Guns vs. Nudity: What is Truly Offensive?

Again I feel compelled to alienate potential readers with my stance on gun control. Both my brother and my best friend are card carrying members of the NRA, and yet I feel morally obligated to champion this cause, and the view held by more than half of all Americans. We are morally obligated to make it harder for criminals and terrorists to obtain guns. We are morally obligated to shut down the gun show / online store loophole. And we must ban semi-automatic weapons, and oversized magazine clips which can serve no purpose but for the zombie apocalypse. We should also be encouraging, not prohibiting, organizations like the CDC to do the proper research with regards to gun safety. If the NRA is truly confident in its position, why not allow a third party to prove it?

I happened to be vacationing with my family in Orlando when the terrible shooting that claimed 49 lives took place. Of course, with a wife and two kids, I was nowhere near any gay bars, but it’s frightening just the same, because in the theme park capital of the world, crowds are always plentiful and security is often lax. With millions of impatient visitors eager to jump on the latest rollercoaster, and parks eager to accommodate those visitors, we go through the motions of what can only be described as ‘security theater.’ Someone determined to get beyond the underpaid staff poking around your backpack is going to succeed. Even if security were to be beefed up, there are enough potential victims waiting in line to make the recent shooting seem tame by comparison.

Here’s the sad truth: this is going to happen again. It’s only a matter of time. And when it does, the same rhetoric will get bandied back and forth. What we are not seeing is change, change to help lessen these occurrences, or, when they are likely to happen, change to ensure less people suffer.

Every time a mass shooting takes place, gun advocates refer to their talking points, framing the conversation as to divert from gun legislation. It can’t be the guns. Blame anything and everything but the guns. After Newtown, the NRA insisted mental health was the core issue. If we could rein in every troubled teen, they argued, we could solve the problem of gun violence. This, of course, seems a more reasonable position to a gun lover: legislating people instead of things. But the massacre in Orlando had everything to do with religion and homophobia. Had we listened to the NRA and focused our efforts on the mentally ill, we’d still be mourning the loss of 49 innocent people. Now Donald Trump proposes we lay the blame on Muslims. Again, we are presented with the solution of regulating people rather than things, which is somehow constitutional, whereas gun control remains a violation of civil liberties. So lock up anyone with a history of mental disorder, lock up anyone who is Muslim, and lock up anyone who doesn’t like gays. This might work, until another shooting happens under a different motive. Perhaps a fundamentalist pro-lifer will gun down an abortion clinic. Eventually, we will run out of scape goats, and our capacity to lay blame on people with grievances, because reasons for mass murder might as well be infinite. And when all is said and done, when hundreds, maybe thousands more are killed, we will be left with the problem of guns.

I distinctly recall my first visit to Barnes & Nobles, circa 20 years ago. The magazine section was extensive. Of particular interest to me was N Magazine, which featured naturism, but after two weeks the publication was pulled from the shelves. But what remains to this day are High Times and Guns & Ammo, because apparently, nudity is more offensive than drugs or killing.

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Advocates like to paint the gun debate in terms of freedom vs. tyranny, but this is not the reality. Absolute freedom is an American myth. Historically, what people can and cannot do has always been curtailed by common sense restrictions. You cannot legally drink and drive a car because it’s dangerous. You cannot smoke at a gas station or use your cell phone on an airplane for the same reasons. We all abide by these rules without a qualm, but when it comes to guns, we are beholden to the notion that freedom trumps safety. Why? It boils down to one simple word: MONEY. There is a lot of money to be made in the sale of bullets and pistols and semi-automatic rifles, and this money pays for lobby groups like the NRA, who pay off our politicians. Innocent civilians are dying for profit.

I can think of no other, more personal decision than what I choose to wear, if anything at all. Last time I checked, no one has ever been killed by the sight of a nipple or a penis. And if you really think about it, a penis is a kind of reverse-gun, creating life instead of taking it away, but should I decide to visit even a remote part of the beach in nothing but my skin, I’d get arrested, and possibly be put on the Sex Offender Registry List, to forever be associated with rapists and child molesters. If, on the other hand, I were to show up at a Starbucks armed to the teeth, I’d be heralded, by about half of all Americans, as a patriot. Again this begs the question of why. Why is the sight of the human body, something that has never harmed anyone, deemed illegal and offensive, while owning a device that exists for no other purpose but to kill regarded an inalienable right? I have no doubt aliens would find this dichotomy, between what is “modest” and what constitutes “freedom” utterly absurd, which is perhaps why they have yet to visit us. But again, I have the answer: there is no money to be made in public nudity. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Imagine how much revenue the clothing industry will lose when people realize the uselessness of bathing suits?

Open Carry March on March 12, 2014

This is legal.

