March 04, 2022

Festivals 2022: The NSFW Guide

Festivals 2022: The NSFW Guide

Sex, Drugs, and Protocol: 

A NSFW Guide to Staying Safe at Music Festivals in 2022


“Let’s do a temperature check.”

I’ve heard this phrase a lot over the last few months. And unique to most repeat expressions, this one retains its meaning for me — not (yet) falling into the storage bin of words so overused that they signify little more than that the person finds them fun or fashionable to pronounce.

The “let’s do a temperature check” context, for me, relates to my attending the Center for New Culture’s end-of-year gathering called New Culture New Years. It’s a phrase asked at the beginning of workshops, morning meetings, and the like — always with the intent of soliciting genuine responses. 

It could be asked about people’s energy levels first thing in the morning. Or when discerning who might be into one activity over another. How much bandwidth someone might have for emotional processing. (Etc.)

But for right now, this temperature check is in relation to the upcoming music festival season and all the excitement (both great and not-so-great) therein. 

So what’s my temperature? Frankly, a little concerned. But, also, hopeful. 

I managed to bypass all such hoopla in my 20s by being married for more or less exactly that decade and that decade only, which provided the luxury of not stumbling into certain situations or decisions that I’d rather avoid or prevent … the sort of experiences I wince at when relayed to me or when I happen to be their witness.

With the added dynamic to music festival maneuverings (we all know it, but I gotta say it anyway) of COVID-19, it’s time to rehash how to not harsh yours or anyone else’s buzz while braving our strange, living landscape in this manner.

Without further fanfare, here’s our Sex, Drugs, and Protocol guide for staying safe at music festivals — with tips that will serve you most anywhere you roam — given subheadings as if each category is a hot new band you don’t want to miss this go round.

(*-As a quick mote of disclaimer, just want to say that of course each of these topics are vast and are worth deeper dives than this compilation piece — meant more so as a mere primer — can bear. So dig deeper.)

Festival

~ * the platinum rule * ~

I’d like to first take a moment to talk to you about (among other things) our Lord and Savior Please Get Consent.

You might be thinking that I’m kidding but you’d be wrong. I am NOT fucking around. And you, too, better not be fucking around when it comes to Consent … especially if you’re hoping to do some (holistic, mind you) fucking around with the dreamy human beans you meet while riding the waves of festival bliss.

I refer to Consent here as a religious entity (even if I annoy you by writing the word as a proper noun) because I entirely hope you are inculcated with this paradigm. And because guiding your interactions though the Consent’s tenets is a so-to-speak shortcut toward a lot of things you probably want anyway:

  1. Better sex.
  2. Better friendships.
  3. Better workplace culture.
  4. Personal confidence.
  5. Genuine love and respect.
  6. Better self-understanding.

You’ll notice that only the first on this abbreviated list mentions physical intimacy. While Consent is critical when it comes to sharing touch (provided there’s Consent to touch at all) and is mainly the topic we think of when people bring up the concept, Consent covers a broad spectrum of our experiences, and learning to navigate it with honesty, curiosity, and acceptance changes the world as we know it.

My partner refers to the time we exist in right now as the era of the Platinum Rule. When her father visited us from rural Tennessee last summer, she had a conversation with him about respecting chosen names and gender-affirming pronouns. Two of my three kids and I are trans. He’s a conservative Christian, yet it went well.

There was no debate or dialectics, simply a definition:

“Dad, I know you’re familiar with the Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated, but we’ve since moved on to the Platinum Rule: Treat others how they want to be treated.”

And how do we know how people want to be treated? We gotta ask. Assumptions will ruin us.

About halfway through January, I wrapped two photoshoots that took me two days longer than I expected in the mountains of Western Virginia and hauled ass to the Washington, D.C., metro area in order to make it to Interfusion Festival. I was two hours late but exactly on time for the Consent Tools to Create Joyful Connections workshop led by two of my New Culture homies: cultural activist Sarah Taub, Ph.D., and transformational coach and consent educator Indigo Dawn.

