Sunday, June 22, 2014

True Tale: I was a Grade School Nudist

Yes, I know that every kid is a nudist.  But I really was one.  Like, officially. As in, card carrying member of the ASA (American Sunbathing Association.) As in going to special places--nudist camps, or if would want to make them sound really creepy and culty, nudist colonies--which were created for no other reason than so people could walk around naked.

This was the Shameful Secret of my childhood, like having an alcoholic mother who hit or an uncle who touched you in the areas where the bathing suit covers. No one was to know. As you may recall, I grew up in the 1970s, the time of hippies, macrame owls and mushroom decor, but I grew up in 1970s Georgia, a place of macrame owls, etc..., but also a very conservative, uptight place. It was a place where every white family had a "nigro" maid named something like Mavis, vegetarians were suspect and you sure as fuck weren't supposed to be something as whack as a nudist.

Nudism, then as probably now, was considered to be something weird, at the very least, and at the worse, probably sexual. Not sexual in a particularly nameable way but just...wrong. Naked=sex, end of story.

The reality, which would become apparent to anyone who spent 2 minutes at a nudist camp, is that they are about a sexual as any average RV park. Picture the folks in line at your Target store. Now picture them naked. Now picture them naked and running for a tennis ball, their own balls flopping in the wind. Feeling sexy? Exactly.

Every nice weekend in the summer, my dad would load up the car with camping equipment and we'd be off to a campground in nearby Florida. It was run by a sweet old man named Uncle Sammy who was also, incongruently, incredibly racist. And, if you must know, he had rather large testicles that were kind of a blueish hue.

My two sisters and I hated going. HATED it. And it wasn't because of our unfortunate kid's eye view of Uncle Sammy's literally blue balls. Being nudists was the thing that made us different.  Made us weird. Made us wrong. "How was your weekend?" our neighbor Mrs. P would leeringly ask me when we got back. "Did y'all go camping?" She knew what she meant and I knew what she meant, but both of us were loathe to acknowledge it. "Yes," I would admit, mumbling. "Oh, reeeeeeally?" she would smirk triumphantly.

It was this sort of insinuating attitude about nudism that was what was so shameful about it to us. The actual nudism was no big deal. Really.

People find this really hard to believe. Even today, if I mention it to someone--I mean, people who know I write this blog, friends who know me well--they get that Mrs. P look on their faces. It's a mixture of judgey, sort of aroused, completely intrigued, yet put off at the same time.

"It's like a KOA, but everyone's naked," I say, lamely. They never believe me and press for more details. Because surely--surely!--there's more to it than that. But really that's it. Here's what people do at a nudist camp: swim, play old-school sports like horseshoes, ping pong or pool, sit around and play cards, sit in saunas or whirlpools, lie out in the sun, eat dinner and so on. All of this is done naked. Or naked but wearing the appropriate gear like tennis shoes. (If the idea of a bunch of your average Appleby's customers walking around naked isn't non-sexual enough, seeing those same folk naked but for a pair of socks and tennis shoes should do the trick.)

BTW, if you were wondering, the cliche about nudists and volleyball is totally true. Nudists love their volleyball--love it! Every camp has a court, no exceptions. Another nudist thing is the Importance of Towels. Nudists have an inordinate faith in the power of towels as all-purpose protectant. Every nudist carries a towel so that can put it between their sweaty naked ass and whatever surface they put said ass upon. The towel, you see, magically protects everyone from...well everything. I'm not sure why no one considers the "towel flipping factor," that is, once you re-use the towel, can you really be sure you're putting the butt side on your butt? Nonetheless, it seems to work. I don't know the science behind it, but to my knowledge, nudists don't suffer from any greater incident of butt-transmitted disease.

Because everyone is naked there probably are some things I've seen that most people haven't seen. I have seen flaccid penises covered in tanning oil (it was the 70s, remember). I have seen very obese men walking around naked, their genitalia tiny and cowering under the massive flap of their bellies. I have seen boobs hanging down to stomach level, all kinds of scars, varicose veins, sunburned boobs, flat wrinkly bums, prodigious bushes (70s, ditto), and balls that hang down nearly to knee level. I have seen women walking around with a tampon string hanging out their wangs (the accepted nudist procedure, by the way, is for a menstruating woman to don a pair of underpants. Why they couldn't just tuck the string inside and try to "pass" as a non-menstruating woman remains unexplained to me. Perhaps many women of the day still had the whole belt and pad apparatus?)

What I did not see includes: orgies, sex of any kind, an erect penis. (As a child, I read a Q&A pamphlet for new nudists featuring naked cartoon "Love is..." looking folks. For the question "What if I get, you know, aroused?" naked cartoon man was advised to take a quick jump in the pool.)

