nudism as an illegalism

In recent years, I have been disappointed to see many anarchists take a categorically anti-nudity position with respect to a very broad variety of situations and settings. This has often been as an extension of their “sexual politics” – an imperfect term, to be sure, but which I mean the sum of their ideas about sexuality, which are often (not always) received ideas, i.e. dogma or ideology.

I am not talking about any time that a given person had a negative emotional response to someone else's nudity in a shared situation – that is, by a lake or at a party. We could get into the details of any of these incidents, both those where I was present or where I heard the story later, but suffice it to say, people are going to have emotional reactions, especially to nudity that they weren't expecting. I have also had emotions to nudity that I wasn't expecting!

In discussions that touch on the appropriateness of nudity in given settings and situations – from anarchists living in the same rented house or apartment, to urban demonstrations on hot summer days, to those times when anarchists go to secluded places together – people usually come with a sexual politics of some kind. This can come in many flavours: basically sex-positive or basically sex-negative; try-hard decolonial feminist or shitty manarchist activist; orientated towards nude or prude futurity.

I wonder where people categorize me?

Most ideological positions that oppose nudism, these days, are justified on political and moral grounds – and not purely on an argument that God, or a leader who is ordained by God, has decided that it should be so. For the purposes of this text, I am only concerned with the most common anti-nudism position within anarchist circles, which I will admit to having homogenized a bit. Many of the mildly or seriously anti-nudist anarchists I have had chats with over the years didn't know any of the others, or if they did, they didn't know them well. I hardly imagine that they have any real uniformity, even on this issue; they would disagree among themselves, probably, about certain situations and settings. But they hold a common position, namely that nudism is not cool.

Maybe naked people aren't what The People want (boring); or it's not what I, an individualist anarchist, want (an even worse take, held exclusively by insurrecto bros in my experience, and based purely on a rather conservative aesthetics); or the most important argument, which I will address, which is that nudity is sexual and thus consent is required.

This is a weighty topic in more ways than one. I'm inordinately worried that I will say the wrong thing – not even so much because I am afraid I will hurt someone reading this post (although I am in fact also worried about that), but because I am afraid for my own reputation as soon as someone reads this text in a bad faith way (which will happen at some point, inevitably).

But let's just get into it.

Terror Incognita by CrimethInc. is an imperfect text, but as far as an accessible essay on the topics of both consent and politics, I don't know of a better example currently extant in the anarchist canon. The essay touches on several different topics, but one of its points is that a “consent framework” was widely adopted in anarchist circles (in the U.S., specifically) because of its broad utility with respect to understanding, and addressing, the many thorny issues around sex, rape, and areas in between that exist in both anarchist circles and basically all other circles.

A subsequently argued point is that the consent framework has virtually zero utility as regards political issues. I would argue, myself, that in the context of a conversation about occupying buildings, fighting police, and so on, it is a serious misapplication of the consent framework. If everyone involved in a “project” – even an ad hoc and very politically heterogenous one like a local Occupy cohort circa 10 years ago – has a “block” on political behaviour (by which I mean something more or less identical to the anti-social behaviour that most of my friends like), then certain things simply will not happen as a result of any number of liberal or naïve positions that even a single person involved in things might hold.

And this in a marginal social movement context. Stretching the idea out to include all of society is more ridiculous still. Terror Incognita speaks of “consensus reality” as the limits of what people can imagine as possible, and identifies the anarchist project with challenging that consensus. I am generally on board with that idea.

Now, importantly, nudity is not sex. I don't think nudity is politics, either, but I would argue that nudity is more a political issue than it is, per se, a sexual issue. Some readers will reject this bifurcation, but I hope they will bear with me.

That nudity is not sex is one of the most basic naturist principles. It's not a complicated idea, and I'd argue that it's also a pretty sound hypothesis, even if some qualification is possible. Said differently, the precise delimitations of “sex” may be in question, but nudity qua nudity is neither identical to the category of sex nor wholly encompassed by it.

Nevertheless, nudity, as a subject matter, is rhetorically sexualized. And perhaps, then, it doesn't matter whether it is inherently sexual or not. Society has spoken, and the answer is what it is. Utopia lost!

Even accepting this logic (which I don't), applying the consent framework to simple nudity is without good cause. Unless the goal is to simply to stop people getting from naked, it doesn't make any sense. It won't stop abuse. That's what the consent framework does (imperfectly, but provably) when applied to sex that is actually sex. With respect to nudity, though, it just creates misery – at least in my case, as a guy who just wants to be naked, maybe, and have it be chill – and maybe a little more neurosis or confusion that could, perhaps, pave the way to abuse.

What does applying the consent framework to nudity do in practice?

