Pride & Shame

It’s June again, which means it’s Pride Month for those who celebrate, myself included. So, with that in mind: Happy Pride, friends!

And, in the spirit of Pride Month, there’s one other thing I need to say, just to get it out of the way: “It’s a sin!” More specifically, pride is a sin, that is. You probably thought I was going to say, “being gay is a sin,” didn’t you? Not this time! Though, to be frank, I think the folks who are quick to speak up each June about how pride is a sin would probably also fall somewhere on the “being gay is a sin” spectrum. Alas, there’s not much I can do about that today.

If you’ve been following my writing for any time at all, you already know that I always wrangle the nudist community into my pieces, and you may know that I tend to revel in any opportunity to find the intersecting points between the nudist community and other communities and identities, the LGBTQ community especially since it’s another that I proudly belong to. So, what is there to say about pride, and what does pride have to do with nudists? Pride as a celebration extends beyond the LGBTQ community, but it’s important to understand why this particular form of pride is unique and how nudists might learn more about themselves by seeking to better understand it and relate to it. So let’s dig in!

Crossing the rainbow crosswalk in West Hollywood, California

Every year during Pride Month, the argument I presented at the top of this article shows itself somewhere on my social media timeline, in a blog post, in an opinion piece, as a passing comment in a news interview, or coming from the pulpit: “Pride is a sin!” OK, yes, pride is indeed one of—and, notably, the worst of—the seven cardinal sins in Christian teachings. But calling pride a sin during Pride Month is a bad-faith claim that strips the word of its nuance and conflates the positive connotations of the word with its negatives in order to further paint LGBTQ people as sinners and deviants. We may not regularly articulate it, but we inherently know that there’s a difference between positive pride and negative pride, between feeling pride in yourself, in a loved one, or in an accomplishment, and acting prideful or arrogant or haughty. Not only do we all know this, but we act accordingly. For example, no rational person would shout “pride is a sin!” on the 4th of July when Americans sing along to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” or when a parent congratulates their graduating child, or when an Olympian wins a medal and cries tears of pride on the podium as they accept it. (For further reading/listening, I recommend this NPR interview in which author and theologian Michael Eric Dyson breaks down many of the nuances within the concepts of pride and sin.) Compared to these forms of pride, however, the type of pride expressed during pride celebrations is perhaps different still.

In the mid-twentieth century, following the Second World War and a severe economic depression, migration from Puerto Rico to New York City increased exponentially, the city’s Puerto Rican population increasing from 13,000 in 1945 to more than 50,000 only a year later, and continuing to grow by nearly as much every year for the next decade. While the Puerto Ricans who had landed in New York often faced racism and discrimination, those who stayed in Puerto Rico were fighting for their independence from the United States despite being prohibited from discussing their own independence or criticizing the United States under 1948’s Public Law 53 (or “Gag Law”). Even displaying a Puerto Rican flag was a violation of the Gag Law, turning everyday Puerto Ricans into criminals. The law was finally ruled unconstitutional and overturned in 1957, and very shortly after, in 1958, the first Puerto Rican Day Parade was held along 5th Avenue in New York City. The annual parade continues to this day as a celebration of Puerto Rican heritage, culture, and, yes, pride. Not pridefulness, not hubris, not arrogance, but bravery and perseverance and community.

The very next decade would see persecution against the LGBTQ community come to a head in the United States, perhaps most notably in—once again—New York City where police raids of gay bars and clubs were so commonplace that LGBTQ people could hardly patronize any bar let alone gather with each other in their own bars. New York City also notoriously had laws on the books targeting drag queens and transgender individuals, criminalizing the act of not dressing appropriately for one’s gender. After years of harassment, the Stonewall Riots erupted in 1969. This six-day stretch of violent clashes following the night that patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village fought back against a police raid is generally regarded as the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. In June of 1970, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first American gay pride parades took place in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, as much to protest against ongoing harassment and demand rights as to celebrate community, self acceptance, and, of course, pride. Again, not pridefulness, not vanity, not superiority, but defiance and unity and resilience.

In 2022, despite decades of progress since the Stonewall Riots and the first gay pride parades, LGBTQ people in the United States still regularly face targeted harassment and, very recently, a new wave of new anti-LGBTQ legislation has arrived to roll back much of the progress that’s been made. And what are LGBTQ people meant to feel through all of this? What should we feel when the successes and struggles of our community are excluded from history lessons? When our inclusion in movies and television shows is met with outrage and boycotts? When our participation in sport is met with upset and fear? When men bring weapons and hate to our clubs and parades and festivals to intimidate—if not kill—us? When religious leaders call on their congregations, our own neighbors and friends and family members, to support a death sentence for people like us? What are we meant to feel except exclusion and fear? What effect is all of that meant to have on the LGBTQ community if not to make us want to crawl out of sight, hide, disappear, avoid attention and crowds and public places, protect ourselves in the shadows? Shame is what we are meant to feel, and hopefully enough of it to push us back into the closet, back out of the public sphere, back off the TV screens, back off the streets, back, back, back.

