Arash Afshar

Photographer, Host of Burner Podcast and Founder of Justified Hype


That’s the Burning Man principal I live for.

Out of the 10, that’s the one that drives me.

I’ve never presumed to speak for the Burning Man community. In fact, I think what makes me really good at what I do is that I always feel like an outsider. I’m always asking questions because I’m trying to understand what it feels like to belong. On my sadder days, it feels like an archetype I’ll never build enough momentum to truly escape. The feeling of loneliness whilst surrounded by adoring friends and smiling faces is a burden that is impossible to explain to anyone outside of ourselves.

But recently I’ve had some revelations about how to see this as a gift rather than a curse: I see events, experiences and communities as systems. I see the humans that populate a subculture as the internal organs and blood cells of said subculture’s living, breathing body.

Communities utilize a variety of subconscious tools to build stronger bonds among themselves. Things like attire (Tutu Tuesdays!), chants (Safety third!) and rituals (the man burns in…).

The easiest of these devices, the most basic of all these tools, is ‘othering.’

Rolling our eyes at those who don’t conform to our ideas. Buying into stories about the riotousness of our cause above those others. A general feeling of “we’re better than those people over there.” #youtcantsitwithus

Maybe I’ve just drank the cool-aid. But out of all the communities and subcultures I’ve had the privilege of studying as an artist, documenting as a photographer and interviewing as a podcaster, Burning Man is the one that’s most consistently still made me feel the most welcome. No matter where I shift to in my personal and spiritual journey, I find there is still a cozy space and cuddle puddle available for me.

The world, both Burning Man and Default, is what we make of it. Burning Man is simply the lens I’ve found the most comfort with which to navigate reality.

The photos accompanying this post are from the San Diego Burning Man community’s presence at the San Diego Pride Festival.

The reason I chose these images to accompany these words is because the gay community in San Diego was my first real experience with Radical Inclusion. Having navigated life as an Iranian-American, a San Diego State frat boy and an underground Hip-hop music video director, I’ve consistently found myself in a very unique position to study non-mainstream communities as an insider/outsider. I am heterosexual (which, honestly, is kinda annoying – I’d love to feel less restricted in my sexual identity – but that’s a whole different topic to explore) but San Diego’s gay community was the first place I felt like I didn’t have to show up a certain way. I could be single or attached, I could be into style or just be weird, I could know my family or have been disowned by them… The gayborhood in San Diego didn’t give a shit. That was my first taste of Radical Inclusion.

My first Burning Man was really hard. So hard, in fact, that I can’t even articulate why I went back. On multiple nights, when I was feeling so totally alone, I’d return to the Gayborhood. I guessed that that’s where I was due to the roundabout with the giant penis in the middle. That’s where I’d reconnect with that familiar feeling: a home within Home.

Oh and yes, you have my full consent to giggle like a 12 year old at any unintentional innuendos in the post.

Check out this episode of Burner Podcast where Halcyon and I breakdown all of the 10 Principals of Burning Man.

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  1. Cable King April 8, 2021 in 2:47 am

    That’s funny because the first place I felt excluded was the gay community. I grew up pretty naïve about the world and had to venture out to discover it. By the time I hit SF, I realized we were being segregated into groups of like minds. But my mind was everywhere. My favorite places were where everyone was, not just white BDSM gay men, or chubby furry guys, or ladies who gave you side-eye for venturing into their space (which is the one I actually think is justified). I’ve always liked a little bit of this and a little bit of that around, even if I didn’t want any of this or that in my own life. I think I share with you the idea of experiencing people’s experience. So, I find it funny that you posted about that San Diego pride, which I helped organize. I really wasn’t googling myself for validation. I just stumbled here. San Diego Burners were the first place I truly found my people. At Burning Man, I saw them, but I didn’t know how to touch them and live my life with them. They were still behind the plexiglass and there was no attendant with a key. But in San Diego, I met them. They became friends. And we co-created a life in which we intersect with the real world as necessary. For years I would throw a Pride Party and every once in a while, a gay would stumble in and wonder where the gays were. We’re just celebrating life and love and you’re welcome to join us. You don’t even need to suck a d to be our friend. Anyhow, thanks for the moment to reflect. Yes, radical inclusion. Until you need to be escorted out the back door, because we don’t have time for some things. But yes. Always.

    1. MR ARASH April 16, 2021 in 2:02 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story, Cable. And it’s by chance that I saw it under the pile of 400 spam comments. I pretty often communicate with folks who have a wildly different view of the burner community than you and I do. A phrase I repeat often, from years of podcasting, is that “reality is subjective.” I’ve had many gay friends who have had a similar experience to yours.

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