WBNR-hippie

This is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we truly wish to lessen the frequency of mass shootings, not to stop, mind you, but to lessen, we need the political will to pass new safety legislation. The will must come from the people. Celebrities like Seth McFarlane, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert have all come out for sensible legislation. Even Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly admitted “you can’t have a bazooka.” It’s only a matter of time before we’ll look back at this gruesome era of gun violence and wonder how we could have waited so long. How many more needless deaths before common sense prevails?


 

Now before you start sending me your comments, consider that I’ve read all of the arguments, and have fully addressed them here in an earlier post: One Dead Child is One Too Many

 

 

 

 

 

Why Nudists Need Heroes

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.

The Greek Pedophile/Pederasty Stereotype


Not exactly child porn.

Were the Ancient Greeks more homosexual than other groups from antiquity? Were homosexuals more commonly found in Greece? Was pederasty, or man-boy-love, a common expression of gay love? And is it even fair to make broad generalizations about any group of people, whether they be Greek or gay? 

This is by no means a scholarly paper. If it were, I would have done weeks of research in a university library. Rather, this is me, a history major using my blog to vent. 

Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of getting into a debate with the worst kind of debater, the type of person I like to call an informed ignoramus. Unlike your typical ignoramus, the informed ignoramus possesses a kernel of knowledge about a certain subject, and using this little bit of knowledge, they often make outlandish claims that are, for lack of a better word, utter bull-crap. What was worse for me, I once considered this person my friend, someone very liberal in his views, and very sensitive when it comes to matters of race and sexual orientation. He would never make broad generalizations about black people, Hispanics, Muslims or LGBT people. Unfortunately, I am none of those things. I am Greek, and being Greek isn’t in vogue these days. You don’t see anybody on social media speaking out against Greek stereotypes, so my friend could not understand my being offended when he generalized about my ancestors. 

Negative stereotypes exist for Greeks, like any other group, and it hurts just the same. People call us loud, rude, and egotistical. While this may be true for some individuals, it isn’t true for everyone I know, just as not all Asians are bad drivers and not all Irish are drunkards. But while making a “dumb Polack” joke or calling a Jewish person stingy is usually frowned upon, when it comes to the Greeks, anything goes. Make fun of us, the world says, our feelings don’t matter. Never mind that our country suffered one of the greatest, if not longest oppression in the history of the world—four hundred years—by the Ottoman Turks, or that, after our war of independence in 1821, we were left so poor that over one hundred thousand people died of starvation in a single year. Never mind the daily struggles for survival my own parents endured during their childhoods. Our recent history is swept under the rug, willfully forgotten, to make room for jokes that go back two thousand years. Most of these jokes, as you probably know, involve gay sex and pedophilia. To give you a taste, a friend of mine wrote in my senior yearbook, “How do you separate the Greek men from the boys? With a crowbar!” All I could do is use a black marker to blot out what he had written, leaving an ugly stain on a cherished childhood souvenir. Flash forward twenty years, and I am still dealing with the same kind of ignorance. 

Now I have nothing against homosexuality or homosexuals. I only take offense to the notion that the Ancient Greeks were pedophiles, and somehow “more gay” than any other group. We also must not confuse, as Vladimir Putin has, sexual orientation with child abuse. As someone who has been sexually molested as a child, by a Greek relative no less, this is a sensitive subject for me. 

But like all stereotypes, there is evidence to support it. Plato talked about man-boy love in the Symposium, and we know from other sources that in Athens, pubescent boys engaged in “sexual relations” with their male teachers. But how frequent and accepted was this practice? The answer is, as I often like to remind people about history, complicated.  

This is a problem intrinsic to the study of history itself, and something that came up again and again when I was in graduate school. My professors consistently chastised us for making claims based on too little evidence. I’d write a paper arguing a particular point, with a handful of references, and my professor would say to me, “Yes, but, did you read this book? And did you look at this guy? Oh, and that piece there, that’s been debunked.” The worst grade I ever got, for this very reason, wasn’t even an F. He simply wrote on the back of my paper, “You’d be crucified by any other historian!” Crucified! When I wrote my thesis on the Battle of Thermopylae, I asked my professor how many sources he wanted to see. His answer shocked me. “All of them.” And he followed that up with, “And you have it easy, in my day, we had to read every source in every language, including ancient Greek.” Shit. This is why our current Google/Wikipedia age infuriates me. YOU CANNOT SUPPLANT ACTUAL RESEARCH WITH A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. 

Another problem with studying history can be thought of this way: Imagine a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, but we only have about one hundred pieces, and for some parts of the world, we have almost no pieces. Now let’s extrapolate this further, using the United States as an example. Imagine you are a historian living in the year 4015, and you want to know everything you can about life in the U.S. today. So, you dig through some ruins, trying to learn what you can, and what do you come across? Religion everywhere! How many churches do we have? How many Bibles in hotel rooms? How many laws have we passed discriminating against gays based strictly on religion? With this evidence, future historians could make a strong case that America in 2015 was utterly Puritanical. But wait, that’s just half the puzzle. After a bit more digging, archaeologists might find bookstores filled with the works of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and a number of other atheists, which may leave a lot of future historians scratching their heads in confusion. 

