Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Minority Interests: Abnormality?

Society encourages conformity. As a social species, it is in our programming to relate to one another. But diversity is also important, and we should not be quick to judge those who are different as being necessarily "damaged" in some way. I've been "unique" all my life, and had a hard time fitting in, and I'll be the first to say that being "different" is difficult. But there are also advantages, because I think people with different perspectives on the world are an invaluable asset to society.

When I think about my interest in nudism (just to pick one example), I have to question whether it's "normal". Statistically, having an active interest in nudism is rare. However, that interest, to me, feels quite "natural". Is it healthy? I think so, absolutely. And yet, I can't deny the fact that I have an overwhelming interest in being nude, one that sets me apart from the average person. Even among some nudists, I think - the less enthusiastic ones, who were maybe brought into the lifestyle by someone else's fervor, and accepted it as being not unpleasant, or even mildly desirable - still may not be quite as excited about it as I am.

There's a lot to be said for social conditioning, and modern customs. These days, nudity seems to draw a lot of attention, not all of which is positive. Though people may admit that nudity itself can be "natural" (most people don't shower with their clothes on, for example), there's some silly idea going around that you're not supposed to see other people naked, or let other people see you naked, except for specific exceptions. But imagine a world where we didn't have that hangup.

Think about it, most people wouldn't wear pajamas to school (on the other hand, some do, on occasion - and get away with it), and you don't get to see most people you encounter in life in pajamas. And yet, when the situation arises - say, a sleepover with friends, or visiting somebody's house in the morning, or on a trip with someone - and you get to see a person in pajamas, it may be, at most, a little bit awkward for one or both parties, but it's really not a big deal.

And few people in their right minds would wear a swimsuit to a business meeting, because it's just not appropriate according to the rules of business meetings, but do you see anyone (again: in their right mind) complaining about all the exposed flesh at the beach or local swimming pool? So how come, of all outfits, the birthday suit gets so much flak? There may be some facilities with communal showering where people (of the same sex only, you'll note) are more or less comfortable showering naked in front of others, but even that seems to be rare these days.

Imagine a world where we all grew up swimming nude and sleeping nude, and learned that nudity is just another form of casual dress. It doesn't necessarily mean you'd have naked people serving you lunch, or that you'd find yourself crammed into an elevator with several large, naked men (or any other naked nightmares you might conjure up). But if somebody was out on a warm day enjoying the weather naked, nobody would bat an eyelash; and if you rang someone's door and they answered it naked, it wouldn't be a big deal. Much of it is dependent on social programming.

And yet, my interest in nudity goes beyond the practical advantages of it. It tickles a part of my soul. It touches me on a profound level. It has meaning for me. So I might push harder and farther than most people would, even in a more nudity-tolerant society. And that makes me different. That makes me stand out. But it doesn't mean there's anything "wrong" with me. I wish more people, when they come across something they're not familiar with, would take the time to say, "hey, that's interesting", instead of so quickly writing it off as weird and dangerous and "ew, make it stop."

Nudism and Photography

Do nudist families have photo albums? Imagine what they're missing!

In my experience, nudist assemblies frequently have a strict no-photography policy, except where officially sanctioned by whoever is in charge (and with the consent of the group). This is due largely to two reasons - privacy, and perversion - which are actually not completely unrelated. Customs may be different in other parts of the world - and indeed, I hope that they are, for though I see the reasoning behind this policy, I lament that it is deemed necessary. After all, I am a photographer and a nudist, and a photographer of nudism, and I hate to see that wedge stuck in there between them.

Nudity is a sensitive issue. While it's true that nudists generally have a healthy attitude towards nudity, they can't be expected to control the rest of the world's reaction to nudity (although it'd be great if they could - imagine the loss of hangups!). So their collective fear of photography is based less on not wanting to be photographed nude (although this ultimately depends on the person) and more on the fear of how others (i.e., non-nudists) would react to seeing a photo of them nude.

The first issue I mentioned is privacy. Not every nudist is "out" about their nudism to their friends, families, and coworkers. Because nudism is frequently misunderstood, and some people jump too quickly to conclusions and take too much effort to be reassured, it may in some cases be easier just to keep one's nudism a secret. Otherwise, you could lose friends, fall out with family members, or even find your job security at risk. Otherwise, nudism can be an embarrassing subject to broach, and admitting one's involvement in the lifestyle could be a setup for mockery. Now, this could be true of any number of hobbies, but precisely because nudity (and thus, nudism) is frequently confused with sexuality - the Prime Evil of Modern Society - extra care is taken with privacy.

