nudism as an illegalism

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, to blunt that the tendency towards being-asshole that exists in so many people, 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 ideology, 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 dists (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 s 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.

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

(Addition, June 20, 2021: This post was initially written in a bit of a stream of consciousness. It's kind of bad, haha, and far too long. I am leaving it up, though – with some edits – for posterity.)

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 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, some people 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 naturists (i.e. those who call themselves as much). So it is, too, in the online spaces that gay nudist-naturists populate. 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 nudism/naturism – and it is much larger.

I have denoted family nudism/naturism as such, with the slash and both terms, because there is no apparent preference for one or the other. It is, in fact, the adjectival marker family that is the more critical part of the combined term. Insofar as we can imagine “gay nudism” as the aggregate of nudism practiced by gays, the term “naturism” is necessary to qualify the subject as an ideology, i.e. a set of ideas about nudism as practiced by gays, and that accords this practice a special significance or purpose. But with the family thing, well, the presence of the word family is sufficient to impute some kind of significance or purpose to what is being done.

An aside: I thought, at first, 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. I only really want to make two generalizations about these 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 that the Bible exhorts them to take off their clothes. Second, they are mostly also participants in, or orientated towards, something that's worth calling family nudism/naturism; 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.

Christianity per se is not a major factor for many family nudist-naturists who live basically secular lives, obviously. But in post-Christian cultures, the influence of Christianity looms large – as does the influence of the Industrial Revolution in post-industrial societies, as do the ideas of the Victorians in an age that came after the rise and fall of the British Empire. This history puts family nudism/naturism, which is the dominant affect within the English-language naturist internet, at odds with gay naturism. The issue is sexuality.

A clear difference between gay naturism and family nudism/naturism 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 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, strange and suspect. At worst, it is heretical, a different religion altogether; maybe it can be talked about as such, and even tolerated for what it is, but it can't be considered the same. 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 nudism/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 a lot of people, especially where they are at with their lives.

Personally, I appreciate that these folks generally avoid the word “naturism” (even if the name of FYN is a challenge to that claim) and that they have always been trying to make things more relevant for me, up fairly until recently 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 that, from what I can tell, I would have to do be into doing yoga or whatever. 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 would 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 internet. There is something gay for them to join: very large groups on TrueNudists.com, 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, i.e. r/nudism, most formal associations (which have a website, and which may have a physical 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).

What a wasteland this digital landscape is.

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) beyond, like, an exploitative practice of publishing photos from the Kumbh Mela festival from time to time.

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 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 (when I'm in the mood for something that elevated), but I don't really think that a nudist current that – wilfully or just a consequence of how it is – excludes, not just women, but also men (of any sexual orientation) and nonbinary people who aren't comfortable with that kind of sexuality in that kind of situation.

I have heard that “gay nudist gatherings” in my own city, advertised (in the time before covid) on Craigslist or whatever, 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 nudism/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 a) 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 b) 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 and mandatory nudity, 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 like 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 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 and everyone almost everyone is plugged in, and more so all the time.

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/naturism as a unified whole is to ignore its internal diversity and contradiction.

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 activim and onto r/anarchism).

I'm just one guy, who happens to be 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 ni.hil.ist 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.

CW: extensive discussion of shit & adjacent topics

There are good reasons to dislike shit. (Throughout this post, feel free to replace the word “shit” with the word “feces”, “poo”, or whatever else suits your fancy, for the purposes of reading these words aloud on air or in excessively polite company.)

Shit is a potent vector of disease. It attracts flies and other creatures. People who smell like shit are disadvantaged in society. This is subjective, I suppose, and I'm not trying to yuck anyone's yum, but most people think it typically smells somewhere between bad and wretched.

Shit is also a part of life. It's something we will have to deal with ourselves if we ever want to have kids, grow a garden, track an animal, own a cow (or whatever), or live a life that includes a digestive system and no dedicated ass caddy.

Shit is everywhere. And I don't just mean the yeast shit in beer (i.e. the alcohol) or the shit produced by other microorganisms that leads to tooth rot. I mean human shit too, and pet shit, and wild animal shit. Some of us have to deal with it more than others, because of class, caste, the way our bodies work, our socially inscribed relationships to production and reproduction, or whatever else.

I think hygiene is good, notwithstanding early CrimethInc.'s most widely lampooned article. I repeat: shit is a potent vector of disease, and that alone is good enough reason to wash our asses and clean our toilets with some degree of frequency. But we shouldn't be obsessive about it. Shit is not an eradicable part of life.

It can be minimized, sure. But this process of minimization can go too far. For instance, scientific studies have shown that people living in environments that are regularly blasted with toxic cleaning chemicals, and who never encounter any pathogens at all, are typically less hardy than, say, people living in clean and tidy but very much shit-adjacent environments (for instance, Amish people, living on farms, adjacent to livestock, without the benefit of some of the products that are to be found in most North Americans' homes).

I don't think an excessive fear of butt germs does anyone any good. As 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds are taught, everybody poops – and fortunately, in most cases, people are quite capable of dealing with that reality in a responsible manner by themselves. To get worked up about the possibility of invisible, effectively undetectable traces of shit, then, is unhelpful. Of course there are traces all over the place, and probably in greater number than most of us would really like to care about. These traces don't meaningfully affect us.

It's not the sort of attitude that does us much good for those moments when we might actually have to deal with shit, for any number of reasons, and it's not very healthy to be quite so worried about it before those situations actually rear up.

I am sure that some nudists live differently (i.e. filthily), but I presume they don't have many people to hang out with. The most visible part of the naturist subculture, for its part, seems to be quite serious with cleanliness. I am against it, frankly – not because cleanliness is a problem in itself, but perhaps because I read some things in the queer nihilist tradition (at the conclusion of Towards the Queerest Insurrection, for instance, in which the Mary Nardini Gang channels Divine and claims “filth is our politics! filth is our life!”) and I suppose I took that shit to heart.

But that's me. Most nudists are into naturism, not what I'm into and definitely not into, say, baedan at its most extra. They're, like, pretty clean people. My years of perusal of the nudist-naturist internet indicates that a lot of them jump into the shower every time they take a shit, which is probably pretty easy given that they're already naked. Even so, it is a matter of the most basic nudist-naturist etiquette to sit on a towel, or some other kind of individuated barrier item, instead of sitting one's bare ass on a seat that may be used by someone else later on. I won't pretend to think that most nudists with bachelor apartments sit on towels when they're at home, at least not every single time, but in the company of others, it's a pretty widely understood norm. Y'know, just in case!

A lot of people, including a number of anarchists I've met over the years, don't know about the towel thing, or they have a hard time believing it even if they've heard right. I feel like this must be because the naked and dirty semantic circuits are mixed up in their heads, perhaps along with the evil and/or wrong semantic circuits. I don't know how to untangle all of that for them, but I presume learning a little bit more about what they're talking about – germs, nudism, nudists, the world at large – might help.

I believe that a comfortist practice of nudism would benefit from the importation of naturists' towel etiquette, and I am not particularly interested in some kind of radical rethinking of the human relationship to shit; in other words, I do not, in concert with baedan, “insist upon flushing away the whole machine that chambers excretion and channels excrement.” My general opposition to civilization does not manifest itself in an acute opposition to either this chambering (e.g. a measure of privacy while on the toilet, in contrast to the open toilet chambers of the ancient Greeks and Romans or the panoptic regime that exists in many prisons today) or to the channeling of shit.

I repeat, again: shit is a potent vector of disease, which is why it is a broadly good thing to make efforts to channel it away from people; the fact that hundreds of millions of people lack access to functional sanitation systems of the kind that I enjoy, and may be forced to engage in open defecation in slum-adjacent canals or whatever, is a problem that I'm not especially interested in trivializing through some kind of anarcho-Delanyian embrace of the radical and/or transgressive potential of shit. I am amused by this communiqué from “the pentagon bumfuck committee” but I do not think that “elaborating a logic of scat” is nearly as important as attacking “the poo taboo” (as Sara Wickham calls it in this article related to her practice as a midwife), i.e. the undue fear of shit, to the point that even talking about shit is difficult.

