Nudists have a hard time getting taken seriously, I think. This is true in the world at large, but it’s also true among anarchists.
I have personally had the benefit of friends who actually take me a little too seriously. They’re mostly nice about the nudism thing (as a conversational topic, at least); I do get teased occasionally, but it’s typically pretty good-humoured and well-intentioned.
But there are some some people who aren’t my friends, who dislike me as a result of one thing or another. Some of them, who might generally be on board with the idea of nudism themselves, would never cite my own inclination towards nudism (if they know about it) as a mark against me – and I appreciate that! But others, who are less into nudism, might indeed talk about that inclination as another reason that I’m a creep, that I have bad politics, that I shouldn’t be trusted, etc., even though it is certainly completely unrelated to the reasons that our relationship is not completely amiable.
Most people in most anarchist scenes should, I think, be able to relate. Shared investments – into collective living situations, into projects of mayhem and mutual aid, into strong friendships and other intense relationships – often lead, at some point, into disagreement that metastasizes into bitter conflict that, oftentimes, either can’t be resolved or at least doesn’t. And then, particularly among the assholes who love gossiping about comrades and shit talking perceived enemies (which is probably the majority of people in most scenes, be they anarchist scenes or not!), other details start getting added to the story, all of which paint a picture.
Most people are assholes – at least sometimes, to some (sorts of) people. I’d like that to change, and I really do think there are deliberate things that can be done to help people not be assholes, to blunt that the tendency towards being-asshole that exists in so many people, but all of that is kind of separate from the concern of this post.
In this world, where people are assholes, what does that mean for people who have eccentric interests? For instance, nudism? (This applies to other outgroups, too: sexual minorities, furries, in past ages queer people and freaks and geeks of all kinds.)
My assessment is that, in North America at least, an inclination towards nudism is considered eccentric at best in anarchist scenes, and considered perverse at worst. In this respect, too, I don’t think that North American anarchists have very different attitudes about nudism than is the case among the larger population of basically secular liberals. The attitudes might even be more markedly negative among certain subsets, e.g. the Marxist, quasi-Marxist, and otherwise workerist anarchists who understand nudism, and perhaps a few other things, as a bourgeois affectation – or, at the very least, somehow unstrategic with respect to serious political objectives of one kind or another.
Anarchists, of course, are very much of a part of the mass society in which they grew up and in which, in most cases, they continue to live. In a mass society affected by social movements, leftist ideology, and so-called identity politics, they will be caught up in current events (hopefully local ones), in dogmas of one kind or another, and in confused and off-kilter understandings about what the stakes are or what the issues even are. Even if anarchists manage to escape to some kind of remote and autarkic existence, where at least some of these mass society problems might go away, they still carry some ideas with them.
The best things about anarchist subcultures is that sometimes (not always, never perfectly) they are markedly more accepting of various kinds of differences between people – or certainly less actively shitty about, say, looking like a freak, being into weird shit, having specific issues, bearing different markers of race and caste, etc.
This isn’t really the case with nudism, though. I am sure there are many reasons for this. First off, to be a nudist is hardly a sacrosanct identity among anarchists – and, like, I wouldn’t want it to be, because I don’t want to do identity politics with nudism.
Second, there is very little in the way of good analysis circulating in anarchist scenes, or in society at large, about nudism and what it can do for you or nudists and why anyone is trying to live their life that way. (There is also a lot of history people don’t know, and certainly don’t think about very much.)
Third, there’s really not a whole lot of possibility for people to be naked in “normal situations” in these scenes insofar as this causes a lot of friction with laws and police or – even in relatively ungoverned spaces – with the established norms, not to mention various sorts of attitudes and ideas about sex, nudity, and ethics that circulate in our subculture or among any of our neighbours.
All of this has real effects, and not just on whatever minority of conspicuously nudism-inclined people there are who might have some interest in participating in anarchist scenes.
Like, sure, people like me exist. But everyone is occasionally inconvenienced by the obsessive and compulsory attitude around wearing clothing. There are health consequences, financial consequences, ecological consequences, and fun consequences. The importance of them need not be exaggerated, but these consequences are real. This is also true whether or not anyone recognizes that this is, or may be occasionally, a problem for them personally. Just because the problem feels normal doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Anarchists also have a hard time getting taken seriously. It’s not that it never happens, but most of the time, anarchists either need to water down their politics to the point that they are effectively just democratic socialists (at which point I wonder why you call yourself an anarchist at all, other than to give yourself some edgy cred) or they need to omit the fact that they are an anarchist at all (by lying, avoiding the question, using a headscratcher of a euphemism, whatever). There are many reasons for this, a number of which could warrant whole essay in and of themselves, but the thing I want to bring attention is the manifest incuriosity of so many people – journalists, neighbours, partisans of other dogmas – to learn anything about the anarchist tradition or anarchists. They are content, instead, to know nothing, or to just “know” the things that they have been told by the police (on Twitter or in cop shows), by patriarchal figures of all kinds, or by their own unexamined assumptions.
It is unfortunate, then, whenever anarchists are themselves incurious about the lives, experiences, and ideas of others. Obviously I am a bit salty as a nudist or something, and I think my ideas about nudism are worth taking seriously – but this is a broadly applicable point, that against goes beyond the specific shit that I’m into.
Many anarchists seem to understand that, with respect to adversarial ideologies (nationalism, fascism, etc.), there is a value in understanding where those ideas come from, why they are appealing to (certain kinds of) people, and so on. When it comes to conspiracy theories, many people understand that it’s a good thing to familiarize oneself with the theories so that it is possible to recognize why people in our lives think the things they do, and so that we have a better chance of talking them out of it, if that’s something we care to try. But not so much with groups defined by a quality of grossness.
An ascribed quality of eccentricity (“you’re weird”) or perversity (“you’re evil”) is really just the same thing, viewed from different angles or maybe through a different lens. In either case, it terminates the possibility of any kind of serious conversation about the why of it all, the ideas or experiences that motivate a given behaviour, etc. I don’t think that’s ever a good thing in and of itself, even with respect to ideas and/or associated behaviours that I truly think are awful (e.g. not the ideas that are the topic of this blog), because when there is no conversation, there can be no understanding of how and why some people end up with these ideas and/or maybe doing the associated shitty things. The eccentric, the perverted, learn to be cagey about what they think and feel – which, to the extent they have something actually really bad going on, is likely to lead to bad shit happening in a way that is more unpredictable for everyone else, because they were so secret about it.
The option of nudity is not bad shit, though. I would never want to overemphasize its importance with respect to, like, a concrete practice of anarchy (whatever that means for you), but I do think there are several things to be said about body freedom, the benefits of ridding ourselves of anxieties about nudity, all sorts of incidental benefits with respect to projects we are already engaged in (especially collective living projects), and so on.
This can’t happen, though, so long as the idea of an option of nudity is considered just a weird thing that only “some people” are into, and that (supposedly) has no implications for anyone else.