nudism as an illegalism

CW: too many links to too many subreddits

As of June 27, 2022, the “About Community” sidebar for the subreddit r/makenuditylegal reads as follows:

This page is for spreading the word that public nudity isn't sexual in nature, and is about expressing yourself without wearing clothing. This community hopes to change the minds of those that think being naked is about sex and make it legal in the near future, as America and surrounding areas are very negative about it. We aim to legalize public nudity in the U.S. and abroad. Please subscribe and spread the word :) Being naked is human, freeing, and society has a backwards view on it. Be free!

The subreddit presently has just over 3000 subscribers, which puts it far below the r/nudism subreddit with its 83,000+ subscribers as well as the more modest r/naturism subreddit with 17,000+ subscribers. It is a forum of ideas more than images, too, which is to its credit. There are many other ostensibly nudism-focused subreddits that have anywhere between one (1) and tens of thousands subscribers (for instance, r/nudists has ~46,000), but the posts on most these subreddits are overwhelmingly made up of photos, with very little in the way of links to news articles or to meaningful discussion (insofar as meaningful discussion is something that happens on Reddit).

The likes of r/makenuditylegal, r/nudism, r/naturism, and a very small number of other subreddits with even fewer subscribers (like the puny r/anarcho_naturism with its ~800 members) stand out, then, from the dozens of subreddits catering to those who wish to see photos of naked people in the woods, naked people gardening, naked people camping, etc.

Next, within this small group, r/makenuditylegal has the distinction of actually being committed to a fulsome “nudist politics”, i.e. the realization of a world in which nudity is “legal”, which I take to mean a world in which people can be naked in public places without risk of detainment, jail, fines, and/or the fear of any of those three.

Within the “idea space” of nudism on Reddit, then, the “Pro-Legalists” (as I will hereafter refer to them) of the r/makenuditylegal subreddit constitute a sort of activist or pro-revolutionary hardcore with respect to realizing an expanded option of nudity in society. Obviously posting on the internet isn’t really activism, but in the post-Gamergate era, it should be recognized that there is at least some kind of relationship between discussion forums, on the one hand, and social movements and subcultures that exist in the real world, on the other.

So, the problem with r/makenuditylegal isn’t really the subreddit’s name, even if that is objectionable to me as an anarchist. As far as I’m concerned, as much as I might personally benefit from public nudity being legal in the place where I live, legality ought to be done away with insofar as legality is a function of societies being dominated by states. But that’s a topic for another day, and probably, another outlet.

If anything, I respect the Pro-Legalists for the immoderation of their rhetoric in articulating their political objective, which—though framed in a statist way—is really not so much about the legality as it is about the nudity. The Pro-Legalists don’t see any good reason for nudity to be criminally sanctioned and punished, and they speak clearly and to the point on that subject with reference to their principles. This is in contrast to moderates on r/nudism and social progressives on r/naturism who often argue that the status quo vis-à-vis nudity is fine, and that those who push for social change (the existence of a non-arduous option of nudity in public, the legalization and/or decriminalization of nudity in public, broad social acceptance of a “right to nudity” and/or the basic inoffensiveness and banality of naked human bodies, etc.) are extremists who do nudists as a whole a disservice. Never mind that not all nudists can afford the resort and nakation lifestyle, and some will never be able to!

There is a much bigger problem with the Pro-Legalists. It's that they—that is, a large proportion of the most active users of r/makenuditylegal—are basically kooks and cranks.

I’m not going to get into all the details of it, but we’re talking transphobia, Trumpism, and vacuous freedom talk steeped in an intense form of capitalist realism.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s not exactly fine, but it shouldn’t be a big problem in and of itself. Transphobia, Trumpism (and other forms of reactionary right-wing nationalism), Reddit, climate change, and so on are examples of bigger problems we should be more worried about than we are. Except, there’s one thing... At this time, there is no other space on Reddit—no other space on the “Front Page of the Internet”—for people to discuss the political project of improving options for nudity in the embodied world, except among the cranks.

There is no real welcoming environment for a discussion of tactics, and the ethics of those tactics, on r/nudism. Sometimes the discussion in r/naturism goes in that direction, but not often. Discussions of activism—whether blustering calls to actions, considered strategic proposals, or discussions of historical episodes (which are often poorly documented)—aren’t really on the table on these subreddits. Only on r/makenuditylegal, alongside bad political opinions and somehow even worse image macros, is there actually some good faith discussion about this stuff. Kooks and cranks are absolutely a part of those discussions and often leading those discussions, and that overall sucks, but these discussions still have value to me, an anarchist who wants to be able to talk about this stuff. Because, well, I’m not seeing it many other places.

But r/makenuditylegal is also sufficiently unfit for purpose—if not, at times, dangerously out of touch—that I feel, personally, something better needs to supplant it as the only “political” nudist and/or naturist subreddit that's worth a damn (and sorry, r/anarcho_naturism, but you were never gonna cut it).

It sucks that any energy at all is going to be spent on doing this on Reddit, but I think it has to be this way, at least right now, in the summer of 2022.

So long as Reddit remains the ultimate clearinghouse of information about nudism in English—chiefly in the form of r/nudism and a few lesser subreddits, including the more explicitly political r/makenuditylegal—then I don’t really know what other platform can provide something that the masses (in North America and/or other countries) can use easily enough. And at least Reddit is, ostensibly, about link sharing, e.g. information sharing.

Thus I have made a new subreddit, r/naktiv. (If you want to be a moderator, just let me know.) The name is a portmanteau of two German adjectives, nackt and aktiv, the meanings of which I expect are obvious enough.

It is dedicated to (discussion of) activism—not just spectacular street activism, though probably including some of that—that is aimed at articulating the virtues of nudism as well as realizing more nudity-optional spaces and defending that option where it already exists. Some discussion of adjacent topics (such as the tactical deployment of nudity in other forms of activism) will be allowed, but the goal is to stay overall on topic, and especially to avoid getting bogged down in topics that make up the majority of text posts on the other major nudism-themed subreddits, namely the resort and nakation lifestyle and a litany of newbie and/or adolescent concerns about bodies, social etiquette, etc.

There is no singular, sloganistic demand to unify r/naktiv; basically, anyone can post about anything that is relevant to the topic. However, to the extent that the aggregate conduct of the community that uses r/naktiv has some bearing on how much others will want to use the subreddit and/or how others will perceive the “position” it upholds, then it does make sense to speak of a few practical rules. The most important, I think, is that an account’s post history matters.

Far too often, I click on an account that has posted on r/nudism, r/naturism, r/makenuditylegal, r/nudistmemes, or some other nudism-related subreddit, and what I find is a long post history that in large parts consists of posts on subreddits like [r]preggoporn or [r]hairypussy (I won’t put in the hyperlinks for these ones). Additionally, I sometimes find pretty straightforward bigotry—not just opinions that I disagree with, but rude, insulting, and thoroughly contemptuous comments about entire groups of people. Other stuff is simply embarrassing or perplexing. I am sure the anti-underwearist position (which argues that underwear has no purpose, something that is manifestly untrue) has some merit, but this is actually weird stuff that reveals a manifest unseriousness about the cause.

Accounts that are too horny, or too gross (especially in cases where people are being transgressive for the sake of being transgressive), will be excluded from r/naktiv. No doubt this will drastically reduce the number of accounts that can post on this subreddit, but I believe that will be to the good. Quality over quantity.

To be sure, Reddit is part of the problem, I think. For this reason, I have also set up a mirror community on Lemmy, a Reddit-like forum software built on the ActivityPub protocol. The reader may wish to consult my (dated, imperfect) first post on the fediverse—that is, on interoperable web services using ActivityPub—from last year. Suffice it to say, however, that having a Lemmy community provides redundancy (there will still be a forum even if Reddit bans/quarantines the subreddit or the Reddit servers themselves simply go offline). Lemmy also allows users to better control their own experiences, and to know, within reason, that their data probably isn’t being mined for someone else’s profit.

I have chosen to use the general purpose Lemmy instance because I like the rules and, given Finland’s generally better approach to issues around nudity when compared to North America, it seems to me that a Scandy ambience could be a suitable substrate to help give rise to an appealing “naktiv aesthetic”.

Aesthetic, and the related matter of message discipline, are part of being serious. So is a commitment to working with other people who don’t share all manner of ideological presuppositions—but within reason, because certain bigoted beliefs, for instance, sabotage “movement building” of any kind, and risk a repetition of German nudists’ experiences in the 1930s. “First they came for [...] and I did not speak out...”

Being serious also means learning over time. It is not really my place to say, in theory, when a debate about the utility of certain tactics or the merits of a certain strategic approach is actually closed, but I believe that some things ought to be off the table. We cannot remain forever at a 101 level of discussion. In fact, discussion for its own sake, without any connection to real world projects big or small, might best be avoided—unless people are really going to try and inspire others with their imaginations.

Anyway, check it out, either on Reddit or on Lemmy.

CW: extensive discussion of kink(s), brief mention of some pretty problematic -philias

Nudism is not a kink, but just saying it like that won’t make anyone else believe that this statement is factual. That’s because there is something in this world that is frequently called “nudism”—that maybe even overlaps with a holistic practice of nudism to some degree—but which isn’t actually the same thing as nudism. This nudism-which-is-not-nudism can fairly be characterized, I think, as a kink, a fetish, a sexual fantasy, a paraphilia, etc., however you may want to call it.

This goes beyond the online porn industry’s usage of words like “nudism” —and even the originally euphemistic term “naturism”—in marketing, e.g. something that only exists on the level of representation. There is definitely something more real, more embodied, than all that. Although many nudist/naturist Reddit and Twitter accounts are bots, plenty of others are operated by real people who—it can be surmised from a quick glance at the account’s history—are not particularly interested in philosophical matters, news pertaining to the legal status of public nudity in different parts of the world, or even just a practical discussion about different aspects of living as a nudist in the context of modern civilization. Instead, what they are interested in is seeing pictures of people who are naked. More often than not, too, only certain kinds of naked people (e.g. attractive ones, perhaps of a particular gender or race), perhaps doing certain kinds of activities while naked (e.g. meditating under a waterfall, wrestling heroically) to the exclusion of other kinds of people (e.g. low-hanging boobs, flabby ass) doing other kinds of things (e.g. pissing on a memorial to a British colonizer).

In other words, these “nudists” are horny people (who, in many cases, may not have even participated in any form of social nudism yet). Some of them may also be nudists—but for now, insofar as we are discussing them as operators of social media accounts, and integrating them as a somewhat abstract “population” into a social analysis, they are horny people first and foremost.

I think it is fair to speak of (at least some of) these people as having a “nudism fetish” insofar as their exhibitionistic and/or voyeuristic and/or no-boundaries-between-sexy-time-and-non-sexy-time erotic fantasies express themselves, in part, as an apparently honest affinity for nudity and/or nudism (by which I mean, something that at first glance looks like social nudism as it has usually been practised in nudist-naturist spaces).

I am not particularly mad at any of these people, to the extent that what they are doing is just horny and not harmful. It’s none of these folks’ fault that Big Tech, and its subsidiary Big Porn, profits off of misuse and abuse of the term “nudism” (and even “naturism” at times), and that the whole smartphone-using world’s habits of sexual ideation have been, in part, moulded by instantaneously accessible hardcore pornography of all genres. We all live in this stupid world and we all get affected by it.

But it needs to be said that, well, they—the horny people—do represent a sort of problem for the perception of real nudists and real nudism by wider society.

Ugh. Let me just say, right now, that I really do hate this sort of verbiage. Talking about “realness” in order to do away with the bogeyman of a sexually unhinged Other—it is a trope that I am all too familiar with, in all sorts of social movements throughout history. But if the word “nudist” is going to be applied to “people” in any practically useful way, than it needs to exclude people for whom the desire to be naked is entirely tied up with sexual desire.

Because a nudist, in the context of the prevailing anti-nudist society, is probably someone who wants there to be more nudity-optional spaces—whether a little bit more or a lot more—then there is currently. A nudist is probably someone who also wants there to be more situations in which it is acceptable to be naked than is the case at present. Yet, critically, sex is actually not a situation in which it is unacceptable to be naked. Mileage may vary, depending on one’s specific cultural background and context, but in terms of North American or even global society writ large, sex is one of the only situations in which it is broadly acceptable for humans to be naked, no ifs ands or buts.

It’s not out of any animosity towards kinky people as a group, then, that I insist that nudism is not a kink. It’s just that, “kinks” (or sexual fantasies, paraphilias, etc.) are sexual, and nudism—which is to say, again, social nudism as it has usually been practised, and how it continues to be practised, in established nudist-naturist spaces—is not sexual, by definition. The moment that it becomes sexual is the moment that it stops being nudism, and becomes... sex. We are hovering close to tautology here, but I would argue that, if we’re going to put all of this into question, we might as well throw up our hands, decide philosophy and language are dead, and just all start grunting and grinding on each other non-stop. That would obviously be a great set-up for a porn movie, but it’s not at all practical for real life.

In other words, this is a semantic hill worth metaphorically dying on. (I can’t recommend actually dying over a semantic issue.)

Personally, I would like it if the porn industry as a whole was, by one means or another, prevented from misusing the words “nudism” and “nudist” (and sometimes “naturism” and “naturist”, too) for marketing any of its stuff.

It used to be that, entering the word “nudism” into Google, one of the top results was a website that had the word “nudism” in the name, and that featured galleries of photos taken, seemingly, from public nude beaches. I will admit to having clicked on it long ago, when I was still a teenager. Years later, while relaxing on such a beach in Barcelona as an adult, a drone whizzed by overhead, stalled for a minute, and then continued on into the distance. I was left wondering if the drone had taken my picture, and annoyed that I would not be getting any portion of the profits generated should my dick—and the bare skin of everyone else on the beach, including some kids with their families—end up on a website of the aforementioned type. Not cool!

But honestly, I have no practical answers about how to deal with this sort of thing, beyond some kind of comprehensive social revolution that would also fundamentally change the nature (and/or the existence) of the internet as well as the economy at large.

As both an anarchist and a nudist, the challenge, I think, is figuring out a way to articulate that nudism is not a “kink” without abhorring the category of “kink” as a whole.

Unless we are to take a very conservative view of the larger category of sex (which some non-anarchist nudist-naturists do, being broadly socially conservative in other matters), the subcategory of kink—which is to say, any of several sexual subcultures and/or the activities and aesthetics they concern themselves with—is something that exists beyond good and evil. It just is what it is, and overall, that’s something neutral and, for the most part, not even worthy of extensive commentary. The vocabulary is tricky here, but I think it is important to oppose the legitimization of certain kinds of sexual ideation as just one more variety of kink among many interchangeable ones (specifically zoophilia, e.g. bestiality, and pedophilia) without denying that, in the grand scheme of things, most other sexual practices, as bizarre or occasionally even dangerous to the practitioner(s) as they may be, aren’t really anyone else’s business so long as all parties consent (something that, incidentally, is categorically impossible in the attempted realization of zoophilic and pedophilic ideation, for reasons that don’t need to distract us).