My argument, then, when talking to my informed ignoramus friend, was that you cannot make broad generalizations about a loosely organized group of city-states, existing over two-thousand years ago, spanning centuries of time, based on the few books you’ve read. What I know about Ancient Greece, based on my studies, is that sex between a man and a boy may have been more tolerated than it is today, but that the practice was localized to a specific time, place, and social class. There is also debate regarding what these “sexual relations” actually involved. I have yet to see an image of a boy, in any museum, bent over, in the aforementioned “crowbar” position. What we do see on vase paintings is quite tame, closer to Michael Jackson-type fondling than outright sex. Conversely, there are considerable examples of heterosexual penetration on pottery, images strikingly similar to what you might find on Porn Hub. But again, ancient pornography is no more proof of depravity than pornographic websites prove all Americans have orgies in their bedrooms. While the Greeks did not differentiate between heterosexuals and homosexuals, we know it was socially stigmatizing for a male to be on the receiving end of sex. In times of war, male-on-male rape was often used, much like in prisons today, as a form of domination and humiliation. Given, then, the lack of “penetrative” artwork from antiquity, coupled with the stigma of male penetration, most historians believe pederasty went no further than intercrural sex, or simply, “sex between the thighs.” 

Now, if we look beyond Plato, to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, something as important to the Greek identity as the Torah is for the Jews, we find no mention of homosexuality. It has been suggested that Achilles, who fought at Troy, was involved in a gay relationship with his cousin, Patroclus, but I found no mention of this in the translation I read, and it makes no sense in the larger context of the story, considering that Achilles refuses to fight after his female lover is taken captive by King Agamemnon. No other hero is described as a homosexual, though their love interests are often central to their myths, with Odysseus traveling twenty years to return to his wife in Ithaca (while cheating on her frequently); Perseus heroically rescuing Andromache, a damsel in distress, from a giant sea monster; and Heracles, who was killed by his jealous wife after his infidelity. None of the gods engage in pederasty either, but for Apollo, and Zeus, who seduced 112 mortal women and Ganymede. In the comedy by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta refuse sex with their husbands in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War. One must wonder, if male on male sex was as rampant as some stereotypes suggest, why this would have been such a problem.  

This isn’t to say that homosexuality did not exist in Ancient Greece; it certainly did and it was probably common, but no more so than anywhere else, and it is an affront to the LGBT community to claim otherwise. Homosexuality is a natural occurrence, not a social aberration. If we limit it to just one part of the world, we suggest it has nothing to do with biology. While the Hebrews strictly forbid homosexuality in Leviticus (which only goes to prove its practice), we know next to nothing about the Celts, the Saxons, or any other European group at the time, nor do we know anything of the habits of the people in Asia, the Russian steppes, or China. The Roman historian, Plutarch, on the other hand, asserts that the Persians engaged in pederasty with boy eunuchs, and modern historians debate how common gay relationships were in Egypt. If anything set the Greeks apart, it may be their propensity for expressing matters of eros, and their tolerance for differences in sexuality

The only thing we can say with certainty about the ancient world stems from the writings that survived, and when compared to more recent history, it is a puzzle with far too many missing pieces. For all we know, Plato and his ilk may have been the Greek equivalent of NAMBLA. Modern historian, Enid Bloch, suggests that Socrates may have suffered trauma from early sexual abuse. Are we to assume, then, that such abuse was both rampant and prevalent, in a society that gave us science, mathematics, medicine and philosophy? 

Even if we were to agree that Plato and Herodotus reflects a large part of Greek life, the writings themselves are suspect, often failing to corroborate with archaeological evidence. Herodotus states, for instance, that 5 million Persians (500 ten thousands) invaded Greece, which we know to be untrue, based on simple logistics; he also claimed that the city of Babylon was 10 miles by 10 miles square, also untrue. When it comes to sex and sexuality, Herodotus writes that “a woman cannot be raped,” and that there exists a country where “the men pee sitting down, and the women pee standing up.” Thucydides, all the while, who is considered a much more reliable source, says almost nothing about sex or pederasty. Based on Herodotus alone, our impression of the invading Persians may reflect the film 300, but a closer look at Persian art and architecture reveals a much less violent and more sophisticated society. The same can be said of the Vikings, who were no more violent than their European neighbors, but were vilified by the writings of early Christian monks. My friend, incidentally, is Norwegian, but I would never suggest he is the descendant of rapists.  

Not such an evil looking door, is it?


So, where does all this leave us? Were the Ancient Greeks a gay people? No more than anyone else. Were they all pedophiles? No more than anyone else. Were they overly fond of man-boy-love? No, but perhaps, at a specific time and place, were more accepting of it. Does this stereotype carry any weight? Nope. But if we must generalize, let us not say that the Greeks were more or less gay, but like much of the modern world, that they were more tolerant and enlightened. 

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