I would like to tell you about Andrew Martinez. During the time he was active, some people viewed him with a sense of awe, as a potential leader, as someone worth emulating. Others viewed him as disgusting and shameful, a monster.
On September 10, 1992, Andrew Martinez began to attend classes on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley naked except for sandals, that ubiquitous student accessory, a backpack, and a peace sign and house key that dangled from a chain around his neck. Once the commotion over his initial appearance died down he became a standard fixture on campus, acquiring the moniker of “the naked guy.” No one seemed to notice and, according to one of Andrew’s professors, John Tinkler, not noticing was something of an unwritten law on campus. But someone must have noticed because the University’s media director Jesus Mena claimed that by October “his behavior really was beginning to disrupt the educational process.” Some students and staff felt “very offended.”
The idea that anyone is in need of protection from offense is a vexing one. The notion that a naked human body is offensive is learned social behavior. The sight of a naked human body causes no harm. Studies done at UCLA have shown that childhood exposure to parental nudity produces improved relations with adults outside the family and higher levels of self-esteem. Any perceived harm is merely a matter of discomfort resulting from feelings of disgust and shame. To be offended is to experience an emotional reaction. Legal scholar Martha C. Nussbaum explains that emotions are important measures in relation to the law. They are responses in which we react to damages we have suffered, or might suffer with anger and fear. According to Nussbaum, shame and disgust, however, are different from anger and fear, in the sense that they are more likely to be distorted by localized norms, and therefore are unreliable guides to both public practice and the law. Allowing people the right to restrict conduct that does not harm, simply because they are repelled by it, sets a dangerous standard.
Why did Martinez attend classes naked? Andrew thought about the total insanity of having to wear clothing in extremely hot weather. In spite of the obviousness of this truth, he realized he was prohibited with the full force of an entire nation, and of virtually every person he could conceive of from taking the next seemingly logical step. For Martinez, this moment would have lasting repercussions; he would begin to question and critique the entire structure of western capitalist values. In thinking about why he must wear clothing at all times, Andrew was analyzing not only the body’s and the self’s relationships with private and public spheres, but also the ways that the body and the individual were defined and controlled by the institutions and structures through which they moved. In his mind, “the relationship between the self, politics, the state and nudity [was] so telling that [he] could pick [that] one symbol to sustain his critique.”
Andrew wrote that he hoped to begin an “enormous struggle for body liberation.” Andrew was disappointed with what he viewed as the 1960s student social justice movements’ selling out for middle class values. Andrew was raised in a household that did not place much value on the usual popular symbols of success. Andrew’s mother, Esther Krenn, did enjoy dressing up and owning attractive things, yet it was not important to her to have designer labels. Esther hoped those values would be instilled in Andrew. According to Esther, Andrew did [incorporate those values]. He just took them to a deeper level.”
Andrew discovered that in 1992 in Berkeley mere nudity itself was not illegal, it had to be combined with some sort of indecent or sexual behavior. Andrew’s first priority was to show people that they need not be constrained by socialization and assumptions about what defines normalcy, that they could just enjoy themselves and have fun. Andrew did help to inspire a movement for Body Freedom. Body Freedom is the right of individuals to decide not to hide their own body under coverings. Body Freedom movements would subsequently arise in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and London, England. Activists such as Vincent Bethell, Terri Sue Webb, Daniel Johnson, Mark Storey, and Stephen Gough have continued the work of advocating for the normalization of the human body in the public sphere. How much Andrew’s example has inspired these other activists is difficult to measure, but it is safe to say that Andrew was a pioneer in the nascent Body Freedom movement.
How did Martinez communicate his cause? Organizing a Nude-In on Sproul Plaza on September 29, 1992, Andrew distributed flyers which featured an anatomically correct male Cal bear and the messages “smoke pot,” “take acid,” and “sex.” Andrew wanted people to define normalcy on their own terms and come to grips with their own sexual shame, to acknowledge and embrace their sexuality and their bodies, to realize that the repression of sex and the categorization of sexual acts into a hierarchy of acceptability was no more than a means of control. Andrew viewed the shame and repression that controlled people and kept them from fulfilling themselves as a form of colonialism – a mental slavery. Quoting Malcolm X, Andrew said, “you are socialized to buy into something you don’t want to buy into.” Andrew saw the Nude-In as a “historical turning point” and vowed to keep appearing nude until he was arrested.