Threading this needle, of distinguishing nudism from kink without opposing kink writ large (nor supporting it either, mind you) without also providing unwitting affirmation of actually dangerous forms of sexual ideation (like the aforementioned) won’t necessarily be easy, never mind elegantly articulated, in off-the-cuff, sometimes quite emotionally charged conversation. It should be said that I don’t think that any kink that passes basic muster—that isn’t detestable at a fundamental level, in other words—is, at that point, beyond critique either. As far as I’m concerned, nothing is beyond critique, least of all ideology; and if we’re talking about kink, that also always means the set of political ideas (and whether anyone recognizes these ideas as political or not is irrelevant) that there are in play about (whichever given) kink. For some practical examples of what I’m talking about, see this critique of BDSM from Yggdrasil Distro, as well as basically anything from the Bandana Blog project; these texts, and others, challenged my own perspectives on, and preconceptions about, these issues.

Personally speaking, I’m neither especially interested in BDSM nor in critiques thereof, but I have appreciated these perspectives, just as I appreciate critical perspectives on all sorts of other topics that don’t necessarily have much to do with my life in the first person. I live in the world with other people, after all, and despite the taboo nature of sexual practices that are, perhaps, attractive to the practitioners precisely because they are taboo, BDSM certainly does come up when chatting with friends (or sometimes complete strangers) about their relationships, the sex they like to have or want to have, the sort of work they do, and so on. The personal is political, and vice versa, and so political ideas (as well as moral values, analysis of how society works, etc.) are going to come up in these conversations, so all the better if the participants are actually well-informed about the complexities of whatever issue.

I think it’s worth saying—and I am hardly the first to say it—that humans are by and large sexual beings, and sexuality as an embodied experience cannot be cleanly cut off from the rest of personhood. But sexuality is not the same as sex, and cannot be. I am probably not prepared, at this time, to provide a tidy definition of “sex” that all readers will be satisfied with, but I shall insist that it’s a rather different thing than nudism is. It is, in point of fact, a whole other kind of thing, pertaining more to a person’s chosen activity, to “doing something”, rather than to a passive and continuous condition or state that is, in a sense, agnostic to activity. There is only the faintest echo of “doing something” in nudism; what a person is “doing” is sustaining their naked condition, rather than “returning to” dress (bearing in mind that all humans were born naked, not clothed, so really it is always to nudity that we return, but of course we all live in a clothes-are-understood-as-the-default society).

Apart from the obvious negative effects on the plans and aspirations of people more or less like me—people who want nudity to be (understood as) normal and indeed unremarkable, rather than (understood as) sexual and/or inherently provocative—I have also always thought it a curious thing to understand nudism as a “kink” because nudity is, in fact, sort of the “default uniform” for sex. People can have sex in all sorts of states of dress and partial undress, of course, but it’s rather odd to think of simple nudity as particularly kinky, even setting aside that we might be talking about a person writing an essay for their nudism blog while naked or making breakfast by themselves while naked rather than engaging in any kind of actually sexual activity with another person while naked.

Nudism, vis-à-vis a sexual situation, could almost be said to be the opposite of kinky insofar as many kinks ideate about specific outfits or worn articles (fursuits, gear associated with the leather subculture, the sexy French maid uniform, etc.) during sex, in contrast to the always readily accessible, and frankly quite unimaginative, option of nudity.

All of the above words won’t stop Christian rightists and other anti-nudists from viewing nudism through a “kink” lens or presenting nudism as “kinky” in conversation with others, then proceeding to identify kinkyness as a political success on the part of Satanic secret societies. If one is opposed to nudism on ideological or simply aesthetic grounds, and wants to rally others to the same sort of opposition, then a lens that casts nudism as an abnormal sexual compulsion does a great deal to delegitimize nudism at large, suggesting that nudism belongs in the same limited space of “only behind closed doors” where our culture also places sex and using the toilet. The nudism-as-kink idea presently serves a similar rhetorical function for anti-nudists as “autogynephilia” does for transphobes. It is also of a piece with present-day campaigns in many countries, from Turkey to the United States to China, to remove the capacity of queer people to express their queerness in public and/or on the internet in any way whatsoever, whether in art or in how they dress. The implication of the nudism-as-kink idea is that nothing less than the total non-presence of nudity in all public space and/or on the internet is acceptable; there is some grudging leeway about certain situations and settings, usually to the benefit of specific groups of capitalists invested in sex industries.

The logic is always the same: pathologize or criminalize some forms of expression as inappropriately sexual, and therefore in need of regulation and/or elimination. Enforced bluntly by the state, this logic has always severely punished people for doing things that are really quite harmless.

The harmless practice of nudists, throughout time, has been to get out into the Sun and the air naked, e.g. to recreate while nude. Otherwise it has simply consisted of being unburdened by clothes (which, as an alternative option, may be as unnecessary as they are uncomfortable in a given situation) when engaged in daily chores, activities, and socializing.

I invite the reader to understand the word “nudism” as denoting a social proposal, one that concerns itself with matters like work, philosophy, and how (I think) at least some future people will want to live. When people reduce this proposal to the nudity—really to the image of the nudity that they have in their heads—they are being both profoundly unimaginative and profoundly paranoid in their understanding of what is being said. It is a projection of their own ideas about the world when they understand “nudism” as denoting nothing but a sexual fantasy gone wild, a way for a bunch of freaks to get it on with their sometimes merely disgusting, occasionally actively evil, sexual undertakings, in other words nudism as a kink (derogatory).

But actually, nudism is not a kink, it is not sex, and it isn’t only for adults (unlike the former two items). The word “nudism” has certainly been misused by people who sell pornography, and there are plenty of stories in this world, if you care to go looking, about creeps who use a rhetoric of “nudism” (alongside a host of other manipulative tricks, like presenting as an authority and living up to the name) as a means of accomplishing some pretty fucked-up stuff around kids and youth. But this has no bearing on the merits and faults of nudism itself, however, nor does it speak to the reality of nudist individuals, nudist families, nudist communities, and people who otherwise have a broadly more casual and unanxious relationship to simple nudity, whether their own or others'.

This miscategorization reduces the whole texture of a way of life and its philosophy to an all-motivating “sexuality”; in this regard, it owes a great deal both to Freud and to the terrible mainstream of Christian theology.

At some point in the future, I may wish to consider, in another essay, the issue of “kink at Pride” from a nudist-comfortist and anarchist perspective. Kyle Kingsbury’s “A History of Leather at Pride: 1965-1995” provides a great deal of context about debates, both historic and relatively contemporary, about this broad subject matter—one that has included, for better or worse, the issue of nudity at Pride. As I have written before, nudity is a sexualized subject matter, and the presence of nudists acting like nudists at Pride, or anywhere else for that matter, is representative of an excess of what is normally appropriate (or what relatively conservative Pride organizers and participants want and expect) in much the same way that kinksters acting like kinksters might be. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get around to it, but I feel as though engaging with the perennial “kink at Pride” debate could offer some insight with regards to some of my favourite subjects: what practical solidarity with other “freaks” ought to look like, how nudists should relate to LGBT+ coalitional politics, and strategic questions about expanding the availability of an option of nudity in society. But these topics will have to wait for another day.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++]

On June 26, 1977, the local iteration of Pride took place in San Francisco, California. This was the 8th annual iteration of the event since the original San Francisco Gay Liberation March on June 27, 1970.

By 1977, the event was locally called “Gay Freedom Day”, later to become “International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day” in 1980, then finally the “San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration” by 2019.

Lots of people, then and now, just called it “Pride” or “Gay Pride”—including “the anarchist flashers” who wrote and distributed this flyer in 1977. Apart from the title above, the whole of the text is presented below the break (with a bit of typographic clean-up as well as a few links to Wikipedia).


To the marchers,

We are outraged by the attempted ban on nudity in this year's Gay Pride Parade proposed by the Parade Committee. But we oppose a boycott because the parade does not belong to any committee. It is a parade of, by and for all people supporting liberation for gay people. We support the natural right of people to go nude not only on Gay Pride Day, but every day of the year.

The anarchistic dykes and faggots who set off the Stonewall Rebellion did not debate beforehand whether or not they would be offending the Church or State.

The human body is not the problem for any society. Sensual repression only distracts us from the real problems. Chronic unemployment, private property, and white and male supremacy are problems. U.S. exploitation of Chile, South Africa, Puerto Rico and Iran is a problem. Co-optation is a problem. Gay Liberation does not mean assimilation into the existing norms of a sick, imperialist society.

Sexual liberation is impossible if we regard our own bodies as 'obscene' or 'offensive'. Nudity is offensive when used as a sexual weapon or commercial enticer, as it has been on many of the bar floats in the parade.

Many people will prefer not to go nude because of the objectification they may be subjected to, and we support them. Women especially have suffered from sexual exploitation and are aware of how their bodies can be abused and manipulated. For example, a double standard persists that allows men to go bare-chested while women may not. This helps to create a commercial market out of women's bodies. We encourage you to dress or undress as you wish.

The only way we can move on with liberation is to move on. Go nude on Gay Pride Day, if that is what you want to do. We encourage you to support any and all who choose to do so.

Don't Mourn, STRIP

―The Anarchist Flashers

[comments: Reddit ++]

Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2010, John M. Glionna tells us that

In the sweltering heat of summer, when the refreshing breezes desert the city, [Beijing resident] Hu Lianqun absent-mindedly reaches for a solution: He rolls up his shirt to expose his belly, often fanning himself with the garment to create his own air conditioning.

This is how Glionna wants to introduce his reader to the concept of bǎngyé (膀爺). In all of the journalistic copy I have looked over regarding this topic, it is suggested that bǎngyé (variously translated into English as “bare-chested master”, “exposed grandfather”, and “topless guy”, depending on the source, and also referred to in English as “the Beijing bikini”) is a specifically Chinese cultural phenomenon. An article from 2019 in Singapore's The Independent informs us that “the belly is an essential container for energy” and “exposing the belly gets rid of excess heat,” but this is contradicted by Yan Zheng, “who has been practicing Chinese medicine for more than 40 years” according to Glionna's article. Yan tells us that

exposing one’s belly has nothing to do with Chinese medicine’s theory about maintaining a person’s health. People [choose] to expose their belly because they feel too hot in summer but feel embarrassed to take off their shirts completely.

I don't know enough about Chinese culture at large to say what the deal is either way. Regardless, whereas the Mandarin term chìbó (赤膊) seems to refer to straightforward shirtlessness, bǎngyé is something else: an exposure of the lower abdomen, often by hiking up the lower fringe of the shirt.

I think it's fair to surmise, however, that chìbó and bǎngyé are overlapping, or at least adjacent, concepts. Notice, for instance, the elision as I continue to quote from Glionna's article:

“I don’t know, it just feels cooler,” says Hu, perched on a park bench on a sultry weekday morning, the temperatures already [between 32° and 37° C], the humidity soaring. “Look, you just shake your shirt to create a breeze. I don’t see anyone laughing at me.”

In the sports attire section of a nearby department store, Qi Tong scoffs at such reasoning.

“It lowers Beijing’s standing as an international city,” the 21-year-old says. “I go without a shirt sometimes at home, but never in public. If my dad reaches for his shirt when I’m out with him, I threaten to go home. It’s just too embarrassing.”

For young Qi Tong, who is Chinese and who I take it on good faith to have been faithfully and accurately translated, his opinions about (his own) shirtlessness (“I go without a shirt sometimes”) are delivered alongside his opinions about bǎngyé (when his dad “reaches for his shirt”).

In North America, I have known some gender nonconforming and/or stylish men to ball up the left and right extremities of the lower fringe of their shirts, then lift up both ends up and tie a knot somewhere above the belly button. The result is an ad hoc tank top, knotted in the front, which, with some additional touches, helps to achieve a decidedly femme look.

From what I can tell, though, in northern China, bǎngyé isn't femme (and there don't appear to be any knots involved). It's just common, among men anyway. Some people evidently defend the practice as rooted in the values of the 1960s and '70s and the Cultural Revolution, and again, I don't know about all that—but it's clear that some people in China, including the aforementioned Qi, don't like the practice.

In 2002, the year after Beijing's Olympic bid had succeeded—the city, and China as a whole, would host the 2008 Summer Olympics—a new feature started running in the “Beijing Youth Daily” (北京青年报, hereafter referred to as the Daily). For several weeks, each new edition of the newspaper would feature candid photos of men around the city, generally doing inoccuous things like exercising outside, sweeping the walk outside of their homes, sitting down for a minute, or working at a food stand. The common characteristic of the men is that they were all chìbó or bǎngyé, e.g. they were shirtless or at least exposing their bellies.

The publishers of the Daily, as well as government officials, considered bǎngyé “a bad habit”, shirtlessness “uncivilized”. It is unclear to me, at this time, if they were opposed to all male shirtlessness in public, or if it was only the shirtlessness of bigger, older, or otherwise “gross” and/or embarrassing men that they objected to. I have not seen any of the pictures myself, but I have read that men with “bulging bellies” were often the subject of the Daily's mocking attention. Many of the photos of shirtless men on English-language news articles about the campaign feature older men.

The point of the Daily's new summer feature was to shame Beijing-area men into covering up in public, no matter the ambient conditions, and to establish that those who failed to do so would risk public humiliation.

This was initially justified by the upcoming Olympiad, but efforts at ending the “bad habits” of men exposing too much skin continued after 2008. For instance, in 2015, in the nearby city of Handan, deputies of some kind distributed t-shirts emblazoned with the characters 争做文明使者 to shirtless men (the slogan may be translated as “strive to be a civilized messenger”). Such an initiative seems cheeky but relatively benign—yet, in 2019, in the authorities in Tianjin and Jinan, two other major cities near Beijing, empowered police to issue fines for shirtlessness and bǎngyé. There would be warnings first, but afterwards, those who continued to “offend” in this respect would be obliged to pay for their intransigence.

The situation in China is interesting because it appears to be contentious. There are people who consider (cis male) shirtlessness and/or bǎngyé antithetical to civilization, but there are also lots of people (or at least men) who think it's all perfectly fine, and in any case have no organic interest in changing their ways—hence, the need for coercion. In sum, there is a protracted (albeit pretty low-stakes) struggle between “the state” (mostly in the form of local authorities, it seems, but sometimes supported by the central administration) and “society” (or at least a segment of society, e.g. sweaty men who want to feel a breeze on their skin, if they can).

