Opinion
3 min

Lonely nudists

Why are so few gay men into naked dance parties?

Credit: Randall Cosco

Hindered by dwindling attendance at events, a lack of volunteers and the loss of a downtown venue, the future of the Pacific-Canadian Association of Nudists (P-CAN) is uncertain, leaders of the group say.

The group has been holding nudist events for gay and bisexual men in the Lower Mainland since 1988. Its most popular event has been Naked Pride, a nudist dance party on the Sunday of the Pride parade that once attracted up to 400 people, with some lining up outside waiting for others to exit.

The group also has hosted nudist potluck parties, bowling, river rafting and camping trips. Over the years, P-CAN has donated revenue from events to charities, giving at least $70,000 to groups that include PFLAG, Covenant House, AIDS Vancouver and A Loving Spoonful, says former president John Inch.

But as P-CAN approaches its 25th anniversary next year, no events or parties are scheduled and the group isn’t accepting new members, to prevent people from paying for membership and finding few events offered. The organization hasn’t had a Pride float in several years.

“I think the club is either moribund or very, very, very tired,” says Walter Quan, who has been a member for about 15 years. “The guys are trying, I think.”

Craig T Wilson, a past president and current member, says the group could dissolve.

“All the work was being done by just a few people and they’re just burned out, and nobody’s stepping forward,” he says. “Unless things change in the next year, it’s probably going to fold.

“The best-case scenario I see is that we’ll have a dance once a year at Pride, maybe one other,” he says.

Richard Cooper, the group’s treasurer, says he expects P-CAN to hold a Naked Pride party in August, though the venue hasn’t been chosen.

The group will decide its future at its annual general meeting, to be held shortly after its fiscal year ends on Oct 31, Cooper says. He’s hoping for a larger attendance at the meeting and that people will offer to host or organize events.

“My expectations are low because my experience is that over the last few years the interest in people volunteering to help run the organization has waned,” Cooper says. “So I don’t expect a lot.”

But he’s clearly ambivalent, saying later, “We’re a strong organization. We’re not going anywhere. The website will be active for a whole year. Hopefully, we’ll get some new blood in soon to perk it up a bit and hold some more events.”

P-CAN started facing difficulty after it lost the use of Club 23 in Gastown several years ago. The group settled on the WISE Hall in East Vancouver.

But it’s far from the West End and is sort of a “hollow shell,” says Rick Fearman, who is on P-CAN’s steering committee. Furthermore, P-CAN had to pay for a DJ, adding another expense.

Attendance at the dance fell by about 50 people in August, to as few as 170, less than half the number it drew during its peak, Fearman says.

Victor Stapelberg, a board member, says, “I’m always surprised that in a city of so many people there are so few gay men into nude dancing parties.”

As attendance falls, volunteers are growing weary. “There’s a bit of a burnout factor starting to happen,” Cooper says.

Furthermore, some dedicated volunteers have moved for jobs or will be away for extended periods. People who express interest in volunteering follow through sometimes and don’t other times, Cooper says.

“I don’t think that is a problem strictly confined to P-CAN,” he says. “I think that is a problem in any organization that relies strictly on volunteers.”

Cooper says the younger crowd might be less comfortable with nudity, noting there’s less of it at the main section of Wreck Beach. And people are increasingly meeting through the internet and mobile apps, contributing to falling attendance at social events in general, he says.

“People socialize and meet in different ways than they used to,” he says. “It’s progression, moving forward. I guess it’s the future.”

The group also faces competing events. When P-CAN first offered its Naked Pride party, there were fewer events during the Sunday of Pride, but now partygoers have more choices, Wilson says.

Fearman says gay men might want not only nudity but also leather and uniforms, pointing to the success of Vancouver Men in Leather’s Hard parties, which draw a crowd of people from age 19 to their 70s.

But Inch, who joined P-CAN in 1990 and was the group’s third president, says the main problem is the lack of a downtown venue, without which the group doesn’t have a future.

“It’s a bit disappointing,” he says. “Things go through their heyday and just fade away. We’ve lasted 25 years. That’s quite good, I think.”

The Pacific-Canadian Association of Nudists’ annual general meeting will take place on Sat, Dec 15. RSVP to 2012agm@p-can.org.