nudism as an illegalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

CW: oblique reference to abuse (no details)

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

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

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

A theory of how this happened (in North America, at least):

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

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

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

By about puberty age, kids are presumed mature enough to not slip hard on the floor, eat shit, and start up the waterworks, in that order. Puberty is also when they start to smell kinda bad if they don't shower (according to society!). And thus, showering is enforced—first and foremost by gym teachers, but this is all practice for these kids' bright futures as athletes following the orders of coaches, soldiers following the orders of commanding officers, prisoners following the orders of screws, or down-and-outs following the orders of social workers.

The sudden collision (usually between 10 and 14 years of age) of

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

can fuck people up. For some, the anxiety and the sense of discomfort of being naked will dissipate, if it was ever felt at all—but that is not true for all people, many of whom get themselves out of institutions that required communal showering as soon as they can and make a point of never returning to another. This has been happening for a long time, and many people with these unhappy memories of communal showers (and perhaps a generally nudity-averse attitude to boot) are the parents of children, the administrators of institutions, the people who purchase gym memberships, the people who build and/or purchase small domiciles (which is to say, “starter homes”). And collectively, they have brought about a great diminishment in the number of extant communal showers in North America (and elsewhere) in a hundred different ways that shan't divert us now.

(Addition, February 12, 2021. As I noted already, communal showers have typically been gender-segregated spaces. In the pre-Stonewall era, these spaces may have been presumed to be devoid of sexuality, both by the architects and the people who passed through them—but this quickly became untenable in the decades since. Men, certainly, are now cognizant of the possibility of their bodies being subjected to an erotic gaze; this has had many social implications. I regret my failure to mention this earlier, but it is a big topic and probably deserves its own post one of these days.)

It is what it is—and, in my humble opinion, another refutation of the idea of Progress. But moving on!

In my city, and I think most places in North America at least, most households now have a single-person bathtub/shower in a private bathroom. People shower alone, with the presumption of complete privacy. North America has a completely atomized culture of hygiene, in fact. Hygiene is each person's individual responsibility. It is up to each person to remember and find time to take a shower, which we know is actually difficult for a lot of people a lot of the time (see: depression! also, homelessness!). There is neither shared routine nor shared practice around which a family or a community can coalesce. There isn't even a possibility of developing such routines and practices because there are very few accessible, affordable communal bathing spaces left.

To the extent that such spaces exist at all, they are often explicitly sexualized (and typically gender-segregated) spaces, e.g. gay bathhouses, or one has to pay not just for access to the showers but also for access to the attached gym. Why bother, if all you want to do is shower, and you probably already have a functional shower at home?

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

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

Architecture, and the layout and organization of space in general, does a lot to determine sociality. I know some friends who have built houses on land they've managed to gain title to. It's unfortunate, I think, that their houses don't look that different, very often, from houses that anarchists didn't construct. Oftentimes, there was no innovation beyond what was already acceptable in society at large.

The most boring people alive are also living in houses where the kitchen and the living room are in the same open space. There is nothing usefully transgressive in this idea.

Consider the following idea, instead:

The next time any anarchists have the chance to build their own house with a bunch of people that they trust enough to live with, or the next time someone is knocking down some walls in a squatted building that they want to put some work into, they should consider the construction of a dedicated shower room that is designed to be able to accommodate more than one person at a time.

The shower room should be adjacent to, but definitely separate from (to a greater degree than is the case in most North American private bathrooms), any toilets; I think some kind of intervening hall (or locker room-type area) would probably be a good idea.

The dedicated shower room does not need to be fancy. It just needs to be well-constructed (so as to avoid expensive plumbing problems).

Perhaps, in most cases, the prospective number of residents won't justify communal showers (I would guesstimate the sweet spot is around ten residents)—and obviously, in many cases, the residents in question will carry all the baggage of growing up in North America, even if they are anarchists. Perhaps they don't really care that much about nudism, y'know? Especially at the cost of other relationships (for instance, with conservative rural neighbours).