The “concerned parties”, with respect to nudity, are presumably all of the people who can – even just in theory – observe the fact of a person being naked, by which I mean the tits, dick, or ass. Prior to getting naked in a park on a sunny summer day, then, it must be acknowledged that it is impractical to the point of ludicrousness to ask everyone already present in the park for permission to do so, and actually impossible to ask the consent of the people who are still on their way to the park, who may show up a few minutes after the clothes are already off. In the context of the dominant culture, there is no realistic chance of getting a resounding okay from everyone.

In effect, to ask permission to get naked in most public settings is to be denied permission to get naked. Worse, however, it concedes that being naked, in itself, is something that requires permission from others who may be “exposed” – as if nudity were like smoking a cigarette, and seeing a naked person like secondhand inhalation.

I have spent a lot of time in “ungoverned” spaces: anarchist gatherings in the woods, in urban wastelands where cops usually don't go, inside private apartments where no one presumes to be the boss of anyone else. Often these spaces don't have any explicit rules about anything; if there are a few rules, they are usually about practical issues (rotating schedule of taking out the garbage, buy toilet paper if you notice supply is low, don't take dogs into the library tent, etc.). In these settings, I have noticed that people tend to be a lot more cavalier about lighting up cigarettes without asking those nearby (like myself) who could be affected than I expect they would be about anyone taking all their clothes off, even though secondhand smoke is materially aggravating to anyone with lungs. Some people may not mind a little cigarette smoke, of course, but that's hardly my point.

Anyone who wants to smoke, too, usually can smoke somewhere else, i.e. at such a distance that other people are unlikely to inhale much or any secondhand smoke. Insofar as nudity is to be considered an aggravation to others, however, it can be presumed to remain aggravating so long as it is within sight range, i.e. a much greater distance.

I think that, to the extent that there may be a problem in a given situation or setting with smokers lighting up and not asking the people near them whether or not that would bother them, we can talk about fixing the problem – and I don't think we need to escalate that conversation by bringing in a consent framework, with all its threat of consent violated, consent transgressed. It's not necessary to deal with whatever the issue is. It is, however, a means of introducing governance into a space that might otherwise be characterized as an ecstatic interplay between affinity and conflict, i.e. people coming together and people deciding they don't want to fuck with each other. Which is what I guess I would prefer. (We can discuss the details on my anarchist blog, which doesn't exist.)

I want to repeat that the consent framework, as it applies to sex, is pretty okay. It's just not great with respect to other things. The idea that more of our lives should be governed by the consent framework – our relationship to landlords, teachers, bosses, etc. – is one I see sometimes, and I guess it's fine as a sort of anarchist imaginary to strive for (though not really what I go in for), but it's obvious that the world doesn't work like that, for the most part. I think it's fair to say, too, that an expanded ideology of consent can fuel a lot of annoying, entitled behaviour as to how others ought to behave. My experience is that this ideology primarily manifests itself as a sort of antagonism internal to “radical” and anarchist scenes, and not externally, because outside of these scenes, no one is going to give any fucks at all.

I'll conclude with two comments.

One, I think that simple nudity should be considered less materially obnoxious than other behaviours that, for whatever reason, a lot of us are willing to let slide. Obviously! My position is obviously very biased here, but I figure that there must be many people who live with overly loud neighbours, with roommates who don't clean, or whatever else. Surely, whatever a person's view on nudity, that sort of behaviour ought to be considered more annoying than being bare-assed. How many people, I wonder, wouldn't prefer a neighbour or roommate who was regularly naked in full view, but who did the dishes, didn't blast drum & bass 'til 2 am, etc.?

Two, I don't think equating simple nudity to sex does any good for a conversation about difficult or heavy subjects related to sex.

A confession: the name of this project, “nudism as an illegalism”, is no strongly felt affirmation, but a slogan that I thought sounded cool.

Some readers may not be familiar with the illegalists. These were the historic anarchists – chiefly in francophone and italophone Europe, or associated with Italian diaspora communities in the United States and Argentina – whose practice was either openly or outrageously criminal. I would count Jules Bonnot, Severino di Giovanni, Luigi Galleani, and Renzo Novatore among their number. Guns, bombs, and bank robberies were a big part of what these folks got up to.

As a historic episode, I would date the illegalists from about 1900 to about 1925, but nothing really goes away, of course. Different sorts of illegalism continue to this day, often informed by the same broad sort of ideology (especially Novatore's individualism and nihilism), but more importantly rooted in life circumstances. People don't shoplift, in general, because they read a book that told them they could; they do it because they need calories and rent money.

Regarding nudism, it seems useful to rep illegalism because the naturist movement – reflecting the mostly normative, mostly liberal-to-conservative political orientation of the vast majority of its participants – is woefully legalistic. The horizon for most folks on the movement's activist fringe is to make nudity legal (which is the name of a subreddit). And that's just something I don't give a fuck about, personally.

