[Photo credit to Spencer Tunick for the featured image]
Post updated: March 2021 – Made a few updates to this post having lived through another presidential election since my first musing on this back in 2017.
Hello naturist followers and friends,
Dare I even write this post? At this writing, I feel a sudden urge to trump – if you’ll pardon the expression – my typical agenda of travel writing with a brief outburst of a philosophical nature, spawned in large part by some lovely people I’ve met in recent days during our first visit to a bucolic little resort in Honduras called Paya Bay. (Yet another review to be written!)
As is usually the case in making new acquaintances with naked people, the first topic of conversation was something of a naturist travel roll call. “Have you been to that little place near the Mexican border? How about one of those Big Nude Boat sailings? You were on the Royal Clipper to Venice when? Hey! I think we were on that boat!”
Then comes that awkward silence. We both prefer naked travel. We’ve been to many of the same places. You have a penis. I have a penis. (No gender neutral confusion there!) Let’s see… what else?
My wife and I have been naturists since about 1986 when we made our first visit to a nude beach near Santa Cruz, California. We are among the lucky ones as this was not a late-in-life discovery for us, but instead, a unique attribute of our relationship that has evolved as everything else does in a marriage of 36+ years. And the achievement of getting our kids through college and out of the house has afforded us many more choices for seeing the world – with clothes or without. Which leads to this somewhat meandering post that will attempt to take on a few myths about naturism that have long challenged my curiosities, most frequently leading to a final assessment of… “Huh!”
Alleged Myth #1: People at naturist resorts are much more social and friendly than those at typical (textile) resorts.
I think this is largely true, if for no other reason, you have a non-verbal starter right out of the box. “You’re naked. I’m naked. Let’s talk about how cool that is for a few minutes.” Talk about an ice-breaker! And truth be told, if you go to a Westin resort on Maui and invite yourself to join another couple at their table on the veranda with the opening line, “Hey, is this your first time wearing that ill-fitting bathing suit to this posh, overpriced resort – MINE TOO!,” you’re likely to get something between a stink-eye and a sudden escort from the resort bouncer.
Nudity is most certainly an immediate common denominator, and those who have been at it for a while understand the almost (?) competitive business of amassing destination pins in the naturist world map. “Oh, well if you like that place, you’ve got to try this other place with the naked zip line course.”
In all fairness, this is, all at once, an opportunity to boast about one’s naked accomplishments, while at the same time, conducting all so important naturist reconnaissance. Hours of digging through Trip Advisor Reviews will never compare to the candor and nuance of a travel conversation with a seasoned naturist, much of which involves a certain flavor of non-verbal communication that provides context for said reconnaissance data. But more about that later.
Alleged Myth #2: The nice thing about being naked is that you are stripped of all the artificial barriers that put people at odds with one another in normal life. “A naked doctor and a naked plumber are on a level playing field while sipping a fruity drink on a nude beach.“
I have heard this argument on the beach, in the hot tub, at the restaurant, in the pool, and on the veranda of a cruise ship. “The great thing about nudity is that it makes us all equal! We are all the same once stripped of our uniforms that provide cues about social status, income, education, and personal ideologies regarding motorcycles and the human qualities of cats.”
Even if I could completely embrace the initial premise, this all changes pretty quickly once the first person breaks the ice with, “Is this your first time at a naturalist [sic] place? The wife and I never [sic] done [sic] this before.”
If you’re still reading and haven’t simply deleted the link to my blog as you dismiss me for being a pompous ass with an intolerance for people from varied walks of life, then you have tapped into the very essence of my point.
In fact, if you really think this myth to be a truth, try visiting the teachers’ lounge at Any School USA to see how those birds of a feather flock together. (Or not!) We are not all the same, even when most of our life choices regarding career, church, and family would indicate that we are, and the lack of clothing actually does very little to hide those differences which really matter.
I truly wish this wasn’t the case. When we first began our naturist explorations, we were much more optimistic about meeting people at naturist venues who would share our interests, values, and ideals. But in reality, I would put the odds someplace in the same ballpark as on-line dating. Once you’ve finished the obligatory conversation about “Isn’t it great to be naked and free?” You’ve got to have something else to talk about.
Alleged Myth #3: Naturists are more open minded and accepting of alternative lifestyles, political and religious perspectives, and a general sense of live and let live.
In an effort to figure out what the hell is going on in the world right now, I’m reading two interesting books, each of an autobiographical nature, by political comedians who felt it timely to share their stories. Trevor Noah is the late night talk show host who replaced Jon Stewart, and Bassem Youssef was the Egyptian equivalent of Jon Stewart, until he was forced into exile after his rants about the complexities of the Arab Spring, albeit in a humorous manner. (And now you know something about me… I really like Jon Stewart!) Their stories are largely the same, each having found the absurdity of living under intense oppression, Noah growing up as a mixed race child in South Africa during the fall of apartheid, Youssef narrowly escaping his homeland when the government elevated his humor to a threat to Arab civilization. Their writing is all at once poignant and laugh inducing, in each case providing abounding evidence of how people fall short of relating to one another in a thoughtful and compassionate way, even when it would be in their best interest to do so.
Here at Paya Bay, this is the first time I’ve been naked in public since the United States of America decided we are far from united when it comes to what we think are the inalienable rights that bond us together. (This post was written shortly after the 2016 election, as Washington DC was clamping down on immigration and ramping up deportations.) And perhaps I can evoke a bit more drama in suggesting (recognizing ?!?) that the motivations of one side of the political discourse is deeply intertwined with a particular religious perspective that suggests that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten resources to the US of A, so that he who was not born here shall suffer and perish.” Youssef and Noah drive that point home with stirring anecdotal evidence that compassion, while considered a virtue, is a country-mile stretch for the average human being.
