nudism as an illegalism

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, 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, though. 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. Those 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) 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. But, 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 were people were mostly tourists who were ignorant of, or in any case had no respect for, naturist 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 activity is shitty (lol), and mayve even shamed a bit – but it's not the real issue and it wasn't 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 and/or passively grinding away at the moral fabric of Christian 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. It sucks, but I don't think there's a whole lot to do about it, at least in a theory that's divorced from an actual on-the-ground situation. 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 thing to bring up. For this reason, I don't think it behooves us to go too far in trying to prove just how how hygienic we really are; I worry about cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness puritanism and its effects, namely insofar as it divorces from us further from our environment (recreating a sort of “suburban ideal” of 1950s America) and from our own animality. 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 thing that needs to be said is that, logically, nudism makes hygiene easier. Another thing to say is that, in practice, most nudists are probably already cleaner than most 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 would both be helpful. They could be complementary efforts as well.

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 our 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 household that it is okay (not good or desirable, but okay) to use these facilities at the same time.

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).

Many people, even in North America, 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 usually happens in the context of nuclear families. Parents are okay seeing 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 about these things are likely to challenge or destabilize this situation at some point), perhaps it ends at some point. (From what I can tell, it seems as though things change as a result of teens and preteens being affected by wider society's ideas about these things, e.g. “that's weird”, and then asserting new boundaries.)

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 just did in the middle of conversation. The world didn't end, nor has it ever done so when I have done the same.. 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, actively attacking the regime of an always closed door on the bathroom 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 food poisoning.

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 the lot 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 blogs 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).

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 (certain genres of) pornography. Pictures of nudists living their lives run afoul of these laws in many jurisdictions, and even where they are legal, the 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 satisfy a larger, more important, and more conservative user base than, say, representatives of the naturist subculture and/or whatever assortment of libertines and weirdos. 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 – as opposed to the bigger companies who, at least, offer a relatively straightforward process for governments to make demands for various kinds of information.

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.

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 and what kinds of sex they are attracted to. Accounts that post on r/nudism, r/naturism, and other such subreddits also post on subreddits dedicated to various genres of porn and discussions about kink. As far as I've seen, most Tumblr blogs (now long defunct) with “nudism” or “nudist” in the description focus entirely on photos of mostly skinny naked cis men or photos of mostly skinny naked cis women, presumably because one group or the other strikes 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 a 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 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 in the wrong context.

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 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 created a particularly conservative environment with respect to sexuality.

They 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. They're a pest, no doubt, and I can understand the temptation to employ pesticide.

I hardly think that easygoing attitudes would get rid of creeps – and in fact, I imagine that a rapid and comprehensive embrace of easygoing attitudes might even encourage a few of them (which, alas, might provoke a reaction). But the point, for me, isn't to reform established naturist spaces anyway. I want to create new spaces, for people like me or like people I hang out with.

I would love it if these spaces emerged from 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 the 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 together – 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 regarding an aggregate mass idea of complicated human realities.

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”.

(Here is the previous post, which was more about movies.)

I don't think that I'll ever spruce this page up with any pictures (apart from Luigi on a dirtbike). It might be nice, on some level, to have a unique, aesthetic photo – of a naked person, or naked people, I guess? – at the beginning of each post. But, I think it'd be worse than this pared-down, minimalist, black-text-on-a-white-background look (now sporting a few green accents, thanks to the chi.st admin! I never woulda done it without you).

I am not a photographer. Thus, if I put photos on my blog, they will probably be photos I took from the internet. I won't be paying anyone for these photos, obviously, but that's not really even the problem. A more alarming issue, for me, is that I will be at pains to find photos of nudists of colour. I will thus perpetuate the idea that nudism is the exclusive domain of white people.

The representational naturist internet – that is, the part of the naturist internet that is composed of photographs, cartoons, and other visual depictions of nudists – is full of white people. It's clear enough, too, that the institutional naturist movement exists almost exclusively in Europe and in eurosettler countries like Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Cursory internet research on nudism in South Africa, and even in Thailand, still turns up evidence of a majority white crowd involved in the formal associations in those countries. It is clear enough, too, that there is no open naturist movement in many countries, many of which happen to be majority non-white. Insofar as naturism is legalistic, and insofar as many of these countries' laws and jurisprudence can be assumed to be more comprehensively opposed to nudity in all circumstances than, say, even the United Kingdom (where nudity, in itself, is not illegal), I suppose this makes a certain amount of sense.

But it doesn't explain it fully. The visual representation of nudism on the naturist internet is overwhelmingly white, far beyond the demographics of the majority white societies – and like, I already mentioned South Africa, which is not a majority white society by a long shot. I have never been involved in any part of the naturist subculture (unless my forays onto certain websites counts), but it's clear enough, even from a distance, that there is a racism problem going on that has an effect of excluding many people of colour.

As it is with lots of other subcultures, too.

In anarchist visual media, representation is also a knotty problem. I think that “the anarchist space” is a lot more racially diverse than “the naturist space”, whether at the scale of the whole world or the scale of many local scenes, including my own. Nevertheless, there is still a perception (which is certainly true of many local scenes, and definitely including my own) that the anarchist space is majority white. Thus, there is a question: how should we represent ourselves in art?

I will provide a concrete example. Let's say someone wants to make a poster for an upcoming mobilization that – in the hopes of the artist and their collaborators – will manifest itself in a confrontation with the normal functioning of capitalism (i.e. a riot, a blockade, an occupation, etc.). The goal of the poster is to depict a group of people engaged in this sort of radical action, i.e. doing crimes.

