Another chapter in defending the right to bare all
[This is a long haul, but I think it’s worth pushing through to the end.]
Last summer, I made a coast-to-coast trek across the United States to retrieve a van load of family heirlooms from the west coast. In planning my itinerary, I made bookings at naturist places wherever I could en route, hoping to discover a diamond in the rough along the way, or at very least, gather up some additional blog fodder.
When booking, I typically outed myself as the Meandering Naturist, hoping that might trigger a discount for accommodations, or at least an active engagement with the management as I might be able to offer a bit of free advertising for their property. (Make no mistake, we’re under no delusion of grandeur that we’re the American version of Nick and Lins, but still!) Interestingly, I found quite the opposite, with local clubs seemingly suspect of my one-night stay, as a male traveling solo no less, and even a hot-spring location in Colorado actively admonishing me about spawning new inquiries while they were operating under limited capacity under COVID restrictions.
While frustrated with the naturist travel industry’s (I use the term loosely) ability to advocate for their own cause, there was one interaction, in particular, I thought especially curious. The property is what appears to be a lovely bed and breakfast on an idyllic plot in the northern Midwest. As many of my overnight stays leading up to that would involve rustic cabins without plumbing or setting up a tent at the end of a long day’s drive, this had the potential of a luxurious splurge to set up the last leg of my journey – well worth the money if the photos on the website were even remotely accurate.
When I wrote to the proprietor to inquire about booking, I explained my quest to visit as many naturist properties as possible during my cross-country sojourn, expressing how delighted I was to have stumbled across his website, and pointed him to my (now former) blog – The Meandering Naturist.
Without bothering to go back and unearth his email response, I do recall that he made a significant effort to explain that I most certainly was not welcome to visit his property as I was blogging under a pseudonym. He gave a brief synopsis of his work on various boards and committees of AANR and TNSF, and his deeply rooted belief that if we don’t own up to the legal and legitimate tenants of naturism that we are, in fact, undermining our own cause. To that end, he had pledged early on that he would not aid or abet imposter naturists by allowing them to stay at his inn. Of course, I wasn’t asking to book a room under a pseudonym, nor was I suggesting a reduced tariff or any other special privilege. He simply saw my blog, labeled me as a poser, and declined my booking.
I was genuinely appreciative that he took time in his response to explain his position, so I returned the favor by explaining mine. I told him that I was a published author in the field of education, and while I had some concerns about my identity as a naturist on a university campus, those were inconsequential as compared to the fact that my work in that capacity frequently requires face-to-face contact with hundreds (if not thousands) of high school students over the course of a single year. Blogging under my birth name would open all sorts of possibilities, not the least of which would be somebody executing a web search for one of my publications or biographical information, but instead, inadvertently landing on my naturist blog.
I’ve never been ashamed of my naturist blog! Since its very inception, the mission has been to provide thoughtful and balanced information about naturism itself, a bit of discourse about the psychological complexities of social nudity in this decidedly prudish society, and a few resources for a would-be naturist who may interested in finding their way to a safe place to go for a swim or soak up the sun.
He replied to my explanation, suggesting that he could understand my position on the matter and that my story had more credibility than “95% of the others he had heard over the years.” Then full stop. “Have a good trip.” With the tacet directive that a stay at this naturist abode was not in the cards… now, or ever.
For those of you following the narrative on this new blog, The Cantankerous Naturist, there has been significant progress since I wrote about a week ago that the university administration has vowed to protect my rights and honor my privacy, and will take a clear stand that my students and colleagues owe me the same. What remains nebulous, however, is my employer’s position on restoring the original blog with all those potentially offensive photos of… my bare arse! I’m pretty sure that my immediate supervisor would just as soon that go away once and for all, thereby reducing the chance that someone will stumble into another image. But the images of our world naturist travels are an important part of the narrative and woven into well over 200 posts. One friend (and reader) wrote to me and said, “I have time on my hands. I can help cover your arse!” That just seems silly.
I share all this, however, to express a much deeper frustration I’ve been grappling with for the entirety of my thirty-some years as a naturist. It might be best described as concentric circles of judgment, intolerance, and polarization, most of which hides behind a cloak of anonymity to protect those who are unable to deal with ideals or opinions differing from their own in a forthright or meaningful way.