Getting arrested did not take long. Only four days after his Nude-In, on October 3, 1992, Andrew was stopped and arrested while jogging near the Unit 1 resident hall complex clad only in jogging shoes. Then, on the night of October 5, Andrew was again arrested for walking through Sproul Plaza naked. Andrew said he was out to pick up a copy of the student newspaper, The Daily Californian. The Alameda County prosecutor dismissed charges against Andrew because, as Andrew had previously discovered, nudity without lewd conduct was not illegal. Andrew Martinez was more informed about the law than the police who, by applying their own sense of morality, were attempting to enforce their idea of what they thought the law ought to say.
Following the Nude-In, Andrew appeared on the pages of Newsweek and Time and on television talk shows. Then, on November 4, 1992, University Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien issued a new policy which banned “lewd or sexually offensive conduct, including indecent exposure and public nudity” on the Berkeley campus. It took the institutions and structures which were established to define and control the students’ sexuality and their relations with each other through the process of education, the very institutions that Andrew wanted to critique, only one month to attempt to silence Andrew’s critique. Andrew’s freedom, his nakedness must have been seen as very dangerous to the existing power structure’s need for regimentation and control.
Debbie Moore, a member of the X-Plicit Players performance group, related how Andrew would regularly walk around Berkeley wearing only his sandals, his necklace, and a small backpack containing bumper-stickers he had made that read “HEY MAN, IT’S JUST A DICK! Militant Nudist Revolution.” He would walk at a slow pace in such a way that if anyone wanted to chat, he would stop and chat. Debbie related how most people reacted very positively, however some of the men who would stop him were really angry. With a very aggressive tone they would say to him, “Put something on,” or “Cover that up.” Andrew would stop, look at them in a very relaxed manner, and ask, “Hey man, what’s up with this, it’s just a dick,” as he handed them a bumper-sticker. He would start laughing, almost dancing a little bit, somewhat like a jester. By the time he had finished, the scene would be pacified and the aggression would disappear. Debbie Moore asked him what this meant to him, what his nudity was all about. Andrew told her it was his own personal martial art form. He was practicing with it, developing an approach to his body and its relation to everything he passed through and everyone he encounter.
Like his hero Henry David Thoreau who went to jail rather than pay a tax that supported the Mexican American War, Andrew would not obey Chancellor Tien’s new policy. On Saturday morning November 7, 1992, someone spotted a naked Andrew on the west side of Wheeler Hall and complained to the University police. Andrew has given a fourteen-day exclusion notice and escorted by police off school grounds. Andrew felt the university could have acted in a more productive way by facilitating some dialogue between those who objected to his nudity and himself. Andrew suggested several compromises, including sitting behind those students who were offended as well as arriving early to class. Andrew was interested in challenging the unquestioned notions of conformity through his nudity, but he wanted to do it in a peaceful way. His self-described militancy was a way of questioning through engagement similar to the dancing, benign gestures he used to diffuse masculine aggression on the street. This is the way in which he was willing to compromise. He made it clear that he was not willing to wear clothing, but he acknowledged that his nudity could be seen by others as dangerous, and was interested in relations of interdependence rather than dominance.
On November 11, 1992, university officials held a hearing regarding the school’s nudity policy and Andrew’s exclusion from campus. Andrew attempted to attend the hearing, but officials refused to speak with him because he was only wearing his sandals and a backpack. “We won’t talk unless you put some clothes on,” Andrew was told by officials at the hearing. By refusing to talk with the naked Andrew Martinez, school officials were determining which bodies were heard and which bodies had legitimacy in the public sphere.