The concept of celebrating and feeling pride in one’s community, in its struggles and achievements and contributions, is shared by more than just the Puerto Rican and LGBTQ communities, extending to other marginalized groups, to other communities of color or shared heritage or disability. These examples, however, exemplify common elements of pride: self-acceptance in the face of intolerance, visibility in the face of erasure, unity and community in the face of division, strength in the face of violence, and love and joy in the face of hate. When faced with pressure to feel shame and fear and rejection, when told that we should not be seen or heard, that we are abominations or ugly or unworthy of love, the most courageous and defiant and radical response is… pride. An unapologetic pride, visibility, and togetherness. This is why Pride Month is so important to so many LGBTQ individuals.

In 2019, I wrote a piece titled, “Is Nudism the New LGBTQ?” in which I outlined a few reasons why, no, nudism is not the new LGBTQ, but that there were lessons that the nudist community could and should take from the LGBTQ rights movement and other similar movements. The history of the nudist community is not quite like that of women’s liberation or the civil rights movement or the LGBTQ rights movement, which is not to say that nudists have not faced some serious struggles, only that the circumstances are unique, and I would caution nudists to be mindful of those differences and not co-opt or bemoan the pride celebrations of LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. If anything, we should be there to lift them up. That being said, while nudists may not face the kind of discrimination, threats, and targeted harassment that other marginalized communities face, there is a lesson of pride to be had within the nudist community as well. Not pride in a label or a membership card or a chosen identity, but in something deeper and more meaningful than those things.

What do nudists know about pride? Don’t nudists reject pridefulness by stripping away those layers of class and status? Sure! But that’s not all that nudists do. In a world that demands that we fear our own bodies, that demands disgust at the sight of ourselves and each other, that would have us holding ourselves and one another to impossible standards of beauty, that demands that we feel shame in our skin, our wrinkles, our body parts, our natural variations in appearance and ability, nudists say, “No.” In a world that asks us to divide, that tells us to fear those we don’t understand, that constantly asks us argue with and demean and belittle one another, nudists choose to gather and accept and embrace one another for our differences, to strip away the barriers that keep us apart. These are, in my mind, radical acts of which we should be proud. Proud that we strive to continually build a community that welcomes all the bodies that the world has shamed, proud to embrace those with identities that the world might try to erase, proud that we have bravely accepted the very things that make us human and vulnerable and unique. We should be proud to represent diversity of human experience in the face of division, proud to promote unity in the face of so much hate. Sure, we may not always get it right, but we keep trying and keep pursuing a world where people don’t have to feel shame in their bodies or selves, where we can all feel accepted and loved for who we are.

That’s not pridefulness, it’s pride in community. It’s courage. It’s radical acceptance of self and of one another.

So, sure, “pride is a sin.” But pride is also a defiant celebration of visibility, a refusal to disappear, a testament to what has a been overcome and a commitment to continue working to overcome it, a brilliant light to lead others to self-acceptance and joy, and, most importantly, a rejection of the shame we’re meant to feel for simply being who we are. When faced with calls for shame, the most radical response is pride, after all, and I think that’s something nudists can understand and appreciate.


“What should we be doing to attract people of color and the LGBTQ community?” he asked the room of nudist and naturist leaders.

“Nothing. There’s nothing stopping anyone from coming here, but we shouldn’t be going out and trying to bring them in,” the room responded in turns with slightly varied phrasing and intonation.

When I was younger and still living with my parents, the holidays were really important for my family. Every year, we had large Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with family from all around gathering together to celebrate and share food and memories. While I wouldn’t say that my mom was an especially accomplished chef, she could cook a mean holiday meal to rival any other family’s Christmas dinner. There was always room at the table, always another table leaf under the bed, and always extra chairs in the closet that we could pull out if anyone showed up unexpectedly. Always a gracious host, my mother, but even my mom was not without her flaws. My mother, God bless her, could not care less about your dietary restrictions.

I grew up attending a Seventh-Day Adventist school, a Christian denomination known for not eating meat or, at the very least, not eating pork. Many of my best friends growing up were Seventh-Day Adventist, and still are even now into adulthood. And yet… when I would bring these friends around at Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other time throughout the year, regardless of whether she knew in advance they were coming, my mother would have found a way to work some kind of pork product into every dish, as was her habit. The main dish? Ham. The salad? Bacon bits in it. The green bean casserole? Garnished with bacon. The mashed potatoes? Little bits of ham mixed in. The pumpkin pie? Bacon-crusted. (Just kidding about that last one.)

