04 January, 2008

Obscenity Laws & Body Freedom (or Communing With Nature)

"Can I walk down your street naked, if I want to?"

- Moby Grape - Naked, If I Want To

Indoors, your nudity is limited by the amount of privacy you have, as well as the attitude of the people you live with, and whether or not they accept your lifestyle, regardless of whether or not they join in. But step outdoors, and you've opened a whole new can of worms. Laws and customs vary from place to place, but I would wager that there are very few (if any) places on this planet where you could casually step out into a public area that is not specifically designated to be nudist-friendly, and not as part of some kind of artistic or political expression, wearing nothing but your skin, freely exposed to the air and the sight of others, without incurring considerably inhibitive negative reactions from the forces of authority in that particular jurisdiction. Granted, this is not something I have tested myself, but you can see that I believe it well enough not to particularly want to.

So what's the big problem with a naked person walking down the street?

"A person commits indecent exposure if that person exposes his or her genitals in any public place or in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm."

Now, there's a huge difference between happily reveling in the sense of freedom that casual nudity gives you, and walking up to a stranger and exposing yourself for some kind of thrill. The difference has to do with respect. In the second case, you're actually specifically disturbing someone and subjecting them to a kind of advance that they have no power to stop. So what's offensive about a quick flash of the genitals that's not offensive about putting them out there for the whole world to see? The point really has nothing to do with the nudity itself. It's about bothering a person. What's worse - walking past someone while completely nude, and politely ignoring them (unless they specifically call for your attention), or walking right up to them while fully clothed, and soliciting them with attention, without even considering whether or not they want it? Nudity really should not be the issue here, but because people have been predisposed to be offended, affronted, or alarmed by nudity alone, it undeservedly becomes an indecent state of being.

This begs the question of whether or not the naked human body is inherently indecent. And depending who you ask, you'll get a wide range of opinions. I personally think that there is nothing inherently indecent about the nude body, only that there is much potential for it to be used for indecent purposes - depending on a person's actions, not their being. For example, there is nothing inherently indecent about the genitals (despite cultural conditioning). Yet, if you come up to me and stick them in my face, that is incredibly rude, and would constitute indecent behavior, in my mind.

But on the other hand, there are people who think that even the sight of the genitals is lewd, and that the mind that chose to expose them in such a manner that they could be seen by another is by default up to no good. The trouble is, you can't realistically expect to convince everyone of a certain viewpoint. I would be happy to see nudity become more accepted and well respected in society in the future, but it just wouldn't be practical to expect every person to accept it the way I do. And so, in the end, it all comes down to basic individual rights. Where does my right to be nude end, and your right to not be exposed to naked people begin?

But that just seems to lead to a dead end. Should nude people have to be segregated? Should they only be free to practice their chosen lifestyle in secluded camps and within walled resorts? Should they have to cover their true beliefs and feelings in the clothing of the majority while dealing with the rest of the world? Should people be judged by the covering on their skin? I just don't feel that that's right. I should be able to walk down the street naked, if I want to. It's not like I'm doing it to try to shock or offend people. I'm just being me. What's so wrong with that?

I've fantasized about living in a nudist community - I'm talking not just a vacation resort or a weeklong camp, but something like a whole nudist village, just like a normal town, but with freer ideas about nudity. You could go to the store nude, catch a movie at the local theatre nude, take a walk through the neighborhood nude, drive to work nude and then work all day nude, head out to a fancy restaurant and eat nude. You wouldn't have to be nude, as it's not always practical, but the important thing is that nobody would think (or look) twice if you were. There's probably a lot of complicated issues to be dealt with in the actualization of an idea like that, but frankly, I think it could be amazing. Why should we be so uptight? As long as it's not actually hurting anyone, there should be no problem. Apparently there's a place like that in France, but I imagine it must be pretty expensive to actually live there. And then, supposedly, there are hippie communes, but I don't know how expansive they are, or how much of a 'normal town' kind of atmosphere they can accomplish.

Communing With Nature

So, in the meantime, there's this thing called "secret naturism". There unfortunately seems to be some stigma attached to it within the regular naturist community, though, due to the understandably questionable intents of the secret naturists. Although there may be some who do it for questionable reasons, I think it can also be a very positive thing. The basic idea is to circumvent the unreasonable obscenity laws by going nude outside of designated areas (kind of like free-range nudity), but doing so in a secretive manner so as not to get caught. One of the great advantages secret naturism has for closet nudists is that it allows the nudist to experiment, and go further than he/she otherwise would, without having to expose his/her secret (assuming he/she does not get caught, which is always a risk). One of the disadvantages of secret naturism that most open nudists tend to cite is the fact that those who practice it are reinforcing the idea that their nudism is something they feel that they have to hide - which can give the whole lifestyle, secret or not, a more negative image to outsiders.

