my life in the nude

I believe, deep down, that I am hard-wired to be a nudist. There are times, whether in nature, at a social gathering, or on a city street, when I think, “This moment would be perfect, if only I were naked.”  Being dressed can actually make me somewhat claustrophobic. Society has trained me to overcome the urge to rip off my clothing in most situations, but the feeling is real.

One of those perfect moments when the desire to be nude and the option of being nude coincide. Croatia, 2018.

I describe myself as a “nudist,” not as a “naturist.” When discussing the importance of nudity in my life, I want to be as clear as possible. There can be no misunderstanding that a nudist is one who likes being nude, whereas I think the word naturist smacks of obfuscation. It is too often confused with “naturalist.” Even when correctly understood, it conveys an image of communing nude with nature in unspoiled surroundings. That may be an apt description of many who call themselves naturists, but I am a city dweller. I am most often naked at home or in other urban spaces: I am an urban, sometimes public, nudist. Some call me an exhibitionist (as, I might add, is everyone who posts selfies on Instagram). I consider myself an activist for our basic right to be non-sexually naked when and where we choose.

Burning Man Decompression, San Francisco, 2012.

Nudity is our default state. Putting on clothes is an action. To be ashamed of (or offended by) the human body is to be ashamed of (or offended by) simply being human. I don’t buy the argument that we should always defer to those who are offended by nudity. Most of us are frequently faced with behaviors we find objectionable, but seldom are we harmed by them.

That’s me at San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers race, 1990s. No “family values” were harmed.

I did not grow up in a nudist environment. I don’t remember seeing my mother naked, nor my siblings except during shared baths when we were very small, but as a child I was naked a lot and it was a non-issue. My earliest memories of nudity outside the home, and certainly of seeing nude adults, involve weekly skinny dips with my father at a YMCA pool in Los Angeles when I was about 8. I had no direct interaction with anyone there except my dad, but I felt a powerful camaraderie and spirit of belonging among those naked men and boys. Several other memories of boyhood nudity remain equally vivid. It’s undeniable that I now feel most alive when I am nude, and I think this was also true during my childhood.

I feel most alive when I am naked.

During puberty I became horribly self conscious. Shortly before I started middle school (we called it junior high), my family moved east to a suburb of New York City. Around that time I went from total comfort with my body to being intensely embarrassed by it. I can’t say anyone imposed shame upon me, but my sexual awakening brought extreme repression. Just telling my mother that I needed to buy a jockstrap for gym class was difficult for me. In my teens I loved being naked more than ever, but I was furtive about it. I secretly began sleeping nude. Home alone, I wandered through the house with nothing on. Late at night I crept naked into our backyard to lie down on the grass or climb trees, marveling at the sensations of breezes, tree bark, and moonlight touching my skin.

The heightened sensation of walking naked in nature. 

I was 16 at the time of Woodstock and the Summer of Love. Non-sexual nudity had previously been unheard of, except for snickering remarks about art models and “nudist colonies.” Suddenly, images of naked people were everywhere. Nudity in films became commonplace. I saw “Hair” on Broadway, with its famous nude scene. Comfort with nudity was a fixture of the era’s hippie culture. I admired and envied those confidently naked people in magazines and on stages. I yearned to unlearn my body shame and become one of them. I wanted to stop hiding my nakedness and let it be seen, because without clothes I felt like my truest self. I still feel that way.

One of the images of non-sexual nudity that made a big impression on me during my teens in the 1960s. This is the only photo used here that is not of myself.

After graduating high school in 1970, I moved into my own tiny apartment in Manhattan hoping to pursue an acting career. I found work ushering at an Off Broadway play that featured a nude sequence involving most of the cast: this made me a wannabe on the fringes of both the theatrical community and the world of body freedom.

I soon began dating an unemployed actor who spent his days at Riis Park, a [then] clothing optional beach near NYC. On hot days it was mobbed, with only narrow paths of exposed sand to walk on between “wall-to-wall” beach towels. The great majority of people wore swimsuits (including my boyfriend, who cultivated his tan-line like a garden), but nudity was legal and accepted. It was my first opportunity to be naked outdoors without fear of being caught. I spent long happy days in the nude, body surfing, gathering shells, and sunning. Unlike my companion, I got tan all over. It was very public but also very anonymous; a liberating combination. Well, it was anonymous for the most part… I once recognized my former camp counselor, and one day I saw a retired couple who lived upstairs from me. All of them wore swimsuits. My first impulse in both cases was to turn away and hope that I had not been seen, but I forced myself to say hello. We had friendly conversations. My nudity was neither acknowledged nor awkward. When I later encountered those neighbors in our apartment building, I realized that their having seen me naked changed nothing. For me, these were moments of growth.