In North America, on the other hand, the situation regarding (cis male) shirtlessness doesn't really seem to be contested. While I am sure there are jurisdictions (municipalities, I would presume) that have 1) laws against (cis male) shirtlessness on the books and 2) police who are more or less willing to enforce those rules against all shirtless adult men at all times, I don't live in such a place and neither do most people. From Miami to Vancouver, and from San Diego to Halifax, men can generally take their shirts off in public, if they want to do so. This could all change very fast in the context of a sudden cultural shift and/or political revolution, but in 2021, such a thing hasn't quite happened here yet.

About a decade ago, though, during the summer, a guy approached me on the street as I was about to hop on my bike and dart off to my next destination. He asked, “Isn't it illegal to go about the city without a shirt on?” I had my nipples out at the time, as is often the case when I'm fiddling with my lock and about to hop on my bike.

The guy's tone was hard to read, but I think there is an implicit disapproval in a question like that. It should be mentioned that this guy was not old, either. He was about my age, e.g. in his mid-20s probably, maybe even a few years younger.

Another time, during another summer, as I was stopped at an intersection and waiting for traffic—I was again on my bike—a gaggle of prepubescents led by adults was traversing the crosswalk. Several of them, all boys, turned their heads towards me, shriveled their faces up in disgust, and one of them yelled that I should put a shirt on.

Before that, on the actual evening of October 31 one year, when I was still in university, I was walking the short distance from my house to the place where a Hallowe'en party was happening. I was a “jungle commando”, like a Rambo type of person, and my costume did not include a shirt. Some guys around my age called me a faggot when I walked by. At the party, as a girl was leaving, she approached me to tell me that I should “wear deodorant” (and hey, she may have had a point there, I don't remember) but also that I “looked disgusting”.

I could cite numerous examples of similar incidents in which I have been “microaggressed”, if not straight up aggressed, by various people, mostly men, while shirtless and because of my shirtlessness while going from point A to point B or otherwise just trying to chill with my friends and have a good time in a public or quasi-public setting. A lot of the people who were shittiest to me were relatively young, but I am certain that older people can be just as shitty. Most of these incidents happened in cities with “progressive” and/or “no one gives a fuck” reputations—but the thing is, there are definitely some people who actually really do give a fuck, it seems, almost anywhere you go.

It is worth noting, too, that I was neither “fat” nor “old” by any definition when any of these incidents took place. I only recently turned 30 and I'm thin. I'm white to boot, and I don't think I'm most folks' idea of ugly. Other guys, gals, and others who look different than I do, and/or who come from different places or whatever, magnetize a more constant negative attention, which sucks—but still, I have had some such attention in my life, and it sucked for me, too.

No one appreciates having shitty things said about their body, period.

So, up to this point, I have only written about cis men. The situation for women, as well as legions of enbies and trans guys, is worse.

Around the world, in terms of law and state, it is more often than not the case that topfreedom—as it is called by most legalistic activists who advocate for it, often by showing off their boobs in public—is only legal and/or tolerated by the police in a very small number of jurisdictions. This is only the tip of the iceberg, though, because even absent of police, many people one might encounter in a park, on a quiet street, or in the middle of a busy intersection will object both strenuously and histrionically to, say, a young woman with her tits out. In many other cases, they will engage such a woman in an inappropriately familiar and/or sexual manner, even if the two of them are complete strangers. Sometimes they will do both.

Even in such places where the state, both in theory and (maybe) in practice, permits women et al. to get exactly as half-naked in public places as cis men are allowed to be—often because specific women, supported by cadres of feminist activists, won some kind of victory in the courts in decades past—it is still rare for anyone but flat-chested men to take their shirts off in a wide variety of public settings.

There is variance, of course. I have never been to a beach in France, never mind surveyed a range of French beaches and other swimming holes, but everything I have read leads me to believe that quite a few women there do not wear bikini tops or any top. I am certain the rate of bare-chestedness is not equal to that of cis men, but maybe that doesn't matter. In other places, however—including, say, public parks (as well as sketchy parking lots) in supposedly topfreedom-legal jurisdictions like Ontario, British Columbia, and most of the United States—it is not unusual or particularly notable when a cis guy is bare-chested, but it is rare to the point of basically never happening at all that a woman might be bare-chested.

In my city and the surrounding suburbs, during the summer months, a lot of guys don't care to wear shirts in public and/or they don't care to do so even when within view of, say, their neighbours or the street. I'm talking about when they ride their bikes from point A to point B, when they jog with earbuds in, when they play some version of sportball, when they do yard work, when they drink and smoke with their buddies on their balcony or their patio or whatever, when they ask passers-by for spare change—whatever normal urban activity they are up to! And generally speaking, there is no issue or controversy, at least about the shirtlessness as such.

Yet, I wonder if a lot of people have been quietly seething about it the whole time.

This seems to be the case in northern China more recently. I don't have a lot of information to go on, but I don't believe that it is solely “the state”—or more specifically, the highest rung of bureaucrats, either at municipal or federal levels—that is driving the last few decades' backburner-on-low campaign to end topfreedom for people of all gender classes. There must be some degree of popular support for such a policy.

I suppose support may have been astroturfed in 2002, but I find it hard to believe that anything that has happened more recently is anything other than the activist project of people who don't have better things to do. Contrary to the jingoistic stereotype about mainland Chinese society, it's not a situation of an absolute dictatorship (yet). People still have their own lives, their own opinions, and indeed, some space to militate for causes that they care about.

In both China and North America, there are lots of family-oriented conservatives, lots of nationalists, and lots of people who are both. Family-oriented conservatives worry a lot about sex, children, the ways that children can be led astray by various things (including sex!), and grand ideas about morality. Nationalists worry a lot about their country, its present-day prestige, its future, and the things that have purportedly destroyed civilizations in the past (like homosexuality did to the Greeks and the Romans). In both China and North America, some people—they are often called “activists”—use the limited space they have for political expression to militate against scourges they see in the society around them. They do so, of course, in pursuit of a society that better accords with their ideology.

The past is a foreign country, but I find it hard to grasp that, just 80 years ago or so, cis men in urban North America often swam completely nude in public pools (see the header on “The YMCA” and figure #41). At the very same time, male shirtlessness on a busy street or in any other crowded place was extremely uncommon; it would have been seen as hickish or redneck in many cases. Things are different now; for whatever reason, the culture has changed. My broad assessment is that things have moved in a direction of less body freedom for cis men in public pools, but more body freedom for them in most other public places.

(Nevertheless, it is still not really possible for men to eat a meal shirtless in most restaurants, nor for boys in high school to take their shirts off during a stiflingly hot math class, without getting some trouble for it. And then there are workplaces!)

A stereotypical image of the 1960s and '70s counterculture is that of the topless woman setting her bra alight. It is my understanding that some of the women who did this sort of thing (or, I guess, wanted to but couldn't get a permit), or who simply took their dresses, shirts, and bras off, were arrested and roughly handled by police—and I presume that those women understood, in most cases, that such a thing could befall them, if police were to get involved (which would have been more or less a given at most political demonstrations, for instance, and with a pretty good chance of the same in lots of other places).

These women did it anyway, despite the risks—either as part of a protest, or just having a picnic in a quiet corner of a large park. So, why?

Were they simply careless? Or had they decided that this sort of freedom might be worth all the trouble?

Anarchists don't talk about topfreedom much. My experience is that, when women and enbies take their shirts off in our spaces, no one usually remarks upon it (although people do sometimes cheer, depending on the context). Perhaps in some broadly conservative societies, where many anarchist men are less familiar with the most basic of contemporary anarchafeminist critiques of patriarchy and/or sexism, there would be objections to the “topfreedom of the oppressed” being exercised—but in most North American scenes I have spent time in, in the 21st century, I can't really imagine anyone voicing opposition to loose tits. It's the police, the neighbours, or the owners of the bar we're hanging out at who will typically take issue, and for anarchists, the only question is how the rest of us will act to stand up for the members of our party who have magnetized some antagonistic attention to themselves. For instance, in 2011, during the anarchist bookfair in Montréal, a soccer game was taking place in the adjacent park, and people of all gender classes had taken their tops off because it was hot out. Then, when police intruded on the field and tried to arrest the “women” (anyone's own conception of their gender not counting for much in the cops' eyes), everyone's prerogative (that is, every anarchist who saw what was happening, many of whom hadn't been involved in the game) was to run interference by shouting, yelling, and making it clear that the situation would become too much for the two isolated cops to handle by themselves.

But, while I have never seen opposition to topfreedom equity within anarchist scenes, there appears to be very little equity in practice. I am sure that my experience, as a gay man, doesn't count for a whole lot on this front, but I can count on two hands the times that I have just casually hung out with women with their boobs out in spaces where we can be reasonably certain that no one but other anarchists are going to bother us, like a private apartment, a sufficiently secluded or private backyard, etc. This includes numerous times that I had opted not to wear a shirt myself because it was hot. (In comparison, there have been entire weeks of my life where it seemed like none of the cis men I was sharing my life with wore shirts at all, at least not while at home or outdoors.)

The discrepancy that exists in anarchist and other radical scenes in North America doesn't seem that much different from the discrepancy in the dominant culture. But why is there a discrepancy at all?

Some of it could be explained, perhaps, by the fact that having boobs is simply structurally and experientially different from having a flat chest. People with boobs just want to wear bras! And, look, I don't know. Maybe. Yet, there are many flat-chested men, and boys, who aren't particularly comfortable being shirtless either. I was one as a kid. I would opt to wear a t-shirt when swimming. There are also some cis men who, in fact, have large and prominent breasts (the proverbial “man boobs”). Though not at the same rate as flat-chested men choose this option (fatphobia is obviously a factor here), these guys, in North America at least, still opt to wear nothing above the waist in public and quasi-public settings far more frequently than women do.

It is worth remembering, too, that in other parts of the world and/or at other times in history, it is or was (more often was) the norm for adult women to wear nothing (apart from ornamentation, e.g. necklaces, bracelets, earrings) above the waist.

A great deal of the discrepancy, then—not necessarily all of it, but a lot of it—must be the result of social, cultural, and individual psychological factors more so than “biologically determined” factors of flat chest vs. more concave chest. In other words, all the obvious things:

  1. laws and, more importantly, custom in most jurisdictions and areas of the world that explicitly forbid the exposure of large breasts (parallel to commercially driven hypersexualization of the image of large breasts, in many countries at least, typically with little to no meaningful state intervention or regulation)
  2. patriarchy: the rule of fathers, brothers, and like figures
  3. the hard-to-kill cop-in-the-head left over from (feminine?) socialization
  4. the fact that, when anarchist women (and other anarchists) think of all of the ways they want to change the world and change themselves, “equity in half-nudity” does not come to mind as a priority compared to other things like climate change, prison society, dealing with self-hatred (one's own or that of others), and other things of the same utmost seriousness

Nevertheless, the goal of equity between established gender classes (often designated “equality of the sexes” in more antiquated literature) has been a part of every anarchist and/or revolutionary socialist political program that's been worth a damn from the 1800s on. This should include an equal capacity to wear nothing above the waist, whether enshrined as a legal “right” by some constitution or like text, or as a result of a general abolition of the authority of law and statute, as in anarchy.

In northern China, though, something different is happening. The campaign against chìbó and bǎngyé hasn't eradicated the practice entirely—although I would hardly be the one to know, myself, and I have read no news articles on the subject dating to later than 2019. It is hard to believe that there hasn't been any impact on men who might be inclined to take their shirts off, which is effectively all such men, since such an inclination could befall any dude whatsoever.

Vincent Ni, China affairs correspondent for The Guardian, writes that

volunteers in the Chinese capital have become a part of its daily social fabric. They help run their neighbourhoods by picking up litter and guiding those who are lost. They also observe, listen and follow every clue that might lead to a potential legal case. The rise of the Chaoyang masses [which is one such volunteer group] exemplifies the extraordinary ability of the ruling Communist party to mobilise grassroots forces to keep the vast country running, but also to keep its populace in check.

The article includes a photo of a seemingly mixed-gender group of volunteers wearing red armbands, three with grey or greying hair. Ni also quotes Ka-ming Wu, who says: “[Volunteers] are often retirees and female.” There is no mention of areas outside of Beijing, but it's not hard to imagine similar volunteer organizations existing in nearby places, like Tianjin or wherever, too.

I suspect these Chinese volunteer groups are largely political formations of right-wing women—that is, “women who claim to be acting in the interests of women as a group” who “act effectively on behalf of [ ... ] authority” and “on behalf of a hierarchy in which women are subservient to men.” Even if they have the aesthetic of latter-day Red Guards, the content of their politics is in line with an all-too-traditional Chinese patriarchy.

Such volunteer groups have almost certainly been involved in the campaign to bereave men of their chìbó/bǎngyé privilege—issuing warnings, distributing t-shirts, etc.

I am sure there are quite a few men involved in this campaign as well, especially among the ranks of thought leaders (e.g. writers) and financial backers, but framing chìbó/bǎngyé privilege as “unfair to women” and getting women to speak to men seems like the obvious strategy here. It doesn't matter a bit that this is not really the case, i.e. it is not the privilege itself, but the society that has produced this privilege, for one gender class only, that is unfair to women. This subtlety should matter in a conversation about ideas, but when people are getting in the faces of “offenders” and demanding that they immediately “correct” their conduct, ideas don't count for anything.

There is no exact parallel to Chinese anti-chìbó/bǎngyé campaigns (that I am aware of) anywhere in North America, but there have been initiatives targeting so-called “saggy pants” in Dublin, Georgia, and Wildwood, New Jersey, among many other places. (Incidentally, authorities in Wildwood actually did ban shirtlessness, in its boardwalk area only, but still.) Much of the same argumentation can be used to justify whichever of the two. For instance, men are “flexing on privilege” and behaving in ways that women could never get away with. It's lazy and slovenly behaviour, and encourages others to the same. It allows us, the good people, another excuse to target them, the bad people.

In the summer of 2016, a group of people (I think all men or mostly men, but I could be wrong) were chatting amongst themselves at an “anarchy camp” in rural Austria. They were then approached by an “awareness team” (I think none men, and again I could be wrong). These sorts of people are sometimes called “vibe watchers” in North America, but really, in most contexts, they are more like political commissars. Their task is to watch and make sure that the vibe (that is, the behaviour and conduct of participants in a gathering) supports the political line—which usually means, in an ostensibly anarchist space, the vibe watchers' own interpretation of what everyone else's political line should be.

The issue that the awareness team brought to the guys' attention in 2016 was that some of them were shirtless. This, it was said, was either upsetting, or potentially upsetting, to other people at the camp. I tend to think that there was more going on here, though. Perhaps someone had a different sort of problem with one or two of the people in the group, but it would have been less tactful to bring that one up, so shirtlessness was what was brought up because it's easier to make an argument around shirtlessness and how only shitty, insensitive dudes would ever flex on folks like that.

