Why “Nudist” Is My Identity

fullsizeoutput_ba74I 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.

The Half New Hampshirey

In 2016, three Free the Nipple protestors were arrested in Laconia, New Hampshire, for going topless at a beach. Earlier this year, in a narrow 3-2 ruling, that state’s highest court upheld their convictions and the topless ban. The prevailing justices ruled that the women’s rights to free speech were not violated and that they were not victims of gender discrimination. In dissent, justices noted the unconstitutionality of the rule because it provides different standards for men and women.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a topless ban in Ft. Collins, Colorado, after two women sued the city. Ft. Collins is not appealing the ruling. There was a wave of reaction that assumed that such a high court’s decision was going to apply to its whole jurisdiction – Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming – but that decision has yet to be interpreted that broadly.

Such a ruling, though, could prove helpful for a Utah woman’s case. She’s being charged for being seen topless by her stepchildren who stumbled upon her as she was changing. She used that blip in time to teach her kids that she needn’t be ashamed of being topless since they don’t recoil at her husband’s bare chest. The children’s mother reported the stepmother to child services and now a brief moment in time has her facing criminal charges. Despite the 10th Circuit’s ruling, Utah sadly presses on with these charges.

Meanwhile, Vermont’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Christine Hallquist, the Vermont-originated group Grab Them by the Ballot, which uses female nudity as political protest in these times of misogyny and sexism, and others are among people and groups advocating for the Supreme Court to take up an appeal in the New Hampshire case. The amicus brief argues against the law under Equal Protection premises. Additionally, as modern understandings of gender evolve from binary and places like New Hampshire allow for more than just male or female to be noted on driver’s licenses, the law becomes more confounding.

We are in interesting and troubling times, especially with the current Supreme Court being so unpredictable in interpreting rights, that I’m always concerned this will backfire. But here’s hoping that sanity can prevail about the human body and that we recognize that non-sexual nudity is just that. Non-sexual. Those judging non-sexual nudity to be anything but are the people who might need to be sanctioned. As Hallquist noted in an interview, “Why do we have these laws? Because men can’t control their drives and emotions.”

Let’s place the focus where it should be rather than outlawing that which makes us human.