But, to the extent that people can recognize that there is a problem in a completely individuated practice of hygiene (see: this entire post!), it should also be recognized that the reproduction of the problem is principally the fault of architecture. Almost all residential units are built with an individuated idea of hygiene in mind, and thus it's hard to do anything different.

It's possible, too, that these residential units will outlive the people who built them (and the conservative rural neighbours too), and that these new occupants will have different ideas about nudity then the people who built the place, perhaps borne in part by a hotter climate (and on that subject, you should find the time to read Desert if you haven't yet).

A final word.

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

[comments: Reddit ++]

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

This doesn't mean there is nothing to talk about with respect to representation in, say, Hollywood movies. I won't pretend I don't ever indulge, and I suppose it annoys me to see problematic representation of any kind, particularly if the movie was produced in an era when I suppose I expected better. Obviously this applies to lots of things, including subjects well-covered elsewhere: racism, misogyny, transphobia, and so on. But sometimes, the depictions are not so much morally egregious as they are gratingly unrealistic.

For instance, let's talk about language. Why did the grandmother in Krampus (2015) speak German for most of the movie, then reveal her backstory to the other characters while also revealing that she had been able to communicate in more-than-competent English the entire time, and then go back to communicating in a German that she definitely knew some of the other people involved in the unfolding life-and-death situation wouldn't be able to understand? It makes no sense. Why, in ă‚·ăƒłăƒ»ă‚Žă‚žăƒ© (2016), did Satomi Ishihara's character—the daughter of a white American senator as well as a CIA operative—speak English to other American characters no less with a strong Japanese accent rather than a typically American one? The answer is pretty obvious: Ishihara's native language is Japanese, she wasn't provided adequate accent coaching, maybe she shouldn't have been cast in that role in the first place, and most of the movie's domestic audience probably wouldn't notice or care. But all of that is cold comfort for me.

I am a bit of a language nerd, so obviously this sort of thing distracts me. I get the sense that lots of academics also get a bit bothered by things they see in movies that happen to pertain to things they know a great deal about. These things may not matter much to the overall story or the average viewer, but for the informed minority, they are distracting, and make it harder to suspend disbelief.

In any case, on to nudity, a subject with which everyone is familiar.

Here's my proposal: when a character is naked—when nudity is a condition that a character is experiencing—it would be better to have a matter-of-fact cinematography that neither focuses on this fact nor hides it, rather than the weird and principally distracting dance that keeps various “private parts” hidden behind foreground objects. I don't want to be too categorical, of course, because the dance often has a bit of artistry to it. But it is a strange exigency that we could all do without.

It is frustrating, too, when characters aren't naked even though they ought to be. The word “ought” is a bit loaded, to be sure, but let me give an example. In the novel Life of Pi (2001), the main character's clothes rot away in the Sun and the salt quite early in the book; he ends up spending the majority of his time stranded in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean naked. In the 2012 film, however, he keeps some kind of loincloth on throughout his journey. This is hardly the greatest failing of that movie (my subjective opinion: the whole thing was bad), but logistically, it seems like this issue could have been more easily addressed than most others.

The only thing necessary would have been an actor willing to do the movie naked, and a production environment that would go with that idea. Then we would have had something truer to the images of the novel, and to the reality of what would actually happen in that situation (namely, being stranded in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean for the greater part of a year).

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

So, I'm not interested in better representation. But I also don't mind better representation, when it happens—and I would even daresay that I could have benefited from various kinds of better representation when I was growing up, given that TV and movies were a significant part of my upbringing (and I think less self-conscious and/or sexual, and more matter-of-fact and frequent representation of normal human bodies, naked, would have been pretty beneficial for me). But I think it's important to go beyond representation, and not get sucked into the trap of trying to fight a culture war from a weaker position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I contend that the predominant culture of clothes-wearing, which is compulsory and obsessive, is a problem. And, while there are some people discussing it, they are almost all politically irrelevant—even more so than a lot of anarchists! I am also entirely unaware of any anarchists since Émile Armand (he died in 1962) who have made a point of talking about clothes-wearing and nudism, and no one exploring these subjects whose insights anarchists are seeking out today.