It's a problem for a lot of reasons, for instance, in institutional contexts that have nothing to do with my life; it's possible to collect money from billionaires and middle-class people to build schools in “underdeveloped countries” – but building functional sanitation systems, which are far more basically necessary (because, uh, fuck schools, honestly), is typically a non-starter because people just don't want to talk about something as lowly and base as shit. With regard to the main focus of this blog, the taboo also stymies discussion of a different sort of culture or practice around clothes and nudity. Butt germs loom much larger than they should in the imagination of people when discussing a practice of social nudity.

I would argue that nudists probably have a more consistent and frictionless practice of hygiene than is the case with most people, but again, that idea goes directly against the widespread assumption in many societies that nudity is adjacent to filthiness – or at least not far from it!

More open cultures vis-à-vis nudity are pretty likely to be suppressed on the grounds that nudity is unhygienic and, consequently, detrimental to some notion of public health. In 2011 and 2012, for instance, the campaign to ban public nudity in San Francisco focused on the practice of people who would, apparently, regularly sit their bare asses on the chairs outside of cafés and restaurants. I think these people were mostly tourists who were ignorant of, or in any case had no respect for, the established naturist towel etiquette; they were simply living an interesting experience which, to be sure, wouldn't be quite as possible (or at least as tolerated) in many other places.

In my opinion, despite the fact that that was kinda gross (because, what if!), it probably wasn't really a huge problem. Most of the time that a bare ass hit a plastic seat, I would expect that excrement was not caking the inside of those cheeks. Even if, though? Well, shit is everywhere; it's unlikely that one unwashed bum on a plastic seat was going to cause an outbreak of anything, in and of itself.

I think this sort of bare bum tourist behaviour bullshit is shitty (lol), and maybe even worth a bit of shaming – but it's not a real issue and it wasn't really why, on February 1, 2013, nudity was generally banned in San Francisco. The bare bums on seats were just an excuse for achieving something that a coalition of property owners and political conservatives (most of whom didn't even live in the Castro, where most of the nudity took place, or even in the city limits of San Francisco at all) wanted anyway, which was to stop a handful of mostly older, mostly gay, mostly men (who were generally not tourists, but actually lived in the area) from hanging out naked whenever the weather was suitable, maybe smoking medicinal weed or talking about politics or who's dating who, and (it could be argued!) scaring away revenue to local businesses from people who are grossed out by nudists and/or passively grinding away at the moral fabric of a certain vision of a God-fearing America.

The local nudists (or at least the ones featured in a mainstream article I read in 2012) used towels when they sat down.

I am sure similar things have happened elsewhere, or could happen again, wherever a relatively easygoing cultural attitude and/or a light hand from local authorities gives rise to people actually hanging out naked a lot – and then, that area gains a reputation as a place where it is possible to have a one-off naked tourist experience. The people who oppose public nudity (and there will be some) are going to say whatever will work to stop it from happening, and a quality of being somehow unhygienic is just one useful thing for them to bring up. For this reason, I don't think it behooves nudists to go too far in trying to prove just how how hygienic we really are. It won't stop anyone from calling us dirty anyway.

I also worry about cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness puritanism and its effects, namely insofar as it divorces people further from their environment (it is telling how much American nudist clubs all exude a sort of 1950s “suburban idyll” aesthetic). Nevertheless, it is important to insist on some facts about nudism and hygiene, at least whenever we end up ensconced in conversation about these topics. One is that, logically, nudism makes hygiene easier. Another thing is that most nudists are probably already cleaner than most members of the basically clothes-wearing majority.

Bringing it back to anarchist spaces, it seems to me that both nudism and a concerted effort to degrade the poo taboo could be complementary efforts. I think nudism has a lot to offer, but composting toilets probably do too.

The main issue, for me, is that a lot of anarchists live in housing that is absolutely awful, or at least ill-suited to how we are attempting to use those spaces and how we would ideally like to live. We crowd into housing units that don't have enough bathrooms, using rooms that were intended as offices or living rooms as bedrooms, and sometimes we even put more than one person to a bedroom. In North America at least, most housing units have the singular shower in the same room (often a very small room) as a toilet (which is often the toilet). Given that these are the sorts of spaces that we live in, it would probably be for the best if we could, as a matter of course, foster relationships with other members of our households wherein it is okay (not good or desirable, but okay) to use these facilities at the same time as them, should the need arise.

Again, I'm not particularly fond of the idea of the ancient Greeks' and Romans' communal shitting rooms, but given an unideal architectural context that is not of our own devising, and the fact that occasionally we will face urgent situations of various kinds that conflict with others' privacy, I think it would be a good thing for us all to accept that both bodily privacy and/or the desire to never smell shit – while definitely the preference of the many – cannot and should not be considered sacrosanct. I think, too, that a number of accidents or other misfortunes might be avoided if we were all on the same page with this (or at least trying to be).

In many households, even in North America, people get on just fine with this sort of understanding among one another, without even necessarily sharing any affinity for a word like “nudism” or “naturism”; my understanding is that this usually happens in the context of nuclear families. Parents are okay seeing each other naked (if they ever had a sexual relationship, they've probably seen each other naked a lot), and they don't really care about their younger kids being naked or sitting on a toilet (whatever) or seeing them naked or sitting on a toilet (possibly good for their psychological development, but in any case maybe not worth caring that much about).

I can only presume that the larger the difference between the number of toilets and/or showers in the house and the number of residents, the greater the prevalence of this sort of thing. In any case, perhaps this sort of family understanding around nudity, clothes, and privacy goes on forever – although the wider society's stance on these things are likely to challenge or destabilize this situation at some point (e.g. when kids get teenaged and insecure, and get a better sense that their other friends at school might roast them a lot if they were to find out about the home nudist thing).

But even for people who grew up this way, it may be harder to “break the ice”, so to speak, with peers with whom they do not share such long-standing and familiar relationships.

If a person in a house of anarchists or fellow travelers has to poop very badly, and someone (it may not even be clear who!) is in the shower, they may not feel comfortable knocking on the door, never mind barging in. And what shall be the consequences of such reticence? I can say, from experience, that sometimes the consequences are gross and/or embarrassing.

Again, shit is a part of life. So is one roommate showering while another has to use the toilet. I don't think it does us any good to be, like, so weird about this. We are bringing the weirdness, the awkwardness, to this topic – and we don't have to!

If anything, I think it would do us all some good to push back a little against whatever discomfort we have ourselves, as well as whatever attitudes we see in society that we do not care for, intellectually speaking. I will say, too, that I have known a number of people in my life who felt fine just leaving the door open while sitting on the toilet; they sometimes did just that in the middle of a conversation I was having with them. The world didn't end, nor has it ever done so when I have, occasionally, done the same.

Also, when I was growing up, someone-on-toilet-and-someone-in-shower situations happened all the time. It was whatever.

These situations, of barging in while my sister was in the shower or having my dad do the same to me, did not translate to any kind of extra-bathroom nudity in my own family, nor would leaving the door open while pooping and/or shared usage of bathroom space necessarily lead to any akin thing among anarchist roommates. Maybe, though, in the context of having ever discussed gradually normalizing nudity in the household – never mind actively actively the regime that exists in so many households, namely of an always-closed, not infrequently physically locked, but in any case socially untouchable bathroom door, no fucking exceptions – could pave the way to something more broadly comfortable for everyone.

Or maybe not. That part is speculative. Nevertheless, I think there are still some practical benefits to people feeling less weird about adjacency to others when sitting on a toilet or taking a shower. All the better if people have had a good talk about that kind of thing before someone in the household, or everyone, gets a bad case of the shits.

(For the record, lest anyone think otherwise of me: I still think it will always be a good idea and/or polite to knock on a bathroom door before barging in.)