Interfusion Festival, as described on its website, exists to create "a multicultural community of visionaries seeking to elevate individual and collective consciousness,” and carries a high level focus on dancing. It felt more than fitting — essential, really — for the festival with so much emphasis on Brazilian Zouk and other body movement styles to break down aspects of consent in a way that’s not only engaging, open-hearted, and fun while also leaving little room for misunderstanding (or bullshit).

I could write entire pages about just this workshop (and my badass friends who led it), but for the sake of relative brevity I’ll break it down to one of the opening illustrations.

“By a show of hands, who in this room wants to kiss someone else in this room? It could be someone you know or someone you just met — or have yet to meet.” 

My hand shot up (you know who you are). Other hands went up. Some held up both. Others meek in raising just one.

“Ok, now keep your hand up if you would still want to kiss this person if you knew they didn’t want you to.”

Nary an upraised palm or even so much as a single cuticle, as far as the eye could see. Phew.

Right? Because who really wants to kiss someone who doesn’t want to be kissed? That would be totally fucked, and we instinctively know it. And yet, once people get a little lifted (by substances, lack of sleep, existential euphoria, or a combination) and into a groove, such conversations are not often carried into the mix. 

Instead of doing some research before making moves, it seems like people often follow the guess-and-check approach — which really should be kept for math formulas and not matters of the heart 

A not-so-awesome person who founded the college I went to would almost never miss a week without uttering his infamous saying: “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” 

This man is now dead. His son, however, was in recent years cut from the school’s deep coffers, and likely from the esteem of the tens of thousands of conservative Christians who believed in him after a sex scandal (among others) stepped into the light. (A cautionary tale.)

A better school-learned mantra to take into matters of consent comes from my high school woodworking class: “Measure twice, cut once.” As in, make sure what you’re doing is OK before you do it wrong and the doing of it causes irreversible harm. Or even reversible harm. Just don’t cause harm if you have the option to not cause harm.

You might want to connect with someone in a way that they might not want to. You might try anyway, citing ignorance, and really make a dick of yourself and ruin someone else’s time. They might not feel safe in saying “no” when something is already going down out of fear of something even worse transpiring. 

Alternatively, you might want to “dance all up ons” some cutie a few feet away that you’ve been noticing here and there throughout the event, and coming off a bit too strong by just going for it could earn you a severe rejection and a shitty reputation. But, had you the wisdom and meekness to simply walk up to the person and say (as Taub and Dawn modeled at Interfusion), “Hey, I’m Mars, would you like to dance with me?” and then, after an affirmative response “Ok, cool — spicy, medium, or mild?” … you just might have gotten a yes to a medium or a mild, instead of a rejection. And maybe that medium or mild could would then have the space to later turn into something spicy (with Consent).

Or (GASP!), maybe it stays mild and you make a new friend and have a kickass time together connecting at a level that BOTH people into and so BOTH people feel good … even better than you would have felt had you decided to feel them without asking and them feeling violated. 

Or maybe they say “no.” 

Maybe you say “thank you for your honesty.” Maybe one of their cute friends that’s been noticing you decides to seize the moment by asking you to dance. 

Or maybe they say “maybe.” In which case, it’s best to “err” on the side of a “maybe” being a “no.” 

(To further bring the point home, the mantra I stick to is that if it’s not a “hell yes” for you, then it’s a “hell no” for me.)

Consent practice carries into platonic interactions as well, such as asking a friend if they want to come with you to see Moses Sumney croon at one stage or if the rare Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes set was more so what they are thinking. 

Even if that means splitting up for the time being, being honest about where you really want to go — where you’re consenting to be — means both parties will have a better time. (But holy shit, I hope no one ever has to make that brain splitting decision … what festival would be that cruel to put people in such a position? I pray none.)