In his polemic “Against Identity Politics” (Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed #76, 2015), Lupus Dragonowl writes that “identity politicians” (which he also calls “IPs”)

reproduce a style of politics which focuses on telling people 'how to behave', conditioning people into roles which reproduce the power of the spectacle. IPs reproduce conventional morality and its structures of [resentment]—negative affect [...] towards others as an expression of one’s own powerlessness, in contrast to celebration of one's power.

In other words, tell men to put their shirts on, because you can't, rather than doing something else—like, say, burning your bra and daring the world to stop you.

Burning a bra isn't very practically useful, but it is kind of a powerful symbolic act, and I think it must be a simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-wracking act to perform in a public setting (at least for the first time), like lots of other good things in life. It probably changes you a little bit for the better, if you survive the experience, whereas bullying people for not presenting in public as you would like them to pretty much always changes you for the worse.

It's not my fight to prosecute, of course. But, if there was ever a big bra bonfire down at the end of my block, I would want to go, so long as the people there would want to have me. Hopefully the vibe would be one where I could throw in some ratty t-shirt I don't much care about—or better yet, the clean and crisp one I wear as part of my work uniform—and thereby help the flames burn a little longer and brighter. Maybe that would nudge things a little closer to a world in which nakedness could be less controversial in general, whether we're talking above-the-waist half-nudity or the full monty.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++ | @news]

Below the break is an article by the conservative Cardus Institute, apparently published in the Calgary Herald on August 11, 2011; no record of the same has shown up, thus far, in my efforts to find it on the Herald's website. The text was taken from here, instead.

It is presented on this blog—with some annotation, typographic clean-up, and contextualizing hyperlinks—as an amusing record of a historical event, namely a naked bike ride in Montréal that happened just over 10 years ago and some anarchists efforts' to contribute something to it. The inset text, quoted in its entirety by the Institute author, comes from a flyer distributed at the event; the text was shortly thereafter published online on an older version of @news (and has since been lost).


As Montréal falls down around its residents' heads, there is comfort knowing it is safe to drop your pants and bicycle through downtown at midnight.

Motorists forced to use the Ville-Marie tunnel for their commute when it reopened Monday [August 8] told media tales of terror at the prospect of another massive beam collapsing on their cars. [Part of the tunnel had collapsed on August 2.]

Bridges are considered unsafe at any speed. Overpasses mimic asteroids, tossing great chunks of debris from above: “Look out! It's coming right at us!”

But insouciance, which only sounds like a French word for idiocy, rolls on. Late Saturday night [August 6], it cruised through the heart of Montréal wearing nothing but a superior smile.

While I was safely tucked in my bed far away at the time (my staunch belief is nothing good can ever come of being awake after 10 p.m.), press reports advise that 40 to 50 naked souls rode the streets en masse to make the point that, well, no one's quite sure. Perhaps their only point was to show they had something to point.

Like everything these days, the nudie wheelabout was organized entirely on Facebook. There is no word whether organizers recognized this as a golden gift of paradox.

It's doubtful, however, that they did. No two groups of modern humans are more squint-eyed with sanctimony than nudists and cyclists. Plop a bare-buttocked progressive astride the ultimate vehicle for green self-congratulation and you create, on two wheels, a snob so myopic the Hubble telescope couldn't help him see things clearly.

Naturally, police passively stood by as public order was violated. What were they to do? Uphold the law? Arrest someone for brandishing a club in public? Not in Montréal, where failure to look the other way is deemed a dereliction of the duty to be insufferably culturally superior.

Curiously, the one yelp of agitation following the event was on a blog called Its auteur managed simultaneously to participate and slag other participants for their bourgeois blindness.

The work is worth quoting at length: [see original 2011 flyer here]

Every garment (and every commodity) is a thread in the most constricting of uniforms, imposed at gunpoint and at shopping centres: CIVILIZATION.

Whether we are naked or in parkas, our bodies remain trapped within the system that issues judgment according to clothing, skin colour, or desire. Whether we are on bikes or in Hummers, the police will enforce the rules of the road: keep to the right, don't torch department stores. As long as the logic of the commodity rules, the power of the well-dressed man in the limousine won't be threatened by the naked queer on the tallbike.

We take off our clothing to celebrate the beauty and diversity of our bodies, but what of the bodies we can't see, locked away in cells, or consigned to stitch American Apparel under fluorescent lights in “not sweatshops”? When will we see the bodies that are actually forbidden? Will we even see each other outside of this carefully controlled space with its set time, its predetermined route, its police escorts?

To begin answering these questions, we have to call into question the entire existing order. We have to strip away not just the layers that hide our bodies, but the entire apparatus of domination that ensures we'll put our pants back on and go back to work in the morning.




It would be fish in a barrel to dismiss this as the sophomoric mouth-breathing of a political imbecile. Although it is written in something approaching English sentences, for example, its “logic” is akin to one of those word wheels you spin to pick combinations of nouns and vowels that sound coherent, but are really genuine gibberish.



One could go on. One won't.

Yet, behind the nonsense there is a kind of savage genius, and an eerie prescience given what's happening in England, in the phrase “keep to the right, don't torch department stores”. Likewise the sentence “imposed at gunpoint or at shopping centres”.

They are meaningless at the literal level, of course. Yet our anarchist's analysis ingeniously dispenses with civilized distinctions between differences of degree and differences of kind. In so doing, it presents a mentality prevalent well beyond niche political blogs. It represents the thinking that distinctions no longer matter because they belong to that outmoded habit called order.

So the core of a once great city can turn into a nude free-for-all zone while the edges crumble and become impassable. So taking your pants off in public becomes a valid political gesture and obliging motorists to dodge collapsing 25-ton beams is acceptable political inaction. What matter?

All things are just all things. And all things—pants, bridges—fall down.

Look out. It's coming right at us.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit]

CW: mention of sexual assault

The last post on this blog didn't hit the internet in the way I would have liked.

At the time when I published the previous entry, I didn't yet know any name for the presumptive trans woman (whose last name is Merager, and who I will refer to by that name for the remainder of this post) who had been present in the women's section at Wi Spa on June 24. I first had a thought to write something a bit solidarious vis-à-vis the Wi Spa situation in July, shortly after the first antifa-vs.-MAGA clash in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on July 3, which is when I first heard about it. Alas, life happened and I didn't get too far beyond the draft stage—plus I still had another entry to finish up.

In an article published by Slate on July 9, it was said that the initial incident had simply been a hoax—or at least that there was strong evidence to suggest that it hadn't actually happened, e.g. there was no evidence that any trans woman had even been present at Wi Spa on June 24. I don't read Slate, but perhaps the lefty/progressive sorts of journalists and/or Twitter personalities I was getting my information from do. At the very least, they were saying much the same thing.

At the time, I found the idea that it might be a hoax credible—which is to say, I'm not gonna put it past a certain kind of rightist to fabricate a story like the one that was being told in order to generate a useful controversy.

By the time I got around to actually putting together some sentences for the “Solidarity” post, however, it was already late September, and there had been some developments in the story. For instance, the Los Angeles police had issued a warrant for a suspect, who subsequently told her side of the story to a person employed as a journalist (and apparently that person was Andy Ngo, writing in the New York Post) before turning herself in to police. Slate updated its July 9 story on September 3. Of course, lazy hack that I am, I used a Wikipedia article on the Wi Spa affair to get myself up to speed; consequently I got some of the facts of these new developments mixed up, as I admitted in the October 2 update to my October 1 post. Wikipedia is often good enough for the sort of research I care to do, but that was absolutely not true in this situation, because several of these details were missing from the Wikipedia article at the time when I was writing my post.

I stand by what I wrote and, to some degree, how I wrote it—which is to say, I think I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and what I fucked up was the execution. The Wi Spa affair, which was at its origin a controversy about some exposed “private parts”, provided an obvious and relatively contemporaneous example of a situation in which nudists had a clear stake as nudists. I thought that articulating both the how and the why of those stakes might be useful. First off, I wanted to challenge a certain part of the naturist internet (in some ways, the most promising part, insofar as it has some kind of interest in doing quote-unquote “politics”) to transcend the single-issue activism mindset. Second, I also wanted to direct some energy from among those who read these posts (and I guess there are a few of you?) towards an ongoing issue that should have been of some concern for anyone with even half-decent attitudes about trans people. This would have worked a lot better if I had managed to publish initially in July, not October, but it is what it is.

It was always clear to me that Merager might be, at minimum, a person I wouldn't want to be seen defending—but also that nothing short of full-throated condemnation, never mind the available facts, would be enough to convince those whose minds are captured by transphobic, paranoid animus that I was not defending her. For these folks, my simple usage of the pronoun “her” in respect to Merager is enough to mark me as on the wrong side of a Manichaean fight between Good and Evil.

This project—that is, the blog “nudism as an illegalism”—is about changing culture for the better. But, that second part, for the better, won't be self-evident to people with different ideas about nudity than mine (or perhaps yours) and not much interest in changing those ideas.

A lot of the time, too, there is political opportunity in mobilizing and enlisting a sort of common sense—often founded in ignorance and/or paranoia—that stands against change in how people live their lives, what will and will not be permitted in public, and so on. This is basically all rightism really is!

All movements to change culture, whether in a progressive or a reactionary direction (however you might define these terms personally), will face some kind of opposition. In the present moment in much of North America, Europe, and elsewhere, rightist coalitions are stepping up to do just that in order to mobilize against the civil rights of LGBT people writ large, or in countries where that fight feels decidedly over and done with, they try instead to isolate the T from the LGB, the better to target that letter specifically.

If the “option of nudity” and/or “make nudity legal” camp was ever to enjoy a decade of “gains” similar to those enjoyed by trans lib, as a cause, between 2010 and 2020 (which is unlikely, because there is no such movement to speak of, at least at this time), we would be facing a similar situation. By this, I would mean there would be increased familiarity with our basic philosophy about clothes and bodies (without, necessarily, an increased acceptance of those ideas) as well as more accurate and/or sympathetic representation of nudist characters in popular culture (like Arthur Meyer's nudist character in High Maintenance!) and legacy news media. Correspondingly, as with trans people, we would become more visible to those with an ideologically grounded grudge against us, and we would factor more and more frequently into narratives of civilizational decline.

The thing is, no movement nor any significant population of people is completely devoid of shady characters, ugly representatives, and bumbling buffoons. Merager, and a few years ago Jessica Yaniv, are to trans lib and/or the trans population what a certain woman from Berkeley—whose last name is Taub and whose first name (not the one given to her by her parents or recognized by the government) is an ethnic slur that she probably has no good reason to use as her personal moniker—is to the cause of decriminalizing public nudity and/or to nudists.

Let's talk about this person. Taub was arrested on December 19, 2019, over accusations of stalking, and attempting to kidnap, a 14-year-old kid who had been friends with her son. I leave it to the reader to do more research into the nature of the accusations if they so choose. What is important is that, whenever her name comes up on r/nudism and r/naturism—usually to discuss the nude protests that she was involved in organizing in the Bay Area over the years, starting in the lead-up to the 2013 ban on public nudity in San Francisco and continuing afterwards—there are invariably comments to the effect that, first of all, she is mentally ill and/or a moral wretch (and these two things are typically often conflated) and that, second, it is wrong to “support” her.

There is never any question, of course, of actually supporting this woman—who has apparently spent the last two years in jail, mostly during a pandemic—by providing her with money for canteen, organizing a rally for her release, or trying to break her out of prison. Simply commenting positively about her activism from circa 2011-'13 is framed as some kind of comprehensive endorsement. Or at least adjacent to such endorsement.

To my mind, though, Taub is simply an important historic figure—at least within the limited scope of, say, the recent history of street activism in the Bay Area (which is not my concern) or the recent history of getting naked in public, and trying to make that option more available in general, anywhere on Earth (which is). She is, in other words, worth discussing for her deeds and her impact, within the scope of conversations on these subjects.

Although I am hardly an acritical supporter of her tactics or her ideas, I also think it's fine if some people, i.e. supporters of the minoritarian position that it should be okay to get naked in public, are a little bit inspired by the reason she is well-known. She actually did the thing, after all, rather than just posting on the internet about what she thinks would be cool and right.

I don't think we should ignore her history of inappropriate behaviour as regards young people (nor should we do the same for any other well-known activist or other historic figure), but that shouldn't be the only thing that can be said about her. Because, the thing is, almost no one wants to talk about Taub the whole person in these sorts of conversations, anyway. They only want to talk about Taub because she's a good starting point for a different sort of conversation, namely about a great political idea. Usually this is the most rudimentary, Reddit-brained sketch of a nudist utopia imaginable, but honestly, that's fine.

Also, to the extent that people just want to shut down a conversation about nudist street activism and/or nudist utopian visions before those conversations can even happen, simply because someone started that conversation by mentioning Taub, I actually think that that's not cool. All it is is derailing.

Merager, in contrast to Taub, is not an important historic figure at all, at least not yet. The Wi Spa affair as a whole, however, might be historically important. Perhaps it could constitute one chapter of a zine on the great West Coast political brawls of the early Biden administration. For my part, having months earlier decided to write about the Wi Spa stuff, I was going to have to say something about the person who had been arrested once I found out that had happened. The way I talked about Merager was then opportunistically used to derail any (online) conversation about the ideas in that post from manifesting, and to put forward instead a combination of uncontroversial truisms (like “protect women and children”) and specific anti-trans animus. I was also told that, by “supporting” her, I was destroying my own reputation going forward.

So, what did I say about her? Well, apart from saying that I don't think she should be in prison, like an anarchist would say, I also presumed that I don't know everything about her just because she has a documented history as a sex offender, I did the pronoun thing (be mad about it), and I reiterated a basic idea among nudists, namely that seeing a penis is not an emergency. I suppose that a lawyer representing Merager's interests in the courts of the state could argue some version of that last thing in order to get her a better deal of some kind, but that lawyer probably isn't reading this blog. Part of what motivated these words is that, broadly speaking, I support the goal of trans liberation—which is to say, the end of specific oppression of trans people by, like, society or whatever.

I have done nothing to support Merager as an individual, though. Certainly I have not sent any money to her defense fund.

By way of conclusion, there was one comment I saw on r/nudism that I actually did appreciate. It reads as follows:

Any sex offender, regardless of gender, should lose access to spaces where nudity is present. I see no reason that they should be admitted.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault, the place I feel safest is at the landed naturist club where I am a member. I find the bar is set much higher in terms of zero tolerance for harassment and in shared values. I feel far less safe in other clothed places, for example pumping gas or buying groceries.

The idea of safety in gender segregation is false. It's past behavior that is a much more realistic indicator.

I agree with this person, though I have a lot of problems, personally, with both the notion of a state-administered sex offender registry, as well as the actual reality of it in California and many other places. That's because 1) I am an anarchist and 2) I read Foucault in university.