When I was a teenager, I ended up reading two books, by two different Japanese guys, within a relatively short span of time. The first book, by Fukuoka Masanobu (b. 1913, d. 2008), bore the English title The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, and it was lent to me by someone I had a crush on at the time. The second book, called The Book of Five Rings in English (although my understanding is that it was originally either a scroll or a collection of scrolls, rather than a book per se), was by Miyamoto Musashi (b. 1584, d. 1645); it was lent to me by a friend's older brother, with whom I had started hanging out occasionally, perhaps in part because I had been seen to talk about Fukuoka's book from time to time.

Fukuoka's book, obviously enough, was (and is!) about farming – specifically, a technique of farming that did not rely on heavy industrial inputs. Miyamoto's book was (and is!) about using swords effectively in order to kill people (which is something that, as I understand it, he managed to do quite a bit of in his life). Neither subject had much to do with my life, either then or now, but the books are not just about those subjects; they are works of philosophy. Not in the sense of philosophy as an academic discipline, but in the more colloquial sense of a “philosophy for life”. In other words, both books can be understood, through a contemporary lens, as examples of self-help literature.

Don't get it confused, of course. They are absolutely about their respective subjects, and impart many lessons that could, presumably, come in handy if one wanted to be a natural farmer or a person who kills people with swords. But that's not necessarily why the books are shared and read. I remember that the blurb on the back of The Book of Five Rings had a lot of verbiage about how Miyamoto's words could translate into lessons for “business strategy”, that in fact a number of Japanese business executives kept his book on their front desks and Western executives ought to start doing the same. When I read Fukuoka's book (which, overall, was the more important of the two in my own life), I took a lot from his idea about a sort of considered laziness (my words, not his). When he affirmed that farmers, in the past, had had the time to write poetry and practice calligraphy and otherwise live a worthwhile life, I was into it. When he said that, whenever he was doing anything that he did routinely, he started asking questions of himself about whether he could get away with not doing that thing, whether there was a technique to reduce the amount of time he spent doing the thing, I was really into it.

So, for almost the whole time that I wanted to write a book or a zine about nudism, I wanted to produce something similar to what Fukuoka and Miyamoto had produced. I wanted to write something that furnished practical lessons about a subject that a reader might want to learn about, but I also wanted to convey something else, sort of between the lines. Something profound, I suppose.

The issue is that I don't have much to say that's practical, at least not in the same way as Fukuoka or Miyamoto. I certainly could say any number of banalities and/or absurdities about getting naked, recapitulating, for instance, this list of “100 nudity ideas to increase nude time and nudist friends” – but that's not my style. Alas, when it comes to what I want to be talking about, I don't really have the experience, and certainly not the know-how. I cannot offer a technique that is so refined that I have been able to furnish a name to it, akin to Fukuoka's “do-nothing farming” or Miyamoto's “Way of Strategy”. I can offer a “nudism-comfortism” that exists in contrast to a specialized and decidedly polemic notion about a “nudism-naturism”, but insofar as there is any technique here at all, it pertains to a way of thinking about nudism, and not the practice itself.

Unlike Fukuoka or Miyamoto, I am writing as a relatively young man, not as an old guy who sort of figured it all out already. But also, what works for me simply will not work for others, and I think it wrong to presume that it could. For instance, I have already mentioned that I am a man, but I'm a cis man at that. I also live in a specific part of the world. As a subject of diffuse systems of power – or however you want to conceive of things like race, class, (dis)ability, and so on – I exist at a particular point in that matrix, which is different from where others are at. I've certainly got my own body image issues, but I'm not and never have been fat by any meaningful definition.

The project, up to now, has mostly been one of critique. I have mostly been critical of naturism, which is, in my estimation, a failure from a philosophical and political standpoint. But I've also criticized anarchists, as a collectivity, for their failure to realize a “free body culture” (to use the German verbiage) within their own spaces, almost in spite of their professed ideas.

But critique, divorced from practice, doesn't amount to much.

The degree to which I have lived in accordance with what I think about clothes, comfort, nudity, and morality and/or ethics pertaining to the aforementioned items has been, up to this point, pretty limited. I have things to talk about, but I can't present myself as living, or having lived, an especially “nudist” life – by which I mean a life that involves being naked whenever it is eminently the most physically comfortable option. What I have lived, instead, is an anarchist life, which doesn't mean a life that is befitting of a “true” anarchist or any specific idea about anarchy and/or its aspirations (I would never presume so much about myself), but at least a life that involves engagement with anarchist scenes (and overlapping scenes), anarchist projects (and anarchist interventions), and stories about anarchist history.

So, I want to get from here – which may be different for me than it is for a reader in Europe, in Southeast Asia, or anywhere else, but by which I mean the prevailing culture as regards clothing and nudity in anarchist scenes writ large – to there – by which I mean a culture that is more comfortist in its orientation, or at least that allows space for the option of nudity, nudist-comfortist subjectivities, and even other things.

I don't know how to get there, but I have proposals. I'm not sure if I know how to articulate all of them yet, but I have said a few things already and I suppose I'll say more.

I am pretty sure that it isn't enough for me to simply get naked more often, as an individual. I would love to get to a different emotional place with stuff, to not care about a few things I still sometimes care about, but insofar as it just amounts to me getting to flex on others about how confident or unselfconscious I am being naked, that won't quite be enough to change my social context to the point that I feel less lonely as a conspicuously nudist sort of person. It's also not going to do much to keep my bare ass from getting incarcerated (or at least mixed up with the judicial system), depending on how I express any newfound devil-may-care attitude.

The sort of world I'm aiming for won't be bruteforced through brazen and unrepentant nudity, in other words – and certainly not by individuated action alone.

There is definitely something to be said for just doing the thing (in fact, there's a lot to be said for it), but it is not sufficient. And it cannot be said that reading theory, reading stories from history, and/or reading about the problems that other people have faced will never help others to do the thing themselves. So I write.

I have a lot to say about the internet. Most of it is negative (insofar as I hate it, and computers generally, and would hypothetically prefer to do without any of it), but up to a point, I can wax positive too. I grew up with the internet, after all. Interesting things have come out of things that I learned there, or relationships with other people that were either initiated and/or substantiated there. Lots of people can relate, I'm sure.

I first heard about the fediverse – which I will explain better in a moment – in late 2018. At that time, I had been running a blog on Tumblr that was also about nudism (for the most part, at least), but then it was announced on December 3 of that year that Tumblr would be changing its policy on nudity in just two weeks' time, effective December 17. The content of my blog actually included quite a few depictions of nudity, and I felt that that was pretty much that on that, i.e. I wasn't going to continue using Tumblr. There weren't very many other nudist and/or naturist pages on that site that I considered worth following, but the few that I did care about also went defunct once they were no longer able to post pictures of naked people.

The current iteration of this blog, here on chi.st, doesn't have any pictures (except for that one of Luigi up at the top), and I have made a pretty big deal about being “against representation” myself – but I think it makes sense to imagine that, well, nudists and/or naturists will probably want to be able to depict “female-presenting nipples” and other such parts of the human anatomy from time to time. I certainly enjoyed reblogging funny, on-theme image macros from across Tumblr (and theoretically, I would do the same more from my Mastodon/Hometown account on ni.hil.ist if, like, the fediverse had a similar output of nudism-relevant funny stuff as was true of Tumblr in 2018).

Right now, there don't seem to be very many nudists and/or naturists on the fediverse (if there are more, I don't think I have found them yet), and the nudist-naturist space on the internet seems to be pretty ignorant of the fediverse's very existence. Their screen time and their attention, instead, is focused on major platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and – to a lesser degree – the likes of Tumblr and Pinterest. In other words, platforms owned by major companies that seek, above all, to maximize profit.