For me, this has been radically impactful even on just the individual level. How do I want to spend my time? A bunch of people are dancing at a party to music I cannot get into (sorry, I don’t fuck with Drake) and I feel obligated to follow suit if I want to connect and have a good night. 

Except trying to move to music that doesn’t move me is brutal for this neurodivergent bb. But year after year, I’ve tried away. Over the last year, though, instead of pretending to be into it or pretending that I’m busy doing something else — I just own the fact that I don’t want to, and that’s OK. 

Usually, in such an instance, some other window opens up to something unexpected that I really do want to do.

Like, for example, at my last night of Interfusion. People asked if I’d be joining one of the many dance parties. I wasn’t sure, but was open to it. Pretty much that seemed to be where the bulk of human connecting was going on. Where people were meeting people. 

I peeped my head into a few door frames and felt an immediate, “oh hell no” at each threshold. I’d thought about pushing myself (and my recent knee reconstruction surgery) and dancing anyway. Maybe I’d meet someone really cool and have an awesome time. Maybe I’d get into it as I got going (unlikely) and simply have fun by myself?

I was hungry, though. Wanted to eat something. So I did. I met up with a hungry friend to split the vegan Thai dish I was given after my volunteer shift.

A few bites in, I received a text from the person for whom I raised my hand during the consent workshop’s kiss question exercise: 

"Where you?” (sic)

“downstairs eating. you?”

I didn’t hear anything back. I went upstairs to peek into doorways again, open to a vibe shift. In between rooms I found my friend. We chatted. I took a picture of their Avatar-esque, above-the-mask face paint. They invited me to cuddle for a little while. Which we did (masked). 

We did not kiss. I didn’t ask to kiss — my heart beating too loudly at the profundity of the connection for me to even hear such a question in my own head. It didn’t matter. We were already connecting as we were. Nothing was missing nor underwhelming.

After 45 minutes or so together, they let me know they needed to get to sleep. They’re an early-to-bed, yes-I-take-care-of-myself sort of person (which I love). 

We gave each other a hug goodbye.

They said, “Thanks for co-regulating with me."

Wow. I love that shit.

Pro tip: If you’re at the kind of festival that is thoughtful enough to offer a consent workshop, treat yourself and everyone around you well by attending. It’ll be way more fun and inspiring than you might think.


~ * the humdrum condom conundrum (in the bedroom) * ~

I kind of feel like there are certain no-brainers when it comes to navigating sexual safety, but there are a lot of people still doing really shit-balled stuff and so maybe these words will save some folks some grief. 

I may be a demigirl, but I still have a dick (albeit a lady dick, thank you very much) and so I feel it most appropriate and effective to speak most directly to other people with dicks with the encouragement that they go forth be dicks themselves no longer.

Another subheading considered for this section was “~ * consent redux * ~” because there’s so much more to the topic to be said (and heard). Thankfully I’m not the only one talking about it, and being that we don’t want this article (or even this section of it) to be entirely about Consent, we find ourselves looking down the shaft of the humdrum condom conundrum. 

What is the humdrum condom conundrum? It’s the hemming and hawing (some) penis-having people do when it comes to the potential for actually having sex.

Like, “Do I bring condoms with me? Won’t I seem presumptuous if I do? Inconsiderate if I don’t?” 

Or, “Gosh I’ve not gotten busy with anyone new since my last STI test and I am not worried about anything on their end. Won’t it just feel better for both of us if we don’t use a condom?”

Or even a situation where you’re already feeling hot and heavy with someone (or a group of someones). They’re into it, you’re into it. You’re not quite at the point of having sex but you’d like to if they do, too. You know you don’t have any STIs and want to let them know but also don’t want to come off like you’re assuming you definitely will have sex and possibly kill the vibe. 

They’re not asking. Will I kill the vibe? Fuck. Do I leap first and look later?