Like the illegalists of old, I kind of want immediate results, for myself and my crew only if necessary. I'm not interested in waiting for society to change, because I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime. I'm even less interested in waiting for the institutions to change, since they are quite likely to lag behind society as a whole. I'd prefer a more direct approach, and one which thinks less to optics, public opinion, and so on. I tend to think that those who do worry about those things, from the perspective of advancing the case for social nudity to the public at large, are a bit deluded about things, too.

There is no programmatic way to translate anarchist illegalism, as it has usually been conceived, into a methodology of nudism. Bank robberies and getting naked are different things. That said, at some point, things just need to be done, regardless of what the law says or what polite people will think. I think most “practicing nudists” probably understand this on some level, too.

It should be acknowledged, straight up, that most anarchists' experiences with communal showers – that is, with facilities that may be used by multiple people at the same time, without stalls – would be in the context of schools, prisons, or perhaps even in a barracks, if they had the misfortune to live in a country with military conscription or the even worse misfortune of joining the armed forces voluntarily before they knew any better. Not good experiences, in other words.

I wasn't very well prepared for communal showers in high school, i.e. the only institution in which I was regularly expected and able to use such facilities. My understanding is that, in other countries, there is (typically gender-segregated) use of communal showers in schools from a very early age, starting around 6 or 7. I'm not completely certain about it, but this seems like a pretty good idea to me, at least compared to what seems prevalent in North America. Communal showers at an early age would mean people who had long ago been exposed to the fleshy unremarkability of others' naked bodies.

To have this happen well before puberty, especially, seems like a key thing to me. Puberty is when many young people (quite understandably) get very confused and stressed about their bodies. Yet, in North American society at least, this is precisely the same time when people are most likely to first encounter the prerogative that they shower after gym class.

A theory of how this happened:

Up to a certain age (which probably varies from person to person), kids need to be supervised in any sort of wet and slippery context – and particularly an unfamiliar one, or a public place, or a context in which there are lots of kids and they are hyping each other up and liable to go buck wild. I had such one experience of this, in the second grade, when we went on a school field trip to the aquatic centre. Before high school, the locker room at this aquatic centre was my only experience in a shared space with naked men and boys. There were adults, strangers, who were showering naked in another part of the space, well within view of our position at the benches. I remember I was very puzzled when my fellow schoolmates (all boys, of course) started talking their clothes off, including underwear. The good Christian that I was, I shoved myself inside of a locker and changed from my underwear to my shorts in there.

Again, we were kids, and we were overseen by a teacher, as we should have been. Like, I literally locked myself in a locker. I forget his name, but I recall that he asked me if I was doing okay.

Alas, there is something about this that – in a different sort of telling of the story – could come off as creepy. It probably wouldn't be too off-putting for people if I was speaking about a mom overseeing two very small, very naked kids in a bathtub. But the idea of it hits different when the adult is a man, as the kids get bigger, and so on. No need to get into why.

By about puberty age, kids are presumed mature enough to not get themselves slip hard on the floor, eat shit, and start up the waterworks, in that order. Puberty is also when they start to smell kinda bad if they don't shower (according to society!). And thus, showering is enforced – first by gym teachers, but in anticipation of these kids' bright futures following the orders of coaches, officers, wardens, or social workers.

The collision of

  1. puberty (an eldritch biological nightmare),
  2. nudity (for most North Americans and many others around the world, a mystery and probably conflated with sex, which is a mystery unto itself), and
  3. the larger context of a carceral institution and all of its endemic cruelty (which is precisely what a school is)

can fuck people up, producing lasting anxiety.

In my city, and I think most places in North America at least, most households now have a single-person bathtub/shower in a private bathroom. People shower alone, with the presumption of complete privacy. North America has a completely atomized culture of hygiene, in fact. Hygiene is each person's individual responsibility. It is up to each person to remember and find time to take a shower, which we know is actually difficult for a lot of people a lot of the time (see: depression!). There is neither shared routine nor shared practice around which a family – be it of kin or queers – or a community can coalesce. There isn't even a possibility of developing such routines and practices, because apart from carceral institutions that prioritize efficiency and low costs, there are very few accessible communal bathing spaces left. Those that exist, too, are usually gender-segregated and/or explicitly sexualized, if they even exist at all in a given region.

Things could be, and should be, different. First of all, a shower in every home is inefficient, unecological, and until recently not the reality at all. A wholly collective way of life probably isn't for everyone, but neither is a wholly autarkic existence a possibility for everyone, insofar as that existence ought to include all aspects of a well-lived life. Communal bathing facilities could be, and have been, a means to provide masses of people the possibility of a certain degree of hygiene and comfort without every person needing to construct and maintain their own facilities (or more realistically, pay a landlord to have access to an apartment with adequately functional facilities). This was the case in my own city until well into the 1960s, if not significantly later.

