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Andrew Martinez and the nude microclimate
Nudity as a microculture and the enduring influence of Berkley's "Naked Guy"
“In nature, a microclimate is shaped by specific geographic and climatic conditions. It may seem deviant from a context of more pervasive conditions. But, it’s fully consistent within its own determining context. A microclimate is a kind of blip—a mountain on a plane, a canyon in a flatland. Social microclimates also develop…”
–Lee Baxandall, 1992
The cover of Nude & Natural issue 12.2 features a photograph of Debbie Moore, Nina Schilling, and Marty Kent of The X-Plicit Players interactive performance art group, gathered on the steps of Sproul Plaza at the University of California Berkeley. With them, Andrew Martinez, who had recently attracted international media attention for his decision to attend classes while entirely nude. The cover photo was captioned, “The Naked Guy—A New Micro-Culture?”1
Andrew Martinez’s nude activism began several years before he arrived in Berkeley. According to a 2006 article in the New York Times, in the summer of 1990, at seventeen, Martinez had “fallen under the nonconformist spell of Henry David Thoreau” and began questioning the rationality of having to wear clothing in 90-degree weather. After requesting the permission of several neighbors in his Cupertino, California hometown, Martinez walked down Highway 9 “wearing nothing and carrying a sign that read, ‘I was born naked and so were you.’”2 He was quickly arrested, but his nude protests did not end.
The rise and fall of the Naked Guy
Two years later, while a student at UC Berkeley, Martinez walked into his Russian history class completely nude. The nude Martinez soon became familiar at the university, in classrooms, at parties, and even strolling the campus grounds. In a September 27, 1992 interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Martinez stated, “I wanted to be an engineer and have a nice middle-class life and make a lot of money. Then, between my junior and senior years of high school, I started thinking about my role in life. I started thinking about how silly certain things were, like wearing clothes.”3
Two days later, on September 29, the Sproul Plaza event organized by the X-Plicit Players and documented on the cover of Nude & Natural drew nearly 1,000 spectators and around two dozen participants. “Our purpose is to prove that people define normalcy in their own terms,” Martinez said at the event after arriving to speak to the crowd with The Doors’ “Break On Through” playing behind him.
Phil Donahue, Montel Williams, Maury Povich, and others invited Martinez to appear on their television shows. Playgirl magazine offered him a photo spread. He received offers to appear in advertisements for backpacking equipment, as he was often seen wearing only a backpack. Kurt Loder reported on “The Naked Guy” in an MTV News segment.
He was even referenced in the 1994 film PCU as an attendee at a Port Chester University student party.
Samantha: “Decent party. I can’t believe the naked guy showed.”
Droz: “Naked guy! Excellent butt, now it's a party!”
Martinez’s nude activism soon faced a series of crushing blows. In the fall of 1992, several arrests and disciplinary hearings at UC Berkeley led to a two-week suspension. After refusing any compromise requiring him to wear clothing, Martinez was expelled from the university on January 21, 1993. The media quickly lost interest, and he soon found himself wandering the city streets, unsure what to do with himself. The 2006 New York Times report described Andrew as “angry about his expulsion, angry that the media had moved on to other stories, angry that no rich nudist had come forward to bankroll the lawsuit he wanted to file against the university.”
After returning home to live with his mother, Esther, in Cupertino, Martinez struggled with depression and other mental health issues and eventually landed in jail over a minor assault charge. In May 2006, while awaiting trial in the Santa Clara County Jail, Andrew Martinez committed suicide. He was just 33. “When he was in jail, he told me he thought it would be sad if all he was ever known for was being the Naked Guy,” his mother told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009.4
Martinez’s nude microclimate
The novelty of Andrew Martinez’s story—a handsome college student attending class naked—was almost sure to attract media attention (and exploitation). Still, it’s essential to understand that Martinez wasn't just an attention-seeking undergraduate using nudity to score headlines and shock his classmates. He wrote extensively about his beliefs regarding nudity, the best example of which is his Militant Nudist Revolution manifesto, preserved on the X-Plicit Players website.5 In it, he addresses several issues related to his ideas surrounding nudity, ranging from class power, racism, misogyny, morality, religious intolerance, civil disobedience, war, politics, political correctness, and the struggles of Generation X. He also touches on several topics that seem far ahead of their time, including gender identity and the irrationality of gender-segregated restrooms. His matter-of-fact questioning of our societal absolutes includes some compelling observations.