I don't think there is anything wrong, in principle, with identifying sex pests as such and excluding them from spaces where, for instance, people are going to be naked. I have more experience of this happening in demonstrations, occupations, bookfairs, and conferences—and while there were sometimes situations in which that process of exclusion was bungled and/or where I had serious critiques of how decisions were made, I think that, overall, it's usually worthwhile to keep verified sex pests out of situations where it is predictable what will happen if they are allowed to come.

In other words, exclusion is always complicated, but I don't think it's off the table. It can even be justified on lesser grounds than, for instance, being a sex pest.

My concern, I suppose, is how do we assess the distance between cruelty and stupidity when it comes to trusting people to not keep fucking up? And, in a world where collectively used hygienic facilities were more normal, how could we categorically exclude a class of “offenders” without replicating something like a neo-Foucauldian conception of a prison society? These questions may not bother all nudists, but they should bother anarchist nudists.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++]

CW: some inaccurate information (see update below), child abuse mention, discussion of genital terminology

Two notes before beginning:

  1. Instead of the overly Latin and slightly nauseating word “penis”, I have chosen to instead to use something a bit more whimsical and fun in this piece, namely “johnson”. For etymologically obvious reasons, this term does not pertain very well to the transfeminine penis, more colloquially known as “girldick”—but alas, for those who can only see dicks as chromosomally shaped mounds of flesh, blood, and other fluids, it might as well be a johnson for all they're concerned, no matter the precise context.

  2. With respect to people who read this who may be just a touch “gender-critical” themselves, I already know how and why I disagree with you about this. I think your views on gender are a combination of boring, outdated, and too amenable to authoritarianism that's either rightist or might as well be rightist (never mind all the left-wing and/or anarchist bona fides certain people may harp on about); I'm not interested in wasting my time discussing it. To the extent you want some spaces to remain “cis women only”, I hardly even care, but I don't see it being very difficult for all of y'all to do that. You have such spaces and you will, in all likelihood, continue to have such spaces. They just may not be the only spaces anymore.

So! At the time of writing, the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article on the “Wi Spa controversy” reads as follows:

On June 24, 2021, a woman posted a video to Instagram in which she angrily confronted staff at Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, about the apparent presence of a nude individual with a [johnson], most commonly believed to be a trans woman, in the women's section of the spa. The video went viral, attracting significant attention from [trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and right-wing] media, which led to protests and counter-protests on July 3 and 17 over the alleged access. Some media initially questioned whether the alleged incident had been a hoax.

The article goes on, stating that on August 30, someone “commonly reported to be a transgender woman” was arrested in connection to the original reported incident. There is at least one real person involved at the centre of all this, in other words—and things are still very much shaking out for her. I have not followed this story closely, and I don't even know how many details are easily available, but I suspect that she is in pre-trial lock-up at this time.

As an anarchist, I think that sucks. Furthermore, I think that all prisons should be burned to the ground; I'm into that shit. I am also open to the idea that this person genuinely sucks too, because I do not know what happened. My gut reaction, as a partisan in the culture war, is that this is (as some have claimed, because there was initially no evidence at all to suggest otherwise) a hoax, and that now some uninvolved trans woman is dealing with a lot of shit as a consequence. But I don't know—and hey, maybe that person has done some things I don't think are cool, at Wi Spa or elsewhere.

An aside: evidently, she was not arrested because she is necessarily known to have been at Wi Spa—although perhaps some witness testimony will come out in whatever court-and-media circus emerges from this some months hence. Her history of “indecent exposure” dating from about 2003, documented by the judicial system, is what flagged her as a possible suspect. She has apparently also been designated by the state as a sex offender since 2006, presumably for related reasons.

This woman, and the original incident in the Wi Spa women's changing room (be it a complete fabrication or not), is not really important, though. What is important is that there were, just outside of Wi Spa's location in Los Angeles, large rallies and counterrallies between rightists, on the one hand (including in some cases fascists, parafascists, as well as several people who are completely out of touch with reality), and on the other hand, a coalition of anti-fascist activists, e.g. various leftists, maybe some anarchists, the odd, essentially liberal concerned citizen, and so on. These events, on July 3, July 17, and possibly on other days since, were all overseen by the police.

What happened at Wi Spa was part of a larger story as soon as that went viral. It was, in fact, for at least a brief moment, The Story for both the “gender-critical” and anti-fascist commentariats, in the United States at least. This is what led to the rallies, which I am sure would have had various negative effects if left unopposed (difficulty for staff just working a job at Wi Spa, difficulty for many customers but certainly customers who are trans or might look trans, a sense of victory for the anti-trans side and/or their buddies the Nazis and the “Western chauvinists”), and so then there was also counteraction (widely framed as “antifa”), with all of its inherent risk for the side that, on other days of the week and/or with every breath, also happens to oppose the police, the colonial state, capitalism (of all kinds), the American flag, etc.

There were real stakes for both coalitions, in other words—both the rightist, TERF/“gender-critical”, religious conservative, and -adjacent coalition “opposing gender ideology” et al., as well as the trans, anti-fascist, liberal-progressive-secular, and -adjacent coalition that stands for “trans and queer liberation”, “LGBT rights”, etc., to one's tastes.

So I guess I'm sort of an insurrectionary anarchist. In the North American context today, that means a tradition within the larger tradition of anarchism that has largely been informed by people who had some close connection to struggles in Italy or in the Italian diaspora in the past, from Malatesta and Galleani about a hundred years ago, to anarchists who are still alive today, with names like Bonanno and Weir, i.e. people who got caught up in arguably the most important event for anarchists in the 1990s. Insurrectionary anarchism in North America has largely been identified with “individualist” currents, bringing names like Novatore especially to the fore. So this is what I inherit, and that also means an extreme ambivalence with regard to coalitional politics, because coalition partners, on the whole, aren't gonna fuck with what I think, they aren't gonna put resistance to authority at the centre of their analysis and practice, and they are pretty likely to betray me and/or disappoint me eventually.

All that said, there is a “social-insurrectionary” current in North America too, which doesn't forget that it's not just insurrectionary anarchists (or any other conspiratorial “elite”, real or imagined) that makes the revolution—it's everyone, together. We get this idea especially from Greece, not Italy. In any case, at least where I live, the individualist and the social-insurrectionary currents in anarchism still exist in an uneasy tension with one another, together sustaining (with difficulty) a form of anarchism that isn't just contemporary Blanquism lazily described as such.

Thus, in the spirit of realizing the perennial social-insurrectionary fantasy—that of diverse demographics coming together, vanquishing various threats, and creating space for joyous novelty (also identified, by some, as “anarchy”)—I wish to bring to the fore that there is also some stake in this for anyone who wants to “normalize nudity” in society at large.

The original controversy seems to stem from the fact that a johnson was, for a brief moment, visible to others in the women's changing room at Wi Spa on June 24 of this year; and if that was not the case (i.e. this was all a hoax), we can still concede that such a thing could happen, certainly has happened somewhere at some point, and that it is in fact a logical consequence of a limited trans liberation taking place within the parameters of an otherwise unchanged society (i.e. a society that has commercial spas, which have bigendered changing rooms, and so on). So either you're cool with that, or you're not.

Personally, I am cool with it, and not even on behalf of some especial militancy in favour of trans lib. It's more like, as a nudist, it is hard for me to understand what the big deal is about a loose johnson or a loose anything. “Don't look if it makes you uncomfortable” is my position, in more or less any setting, including in changing rooms, locker rooms, etc., to your preference.

Furthermore, I don't really believe that the specific “sanctity” of any space should be the most important principle in any ethical conundrum or social question, nor do I think it is acceptable or a good idea to accommodate ungrounded panic about sexual predators and pedophiles, especially if trans women and other groups are also being identified as the avatars of this threat. I suspect the rare event of a loose johnson in a women's locker room will be uncomfortable for some (though I would expect the discomfort to be more acute among trans women without back-up than among cis women and girls who are in the company of numerous other cis women and girls), but life is uncomfortable for everyone sometimes. Alas! Would that it were not, for everyone!

In men's changing rooms, there has also been a sort of drift towards less tolerance of loose johnsons in public view, which long predates more recent hysteria animated by the gains of pro-trans social movements. For example, where I live, some local authorities have, in recent years, mandated that nudity is not to be tolerated in changing rooms for public pools, whether to change from a street outfit into swimclothes or to take a shower beforehand or after.

It was implied by the authorities that the people who were doing the complaining were mostly non-white immigrants, so that when the policy was announced, two things happened. First, a potential “left” opposition to the policy was undermined for fear of association with racism. Second, a scapegoat was offered up to anyone who might be annoyed by this policy: “be mad at backward immigrants, not us, your comprehensively progressive policymakers”. A skillful maneuver on the authorities' part, all told.

There are also children present in men's changing rooms, just as they are in women's changing rooms. Apparently this matters because there is an epidemic of child sex trafficking happening at the public pools where parents and older siblings take young kids to cool off in the summer (fact check: there is not). What's really happening is that 6-year-olds are seeing normal human bodies in the locker room, and then potentially asking questions of their fathers and older brothers that can cause these men, young and old, quite a bit of discomfort and confusion. If we accept that the policy was adopted for exactly the same reasons as local authorities said it was, then I guess these men (among whom I suspect there are plenty of white “locals”, incidentally, and not just people from immigrant backgrounds) weren't given much credit as adults who can talk to their kids about normal subjects like human bodies.

A narrative that assumes crowds of cis women are uniquely threatened by the odd trans woman in a women's changing room (including the even rarer type of trans woman who is a bit large or a bit rude) is also, to my mind, pretty damn infantilizing.

Even in the very limited number of spaces where public nudity has heretofore been considered acceptable because it is, in fact, quite practical—like, me being me, the nudist blog guy, I'd obviously prefer both the pool and poolside facilities to be comprehensively nudity-optional, but that's just not what's up—there is a push to keep “private parts” covered to an even greater point of impracticality than what was, mere decades earlier, still quite common in North America. And like, I think it should be as easy as possible, for everyone, for people to change their outfits when that is something they need to do.

There may be more than one solution to this, no single one of which is likely to work for everyone. That said, a trans-inclusive policy with respect to bigendered changing rooms seems worthy of general application if only because it is simply better than ignoring the specific needs, experiences, or desires of trans women writ large in order to satisfy bigoted sentiments among people who aren't trans.

Alas, we live in the bad reality. There is an anti-sexual hysteria loose in the world, meaning confused and/or politically reactionary efforts to solve real sexuality problems that either lack strategic sense or, otherwise, are animated by paranoia and violent fantasy vis-à-vis identified enemy groups such as trans people. This sort of thing never affects just one group of people, either. It has ripple effects. Certainly it has gotten mixed into the QAnon and -adjacent stuff at this point, e.g. ideological currents presently animating most incidents of fatality-inducing stochastic terror in the United States.

Among naturist spaces on the internet, the only one I am aware of that makes any space at all for present-day political discourse is the r/naturism subreddit. At the time of writing, there is a wiki page “dedicated to resources to help the Black Lives Matter movement” as well as links to a “Belarus Solidarity Fund” and a “Hayastan All Armenian Fund” on the sidebar, presumably related to the ongoing situation in Belarus and last year's war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don't want to be too mean or critical, but I find this sort of thing a bit confusing. It is clear to me that one or more of the subreddit's admins care about things beyond the concerns of nudism-naturism, that they want to help with apparently urgent matters like social uprisings, wars, and dictatorial crackdowns on dissent, and that they think the users of r/naturism—a user base that mostly posts blog articles about “nakations”, their own experiences as nudists, and other very much subcultural and individual concerns—should also give at least some amount of a fuck. And, that's great, but there is not much of an explicit argument being made to explain why anyone should care (apart from already agreeing with some cliché principles of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, internationalism, etc.), what any users of r/naturism are supposed to do about any of these things, and why any of the suggestions of places to donate or things to keep in mind might actually be helpful, fit into a larger strategy, etc.

With respect to the Wi Spa situation, it's different. First of all, it is presumably a place that many SoCal nudists already know of, or that they may even frequent occasionally. Second, the original controversy is about an exposed “private part”, a linguistic and philosophical construction that is a perennial bugbear for nudists. There is, in other words, some space for nudists to participate in the social eruption around the controversy—just one beat in the pulse of a larger, more diffuse cultural conflict across the whole anglosphere and beyond—as nudists (or perhaps more accurately, as partisans of nudism, i.e. it may not always be useful to participate while actually naked, haha) and in solidarity.

In so doing, they could link struggles and also sharpen ideas about, in this case, issues of apparel and nudity more broadly. Out of that, there is a possibility for something that goes beyond a mere defense of reason and decency in a space where it is threatened (which is, frankly, a straightforwardly conservative goal, whether it is articulated by defenders or opponents of trans lib). Instead, the Crucible of Politics and the Arena of History could do as they have done before, forging new affinities which might lead, in turn, to new architectures (both physical and sociocultural) and new understandings of the world that do not subordinate exuberance and personal freedom to tradition, paranoia, and/or negative stereotypes about certain kinds of people. And I genuinely think that, apart from what nudists can do for the right side in this struggle, as people more than as nudists (e.g. we can throw down, provide first aid, donate money, etc., like anyone else can), there is also something uniquely useful we can contribute to this specific struggle that emerges from a specifically nudist political sensibility (e.g. the argument that no one should rightly care too much about a hanging johnson being in potential sight range every now and then).

An effort to create a more actively solidarious culture among nudists (or among any other group of people, of course) shouldn't be directed first toward “issues” that are simply serious, be they geopolitical issues (“Belarus”, “Hong Kong”, “Venezuela”, etc.) or social justice issues (like trans lib or whatever). The primary focus instead should be to identify situations where nudists could understand that they have some “skin in the game”, as it were—situations such as those around the Wi Spa stuff this past summer, as well as the larger backdrop of both a widespread social precariousness and a multiplicity of rightist factions that want to seize power, exterminate the human avatars of perceived “corruption” (which presumably includes a lot of nudists), and generally make the world worse for everyone.

The Wi Spa situation has been on my mind because it happened in 2021, but not long before that, in the context of nationalist campaigns to punish people for wearing certain kinds of apparel associated with non-Christian religions in places like France, Québec, Austria, and elsewhere, I have also thought that it would have been great if some organized association of nudists could have intervened strategically in the discourse (i.e. in podcasts, in writing, in which there are no distracting representations of naked people, so that the ideas can take centre stage).

“From burqini to naked,” their slogan could have read. “We believe that what others wear is none of your business.”

As an anarchist who has participated in black blocs before, I would have appreciated even symbolic and rhetorical efforts at solidarity from nudists in the face of previous years' (and obviously pre-2020) efforts in various places to demonize and specifically criminalize face masks and other types of sensible apparel for street fighting in the context of political demonstrations and/or just in general. Probably a bit spicy for the vast majority of nudists on the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum, sadly.