When teenage nudist kids start rebelling against their parents they do so--seriously--by wearing clothes. Every nudist camp has kids in their awkward years Fighting the Power by wearing a long t-shirt or--fuck it!--even a full pants and shirt combo.

As I said, my sisters and I hated our nudist secret. It wasn't the actual nudism so much because, in truth that was kind of fun. Not the naked part, which we really didn't care one way or the other about, but going on adventures-- running wild, exploring woods and creeks, water skiing, climbing trees and getting to play grown-up games like pool. Nudist camps are like a secret club. They are all over the country and--at least at the time--you had to know where they were (invariably down a long dirt road in the middle of nowhere), the secret code to unlock the gate or who to ask for at the intercom when you pulled up. When we pulled up to the gate at a new club, we'd ask for whoever--Dottie, say--and Dottie would come to the gate, bronzed, wrinkled and wearing only a terry cloth wrap around skirt.  The Dotties always seemed to smoke and had a vague white-trashiness about them. The Dotties always had the nicest mobile home in the place, but nudist camp nice, which is not really that nice.

For my sisters and I, it was the secret part that was so bad. We weren't supposed to tell anyone about it. Knowing that I had a thing about me that people couldn't know gave me a sense of shame that took years to shake. I thought if anyone ever knew this horrible nudist thing about me...well, that'd be about it. I, seriously, didn't even tell my husband until we'd been married several years. I still haven't told my children, or many of you guys. I don't think either of my sisters have told their husbands. (uh, til now. Sorry! Hope you enjoy your Big Talk tonight.)

It is not right to make children keep secrets and, well, let's just say that perhaps the situation could have been handled differently. Though I don't know how. There really was no good way to present the whole nudist family idea to my Georgia neighbors. And I still think there's something a little weird about needing to be naked in public, among other naked people. Couldn't people be just be fine walking around naked in their house without formalizing it, building camps, forming the ASA and whatnot? Was there something sexual about it that I wasn't getting?

That said, as an adult, I can see some of the advantages of the whole nothing-to-hide aspect of it all. I recently went to a Korean spa with my friend Janet. It was hardcore. Old Korean women were squatting down by these sort of low faucets scrubbing the bejesus out of their nether regions. (For a really long time too. They are either really really clean or there must be some sort of pleasure in taking to your crotch with a scrub brush that I'm not aware of.) Everyone was naked because you had to be--sign on the door said so. As I soaked with Janet in the hot tub (making, like, constant eye contact so I wouldn't appear to be staring at her boobs in an unseemly manner*), I looked around.

Everyone looked bad naked, and yet everyone looked good. That is to say, we all looked human. Clothes give the illusion that other people have perfect bodies and that, plus general media bombardment, etc... gives us the idea that most everyone else looks fucking amazing. Of course we "know" that's not true. We know models are genetic rarities, culled from millions of others, and that they are strategically posed, photoshopped, etc... But seeing these regular bodies made me really know it, in a deep way. The chick with the amazing boobs had a bit of a wide ass going on. The trim woman was also a bit gaunt. It was incredibly liberating to realize that we all looked...well, okay enough.

The other day I had the experience of being on the other side of the naked generational divide. I was pet sitting for friends who have a pool. I invited my husband and two daughters over to swim. When they got there, I shouted, "Woo! Let's go skinny dipping!" I peeled off my clothes and dove into the pool. When I surfaced, my three family members were staring at me in semi-horror. "Woo!" I said, again, defiantly. I swam around briefly, to prove my point that they were missing out--big time--but it was half-hearted. I felt foolish and suddenly way way too naked. Soon I climbed out and grabbed my towel. I was half-embarrassed, half-hating their prudery.

Despite that, at 47, I think I've pretty much come to peace with my supposedly sordid past. At least enough that I feel fine telling you, Dear Internet Stranger, and who knows who the hell you'll tell. The good part is that I don't really care any more.

In an interesting coda to all this: My nudist connection which had always been the Worst Thing of my Life also turned out to be one of the best things. When I was looking for an idea to pitch to Rolling Stone, my dad told me that a local nudist camp was hosting bands like Foreigner and Loverboy for a concert, a two-day Nudestock festival. This, anyone could see, was comedy gold. My piece on Nudestock (thank you to my RS editor, the amazing Jancee Dunn) was my first national story.

So what have we learned here? Here are your takeaways: Things are never all good or all bad, they just are. Keeping secrets=bad. Some men have really really long balls.

Now you know the worst,

* For the record, Janet has an incredible ass.

(Note: names, places, and such have been changed to protect the privacy of various pissed off family members)
(photo source)


HSky said...

I LOVED this post. I still think there's a whole book in there somewhere.

Kathy said...
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in bed with married women said...
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Kathy said...
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Anonymous said...

I suppose we all have our childhood secrets.