My advice, as someone who has been in a situations with one (or more) people where no one else was talking about Consent and the complete absence of it meant an absence of feeling safe enough for my body to fully respond (i.e. I couldn’t get hard), is to just fucking talk.

Bring it up. Be that sort of confident that you’ll be willing to pull your safety and the safety of others into focus instead of getting carried away to someplace that one or neither of you want to go, really. It might seem a little hokey and awkward or even counterintuitive to pause the physical momentum and start using full sentences again, but the latter is entirely unsustainable. 

Brining up STIs before engaging in any sexual activity that could transmit them (even if you don’t have any yourself) is what we like to call “informed consent.” It’s a pro move. Chances are, anyone else you’re canoodling with has similar anxieties bubbling in their minds, and so consider just fucking talking about it to be the pinprick that releases the proverbial airs of tension. 

Learning about each others’ STI status provides a great moment to also discuss wants and boundaries, such as contraceptive use, what sort of shapes you and they are cool with making, and what is not gonna work.

While I won’t “let me Google that for you” for potential STI conversation starters, one piece of human relating technology (fancy New Culture jargon) I’d like to share with you is something called a "touch contract.”

I do appreciate the “Is this OK?” mantra (which has its place), but I prefer to find out what’s not OK without what’s not OK ever happening between us. So the touch contract, then, covers a lot of that ground beforehand, thereby assuaging myriad possible anxieties (or actual missteps).

There are specific components to the contract, but I’ll first relay a paraphrased example that the aforementioned friend shared with me earlier this year at the New Culture gathering:

“Ok, so from now and until the end of camp (we can check back in whenever we see one another again), you can touch me — without asking — anywhere but my face and bathing suit areas. If you want to touch me elsewhere, ask first. … Oh! And I mean your hands. If you want to use your mouth, ask first. And if I feel uncomfortable about something I will let you know.”

My response: “Ok, cool. Thanks for telling me that. Pretty much the same. … The only difference being that I’m comfortable with you touching my chest. And my butt. And you can kiss me whenever you want. If I feel weird about anything at any point, I’d tell you."

So, to break it down, these are the components, as relayed by two different friends leading another Consent workshop at the New Years gathering with the following (I know, I know, it’s kinda funny) mnemonic device:

  1. Camels: context (time and place)
  2. Bite: boundaries (what’s OK and when/how to check back in)
  3. People: preferences (the kind of touch you do want, how to navigate, etc.)
  4. Too: taboos (what’s totally off limits)
  5. Softly: signs of discomfort (or enjoyment)

The above example doesn’t strictly follow the mnemonic device, and you don’t necessarily have to, either. The point is to have a framework that helps communication be clear, concise, and confident.

And although it’s called a “contract,” you don’t have to stay as open or closed to touch as time goes on. Experiences and moods shift, so giving yourself leeway to flex with your feelings is essential. 

Pro tip: Just because you’re a “yes” to something one moment, it’s essential that you know it’s always OK to voice when something shifts to a “no.”


~ * the rolling & stoned * ~

We’ve all heard anti-drug talks at least as much as we’ve heard tidbits on safe(r) sex. But unlike how we acknowledge that some people are just gonna be human beings and fuck no matter what their parents or preachers say, I don’t remember a single discussion about safe(r) drug use (vs. abuse) ever being presented to me … and some people are just gonna be human beings and get high as a falcon’s beak (as people have been doing as long as people have been being) no matter how much parents and politicians deny ever having done so themselves.

(To set a definition, what I mean by “drugs” here is any consumed substance that alters one’s body chemistry for an intended “let’s get fucked up” purpose — e.g., alcohol, weed, nicotine, Robitussin, 1990s worship music, Fox News, etc.)

Now that people are beginning to catch collective wise regarding the inevitability of our seeking some form of escape from the veritable hellscape that is an average Tuesday in 2022 (all crises considered) and marijuana and mushrooms becoming legal, if not therapeutic in some parts of the heretofore Benighted States, substance use appears to becoming somewhat destigmatized. 

