By Rod Berry
All too often our political discourse is counterproductive and unhealthy because we are trapped into the false dualism of “us” and “them”. We are right and they are wrong. “Ours” is the correct position, whilst “They” are blind to the truth.
In nudist culture, we may invoke this false dualism when we speak pejoratively (i.e. derogatory, or belittling effect) about those who don’t embrace our lifestyle as “textiles”. We are enlightened ones – free at last as all people should be; textiles are “the other” – those yet to realise how wrong they are, yet to experience liberation, blind to their clothing-compulsion and prejudice. This can have the unfortunate and completely unnecessary consequence of driving conflict with those whom we love.
There are many attitudes to the body, not just two!
In the real world of course there are rarely only two positions. There will be a plethora of variations – differences of outlook and experience, and a multitude of ways of being in the world. In the case of expressions of nudity, a person may be comfortable being naked at home, but not at a beach. Another person may live in a culture where nude bathing in public baths is the norm; yet they would never spend time naked at home with their family. Some people want to be naked sometimes, but not at other times, depending on their mood. There are various states of undress. Is a female practising topfreedom in a public park a nudist? If so, why don’t we infer that the men not wearing shirts in the same park are nudists?
I know some people who are willing to be naked socially for the sake of their partner, but who if left to their own devices would choose not be naked. At a nudist club you would have no way of knowing who they are unless they told you. Are they textiles pretending to be nudists, or nudists for the sake of their partner?
There is the ongoing debate on our forums about whether there is a difference between “naturism” and “nudism” and whether in some countries those terms may actually mean completely different things. And of course many young adults enjoy casual social nudity without any pretence of being part of a “nudist” or “naturist” movement. Who is the “textile” and who is the “nudist”? Of course both terms are abstractions, ideals rather than realities, and their
overuse can be unhelpful. For when we adopt an “us” and “them” approach, people will become entrenched in their positions and mutual understanding and progress become virtually impossible.
Conflict in Relationships
Nowhere is this contest of positions more clearly played out than in the case of a committed relationship where one person may be drawn to living a nude lifestyle, whilst their partner is not. In this context, I often hear nudists discussing how we might “convert” a person’s partner to nudism.
In this stand-off, the nudist will often feel hurt and misunderstood by their partner, particularly in the context of the social isolation that can be felt in nudist circles by “singles”.
For the partner not wanting to be socially naked, there may in turn be a feeling of betrayal, a sense that their partner is taking what was once the sacred privacy of their shared nudity and diluting that with others. This stand-off is the subject of much discussion online on nudist forums and in some instances has sadly led to relationship breakdown. Another example, also often discussed on nudist forums, is whether we should raise our children as naturist or textile. The perceived divide between the “nudist partner” and the “textile partner” is amplified as each parent struggles with how they can
ensure their children are nurtured with their particular world view.
Of course children are not always co-operative in how we would like them to be. Some children will enjoy the freedom of home nudity whilst others will resist it; their interest in being naked may wax and wane, and there will be countless variations in between.
The Real Issue: Consent
What we are really discussing here are differences in how we understand our bodies, and how we wish to express our connection with our bodies in the world. Central to this discussion is the notion of consent.
My body is mine. Your body is yours. What you do with your body is your choice. What I do with my body is my choice. Rape is so abhorrent because it involves sexual intimacy in the absence of consent. Likewise, pressuring someone to be naked when they don’t want to be is not acceptable – it disrespects their choice and purports to take away their control over their bodies. If I am going to assert a right to be naked then it follows that I should equally assert my right (or my partner’s right) not to be naked. It is the two sides of the same coin – freedom of choice to be naked necessarily requires a freedom of choice not to be naked.
Anything else becomes controlling and is necessarily psychologically unhealthy. Another way to express this is that if I love my partner I will respect their choices and not actively pressure them to do something they are not comfortable doing. There is no right or wrong in preferring to be naked or clothed; one’s personal preference is just that. I may wonder whether my partner’s reticence to engage in social nudism is due to a past psychological trauma, but ultimately that is my partner’s journey to work through and it is entirely possible that they are just wired differently.
It is perhaps even more crucial an issue with our children. If they want to remain clothed or not participate in social nudity then we should respect this. To do otherwise devalues our children as people. It teaches them that it is OK to be pressured into doing things with their bodies that they do not want to do. It risks teaching them that consent is not important, an attitude that can have many unpleasant consequences into adult life.
At a recent nudist dinner party, I had several people ask me about how we might get my wife to become a nudist. I told them that I had invited her to become involved, but that she preferred to wear clothes in social settings. I said that I respected her choice. They were dumbfounded. “Surely if she just got comfortable with herself, she would come on board,” they reasoned. “She must have some hangup!” another suggested earnestly. “Perhaps if she just spent time outside alone with you in the nude, she would come around?” It was even suggested that her “position” was inconsistent with her academic achievements.
Don’t misunderstand me – I often miss her company at naturist events. I wish very much that she would join me and experience the freedom which I have found and believe me, I have asked her to try it. However, surely the point is that just as I will defend my right to be naked, I will defend her right to choose not to be naked. Why would I want her not to be true to herself? No means no.
The place of peace that my wife and I have come to is that she respects my enjoyment of being naked and accepts it as part of how I choose to be in the world. I respect her preference to be clothed. And of course there are moments in the day where we may both be naked, or both be clothed – there are no absolutes. My wife and I share a love of fine food and wine, theatre and movies, travel and time with our children. Labels such as “nudist” or “textile” are utterly irrelevant to our daily lives. I like to be nude when it is warm and actively seek out opportunities to be naked in our backyard and at my nudist club. My wife revels in wearing beautiful clothes and feels empowered by them. And we have found a way to respect each other’s way of inhabiting our bodies in the world without the need for one converting to the other’s position.
Finding a Way Forward
For those who feel caught in a struggle with the “textiles” in their life, I would encourage you to see your enjoyment of being naked as just one part of your personality. Don’t be defined by the label of “naturist”. You like being naked. You may be fortunate to be in relationship with someone who enjoys being naked too. But if not, it is not the end of the world. There is so much richness to life and so many other things that you can still share together.
The foundation of healthy relationships is honesty and respect. Tell your partner how you feel when you are naked, and why you like being naked. Listen to how they feel about their body, and honour wherever they are at with it. If they don’t want to join you at nudist events, respect that. Negotiate an understanding with your partner that allows you to explore your nudist yearnings within the context of being committed to supporting each other to be genuinely authentic. And celebrate your partner’s choices, whichever way they fall.
If your enjoyment of being naked is absolutely intolerable to your partner, then the problem is not with you being naked. It may signal a deeper lack of mutual respect, of unresolved historical hurts, or that there are unhealthy patterns of behaviour in your relationship that would benefit from professional counselling.
Remember always – mutual respect is key in everything.
June 2017 – August 2017 – TAN