the crowd. I’m uncomfortable in the crowd. I’m not a group person, I thrive one-on-one (being social and uncomfortable in groups are not mutually exclusive).
Many spend their lives trying to fit in, to be comfortable to (note: not with) society, to be like everybody else, but then also want credit for being individuals because they dress up for one week a year, and sometimes on weekends.
I express my individuality 24/7/365. I’m dedicated. I have no choice. I’m actually weird.
Regulars need general companionship. They go to parties to be around others and connect, makes them feel safe and comfortable. They’re generally satisfied with having friends, if they have deep friendships, cool, but typically they just have family.
Weirdos can’t do that. Weirdos feel even more isolated talking to people they don’t connect with, and they connect with very few. Weirdos also have this compulsion to give themselves to others, and when they give themselves to the wrong person, Disintegration (intentional Robert Smith reference). I developed my appearance and persona to communicate with those I’ll likely connect with, out of desperation — not strength.
I got kicked out of high school because I wasn’t a part of a certain group, and got screwed over by my entire Soccer team (an amazing teacher got the school to reconsider and let me graduate…RIP Mase I love you). You can’t ask for the same respect doing it for a week while surrounded exclusively by people you already know accept it and do the same.
You can’t call yourself a DJ or part the House Music community because it got trendy and hot girls showed up.
I’m not talking about the Burners who live this 24/7/365, the Burners whose identity is built on Burning Man principles. The people who were saved by the Burning Man community, and find acceptance, comfort and strength against a world they did not otherwise fit into. Burning Man is a beautiful place that so many use as foundation. Any scene, community, culture or movement like this is an incredible, yet sensitive, entity. These people are not wearing costumes, this is how they dress year round.
Poseurs do a lot more harm than they realize, and I’m the least of it.
There are people who need the Burning Man community. They need a safe place, where they can dance on the bus even if they’re not a tall, skinny model. Burning Man keeps many going, gets some off the ledge even. They don’t have awesome jobs that bring them traveling around the world. Burning Man is their one major trip. They don’t have friends and family back home who are completely separate and provide their own support and grounding — Burners are family.
When you fair weather co-opt Burning Man, you take everything that makes these people feel special, safe and secure.
This is the White Ocean vandalism.
Die hard Burners feel threatened and pissed.
The vandalism was not just a statement about material things in a possession-less utopian world.
It was get off my lawn.
They were protecting their home.
They were protecting their identity.
Burning Man is their safe place to embrace their weirdness and be embraced back. When those who are already embraced by the default world come in and also want to be embraced by Burning Man, some are going to call shenanigans.
Like Mrs. Rosie Watson told Frank Ocean:
“Be yourself and know that that’s good enough. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be like someone else, don’t try to act like someone else, be yourself. Be secure with yourself. Rely and trust upon your own decisions. On your own beliefs.”