Was my mom’s heart in the right place? Sure, yes, of course! She made a lovely meal! There was room for everyone! Grab a plate and have a seat!

But here’s the moral of the story: If you’re only preparing a space with people just like yourself in mind, you’re not creating a welcoming space for everyone. In my mom’s case, of course she has every right to cook what she wants! If people show up unexpectedly, it’s not her fault that there isn’t a single dish they can eat. She didn’t know. And yet, as the family has grown, there are more folks at the table with their own dietary restrictions. There are vegetarians and people with gluten sensitivities and people who can’t eat too much sugar. And then there’s my mom, who keeps cooking the same Christmas dinner she’s always cooked. If you can’t eat it, you’d better bring your own dish. And people do.

This is very much the same dismissive energy as the one I alluded to earlier, an attitude widely shared by longtime leaders and clubs within the nudist and naturist community. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that “not unwelcome” is not the same thing as “welcome.” “No one’s stopping you,” is not the same as “please come join us!” Having enough space for someone is not the same thing as readying the space for someone. Having plenty of food is not the same as having food for everyone. Inviting someone for dinner is not the same as being prepared for them to come. My mother is not the only one who struggles to grasp this.

When nudist leaders, clubs, and organizations claim to welcome all yet do very little to ready their spaces for all to join, it can come off as… insincere at best. The truth is, much of the nudist and naturist community is largely unprepared to welcome people of color and LGBTQ nudists. Certainly there is space for them, but that was never the issue, was it? Of course there’s space. Of course the club owners would be happy to have you. Of course they’d be delighted to accept your money. Of course. Something is missing, though, and it’s the work involved to make those spaces accommodating and welcoming for people who, for whatever reason, have not been there this whole time. Just saying “we welcome everyone” is not enough.

So what is enough? Enough is involving people of color and LGBTQ folks in your decision-making process. Enough is having a plan of action for handling racist, homophobic, and transphobic behavior. Enough is taking claims of discrimination seriously. Enough is re-evaluating the language used in your written materials to identify potentially sexist, homophobic, or racist language. Enough is being careful not to tokenize the few people of color and LGBTQ nudists who show up. Enough is removing the visual barriers like white supremacist banners or “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman” signs or anything that makes people feel like their presence is unwelcome because of who they are. Enough is holding people accountable for bad behavior and also offering the tools to improve and do better. Enough is deciding that you care about the way other people feel within your community, and then continually, actively, outwardly striving to make it better. It’s not a series of boxes you can check, but a culture of unity and understanding.

And it’s not… hard. It’s not hard to be aware of the needs of others. It’s not hard to listen or to include others in the conversation. It’s no more difficult to use inclusive language just like it’s no more difficult to cook green bean casserole without bacon. It does take thought, yes, but creating a space that is ready to accommodate everyone is worth that effort. It’s worth it, certainly, for the people for whom you’re preparing the space. It’s worth it for the sake of this community and its longevity. It’s worth it if it helps more people discover and enjoy naturism and its philosophy of equality. It’s worth it because it’s the right thing to do.

I don’t know if my mother will ever truly embrace the idea of having just a few vegetarian dishes at Christmas, but I have hope. I’ve watched her adjust her cooking to accommodate my dad’s newfound gluten sensitivity and his aversion to nuts. I know she can do it. We all can do it. We can do a lot better than “not unwelcome.” We can make people feel welcome.

Why We Flee

My partner and I left Portland, Oregon, for Los Angeles, California, almost exactly one year ago, distancing ourselves even further from our families based in the more rural parts of Eastern Oregon. During the entire twelve years that we lived in Portland, always within a few hours’ drive of our families, there was never a conversation that took place between one of us and our respective family that didn’t impose at least a hint of guilt for abandoning the family, a manipulative tone that begged us to return and fulfill some unspoken but oft-implied duty to remain physically close even if emotionally distant. “Someone I spoke with in town here wants to hire someone like you!” “A teaching position just opened up at the high school!” “There’s a family birthday party this weekend and it would mean a lot if you could come.” Over time, the comments grew less sincere. They knew I wasn’t coming back, but every additional comment and invitation fueled my punishment of feeling eternally guilty, uneasy, anxious for daring to venture out. When we moved to Los Angeles, the antagonizing comments gained more fervor, even if mixed with the occasional, feigned word of support.

My story is not unique, so please don’t take my introduction as some attempt to garner sympathy. I don’t care except to be a beacon for others who have gone through the same thing. A lot of millennials experience this, especially those who make a bold move to a new city, a new state, a new country. This begs the question: Why do we leave our families in the first place? Why did leave? Why do millennials flock to cities? Or is it that we are fleeing something that haunts our hometowns?