As far as I know, all of these platforms have hostile policies with respect to unfettered, consequence-free sharing of depictions of human nudity. These companies are still beholden to governments, most of which have laws against the often vaguely defined category of pornography. Pictures of nudists living their lives run afoul of these laws in many jurisdictions, and even where they are legal, they may nevertheless be understood as pornographic by large numbers of people. Profit-seeking companies need to have governments on-side and populations on-board, and thus nudity is a problem. How, then, to handle that problem? A comprehensive ban may be more cost-effective than assiduous moderation that, more likely than not, will fail to even satisfy the larger, more important, and more conservative part of the user base, i.e. the users who matter, unlike representatives of the naturist subculture and/or whatever other assortment of libertines and weirdos there are.

It is, in any case, the shareholders and the CEOs – Zuckerberg, Doherty, et al. – who have all of the power here. These platforms are not public assets, beholden to the will of some idea of “the people”; they are privately owned fiefdoms, the property of monied partnerships. Even if (sufficiently online) nudist-naturists were thrice as numerous and/or thrice as politically powerful as is the case, their complaints and petitions would still amount to nothing in the calculus of making policy decisions.

From a perspective that seeks to perpetuate the naturist subculture, then, this is a problem. The administrator of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park's Reddit account, possibly Stéphane Deschênes himself, recently wrote that Facebook, Instagram, et al. are “de facto public spaces. If you don’t or can’t use them, you are excluded from public discourse.” There is certainly some truth in that comment, and I think it's fair to say that nudists of any kind are going to be less able to propagate their ideas than the partisans of any other position that is able to use these platforms without restrictions. Personally speaking, based on what I've seen, it seems that nationalism and conspiracy theory – simple ideas that act on anger and fear – are privileged by the algorithms on these sites, and the mere presence of depictions of human nudity (evidently a critical component of naturist activists' prefigurative politics) will cause a lot of people to recoil before they can take in any ideas at all. But, still, it's true: a different policy would allow nudist-naturists to participate in public discourse to a larger degree than they can currently, it would allow them to perform a certain kind of activism-by-selfie (hashtag “normalize nudity” and all that) that other people could see, and all of this might have some marginal impact on the vitality of that subculture.

But it's a moot point, because it's not happening.

If the goal is to post naked selfies – and that largely seems to be what it's about – then it makes so much more sense to build new web infrastructure than to petition these companies to change their ways or, otherwise, petition governments to force them to change. Even before the recent Facebook vs. Australia showdown, the idea that governments can do anything, in most cases, is laughable in and of itself, and it's even more ridiculous to think that they would take up the cause of nudist-naturists! This is simply not a realistic approach to the problem, such as it is.

Enter Mastodon – and the fediverse more broadly.

Eugen Rochko et al. have been maintaining Mastodon, a Twitter-like microblogging software using the ActivityPub protocol, since 2016. ActivityPub is a decentralized protocol, like email. What that means is that anyone can set up their own “instance”, at their own URL, which will then be able to communicate with any other instance in a straightforward manner, just as an email from nu@gmail.com can go to nue@protonmail.com without problem. It is relatively easy to set up a Mastodon instance, or to use an entirely different sort of software that also relies on ActivityPub, but which is still going to be able to interact with other ActivityPub-reliant services that serve the same “type” of content. The administrator(s) of each instance can then determine their own policies about what content they will allow, which instances they want to block (because all instances are “federated” by default, hence “fediverse”), and so on.

In other words, it's a free-for-all where people can make their own rules about depictions of nudity or just about anything else. Governments may try to impose their rules over servers that are physically located within their jurisdictions, but they are much less likely to know about each small instance, much less likely to care about it, much less likely to know what to do about it.

The profit-seeking logics of bigger companies also don't really apply. Most instances are run at a loss, but a modest one, often sustainable on the salary of a single administrator or, otherwise, by a collection of people who are all willing to pitch in to pay the bills.

As far as a “public square” goes, the fediverse still has many less users than the big sites that have managed to corner the market in human attention, but that is to be expected. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that more users will show up, and I also think that, to the extent that this could be a good thing – or at least a superior option compared to other options, i.e. continuing to rely on Twitter, Facebook, et al. – there is some space for individual agency to have an effect, i.e. people can join up and encourage people they know to do the same. (I tend to think that the effect of people with larger followings, a Stéphane Deschênes for instance, might have a larger effect than relatively anonymous and obscure users saying the same.)

The major advantage of the fediverse, though, is that it avoids the “island” problem that exists with everything else, including purpose-built nudist-naturist websites like TrueNudists.com (which is, incidentally, utter trash). Perhaps there are still islands on the fediverse, each with its own rules and effective rulers, but it is relatively easy for people to migrate around, discover new content, and so on, without losing everything, having to learn a whole new software, etc.

At the moment, I am aware of only one Mastodon instance with a specific focus on naturism and/or nudism, the aptly named naturism.social, which is run by one Matt Crawford of Iowa. I have a lot of misgivings about this site, some of which has to do with my opposition to naturism as an ideology (as opposed to either comfortism and/or anarchism), but more of which has to do with Crawford himself, a guy with a Gab account – which, for those in the know about Gab, probably says enough about the guy's politics and how I might personally feel about them. [Update: As of July 2021, Crawford has discontinued the sites, or at least his involvement with them.]

It is fortunate, then, that naturists and/or nudists have many other instances – not necessarily on any kind of nudist or naturist theme – where they can set up accounts and post to their hearts' content. Not all instances are completely posi about nudity, but plenty are, and they may have other praiseworthy features as well.

At the same time, it is unfortunate that, apart from Crawford (and one other person, whose lower-profile project I won't post publicly, for fear of bringing too much traffic to his site), there don't seem to be any efforts to build up fediverse infrastructure that specifically caters to the needs or desires of nudists and/or naturists. Once again, I feel the need to mention Stéphane Deschênes specifically, in part because a recent post on Bare Oaks' blog bragged that, thanks to a new fibre optic installation, those folks would now be able to host their own “naturist server farm”. Surely, then, they could endeavour to learn about Mastodon, or some other software using ActivityPub, in order to provide a viable service that is neither an island unto itself nor, like naturism.social, under the sole control of a Trump supporter? They would also have enough of a following to bring a lot of other people on-board.

At this point, it's worth saying, again, that I think the internet sucks. More precisely, I think online sociality is a wasteland. And yet I cannot deny that it is important, at least for subjects (such as myself) that are caught up in societies that have, broadly speaking, gotten screenlost. Given this fact, and considering it more or less immutable, there are probably numerous incidental benefits to the relatively decentralized sort of internet that the fediverse represents a part of, as opposed to the highly centralized model of the internet that is currently extant.

I personally don't want to use the internet to post, or see, unremarkable naked selfies – or to join, like, a voice chat channel for “nudist gamers” with whom I can chat about... being naked? while gaming? Like, I sort of think this type of thing is weird and/or distasteful and/or seriously detrimental to the ability of people, either individually or collectively, to exercise any kind of power that can compete in any way with presiding power structures (e.g. Facebook, neoliberalism, civilization, etc.). But hey, I wouldn't mind, say, some capacity to find roommates in my area who could be chill with nudism, to share news about public spaces where swimming naked (or like, playing volleyball naked, whatever) will be lower-risk and/or free, etc. In other words, I would appreciate any service that allowed me to live a life online that facilitated the kind of relatively more naked life I'm trying to live offline, and that helped out anyone else with a similar life orientation.

In any case, my own preferences and positions should only mean so much to the ways that others choose to engage with the internet. Who am I to say that people shouldn't have a nudist gamer voice chat channel, this critique notwithstanding? Who am I to say that, uh, people shouldn't be each others' “virtual shower buddies”?

I should mention that, a few weeks ago, I was, quite apropos of nothing, made into a moderator of the mostly defunct subreddit r/anarcho_naturism, presumably because I recently posted a link to this blog there, been very clear about the fact that I am an anarchist, and the other moderator, whose flair is “anarcho-naturist”, is also a moderator of the significantly more active subreddit r/naturism, so it's fine to concede me that turf. Alas, in part because I am not a naturist, and in part because I am really not okay with giving the corporate internet my attention for many reasons, it's not a particularly appealing bit of turf to own.