So there it is. My political opinions – neatly packaged for consumption – that would die a sudden and violent death in a typical room full of naked people. (You can read my more recent rants on that topic in a later post from 2020: Are Nudists Making America Great Again?) From my perspective, it really should go like this. “Hey! Look at all of us! We all have essentially the same body parts, so we can put that part of the conversation to rest! So what say we tussle a bit about the other things that make us uniquely human, like the ability to reason, engage in thoughtful discourse, and simply agree to disagree in the spirit of tolerance and a commonality in the reverence for life, and living it to its fullest. (You are, after all, standing here naked! Isn’t that living life to the margin?)
But like everyplace I have gone since late November 2016, new acquaintances are regulated by a delicate pas-de-deux of feeling out one’s personal convictions before you blunder into a Cold War of philosophical dissension, or maybe even alienation and ridicule. But probably not. Better to play it safe and stay on script, “So this is your first time at a naked place?”
My point? Some naturists are liberal. Some naturists are conservatives. Some are quite tolerant, and others are not. It turns out that one’s desire to walk around without clothing has surprisingly little to do with any of those other factors. Each human is a complex organism influenced by the social environment in which s/he he lives his or her daily life.
For me, that was a “Huh!”
Alleged Myth #4: Naturists are simply 21st century hippies who can’t let go of the good ol’ days in the Haight-Asbury, with all the accompanying affinities for weed, free love, and communal living.
Don’t I wish! As the youngest of four, my older siblings brought up the rear of that generation. In fact, my brother even went to Janice Joplin concerts at the Filmore in San Francisco, though I’m pretty sure he stopped short of imbibing infree love in Golden Gate Park.
But it seems to me that part of America died when the hippies grew up and got jobs in corporate America. Ironically enough, the free love thing sort of morphed into a swinger thing, (which the Millennials and Gen XYZers seem to have repackaged as friends with benefits. Just wow!) and this has become the very antithesis of what us high-minded naked people like to call naturist values. But the other piece that seemed to go under the bus was tolerance. Though one could make the argument that hippies and non-hippies may have spent a lot more time and energy talking about tolerance than actually being tolerant themselves.
Here again, so much rhetoric in the naturist community is given to body acceptance, though in my estimation, that’s pretty hit and miss as well. It amazes me how much humans obsess over another one’s piercings, tattoos, or distribution of body weight. Isn’t the point, “Here I am! Naked and unafraid! You don’t even have to love me, but is it so much to ask you to simply co-exist?
We have made several visits over the years to the infamous Cap d’Agde in the South of France, which might be best described as a place where, if you can imagine it, you will find it – and then a bit more. I find it to be an intriguing show where you can sit for hours at a sidewalk cafe watching the world go by; a man on a studded leash, a woman adorned in sparkly string that accentuates her crotch, or any number of genital piercings that would never make it through a metal detector. (Not to mention the amorous couples at the hotel pool who are less than subtle in their public displays of affection.) For my wife, it’s a good bit over the line. She couldn’t even tell you why, exactly, as we have never been approached by others to “come out and play,” nor have we had any reason to feel threatened by behaviors we would never engage in. But in the end, it’s beyond our daily repertoire of acceptable behavior, as if they’ve crossed that line, you wonder where the next one will be drawn.
I suppose that’s the very essence of society’s suspicions about naked people in general. Allow them to walk naked on the beach, and the next thing you know they’ll be naked in the streets, and the movie theaters, and maybe even at Disneyland. (I could launch off onto an entirely new tangent about yoga pants at this juncture, but maybe that’s for another day.)
If we’ve learned anything about people in recent decades, it’s that despite all of our insurance plans, extended warranties, and declaratory promises from various politicians, we are a fearful people, largely fearing those things which we don’t quite understand. You can see naked people undulating on the big screen entranced in the most intimate of human experiences, and maybe even get a glimpse of full frontal nudity, but catch a naked couple walking hand in hand on the beach, and clearly we’ve gone off the rails. That was the stuff the hippies were made of, and we see what happened to them!
Alleged Myth #5: Given the assertion that at least 75% of the above assertions are true, any naturist community is a convivial community, where values are largely the same, and potential soulmates are just standing around naked, waiting to bond!
So at this point, this seems a bit redundant. Naked people really only have one thing in common. Nudity. And no doubt, if you’ve arrived at that point of life where you’d rather have a root canal before wearing nylon or Spandex in a swimming pool, and you find yourself looking for a new soulmate, you are faced with an onerous task, indeed.
Many have responded to my blog seeking advice as to how they might coax a naturist reluctant spouse to give naturism a whirl. Seems bizarre. Most everything in their lives has aligned; they may have “connected” two human bodies to make more human bodies, and they undoubtedly (but not always!) have seen one another naked, but making that step into the arena of public nudity simply violates too many social norms. Now with the proliferation of random photography and cameras hidden everywhere “for security purposes,” it seems a significant change to those social norms is not on the immediate horizon.
That said, getting yourself a ticket for a ride on a big boat with 1000 other naked people must increase one’s chances of finding others who at least are willing to embrace the naked part of the equation. But beyond that, it seems to me it’s just about like everything else. Each human is wired uniquely. It’s what makes us so interesting. It’s also what makes us so complicated. Turns out that so many of us are apparently just wolves – in no clothing!
Dogs seem pretty comfortable with naked. Maybe we could learn a few things from them.
Dedicated, with gratitude and affection, to Randy, Greg, Judy and Ann; two lovely couples we met at Paya Bay a few years ago who weren’t afraid to say, “We like to be naked… with people we like to be with!”
Wow. Thought provoking!