I have struggled immensely to refer to my identity as a nudist. I’ve said I was a clothing-optionalist. I’ve been a naturist. But the word “nudist” has often caused me to recoil.
I was a kid who preferred to be out of clothes, but I was closeted about it, because I had no reference points in my life for what was going on with me. The religion in which I partook instilled a deep sense of body shame. So, I was very confused. Any time I heard the word “nudist,” it involved criticism, jokes, and judgment.
The word “nudist” was a pejorative. Why would I want to call myself something everyone makes fun of?
As I slowly worked myself out of the closet and began to own my identity, I went through the word salad rather than using the one word that identified me best. It’s as though if I took that word on for myself, I’d be inviting the ridicule of the ignorant onto myself. Society doesn’t have much understanding of clothing optional living, so why doubly heap myself with scorn?
Recently, I outed myself to some of my best friends. It’s funny – people I’ve known since before I became more open about myself still don’t know this aspect of my life. When I did, I tossed it off in a text about am unrelated overarching topic, but one that could be drawn back to the theme of bodily autonomy. In the text, I referred to myself as a nudist. I did it easily. Because that’s really how I identify.
A nudist doesn’t mind being without clothes in a variety of situations. While a naturist uses the root of “nature” to describe themselves, for me, the commonality is being nude wherever. This year, in fact, I didn’t get much to my outdoor spots, so there hasn’t been much naturism to my nudism. It’s been all nudism.
My friends blew right through the text. I assume they saw it, but they never said a word about it. I said I assumed they knew, but if not, “Surprise!” So, either they’re like most people who know how I identify and don’t think it’s a big deal or they were horrified. I might never know.
After many years, I’ve come to realize that people who poke fun are doing so out of discomfort, likely with themselves. So, finding someone they think of as weaker and picking them apart make them feel pretty good. So, using nudist almost as a slur, a way of dividing people, of making them feel “less than” is a strategy of those afflicted with shame of their own. That should never have stopped me from accepting and embracing who I am.
What’s odd is that for the amount of fun had at the nudist community’s expense, I have not met in this world a more accepting, open, compassionate group of people. Perhaps it’s because we’re all used to the cutting comments and the way society treats us, we just are relieved to be among our own people. Sort of a bunker mentality, where other differences – money, jobs, political beliefs, religion – are literally stripped away as we gather in common cause.
Given my experiences at several nudist venues around the country, the word should be an honorific, should be something to aspire to rather than be ashamed of. By owning the word “nudist” and applying it to my identity, I honor my community and I honor myself.