With respect to this project and its concerns – namely, articulating a specifically anarchist practice, philosophy, and sensibility of nudism (as anarcho-naturism once did, and which I hope either nudism-comfortism and/or anarcho-comfortism will be able to do going forward) – it seems useful to have some kind of space where other people can talk about the ideas, start to lead their own conversations (for instance, on topics I know less about, or about which I am less confident I have anything useful to say), and otherwise just build up some hype and/or leave me comments that encourage me to write more. I suppose r/anarcho_naturism could serve as such a space, but I much prefer raddle.me, which is run by an anarchist whose politics, as far as I can tell, I like. I also like a lot of the other users!

So, if you want, feel free to continue the conversation – about the poverty of online sociality or anything else! – at f/nudism. I'm looking for moderators, I guess?

A final word: chi.st runs on WriteFreely, which is another ActivityPub-based protocol; what this means is that this blog can be subscribed to using just about any Mastodon account, for instance, simply by searching @nudism-as-an-illegalism@chi.st within that application's own search bar. The URL https://chi.st/nudism-as-an-illegalism/feed/ can likewise be entered into an RSS reader. It's also possible to follow the Hometown account associated with this blog (Hometown being a fork of Mastodon), the discovery of which I leave as an exercise for the reader; I crosspost every blog entry on chi.st with searchable hashtags.

CW: direct mention of heavy stuff (no details), dick talk (penises)

This will come off, at first, as a bit moralistic. But bear with me.

I don't think the sexual orientation of an “influencer”, “content creator”, or any other sort of “creative” (kill me) who talks about nudism should be too obvious from the get-go, namely because sex is not the point.

If it is obvious (and not because the blogger has a selfie with their spouse on the About Me page), then that's an indication that that blogger – or Reddit user, or Tumblr account operator – might be doing something wrong.

My sexual orientation is not a secret. It comes up pretty often in posts I make elsewhere on the internet, and it's probably not even that tricky to guess it correctly if you've read enough of my posts here. But if this were the first thing of mine that you'd ever read, you wouldn't really have anything to go off (I think, anyway) that would indicate whether I'm straight, gay, or something else. You might not even know anything about my (relationship to) gender, either, apart from what you might have inferred from the fact that I use a naked Luigi on a dirtbike as my avatar (which is a pretty flimsy ground upon which to build any sort of theory about me).

I think this is good.

Most self-styled nudists on the naturist internet make it very obvious exactly what kinds of bodies they are attracted to, and sometimes even what kinds of sex they are interested in. Many accounts that post to r/nudism, r/naturism, and other such subreddits can also be seen to post on a different class of subreddits dedicated to various genres of porn and/or discussions about kink. As far as I've seen, most Tumblr blogs with “nudism” or “nudist” in the description (most of which, since December 17, 2018, are now defunct) would focus entirely on photos of either mostly skinny naked cis men or photos of mostly skinny naked cis women, presumably because one group or the other struck the fancy of the blog operator. On TrueNudists.com, “sexual orientation” is a box that you are encouraged to fill in on your profile page.

This mostly sucks. Not entirely, or not in all circumstances necessarily. But taken together, all this paints an image of nudism as a sex thing – just another kink or fetish! This is aggravating for those who understand, in a way that others perhaps do not that, that nudism does not denote anything sexual, because nudity ≠ sex.

It's (part of) a way of life, for some people – in some cases, a way of life in which they were raised by their parents or other guardians – and otherwise it's just what people do sometimes, when they can get away with it, or when they feel comfortable doing it.

Yet nudity as a subject matter has a major overlap with sexuality as a subject matter, at least as far as the average North American is concerned. This is because, despite many human efforts to the contrary all throughout history, and certainly including the efforts of the naturist movement, it is impossible to bracket sexuality – or at the very least, some of its more innocuous and subtle aspects, such as the raw facts of attraction and hornyness – from other aspects of life.

In the current context, too, lots of people are first exposed to something denoted as “nudism” in the context of pubescent forays into pornography. Assuming they learn more about the subject, and start to like the idea of living a little or a lot more nakedly, they may form an ideal of romantic partnership that includes a shared nudist sensibility as an important prerequisite. If they ever go further, and actually step foot on a beach where nudity is normal, or onto the grounds of a landed club, they will take their sexuality (such as it is) with them, and will likely encounter the sexualities of others at some point at least.

Sexuality is, at least potentially, dangerous. It leads to people getting hurt, to one degree or another. This fact about sexuality has motivated lots of “anti-sexual” ideas throughout history, which I will not try to summarize, since the exact elaboration of these ideas has varied quite a bit. A common characteristic of these ideas, however, is to put sexuality in its place, to control it, and therefore to suppress any manifestations of sexuality outside of contexts considered appropriate.

Mainstream, liberal-to-conservative, “family-friendly” nudism-naturism exhibits precisely this approach. Sexuality is acknowledged to exist, but it is not permitted to manifest in spaces governed by naturist ideas. Unaccompanied men, in fact – that is, without wives, girlfriends, or (in sufficiently progressive spaces) other sorts of partners – are often excluded from such spaces as a matter of policy because they are, as a category of person, presumed to be sexually motivated.

I am sure this has occasionally been true. But, for lots of reasons (like being an anarchist, having typical anarchist opinions about things, etc.), I don't much care for this approach, and I have quite a bit of distaste for its worst excesses (which I won't itemize).

An approach more befitting of an anarchist approach to life, and a comfortist approach to nudity and nudism, is more akin to a radical queer politics (that is, a politics at least partially in the tradition of, or in dialogue with, the hard left wing of LGBT+ and/or queer activism in the capitalist countries, and a few places beyond the Iron Curtain, in the 1970s and '80s) than it does to the quasi-Victorian sexual ethics that predominate in at least some consciously naturist spaces (in the English-speaking world at the very least).

The radical queer position is usually accepting and often quite celebratory of sexuality, but more importantly, it is not afraid of sexuality and it never condemns sexuality as such. Instead, it seeks to understand, with the intent of providing care, and/or it attacks, with unbridled hostility, proponents of various kinds of bigotry. Sometimes (but too rarely!) it does both in the same breath.

I wouldn't want to end this post by insisting that an unqualified, probably fictive “radqueer position” on sexuality is somehow enough, though. It isn't. I don't want to go on a rant about sex-negative feminism, either, because the post is long enough already and I'm not sure I know enough about sex negativity to say much that's interesting. It seems to me, however, that most anarchists I know (and definitely the ones I want to keep hanging out with) have already internalized all the best lessons that are taught in radical queer scenes and adjacent scenes (and some folks have internalized a few lessons that are less good). A minority of anarchists I know, but definitely including some folks I respect a lot, have appreciated texts like “The Ethical Prude” and “Against the Couple Form” – or at least parts of them. Other literatures and histories have also been influential, and could stand to become more influential still. As elsewhere, the appropriate attitude for the anarchist intellectual is to take what's useful and (maybe) burn the rest.

It seems to me that sexuality is, and shall remain, a problem – at least for utopians. Sexuality is frequently generative of harm and conflict. The impulse to do away with sexuality altogether, to put it in its proper place (e.g. procreation? hedonism that you have to pay for with $$$ and access to further capital?) and otherwise not deal with it at all, certainly makes some sense to me in a nudist context or any other field of life.

But it's also sort of a managerial strategy, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

I am not a utopian and I try not to be a manager. I expect there will always be difficulties, disputes, and so on in the ways that humans relate to one another – caused in part by sex stuff, sure, but also caused by literally everything else. This is the human condition or whatever, and it's fine. What's less fine is the drive to end problems entirely through totalizing approaches.

Bad things, difficult things, or uncomfortable things are going to happen. What we need to do, then, is try to identify the causes of the worst problems with a mind to preventing them recurring. I don't know if it is possible to stop every sexual assault (keep in mind that I'm a bit of a pessimist), but I think that better practices of sex education, and different kinds of sociality, might go a long way towards that end.

