Update: Just to clarify, my wife is a Humanist Celebrant. She was interested in striking up a partnership with naturists, to help people have the wedding ceremony which fits with their lives. We’re not naturists ourselves. My wife’s blog is here: http://jennacatleyrichardson.com/
What do you really know about naturism? When my wife announced that, as she started looking into striking up ‘niche’ networks in her role as a Humanist Celebrant, she would like us to visit a naturist leisure club, my reaction was… predictable.
The expectations I had were rendered in black and white photographs in my mind’s eye, or in a half remembered episode as a small child on a holiday to Germany, when I became inexplicably (but unavoidably) interested in a friend’s topless mother during a trip to a local beach.
In other words – old, wrinkled naked people or topless women on European beaches. So far, so Daily Mail, so conventional wisdom. And when we arrived, I have to admit my hackles were immediately up – I was uncomfortable, but also, hilariously, on edge in case we were… hard to admit it, but perhaps attacked, or worse.
I didn’t understand these people, and I feared what I didn’t understand. It’s a joke, really, that I see myself as open-minded but that I had this reaction, and that the reality of naturism came as a shock to me when my wife and I visited the club.
The idea of naturism – of being naked, of pursuing life choices or options that enable nakedness – is sniggerworthy only if you distance yourself from the fact that naturists are just people. Being a naturist doesn’t mean you are anything other than a person, and every person is different. So there really isn’t a typical naturist. Just naked people.
I was fascinated by the fact that the club had rules and that there were boundaries. No naked dancing, for instance. And, as we chatted with one of the (clothed) staff in the cafe, a naked woman walked in with another (clothed) member of the club and started chatting to another of the staff (clothed). I was intrigued by the crossover of their current status.
Does a naked naturist look at a clothed naturist with distain? Does a clothed naturist look at a naked naturist with jealousy? Or with judgement, given that they have made the decision not to be naked. The day we visited it was very cold, and the staff had mentioned that they would be clothed since cold weather doesn’t make nakedness easy.
But even so, five minutes after parking the car and being met by the (clothed) staff, I happened to glance into the woods and see two naked members (apart from hiking boots and socks) striding through the trees. Did they feel superior to the naturists who put on clothes? Were they rebelling against the cold as well as the ‘system’ demanding they put clothes on in public? Was anyone there actually rebelling in the first place?
From the conversation we had, it has to be that nobody was rebelling. People were there because the club was safe, a secure and trustworthy place that they could be themselves. And what a marvellous thing to be, a wonderful place to have – a zone you can go where you can absolutely be yourself without apologising for it.
Neatly, this line of thought follows on I feel quite well from previous Open Minday thoughts – what does it mean to be yourself, what responsibilities do you carry? And how do you deal with people who find it impossible to deal responsibly themselves with you speaking out or exposing yourself (in more than the figurative sense of the word)?
My wife’s contact was originally a blogger who calls herself Lady God1va, and you can read her blog here – http://ladygod1va.wordpress.com/ and follow her @LadyGod1va. Obviously, this might not be strictly safe for work.
She asks a great deal of questions that I couldn’t go into detail here, about women in naturism, about how to improve the image of British naturism, about how the reactions of others make it difficult to live what is, effectively, a harmless choice of life.
For my own part, I’m still conflicted. The whole last month and a half has raised questions in me about what it means to be yourself, to expect others to respect your choices, and what responsibility we hold to ‘edit’ or self-modify in order to prevent other people’s choices being affected or taken away from them.
Should people walk around naked? I’m unsure. I know that I wasn’t offended by the naked ramblers, the naked woman, even though they were by no means attractive to me. But they raised a lot of questions about how I view the body and about sexuality. So should we all walk around naked? Or should we just respect those who discover that shedding clothes allows them to wholly possess their own identities?
If I were to choose to be offended by someone’s nakedness I can be. But then who is responsible for me being offended? I’m finding it hard to argue that it’s anyone’s responsibility to carry, understand and address other than my own.