I wish I could be that comfortable with being nude. I feel awkward if my cats see me get out of the shower.

Anonymous said...

i'm not "a nudist" but i like the optional nudity at burn events precisely for that sense of leveling you get when everybody's exposed. people look good enough. you look good enough. it's ok, nobody cares. that's very liberating compared to a public swimming pool where i'm constantly terrified something will show. my female relatives and i have always had a "just us chickens" policy with regards to nudity. everybody who's terrified at the sight of their granny nekkid should get used to it. "imperfect" bodies are not unslightly, they're totally normal.


Anonymous said...

Delightful! There might be some nudists/naturists who would take exception to a couple of your less flattering remarks but to be fair, nah, you've got it down pretty good!

Things have changed a bit over the years but there's an honesty to your words which rings true today. We appreciate most that you left nudism looking pretty good and recognize that while it's just not for everyone, those of us who do enjoy our clothesfree pastime aren't monsters either!

Your difficulties as a child are still relevant today but hopefully less so than then. Society is much more accepting of a lot of different things than it was that long ago. Youth groups and young adult organizations have also made it a lot easier for kids to get the most out of family naturism. Still, they tend to drift off right about puberty!

Thanks again and we'll be sending a few folks along this way!

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts...I love this observation and I'm with Mr Carter on this one...fantastic piece..but the blue goolies image is another thing I cannot un-know...
Then again I cannot un-know the sight of the 5000 year old man who lived down the road from us when we were kids who used to mow the lawn nekkid (without a heavens what if those blades hit a pebble sending it zinging toward his purple (yes purple) love trumpet??)...he wore shoes and socks though, presumably to protect himself from snakebites...which reminds me of a Diane Arbus pic
But seriously...mum would occasionally drag us off to clothing optional beaches (dad wouldnt have a bar of it) and we happily frolicked..
once more - GREAT WORK!

Anonymous said...

My wife always forces me to relive my nude childhood when we have guests. I still haven't met another adult who has at least admitted that they went/were dragged to a nudist colony.

I stopped going because of two things: an uncontrollable pubescent boner and running into a girl from school who I liked. She didn't see me, but I couldn't go back again after that.

In retrospect, she was probably as embarrassed as I was.

My parents still have a yellowed nudie park newsletter where I medalled in the nudie olympics, my totally retracted junk on display after winning a swimming race.

Takes me back.

Charli said...

Jill-Bug (sorry, but that's my name for you):

I just turned 50, goddammit. I now have to wear glasses to read, and my penmanship with yellow snow has become nearly illegible. Now this.

I'm paranoid about my balls dropping. How far will they drop? Is there a male equivalent to the pencil test? What kind of underwear will I have to buy? Will it hurt as much if someone kicks me there? Jesus H...

Just leave my balls out of your next article, 'kay?

Mongo, At The Moment said...

This reminds me of a short tale I've never mentioned, anywhere, or to anyone: When you grow up in a small town with all the hallmarks of rural American life (including 4-H, dances at the Grange Hall, and cow tipping [I kid you not]), nudity was one of the Things Never To Be Mentioned. It was never far from the mind of adolescents, but not at all acceptable. By an unspoken and collective agreement, the unclothed human form simply didn't exist.

At some point in my career as a Junior High Schooler, I began going out into the back yard of my family home in the full dark of night, removing all my clothing, and walking around. There wasn't anything particularly sexual about it; I was interested in what being nude was like. It was clear that I was crossing a line; a combination of physical freedom and the certain knowledge that this was not permitted.

On and off, this continued for about three weeks. One evening, I decided to extend my range of movement and walked out the back gate, opening on to an alley which separated the large back yard of my parent's house from the back yards of homes on the next block over. There was no one around that I could see, and no sound. Suddenly, a car turned into the alley.

Our house was in the middle of the block, so I had a few seconds to act. I was too far out in the alley to turn back to the safety of my own yard. All I could do was run and hide in a six-by-three-foot space between the garages belonging to the Lundbergs and Creegans, who lived directly across the alley.

It was sandy, muddy space, and naked as the day I was born, I tried crouching down in the shadows; it was a completely inadequate place to hide.

The car pulled up in the Lundberg's driveway; the headlights were shining down the gap between the two garages, directly at me. I pushed my face down into the sandy ground; I could hear Mr. Lundberg get out of his car, pause, and then heard him open his garage door and drive his car inside. It was dark again.

The side door from his garage opened directly into his back yard (I knew this because I'd been playing Doctor with his daughter in that garage a few weeks before). I waited until he'd closed that door, and heard him close the back door to his house, before getting up and bolted back across the alley and into the safety of my own back yard.

I thanked whatever Being was in charge of the Universe on my shift, dressed as if I were chased by and made it back into my family home without incident.

