Making the e-mail rounds a few weeks ago - and sent to me by more than one high-profile local sex educator - was a snarky list of ways to "enjoy Burning Man at home." The list included many observations about the experience, like:
* Before eating any food, drop it in a sandbox and lick a battery.
* Get so drunk you can't recognize your own house. Walk slowly around the block for five hours.
* Have a 3 a.m. soul-baring conversation with a drag nun in platforms, a crocodile and Bugs Bunny. Be unable to tell if you're hallucinating. Lust after Bugs Bunny.
* Cut, burn, electrocute, bruise, and sunburn various parts of your body. Forget how you did it. Don't go to a doctor.
* Pay an escort of your affectional preference subset to not bathe for five days, cover themselves in glitter, dust, and sunscreen, wear a skanky neon wig, dance close naked, then say they have a lover back home at the end of the night.
For those of us who work in the sexual health professions, it's the last bit that seems a bit mild. For while we San Franciscans might make fun of the event and its customers (and be intrigued by its lawsuits), we do love that it's a sex-positive, inclusive gathering that celebrates art and community, and fosters - even strongly emphasizes - tolerance among all genders and orientations. But what some of us don't love is the noticeable impact on local STD clinics and call centers when the "burners" come home.
Here at home among clinic workers and sex hotline operators, our thoughts are about the souvenirs that keep on giving long after the man has burned, you've thrown away a car full of garbage at a "leave no trace" event, and the ozone has thinned a bit more. Maybe it's a coincidence that local health workers have complained to me that they think there's a noticeable increase in STD testing around the Bay Area after Labor Day weekend, presumably from those who found bliss and new friends for life (of the genital virus variety) while spreading the, um, love and art at Black Rock City. According to one local clinic worker who requested anonymity for this piece, "What we usually see is both a weekly trend and a seasonal trend in STD and pregnancy testing. For example, Mondays are always the day we get lots of requests for Plan B. We see a huge rise in pregnancy and STD testing (and, more telling than the number of tests, the number of positive results) in the summer and around the holidays." Holidays like Christmas - or Labor Day? To wit: The Man might be burning, but so is your ass. It's no wonder the attendees are called "burners."