Now, I'm on the fence on that issue. I think nudism is something that nudists should never have to hide. But that's an ideal, and I'm a realist. I understand, that in this society, there are times and situations when it's practical to keep your nudism a secret. There are absolutely times and places to further the cause of nudism by putting yourself into the social consciousness. But there are also times and places where it is in your best interest to stay out of sight and out of mind. And that's where secret naturism comes into play.

I can confess that 1) I've practiced a little secret naturism, but that 2) my boundaries are depressingly limited. My desire for the thrill of going further is balanced by my methodical evaluation of the sheer risk of getting caught. So only twice have I actually wandered beyond the boundaries of this plot of land, and then not very far, or for very long.

I read about people who have secluded backyards (or 'gardens', in the UK), and private swimming pools, where they can swim and sunbathe nude - outdoors, but within the protection of their private property - without fear of being seen and reported to the authorities for ridiculous reasons. But I currently live in a suburban warren, where the houses aren't separated by very much space, and the foliage is rarely thick enough for any kind of reliable shielding from unwanted eyes. And though it gets quiet at night, it's not unheard of for someone in the immediate neighborhood to be going out or coming home, or simply stirring, in the middle of the night.

Just the same, my experiences are limited to the deep night, when it is quiet, while still always on a constant vigil. No warm sun for me. But you might be surprised how well your naked body can cope with the temperature of the air around you. Of course, there's a reasonable limit to that, but it does tend to get rather warm during the summer, even throughout the night. Cloudy (but dry) nights and new moons are best, although the allure of basking in the white light of the full moon is hard to resist, despite the drastically increased visibility (and the potential for other people to be drawn to it as well). For once, I almost wish I had darker skin, as my light skin shows up pretty bright against the dark backgrounds of the night, even when there is little light to be found. Dancing naked in the rain can be an exhilarating experience (and certainly more pleasant than doing so in clothing), but only when the temperature, and the rain itself, is warm enough. Otherwise, it could become quite unpleasant, instead.

Being outside nude can be very relaxing as well as very thrilling, depending on the night's conditions, and the current condition of the mind. Though doing so tends to leave me wishing there was actually something for me to do while I was out there. I'd love to go for a walk, but being out on the streets is incredibly risky. Anything I might think to do is usually foiled by the risk of either making noise, or needing light - both decided attention grabbers. Still, just being out there is an experience not worth giving up...


  1. Clothes aren't just a decency thing for me, or even just protection as I've said, but also, to a certain extent... sanitary.

    Okay, sure, a naturist town sounds like a nice idea, but when you consider that you're in a town with other naked people being naked and touching things you touch, then it starts getting kind of iffy. At the least, I'd hope all of the food preparation people are wearing clothing -- the last thing I want is a pubic hair in my pizza.

    Some people scratch their crotch through their pants; no pants? Better access, less sanitation.

    Sitting on benches in restaurants where other people have sat naked? You don't know what diseases they had, or how well they wash, or how well the restaurant cleans the benches. It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think about that. It's like all the problems of sanitation with toilet seats, but everywhere. I mean, there are people who don't jerk it when they finish urinating -- in a naturist town where there are no pants to hold it in, where is that leftover urine going? Ugh.

    I wouldn't mind my own "wildlife preserve" where it would be possible to do it safely, though. It would be interesting to do on an on-and-off basis, weather permitting.

  2. This is clearly one of those issues. You might very well have to be extra guarded against that which your clothes usually shield you from. One solution to using the "communal bench" is to carry a towel or something similar as a personal seat protector. It's a tradeoff, since it's just added baggage, especially when you're trying to take off as much as possible. But when you feel like taking a walk naked, strolling through the park with a towel for when you sit down for a break is better than having to choose from either going fully clothed or not at all.

    All-nude-all-the-time could very well not be the best solution. What would be nice is, if not a naturist town, then just a town where people aren't so hungup about nudity, that they accept it for what it is, and don't mind it as simply another form of dress, with all the advantages and disadvantages that may come with it.

  3. Bah humbug, sanitation. We ain't needin' to be so worried 'bout sanitation as we is. Are the private parts so dirty? I am QUITE skeptical of that notion. My privates don't get to see the light of day, there's no chance they're half as dirty as my hands. I think it's just an issue of how we FEEL about that kind of stuff, and over time people could learn to not care about it anymore.

    Contrary to me, though, I have heard of lots of people who bring towels around to sit on.

    Anyway, what I really came here to say was: my buzz phrase since middle school has been 'symbols over content.' That's the way that squares... er, that is to say, The Establishment works. The content, the meaning, the actual substance of a work is not where its merit and, well, content comes from in the eyes of The Establishment and all branches of The Establishment (including middle school teachers).

    You can say "I hope you get cancer" and that's not obscene, but if you say "I fuckin' love Jesus," that obscene. I don't understand how blurring out a middle finger makes any sense what-so-ever. If it wasn't so common, it would be an example of absurdism. But really... if the middle finger becomes obscene when and only when it is isolated from the other fingers, how come genitals can't be obscene when and only when they're used for sex? Not that I support sex being considered obscene. But The Establishment ain't consistent. They work on whims.