But some things that are arguably or definitely bad, difficult, and/or uncomfortable are nevertheless not quite as serious as, say, sexual assault.

Let's take one practical example.

Erections (aka boners, stiffies, etc.) are visible indications that a person is sexually aroused – or so it is frequently said and widely understood, despite the fact that many people get erections randomly, or simply in the morning when they are waking up, is also widely known. Many people find the inflated flesh rods disgusting to look at, which is one thing to keep in mind, and lots of the people who roam this world with dicks hanging off their lower fronts are particularly embarrassed by the idea of getting hard (or even just showing a little chub) at an inappropriate time in an inappropriate place.

It seems to me that this specific “sexuality issue” is complicated in and of itself. It would maybe warrant a dedicated post if there wasn't already enough writing from within the nudist-naturist canon that, in my view, covers the subject well enough (here are some examples, and you'll want to scroll down to “Fear 7” for that last one). Whatever categorical imperative about boners that we might sign on to, however, there is no way to “solve” this problem entirely – at least not without doing some things that are far worse than boners ever could be.

People (some of them, at least) are going to have boners, and deal with numerous other bodily phenomena that others may or may not be able to relate to with respect to their own bodies. People are going to have sexual relationships, some of which will be bad on the whole or at least end badly. People are also going to have strong opinions, and strong emotions, about other people fucking, or the possibility that other people might be fucking or might start fucking. People are going to talk to each other about stuff they have lived through or things they have just heard about, and they will disagree about what is fucked up, what's questionable but not that bad, what's weird and/or funny and/or amusing to gossip about, and what's too boring or too banal to warrant any discussion at all. A lot of the time, and more often when people know more about bodies, minds, and relationships, people will deal with all of these issues with some temporary awkwardness, perhaps, but no lasting or grievous harm.

It seems to me that many sex things, if not all things, aren't really consequential problems – or maybe they are at the scale of individual lives, but not at the scale of society, and certainly not in comparison to the problems that more easygoing attitudes about sexuality might help to resolve.

More easygoing attitudes about sexuality would probably lead to more easygoing attitudes about nudity – so I think it is funny, and a little sad, that mainstream naturism in the English-speaking world seems to have adopted a particularly conservative attitude with respect to sexuality.

Many formally organized associations have copious amounts of policy and etiquette intended to “make everyone feel welcome” and foster a “family-friendly” environment, which is all to the good, but despite this, they have not completely gotten rid of creeps – and they probably won't be able to, because creeps can always learn the right rhetoric.

Creeps of all sorts are pests, no doubt, and I can understand the temptation to employ pesticide. But pesticide can be both ineffective at getting rid of the pests, while generative of other types of problems.

I hardly think that easygoing attitudes re: sexuality would get rid of creeps – and in fact, I imagine that a rapid and comprehensive embrace of such attitudes might even encourage some of them! This, in turn, could lead to worst outcomes. I don't know. Fortunately, though, I am not out to reform established naturist spaces, because I want to create new spaces, for people like me or like the people I like to hang out with.

I would love it if nudity-optional spaces emerged from within the anarchist movement, which is itself besot by various sorts of sex politics (and politics about bodies) that I think are imperfect, a little too dogmatic, and maybe a bit prudish. But I don't even really take issue with these ideas, which I presume to be on point in some of their more central critiques, even if some extrapolations are off the mark. What bothers me is that, no matter their internal points of disagreement with one another, anti-sexual ideas as an ensemble – and in concert with the law in most of North America, which is probably the more important factor – give rise to an intellectual and cultural climate among anarchists that serves to suppress a worthwhile practice of nudism from emerging among them.

And that practice is obviously what I want. I don't think it's the “bad ideas” that stop it from happening, either; they just provide a cover. The real obstacle is confusion about sexuality (a subject matter that, like it or not, has encompassed the subject matter of nudity), the consequent fear of sexuality (and thus, nudity too), and alongside this fear and confusion, an excess of strong opinion, from some quarters, about universal moral truths vis-à-vis complicated human realities that are often rather crudely aggregated.

It's not entirely insurmountable, but it's aggravating to be sure.

Most of the time, most people can get naked – on their own power, and with a trivial amount of effort. This isn't true for absolutely everyone, and it's probably not true for anyone at absolutely all moments (for instance, when in handcuffs), but it's broadly the case that stripping is physically actionable for most of us at any given moment. The operation of getting naked is something that most adults have done for themselves at least once a day (and hopefully at least once every few days) from a very early age.

Nudity, then, is an option, in terms of a pure physical potentiality for most of us. Standing out in the open on a cold and windy day, it may not be a very appealing or sensible option, but it is available to do.

So too in any other moment. At a beach on a warm and sunny day. Coming out of the cold and into the heated interior of a household, flushed with the exhaustion of moving through the winter in all those layers. Or on a bus, in a theatre, at school or work, in the backyard – absolutely anywhere.

Despite its eminent availability, it is rarely exercised – even in those cases when a little more nudity might spare people a great deal of sweat, discomfort, laundry, undue getting dressed, and other such unhappy burdens in the immediate term. And there are many reasons for this, but mostly they are social.

First there is the governance of space, and the fact that nudity will lead to friction, most of the time, with local authority, be it a boss, a teacher, a cop, or a bouncer.

Then there is the proverbial cop-inside-of-the-head, implanted through the long process called “socialization”, which produces its own sort of internally experienced friction.

Finally, quite apart from the blunt logic of bureaucrats enforcing rules and the cruel sensation of internally experienced shame, there are simply many ideas about nudity in circulation. These, too, lead to friction of a kind, which is simply the exigency to talk to others about the fact that one is naked, to justify it, whatever.

This friction renders nudity much less easy, and much less comfortable, than it otherwise might be, to the detriment of ease and comfort across the board. So, to the extent that nudism-comfortism implies any kind of “programme”, the core of it is this: a general expansion of the settings and situations in which it is okay to get naked (that is, in which getting naked is explicitly made okay), the goal of which would be to diminish this friction, alongside whatever other incidental benefits might come along (of which I think there would be a few).

I don't have any playbook to offer for making this general expansion happen, but the approach should vary quite a bit between settings and situations.

Most of my own ideas are orientated towards anarchists' spaces and sociality, because I'm an anarchist and that's what I know. Perhaps in future posts, I will try applying some of these ideas to settings and situations, both real or hypothetical, within the anarchist movement – but I don't think those posts will be very accessible to people who don't know much about how anarchists do things.

Nudism-comfortism, in contrast to stories that relate to my idiosyncratic and ineffable life, is the little I can offer to everyone – that is, to both anarchists (even those who are a little, or a lot, gymnophobic) and to everyone else who's worth talking to about this sort of stuff.

I also sort of think “the option of nudity” has some potential as a slogan or a meme? Like, it's really quite boring and lots of people (and lots of nudists and wannabe nudists) want things to be boring. It also gets the point across. It translates well, too.

I, personally, cannot really imagine myself ever standing naked in front of a government building with a placard that says We Want the Option of Nudity. I can imagine that some other people would, though, and I feel like, if something like that started happening in my city, I would provide it my critical support. Maybe even go to that part of town, keep my clothes on, and keep an eye on the police with a mind to keeping people safe – since, like, police are pricks sometimes.

My own approach, up to now, has been sort of anti-social – and I intend to keep it that way. I haven't spent much time at clothing-optional beaches because, in my region, they're difficult to access and effectively pretty expensive. Mostly, instead, when I have been naked outside of bedrooms, swimming/hygienic situations, and the occasional modeling job, I was getting naked in contravention of local laws and regulations, in total contradiction of established norms, and/or in open conflict with an apparently hegemonic culture of gymnophobia.

I don't get naked as often as I like, despite my occasional inclination to say Fuck that. Far too often, even when I'm hot and sweaty, and I'm also quite certain that the first person I encounter won't be a person who will actually fuck with me in a way I can't handle (like a cop), I keep my clothes on because I'm afraid of the consequences. It sucks. I try to not care, I try to be badass (lol), but I'm not, really.

