For years, there’s been a heated and ongoing debate in the [very broad] Mysterian community about age restrictions centering on the long-standing fact of the event being restricted to those considered to be legally adults.
One side of the debate believes that burns in general, and Transformus specifically, should be restricted to those of legal age. The other side believes just as strongly that any sort of restriction of this nature is in direct opposition to the principle of radical inclusion.
Let’s dive into the decisions that led to Transformus as an adults-only event.
At its beginning, in 2004*, and for its first four years (from 2004-2007), Transformus was an all-ages event. Kids and adults both enjoyed the event, and all was well. Mysterians came together, they built the event, they burned the Bamboozler, and they went home again. In 2008, however, a local citizen became aware that there may be nudity at the event, and contacted local media channels to advise them of this. Local television media found the owner of Deerfields as he was going about his daily business, and – in the words of said landowner – “ambushed” him on the street to inquire. Upon being confronted with direct questions about underage persons in the presence of potentially nude adults, he responded that this would not happen, because Transformus was a 21+ event. There are those, including the landowner according to reports, who believe this saved the event from certain destruction.
There was a small hiccup, though, as tickets had already been sold – and some of those tickets were to people under the age of 21. All tickets to those under the legal drinking age were refunded, and families who’d happily attended were no longer able to. Some pledged to never return (and didn’t). It was – and remains – a highly contentious decision, but remained Deerfields’ policy (though in 2009 the policy was relaxed to allow 18 and over to attend, relaxing from the 21+ stance, no further concessions have ever been provided by the landowner, despite repeated requests). For many, this was the beginning of the desire to relocate Transformus to another site. To this day, the debate rages on as to whether Transformus should have chosen to comply with this decision.
There are, as there always are, myriad factors that come into play. For one, Transformus is a Burning Man sanctioned event, and for many participants, this is important. For the years that Transformus has sought sanctioning, the Burning Man Organisation (BMORG) has chosen to allow the event to retain its status as an official regional event within the Burning Man network, despite the breach with radical inclusion across all ages. In early 2016, BMORG made a clear request to all events within its network to comply with an all-ages requirement; Transformus was granted an exception to this, as a direct result of the clear and consistent Deerfields policy of not allowing ticket sales to persons under the age of legal adulthood. It is unclear if BMORG will allow this concession going forward should the event be hosted on another site.
With the decision by Deerfields to discontinue negotiations to host Transformus in 2017, the ongoing debate has flared up once again. Eight years of an adults-only ticketing policy has not led to a mellowing of the discussion, as it happens, and the community remains divided on what is preferred. Both sides are deeply passionate about their perspectives, and both have incredibly valid points.
As Transformus seeks a new site on which to raise Mysteria, there are no easy answers to this long-standing conversation. But the only constant is change, after all, so there is no telling where this story will end.
Where will we land? We can only remain engaged and involved and learn where the future takes us.
* interesting side note: 2004 was also the first year the principles as they are known today were codified by Larry Harvey (widely acknowledged as one of the founders of Burning Man – the most recognisable face in a long and rich event history) specifically for use by the nascent regional network