It is important to note that solidarity is the only means by which any sort of anti-systemic social movement has ever achieved its objectives—and it's generally pretty useful for social movements that are significantly less anti-systemic, too. Nudism-naturism (the dominant “philosophy of nudism”, e.g. a set of ideas about how to understand humans' relationships to nudity, apparel, and other aspects of their lives, as well as to how imagine better ones), nudism-comfortism (a different philosophy informed by anarchism, articulated here), and any kind of anarchist and/or radical egalitarian politics seem pretty much destined to remain positions of a small minority for the foreseeable future. The experiences of minorities of various kinds, too, will remain obscure to most people, especially while there is an ongoing, well-supported campaign in the anglosphere countries (and beyond) to remove purported “gender ideology” (a bogeyman evil that overlaps with other evils in a suspicious rightist's mind) from existence, perhaps alongside those who promote it and those who embody it.

We (nudists, anarchists, people who are both) can make our own spaces, and we can take our own spaces. To do that, though—unless we have enough money to build our own cloistered, private spaces—we will need to develop other skills, including social skills. We need to know, and have a good and trusting relationship, with as many of our neighbours as we can—and sometimes, with people who are further away, too. We need to show our friends, or the people we wouldn't mind having as friends, that we will have their backs if they're dealing with a crisis. And then, maybe they'll help us out, both when we need help due to a crisis of some kind, or because we have aspirations of our own that we want to realize, that we hope others can help us realize.

(Update, October 2, 2021: a comment on @news led me to type a name into my search engine, which brought me to this article, by Andy Ngo, in the New York Post. I do not like Ngo or the Post, but the article provided new information that I expect is accurate. For instance, what happened on August 30 is that the Los Angeles police issued a warrant for a suspect in the Wi Spa “indecent exposure” case; no one was arrested on that day. The individual named in the warrant then spoke to Ngo for his September 2 article, and announced that she would turn herself into police afterwards. I got these facts wrong. In the Post article, the sought-after individual also admits to having been present at Wi Spa on June 24, meaning that, at the very least, the initial incident was not a hoax. I do not think these facts invalidate the overall thrust of my argument—I stated that the person at the centre of this story could very well be a person who I would think sucks, and that it's not about her—but I do regret using an evidently inadequate Wikipedia article for most of my research.)

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++ | @news]

1. In the legend of the Garden of Eden, the original humans, Adam and Eve, were unashamed of their nakedness. Then they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and God cast them out. At some point, either after the fruit or after leaving the garden, they became ashamed of, at minimum, their “private parts”—and thus they covered up. Thus were clothes born, thus did humans come to know something called modesty, and thus was nudity made into sin.

The two most important salvation religions that the world has ever seen, Christianity and Islam, take the story of the Garden of Eden seriously. While the individual faithful, across centuries and vast geographies, have occasionally been anywhere between easygoing about nudity to committed nudists, the most politically important currents in both religions—which is to say, not short-lived heretical movements and libertine rebellions, but the Christianity of kings and popes, the Islam of sultans and scholars, the ideas of religion as promoted by states and elites—have promoted and enforced standards of dress that are quite covered up.

There are other religions, of course, and it's not as though people weren't wearing clothes in, say, Japan circa 1200 (e.g. long before Abrahamic religion or its adherents started making any big local impact). Clothes seem to be a common part of almost all of civilization, which is defined in various ways by different people, but which I will characterize as a society organized around the provision of resources and ruled by bullies, cult leaders, and the interests of people who have inherited generational wealth—all categories that overlap to varying degrees. This was true of ancient Mesopotamia, an era when there were individual cities, sometimes at the centre of empires, the geographic scope of which was limited by mountains, deserts, endless steppes, and the sea. It is true today, too, when this way of living has expanded to almost every part of the planet where humans can live comfortably, plus some. No one is going naked.

Never mind the hype about Europe, by the way. I am not certain that I could think of a non-European city where it would even be conceivable that a subway advert featuring head-on full frontal nudity (of a trans woman, no less!) would ever even make it to the train, but that's what happened in Vienna in 2014. Over in Europe, representations of naked people are more common in public spaces and on primetime TV than they are in North America, where I live, or possibly anywhere else—but that is completely immaterial to the fact that most Europeans still don't go naked (or even near naked) as a matter of course. They wear clothes, sometimes lots of clothes, even when clothes are stifling. When they strip down—for instance, at sandy beaches with access to nice ocean breezes—they mostly adhere to the broadly global norms of beach attire, e.g. they wear (highly bigendered) bathing clothes such as shorts and bikinis.

It's not a safe option to get naked at most of the best, most beautiful, and most accessible beaches throughout Europe, at least not without an army of people who support you and/or get naked themselves. It often isn't legal to do so, either. Even if it is legal, the cops, other local officials, or simply the other beachgoers may not know that, or they may not care. Either possibility may lead to unpleasantness that feels all the more unpleasant when you're naked and physically vulnerable.

This doesn't stop everyone in Europe (or elsewhere) from getting naked, and of course there are lots of (generally still more secluded and inaccessible) nude beaches and such, with some countries (notably Germany) having quite a lot of nudity-optional territory available, at least in comparison to countries that have little to none. But there is a whole complex of laws, culture, and enforcement of norms—again, the stuff of civilization—that stops a lot of people, most of the time, from getting naked, even if that's something they would want to do. Few people are going to ride the Berlin subway or visit a Brighton basketball court without at least one clothed back-up person with a camera following along. It's just not worth the trouble.


2. In the hot, humid, and largely tropical regions of the world (possibly including Mediterranean Europe), and especially outside of cities and regions exploited by cities, I am led to believe that near nudity as a norm of dress was once much more common. It's hard to know for certain what the situation was at points further back in time, of course. Most people throughout history were illiterate, i.e. they did not leave written records that future scholars could use to learn about how they lived their lives. Many of the tools and other objects they would have crafted for themselves, like clothing, would have been made from materials that would, in most circumstances, degrade over time. Thus, there is a certain amount of guesswork involved in imagining the past, which cannot be separated from the biases of the guessers.

But, let's try to say a few things anyway.

In the historical record of the last 500 to 600 years, there are some descriptions of “naked” people in various parts of the world. These descriptions come, by and large, from others who were involved in efforts to conquer these “naked” people, Christianize them (or occasionally Islamicize them), and occasionally either outright assimilate or exterminate them—or failing all that, who were at least invested in the idea of their own cultural superiority vis-à-vis other groups, as well as partial to the notion that nudity is a sign of cultural inferiority.

In the broad span of human history, I think there really were groups of people who were out-and-out naked and just living their lives until some combination of state agents and/or adherents to a faith of Middle Eastern origin showed up. But I also suspect that out-and-out naked people, who spent most of their lives without a stitch of clothing on their person, were a very small minority of the Earth's population by circa 1500. Based on documentary evidence I have seen that was produced from the 19th century onward, I think it's fair to say that the “most naked” of the people in Amazonia, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania who were photographed or videotaped (on a scale of how much of their skin was exposed to air and the camera) were, most of the time, still wearing some amount of clothing and/or ornamentation; they were thus relatively naked when compared to residents of urban Italy, Turkey, or China in the same period but they were not absolutely naked.

At some point, there is an arbitrary choice to be made in distinguishing “naked” from “near naked”, but given that we are talking about people with other cultural ideas about dress and nudity, I think it's probably accurate to say that, if any of these people had cultural associations with nudity that were more or less analogous to common modern ones (e.g. shame, embarrassment, inappropriateness, vulnerability), these people simply were not naked by their own standards—and it is these standards that, I believe, are the ones that matter most of the time.

Yet, to the extent that they had most of their skin exposed, most of their ass cheeks exposed, and almost the whole of their front chest exposed, I do consider these people to be effectively naked by the standards of both my own culture and—this is more important—today's global clothing norms on average.

This sort of near nudity, as I will continue calling it, is vanishingly uncommon today, even in the regions of the world where it might make a lot of sense given local climatic conditions. To the extent that it still exists as a norm of dress in some places and among some people, it is under threat from a combination of missionaries, national governments (especially when brazenly conservative and chauvinistic factions are in power or close to power, as is often true or increasingly true in Brazil, Indonesia, and India, for instance), and the myriad other forces that push toward either cultural annihilation and/or cultural change.

At a time when the climate in colder, more temperate zones is literally tropicalizing, e.g. becoming hotter and more humid, there are people in the world like the late John Allen Chau, who want to impose themselves, their Saviour, and (presumably) “more modest clothing” as well upon the inhabitants of places like North Sentinel Island—never mind that the people there were doing just fine already. Never mind, either, the historical experience of Operation Koteka (1977-'78) and like endeavours over the decades (see here, search “koteka”) in western Papua, in which the heretofore mostly forest-dwelling locals were obliged by force to cover up more of their skin, presumably because some chauvinistic Javanese bureaucrats thought they ought to. Additionally and finally, the globalized clothing industry is an ecological nightmare that every person should be seceding from as much as they possibly can right now, so that it, and the larger edifice of capitalist industry, falls apart as hastily as possible, while there are still humans around who will be able to dance on the ruins.


3. Throughout the history of civilization—both in the tropics and elsewhere—fancier clothes and large, diverse wardrobes have always corresponded to wealth and high status. They have been used, in fact, as indicators of such status. Occasionally, in feudal societies, there were laws—classified today as “sumptuary”—that aimed to prevent “commoners” from wearing fabrics, colours, and other accoutrements that were associated with more privileged classes of people, even if some of those commoners, in their role as merchants or whatever, would have been able to procure such luxury items for themselves through the market.

The poor in civilization, for their part, seem to have mostly always worn clothing as well. To be sure, without lotions that can protect the skin from the Sun's rays, it is probably not a great idea to be completely nude when doing backbreaking farm labour at the height of noon. Even if there was lotion available in a given society, it may have been expensive and/or time-consuming to procure. Living and/or working in some places might also mean biting insects, sharp blowing sand, intermittent violent conflict, and other hazards. If you were poor but a resident of a city or a market town, your living conditions were often cramped and unhygienic no matter what you did, and being naked in such circumstances, even if ambient weather conditions were permitting, would certainly make you more vulnerable in a dangerous situation: fires, disease, an outbreak of fighting of any variety. In addition, a lack of appropriate clothing might limit one's ability to carry (and sometimes also conceal) useful items from place to place.

And of course, the poor in civilization have never been completely immune to a tendency of emulating and replicating the values of the rich. Poor people aspire to be rich. A number of people always invest significant time and/or resources in projecting a wealthy status (or at least a relatively well-off status) to others. They do this for any number of reasons, not least of which is that they may want to attract partners, and projecting wealth or well-offness is often part of a healthy strategy for that sort of a thing. (All of this is contrary to an idea of simplicity that is important to a lot of nudists, and reflected in the affect of spiritually guided naturism, be it Christian naturism, gay pagan nudism, or whatever else.)

For anarchists today, and throughout history in fact, clothes have been a way of signaling to one another what one is about (be that community activist, insurrecto-cool, or “hello, fellow worker!”); and in this, we aren't really different from other political subcultures, because other people wear t-shirts with slogans on them, too. Anarchist “fashion” and/or anarchists' norms of dress would have looked different in and around a Parisian salon circa 1899 than it would have done in a punk venue in the United States or Indonesia circa 1999, but similar dynamics exist below the surface. There is a desire to indicate certain affiliations, to indicate that one belongs in a given space, and of course there may also be an effort to have a distinct look that speaks to an important part of a person's identity, which for some people may be their self-conception as an anarchist—hence the need for a circle-A patch (or tattoo) on the shoulder.

An interesting new development is that, today, the principal channel for indicating affiliations and expressing personality to others avant la lettre (i.e. before talking to someone) is the social media account. This account may feature photos of the operator, perhaps wearing clothes or perhaps not, perhaps showing certain parts of the body (the face) or other parts, perhaps showing an illustration of an anthropomorphic fox character, or whatever else. In any case, this manner of signaling to others what one is about is quite different from the dynamic at play when hanging out and getting to know people in a physical space, such as a bar, a student association building, a house party, or a huge gathering. In the vast majority of cases, e.g. with respect to sighted people, a huge part of the first impression someone makes on will be determined by the clothes they are wearing.

Clothes, when they aren't symbolic in and of themselves (the keffiyeh is the go-to example), are often canvases for symbols, indicating adherence to a particular worldview and/or membership in a particular tribe in the most generic sense (and sometimes a particular national project, which is just a tribe on a much larger scale). A major rhetorical focus within naturist discourse, which is typically liberal by default, is that with nudity, all of that shit goes away: class, creed, politics, etc. I don't believe that for a minute, but I am certain that—absent some explicit and/or very specific tattoos or some particularly pointed and controversial hairstyles—nudity generally does succeed in obscuring one's chosen affiliations (although not necessarily any more than, say, a normcore dress aesthetic).

In the current moment, we are seeing a resurgence of nationalist and authoritarian politics (and corresponding apparel, either the Dionysian insanity of Trumpists-qua-Landsknechte or the Apollonian uniformity of police, paramilitaries, and all the quasi-serious wannabes), largely correspondent to many ideas about what “fascism” constitutes. We are also seeing global temperatures soar as a result of the carbonization of the atmosphere and other such things. At the same time, there is sort of a crisis of relevance for anarchism. It's hard to really measure this in a global sense, but it seems that there are fewer partisans, specifically, of anarchism, at least in North America and/or the part of it where I live. I think a lot of this has to do with the end of subculture, which itself has to do with the internet. People are no longer involved in relationships with people with whom they share space—which is to say, embodied space—and with whom, in many complicated ways, they can articulate a shared way of understanding the world, of signaling belonging to a group, of living together, even for a short time. Instead, people are largely involved in relationships on the internet, many of which are one-sided and “parasocial”; they do not share space, which is bounded and specific, but “platforms” that are, at least at the level of user perception, effectively infinite and boundless, such that anyone can go off and spin up their own supposedly cooler Discord server or subreddit or whatever. Eclecticism and idiosyncrasy are thus no longer incidental, the product of uniqueness, but instead often the goal; to have varied interests and diverse sources of inspiration is an indication of the breadth of a person's knowledge and experience.

From this emerges a recuperative monoculture, made up of images from the past, often from other places. A lot of people, including myself, view this as vapid and unfulfilling, and so they look for something more authentic, which more often than not ends up being some kind of sanguinary rightism.

Many people do not understand anything about the real history corresponding to these images from the past—or if they do, they have not thought about those understandings and tried to reach a better understanding through carefully and logically putting different aspects of their knowledge into dialogue with one another. Instead, they just appreciate the image's most shallow aspect, its aesthetic—that is, the recombination of all its apparent characteristics into a singular value whose purpose is to determine how an image, an outfit, a style, a person, is to be categorized.

In images of the past, what are we looking at? Is it a real image of people living their lives, captured more or less candidly, or is it an image that was constructed and staged by someone with an agenda or a vision? Why are people wearing the clothes they are wearing? Where did they get those clothes? What was the history of those clothes—the raw materials that made up those clothes—before anyone ever wore them? What did those people think about clothes in general, either their own or clothes in general? What kind of lives did they live, and how were those lives different from, say, yours or mine?


