I initially wrote out a more sensational title for this post that, while eye-catching, might have been more controversial than it needed to be. Earlier this year, I promised myself that I would not censor my beliefs or convictions for the sake of soothing the delicate sensibilities of a more closed-minded audience, but I also believe that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, so communicating the same message in a more palatable way feels appropriate here. The sentiment is still there.
When I started writing this blog in 2018, I knew that this message would need to come out. I danced around it a bit when I wrote Millennial Killed the Nudist Club… because, as a millennial, I have a lot of feelings about the way that younger generations are blamed for the demise of every institution our forefathers and foremothers once held dear and, as a millennial, I have my qualms with the way that the naturist community handles itself, driving nails into its own coffin. What I don’t want to do right now, though, is pick at the naturist community. Those of us already here are all doing what we can to be upstanding nudists and naturists and there is no sense in making anyone feel bad or like they did something wrong. No. You didn’t do anything wrong.
What I do want to do is talk about how the future of naturism will need to look if it is truly to survive. Naturism will need to be less male, less white, and less straight. Take note that I put those adjectives in order of palatability starting with the most universally accepted and ending with the most controversial, but I think you’ll come to agree with me by the end if you haven’t already.
For starters, you probably saw “less male,” and thought, “Well, yes! We could certainly use more women in naturism!” In many areas of society, to pose the idea that there are too many men would still raise eyebrows, but in the naturist community we have long accepted the reality that more men are actively and publicly engaged in naturism than women, to the point that many clubs take strides to correct the imbalance. Banning single men from clubs and events was once more common than it is now, for example. Regulating and maintaining a desired ratio of men to women is another tactic used. It’s not controversial in the naturist and nudist community to admit that the men outweigh the women and that a more even ratio would be better. We basically all agree. We might agree for different reasons, sure. Some straight men may agree with this statement because they would like to find a partner within the community, and that’s hard to do when there aren’t any women. Please also understand that I am saying this as a gay man: I would love to see more women in naturist spaces, too. I would love to see them there because it makes me, as a gay man, feel less like my presence is under scrutiny. More on that later.
But there’s also the idea that every man and every woman and every person whose gender or sex might not neatly fall into either of those buckets all deserve to feel as included, represented, and safe in the community as every other member of the community. Can we espouse body positivity, gender equality, and acceptance and be OK with having a mostly male membership? Maybe. But is that true to the core tenets of naturism? The future of naturism depends on our ability to confront and change the cultural aspects within naturism that favor men and make women feel unwelcome or unsafe. The next time you are in a naturist environment, in a naturist chatroom, on nudist Twitter, on TrueNudists, at a nude beach, etc., take a look around you and ask yourself, “Does this environment, this behavior, this post, this imagery, this dialogue… does it make women feel included? Would someone who isn’t male feel welcome and comfortable here? Is this going to help the naturist community?” If you hesitate even slightly to answer, there is probably something that could change. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not bad to acknowledge the things about your own community that could hurt others or turn them away. It’s a very good thing. It’s how movements survive. And, let me remind you: As naturists, we are especially talented at identifying the aspects of society that create inequalities, that cause undue burden, that are unjust, that pull us all down and demean us. We can do this. It is not hard.
OK, now this next part might ruffle a few more feathers than the last part because we all just hate to talk about race. Let’s do it anyway because we are all smart enough to do it kindly, sensibly, and with understanding. This is also very important because, let’s face it, the face of naturism is very white. It’s not even like white people actively want naturism to be so very white. I know the naturist community would be happy to have people of every race, nationality, and cultural background join the community, partially because we need the member base, sure, but also partially because I know that the value we place on equality and body freedom extends to the color of one’s skin. So, why is it so white? There are a lot of reasons, many of which are rooted in some very racist beginnings within the naturist community, such as not allowing non-white visitors to resorts and clubs or building those resorts and clubs far away from urban centers that were becoming increasingly racially diverse throughout the 20th century. I am not here to say that naturists are racist. Well… some probably are. Some people are racist in general, so surely some naturists are, too, but that’s not my point.
