Discover more from Planet Nude
Liberating the burdened body at Pride
We have reached another Pride Month, a time of year for reflection, introspection, and solidarity. It’s a time of year I tend to mark by writing a piece about LGBTQ experiences with nakedness and within the nudist community, for better or for worse but always with hope for the future and appreciation of where we have been. Last week on Twitter, I shared a few of my previous posts on these topics to kick off Pride Month, accompanied by some thoughts on this particularly tumultuous year for the LGBTQ community in the United States. I will include an expanded list of further readings at the bottom of this article for anyone interested.
What is weighing on me this year is a very different feeling than I’ve experienced in previous years. One year during Pride, in 2015, the year the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans across the country, I felt a sort of relieved joy, the kind you feel when you finally exhale after a period so long and tense you hadn’t realized that you had been holding your breath. The very next year during Pride, in 2016, the year of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, I felt lost, unsafe, incredibly alone, and yet also proud of the unity and resilience of the community. This year, after months or longer of ongoing news of state legislatures taking aim at LGBTQ communities around the country and an increasingly violent public activated against queer representation and visibility, I feel something else entirely: An acute shrinking sensation. Small steps of progress and tolerance seem to be vanishing, fading, retracted, shifting around us. The spaces where my body, your body, her body, their body can feel safe seem to be withering. The spaces many queer people have been occupying and navigating freely and confidently feel suddenly moth-eaten by anti-queer outrage and violence, in real life and online. Pieces of the world are now missing. Parts of our own country feel nearly off-limits. Maybe that’s the point: To get rid of certain bodies.
With all of this comes a very weary recognition of the toll these struggles take on us, an awareness of the burdens we carry, the weight that our bodies bear in the name of… what? Someone else’s idea of modesty or propriety or respectability? Someone else’s fears and insecurities? Someone else's culture war? Someone else’s ego? The body, whether it belongs to a gay or straight or transgender or cisgender or black or white person, bears too much of this type of burden, too much blame for the thoughts and motivations of others. Too much weight of making everyone but ourselves feel comfortable and empowered. I feel compelled to write about that burden carried by our bodies, as a queer person myself, and as someone who celebrates the body, strives for a more accepting world, and advocates for the liberating effects of nudity. Today I am focusing on the burdens carried by queer bodies, yes, because it is Pride Month and because queer bodies carry unique yet all-too-familiar burdens, but these burdens are allegorical: They can be carried by every body and these themes should ring universal. Just as every body bears these burdens, body liberation is also for every body.
This theme of body liberation—regardless of the year or the news cycle or the current political climate—is always top of mind for me during Pride Month, and it has been a topic of my writing more than once. Among queer people, being part of a group already marginalized and accustomed to being rejected or excluded from society grants a certain amount of freedom amongst ourselves to shirk the shackles of “modesty” and social expectations, to embrace our bodies and embrace nudity in ways that feel out of bounds to much of mainstream society. That embrace of the human body can be an expression of sexual liberation at times, which is likely all that many onlookers see when they peer in, but just as often it is an expression of love, beauty, strength, solidarity, or vulnerability.
The body is a versatile vessel, capable of expressing a wide range of motivations and messages and the queer community has a seemingly innate understanding of this. This, to me, means that people outside of the queer community are just as hard-wired to understand what the body can mean, what embracing our own nakedness can symbolize, and perhaps that’s what is so terrifying about nudity: If everyone is capable of liberation and love and strength and joy, how can we keep each other down?
June is LGBT pride month. There is a large crossover between the LGBT community and the nudist community, and some of the strongest advocates for nudism are also members of the LGBT community (including myself). Unfortunately, nudism isn’t immune from discrimination, which is why it’s important that we continue to push for greater inclusiveness in nudism.
Many nudist clubs have policies only allowing male/female couples, and many more have quotas around gender and relationship status that disproportionately affect members of the LGBT community. Some people seem to have the default assumption that gay and trans people must be looking for sex, or up to no good. This is ridiculous of course. Being gay is no more sexual than being straight, the only difference is in who we are attracted to.
The reason there are so many LGBT nudists is simple. We are culturally less closed minded to the idea of nudism than the general public. I think we should celebrate this and take advantage of this. The LGBT community has the potential to be a huge growth area for nudism. And as more people get involved in nudism, the less stigmatised it will become, and the more other groups who may have been traditionally more hesitant to try it will start to open up to the idea.