4. Clothes originate somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000 years ago. As someone who doesn't know shit about shit when it comes to prehistory, but who is predisposed to confidently saying things about history anyway, I am gonna put my money on more or less 222,222 years ago as the time whenabouts the plot of this episode of Animals. happened in slow motion among a group of humans' ancestors for the first time—or, if you don't want to watch the episode (even though it's really quite good), in which humans first started to wear clothes.

Accepting a certain perspective on history (e.g. Huxley's), humans are descended from ancient primates; we have a common ancestry with other species to primates in the world today, several million years ago. The other living primate species don't wear clothes like we do, and to a species, they are mostly covered in fur—though often with “naked” patches, either without hair or perhaps with very thin, very sparse air.

Modern humans vary quite a bit, but once our clothes are gone, most of us are “naked” (e.g. hairless) almost all over our bodies. Even the hairiest of us—those with facial hair, chest hair, back hair, butt hair, leg hair, the works—still don't approach the furriness of most primates.

Our ancestors hunted game, and often their greatest strength was not any crafted tool they had in their possession (which certainly may have been important), but their superior endurance, e.g. their ability to give chase for a long time. Sprinting, they were perhaps significantly slower than what they were chasing, but they could keep going without completely stopping as a result of overheating. In tropical environments, this corresponded to a decrease in fur over time, which led to a “nakedness”, e.g. a comparable hairlessness, when compared with other primate species. Later, this in turn gave rise to a practical need for clothes when later generations moved into climes where protection from the cold, from the rays of the Sun, and from other elements was important for survival.

An important thing about clothes is that, until very recently in history, they were almost always handcrafted. Clothes were not made in factories and sold for money, which is how things have unfolded since capitalism emerged and took over the world. There were, in some places and some times, craftspeople, often called “tailors” or “cobblers” or whatever, who made clothes of a certain type if people could pay up in some useful currency. But for most people throughout history, who have mostly been poor, clothes were made by people who knew how to do such things, who were typically part of a person's family or community. This was often “women's work” in patriarchal societies, but that's not the point. What's important is that this is now rare; these skills have largely been lost in societies affected by mass consumerism. There may be small numbers of people, often enthusiasts and hobbyists, who still mend clothing, stitch quilts, and so on—and often such people have been found adjacent to anarchists, as punks—or who are at a distance from the reach of the global clothing industry (again, places like North Sentinel Island). Most people, however, and even the very poorest in any given society, wear clothes that were made in a dedicated facility far away in order to turn a profit for a given company's shareholders.

Today, incomprehensible quantities of garments are produced; the scale of the industry is beyond fathoming. Many people own many, many more garments than they could ever possibly use. Lots of people in affluent societies own clothes that they never wear. It is difficult, and usually effectively criminal, to not own any clothes, so the absolutely destitute usually still own something, though their clothes tend to wear out more quickly than would be the case if they didn't live on the streets.

Clothes that no one wants are gathered en masse, and flow through the international development charity racket to places in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, undercutting local garment industries, causing unemployment, and homogenizing global culture such that the whole world wears t-shirts and other types of “Western clothing” now.

Clothes are commodities, which is to say, all the history of violence that goes into their manufacture is obscured to the people who encounter them at the point of purchase or afterwards. Most people don't know how bad it all is (all the hell of production), or they don't dwell on it much. Others do, and yet they buy clothes anyway, at least in part because they do not really see any viable alternative to doing so. They don't have the skills, or the time, or the community, to make—or otherwise source—the clothes they need, when they need them. If they are even interested in living a life in which they are less alienated from the production of the things they use, clothes may, nevertheless, not be a major priority for where they want to start with things. People more often think about their food first.


5. I think clothes are pretty cool, personally. Like, specific items of clothing that I own and that I like, as well as certain types of clothing in general, as well as the entire concept of clothing. It is all swell to me.

But I do not like how clothes are in this society—which is to say, how they are both pretty much mandatory in all social settings everywhere, as well as how, like lots of other things, they are generally ecologically destructive. But in a different kind of society, things could be kind of different.

I am, incidentally, entirely unsentimental about nudity in public as such. I personally believe that there should be no laws against it, and no involvement of police in resolving disputes about such things (because I suspect there would remain disputes about the appropriateness of nudity in certain settings, among certain people who have particular beliefs about clothes and such, etc.), but I would be pretty happy with a new norm that allowed for looser clothing (e.g. loincloths, sarongs, dresses—fuck gender by the way), more easygoing attitudes around exposed skin (e.g. maybe a little leeway to, say, change clothes in public without having to do a towel dance or squat behind a shrub or whatever), and a broad dismantling of the global clothing industry (and other industries, for instance those that encourage self-doubt and anxiety with respect to personal appearance, the body, et al.). Maybe that's reformist of me, but a future in which the norm is that everyone is actually naked more or less all of the time and/or as much as physically possible is just not some horizon I think is worth aiming at.

I don't care what everyone does. What I want is for everyone to have better options, including the option to be naked—but I don't care how many people exercise that option for themselves.

That being said, I personally do like getting and being completely naked—and I figure that nudity could be a larger part of anarchist collectivity, prefiguration, and direct action than it is currently.

Most projects—and really, all projects, when you think about it—require space. Nudity is, almost by definition, vulnerability, and if people are able to feel actually comfortable when naked in a space, that is an indication that they feel pretty safe in that space, which is perhaps an indication that something is working. There is a certain degree of trust that nothing bad and/or unpleasant and/or undealwithable is gonna happen as a result of a condition of nudity (or something worse than normal is going to happen, if conditions are just more generally difficult for a person for any number of reasons).

Besides, it is sometimes practical to be more vulnerable, with respect to certain hazards, if that means being more capable and prepared with respect to some other problem (for instance, how to conserve hot water, which may be scarce)—or perhaps simply more physically comfortable. We have to trust, of course, that people won't run off with our clothes (or the things in our clothes' pockets); we would need to trust that, even should the worst thing happen (e.g. the intervention of an external enemy, taking advantage of vulnerability), people would have each others' backs; we would need to trust that nothing uncomfortable (more often than not, meaning nothing sexual) would happen as a result of people being naked.

This sort of thing isn't impossible, even in a world where clothes are integral to civilization writ large and civilization is still apparently triumphant. To whatever extent a spirited culture of nudism among anarchists would allow us to free up time, resources, and mental energy that might otherwise be occupied with useless and/or joylous thoughts, or that such a culture would allow anarchists to imagine and build a collective infrastructure of hygiene that would be vastly superior to the shitty small bathrooms that many of us are stuck with—or if such a culture could decrease our reliance, even in a very small way, upon the destructive and doomed economy to which the global clothing industry is an integral party—then, I believe, that would be to the good.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++ | @news]

Nudists have a hard time getting taken seriously, I think. This is true in the world at large, but it's also true among anarchists.

I have personally had the benefit of friends who actually take me a little too seriously. They're mostly nice about the nudism thing (as a conversational topic, at least); I do get teased occasionally, but it's typically pretty good-humoured and well-intentioned.

But there are some some people who aren't my friends, who dislike me as a result of one thing or another. Some of them, who might generally be on board with the idea of nudism themselves, would never cite my own inclination towards nudism (if they know about it) as a mark against me—and I appreciate that! But others, who are less into nudism, might indeed talk about that inclination as another reason that I'm a creep, that I have bad politics, that I shouldn't be trusted, etc., even though it is certainly completely unrelated to the reasons that our relationship is not completely amiable.

Most people in most anarchist scenes should, I think, be able to relate. Shared investments—into collective living situations, into projects of mayhem and mutual aid, into strong friendships and other intense relationships—often lead, at some point, into disagreement that metastasizes into bitter conflict that, oftentimes, either can't be resolved or at least doesn't. And then, particularly among the assholes who love gossiping about comrades and shit talking perceived enemies (which is probably the majority of people in most scenes, be they anarchist scenes or not!), other details start getting added to the story, all of which paint a picture.

Most people are assholes—at least sometimes, to some (sorts of) people. I'd like that to change, and I really do think there are deliberate things that can be done to help people not be assholes, in other words to blunt the tendency towards being-asshole that exists in more or less all of us, but all of that is kind of separate from the concern of this post.

In this world, where people are assholes, what does that mean for people who have eccentric interests? For instance, nudism? (This applies to other outgroups, too: sexual minorities of all types, furries, in past ages queer people and freaks and geeks of all kinds.)

My assessment is that, in North America at least, an inclination towards nudism is considered eccentric at best in anarchist scenes, and considered perverse at worst. In this respect, too, I don't think that North American anarchists have very different attitudes about nudism than is the case among the larger population of basically secular liberals. The attitudes might even be more markedly negative among certain subsets, e.g. the Marxist, quasi-Marxist, and otherwise workerist anarchists who understand nudism, and perhaps a few other things, as a bourgeois affectation—or, at the very least, somehow unstrategic with respect to serious political objectives of one kind or another.

Anarchists, of course, are very much of a part of the mass society in which they grew up and in which, in most cases, they continue to live. In a mass society affected by social movements, leftist ideologies, and so-called identity politics, they will be caught up in current events (hopefully local ones), in dogmas of one kind or another, and in confused and off-kilter understandings about what the stakes are or what the issues even are. Even if anarchists manage to escape to some kind of remote and autarkic existence, where at least some of these mass society problems might go away, they will still carry some ideas with them.

The best things about anarchist subcultures is that sometimes (not always, never perfectly) they are markedly more accepting of various kinds of differences between people—or certainly less actively shitty about, say, looking like a freak, being into weird shit, having specific issues, being broke and/or homeless and/or going through a hard time, bearing different markers of race and caste, etc.

This isn't really the case with nudism, though. I am sure there are many reasons for this. First off, to be a nudist is hardly a sacrosanct identity among anarchists—and to be clear, as I have written about before, I wouldn't want it to be, because I don't think we should do identity politics with respect to nudism.

Second, there is very little in the way of good analysis circulating in anarchist scenes, or in society at large, about nudism (and what it can do for you) or about nudists (and why anyone is trying to live their life that way). There is also a lot of history that people just don't know—from local histories of landed nudist clubs and associations, many of which may have gone out of business years ago, and which were in any case cloistered, hidden, and far away from larger concentrations of people—and which, to be sure, most people don't usually think too much about.

Third, there's really not a whole lot of possibility (or easy possibility, anyway) for people to be naked in “normal situations” in these scenes. Nudity often causes a lot of friction with laws, with police, or—and this is true even in relatively ungoverned spaces—with established cultural norms, not to mention various sorts of individual attitudes and ideas about sex, nudity, and ethics that may circulate in our subculture or among any of our neighbours. Even in societies where there is no law against backyard nudity and where police (evidently) will not bother to harass anyone over the matter, there are still going to be some people who object to nudity on religious-ideological grounds, for instance.

All of this has real effects, and not just on whatever minority of conspicuously nudism-inclined people there are who might have some interest in participating in anarchist scenes.

Like, sure, people like me exist. But everyone is occasionally inconvenienced by the obsessive and compulsory attitude around wearing clothing. There are health consequences, financial consequences, ecological consequences, and fun consequences. The importance of them need not be exaggerated, but these consequences are real. This is also true whether or not anyone recognizes that this is, or may be occasionally, a problem for them personally. Just because the problem feels normal to these people doesn't mean it isn't real.

Now, anarchists also have a hard time getting taken seriously. It's not that it never happens, but most of the time, anarchists either need to water down their own politics to the point that they are effectively just democratic socialists (at which point I wonder why you call yourself an anarchist at all, other than to give yourself some edgy cred) or they need to omit the fact that they are anarchists (by lying, avoiding the question, using a headscratcher of a euphemism, whatever). There are many reasons for all of this, a number of which could warrant whole essays in and of themselves, but the thing I want to bring attention is the manifest incuriosity of so many people—journalists, neighbours, partisans of other dogmas—to learn anything about the anarchist tradition or about anarchists. So many people are content, instead, to know nothing, or otherwise, to “know” just the things that they have been told by the police (on Twitter or in cop shows), by patriarchal figures of all kinds, by their own unexamined assumptions (which, because they have high opinions of themselves, they may simply assume to be correct assumptions), etc.

It is an unfortunate thing, then, whenever anarchists are themselves incurious about the lives, experiences, and ideas of others.

Obviously I am a bit salty as a nudist or something, and I think my ideas about nudism are worth taking seriously—but this is a broadly applicable point, that against goes beyond the specific shit that I'm into.

Many anarchists seem to understand that, with respect to adversarial ideologies (nationalism, fascism, etc.), there is a value in understanding where those ideas come from, why they are appealing to (certain kinds of) people, and so on. When it comes to conspiracy theories, many people understand that it's a good thing to familiarize oneself with the theories so that it is possible to recognize why people in our lives think the things they do, and so that we have a better chance of talking them out of it, if that's something we care to try.

But not so much with groups defined by a quality of grossness. Where did that idea that certain groups, or certain bodies, or certain activites, are gross... where did that idea come from?

An ascribed quality of eccentricity (“you're weird”) or perversity (“you're evil”) is really just the same thing, viewed from a different angle or maybe through a different lens. In either case, it terminates the possibility of any kind of serious conversation about the why of it all, the ideas or experiences that motivate a given behaviour, etc. I don't think that's ever a good thing in and of itself, even with respect to ideas and/or associated behaviours that I truly think are awful (e.g. not the ideas that are the topic of this blog!), because so long as certain things aren't up for discussion no matter what, I suspect it will be hard to figure out how and why some people—and here, I mean some people specifically—end up with these ideas and/or maybe doing some of the associated shitty things that most right-minded people worry about.

Said differently, it is my contention that the so-called eccentric, the so-called perverted, learn to be cagey about what they think and feel in a society that treats the object of their interest as something that isn't normal. To the extent that they might have something actually really bad going on, I think this makes it that much more likely that, when bad shit actually happens, it will happen in a way that is more unpredictable for everyone else (y'know, neighbours or society or whoever) because they were always so secret about where their thoughts were going, where their thoughts were taking them.

The option of nudity is not bad shit, though! And I would never want to overemphasize its importance with respect to, like, a concrete practice of anarchy (whatever that means for you, and assuming it would be important to you at all), but I do think there are several things to be said about body freedom, the benefits of ridding ourselves of anxieties about nudity, all sorts of incidental benefits with respect to projects we may already be engaged in (such as collective living projects), and so on.

This can't happen, though, so long as the idea of an option of nudity is considered just a weird thing that only “some people” are into, and that (supposedly) has no implications for anyone else.

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++ | @news]

CW: detailed discussion of one person's groin area, somewhat extensive discussion of sexuality, child abuse mention

When I was a younger man, I came across the web page of a gay guy who was, like, really into being gay and really into sex.

