Affect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An aside: I thought, at first, that I would write about Christian naturism. To be sure, there are lots of Christian naturists, and seemingly much more in North America than, say, in Europe – but that makes sense given that there are so many more true-believing and church-attending Christians in North America. I only really want to make two generalizations about these Christian naturists. First, they do not understand anything in their religion to be in contradiction with a practice of nudism – and, in a number of cases, they may in fact believe that the Bible exhorts them to take off their clothes. Second, they are mostly also participants in, or orientated towards, something that's worth calling family nudism/naturism; I am sure there are a few Christian naturists who are doing something more hedonistic and sexual, and calling it “naturism”, but they aren't a particularly visible tendency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But like, I'm hard to satisfy.

So, why have I itemized these three currents? Well, it seems to me that these are the currents that most people, whoever they are, might be able to come across if they ever went looking for “nudism” or “naturism” on the internet. There is something gay for them to join: very large groups on TrueNudists.com, the relatively active (and selfie-focused) r/gayplusnudists, etc., which may arguably be kinda horny but it's all relatively tame and par for the course as far as gay dudes go. There is also something family-friendly for them to join, i.e. r/nudism, most formal associations (which have a website, and which may have a physical presence in a given area). With youth nudism, it's more hit and miss. There are a few subreddits (which I won't link to) that are for teenagers or whatever, but there's generally less to find that's still active, that is able to sustain its own consistent pattern of engagement, new content, and so on (in many cases, as a clear complement to a largely willpower-driven project of making things happen in a particular place, which again, has mostly meant Florida as far as I can tell).

What a wasteland this digital landscape is.

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

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

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

Speaking for myself, to the extent that I am gay and sometimes also horny, I have appreciated the gay naturist internet for providing me some, y'know, slightly classier material to concentrate my mind upon (when I'm in the mood for something that elevated), but I don't really think that a nudist current that – wilfully or just a consequence of how it is – excludes, not just women, but also men (of any sexual orientation) and nonbinary people who aren't comfortable with that kind of sexuality in that kind of situation.

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

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

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

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

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

And youth nudism, such as I have seen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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