A group of fellow nudists have regularly been exercising their right to practice civic nudity here in San Francisco where I live. On occasion I have joined them. In San Francisco there is no law regulating what one must wear in public, which means we then come under the purview of state law. According to the California Penal Code, Section 314: Every person who willfully and lewdly, either: Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby ... is guilty of a misdemeanor. However, in 1972 nude beachgoer Chad Merrill, irate at the prospect of having to pay a $100 fine and register as a sex offender for sunning himself on a remote stretch of sand, took his case all the way to the California Supreme Court. In Smith on Habeas Corpus that august entity eventually very generously declared that there was nothing inherently lewd, or even particularly sexual, about just having no clothes on. Despite the beach-centric nature of that case, redoubtable Berkeley lawyer Bill Simpich – who has done pro bono defense work for Debbie Moore and Marty Kent of Berkeley activist theater troupe the X-plicit Players – says that Section 314 plus the 1972 ruling make it possible to scamper around California like a little naked pixie, scattering naked dust hither and yon.
This does not mean that you will not be stopped, harassed, and arrested by over zealous police officers who either do not understand the law or insist on taking an activist interpretation of the law. In recent memory every case of arrest has been dismissed by the SF D. A.'s office. So we continually push to exercise our freedoms which can be an interesting study in sociology,
Today, for instance, as I was leaving work some of my nudists buddies were sunning in the pedestrian mall at Seventeenth and Castro Streets. It being a very warm day, I decided the only logical thing to do would be to join them. Soon, and older self-identified gay neighborhood resident came over to inform us that we were "disgusting, idiotic, and why didn't we put some god-damn clothes on." He then ran away. We continued to sun ourselves and people continued to walk by, some looking at us, some not. About ten minutes later he reappeared to repeat his tirade. It was clear to us that he was visibly shaken and very, very angry. I find it amazing that the site of a naked human body can generate such hostility and anger in someone. Obviously we were not threatening him, nor were we causing him any harm. His reaction must be one whose genesis is socially learned; a conditioned reflect which he accepts as natural without giving anymore thought to its origins or logic. It is similar to a reaction of prejudice or hatred towards someone because of the color of their skin, their sex, their gender, or their sexual preference; in other words, a learned behavior which serves no useful purpose what so ever.
Eventually he reappeared for a third time, so angry this time that he was spitting. Two younger men walking by told him to "just leave them alone, they aren't hurting anyone." The man continued his rant. We invited him to come sit with us a talk about it, but he refused, saying that he didn't care. Obviously, he cared very much.