So, I think of myself as being into being gay (because I am gay, and basically I don't have any hang-ups about that as far as I know, at least compared to some other “men who have sex with men” or whoever) and also, like, I think of myself as being pretty into sex (insofar as sex is something that I enjoy, e.g. you could qualify me as homosexual).

But this guy, he was more into sex than I was. Maybe not the actual act of sex (who knows!), but definitely the idea of sex, the aesthetic of sex. His gayness seemed to be infused with his sexuality—which is kind of a funny thing to say, insofar as we might understand gayness (or queerness) as a type of sexuality. But that's not how I understand my own gayness. The word “gayness” is just the word that I apply to my experience of being gay (or at least the one I'm using right now, lol).

The quality of being gay pertains to more than just my sexuality, but to other aspects of my personhood as well, which aren't all sexual. For instance, because people may happen to know that I am gay, they treat me one way or another, in situations that aren't sexy at all. I could get into what that looks like, but basically, to invoke that word and apply it to me—or to invoke any other, like the rather clinical Greco-Latin term homosexual—is to fail tragically to describe the uniqueness, or at least relative ineffability, of whatever my sexuality is. I can assure you that it is markedly different from the sexualities of others who may also be qualified more or less accurately or appropriately as gay, homosexual, queer, or whatever else, given the discursively constructed and historically contingent categories that are important right now, and around which they may have formed their own “sexual identity”.

So, back to this other guy. Basically, the reason I bring him up is that he had a tattoo of an erect penis, in colour, in a pretty choice location. The head of the penis was just below his belly button, and it was adorned with an eye—the all-seeing third eye that is, more often, depicted as being above and between the two eyes that everyone is used to, squarely in the centre of the forehead. The base of his tattoo penis met with the base of his flesh penis.

I do not remember, specifically, if this guy called himself a nudist or a naturist, or not. But I think he might have had some difficulty getting into some naturist clubs if he did. Calling attention to the groin area—with jewelry or tattoos or whatever—definitely needs to be the subject of a blog post at some point... Suffice it to say, though, a lot of naturists do not approve.

But, there is a certain current of “gay naturism” on the internet—and which certainly has a corresponding existence in the embodied world—to which I imagine he might be able to adhere. At the very least, as ostentatious as this guy was, he would have a better chance fitting in among other gay dudes.

Sexuality—among adult gay men—isn't always front and centre, but it often is, and it is never as hush-hush as is the case among most people who aren't gay men. So it is, too, in the online spaces that gay nudist-naturists congregate. There are photos, as there are elsewhere on the naturist internet, but everyone in these photos appear to be men, which is to say, they have the sorts of naked bodies that gay men are typically interested in, sexually speaking.

On most of the pornier blogs, most of them are athletic and/or thin if they are younger, big and buff if they're older, and while most of the dicks are flaccid, there is a little more leeway regarding erections than is the norm for elsewhere on the naturist internet. On the less porny, more body-positive blogs, the guys are more diverse but they're usually still pretty cute.

The affect is typically one of wellness, of acceptance, of people who are in love with each other (when there are couples) and certainly in love with the way they are living their lives (among other things, nakedly). Photos are a lot more common than ideas, but there are often exhortations to a loose sort of peace-and-love spirituality, or quotes from religious teachings and scripture (especially from “Eastern” traditions). A general support for a vague environmentalism is also common, but there are rarely any other sorts of politics.

Gay naturism is a very visible current on the English-language naturist internet. The only other very large current is family naturism—and it is much larger.

An aside: I thought, when first conceiving this post, that I would write about Christian naturism. To be sure, there are lots of Christian naturists, and seemingly much more in North America than, say, in Europe—but that makes sense given that there are so many more true-believing and church-attending Christians in North America. So, in lieu of being too focused on certain parts of the world versus others, I only really want to make two generalizations about Christian naturists.

First, they do not understand anything in their religion to be in contradiction with a practice of nudism—and, in a number of cases, they may in fact believe or argue that the Bible exhorts them to take off their clothes.

Second, they are almost always also participants in, or orientated towards, something that's worth calling “family naturism” or “family nudism” as well. I am sure there are a few Christian naturists who are doing something more hedonistic and sexual, and calling it “naturism”, but they aren't a particularly visible tendency in comparison to family naturists.

Apart from all that, a great many atheist, agnostic, and otherwise “secular humanist” nudists can also be fairly designated, I think, as “post-Christian”. These post-Christians still have values and preconceptions that are rooted in whole or in part in some school of Christian moral thought or another. Christian naturism and family naturism are not identical, but the latter cannot be talked about—in a North American context, certainly—without mention of the former.

In post-Christian cultures, the influence of Christianity still tends to loom large. So too legacy of the Industrial Revolution in post-industrial societies, and so too both the innovations and anxieties of the Victorians in an age that comes scarcely a century after the apex of the British Empire's power.

All of this history puts family naturism, the dominant affective pole within the English-language naturist internet, at odds with gay naturism, the other such pole. The tension is around sexuality.

A visible difference between gay naturism and family naturism as they both exist on the internet is that, pretty frequently, the family folks will have representations of kids—usually on the younger side of things. They're rarely photos, but it does happen. Ideas are significantly more in evidence than is the case with the gay naturist internet, and they often focus on raising up kids, which is what a family (in the normative sense of the term) is for. It is worth saying as well that white people appear to make up a larger proportion of the participants, as far as I can tell, than is even the case with the gay naturist internet, itself probably inequitably white.

Gay naturism has an outsized presence on the naturist internet, I think, compared to what it corresponds to in the embodied world and/or the population of gay men. I have a theory as to why this might be (very quickly: gay men are more likely than the average person to be interested in nudism, and gay men are also more likely to spend a lot of the time meeting each other and/or “building community” on the internet), but that can be put aside for now.

Despite its outsized presence on the naturist internet, its relationship to the mainstream of naturism (on the internet, and in general) is similar to the relationship of Mormonism to the mainstream of Christianity. It is, at the very least, something strange and suspect from the perspective of people closer to the mainstream. Many consider it a different religion altogether; perhaps it can be talked about for what it is, and even tolerated as such, but it can't be considered the same thing. Certainly this is even more true of its most extreme manifestations, and this is the point in my weird and long-winded analogy when I will compare polyamorous Mormon fundamentalists (a group so scandalous and outrageous as to be the subject of a 2006-'11 HBO series with five seasons) to a wholly hypothetical penis tattoo guy that also considers himself to be a naturist.

In any case, these two affective currents, gay naturism and family naturism, are almost the only ones I can really find represented and reproduced on the internet. There is only one other current to speak of, which I will hesitantly denote as “youth nudism”.

This current comes off as mostly an “activist” project spearheaded in particular by conventionally good-looking white women in their 20s who are savvy with social media. There have been a number of “youth nudist” named associations, most of which don't seem to have lasted too long (such as Florida Young Naturists, or FYN, whose only online presence in 2021 appears to be a Wikimedia Commons category page). These folks have had gatherings, for one thing, which have been promoted in various online spaces. There are also some ideas present, most of which seem to concern a need to modernize, diversify, and otherwise improve the broader “nudist movement” as a whole, with a mind to the fact that a family naturist affect does not really speak to where a lot of “young people” (this category is often delineated as meaning people aged 18 to 35) are at with their lives and/or what they could ever be into.

Personally, I appreciate that these folks generally avoid the word “naturism” (even if FYN's full name is a challenge to that claim) and that they have always been trying to make things more relevant for me. (Up until fairly recently, after all, I was still just a spring chicken.)

On the other hand, I have not appreciated the fact that they thought I could just spend a lot of money to go to Florida (mostly) or other sunny and/or expensive and/or faraway locales in the U.S., and I didn't like or appreciate that, from what I could tell, I would have had to have been into doing yoga, or meditation, or juice cleanses, or other decidedly not-my-thing stuff in order to enjoy myself at their event. It's also worth saying that, from what I have been able to gather, they always seemed quite heterosexual and coupled up, which might make me wonder how much I could fit in even if I was down to be an Instagram normie.

But like, I'm hard to satisfy.

So, why have I itemized these three currents? Well, it seems to me that these are the currents that most people, whoever they are, might be able to come across if they ever went looking for “nudism” or “naturism” on the (English-speaking) internet.

There is something gay for them to join: very large groups on, the relatively active (and selfie-focused) r/gayplusnudists, etc., which may arguably be kinda horny but it's all relatively tame and par for the course as far as gay dudes go.

There is also something family-friendly for them to join, realized in r/nudism, r/naturism, and most formal associations (which may or may not have a website and/or some kind of on-the-ground presence in a given area).

With youth nudism, it's more hit and miss; there are a few subreddits (which I won't link to) that are for teenagers or whatever, but there's generally less to find that's still active, that is able to sustain its own consistent pattern of engagement, new content, and so on (in many cases, as a clear complement to a largely willpower-driven project of making things happen in a particular place, which again, has mostly meant Florida as far as I can tell).

Still, third place is way ahead of whatever is in fourth place. There is no major visible nudist current with respect to any religion apart from Christianity; I suppose there appear to be a few nudity-inclined movements in India, but they hardly have an online presence (easily found using English-language search terms, at least) beyond, like, what results from a seemingly exploitative practice of publishing photos from the Kumbh Mela festival from time to time.

What a wasteland this digital landscape is.

Regarding other currents in “the West”, too, I certainly don't know of any nihilistic, iconoclastic, or Satanic practice of nudism; all the goth kids are dressing up, it seems, and not dressing down. There isn't even any kind of green anarchist and/or primitivist nudism, which has always struck me as a little weird, I suppose, because I feel those sorts of ideas they would pair nicely with most worthwhile parts of the nudist-naturist canon and tradition.

Perhaps there are more interesting affects around nudism that do exist, somewhere, among some people—but they don't exist in such a way that they can be found too easily on the internet. I have been searching!

Speaking for myself, to the extent that I am gay and sometimes also horny, I have appreciated the gay naturist internet for providing me some, y'know, slightly classier material to concentrate my mind upon in the evening, when I'm in the mood for something that elevated. Apart from that, however, I don't really think I'm that stoked about a nudist current that—either wilfully or just as a consequence of how it is—excludes a lot of people.

I have heard that “gay nudist gatherings” in my own city—advertised (in the time before covid) on Craigslist or whatever, mostly taking place in private homes—usually devolve into a circlejerk by the end of the evening, which sounds fine I guess, but it's not a thing that I could reasonably invite my mother or my brother to (in the rather unlikely event that they somehow also got turned onto the joys of nudism at this late stage). As for my sometimes cis, sometimes straight, in any case often a bit prudish anarchist roommates, I probably could invite them, but I don't know how fun it'd be for them or how comfortable I'd be as a result.

Also, to the extent that gay naturism makes the case for some kind of spiritual power or divinity about the naked male body, just by itself or in the act of sex or both or whatever, I find it... intellectually dubious. I think gay sex can just be gay sex, and that's absolutely good enough for me, an occasional gay sex enjoyer.

And the dominant ideological and affective current, family naturism, is also not my bag!

To be clear, all things being equal, I suppose I think that it would be better, on the whole, if kids were raised in families that were less obsessively clothed, that did not impart any more body shame to young ones than they would inevitably absorb from the wider society, and that in fact went against the grain of the wider society in terms of this sort of thing, affirming that nude is not lewd or whatever. But 1) I'm probably not having kids (I'm not only gay, I'm also an anarchist, so it's not like anyone will ever let me adopt) and 2) on an intellectual level, I mostly oppose the way that families are constructed and reinforced as the basic unit of capitalist society and discipline (e.g. I think, well and truly, that the generally patriarchal, always isolated model of the “nuclear family” ought to be systematically abolished everywhere).

Usually I'm pretty chill about all that, of course. And I think that, given how pernicious both capitalism and the couple form are, there is probably space to talk a bit about “better” rather than insisting on “perfect”. But yeah, I'm queer enough, in the (anti-)political sense of baedan, to not really want to give a fuck about this shit. Families can probably be done better, which might include better attitudes re: clothes, nudity, what the rules are, etc., but I think the basic structure is still something that needs to be negated. Especially because, insofar as we know that nuclear families are frequently generative of child abuse, it is impossible to ignore the fact that rhetoric on “nudity in our family” that a person could ostensibly agree with, might also be used as a cover for some bad shit.

And youth nudism, such as I have seen?

Well, it didn't do much for me in the whole time I was aware of it, and I think I might be too old for it now anyway.

My ambition for this whole project of internet-engaged writing is to give rise to a different sort of affective current within the naturist internet—one which will, I hope, actually be able to break from the naturist internet in a significant way (and on its own terms, too), but which can also be found by all those confused, possibly lonely people in exile in Cyberia. It probably won't be for everyone, but I think there are a lot of people out there that it could speak to.

It's important to say that I hate the internet—a lot actually. I would like that hatred of the internet to be part of whatever affective current I'm trying to build, I suppose—and I would say that there's just a contradiction here, that's worth acknowledging! But I live in a society where the internet exists, where almost everyone is plugged in, and where this dynamic is ever-intensifying.

A discussion of affect is important, I think, because nudism/naturism by itself isn't really... anything. It is always something more, something connected to something (or everything) else, and to speak of nudism and/or naturism as a unified whole is to ignore the internal diversity and the contradictions.

Each affective current I have spoken of, therefore, is strongly connected to a larger culture—be it the culture of gay men, the culture of heterosexual breeders and/or Middle America (largely overlapping), or the culture of relatively affluent, relatively young North Americans who are fluent in Instagram.

The current I want to help make a reality—one which I have previously called “comfortism”—ought to be connected to anarchists and the things that they do, and steeped in the ideas of that cohort (and preferably, good ideas, not just the dubious exhortations of new radlibs who fell off the back of some campus-connected activism and onto r/anarchism).

I'm just one guy, who happens to be an anarchist, and as I have said before, I don't want to be the only one doing this sort of thing—and ultimately, I can't be in order for it to take off. My own exhortations are probably not relevant for lots of people.

That being said, and being who I am, I do want to see an affective current of nudism that, apart from the inclination towards being naked when it's comfortable and actively fighting against body shame (which is obviously important, but nothing different from what the other currents are doing, or at least striving for), is also inclined against legalistic petitioning, inclined towards appropriation of space, hostile to representation, and at least doing its best to get past oppressive bullshit (like gender I s'pose), naïveté, and I don't know what else, let's say cities. So, y'know, nudism informed by a lucid, serious anarchism.

So, I'm doing my best to make it happen—but let's all make it happen, how about? There's f/nudism on Raddle already and there could be other forums for discussion too. I will certainly boost any interesting and/or anarchist analysis from my personal Hometown account on the fediverse instance, too.

Coda: affect is better conveyed by memes and images than blog posts that hover well north of 3000 words; this might be a strategic problem for me, the guy with too much to say.

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