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

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

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

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

Gay liberation, in the early days of that phraseology (i.e. the 1970s), wasn't so much about liberating a particular class of people from structural oppression (although it was partially that) as it was about liberating a suppressed part of potentially all people. 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. For instance, there are a number of projects (web pages, mostly) that seek 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! Here we have speciation based upon the smallest degrees of possible difference, yet somehow without reaching a Stirnerian conception of individual uniqueness.

But I digress.

There are a lot of conspicuously nudist people on the internet, by which I mean people 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 just possible to ignore it—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 “textile” or 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 the 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 term “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 can sort of happen on its own, without anyone needing to poke it along its way, 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 because 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 of a writing project about nudism-related issues (like this blog!)—but no one except 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.

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

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

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

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

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

I think the most relevant taboo subjects are as follows:

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

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

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

In any case, it seems that—whatever the subculture's faults might be—the naturists have kind of figured this stuff out. They are obviously quite frank about their bodies, and perhaps that prepares them to be frank with respect to other subjects. All the landed clubs and formal associations have zero tolerance policies regarding anything even approaching creepy behaviour as far as kids are concerned. The ubiquitous first rule of naturist etiquette is to never seat your bare ass on a couch cushion or other seat that another person might use later (instead, you put down a towel first), and that's because people long ago had a sensible conversation about butt germs. There certainly seems to be a lot of space for people to first-time visitors to clubs to have weird emotions about nudity, with basically every association and club having a long part of the FAQ dedicated to such issues.

I don't know the details, but I assume what happened is that adults had conversations about these subjects, maturely. Then they made some decisions. It should be possible for anarchists to do the same, about anything to do with clothes or nudity, or anything else entirely.

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

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

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

Thus a niche forms within any revolutionary camp, that of the conservative revolutionist, a pragmatic-minded naysayer who argues that cultural revolution can come later; that the exigencies of the political revolution are paramount; that a certain degree of accommodation to popular prejudices is necessary. Such a person, it should be said, usually has a point—but they also tend to betray the present for a wholly hypothetical future, often in accordance to their own unhealthy desires to control everything. It is worth saying, too, that it would be easy enough for a person who simply opposes a given thing to be dishonest about that fact (because it avoids anyone challenging them on their ideas, which may amount to nothing more than unexamined preferences) and couch their opposition as some kind of strategic concern.

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

By the time Stalin came to power in the late 1920s, the Bolshevik dictatorship was already well-established (i.e. anarchists, and others, had lost the political revolution a while ago), but there had still been an atmosphere of cultural experimentation. Stalin put an end to this quickly. He reaffirmed many “traditional” institutions, from the primacy of the Russian language across the vast expanse of land ruled from Moscow, to the sanctity of monogamy within the context of a Christian idea of marriage, to the role of the authoritative father figure in the family.

I imagine that nudism also suffered for all this “reject modernity, embrace tradition” stuff within Stalin's cultural policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any case, here are my basic assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  9. A general expansion of the option to be naked would require some kind of reasonably effective political/cultural movement to champion it. The modern naturist movement is not up to this task.

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

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

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

I constantly feel like I'm beginning anew with this project.

Mastodon (or Hometown, I guess? doesn't matter) doesn't really seem like the right platform. I guess I'm not certain that WriteFreely is either, because I haven't tried it out yet. But it seems like a better fit.

Mastodon is for “microblogging”, which seems like a more interactive and potentially argumentative style of writing than what I'm going for. I don't really have anyone on the fediverse to argue about nudism, naturism, or nakedness with. That's probably for the best, too. My small efforts to pick fights on Reddit haven't really been that satisfying.

The reality is that this project is pretty unlikely to get a substantial following, no matter what, and I'm unlikely to have many robust “exchanges of ideas” on these topics. People will either nod and agree, or furrow their brows, dismiss me as a weirdo, and move on.

As I am typing, the WriteFreely user interface appears to encourage a more comprehensive, contemplative approach. The letters are big. There is no distraction in the browser window.

I guess I'll try it out and see how it goes.