Thursday, August 26, 2010

Decent Exposure

There comes a time when circumstances call out for one to stand up for what one believes in. How far one is willing to go to support one’s beliefs then becomes the question. I believe that our bodies are beautiful blessings, gifts which should be celebrated, not hidden under compulsory coverings. Society’s conceptions of our human bodies as indecent objects which must be kept from public view is one of the most extreme forms of self-hatred I can imagine. This belief that our bodies are indecent has allowed us to be controlled and manipulated by those very societal institutions which impose it, the church and the state. It has served not only to separate us from nature but to elevate us over nature, thereby giving us the seemingly unlimited ability to control, modify, and destroy nature for our own ends. This insistence on our indecency keeps our true selves diverted into production, consumption, and conformity. Mandatory clothing forces us into social stratification, becoming a symbol for our power or the lack thereof. We become naked heads talking above hidden bodies, having the effect of enlarging in our imaginations that which is hidden. We then have sold back to us an airbrushed, gym-toned, surgically enhanced view of our bodies which for most of us is unattainable, all because we are forbidden to see the natural beauty inherent in each and everyone of us. In challenging and rejecting these beliefs we challenge and threaten those very institutions which imprison us, just as our clothing imprisons our bodies.

Freedom of expression and freedom from censorship are intimately entwined with that freedom that we who call ourselves Americans seem to cherish most, freedom of speech. George Davis, who stood for San Francisco mayor against incumbent Gavin Newsom in 2007 is now running for the district six supervisor position in San Francisco with a platform which includes freedom of expression and freedom from censorship. George Davis has a history of nudist activism dating back to 2004 when he began practicing naked yoga at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Now George is incorporating public nudity into his political campaigning to demonstrate those freedoms which he is campaigning for. I was privileged to be able to accompany George Davis on one of his campaign walks through San Francisco’s premier shopping district, Union Square on Wednesday, August 18. After an hour of campaigning, we were approached by a San Francisco police officer who told us to cover up, as there were “women and children” who could see us. He suggested that we should go do this “somewhere else.” When we refused to cover ourselves, as there is no law banning nudity in San Francisco, we were not being lewd, and George was campaigning for political office, the officer decided to have us cited and charged with indecent exposure. At that time, I and two others decided to cover, but George remained adamant. “I do not get dressed,” was all he said. So off George went, naked and in handcuffs, to jail. I and my two fellow campaigners were left behind with orders to appear in criminal court Monday, August 23 at 1:00 PM on charges of indecent exposure.

The day of our court appearance I admit feeling a little apprehensive, even though I knew what I was doing was not indecent. I also knew that of the many citations issued in the past for indecent exposure regarding simple public nudity in San Francisco none have ever been prosecuted, but this was my first time. Arriving at the court we found the doors still locked for lunch. At 1:00 a sheriff appeared to inform us that even though our citations said to appear at 1:00, the court did not actually open until 1:30 and we were to form a line along the side of the building. About five minutes later the same sheriff re-appeared, called my name and the names of my nudist companions, and said the judge asked him to tell us the district attorney was not prosecuting our cases, all charges were dropped, and we were free to go.

George Davis and I proceeded back to the Castro Commons area at Castro, 17th, and Market streets were we removed our clothing, found some chairs to sit on, and George proceeded to place some phone calls to police officials to try to gain assurances that this sort of harassment would not happen again. George discovered a new police directive had been issued the Friday before our court appearance directing officers that when they are issuing citations for indecent exposure there must be lewd conduct involved. The California courts have ruled that simple public nudity does not constitute lewd behavior. It would seem we have made some progress.

Many nudists or naturists feel that by being confrontational we do more harm then good to the nudist cause. They would encourage us to work for areas set aside for nude recreation, such as free beaches. That is all well and good, and I certainly support that. I believe, however, that nudist space must be made accessible to everyone. If we as nudists and naturists truly believe that our bodies are not immoral or indecent, then what could be more right than having nudist space everywhere? Only then will we be able to confront and challenge those beliefs that imprison us and by doing so openly and publicly, we can challenge our fellow citizens to question their own assumptions, beliefs, and prisons.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010