While I will never know the exact details, it seems a “concerned faculty member” went to my supervisor to alert him to the fact that one of their students had seen something on the internet that made them very uncomfortable. There are a truckload of questions and variables in that statement! Who was the student? I will never know. How did they find the blog? Also unknown. What, exactly, was the concern of that faculty member, and why didn’t they come to me? There are loads of speculative theories as to what that explanation might be! It could have been an altruistic move on behalf of “that student,” but I suspect that I’m not the only academic who has seen a faculty member attempt to discredit a colleague’s integrity by simply stirring the pot – as they say. Had I a bit more information, I could confront that colleague directly to make sure I’ve adequately addressed the concerns of the student, but in the absence of information, all one has left is an imagined narrative of what might or might not be true.
It is the control of that narrative that I find most disturbing in this entire story, so this past week, I decided to recapture the flag!
The majority of students I work with closely belong to a single cohort that meets twice a week. Last Monday afternoon, my wife was gracious enough to come to campus. Just before the end of class, we both sat down before the entire group and I blatantly led out with, “In case you didn’t already know this, my wife and I are naturists!”
She told the story of her first visit to a nude beach while in college, and how she later met me and we took up the naturist cause together seeking out remotes naturist places all over the world. She also spoke to the joys of swimming and sunning without the annoyance of wrapping oneself in wet Lycra.
I went on to say, “You may be wondering why we’re bringing this to your attention at this time!” (Knowing full well that most of my students have known some version of this story for years!) I shared my frustration that somebody else has been apparently telling this story “on my behalf,” but not knowing who that is, or what they are saying, and to whom, is humiliating and insulting. If someone is going to tell stories about my personal life, it’s going to be me.
We wrapped up our presentation by sharing a bit about our personal insecurities – especially as adolescents – with body acceptance, and the absolutely pivotal role naturism has played over the years in overcoming those hurdles. And finally, I shared my absolute dismay of living in an age of anonymous intolerance, where anybody can say just about anything about anyone, and even if there is fact-checking in the last place, the damage may be irrevocable from the first place.
The students applauded, and at least so far, the collective response has been, “Thanks for doing that. It was courageous and inspiring.” One student wrote, “It seems you and your wife are living the dream!”
(Is there a student out there who is experiencing trauma or discomfort while now feeling too frightened to speak out? Ironically, the social engineering of this entire episode has made that even more complicated. Ugh.)
I read this morning that linguistic scientists may have identified the ghost author that most of us know in today’s parlance as Q-anon. Among other things, that’s the movement that seeks to identify the Democratic party as a giant network of sex-traffickers, despite the fact that specific claims range from baseless to outright falsified information. Chase those threads all day long and you’ll end up in a pizza place in Washington DC without a basement! (Pizzagate, 2016.)
The thing is that there are Democrats who do horrible things. There are teachers and professors who are actually serving time as sex offenders. There are religious leaders who have mislead their followers to very dark places. And to be sure, there are naturists who have been less than altruistic in their behavior. Allegedly, we have systems in place to identify such behaviors, and for the most part, those seem to be working pretty well.
But the confluence of social media and the amassing of fever-pitch regulation intended to protect one’s privacy has created an environment that allows an individual to inflict significant harm upon another under the guise of performing an action for “the good of the cause.” It’s still unclear to me why someone would want to take up the charge of covering my arse for the greater good of humanity unless they associate my proclivity for nude sunbathing with some sort of prurient behavior in the midst of my students – or anywhere else for that matter.
We, the naturist community, can keep sharing glib memes with each other, affirming our right to bare all, as if that’s an inherent subtext under “liberty and justice for all!” But the polarity that exists between a dogmatic naturist innkeeper near the Great Lakes, and a random citizen who seeks to foster controversy where none exists is vast, and potentially volatile for naturists and “clothists” alike. Frightening.
As it turns out, I suspect that the average person on the street would be most willing to give naturism a try. It’s not really the naked part that’s so frightening for most, but the impending fear of trying to cover your bare arse should someone take issue with that. (You can cheat on your taxes. You can cheat on your significant other. But get naked on the beach? 🤷♂️)
Such is life in 2022 in the land of the free.
Postscript: I did renew the WordPress contract for The Meandering Naturist, but have yet to decide how and when to bring that back online. Most affirming was a former student who said, “You know, I know a few people who’ve looked at the blog expecting something scandalous or titillating, but instead, found in depth writing steeped in psychology and philosophy. How ironic this all will be if this turn of events ends up promoting the naturist cause in the last place. God bless my naked arse!