“I merely need to take off a 4-ounce piece of cotton and reveal something that I have, everyone knows I have, half of the population has as well, to change from an average twenty-year-old guy to a sex-offending criminal. The meaning of this change is amazing to me.”
The inclusion of the Andrew Martinez story in the country’s premiere naturist publication left quite an impression on me, and much of that has to do with Lee Baxandall’s framing of the young Martinez's nude activism as something that fits well within the naturist and body acceptance movement. It became clear that social nudity could have a meaning far deeper than what one might experience in the sunbathing camps of the old ASA or even the free beaches that Baxandall had long advocated for. It is evident that Baxandall was thrilled by the Martinez story. In that winter issue of Nude & Natural, Baxandall proclaimed, “Andrew’s an individualist, and because he does his thing slowly and calmly, others have to answer for their nervous obedience to blind conformity.”
Rereading his introduction to the Martinez story all these years later, now that I have had the opportunity to explore some of Baxandall's college-era writings, as well as many of his essays in the various political journals he wrote for and edited in the 1960s and 1970s, I have a fuller appreciation for why Baxandall seemed so impressed by the Berkeley student's actions. “Martinez applies an anti-Imperialist approach to the bonds of clothing,” he wrote, “revivifying a social philosophy current during Berkeley's free speech fight of 1964, and classically elucidated by Herbert Marcus's One Dimensional Man in that year.”
Baxandall even created a label for what Martinez had achieved in Berkeley. Living nude within an otherwise clothed environment represented what he described as a microculture. "Microcultures - that's the point." Baxandall wrote. "On a spectrum of excessively naked to obsessively clothed, nudist parks offer a nude sanctuary, but only relatively so." He proclaims, "Social nudity is no longer such a big deal. College students try it, just as they experiment with long hair. Microcultures are reality, and nudist parks, naturist beaches, and college campuses provide varying controlled outlets for this identical quest for freedom."
We should look back at Andrew Martinez, examine him for who he was and what he was trying to accomplish, and avoid the temptation to dismiss him as a curiosity who found fame on tabloid television programs, as the headline of newspaper articles, or as a sound byte on MTV. I remember mentioning his name to a reasonably well-known nudist several years ago, who angrily snapped, "He is NOT a nudist!" She was right. He was much more.
The nudist and naturist movements are in a dramatically different place in 2023 than in 1992 when a student known to many as just "The Naked Guy" graced the cover of Nude & Natural. As these changes begin to come into focus, as we confront the challenges of aging or vanishing nudist parks and far fewer clothing-optional beaches than we had in 1992, perhaps Lee Baxandall's concept of nude microcultures is something to ponder. Without parks and beaches in many parts of the country, have naturist microcultures developed online, in private homes, and elsewhere? Is the microculture the next phase in the evolution of social nude environments?
In 2006, Salon columnist Sarah Elizabeth Richards wrote a memorable tribute to Andrew Martinez, suggesting that more than a few of us remember him and were affected by his activism. In it, she recalls seeing Andrew and the X-Plicit Players crew walking nude along the streets of Berkeley.
"I had never before seen such an assortment of human flesh: saggy breasts, dimpled thighs, stretch marks, moles, scars, pimples, flabby arms… it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. They were just bodies, and they were OK with them. And at 19, that allowed me to think just a little differently about my own imperfect self."6
Here's to thinking differently! 🪐
Baxandall, Lee. “The Naked Guy”. December 26, 1992. Nude & Natural, Issue 12.2.
Zengerle, Jason. “The Naked Guy”. Dec. 31, 2006. The New York Times.
The San Francisco Examiner. September 27, 1992.
Johnson, Chip. “How Berkeley's ‘Naked Guy’ Met a Tragic End”. May 19, 2009. SF Gate.
Martinez, Andrew. “Militant Nudist Revolution”. Berkeley, California, September 21, 1993. Intro by Deb Kent, November 19, 2013. http://www.xplicitplayers.com/MartinezManifesto/index.html
Richards, Sarah Elizabeth. “Remembering the ‘Naked Guy’”. May 22, 2006. Salon.