I grew up as gay kid born into an ultra-conservative, evangelical family, on the outskirts of a town of fewer than 20,000 people. Without going into too much detail, staying in that town after high school was never going to be an option for me. I could not stay there. There was no place for me at the time, there is not a place for me there now. Maybe some day there will be a place for people like me there but, frankly, regardless of my sexuality, my dreams and aspirations alone were yearning for something bigger and grander. I wanted more than elephant ears at the county fair, more than rodeos and the same ten country songs, more than dusty gravel roads and my choice of seventeen fast food restaurants. I can appreciate those things now, but I resented them during my adolescence when I had no other option, when I felt suffocated by my seasonal allergies, my hidden sexuality, maybe even my teenage hubris. I could not stay there and it still stirs something painful inside to go back to visit.

My experiences are my own, but they are part of a larger trend of young people fleeing their hometowns for the bright lights and busy streets of the big city… any big city. Sometimes that catalyst is pain, fear, or rejection. Sometimes it’s a pursuit of more professional opportunities, an education, a community of like-minded young people gathering in one place to share ideas, stories, resources, homes. Sometimes it’s all of these things or something else entirely. It can be difficult to justify this move to the people you leave behind, to impress upon them the importance of this new, intentional community, of growing professionally, personally, and emotionally, of diversity, of what lies beyond the county line. It probably feels like rejection to them, too. I’m sure it hurts to see us flee.

For many of us, the city provides a refuge from everything that hurt us or held us back and, in its place, gives us a place to grow, like a nursery for young adults ready to bloom and sprout. In the city, we don’t have to convince our father that women are strong and capable, that they can wear what they want, that their bodies are their own. In the city, we don’t have to explain to our grandmother why immigrants are important and worthy of respect, why people of color are not the source of all her problems. In the city, we don’t have to convince our uncle that LGBTQ people deserve happiness and safety, that they aren’t sick and aren’t going to hell. In the city, we don’t have to argue with our mother about the reality of climate change. In the city, we don’t have to justify why we studied philosophy or literature or women’s studies or art or biology. In the city, we don’t have to be treated like lunatics for believing in science, community, equality. In the city, we don’t have to constantly fight against disinformation spread on Facebook or by Fox News, against “entitled millennial” narratives and claims that we are destroying the world they built to fail.

Not all young people find themselves in a home or a hometown that they feel the need to flee, and not all young people need to leave home to pursue opportunities or find community. Not all young people are hurting. Not all young people are exhausted at the thought of visiting their hometowns. But many of those who do flee, who do flock to the city, are fighting some form of the battle outlined above. I know that many families feel they are losing their children when they see them flee to the city. In many ways, the children feel the same way, but don’t see any other choice. They have dreams to pursue, after all.

So… I usually write about nudism. (Maybe that took you by surprise if you’ve never read my other posts. Sorry. Well, not “sorry” so much as “surprise!”) You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned nudism at all until now. You’re right, I haven’t. That honestly was not the reason I wanted to write about this. I wanted to write about this topic because it has been pressing on me personally lately, and I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this conflict. In a way, though, I think maybe I have written about nudism. In a way, a lot of what I outlined above is at the root of declining membership at clubs, of seemingly decreasing interest in organized nudism. Young people fled to the city while nudist organizations and clubs maintained their focus on existing, aging communities in rural areas across the country. Young people sought progress while the nudist community sought to maintain the status quo. Young people pursued new dreams in new places with new people while the nudist community just sort of… stayed where it was, in a world further and further away from the one that young people wanted to build, geographically and ideologically. Much like so many other things that get left behind. It’s much bigger than the nudist community, though.

I won’t list off ways to fix the issue. I won’t provide a strategy. Not in this blog post, anyway. That wasn’t the point. I just wanted to say, to those young people reading this who can relate, you are beautiful just as you are and your journey is valid and important. There will be people in your life who will not appreciate that journey but it is a reflection on them and their character, not on you, the validity of your pursuits, or the importance of your community. If your journey gets hard—which it will—it does not mean that you failed or that you made a mistake. It means you are trying, you are human, and you are learning. I will leave you with one last thought: If you get where you’re going—whether that’s surrounded by city lights, fresh mountain air, or a warm desert breeze—and something you love is still missing, it’s up to you to find it, create it, adapt it. Maybe you’ll miss those rodeos, that country music, those fishing trips, that old nudist park tucked in the woods. Those things aren’t lost, they’re just waiting for the next generation to pick them back up and make them their own, when they’re ready. When you’re ready.