I want a general expansion of the availability of option of nudity – a general making-available, as it were – because I'm tired of this shit. I don't expect it to happen all at once, but I do think it's possible for people to make it happen, more or less starting anywhere. But presumably the revolution starts at home.

The last two posts were about naturism – defining it, critiquing it. The main thing about it is that naturism is ideology, or at least the stuff of ideology. It is a way of thinking about nudity and nudism.

As I have already explained, I'm not into it. My main contention with it is the concept of nature and the natural, which is so foundational to what naturism is and, effectively, what it can be.

But what else is there? Well, plenty – but there is no other position on nudism that bears a name, making for an easy contrast with nudism-naturism. (Not in secular discourse, at least; I have no comments to make on Adamite or Digambar positions.)

So let me say, at the outset, that I'm against ideology – which is to say, I'm against fixed ideas, received truths, dogma. I won't pretend that I have transcended ideology, cuz that's a trap, but I will say that I do my honest best everyday to keep my distance. Yet a word (even a word that ends in -ism) is not an ideology. Depending on how things play out, a word may come to denote an ideology (or even several ideologies that, confusingly enough, share the same name, even as they are referred to occasionally by other names), but the word itself is just a word.

All the better if it's a word that people can understand at first glance.

I'm not the first person to write out the word “comfortism”, but it seems that it hasn't been used to any particularly rarefied ends yet; a quick search of the internet suggests some people have used it as a synonym for “hedonism” (which is already a fine word for that particular concept) and some other people have used it for marketing purposes. This being the case, I think I can use it for my own purposes, as a shorthand for my own position vis-à-vis nudism.

In contrast to a nudism-naturism that, in some extreme iterations, even prioritizes nudity over comfort (for instance, in line with a religious ideal of poverty or asceticism), the point of a nudism-comfortism is to prioritize bodily comfort. It's in the name.

Following this schema, I imagine a lot of people who are nudists already could more accurately be described as comfortists than as naturists, insofar as comfort is more important to them than a particular idea about nature. Some of these people may be members of British Naturism or other associations that use that word, but they may nevertheless personally understand nudity and nudism through a comfortist lens more than a naturist lens. Hell, they may understand, as I do, that nature is an ideological construct.

Nudism-comfortism is not, and doesn't need to be, continuous with anarchism – but I do think it could become a part of the culture of more anarchist scenes in North America or anywhere else, just as some other elective positions have become more common thanks to their broad utility and agreeability.

To be clear, I think nudism-comfortism doesn't need to just be about, well, nudism. The option of nudity is an important thing to talk about, because that option is, quite often, the most comfortable one available – and not having any shame, fear, or negative emotions about the naked body seems beneficial to the cause of comfort. But nudity doesn't need to be elevated to a place of principal importance. There are many things to be said for lighter, softer, less constraining garments as well.

In the entry he wrote on “nudisme” in Sébastian Faure's Encyclopédie anarchiste (published 1934), Émile Armand used the word “naturiste” only once, and he put it in quotation marks just as I have done here. Michael Ruehle, son of the operators of Sun Valley Gardens – a nudist camp located on the narrow band of land between Oniatarí:io and Kanahnòn:ke, operational from 1954 to 1982 – likewise used the word “naturist” only once in the reflections on his childhood that were published in The Voice of Pelham in late 2020. It appears in the following context:

Many people wonder about how folks got to be nudists and join the club. In those days, well before social media, my father would run advertisements that were more or less specific, depending on where they ran. Some would be in the various nudist magazines of the time, and these would basically say, “Come visit Sun Valley Gardens, the best nudist camp near Toronto and upstate New York.”

He also ran ads in some of the regional newspapers (not all permitted it), that would be a bit more discreet: “Enjoy a carefree lifestyle at Sun Valley, Canada’s best family-oriented naturist campground.”

It is not his own word, in other words, but a word pulled from a quote – specifically, the “bit more discreet” ad that mentions not only naturism but the family.

I don't want to impute too many things about what either Armand or Ruehle's dad would have thought about the word “naturism” or its cognates, but I appreciate that the two of them seem to prefer the word “nudist” to describe the broad subject that they wrote about and that I'm writing about on this blog. I have already written about my intention to use the two words to different ends – but whenever another writer, be they erudite or commentariat, insists that the words are synonyms (or otherwise asserts that, like lift vs. elevator, this is the case of a British/Commonwealth word and a U.S./North American word that mean the same thing), they do something to make my position a little less tenable.

It is perfectly unclear whether or not the word “naturist” ought to be pronounced /ˈneɪtʃəɹɪst/ (as in “nature”, like the first syllable in “neighbour”) or /ˈnætʃəɹɪst/ (as in “natural”, like the first syllable in “nanny”). Many people, even those who post on r/nudism, frequently confuse the word “naturist” for the word “naturalist”, which is more properly the word for any number of people who study plants, animals, or “natural history”. These problems don't exist with “nudism”. Why use “naturism”, then, unless you have been duped into thinking it is the “correct” word (perhaps because that is genuinely the more common word in the milieu of nudists you have found yourself ensconced in) or you have a purpose that goes beyond simple description?

I can understand the occasional need for euphemism, especially in a bygone era. But I cannot respect any insistence on identifying nudism – that is, not wearing clothes – with a broad concept of the natural, or any idea of what is supposedly natural for us, i.e. members of the human species.

A rhetoric of “naturism” appeals to nature in order to justify nudism – which is to say, it employs a fallacious argumentative strategy – and it also implies a dichotomy between the categories of naked and clothed that maps neatly to the categories of natural and unnatural. Nakedness is, of course, perfectly natural, insofar as “natural” means anything, but I hardly think that wearing clothes can be considered an unnatural state for the human animal to be found in. Most humans wear clothes most of the time. In public, outside of a very limited set of circumstances (if any), an alien observer of our society would likely observe that it is perfectly unnatural for humans to be unclothed. When it does happen, the immune system of the hive typically kicks in pretty quick, regulates the aberration, loads it into a police car, takes it out of sight, etc.

But none of that is really the core of the problem. The problem is that nature is an ideological construct. So is humanity. These are the ideas of observers – that is, minds that imagine themselves somehow apart and/or made of different stuff – that have come up with theories to explain what they know of the things they are observing. Alas, they are not very useful constructs for the elaboration of strategies. What they do, instead, is capture both the rational and imaginative faculties of people who don't know better about the complexity of the world, the meaninglessness of life, or the necessities of living. This is always to the benefit, above all, of empty cults and others' profits. In other words, projects that rely upon the production and reproduction of a certain kind of subjectivity.

Naturism isn't a real player in literally anything that matters politically today. It's a thing for retired people, mostly, and also some younger people who don't have much else going on. There are more interesting dragons to slay, for sure. Nevertheless, it's a problem insofar as this rhetoric and half-philosophy has shaped a lot of the conversation around nudism, especially in all those long decades since anarchists stopped participating in that conversation (which was driven at least in part, I think, because of the overall contraction of anarchism in the middle part of the 20th century, starting in most places even before the failure in Spain in 1936).

I don't want to point fingers, either, but I think it's fair to say that sometimes, some anarchists (or people who hang out with anarchists a lot) will get taken in by ideas that are simplistic but powerfully explanatory. And I'm not too alarmist about this kind of thing, but I have always been open to the notion that letting bad ideas like primitivism, attasism, or naturism spread unchecked and unchallenged may someday lead to bad consequences.

The most likely bad consequence is just failure, not some horrible atrocity. But failure might mean any or all of the following: no nudity-optional space; fewer people comfortable in their bodies rather than more; wasted time; wasted money; wasted imagination. I abhor all of it.

I don't have all the answers, but I think there is a lot of benefit to a different grounding of things. One that is probably a bit more personal and ineffable, perhaps worthy of names like “comfort” or “happiness”. I think there can be a bit more honesty between people, too, whenever they can get away, as much as they can, from lazy thinking, received ideas, and bad intellectual habits (like invoking abstractions to win arguments, especially on the internet).