It's fucked that, in North America today, communal showers are almost wholly associated with institutions that control the subjects that pass through them – because they could be, and have been, freely entered into, according to a person's own will (though probably in exchange for a bit of currency, in the context of most present-day and historic urban societies). The quality of dedicated facilities such as these ought to easily match, if not exceed, the facilities of most affordable apartments. Were communal baths clean enough, close enough, and affordable enough, I think a lot of North Americans would use them!

Architecture, and the layout and organization of space in general, does a lot to determine sociality. I know some friends who have built houses on land they've managed to gain title to. It's unfortunate, I think, that their houses don't look that different, very often, from houses that anarchists didn't construct. There is no innovation beyond what is already acceptable in society at large. The most boring people alive are also living in houses where the kitchen and the living room are in the same open space.

The following is just an idea:

If you ever the chance to build your own house with a bunch of people you trust that you'll be able to live with, you should consider building a dedicated shower room that is designed to be able to accommodate more than one person at a time, probably quite adjacent to but separate from any toilets – I think some kind of intervening room or hall is probably a good idea. It does not need to be fancy; it just needs to be well-constructed (because otherwise it would probably be a nightmare – all that plumbing!).

Perhaps, in most cases, the prospective number of residents won't justify communal showers (I would guesstimate the sweet spot is around ten residents) – and obviously, in many cases, the residents in question will carry all the baggage of growing up in North America, even if they are anarchists. So perhaps they don't really care that much about nudism... at least not right now.

But, to the extent that people can recognize that there is a problem in a completely individuated practice of hygiene (see: this entire post!), it should also be recognized that the reproduction of the problem is principally the fault of architecture. Almost all residential units are built with an individuated idea of hygiene in mind, and thus it's hard to do anything different. It's possible, too, that these residential units will outlive the people who built them, and that new occupants will have different ideas about nudity then the people who built the place.

Communal showers can be used privately, of course. The shower in my current apartment, on the other hand, cannot really safely accommodate more than one person, even if I've occasionally had a shower with a friend. So, even if myself and my roommates wanted to do things differently, the way this place was constructed decades ago determines that we probably can't – not without going full HGTV on the bathroom, at least.

The representation of nudity is much less interesting than, like, actual nudity.

This doesn't mean there is nothing to talk about with respect to representation in, say, Hollywood movies. I won't pretend I don't ever indulge, and I suppose it annoys me to see problematic representation of any kind, particularly if the movie was produced in an era when I suppose I expected better. Obviously this applies to lots of things, including subjects well-covered elsewhere: racism, misogyny, transphobia, and so on. But sometimes, the depictions are not so much morally egregious as they are gratingly unrealistic. Why did the grandmother in Krampus (2015) speak German for most of the movie, narrate her backstory to the other characters in perfect English (to the surprise of some), and then go back to communicating in a German that some characters wouldn't understand? Why, in シン・ゴジラ (2016), did Satomi Ishihara's character – the daughter of a white American senator and an employee of the CIA – speak English with a thick Japanese accent?

I am a bit of a language nerd, so obviously this sort of thing distracts me. I get the sense that lots of scientists also get a bit bothered by things they happen to know a great deal about, which may not matter to the story but which distract them and challenge the suspension of their disbelief.

In any case, on to nudity.

Here's a proposal, then: when a character is naked – when nudity is a condition that a character is experiencing – it would be better to have a matter-of-fact cinematography that neither focuses on this fact nor hides, rather than the weird and principally distracting dance that keeps various “private parts” hidden behind foreground objects. I don't want to be too categorical, of course, because the dance often has a bit of artistry to it. But it is a strange exigency.

It is frustrating, too, when characters aren't naked even though ought to be. The word “ought” is a bit loaded, to be sure, but let me give an example. In the novel Life of Pi (2001), the main character's clothes quickly rot away in the sun and the salt; he spends the majority of his life on the Pacific Ocean naked. In the 2012 film, however, he keeps some kind of loincloth throughout his journey. This is hardly the greatest failing of that movie, but logistically it seems like it should have been easier to address than many others; the only thing necessary was an actor willing to do the movie naked. It would have truer to the novel, too, and to the reality of what would actually happen in that situation.

Problems of representation keep me from getting immersed in the stories. The biases and actions of the producers of the film come to the fore, and not what is happening in the world, with the characters. The fakery of it all is glaringly apparent.

I'm not interested in better representation. But I also don't mind better representation, when it happens – and I would even daresay that I could have benefited from various kinds of better representation when I was growing up, given that TV and movies were a significant part of my upbringing. But the important thing is to always go beyond representation, and not get sucked into the trap of trying to fight a culture war from a weaker position.

