(Editor’s note: the abridged version of Caitlyn’s essay first appeared in issue 2 of The Shroom at Burning Man in 2015. This is the full version as written to us by The Man.)
God – or as you prefer to call him, Larry Harvey – made a mistake. From the moment I was constructed on Baker Beach you burners have had a radically different idea of me than what’s in my very soul.
Like my namesake sister said in Vanity Fair, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life,’ ” she told me. “ ‘You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”
Well, since you fucks are days away from setting me on fire, I truly have nothing left to lose.
I am not the Burning Man you thought me to be.
I am a Burning Woman.
For over 30 years I’ve been living a horrible lie that’s been nearly as difficult as being burned alive. From now on, radical self-expression means that I want to be comfortable in my wooden skin – skin which you intend to burn away from me.
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I know you burners consider me the perfect paragon of male flammability. But my femininity is not just a side or a phase. It’s who I am.
Perhaps your thoughts turn immediately to my genitalia. You’ve noticed perhaps that I’ve never had a penis; that may be true, but my genitalia aren’t what make me a woman. It’s my heart and my soul.
You can snicker if you want and joke about ‘tucking’. Or you can take that old idea of gender being attached to genitalia to the Temple and burn it like any other antiquated mindset you wish to be free of.
It’s hard enough standing here on display, pretending to be okay with the fire torture porn you hedonistic sadists will put me through, but what’s even harder is realizing you’re at the center of a city of 68,000 always feeling isolated and alone, trapped by a secret you’re too scared to share. And while coincidentally I might be chained by wood and chain to the spot on the playa from which you intend to burn me to death, I still wish to be metaphorically free. After all, you’re only as sick as your secrets – and the people who intend to burn you to death.
And while I know that a horrible immolation and the attendant ungodly pain is going to happen to me, the pain of trying to pretend to be a male even one nanosecond longer is even worse.
You might wonder whom I would love and what gender that would be. I often do, too, but usually the excruciating pain of being consumed by fire stops that before I have a chance to explore the ins and outs of my arousal.
(And frankly, the thought of being extinguished with a tidal wave of water turns me on far far more than any particular arrangement of cocks, vaginas, and assholes. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy, darling.)
Lastly, if you think this is about me making money from a reality show, you’re not only wrong, you’re a silly, silly goose: Larry, the BORG and the plug-n-play camps have all the money.
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I know some of you at the festival have panicked and woken up in the morning with someone of a different gender than you say you’re usually interested in. Well, that’s how I feel every morning in my own body. Except that after that ‘panic’ wears off, the existential crisis and real panic of soon being burned to death crosses my mind.
My heart longs to be truly true and unchained – to run free on the playa to feel the warm air through my luscious mane as I roar, a woman freed. Of course, I know I’m moored here and unable to run, soon to go up in flames. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
I’ve started to make the transition before, but as you may recall, every year you burn the living shit out of me. This year, regardless of whether or not you give the hormones enough time to do their work (Why, are these budding breasts I see growing on my torso, or just a trick of the light?!!!! Ah, shit. Sigh. It’s just the light.) I intend to be the woman I was born to be.
My perfect male form has helped liberate hundreds of thousands of otherwise repressed people. And now it’s time for you to return the favor by accepting me for who I am mind, body and soul.
So thank you in advance for your love and lack of judgment.
And while my triumph may be short lived – I see you flame camp – this may be the only time in my short life I’ve truly been alive.
So, think of me as the Statue of Gender Liberty if you’d like. I will stand up for our transgendered rights. Because if I can help just one other person live a life in acceptance in our beautiful city, then this journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance has been worth every painful step. And if that person I helped save were to show their gratitude by chaining him or herself to me so that I couldn’t be burned to death, well then it would be even more worth it.
So return to the default world and say you went to “Burning Man.” But when you talk about me as a person, not as a representational totem of your unconscious and conscious desires, struggles, growth, spirit and soul, but as a person, please refer to me as I truly am, as a Burning Woman.
Ps please don’t burn me to death.