On January 23, 1993, Andrew Martinez received an expulsion letter from the University of California. According to Jesus Mena, students felt they were being harassed and complained about it. Some were threatening to drop out of classes. No one ever complained to Andrew and he felt students who were offended should have talked to him about it. According to reporter Julie Aquilar of the Daily Californian, many students felt that Andrew’s expulsion was evidence of how much the university controlled everything they did, further they believed it was antithetical to Berkeley’s reputation of supporting individual rights.
Andrew continued to live a very naked life in Berkeley after his expulsion. In 1992 many people assumed public nudity in Berkeley was illegal. Andrew, along with Debbie Moore and Marty Kent established through a series of arrests followed by the dismissal of charges that nudity was in fact not illegal. In the spring of 1993, because of Andrew’s, Marty’s, and Debbie’s actions, people began to realize that they too could be naked. Consequently more and more people began appearing naked on the streets of Berkeley. For months and months, Andrew and his friends literally spent their lives living naked, leaving their houses to go somewhere and just being naked on the streets.
Eventually the City of Berkeley followed in the footsteps of the University. When Berkeley started pursuing an anti-nudity ordinance, Andrew became very upset and worked very hard at preventing it from happening. He even appeared naked at Berkeley City council meetings to try to convince them there was nothing harmful or shameful with the human body. In July of 1993, the City Council passed an anti-nudity ordinance, making public nudity in the City of Berkeley punishable as a misdemeanor. This would allow people arrested the right to a trial by jury. In 1997, after a nudity trial ended with a hung jury, the city began to enforce the law as an infraction, which, like a traffic ticket, is not eligible to a trial by jury. However, Judge Ron Greenberg ruled in April of 1998 that the city could not enforce the nudity ban as an infraction. So, in June of 1998 the mayor, the city attorney, and city manager proposed a revision to the law that would allow the ordinance to be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. Now, no longer would anyone arrested for public nudity in Berkeley be guaranteed the right to a trial by a jury.
Andrew Martinez wrote a manuscript in 1993 to answer people who wanted him to justify his acts of nudity as well as his “choice” of nudity as a cause. Andrew wrote that he saw himself as being what he referred to as a “thought criminal” and saw the distance between himself and mainstream culture as his “thought crime.” For Andrew, this “thought crime” was the political consciousness behind his acts of nudity. He believed that no matter what he said or did, he was ultimately a criminal under the Christian moral structure that he saw as supporting mainstream American culture. That Christian moral structure Martinez saw is a direct consequence of the Judaic metaphysical tradition that envisioned divinity as veiled and nudity as deprivation, as opposed to the Greek tradition, that saw in nudity the state of the ideal human. Italian philosopher Mario Parniola’s essay, “Between Clothing and Nudity,” names these two distinct metaphysical traditions as major factors behind the ambiguous nature of nudity, both as metaphor and as physical state, in the Modern West.
Andrew Martinez saw his revolution as being larger than just nudity however, and he felt he needed to reveal what exactly that entailed, or he would spend the rest of his life justifying individual acts of nudity. Martinez understood the necessity in altering the balance of power involved in social space; moreover, he believed that to articulate his political consciousness, he would need to offend more people than he could with just his simple act of nudity.
Andrew Martinez did not want his legacy to be just “the Naked Guy.” For Andrew, nudity was the perfect symbol through which he felt he could communicate all that he saw wrong with current political and social constructs: the capitalist fueled madness of unlimited consumption and resource exploitation from a resource limited planet, humanity’s unwillingness to accept and recognize ourselves as mammals whose survival depends on our relationship with all other species on the planet, and humanity’s inability to live in the moment--to realize that our lives are not what we remember of our past or plan for our future, but right now.
Body Freedom is a movement that is not going away, but rather seems to gain strength each year. Growing concern with climate change and species extinction has resulted in many questioning the efficacy of global capitalism in its current form with its patterns of unlimited consumption and unlimited growth. Martinez showed how all of these issues could be critiqued through the lens of nudity and body acceptance. Examining our place within the closed ecosystem we inhabit, how we view it, and how we view ourselves is imperative to our survival, and historians must also face this challenge. Andrew Martinez, his vision and his message, were prophetic.
© 2015, Elwood Miller