Being naked on a beach is still one of the great joys in my life.

I forayed into a different kind of social nudity later in that summer of 1970, when I attended a party given by a friend’s girlfriend. Among those dancing in the crowded living room was one naked (and very stoned) man. I was awed by how free he was, and by the fact that no one batted an eye. I could imagine how wonderful it must feel to move like that in the nude. Knowing I’d be disappointed in myself if I missed this opportunity when a braver soul had already cleared the path, I mustered the courage to take off my own clothes… but then sat in a corner, pleased to have met the challenge but too self conscious even to cross the room for a drink, let alone dance.

Nowadays, I am perfectly at ease with being the only naked person at a party.

When autumn came, I began working as a model for college art classes in Manhattan. Modeling was different from my previous nude experiments. At a beach or party, no one was necessarily even looking at me, and I could get dressed if I felt vulnerable. But a nude modeling gig was a commitment to three hours of being literally on display with nowhere to hide. At first I found it overwhelming; I got through it by imagining myself elsewhere or fully concentrating on whatever music was being played. After a few classes I was able to be more present. I could return the gazes of the students. It was interesting to listen to the instructors coaching them, often calling their attention to the particulars of my body: “He’s unusually long waisted,” or “See how he’s bow-legged?” At first I was mortified by these observations, though I knew them to be true. I grew to understand that no one was criticizing my body; they were merely stating facts about it. In the long run, the experience increased my self-acceptance. It was as though I was building up a callous on my body shame.

In my work clothes, 1990s. A 12-hour pose for a painting class (four 3-hour sessions).

Meanwhile, I still had my job as an usher. I had watched the show dozens of times and knew it by heart. One desperate evening when several actors were out sick, I was asked to go on as an understudy with one quick rehearsal. I was mainly focused on being in the right place and getting my lines out, but in terms of nudity it was a watershed moment for me. There I was, 18 years old, naked on the stage of a sold-out theater in New York City. Unlike the dimly lit nude scene in “Hair,” the all-white stage set was flooded with light. Previously, I had mostly kept quiet about my love of nakedness. Few people (except strangers) knew I went nude at the beach. I had talked with almost no one about being a nude model. But I was so proud to be in a professional play that I announced it to my family and friends without hesitation. There was no need to mention the notorious nude scene; everyone already knew about it and asked how I had dared. Their curiosity provided an opening for me to discuss my deepening convictions regarding body acceptance and shame. I came out as a person to whom being naked is both enjoyable and important. Since then it has been a facet of myself that I share pretty easily. I went on to act in dozens more plays and musicals, occasionally nude, more often not. Between acting jobs I held down a variety of “day jobs” where I managed to keep my clothes on (!) but seldom hid the fact that I was a nudist in my time off. I have continued to model nude for artists, including some well known photographers.

Working as a photographer’s model, circa 1980. 

In my thirties I left New York for San Francisco, a city with a reputation for tolerance, eccentricity, and freedom, and with a history of public nudity. Here I have been nude (and photographed) at more street fairs, parades, demonstrations, foot races, bicycle events, and parties, than I can remember. I think being naked in public and online is beneficial in terms of advancing acceptance. Seeing bodies of various shapes and ages “normalizes” nudity by desensitizing viewers and resetting their expectations. Until San Francisco changed its nudity laws in 2012, I could sit naked in a sunny little plaza near my home, sipping coffee, reading a paper, and chatting with acquaintances.

Coffee talk, 2012.

I could step outdoors to bring in the mail or put out the trash bins without covering up. A neighbor once phoned, offering to send her husband over with some soup she had made. I asked her to delay for a few minutes because I had nothing on, and she replied “What else is new?” When a nude photo of me was published on the front page of a local newspaper during the political battle leading up to the city’s ban on public nudity, a dentist’s receptionist greeted my spouse with “We’ve been seeing a lot of your husband lately!” Even when clothed I am frequently recognized as one of the city’s Naked Guys. I accept that title with pride.

I made the front page when San Francisco politician Scott Wiener launched anti-nudity legislation.