All of the ideas in naturism, such as they are, encourage people to identify themselves as “naturists”. Alas, for those who haven't taken those ideas in, just the very act of self-identification sounds false – and the introduction of falsity, even a perceived falsity, diminishes the honesty of whatever communication will take place next. Therefore, I am an anti-naturist. That doesn't mean I am an adversary of any individual person who is caught up in naturist self-identification, but it does mean that I am against the idea and its consequences, namely its deleterious effect on the chances that any nudist project could ever succeed in some meaningful fashion. Mystification does not give way to salient strategy.

In the context of many conversations, “nudism” and “naturism” can be considered synonyms. They both refer to precisely the same activity, the same subculture organized around that activity, the same set of ideas that motivate that subculture.

I have made a point of saying that I am not a naturist, however – making the point that I am an anarchist instead. That is only partially because I am not, and never have been, part of the aforementioned nudist/naturist subculture. My main contention is that the connotations and history of the word “naturism”, specifically, make it worthwhile to cleave the synonymity of “nudism” and “naturism” in twain. In doing so, both words are able to do a little more work for us in philosophically rigorous discussions.

Before I begin, I just want to say that I have no problems (inherently) with any person who “identifies as a naturist”, i.e. who uses that word to describe themselves and/or even prefers “naturist” to the other word, “nudist”. Perhaps I am trying to have my cake and eat it too, but I have no interest in starting up a sort of gay vs. queer controversy, or a bisexual vs. pansexual controversy, and then staking my claim on one side of it.

Again, the point is that I want these words to do more work for us, which they cannot do if they are understood as synonyms. I also want to stress that, no matter what a dictionary says (because, indeed, many dictionaries identify the terms as synonymous), an -ism word that evokes “nature” will necessarily have a subtly different meaning than an -ism word that evokes nudity or nakedness.

A brief, demonstrative aside: it is interesting that the “Germanic” words in English, i.e. those with roots in the language that predate the Norman conquest of England in 1066 – in this case, naked – rarely give rise to -ism words; usually only “Greco-Latin” words serve that function. It's fine that we don't speak of nakedists, but I honestly think that freedomists, for instance, could be a fine name for any number of people. Germanic words, though, are somehow coded as less serious, i.e. not appropriate for political discourse, even though it is rarely if ever said aloud. Native speakers of English are able to just intuit this fact of the language somehow, probably without ever being explicitly taught.

So, with respect to the “activity” of nudism (in scare quotes because being naked is more of a passive condition than a deliberate undertaking), I think it is clear that the word “nudism” is pretty straightforward. The fact that it is an -ism word gives it some connotation of being an ideology, but there are, of course, other -ism words in the English language that connote nothing of the kind: botulism, for instance, but also words that denote activities, such as cellism (shout out Fredy Perlman) and equestrianism. In French, there are an even greater number of examples of such words that aren't ideologically connoted: tabagisme for tobacco addiction, cyclisme for bike riding, etc.

The word “naturism” is not straightforward. To encounter the word for the first time, without sufficient context (imagine a magazine entitled The Naturist without any depiction of people on the front cover, depicting instead just a sunlit copse of trees), a person might not understand that it has anything to do with nudity or nakedness at all. Furthermore, as a modification of the word “nature” – any concept of which can only be understood through the lens of one ideological framing or another – the word “naturism” establishes itself as a firmly ideological concept in and of itself. Thus, if we refuse synonymity, the two of them can do some work for us by denoting an ideology of nudism (or maybe about nudism) that is not identical to nudism itself (which is to say, practiced nudism).

As I understand it, the use of the word “naturism” to denote nudism (in any sense) is a more recent phenomenon than the word “nudism” itself. It is by no means the real word for nudism, as some self-described naturists insist today, nor is it even “the British word” for nudism (i.e. it is not a lift vs. elevator situation). I would never claim to be perfectly familiar with the related archive, and I understand that it's hard to prove things definitively in endeavours of intellectual archaeology or etymology even when you do have that kind of access. That being said, it is my impression that, in the period from 1900 to 1950 (and even later than that), the word naturism served a usefully euphemistic function for anglophone countries' formal nudist associations, clubs, etc. If they wanted to advertise their existence to the public at large, to speak of naturism was safer than speaking of nudism, because the latter could attract censorship or, worse, police attention.

To frame nudism and/or nudity as natural was advantageous then (and many self-described naturists obviously still think that is true today). From the 19th century on, to be clear, there were plenty of other things that were being framed as natural, or as scientific, or whatever. Words like “nature” and “science” (and related adjectival forms) are huge in semantic terms, attending as they do to variegated concepts in both philosophy and popular understandings – but they can serve a much simpler role in the discourse of marketing and propaganda (basically the same thing), which is to indicate simply and straightforwardly that a given thing is good, no further qualification necessary.

For this project, I am interested in a critique of the movement for a sort of “social nudism” – that is, a deliberate and shared practice of being naked – that began around 1900 in Germany. The Germans referred to this movement as neither “nudism” nor “naturism”; they used, and largely continue to use, a natively German term, Freikörperkultur (or FKK), which can be straightforwardly translated as “free body culture”. This popular cultural movement was borne out of a particularly dynamic culture of radical medicinal innovation and inquiry that existed in Germany at this time; there are lots of interesting things to say about it, and the larger German cultural context, but I am not the person to do it. (Suffice it to say, however, that some aspects of all this were problematic.)

The ideas of German Freikörperkultur were broadcast to, and emulated in, France, England, and other countries – but the German word was generally not imported to these other countries. Thus, this movement, which typically emphasized the importance of sunlight, fresh air, and family togetherness, was generally denoted in other countries by the names “nudism” or “naturism” (or their cognates). These extra-German movements were, in all the important ways, driven by the same concerns and oriented towards the same activities as the movement as the one that started in Germany around 1900.

So, I think it is appropriate to speak of a single, global movement with a certain degree of historical continuity. There is a tradition, in other words, that I'd like to be able to speak about in ways that are comparable to how many people (including myself) speak about the anarchist tradition or the Marxist tradition.

I want to denote this tradition as naturist, not nudist, because I think that nudism exceeds and predates the naturist tradition, just as whatever is designated by the word “anarchy” is something that exceeds and predates the anarchist tradition.

I think I am guilty of sometimes using the word “naturism” in a similar fashion to how I use the word “leftism”, i.e. as a grab bag of different things I don't like. So it is important to acknowledge that, today, there are self-identified naturists who actually read old books that were written before 1950 – who are “steeped in the naturist tradition” and take it seriously, as much as a religious scholar takes a given school of theology seriously – and there are also self-identified naturists who simply call themselves that because they intuitively understand what it means (“nudity is natural”) and they like that idea because they think of themselves as environmentalists or something. Allow me, in this paragraph, to acknowledge this diversity of thought.

Again, though, the important thing is that, by using the word “naturism” in a way that refuses any synonymity with “nudism”, I am able to distinguish my own thoughts from those associated with any part of the naturist tradition. This is important, because I think that the cause of nudism (that is, the liberation of nudist desire, and not simply of self-denoted “nudists”, as I explained in this post) are going to be served better by anarchist ideas, broadly speaking, than by naturist ones.

Naturism is pretty much moribund as a cultural and political movement. Anarchism, on the other hand, has vitality. I have my critiques of anarchism today – which is to say, critiques of tendencies within, or adjacent to, the anarchist space – but there's really not much comparison between the two. And I'm not saying that naturism is about to disappear, but I am saying that it is significantly less influential than anarchism could ever reasonably hope to be. Naturism is a cloistered space, and a gradually shrinking one, held back (in my humble opinion) by the insufficiently radical political ideas of the vast majority of its adherents.

Again, if you call yourself a naturist, no big deal! That's chill, and you are (probably) chill. It's just that, this is a critical project – and I need a sufficient vocabulary for elaborating that critique. The object of my critique is an ideology, and that ideology needs a name.

And the best name available is “naturism”.