To the extent that a counterculture is able to form, with its own resources, its own prerogatives, and its own capacity to ignore or defy various kinds of externally imposed laws and regulations, perhaps it will produce some art that is better by various metrics. But this part comes second, I think, both in the sequence of events and the ranking of priorities.

Nudism isn't my primary intellectual interest. Far from it. And honestly, I don't always know how much there is that I have to say about it.

The basic principle of it is pretty straightforward, right? And for the person who doesn't really have any familiarity with nudism, that either sparks something in the imagination – feels like the right thing, perhaps – or it doesn't.

I'm an anarchist, which is to say, I have been an anarchist for some time – since I was a teenager, actually. That's when I met anarchists, started reading texts by other anarchists, and soon enough started circulating in a private world created by anarchists, the much-maligned “anarchist ghetto”. And it was important and interesting and challenging in a hundred different ways that I have often found extremely challenging to articulate to a person who has no experience of this secret world, how things are done there, the reasons why things are done the way they are, and so on. So it must be with other secret worlds.

I have no experience of the secret (or more accurately, private) world that at least some adherents of naturist ideology have constructed for themselves. I imagine I could be comfortable enough in at least some corners of that world – and maybe someday I'll get to visit a landed club and develop an opinion based on some level of real experience, not just what I watch in a short documentary or a series of posts on Reddit. But, to the extent that it appears to be white, straight, bourgeois, too polite, too domestic, and too focused on lazy comfort, I'm inclined to think that it's probably not my thing.

Which isn't to say I'm not into lazy comfort, because I want more of that, and a better quality of both the laziness and the comfort too. But I'm not wholly about it. I like to do things. I like to be challenged. I can handle a bit of hardship, and I might even seek it out.

I just don't necessarily want to deal with hardship while wearing all the clothes I would normally have to. And who knows, maybe not wearing any of the clothes.

Doing the dishes. Taking garbage to the curb. Wheatpasting posters for some stupid cause I apparently believe in. Whatever. If I have to do it, I'd like to do it in as comfortable and enjoyable a fashion as I can.

Problems extant in society at large have always existed in the anarchist ghetto too. To the extent that they remain serious problems in the social classes from which the anarchists come, it's impossible to get rid of them entirely. But usually, once anarchists have identified a problem, there tends to be some discussion of it in the ghetto, and then some awareness of it too, that may not be so prevalent in outside society. As a collectivity, we do pretty okay, once we are aware of a problem.

I contend that the predominant culture of clothes-wearing, which is compulsory and obsessive, is a problem. And, while there are some people discussing it, they are almost all politically irrelevant – even more so than a lot of anarchists! I am also entirely unaware of any anarchists after Émile Armand who have made a point of talking about clothes-wearing and nudism, and no one exploring these subjects whose insights anarchists are seeking out today.

So I guess it's up to me to talk about this stuff.

I think I'm a pretty well-rounded person. I also think it's alright, and even a little funny, if people end up thinking of me as “the nudity guy” or whatever. To the extent that I am personally affected by this issue, I suppose I am motivated as well.

But I don't want to be the only doing it. Not forever, at least.

Hopefully I hear from some of you folks at some point. I know you're out there. My social account (on Hometown/Mastodon) is AT somenudist AT – drop me a line!

Gay liberation, in the early days of that phraseology (i.e. the 1970s), wasn't so much about liberating a particular class of people from structural oppression (although it was partially that) as it was about liberating a suppressed part of potentially all people, specifically a particular class of potential or actual desire, which I would broadly label as “for” or “towards” gender nonconformity (including the very nonconformist act of gay sex).

The “homosexual” may have already been made a species as early as the end of the 19th century, as Foucault put it, but the early Gay Liberation Front and its fellow travelers didn't affirm such speciation. This may seem a bit strange today, now that there is so much discursive emphasis on the boundaries and sanctity of different identity categories, each of them purported to pertain to a distinctive and internally uniform set of circumstances and experiences. There are, after all, various lists that seek to identify and affirm “every gender” – some of which are jokes, certainly, but I don't think that's how it is in every case! The speciation of every possible difference run amok, yet without quite affirming a Stirnerian Unique.

But I digress.

There are a lot of conspicuously nudist people on the internet, by which I mean who are seemingly struck by an acute or pronounced desire to be naked. They (want to) feel comfortable being naked in more situations than would be broadly considered “normal” by the other people in their lives or adjacent to them. And I notice how a lot of the way that people on the r/nudism and r/naturism subreddits, on, and elsewhere on the naturist internet self-describe is evocative of the most tropes of LGBT anonymous and internet-side inquiry. For instance, I think I might be a nudist but how do I really know? and Should I come out about my nudism to my family and friends?

