The Problem of the Penis

Warning: This article contains the word penis. It actually comes up, a lot. (Sorry). You’ve been warned.

I think it’s time we talked about the elephant in the room, and by elephant, I mean penis. Nudists like to wax poetic about the feeling of freedom you get from discarding your clothing, as do I, while ignoring what most people find objectionable about public nakedness. Let’s be honest, nobody outside of Saudi Arabia is really opposed to seeing your epidermis, and men aren’t being arrested for wearing speedos in public. Rather, it’s that tiny, 5% region of the body we criminalize, and that extra 5% nudists are fighting to make normal. For a nudist, a bikini is too much of a burden. What we want is to be completely, entirely, 100% clothes free, and that means exposing our genitals. And therein lies the problem.

For most textiles (that’s you non-nudists), the thinking goes something like this: genitals are sex organs, and the only people who should be seeing them are those with whom you are about to have intercourse. Displaying your penis or vagina to innocent bystanders is tantamount to propositioning them for sex, and, following this line of reasoning, exposing oneself to a minor is equivalent to pedophilia. Not surprisingly, outrage erupted over a nudist event at a Waterworld in Britain, with textiles fuming, ‘Good grief. Under fives go free. Horrendous. I’m genuinely shocked. This needs to be stopped.’ Another person asked: ‘Why can’t they make it adult only? No issue with that. But no kids.’ While a third wrote: ‘This is vile having NAKED children around NAKED adults is not ok, simple as that.’ Well, of course these people are outraged, and I would be too, if my kids were being invited to some sort of sexual event. But that’s the whole point of nudism: it isn’t sexual. 

If nudists ever wish to live in a world free of body taboos, we must tackle these misconceptions head on. We must change people’s perceptions when it comes to genitals, because while a true nudist isn’t focused on these parts per se, the textile community is.

But between the two varieties of male and female organs, the penis is by far the bigger offender (these puns write themselves, honestly!), and the reasons are multifold, I think. One reason may be that, unlike the vagina, which is largely internal, the penis just sort of sticks out there, demanding attention. So rarely do we see a penis outside of pornography, we tend to forget that its basic function, 99% of the time, is for waste removal. The unrealistic and often grotesque depictions of the male organ on the Internet also leads to unhealthy obsessions over appearance, and further the notion that the penis can only be seen in a sexual context. The artist portraying my naked hero, Xandr, gave the character an “enviable” package, but I’ve always imagined my hero closer to Michelangelo’s David in scale. After all, it’s hard fighting a monster with your most sensitive parts flailing around. Realistically, Xandr has to be a “grower,” which leads me to wonder whether the Ancient Greeks competed in the Olympics without a stitch and without a qualm owing to similar, more manageable physiques. Unfortunately, pornography has taught us that anything less than an infant’s arm is unmanly and embarrassing.

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Too big for battle?

Unfortunately for us in the real world, the penis is too often the star of the show in cases of sexual misconduct. Comedian Louis C.K. became a pariah after masturbating in front of two female coworkers. Billionaire film producer Harvey Weinstein found himself in similar hot water for casually leaving his bathrobe open for aspiring actresses to behold. Nudism does not condone this kind of behavior, of course, and Weinstein wasn’t a nudist, but still we must ask where, precisely, does one draw the line? Ignoring the numerous other, more serious charges against him, what if Weinstein had claimed that he just felt more free in the raw, and believed there was no shame in the human body? For men and women alike, the unexpected sight of a nude person can feel like a violation, or at the very least, an unwanted invitation. I avoid telling friends and coworkers about my lifestyle for fear they will misinterpret my intentions.

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You can just feel the creepiness!

All this is exacerbated by the increasingly troubled and confusing time we are living in. A lot of men avoid women they may be attracted to, never showing signs of interest, for fear of being deemed a creep. Sure, there are plenty of genuine creeps out there, but this has made women all the more wary of men, and men all the more afraid to come across the wrong way. So what is a genuine male nudist to do? While I’d never recommend suddenly stripping in front of a female coworker, particularly in a private setting, sometimes the line between misconduct and freedom becomes blurred. Imagine a female jogger on a long stretch of beach, suddenly crossing paths with a strange man sunbathing in the nude. Despite the jogger having encroached upon his space, does he suddenly become a sex offender? Even though, as any reasonable juror might determine, the man showed zero interest in accosting her? Now let’s consider a similar scenario with a slight tweak. Another man, let’s call him Fred, knows a woman who likes to jog along the beach, so he walks to the end of it and strips himself bare, waiting for an “accidental” encounter. Is Fred acting like a creepy predator? Hell yes! Because context, or intent rather, is everything. Convincing the world that there are other reasons for wanting to be naked, that are entirely innocent, is the biggest challenge facing the nudist community. And when I say naked, I don’t mean it in some vague, artistic sense, but really naked, as in putting your vagina or penis on display, for any innocent stranger to come upon (damn these puns!).