So let’s all work to make sure the nudist community is as open and welcoming to people of all walks of life as possible. The best outcome for nudism is to have as many people involved as possible, and we do that through bringing down barriers, not through fear of those who are different.
Very much to the point, LGBTQ people are some of the biggest proponents and strongest advocates for the celebration of nudity, body liberation, and often nudist ideas. In moments of Pride, moments at the nude beach, and in moments of artistry and celebration we see the queer community find liberation through nudity at a disproportionately high level compared to general society. I might add that the LGBTQ rights movement has crossed paths or run parallel with the activism of the nudist community through much of the past century as well. Among the most prominent nudist and naturist leaders of the twentieth century are Zelda Suplee, who spent much of her time advocating for transgender rights, and Lee Baxandall, who was outspoken in his support and inclusion of the gay community. Likewise, historical struggles such as fighting for the freedom to distribute materials via the post, protecting the right to assemble consensually and peacefully, and securing access to nude beaches have impacted both communities. These communities have long, intertwined roots and to this day overlap in their inclusive values and openness to social nudity. This has always been my experience, having spent enough time at nude beaches and other nude spaces to take note of the gatherings of queer folks and intermingled groups of gay and straight friends, everyone enjoying a space where they can be themselves with people they care about, around others who accept and welcome them. And yet, even today, the experiences of LGBTQ people can vary significantly within the nudist community.
As the above tweet mentions, factors as simple gender quotas can impact whether or not LGBTQ people are welcomed into mixed nudist spaces (not to mention single, straight males who are also often impacted). My involvement within the nudist community and my connection with other nudists have also opened my eyes to some situations more directly exclusive of queer folks, having dealt with complaints of restrictive clubs, exclusionary admission policies, and unfriendly interactions. My own personal experiences include strings of negative comments whenever I write about my experiences as a gay nudist or the intersections between the LGBTQ and nudist communities… or really any time I write about the power of nudity to break social barriers and prejudices like racism, homophobia, and misogyny. As far back as I’ve practiced nudism, I can recall this tension existing. On one of my first visits to a nude beach during my freshman year of college, I watched an older man harangue two young lesbian women about their sexuality and their supposed need to “just find the right man.” They were nonplussed but were surrounded by enough other people and must have felt safe enough that they maintained a relaxed composure. It seems that regardless of where we go or what spaces we occupy, these kinds of interactions for queer people are part of life: Our stories are challenged, our presence is questioned, our rights are openly debated, our contributions are discounted, our bodies are excluded. Though I would not say that these kinds of interactions are rampant within the nudist sphere—at least not any more so than in the rest of society—they are unfortunately not entirely uncommon, either, and demonstrate a gap between what the nudist community declares as its values and how those values are actually manifested.
While there exists a tension, a discomfort with queerness within the nudist community and a tension towards nudity and queerness at large in a society, I have experienced some of the greatest warmth and strongest embraces from other queer nudists and straight nudist allies and I have seen a growing acceptance within some of those allies that I appreciate immensely. I have found some of my greatest friends and best colleagues within the company of others who embrace nudity and the community it creates, queer and straight alike, black and white alike, because these are a people who can appreciate what the LGBTQ community understands about the body: That it is a versatile vessel, that nudity can challenge social prejudice, and that accepting our bodies can be powerful. I have found others who see the liberating power of nakedness as a force for unity and as a tool in the celebration of our diversity. A community that celebrates the body and liberates it of society’s burdens is, frankly, pretty radical and empowering, whether you call it nudism or naturism or body positivity or art or wellness, whether it gathers at the beach or at a nudist resort or at a Pride parade or online.
The more I ruminate on these topics, what I keep coming back to is this idea that the body bears far too many burdens and that it is up to us to relieve each other of that weight. Celebrating one another is a far greater act than tearing each other down and finding ways to include and welcome one another is a far better way to live than making excuses to shun one another. Our bodies are tools of resilience, strength, and love, capable of so much more than hurting or excluding one another. These are the lessons I am carrying forward this Pride Month, and they’re lessons that are applicable, yes, within the LGBTQ community and, yes, within the nudist sphere, but also in every setting and every context. These lessons are far more important than the nudity itself, more important than the rainbows or the parades or the beaches themselves, but there’s no reason we can’t recruit the nudity and the rainbows to help us make the point and liberate the body of these burdens. Happy Pride, everyone! 🪐