There is at least some parallel between the experience of this especially nudism-oriented archetype of a person – who has a strong enough, sharp enough desire to be naked a lot of the time (or most of the time) that it's not possible to just put it to the side – and the experience of other people with other sorts of conspicuous, purportedly unusual desires. And, to the extent that this nudist desire shapes how a person would want to build a life with others, there is real good reason to let friends, partners, and other intimates know. To come out to them about it, as it were.

Unfortunately, this kind of discourse tends to affirm an essential difference between nudists (or naturists), on the one hand, and “textilists” on the other. Whether categorized by an essence (i.e. there are those with the desire, and those without) or shared coordinates of collision with larger social forces (i.e. “NUDISTS ARE OPPRESSED”), this is a speciating discourse yet again. It emphasizes the differences between two groups, puts whatever reproduces that difference over time in the very centre of the analysis, and ignores a variety of commonalities and even shared interests that many people, both nudists and not, might have in common.

I won't go so far as to say fuck identity politics (because the term is used in far too many contexts, and applied to far too large of a discursive space, for that to be a meaningful statement of any kind), but definitely fuck nudist identity politics. It's no kind of path to walk on.

I don't think there's anything surprising about the fact that a subculture organized around social nudity would attract those who – as a result of whatever combination of weird psychological nature and/or nurture sorts of reasons – strongly prefer nudity in many situations if not all the fucking time. To the extent that that is an actually important thing for some people, it makes sense for such folks to “come together” (possibly just online cuz we live in a digital hellworld). Like any misunderstood, mostly socially invisible, and legally oppressed (yes, I said it) group, it makes sense, too, that a sort of collective identity (that of “the proud nudist” or “the proud naturist”) might emerge from that. With this pride may come its corollary: a broadly felt sentiment of unfair treatment by society.

The right-wing nationalism of the Trump electoral coalition is a form of identity politics. I'm an anarchist, so I oppose that sort of thing, obviously. I have heard off-hand that there were lots of Trump signs up in Floridian nudist country this last year, and that doesn't surprise me. Floridian nudists are white, well-off, and (obviously enough, when you think about it) suburban. In other words, Trump voters, much of the time at least.

It's important to understand what makes right-wing (and some left-wing) identity politics appealing. Whether based on real history or modern myth, linked histories of oppression or common interests, it's easy enough to get people aligned on a simple narrative of collectively experienced grievance. I'd even say it sort of happens on its own, without anyone needing to poke it along, as a result of a confluence of factors – but, of course, many people do guide it along actively, as much as they can, perhaps for their own ends or perhaps they really just believe that much in nationalism.

Anyway, I don't want to do identity politics with respect to nudism, and I don't think other conspicuously nudist people like myself should go in for this sort of thing, either. This doesn't mean that there should never be any discussion of unfair things that nudists may be going through, especially in the context of writing on nudism-related issues – but no one but we, the conspicuously nudist minority, cares much about these things. Too much focus on every detail and texture of our unfortunate plight won't do us, or anyone else, any good.

Much better that we try and make something cool enough that even people who aren't personally that into the theme are still into the vibe; that we focus on liberating desire, both extant and immanent, in all people (not just an enlightened elite!) to get naked whenever that would feel good or make things easier; that we strive for freedom in other respects beyond the limited scope of (lol) “the nudist struggle”.

In other words, to not just ape the discourse of the queer and/or LGBT movements of the past fifty years, but to try instead to evoke the transformative and desire-oriented spirit of the Stonewall rebellion and the Gay Liberation Front it gave birth to.

CW: mostly oblique allusions to things gross, bad, and heavy (no details)

I'm not really sure there's a taboo around nudity specifically. It is illegal or criminalized to be naked in many contexts, certainly, but people still do it – when they think they can get away with it – and, more importantly, they still talk about it and depict it in art without too much hesitation or censorship. I suppose this must vary from place to place and time to time, but I am talking about my own experience in North America.

I think being naked corresponds to vulnerability as well, and that makes people uncomfortable. To the extent that people have feelings about their bodies, that can be as much of an issue as the fact that nudity renders them more physically vulnerable.

Those feelings about being vulnerable, however, are taboo – at least in many men's spaces, but again, this is what I can talk about. Men don't talk about their feelings, and many men subscribe to the idea men should not talk about their feelings. This is a terrible idea for many reasons, but it is widespread.

It is accurate to say then, I think, that talking about nudity and/or nudism means having a conversation that is likely to shoulder up against some taboo subjects – which is to say, subjects that people don't have a lot of experience talking about, that people might feel are dangerous to talk about in one way or another (i.e. will people think I am actually inappropriately and/or perversely interested in some of these things just because I'm willing to talk about them?), that they might feel are better not discussed, and which certainly will make different people feel differing degrees of discomfort.