Nudity in public, at least in San Francisco, isn't a great issue (in fact, it's allowed by law (as long as it doesn't involve "lewd and lascivious" behavior). It ain't no thing when fifty people bicycle in the nude through North Beach and the Financial District, and I freely and openly stand to look at the female bicyclists when this occurs.

But -- mostly because of how much of a deviation from the mores and cultural ways of my home town it was -- I will never forget that foray into nude experimentation -- and the fact that occasionally, when I remove my clothes, I remember the panic and shame and excitement of that one or two minutes in the dark, and smile.

Anonymous said...

as another who survived a 70s childhood in georgia, i'm a bit disappointed that you didn't use the proper term: neckid.

in bed with married women said...

Let's see. First I deleted three comments because they identified, ahem, the author.

Also, some comments were magically deleted by "blog administrator" (supposedly me) but I didn't actually delete them! Artist formerly known as Bagel Fairy, Dicky Carter, etal that's you. Dreadfully sorry!

Stacey--I think your awkwardness might be justified, your cats do seem particularly judgemental.

Blue, right on, girl.

Allnudist, the talk of youth nudist groups can still make me cringe a little.

Dan, I love all of it, cept the blades and such, and am going start saying that I won't have a bar of it, because that my friend is a fabulous expression.

Anonymous winner of nekkid olympics, THAT is my favorite comment of all time. I love love love that that picture exists of you!

Charlie, don't worry, the long ball thing seems pretty rare. i'm guessing you're probably good if you've gotten to 50 in good shape.

Mongo, thank you for the strange and lovely tale!

Fellow Georgian, oh, no, neckid was too casual. Nude was the word and in fact I still hate that word. See also: today's post/contest on words that make people cringe.

@nightlilylila said...

This is the stuff, Jill. A flash of insight into a foreign land, fascinating in its subcultureness, and yet revealing how we are all just horribly horribly human regardless. It is the ugly and sublime that I read for - thank you for sharing your own uglies!

G said...

You are a very gifted writer. I enjoyed reading your blog!

Wu said...

O.k, well, I think you hit it right on the head, when you said that it could have been handled differently. I have a little brother who's 13 years younger than me. He has a different father who was never around much, so I was the primary male role model in his life. I was not raised as a naturist, but had always been intrigued by it since the 1st time I heard about it, when I was a kid. But I never really got the opportunity to explore it in person until my mid 20's. I discovered a nude beach not too far from my home... out of town, but within an hour's drive. So I began there. I then also discovered a local nude swim that was held once a month @ a local health club, that was sponsored by a local nudist organization. After going a couple of times on my own, I decided to invite my little brother, who was about 12 years-old @ the time. He was more than willing. He was even excited by it. So we went, & he seemed to have a good time, because he went with me on subsequent swims, as well, & also visited the nude beach with me a few times, too.
I did not tell him not to tell any1 about it, because I didn't want him to feel any shame about it. But we did have the conversation about societal perceptions about it, & how ignorance played a big part of forming those perceptions. We also talked about school mates, & that given societal perceptions, that kids can be cruel about things like this. He said, with a chuckle, that he probably would not tell his mates about it. I then told him that if somebody asks what he did, this weekend, that there was no reason to lie. Just tell him you went swimming. But there is also no need to add details that might cause undue ridicule, such as that he swam nakid. As he got older, he did share with some mates about it, but he used tact, when doing so, & presented it without shame. I'm very proud of him for the way he handled it.
So there is no need to be secretive about your nudist activities. Tell them you went camping, fishing, biking... whatever you did. Just use tact in who & how you tell that you did those things naked. I think this is good advice for both kids & adults alike. It worked for my little brother, & that's pretty much the rule I follow, as well. Perhaps it was my example that he was following. So be the example for your kids, so they can enjoy being a nudist, without shame, if you should decide to revisit that lifestyle.

Firehorse said...

I'm British but spent a lot of time living in continetal Europe as a kid. The family regularly used nudist beaches as they were more "family friendly" than most tourist beaches. Probably because most of the people on the beach were German in the grandparent age range. Naked older germans mean that being naked is the opposite of sexual from me. Blue balls were common as were ladies who showed the signs of a life time love of strudel. I have real issues with the American attitude, where small kids will be made to cover up because in the States naked is almost always equated with sex.

jaymo said...

Superb post, and kudos to your folks for being ahead of the Georgia, of all places! I grew up in Tennessee in the seventies, so I know whereof you speak. Now I live in Oslo, Norway. Nude beaches are fairly common, and just last summer I finally worked up my nerve to go hang out on one. It is just as you say, a collection of bodies, more or less attractive, but all eminently human and possessed of the flaws that make us all individuals. I wish we didn't have the attitude back in the States that we do, but I guess it's just part of it. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!