5 min

The naked truth

Building up to public nudity

BEACH BUMS. In Germany public nudity is a part of life. Credit: Megan Richards

I like to hang out naked. Okay there, I said it. And if now you’re all uncomfortable and the next time you see me you won’t be able to meet my gaze then you best stop reading ’cause with a lead in like that, you can imagine where this is going.

I grew up in a house where my mother walked around naked or seminaked all the time. There was no shame in bodies and she spoke freely about sex and body parts and most things body related. My father on the other hand was from a conservative home and, some would say, was “repressed.” He never talked about naked, bodies or sex and experienced a small “r” revolution around sexuality when he met my mother at the age of 48, much to her surprise. The fact that I even know that should give you further indication about my mother’s level of prudishness — next to nil.

My naked/nude legacy? I am at once shy and reserved, and uninhibited. I like to hang out naked at home. Don’t really own pajamas and as much as I like having out of town guests in my home or visiting others, by the time the visit is over, I can’t wait to lounge around naked. Up until recently though, public nudity was a different story. Translation? Always tempted, always terrified.

But thanks to some quality time on nude beaches this summer I may be more likely to take advantage of the 1996 laws that allow women to go topless in Ontario (thanks to Gwen Jacob) and take my show on the road.

For me, the naked-in-public possibilities started in 1996, my first and last trip to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival where I was going to meet my girlfriend at the time. She had been attending since her first birthday with her mom and was evangelical about it. I was newly out and the chance to be surrounded by thousands of lesbians was enough of a draw, not to mention all the talk about toplessness. I shipped off from Montreal for two weeks in the woods with the women.

For 13 of my 14 days “on the land” I asked myself this question: To bare or not to bare? I certainly wouldn’t be alone. But despite the body-positive vibe it wasn’t going to be where I popped my public-nudity cherry. The best I could manage on my last day there was to go shirtless under overalls. And, for a B-cup gal, that was hardly a revolution.  

My next foray into public nudity was Body Blitz, a women-only spa in Toronto. Once you’ve signed in at reception and pass through the doors that lead to warm sea salt pools and the like, it’s a clothing-optional environment. Women choose their level of comfort (top and bottom, bottoms or nudie — and perhaps top only, although I’ve never seen it) and hang out in a hammam-like atmosphere.

My first trip I opted for half nudie. And even though I was self-conscious, my super cool friend went topless and I succumbed to the peer pressure of being totally cool with my body. Once I passed that first hurdle though, I’ve been nudie all the way. No matter the company. Even with my sisters-in-law. Even with my mother-in-law. It’s just naked right?

In Germany, despite the willingness of certain citizens to remind you not jaywalk or the seemingly irrepressible urge to remind you of the rules on public transit, naked is part of life. There is an area in the Teirgarten in the middle of Berlin that is for baring all, parts of the beach at Mugelsee where nudie is de rigueur and even in the sleepy town of Konstanz where we are spending a couple of weeks, there is a whole area of the lake side dedicated to the naked.

Unlike past experiences where I was not in mixed company and there were guaranteed to be no surprises, the naked beaches and areas of this nude continent are a mix of men and women, young and old (although in my limited experience, mostly old), straight and queer. And in fact, the naked beaches are where I have most enjoyed hanging out with the gay boyfriends.

Okay, so they don’t really know that I’m hanging out with them and I don’t speak German so I can’t introduce myself and, even if I did, I’m not sure what the touching protocol is when no one has clothes on (like do you do the three cheek kisses? Shake hands? Wave from a safe distance where there is little to no chance of private parts meeting other parts of other people?). Not to mention I don’t think I’m there yet in the evolution of naked. But I love that they’re there making me feel a little more at home.

My first full naked in the middle of the day, in mixed company, outside, was a few weeks ago in a lake just on the border of Berlin. My wife and I had gone for a day trip and although we packed our suits, it was decided we would hang out in the clothing-optional area as she too likes the outdoor naked. There was a little clearing in some bushes by the edge of the lake — completely private with a short path to the water. If no one was looking in your exact direction they wouldn’t even know you were there. So, with a deep breath and a devil-may-care attitude I took those three steps and landed myself in the lake, in broad daylight.

Invigorating? Yes. Terrifying? Somewhat. An odd sense of accomplishment? You betchya. I swam, hung out, got dressed and was on public transit like nothing ever happened.

So, in this sleepy town, when the next opportunity presented itself, I was all “For sure. I’m totally into the nude beach thing. Yeah, let’s go there. Oh, for sure. It’ll be great. Let’s do it.”

Now, going to the nude beach is not like seeing someone else nude. You have not “seen one, seen ’em all,” as I was to discover. Sure, everyone has no clothes on, so there’s that similarity, but number of people, proximity to each other, the boy-to-girl ratio and queer-to-straight ratio can’t ever be depended on when going somewhere new.

This new southern Lake Konstanz nude beach was jam-packed full of people. Queer and straight. Kids and no kids. And of course young and old. But there is something in the culture in most countries that I have visited that permits staring. It’s commonplace on the street, public transit, bars and restaurants. For whatever reason, I had assumed that there would be a level of non-staring since we were all naked. Much to my chagrin that is not the case.

But being somewhere where you don’t know the language or have no chance of running into anyone you will know seems to make it easier. And so, in order to work up to trips to Hanlan’s Point next summer, I will visit every nude beach I can. I will spot my gay comrades (which somehow I can identify more with their clothes off than with their clothes on) and perhaps, if I hear them speak English, I will even introduce myself. ‘Cause once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.