Identity politics

Gay liberation, in the early days of that phraseology (i.e. the 1970s), wasn't so much about liberating a particular class of people from structural oppression (although it was partially that) as it was about liberating a suppressed part of potentially all people. That part was a kind of desire, whether definitely present or potentially present. I'd denote that desire as being “for gender nonconformity” (including the very nonconformist act of gay sex).

The “homosexual” may have already been made a species, as Foucault put it, as early as the end of the 19th century, and certainly throughout the early part of the 20th century. But the early Gay Liberation Front and its fellow travelers didn't affirm such speciation. This may seem a bit strange today, now that there is so much discursive emphasis on the boundaries and sanctity of different identity categories in social justice discourse writ large, each of them purported to pertain to a distinctive and internally uniform set of circumstances and experiences. To wit: every project that seeks to list, to completion, “every gender” – some of which are jokes, certainly, but I don't think that's how it is in every case! This is the speciation of every possible difference, no matter how small, yet somehow a Stirnerian concept of ineffable uniqueness never gets affirmed.

But I digress.

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

There is, I think, at least some parallel between the experience of this sort of especially nudism-oriented person – which is to say, a person who has a strong enough, sharp enough desire to be naked a lot of the time (or most of the time) that it's not possible to just put it to the side – and the experience of other people with other sorts of conspicuous, purportedly unusual desires. And, to the extent that this nudism-oriented desire shapes how a person would want to build a life with others, that is a real, valid reason to (want to) let friends, partners, and other intimates be aware of it. To come out to them about it, as it were, because that makes it easier for them to know about your life, and/or less afraid to tell them about parts of it, less afraid that they might find you naked in the backyard because they come over to your house earlier than you had expected, etc.

I don't think it's wrong to give a name to the difference between a person with a conspicuous desire to be naked, and a person who doesn't particularly care to be naked outside of normal situations and settings (which vary from culture to culture). Among nudist-naturists, the word for the first kind of person is either “nudist” or “naturist” (duh!), and the second kind of person is a “textilist”.

There is a problem to this, though, which is that it tends to affirm an essential difference between the two sorts of people. Whether categorized by an essence (i.e. there are those with the desire, and those without) or shared coordinates of collision with larger social forces (i.e. “NUDISTS ARE OPPRESSED”), this is a speciating discourse yet again, emphasizing the differences between two groups. It puts whatever is purported to be generative of those differences (here's a theory: hang-ups from early childhood!) at the very centre of the analysis, and it ignores a variety of commonalities and even shared interests that people who fit either description (or didn't fit perfectly into either) might have in common.

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

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

A lot of people (including a lot of individualist and post-left anarchists) associate the world “identity politics” with a wholly left-wing phenomenon – but that's definitely not right.

For instance, the right-wing nationalism that defines the Trump electoral coalition (that is, the 70,000,000+ people who voted for him) is also a form of identity politics. I'm an anarchist, so I oppose Trump and all that (obviously). But I'm not bringing it up to condemn it right now. I just want to clarify what is common between, say, the coalition that supports Trump's continued control of the U.S. presidency, the LGBT coalition (which has expanded to include many nominal identities), and a certain conception of the “coalition of the conspicuously nudist”.

It's important to understand what makes right-wing (and some left-wing) identity politics appealing. Basically, whether based on real history or modern myth, linked histories of oppression or common interests, it's easy enough to get people aligned on a simple narrative of collectively experienced grievance. I'd even say it sort of happens on its own, without anyone needing to poke it along, as a result of a confluence of factors – but, of course, many people do guide it along actively, as much as they can, perhaps for their own ends or perhaps they really just believe that much in nationalism. Trump is the most famous example of this sort of thing, but this is literally happening all of the time, in all sorts of countries, both today and in the past. Another word for it is “populism”.

Populism sort of works, sometimes, with respect to certain goals (like seizing control of institutions), and when certain resources are available. It's all very interesting, of course, but I won't get into it. My point is that I just don't think it is as likely to work for coalitions that are smaller in number, more scattered, less-resourced, whose ideas lie far outside of “the Overton window” as it were, and who aim not to seize institutions but to change culture at large. In other words, people like nudists.

And personally, I just don't want to do identity politics with respect to nudism (or with respect to other things), and I don't think that any other conspicuously nudist people like myself – that is, people with any amount of passion for their own body freedom – should go in for this sort of thing either. I don't want to emphasize grievance, unfairness, etc., not just because I don't think it's going to achieve anything useful (although that is precisely what I think), but also because it is obnoxious. Life is unfair, but people who complain about how life is unfair all of the time are the worst. Especially when they are extremely lucky bastards, in the grand scheme of things, and they seem to have a hard time knowing that or remembering that. I certainly don't want to be one of those people.

This doesn't mean that there should never be any discussion of unfair things that nudists may be going through, especially in the context a writing project about nudism-related issues (like this blog!) – but no one but those who are part of the conspicuously nudist minority are likely to care much about these great injustices. Again, to focus on every detail and texture of our unfortunate plight as people who aren't allowed to bare ass while riding public transit won't do us, or anyone else, any good.

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

In other words, it would be cooler to not just ape the discourse and strategy of the stalest and tamest parts of the queer and/or LGBT movements of the past fifty years (which, like, is especially inappropriate coming from straight nudists, for what that's worth), but to try instead to channel the transformative and desire-oriented spirit of the Stonewall rebellion and the Gay Liberation Front it gave rise to.