So, what does the crowd look like?

This question is linked to other questions. One that is likely to come up, at one point or another, is about the racial identity of the artist. If they are a white person, is it okay for that person to depict people of colour engaged in crimes? Regardless of whether the artist, specifically, is white or not – or anyone else involved in the organizing – is it okay to imply that more people of colour are involved in local anarchist stuff than is actually the case?

These questions are fraught (like, bashing-head-against-the-wall fraught, in my opinion), and they have the potential to distract from the purpose of the poster itself, which is to publicize the fact that a mobilization is going to take place on a given date.

One work-around, I have noticed, is to elide the issue of race by depicting animals doing crimes instead. Squirrels occupying buildings, cats throwing billiard balls through windows, caribou going ham on pipelines, furries doing basically anything...

But that's not an option for me, in this case. First of all, I'm no illustrator either. Second of all, insofar as it's a non-issue to depict animals naked, it sort of seems contrary to my purposes anyway.

For confrontational mobilizations, it's also possible to use abstract depictions of people, but those don't work for me either. It's possible to just depict the carnage, and avoid depictions of people entirely. Once again, not relevant for me. I think just having no pictures serves me best.

Incidentally, no matter what I think about copyright or whatever (I'm against it!), I wouldn't really want to post a bunch of randomly obtained pictures of naked people on my blog with neither attribution nor compensation anyway. I also just kind of hate pictures of random naked strangers (of which I have seen plenty in my efforts to plumb the naturist internet for something worthwhile or promising). There are exceptions (like this), but I consider a picture of a (probably white) person standing in their own living room naked, or a naturist couple taking a shower together at some sort of resort or landed club, completely unremarkable. It's like a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. It's been done to death. It's not interesting.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: more nudity, and fewer representations of nudity, please and thanks.

CW: direct mention of heavy stuff related to sex (no details)

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 by which I mean to refer to the sum of their ideas about sexuality, which are often received ideas (that is, dogma or ideology), at least in part.

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!

Instead, I'm more talking about how anarchists talk about nudity (and nudism), whenever the conversation has come up.

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 in with a preconceived 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 a nude or a 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 positions 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 all of them think that, broadly speaking (which is to say, in public settings), nudism is not cool.

Maybe seeing naked people isn't what The People want (which I think is a pretty boring position); or it's not what I, an individualist anarchist, want to be seeing (an even worse take, held exclusively by a certain kind of insurrecto bro in my experience, and based purely on a rather conservative aesthetics); or there is the most heavy-handed argument of them all, which I will address for the rest of this post, namely 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 probably an imperfect text (although I remember liking it a lot), 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 (specifically in the U.S.) because of its broad utility with respect to understanding, and addressing, the many thorny issues around sex, rape, abuse, trauma, 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, the consent framework doesn't have much place whatsoever. If everyone involved in a “project” – even an ad hoc and very politically heterogenous one like, for example, 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 are into), then certain things simply will not happen as a result of any number of liberal or naïve positions that even a single person involved with that project may hold. That's a problem, because the anti-social stuff (which is to say, the gnarlier, more dangerous stuff that gets denounced as anti-social) is typically where a collectivity with demands and/or ambitions gets its power.

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 in order to, perhaps, change reality. 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 of 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 – and unlike most things in naturism, I think it's worth importing into anarchism. It's certainly not a complicated idea to understand, whatever a person may think of it. I'd argue that nudity ≠ sex is better understood as an hypothesis than a truth, but it is a pretty solid hypothesis. The precise delimitations of “sex” are in question (and probably always will be), but nudity-qua-nudity is neither identical to the category of sex nor wholly encompassed by it.

Despite this, 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, its answer known. 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 stop people getting naked (more appropriate for a religious conservative than a queer feminist or fellow traveler), it simply doesn't make sense. It won't stop abuse. Stopping abuse is what the consent framework does (imperfectly, but provably) when applied to sex that is actually sex. With respect to nudity, however, the consent framework just creates misery, neurosis, and confusion.

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: urban wastelands where cops usually don't go; anarchist gatherings in the woods; inside of 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 sometimes) than I expect they would be about anyone taking all their clothes off, even though secondhand smoke is materially aggravating to literally anyone with lungs.

Some people may not mind a little cigarette smoke, of course, but that's hardly my point. It is definitely bothersome to some people, and harmful to all people, even the ones who don't care.

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 space with smokers lighting up and not asking the people near them whether that would be bothersome or not, we (as anarchists or whatever) can – and maybe should! – talk about fixing that problem. I'm not saying that I personally want to have that conversation, necessarily, but I think we could talk about it and it should be fine to do so. But, I also don't think it would ever be useful to escalate that conversation by bringing in a consent framework, with all of its threat of consent violated, consent transgressed. That shouldn't be necessary for dealing with whatever the issue might be with smoking.

On the contrary, I think bring the consent framework into this framework would serve as a pretty sneaky way of trying to introduce governance into a space that might otherwise be characterized by ecstatic interplay between affinity and conflict. In other words, people hanging out because they like hanging out, and also people deciding they won't hang out because they don't really want to fuck with each other. Voluntary association, and maybe a bit of conflict, but hopefully without abuse or violence. Which is what I guess I would prefer, and what I also tend to think is the best thing we can hope for. I'm not a utopian.

So, 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, and probably never will.

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, right? I wonder how many people 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.