Along with destigmatization, however, often comes greater carelessness, more rampant and accepted abuse (see: alcohol). So, if you’re going to do some drugs at the Imagine Dragons set (because who could handle that straight?) or feel like “living a little” when that person who seems way too hot for you offers you something new, consider the following affirmations.

Drink the water, not the Kool-Aid. Wanna know what’ll turn a great time sour? Not being able to handle your shit and acting a fool when you go from high to afraid of heights. Catching the seasick spins from too much spiced rum? Water. Crossfaded? Water. Wanna kick it with your new “friend” Molly. Holy shit, drink some water. 

Giving your body what it wants and needs is like practicing consent and having boundaries with yourself. You’re a mysterious spark of awareness living as organic tissue, made mostly of water, that needs to maintain a certain nutritional, hydration, and emotional equilibrium just to stay alive … and yet you live like liquids are liquids and solids are solids. As long as something goes in, you’ll be alright. 

A half case of Diet Coke and a full case of Corona Light will barely keep your lights on. Just because everyone else is slurping the slurry, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Know what you’re taking. Ask questions. Carry a purifying water bottle.

Some cocktails are Molotovs. I repeat: Know what you’re taking. Ask questions.

The promise of bliss can come from a variety of sources. People with inhibitions, intentions, and inner workings that vary from your own are sometimes going to mix certain substances that when ingested by you could lead to more nefarious places — like a hospital, jail, morgue, or the stage where three trustafarians with naturally blonde yet illegitimately locked hair (all of them also named fucking Matt) are playing misshapen bagpipe reggae and pretending they have a clue about feminism and an “aLlErGy To LaTeX."

Are you on an SSRI? Maybe don’t do MDMA and risk getting serotonin syndrome. Wanting to do mushrooms but wanting to avoid a “bad” trip? Maybe actually do that MDMA, too.

Nose drugs? Maybe not from someone you don’t know. Or not at all.

No drugs? Honestly, and at the sake of sounding like a prude, sobriety is a helluva high. I’ve tried to fill the void or take the escape in one way or another in the past, but in retrospect my years of alcohol and weed binging now feel like I spent the time practicing parlor tricks when compared to the deep levels of personal, interpersonal, and creative connection that I have experienced while tripping balls on clean water, plant-based food, plenty of sleep, and radical consent.

You are likely to remember the things you’ve learned and the people you meet with greater fondness while raw-dogging reality than the hours you spent holding yourself up by gripping to sheer panic, wondering if you accidentally broke yourself and will stay “like this” forever (you might).


~ * the covid quandary * ~

In Virginia, where I live, Governor Glenn Younkin, exercising all of what we are encouraged to believe to be a deep, well-meaning pool of sagacity and keen consultations from top-notch virologists, disbanded the mask mandate that ensured students would be taking a least filter-thin precautions to not turn all classes into super spreaders.

As the business-causal dog sitting in a room set ablaze says in the meme: “This is fine.”

In a sense, it has to be. It is what is happening. 

My kids attend public school. My oldest reported, unmasked only in his sense of dis-ease about this capricious twist of the pandemic plot line, that it’s not only the MAGA-friendly students who were champing at the bit to cash-in on Youngkin’s gambit, but the middle school principal, the head guidance counselor, and several teachers are also leading the charge to show face.

I can imagine the eventual cascade of ill-favored fabric as more and more fight with the ongoing frustration of faces going partially obscured in front of their friends and in light of the inner/outer pressures swelled by public school pageantry.

This is a lot, for some. And for others, I understand the felled mandate is a beacon of normalcy breaking through two years of social obfuscation. Yes, we are (yet again) having to come to terms with the fact that groups of people who consider themselves sane and humane have opinions that exist in apparent contradiction.