I find it easy to be nude around most people, no matter whether I am among fellow nudists or am the only one. I have always had non-nudist friends who are comfortable if I am naked in social situations, and others who are not. I generally broach the subject early in a friendship. If a person reacts favorably I might disrobe on the spot or ask whether they would mind if I were naked during a future visit. This way, as a friendship develops, my nudity has already been established; I find it more difficult to introduce nudity once there is a pattern of always being clothed.

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My family knows I am a social and public nudist. They have seen published photos of me. My sister and cousins seem to have a “so what?” attitude, but they live thousands of miles away and I have not spent time naked around them as an adult. My aunt asks for vacation photos “from the waist up.” I would guesstimate that 95% of people in my life are aware of my nudism and perhaps 50% have seen me without clothes.

I make a point of posting “modest” nude photos on Facebook so that family and friends are aware of my nudist activities. This one was taken at a Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day 2020.

I prefer to let my freak flag fly rather than stifling my true self in an attempt to appear “normal” …speaking of which, what could be more normal than a human body? We all have one, and there are few surprises among them.

Pro-nudity rally in San Francisco, 2018.

22 thoughts on “my life in the nude

    1. Ironic, ain’t it? I enjoy having some style. It’s one reason I often wear cool hats even when I’m naked (the other reason is sun on my bald head). But, when you get right down to it, those shirts are among the clothes I’d prefer not to be wearing. To quote a bumper sticker, “I’d rather be naked.”

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  1. Great post. I’m more and more open about my nudity. It’s strange that such a basic human thing brings embarrassment. I’m not good at dealing with people’s embarrassment, so stay away from the subject when I feel I shouldn’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Keith, positive and thoughtful feedback like yours means more to me than you might guess. I put my heart (and a lot of time) into this first post. Even though there are nude pictures of me all over the web, I revealed inner parts of myself here that I hadn’t previously shared. So, it’s helpful to know that what I wrote resonated with you.

    I totally agree that we shouldn’t have to censor ourselves to protect others from their own reactions. You weren’t specific about what kinds of situations or relationships you were talking about, so I’m just guessing that you meant that you “protect” friends and/or family from your nudity or from knowledge of it. I can’t say what you or anyone else “should” do, so I’ll frame my reply in the first person…

    Even though I am usually quite open, I am still sometimes guilty of concealing my nudism or some other core part of who I am. When I do that I am being a “people pleaser” rather than the “be the change” guy I strive to be. In my heart, I know that the right thing for me to do is to hide as little possible about who I am. When I succeed in being open, it’s me that reap the benefits. For example, if I tell a new acquaintance that I prefer being naked in my home, and if he or she says “no problem,” then I get to be comfortable. If they aren’t ready for it, at least I can stop wondering if I should say something. The more I keep secrets from people, the more I deprive them of the opportunity to accept me as I really am.

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  3. I always love seeing your pictures. You have so much more possibilities to be naked than me. Wish I could be more often naked. Now it’s more a home thing and when on vacation! Rarely I have time to go to naked events but if I can I’m present!

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  4. Great first blog. I smiled at moments that often reflected my own. My husband is not a nudist but he has learned through the friendships I have made with the naturist groups I am part of that nudity does not equate to sex. I look forward to reading your future blogs! Fabien

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  5. Love your article,,,my first experience was going to bed at the age of 12 naked. My Mother was furious and tighter me naked to the bottom of the bed. My. Real induction to being naked was at a nude beach in New York. I took my clothes off and felt everyone was watching mr. Wrong they were not. I could go on and on but you might get border. I would like to hear from anyone who would like to have a chat with a naked Gradpa

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  6. Great story and really enjoyed reading it. Mirrors much of my personal life in many ways. My wife and I have found that male nudity is very underappreciated by family and friends. Enjoyed seeing yours. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What an interesting and inspirational read! I have not experience body freedom that way and I truly regret that. I’m doing my best now by promoting and celebrating the natural beauty of the naked men body, while try (slowly) to free mine. Thank you so much for all you do to inspire others.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing this and sharing on The Naturist Living Show. As a 50 year old who only discovered the joys of social nudism three years ago, it’s nice to have forums like this to connect with like minded people. By and large I’ve found that nudists are among the nicest people I’ve ever met. Because I lived most of my life among non-nudists, I have not shared my passion for it with my family and friends. I look forward to reading more from you in the future. Cheers!

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