Camp Beaverton: Burning Man’s sex-positive space for queer women

“Welcome home!” is a greeting that you will get when you arrive at Burning Man’s gates, even if you are at first only strangers. There is an immediate warmness that rushes over you—or so I’ve been told by many friends who call themselves Burners.

There’s interesting debate around Burning Man, its reputation, its purpose, its rumored and actual weirdness. But that debate is already settled in the minds of the tens and thousands of people who look forward to making the trek to Burning Man each year. People who seek to let go of boundaries and labels that may define them in daily life, to face a spiritual awakening in community. Burning Man comes complete with its own lexicon, its own temporary city, and its own Principles.  For example, there is no monetary exchange for goods anyplace, everyone is encouraged to participate in gifting small tokens of appreciation in exchange for goods. It’s a place that touts radical self-acceptance and self-expression, and it’s no wonder that so many of us who haven’t quite experienced it are at the very least, fascinated by its existence.

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Burning Man is made up of various “theme camps” that are the interactive core of the experience. They are camping sites with a concept that creates a specific experience for participants. Some examples might include “7 Deadly Gins” where participants are invited to “come enjoy a top-shelf, ice-cold gin in a desert oasis bar.”  There’s even a “Playa Choir Camp” where burners go to sing in a choir, learning four part harmonies of classic gospel songs. And today we’re talking to Camp Beaverton, a queer, sex positive theme camp within Burning Man. The camp is an oasis for lesbians and queer women who fall along the spectrum, to come together for a week of bonding spiritually and sexually in the desert.

The Camp is prominently featured in the now internationally acclaimed documentary film Meet The Beavers (available now on Hulu) by Ana Grillo and Beth Nelsen. The film follows the life of the queer camp throughout the week providing rare and uncanny insight to the queer subculture of Burning Man. One of the main participants in the documentary is a vivacious, kind, human who goes by her Playa name in our interview, Glo

The “playa” by the way, for those still trying to keep up with the lingo, is a Spanish word for beach. It describes the dry lakebed that the temporary “city” of burning man sits on. The Playa is a special and sacred space filled with art installations and art cars. Art cars are exactly what they sound like, cars that also function as art; they transport you either literally and sometimes spiritually, to where you want to be. Co-founder Larry Harvey likens the art cars to “sublimely beautiful works of art floating across the playa like a Miro painting.”

Burning Man takes place this weekend, and Glo, who is featured prominently in Meet The Beavers, still serves in leadership at the camp. We talked with her about sex-positive spaces, the famous strap-on-a-thon that the camp hosts every year, as well as how you can be involved in Camp Beaverton should you want to experience the burn.

 

AfterEllen.com: Tell us about your role in Meet the Beavers. 

Glo: When they shot Meet the Beavers I didn’t know what would be happening with it except for some folks had reached out to our camp that they wanted to do a documentary that would maybe show at San Francisco’s Frameline. And even that was a maybe [Laughing].  I had no idea that it would go on to show internationally at dozens of queer film festivals.  They came and filmed my second year going with the camp and it was my first year as a part of leadership so that was really fun. They asked if I’d do an interview, and I said I was open to that, and turns out I was in a good chunk of the documentary which was fine –I played the comedic relief, I think.

It’s been a few years and it’s a funny snap shot of my life but it was a great way to get the word out about the camp. We’ve gotten so many emails from people that just pull at your heart. Just saying things like, “I’ve always felt like a weirdo, I live in the middle of nowhere, but now I know there’s other weirdos out there!” and they want to come Burning Man, and it’s so cool.

10377443_955016177859171_6694123218051618696_nphotos via Meet the Beavers Facebook page

AE: I’m not surprised that the documentary has found such a wide audience. I feel like there’s this fascination with Burning Man in general, then add a queer Camp Beaverton to it and it increases tenfold. Why do you think that is?

Glo: As far as Burning Man goes, there’s something about the temporary nature of it that’s really special. When people realize that Camp Beaverton and Burning Man are not year round, when people realize it’s such a harsh environment,  that it requires packing up everything you need to survive in that harsh environment, and yet in spite of that, all of these people are out there doing the same thing! I think there are people who are genuinely interested in knowing more and doing it themselves, and people who aren’t interested at all in pushing themselves to experience that sort of extreme condition.

Add to that the radical notion of self-expression, however you want to express yourself you can, and you know that thousands of other people are doing the same thing. Whether it’s dressing up in tutus or leather or going completely naked, I think that it’s a really special space. But, there were still challenges. Up until Camp Beaverton was founded in 2007, we didn’t have a place to find the Dykes. Beaverton is kind of like the Lexington Bar of Burning Man, and that’s why I wanted to help create that space. During my first burn, I was looking for an event I had heard about called the “The Great Canadian Beaver Eating Contest,” where no single guys were able to come to this event and I thought that would be interesting. But I didn’t find that; instead, I found Camp Beaverton’s “Strap-on-a-thon,” and I thought that sounds good enough! So that’s how I found the camp and met a bunch of amazing people.