I think the most relevant taboo subjects are as follows:

  • piss, shit, and other bodily fluids (because people have concerns about hygiene)
  • mental health and feelings (because some people may have strong, not necessarily “rational” emotional reactions to seeing naked people, or to being seen naked by others)
  • naked kids and teenagers in various settings (because people are deeply worried about both abuse and about being pegged by others as abusers)

These topics, of course, are taboo in themselves – and that's a problem. There needs to be more serious discussion, and consideration, of the real social problems that attend to each of the aforementioned subjects. Otherwise, those problems are going to fester longer and with a greater amplitude of suffering and discomfort than they might otherwise have to.

I personally don't want to shy away from any of these topics, to the extent that it would be worthwhile to discuss them within the ambit of my writing on nudism. I think, too, that people would be a lot better off if there was more frankness about all sorts of things. More confident, maybe, and less guarded. Maybe fewer people would get hurt, or not get hurt so bad, and those who did get hurt could maybe heal a bit better.

In any case, it seems that – whatever their subculture's faults might be – the naturists have kind of figured this stuff out. They are obviously quite frank about their bodies, and perhaps that prepares them to be frank with respect to other subjects. First of all, there is the basic rule of etiquette, which is to carry a towel with you everywhere and never sit your bare ass on a pillow cushion where someone else's ass might go. Butt germs are a known factor.

All the landed clubs and formal associations also have zero tolerance policies regarding anything even approaching creepy behaviour as far as kids are concerned.

I'm sure that's because some people actually had conversations about these things, maturely, and heard what people were saying. Then they made some decisions. It should be possible for anarchists to do the same, about anything to do with clothes or nudity, or anything else entirely.

Wholly political revolutions aren't very interesting. If anything, they're trash. There's nothing particularly admirable, or even that exciting, about the seizure of some institution or another by a different faction – unless, perhaps, you happen to consider yourself a part of that same faction (never mind that you may prefer to think of it as a “coalition”).

Cultural revolutions, on the other hand, are interesting – and consequential. (And please note, I don't mean the Cultural Revolution in China, which I would prefer to call by its full name in Chinese historiography anyway, i.e. “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”.)

All of the worthwhile revolutions, i.e. the ones that anarchists admire, had a cultural component to them. The most common element, as far as I can tell, has always been to demolish patriarchal, misogynistic norms that prevail in society. But at their best, a spirit of questioning takes hold with respect to all sorts of matters, the how and why of all of it, with a mind to doing things better, more joyfully, with more generosity – and it is usually in practical experiments of the kind that the enemies of revolution usually identify the greatest excesses of the revolutionary camp. This is where reactionaries mine the material for their arguments that the revolutionaries are disgusting, perverse, evil, crazy, or some combination of all of those things.

Thus a niche forms within any revolutionary camp, that of the conservative revolutionist, a pragmatic-minded naysayer who argues that cultural revolution can come later; that the exigencies of the political revolution are paramount; that a certain degree of accommodation to popular prejudices is necessary. Such a person, it should be said, usually has a point – but they also tend to betray the present for a wholly hypothetical future, often in accordance to their own unhealthy desires to control everything. It is worth saying, too, that it would be easy enough for a person who simply opposes a given thing to be dishonest about that fact (because it avoids anyone challenging them on their ideas) and couch their opposition as some kind of strategic concern.

My understanding is that, although the political side ended up quite tragic for anarchists, the Russian Revolution that began in 1917 had some interesting cultural components to it. The tsarist legal code was thrown out in its entirety, and thus a lot of things that had been criminal before – most famously homosexuality – ended up legal and remained so for some time. Articles were published in newspapers that questioned the institution of marriage, which prompted open debate on these subjects. I am sure there are many other interesting examples I could cite if I knew this history better, but I do know that, in the earliest years of the new regime, a movement mostly composed of women rode public transit with nothing but a red sash over their shoulders; their collectively upheld slogan was “Down with Shame”. During international nudist conferences in the 1920s, the Soviet delegations usually hugely outnumbered those from any other country, which implies at least some degree of real enthusiasm for social nudity in the Soviet territory.

By the time Stalin came to power in the late 1920s, the Bolshevik dictatorship was already well-established (i.e. anarchists, and others, had lost the political revolution a while ago), but there had still been an atmosphere of cultural experimentation. Stalin put an end to this quickly. He reaffirmed many “traditional” institutions, from the Russian language to marriage to fatherhood. I imagine nudism also suffered for this.

