Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Public Nudity in the News

According to a recent news article, there is currently some debate over the status of public nudity in San Francisco - specifically in the neighborhood known as the Castro. They are discussing drafting a new law requiring nudists to put a towel down on seats before sitting down, and to put some clothes on before entering restaurants. While the issue stirs up the usual intolerant attitudes about public nudity, it's kind of exciting to hear that the city actually recognizes a person's right to be nude in public - even if it does so reluctantly, and potentially only in this specific location.

But about those intolerant attitudes...

"They are unabashed in their brazenness, setting off a robust debate about how far San Francisco's legendary penchant for tolerance should be stretched."

I hate this sort of thinking. The idea that public nudity stretches the boundaries of reasonable tolerance. Oh lordy, lordy, of all things, we cannot allow naked people to roam our streets! There are much harder things to tolerate. Drugs, prostitution, hate groups picketing in the streets. In what twisted world view is public nudity a cardinal sin? The only thing offensive about naked people in public is that we're conditioned to view the naked body as disgusting (except when it's sexy). But the naked body is natural, and our aversion to it is what is sick. Luckily, there's a cure: exposure.

"the city's elected leaders have largely stayed out of the debate over public nudity, not wanting to run counter to San Francisco's storied reputation as an anything-goes culture where individual rights and freedom of expression are embraced."

This is just an extension of those beliefs. I'm bothered by the idea that embracing individual rights and freedoms is tied to this notion that "anything-goes". People seem inclined to believe that if we give people one freedom (that they deserve), then they will go off and take every liberty they want. If we let people roam the streets naked, they're not going to initiate public orgies. And if we celebrate people's freedom to roam the streets naked, we don't have to also celebrate their right to initiate public orgies (a right they haven't been given, whether you think they deserve it or not).

This sort of "anything-goes" language is just a form of scare-mongering that conservative-minded folk use to scare us out of giving people any more freedoms than they already have - not just the freedoms that would be detrimental to civilized society (which they cite to prop up their argument), but also the freedoms they deserve, that would contribute to a more civilized society. Make no mistake, this is exactly the same kind of thinking that conceptualizes gay pride as a threat to the social order, and evidence of the decline of modern civilization.

"'I'm all for live and let live, but this has gotten out of hand,' said Jonathan Mills, who lives in the Castro and has complained to police about the naked guys. 'This is not hip or cool or an asset to San Francisco. These people make other people avoid our neighborhood at a time when it is struggling.'"

Actually, nudism is totally hip and cool - or, it could be, if it weren't for its image being represented by old, lumpy people.

What's more, if you actually advertised the city's tolerance for public nudity, you would get tons of tourists. Imagine the boost to your neighborhood's economy! But you resist this simple solution because either a) you think the shape God created us in is ugly, or b) you have unfounded fears about people having sex in public or something similar. I get that you don't want people having sex on the streets (although I don't understand why that's a problem), but what about that leads you to the conclusion that people shouldn't be naked on the streets either? Are you really equating nudity with sexual activity? I hear about that a lot, but I didn't think anyone was ignorant enough to actually make that mistake.

"Karla Zeitz, who lives in the neighborhood with her children, ages 4 and 5, said she usually avoids the areas where the naked guys congregate. Still, she moved into the Castro knowing it was not Kansas. 'Frankly I'm more disturbed by the meth heads, the drugs and the panhandling than I am by seeing a couple of naked guys,' she said."

Finally, some sense. A couple naked guys (and I wish it weren't restricted only to guys) in the streets is not a serious problem.

But if there is any good in this article, it's that having a law requiring nudists to put a towel down before they sit down, and to dress before entering restaurants, implies pretty directly that it is not against the law to be nude outside, as long as you put a towel down before you sit down (which is pretty standard nudist practice, in my experience).

I'm wondering if there's any affordable property up for sale in that neighborhood. ;-)

Interestingly, the poll attached to the news article, which asks your opinion of what should be done about public nudity in San Francisco, doesn't offer the option, "legalize it explicitly". The most positive choice is to "keep tacitly allowing it". I don't want it to be allowed tacitly. I want it to be allowed EXPLICITLY!

In other news, a body painting artist working in Times Square is advised by police to cover up his topless model. This story caught my attention because, to my understanding, women are allowed to go topless in public in New York City. But apparently, the reason the model was asked to cover up is because she was creating a commotion, and the authorities wanted to nip it in the bud before it "got out of hand".

I wonder, how exactly would it have gotten out of hand? Were they expecting some kind of orgy to break out? Or were they afraid people in the crowd would get into fights for some reason? I don't understand. Unless it's simply a matter of crowding - you know, causing a traffic hazard or something.

But we hide nudity under our clothes, and in seedy strip clubs behind velvet curtains; if you put a nude right out there on the street, of course people are going to be intrigued and want to look. My question is this: if there were more nudes in public, would it be a problem? Would people be as shocked if they'd seen half a dozen nudes on their walk already? Would they stop and crowd around if they knew they would encounter a dozen more nudes if only they would keep on their way?

It bugs me that if a woman takes her top off in public, we, as respectable citizens, can't "handle" it properly. What's more, it's pretty offensive to suggest that a woman's topfreedom can be rescinded if enough men take a prurient (or any) interest in her breasts. I guess men and women aren't equal after all. But I think the solution is not covering the nudity up. The solution is exposing more of it. It's the only way to get over the titillation factor of nudity, on account of it being rare and exciting.

P.S. I just came across a blog written by a guy who lives in the Castro district, who is regularly nude in public. It is fascinating to hear about his experiences, and the kind of reactions he gets from people - some positive, many negative. I suggest you start here, where he describes how the neighborhood has changed over the years, and has succumbed to mainstream conformism. But be sure to check out the rest of the blog, too.

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