We did it! We had our first naturist cocktail party on ZOOM last night. Met up – online – with good friends that we typically get together with several times a year for naturist-at-home evenings. We’ve probably all been naked together well over 100 times. But naked together on the internet? Is that the same thing? Isn’t that simply being voyeuristic?
As the World Wide Web has grown up over the years, live nudity on the net has always been tricky to navigate. As far back as the late 90s, when computer-based video conferencing was still in its infancy, I have vivid memories of a single naked guy popping onto my screen, uninvited and announced, literally scaring the hell out of me! I’m not offended by nudity. I’m not offended by guys. But dude… you were not invited into my living room, naked or otherwise.
Then there are groups like TrueNudists that have muddied the waters even more. It was quite a long time ago, but as I recall, my only attempt to join this organization was as a provisional member. To become a “verified member,” you were required to post a picture of yourself (along with your partner if joining as a couple), naked and holding a sign with your name on it. Supposedly, this was intended to tease out the nefarious perverts, while creating a meet-up place for people who are, well… true nudists! I can only go by heresay, but rumor has it that once admitted to this verified kingdom of genuine naturists, you’re more likely to meet a lonely guy or get hit up by an “adventurous couple” than find other people who are simply seeking naturist friends. I just checked their current splash page today, where their poster child is a young woman identified as “Wonderhussy.” Thinking this, along with the button below that says “I want to view nudist photos,” is not so helpful in diverting the pervs and adventurous couples.
But alas, I digress! We didn’t go looking for random strangers on the internet for our naturist soirée. We were connecting through a private channel with specific friends. Luckily, I’ve become quite the ZOOM expert in recent weeks as my day job has transitioned to a fully virtual environment where all daily transactions beyond the three people I live with, is conducted in virtual reality.
But this was the first time on ZOOM for our naturist friends. They were certainly familiar with Facetime and Skype, but as first time ZOOMers, they were still finding their way around the mute button and virtual backgrounds. We actually started our Happy Hour in our hot tub, then later moved inside near the wood-burning stove so that we could link up to the TV where our friends became almost bigger than life in front of a wonky background of crashing waves and wind-blown palm trees. Success!
As is the case in the workplace, it occurs to me that the “sheltering at home” thing is likely to change the way we live our lives long after COVID-19 is contained and eradicated. (Please tell me that day is coming soon!) Despite the fact that the internet can be glitchy, we found our Cyber Happy-Hour to be a lot of fun, and nobody had to assume the role of designated driver. And, in fact, I think it occurred to all of us that perhaps we’ve been missing out on an opportunity to connect with other naturist friends from the far-flung corners of the planet, of which we’ve made quite a few during our visits to naturist resorts in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Suddenly, the possibilities seem limitless. We even imagined a party with a dozen naturist friends where we could have breakout rooms: a breakout room near the bar and another one in the hot tub! Suddenly feeling bored? Pop yourself out of the breakout room and blame it on an internet glitch!
In the meantime, there are others out there who are hard at work trying to address the addiction to social naturism in a meaningful way before the days grow long and warm and those of us diehards grow increasingly impatient with the afflictions of clothing. Naturist leaders are reinventing some of the more traditional portals of information in an effort to create virtual communities for avid naturists.
British Naturism, for example, has been particularly proactive with their constituency (which I joined today, by the way), offering nude yoga sessions, discussion groups (presumably on a platform similar to ZOOM), and even Easter Tea. What could be more celebratory on Easter Sunday than high tea with your new British Naturist friends? Sounds intriguing, right?
Turns out that Clothes Free Life is offering similar sessions for their members, though I couldn’t discern if that’s simply a chat room, some sort of video platform, or simply an interactive message board of some sort. Turns out that it didn’t matter, since their meeting was scheduled to take place at 3:00 pm today, but the moderator didn’t happen to mention the time zone where the meeting was taking place. California? London? Sydney? Details matter. (Figured out at 5:00 pm today that is was at 3:00 pm EDT. Oh well!)
Leading naturist advocate Gregers has been hard at work creating regular ZOOM meetings for the members of the Naturist Association of Thailand, but I think you have to be a paid member to participate there as well, and for many of us, the nine to twelve-hour time difference may simply be a deal breaker. But regardless of all that, how does that work out in reality? Do you show up naked to the meet-up? Is it a clothed discussion about naturism? Suddenly you have a whole new set of norms consisting of where and when to get naked-none of which provide much of a safeguard against the naked dude that popped into my living room twenty years ago!
In any event, I thought I would offer a few pointers for those of you who have been thinking about hosting or attending a naturist Happy Hour, but haven’t quite summoned up the courage.
- Starting in the hot tub turned out to be a great idea. That took the guesswork out of the equation as to when to get naked. Of course, that does require that you have a hot tub.
- If you’re meeting inside, think ahead and make sure the space is warm and comfortable for nudity. Seems like a no-brainer, but again, you have to plan ahead.
- We used my MacBook, then simply flipped over to Apple TV so the screen and the sound was coming through our 46” monitor. But you have to be creative about where you place the actual computer, as that’s where the camera is, and it’s a bit disconcerting when you feel people are not actually talking to you, but to someone over your shoulder. I suppose that could be ameliorated if you had an external camera mounted to the top of your TV.
- If you’re using ZOOM, read up a bit on privacy settings to keep from getting ZOOM bombed. (As I understand it, this is similar to that situation I had years ago when the dude patched into what I thought was a private conversation.) We went to the extra trouble of setting a password, easily done, simply adding one more layer of security.
- Make sure the record function is off. ZOOM has the capacity to record either to your own computer or to the Cloud. Since I use my account primarily for business meetings, I’m not fond of the idea of stumbling into my link of naked happy hour while in a meeting with colleagues next week.
- While the virtual backgrounds are fun, know that they tend to distort, if not simply absorb the images of the humans in the meeting, depending in part on your real background. The more your backdrop is similar to a green-screen, the more success you’ll have with clear images that don’t result in cropping off your ears and appendages.
- And finally… Don’t lurk in the shadows. If you have a bright light source behind you (say, a window perhaps) and not much light in front of you, your image will simply be a dark silhouette and your facial features and expressions will be all but indiscernible. We had to move away from the window, then reposition a lamp to cast natural light before our friends felt they could actually tell who we were. You don’t want to look like you’re in the Witness Protection Program.
In the end, is it as good as actually being there? Well, pretty close, I think (especially the no designated driver part!) But I’m eager to keep experimenting with this format to see if we can get a few more of our naturist friends together. Maybe I’ll even try one of these online focus groups, knowing that if the party feels creepy when I “walk in,” it’s not that difficult to simply blip my way right back out.
And who knows? We’ve spent a lot of time and money over the years making our house and backyard naturist friendly. Hanging out on our back deck with our naturist friends this summer may turn out to be about as good as it gets this year. Better to hope for the best, while planning for the worst. If the worst is a virtual naturist resort on my back porch, that might not be so bad!