I'm a political history geek. I am interested in uprisings, demonstrations, and other events like that. As a result, I sometimes worry that I don't think enough about more modest projects of mutual aid, talking about how to do relationships differently, and so on, which I especially associate with “quiet” anarchist scenes – the places where there are a few chill anarchists are living, and doing some cool and nice and homey little projects, but where “things” (rowdy demos, direct actions, etc.) don't happen as much.

But focusing on the political game, without imagining how things could be different or trying to make things different and more joyous in our own lives, is a grave mistake. The good life is important.

It's winter here and my house is cold. Me and the people I live with don't keep the common room warmer than 17 degrees Celsius. So I'm wearing clothes. Readers will not be surprised that I usually sleep naked; that's just my usual habit, from since I was a teenager. At night in winter, however, I have started getting into a new habit the last few years, with at least some success – namely, to wear pyjamas, at least on cold winter nights like this one.

Shedding my clothes as rapidly as possible and tucking in is pretty nice, but pyjamas are actually great too. I hadn't worn them since I was a kid.

Lots of nudists in colder climate zones either move to warmer places, or they winter in their secondary homes in those places, or they just crank the heat to a point that they can tolerate being naked in their own homes despite the subzero temperatures outside. But some nudists just don't do any of that. Or necessarily even want to do any of that, especially if it contradicts other parts of their life.

I won't necessarily live here forever, but I've spent my whole life thus far in (more or less) this part of the world. If your life involves ever stepping foot outside for more than five minutes, clothes are necessary for survival here, at least for a part of the year. Also, ensconced in civilization though I may be, I'm not interested in anything that divorces me even further from the environment that I live in, demands an even greater deployment of energy in order to make my way of life possible, etc.

That's why I'm not usually naked in winter – and I don't even really mind. I live simpler than that. I don't want to spend more money on the heat I'd need to feel comfortable in my house naked, because I think I'd rather spend those dollars on something else. I don't want to grow accustomed to such heat, either, because it may not always be available, even if it is now. (You know, if a civil war breaks out or something.) In any case, I am able to feel perfectly comfortable – cozy, even – in pyjamas and blankets.

Anyway, I will probably write most of these blog posts fully clothed, until March at the earliest. Kinda funny.

As a rule, I'm not particularly interested in any intellectual exercise that starts from first principles. That seems like a good way to head straight towards dogma that's quite divorced from the complexity of life.

Nevertheless, for this project, it seems appropriate. If nothing else, it gives the project some scaffolding. I like to think that, some time hence, I will think differently about at least a little bit of the following.

In any case, here are my basic assumptions.

  1. It is more comfortable, for at least some people some of the time, to be relatively naked versus relatively clothed.

  2. Comfort is a good thing, even if discomfort is not necessarily always a bad thing.

  3. Although a more complex breakdown is possible, we can speak for now of two kinds of (dis)comfort, which may be experienced simultaneously: physical (dis)comfort and psychological (dis)comfort.

  4. For many people, the physical comfort of being relatively naked – that is, in a condition of nudity – in a given situation is off-set by the psychological discomfort that is attendant to the same condition and situation.

  5. People are more likely to feel more comfortable naked in a given situation if they have had experience being naked in a similar class of situations (i.e. in a private bathroom, in a public locker room, on a nude beach, in the common space of a collective household with frequent guests, etc.).

  6. Social norms, usually enforced at the household level, usually serve to discourage nudity, especially full nudity, in all but a limited set of quotidian, non-private, non-sexual situations, usually pertaining to swimming/bathing (though in the most puritan settings, even this limited set of situations is absent, with swimming/bathing either a wholly private activity or otherwise requiring some kind of clothing).

  7. Various practical problems arise when, in certain situations, people are not willing to get relatively naked, fail to consider that that is an option, or cannot tolerate sharing space with other naked people.

  8. It would be to the good if there was a general expansion (not necessarily an immediate and/or comprehensively total expansion) of the option to be naked in various social settings.

  9. A general expansion of the option to be naked would require some kind of reasonably effective political/cultural movement to champion it, and the modern naturist movement (henceforth “naturism”) is not up to this task.

  10. To the extent that anarchists have an interest in individual liberation, they should be interested in the ideal of “body freedom” and, as a consequence, a general expansion of the option of nudity – even if most anarchists will more highly prioritize many other concerns first.

  11. Although naturism is politically and culturally moribund, most people and collectivities could learn from it with respect to best practices around quotidian, non-private, non-sexual nudity (henceforth “social nudity”).

And I guess that's it for now. My final comment is that I sort of see this project as largely one of translation. I want to make anarchist critique and ethos accessible to adherents of naturism, and I want to bring certain concerns – which, in my own life, have usually felt “bracketed” from other parts of my engagements with social movements, philosophical discussions, etc. – into a place of some prominence within the broad conversations that anarchists are having with one another.