It’s you. It’s me. It’s everyone we know — everywhere we go. And for the sake of staying sane in light of others’ sanity sounding a whole lot like a taking leave of their senses, maybe we can practice mutual acceptance?

For one, the baseline reality is that by going to a festival that doesn’t mandate people wear masks (I mean, can you imagine trying to enforce that???), you are consenting to a certain level of risk. Period. Just a fact. Do with it as you wish.

No matter your stance on the efficacy of masks, the true severity of this virus, or any of the conspiracies that exist in relation to either … entertain the possibility that people live, think, dance, dress, drive, look, speak, and everything else different than you not because they are piece-of-shit, selfish asshats that don’t give a fuck about anyone or pretentious snowflakes or bootlickers (although some very well might be), but because we all have literally had an entirely different set of experiences that lead to the cornucopia of variant personal expressions and beliefs we see all around us.

Knowing people won’t be wearing masks might ring alarm bells within your mind, but remember you still get to choose what YOU do, not what other people do. You’re responsible for you and your actions, not the 17 white people nearby wearing Phish T-shirts that are all somehow named Matt or Sarah. Fretting over someone else’s decisions with haughty judgment will only make you feel and/or act like shit.

Why not just wear a mask (or two) yourself? Why not find an area less densely populated by people wearing nearly the same patchwork corduroy shorts?

Keep hand sanitizer on you. Get tested and quarantine both in advance and afterward. If it’s really that important to brave the pandemic to go, then brave it and accept the risks. Take precautions when you can to protect yourself and those you come in contact with, as it makes sense for you to do — especially in light of the fact that there will invariably be others in attendance who see this pandemic differently than you do and might be planning on taking exactly zero precautions. 

Bring antigen tests, and bail if someone in your crew tests posi.

Bring only your own food and only eat it far away from others. Wear a mask even if you're outside. Or don’t. You do you. Act with your own self-interest at heart, but your true self-interest: emotional and physical wellness that doesn’t detract from anyone else’s. 

No one can make anyone wear a mask at a music festival but also no one can make anyone not wear one. The best we can do is doing the best we know (and want) to do — even if it varies from what someone else might be doing or doesn’t (yet) make sense to Matt and Sarah. Caring for you is caring for others. 

Pro tip: Just don’t be an asshole about it.


~ * this is the end * ~ 

No one gets out of this life alive, but perhaps we can find ways to boogie along the way that give us enough time to find our footing along the way, ideally enhancing the dance where we can all move from a place of personal autonomy — having fun ourselves that doesn't cost another theirs.

Shit’s gonna get weird (I mean, shit’s been weird). If it doesn’t, you’re probably not at a music festival and instead drinking Michelob Ultra while watching a cover band perform at some locally owned Applebee’s that’s called something else but is still pretty much an Applebee’s (and still pretty weird … just differently so).

Even through (if not because of) the weird, though, I’m hopeful that we can ever nudge ourselves down a meandering path where we learn from old mistakes — our own or otherwise — instead of mass producing the such a way that we, as creatures sharing a planet and a timeline, are not making them again as if they were ill-begotten rites of passage that we don’t want to enact but do anyway out of not knowing there are other options.

[Is my idealism a cute flex? Fuck, I hope so. If the way to getting our collective shit together can be better helped along flirtatiously (and we do all want to get our collective shit together, right? … RIGHT???), then I’m here to serve.]

These words are meant to disarm the shame around these concepts. Acknowledging the weird means we can then decide what more (or less) we can do about it.

We’re looking at where we are, then toward where we want to go that will work for everyone better. And we’re not going to get there unless you (yes, you my love) first treat yourself better.

Read More of Marcelo's writing here. And check out our Festival Lover's Gift Guide for any last minute purchases! 

A multidisciplinary storyteller, Marcelo Quarantotto, creates a better future by telling stories about a better now. You can follow them/her on their website, Instagram or Twitter

Marcelo

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