This feeds into the second issue: perversion. The line between sex and nudity is a tricky one to navigate; they are not inherently inseparable, though they overlap in many cases. It's impossible to put them in entirely separate containers, and yet identifying the distinction between them is important, if not simply because it exists, then because "purifying" nudity is an imperative in the quest to garner mainstream acceptance from a society that rues sexuality. Nevertheless, there are people who will continue to make the mistake of sexualizing nudism, and many nudists are afraid that "innocent" nude pictures may somehow fall into the hands of perverts who will use them for perverted purposes (what else?).

This doesn't bother me, personally, because I don't believe any harm is done when a pervert "pervs" on a picture. Even if one were to concede that their sex act was "unholy" in some way (which I would disagree with), it's superstitious to think that an act of perversion "stains" not only the picture that is being perved on, but also the subject in that picture by extension (via "spooky action at a distance", I presume). I say, what you don't know can't hurt you (in this instance), and let pervs be pervs, as long as they're doing it in private and not actually hassling you. But of course, my perspective is in the minority, and most people don't want naked pictures of themselves floating about the internet, outside of their control (am I right?).

If you ask me, the solution to this is more exposure. More pictures floating about the internet. If everybody had a naked picture of themselves on the internet being perved on by pervs, nobody would care anymore. We'd learn to just ignore it, because we'd realize it doesn't really matter. And the more people who are open about nudism, the more accepted it will be, because it will be harder to silence and to marginalize. Of course, asking one person to embrace this strategy is dangerous because the risks still exist as long as he's the only one. But if we all followed this philosophy, we could stand strong, together, and we wouldn't have to tolerate the way we're treated anymore.

But then, I don't believe in coercion - forcing people to do one thing or another, whether by force or forceful persuasion - regardless of the merits. So I ain't gonna make you do it, I'm only telling you why I think it's a good idea. In the meantime, I'm gonna keep on telling the truth, hoping that my voice (and my body, and my soul) doesn't get crushed along the way. I'll respect the rules, but I'll be on the lookout for opportunities to make my statement where I can.

And in the end, I am a photographer: when I see beauty, I feel compelled to capture it for posterity. I lament when other people's hangups cause some of that beauty to be relegated to obscurity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


As a male who likes to identify more with females, and yet is still more attracted (sexually) to females than to males, I feel like there should not only be a split between biological sex and psychological gender, but also between what sex/gender one identifies as, and what sex/gender one is attracted to. The terms "straight" and "gay", and even their more technical counterparts - heterosexual and homosexual - imply two things: what a person is and what that person is attracted to. Being attracted to "the same sex/gender you are" or "the opposite sex/gender as you" is all fine and dandy when we assume that there are just two easily defined sexes/genders. But for someone whose identity is more fluid and/or confused, those terms fall short.

Here's a question for you, if a guy has an operation to become a girl, and likes guys, is s/he straight or gay? Your answer will betray your opinion on trans-sexuality. But what about transgendered people who don't change their sex? Let's say, for example, a guy who thinks he's a girl, but keeps his guy body. If he likes girls, is he straight because he's got a guy's body, or gay because he's got a girl's mind? If he likes guys, is that gay or straight? It's not so clear-cut.

I'm gonna leave those questions open and switch gears a little bit. Keeping with the general theme, I'm aware of a disconnect between a) what I like and what I do, and b) my audience and who I am a fan of. This is all in relation to my work as a photographer. I shoot male nudes for the sake of convenience, when really I'm interested in female nudes (and non-nudes). My artistic goal is to shoot beauty, and yet what I see as beauty isn't what I'm shooting.

Granted, I do like the work that I do, and I think there is beauty in it. But, to put it one way, it's not my first choice. Inevitably, I get pigeonholed as an artist who works with male erotica. But I'm not interested in male erotica. So the people who like my work, and produce similar work, are outside my sphere of interest. On the other hand, I like artists who capture feminine beauty, yet I do not produce works depicting (true) feminine beauty. The result is that I'm not generally a fan of my fans (but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate them), and the people I am a fan of aren't fans of me.

It's kind of frustrating because I don't get the kind of feedback and community participation I'd like to have, because the community that would accept me doesn't interest me, and the community that interests me won't seem to accept me. The only solution is to start shooting models. Which is something I've wanted to do. But I'm having trouble finding them. Because, you know, I don't have the kind of community access I want. You've got to know people, and I'm a loner. I'm willing to take suggestions.