In the same way that we need to look at the culture and environment that we have created to make sure that it is welcoming to women, we need to do the same to make sure that the environment we are created is accessible and actively interested in attracting members who come from different racial, national, or cultural backgrounds. For the sake of better understanding people who don’t look like us, for the sake of representation, for the sake of acceptance and celebration of our differences and our similarities, for the sake of our membership, for the sake of growing this movement and this set of core values that we all hold… for the sake of embracing the diversity of human experience. No one ever learned anything by surrounding themselves with people who knew all the same things and had all the same experiences that they themselves have had. Our community can learn, it can grow, it can encompass a wider array of experiences, but it can’t do that if we don’t identify areas of improvement, if we don’t recognize the little things that make it less comfortable for non-white potential naturists to dip their toe in the community. We could do a lot more to listen to our existing non-white members, to elevate their voices, to take their lead in welcoming and embracing new members, to change the face of naturism to one that looks more like the world around us. I know we can do this. I’ve seen some very valiant efforts to do just that within the community. Let’s get better at doing it and do it more often. Every body, every shape, and every color belongs here.
Now I’m left with the least palatable, possibly most controversial piece. Let me just say, it’s difficult to talk about sexuality at all within the naturist community. On one side, there is this deeply entrenched heteronormativity that manifests itself in couples membership applications that identify the applicants as “husband and wife,” in “sexy” lingerie parties at naturist clubs (which, gross, those just need to go away regardless), and in backhanded Twitter comments. Similarly to the issue of race, I genuinely believe that most naturists don’t have any qualm with LGBTQ members and guests. I think they probably just think to themselves, “What’s the big deal? Just come and join us! We don’t care if you’re gay!” And that’s so admirable, but it’s also unintentionally dismissive. As a gay man, it’s not easy to walk into any space and feel comfortable and accepted. Every new space is unsafe until proven safe, and naturist communities are no different. My first trip to a naturist resort was amazing, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also quite worried that my partner and I would not be accepted. I can only imagine that other queer naturists feel the same unease when approaching naturism. We want to feel safe, we want to feel like our bodies are whole and worthy of acceptance, and we want to feel the warm embrace of community that many of us are so lacking.
And, before you go there, I know a few of you are going to think something really unkind like, “Well, the gays just fill the internet with porn and I don’t think we should allow that in our communities!” Calm down. The straights fill the internet with porn, too. There are plenty of members of the queer community who do not fill the internet with porn, and I know you know that, so let’s move on. Just like for the last two points I presented, creating a safe space for queer community members involves identifying the rhetoric and culture–however minor it may seem–that quietly (or loudly) makes them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. For me, even just seeing that the clubhouse at a naturist resort has a rainbow flag hanging alongside other important wall hangings means that someone in the community made a conscious effort to want me to feel welcome, and that’s huge. Creating an environment that is truly free of judgment, that celebrates all families, all love, all bodies, and all lives… that’s community. And the best part is that it’s easy to create those environments, and a lot of us already do. We just need to do it with intention and consider inclusion itself to be a core tenet of this movement.
My original title for this post was, “The Future of Naturism is Female, Brown, and Queer,” but it felt unnecessarily divisive. Language is funny that way. We all associate different meaning to different words, but there are so many fundamental beliefs that we hold as a community that transcend our differences. The truth is that the future of naturism is not any one group: The future of naturism needs all of us. It needs more of everyone. It needs to look like the world around us, but it needs to be better. It needs to love harder, celebrate more, feel safer. The future of naturism looks like all of us, all genders, all races, all kinds of families, and all kinds of love. So, is that less male, less white, and less straight? Yes. Does that mean that there are fewer men, fewer white people, and fewer straight people? No. It just means that we make sure the doors are open to more varieties of people, and then we actively welcome them in.