Face it, it’s not easy being different, especially if you’re one-out-of-a-million different. I’ve known this feeling all my life, because I was never like “the other kids.” I was born to Greek immigrants who were too busy making pizza to raise their son. Bored and lonely, I talked to myself constantly. I didn’t just have an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary universe! But what sets me apart these days is clothing, or the lack thereof. Living in the sweltering Florida heat, clothing for me is just a waste of money and laundry detergent, but even in winter, I prefer to be naked, and I am not completely alone in this regard.
We’re called nudists. And I am proud to count myself among them. But of the tens of thousands of card carrying nudists in this country, I might as well be the only one. My contact with free body individuals like myself is limited to social media, and despite knowing that we’re out there, everyday face-to-face relationships can be fraught with anxiety and isolation. Much like the LGBT community, nudists fear what other people will say, that we will be called perverts, or made the butt of jokes, or worse, that we’ll be socially ostracized. We fret over losing our jobs, our friends, even our religious congregations. This is why, despite an abundance of naturist blogs, none of the bloggers I know use their real names, or post nude selfies. Keeping secrets can be emotionally taxing, however, especially if those secrets are kept from the people closest to you. You play the same scenario over and over in you head, If they find out, what will I say? What would they say? What if they already know and are too embarrassed to bring it up? Sometimes it’s infuriating, like when a fellow coworker said to me, “Those people can do what they want, but leave the kids out of it!” You want to defend yourself, to say, “Hey, we’re not perverts! When we see a naked child, we see only a child, but you see something pornographic. So who’s the sicko here, bud?” Of course, you keep your mouth shut, because god forbid someone mistakes you for a pedophile. Another time, a friend showed me a pic on his phone of The World Naked Bike Ride, remarking, “What a bunch of perverts!” I don’t know what he was thinking, but I was imagining how nice the sunshine and the breeze would feel while pedaling along the Thames.
The worst case scenario, of course, involves the in-laws, and mine just happen to be Muslim. I can’t begin to imagine how they’d react, discovering their son-in-law is a nudist, but hell, at least I don’t blame revealing clothing for rape. Lastly, there are the kids to consider. My wife suggested that we let them make their own decisions, but as I pointed out to her a decade ago, shame is a learned trait. We have never taught our children shame, so they are inevitably coming around to the same pro-naturist conclusions I have, though they’ll never part from their Disney princess gowns (eh, to each his own). Still, you worry. I’d hate for them to grow up with feelings of anxiety and isolation. What a terrible thing to pass on!
But what if, and this is a BIG what if, the world were different? Imagine your kids coming home from school, flipping to Nickelodeon, and seeing a cartoon with this guy?
During the Civil Rights movement, black characters in comics, on TV and in movies went a long way addressing the injustices of segregation. How affective it must have been, even in the eighties, watching Different Strokes with its integrated cast? Martin Luther King Jr. was no doubt the greatest catalyst for change, but the contributions of actors like Academy Award winner Sidney Poitier should not be ignored.
When Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek, had thoughts of quitting the show, it was King who convinced her to stay, emphasizing the importance of black characters in the media. Later, Uhura and Kirk shared the first interracial kiss ever broadcast, which must have been a victory for actual interracial couples. More recently, films like In and Out and Brokeback Mountain, as well as shows like Will and Grace and Ellen, helped normalize perceptions of the LGBT community in the public eye.
Without these works of fiction, to inspire those who were different and to shed a compassionate light for those who were not, these social movements would never have gone anywhere.
To be fair, I do not mean to equate textilism to racism, or to any other form of discrimination. Unlike sexual orientation, nudism is a choice. But at the same time, it is just as great a part of my identity. Many of the people opposed to homosexuality made the argument that “being gay isn’t a race, therefore it’s nothing like racism.” But our society chose to expand its definition of identity, to include sexual orientation, and it was a hard won battle. The same considerations should be applied to how one chooses to live their life, and there is no way to get there without positive examples, without heroes, without people in reality and in fiction who can represent us and paint us in a sympathetic light. Nudists must do more than fight for a spot on the beach, or have body painting exhibits; we must expand into all forms of media, if we are to find acceptance and understanding on this planet.
Xandr and Thelana are true naturists, and there has never been anyone in the fantasy genre quite like them. The closest comes from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, first published in 1917, but the nudity in those books was hardly naturist. It was matter-of-fact, sure, but was intended to titillate adolescent boys lacking the Internet and PornHub. You never get to meet Carter’s mother, and if you did, she’d likely be wearing a corset and a bonnet. Even Tarzan learns the value of proper attire after meeting “civilized” people.
Before leaving his homeland, at fourteen years of age, Xandr had never seen clothing of any kind. His mentor lived naked, as did he, as did Thelana’s parents, sisters and brothers. It was innocent and free and beautiful. When, eventually, they meet textiles from the outside world, they do not learn the false modesty of our modern age, only the hypocrisy of a world much like our own, where war is waged under the guise of religion, the homeless are shamed, and the naked are called perverts and primitives, while prostitution and rape run rampant in the alleyways.
I am not saying Xandr and Thelana can change the world. They won’t. But it’s a necessary step in the right direction. Young people growing into nudism will have heroes they can more closely identify with. Everyday readers, who never think twice about nudity, may begin to question their assumptions.
Also, be sure to check my friend’s awesome deviantArt gallery at: Nicholas Cannan
Imagine playing an E-rated video game, where you could choose no-costume for your costume? Imagine casual nudity in movies and on TV, not just erotic Game of Thrones-type scenes, but on sitcoms? It may seem impossible, but then who would have thought we’d be seeing bare butts on Discovery Channel? I watch Naked & Afraid with my whole family, and it’s very reassuring, knowing they know dad isn’t the only one.