Even if we were to avoid Weinstein/Louis C.K. type situations, this bit of exposure is a hard sell, because the penis remains the boogeyman of the free body movement. It’s what scares textiles the most, and what even genuine naturists often shy away from. Sure, we like to let it all hang out, but pretend we don’t notice the baggage between every male’s thighs. If a nudist posts vacation photos, only rarely does the penis make an appearance. I, for one, get outraged when someone sends me a “dick pick,” even though you could say, “A penis is natural, like an ear or an elbow, and you wouldn’t get incensed by an ear pick, would you?” Clearly, there is a difference between the two. And yet, I maintain that body parts—ALL body parts—are inherently innocent. Just as the middle finger is no more offensive, in some cultures, than any other, or the word “fuck” could either mean sea lion, in French, or flashlight, “fucko,” in Greek, the penis isn’t offensive on its own. Consider the penis of a toddler who is running playfully around the living room, or that of a dead man being prepped for autopsy. But when an erect penis unexpectedly rears its ugly head in your Twitter feed, there is intent behind that image. The poster intended to offend, shock and provoke. And, contrary to nudist philosophy, a dick pick focuses on the genitalia and nothing else, divorcing that part of the anatomy from the person it’s attached to. It’s offensive because it is dehumanizing, and because it can only be interpreted as sexual in nature. Clearly, we need intent to find offense, and this is the message naturists need to be making: We are not coming on to you. If you see me naked, if you see my penis, it isn’t because I want to have sex with you. Sorry.

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Letting it hang out

Now you might be saying, why all the fuss over a penis? Can’t you just keep it in your pants, you dirty dirty sicko? A valid argument, to be certain. We can sing the joys of nakedness all day long, but so could any pedophile. We need, rather, to defend our position on the grounds of freedom and innocence. This isn’t to say freedom is absolute. We can’t argue in favor of rape and murder, but public nudity does no harm, neither physically nor psychologically, and so then becomes a matter of personal choice. The case could be made that such a personal choice may lead to an increase in sexual misconduct, and to be entirely honest, I cannot know with certainty whether that would be the case. I can only assume that in a world without nakedness taboos, sex crimes could only decrease. In normalizing every part of the body, we excise the Pavlovian reflex that results from ogling the flesh, and instead, become aroused for nobler and more socially acceptable reasons. We would get excited by love and intelligence, and by the person within. If that sounds like empty rhetoric, consider other countries with lax or nonexistent nudity laws. Heck, the Catholic Church is rife with child molestation charges, but how often do you hear the same about a family nudist resort?

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Church is a far more dangerous place to send your kids!

Now let’s imagine that in 2020, we elect our first nudist president (hey, it could have been Benjamin Franklin!) and let’s assume he pushes to make public nudity legal. Great! But then, after a few years’ time, statistics show sex crimes skyrocketing. Where there were tens of rapes per year, there are now tens of thousands. Barring no other catalyst, I would be inclined to admit, “Hey, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” But such a social experiment has yet to happen. Instead, we live in a world where we are free to drink, resulting in thousands of motor vehicle deaths per year, and buy cigarettes, which results in thousands of cancer deaths per year, and buy guns, which results in tens of thousands of fatalities per year. All the while, cannabis has only recently become legalized, after decades of unfounded fears over the harm it could cause. Clearly, our laws do not reflect our most rational thinking. We do and should restrict certain freedoms for the greater good, and yet we base what is good and what is harmful on personal biases and assumptions, rather than on hard data. And of course, the profit motive is a big influence, yet no one has figured out how to make money off public nudity, only private nudity in the form of strip clubs and pornography.

Laws will change. But not before we change minds. As more and more people become exposed to the innocence of the human body, penis and all, we will be more inclined to let go of our irrational taboos, just as we let go of taboos against premarital sex, interracial coupling, and gay marriage. It will be a slow moving shift in the fabric of social consciousness, a fabric of a million-million threads, each a blog post (like this one), or a natural selfie, or just one friend or family coming out to another and saying, “Hey, it’s 2040, who cares?” Let the penis out. Be free.

 

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Ages of Aenya: Thelana and the Serpent’s Eye

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Thelana explores an ancient Septheran ruin

Darkness stretched above them, impenetrable, and there was no way to tell how far they had fallen, but given the relative cool of the room, she knew they were deep beneath the surface. Only a faint red glow gave any sense of shape or dimension to their surroundings. She focused on the light, moving carefully forward. An iron torch was fitted to the wall. Whatever fuel there had been was long turned to ash, so she made a knot from her sleeve and stuffed it inside and, with a flint stone from her pack, the torch blazed anew.

“By the gods!”

Gold glittered across her field of vision. Despite the dust and decay and webs thick as ropes, the firelight reflected on the various hard surfaces with a dazzling brilliance. So many wonders enamored her senses that she did not know where to turn, and whenever she reached for one thing, some greater wonder pulled her gaze away. Obol and drachmae coins littered the shelves amid bejeweled amphoras and silver goblets. Coffers brimmed with rubies and sapphires, jade and lapis lazuli. Urns of ivory and obsidian abounded, their lids fashioned into trike and dragon heads and other beasts unfamiliar to her. Even the tables and chairs were gilded. A whole chariot stood in a dark corner, preserved in gold leaf.

She scooped up handfuls of jewels, let them spill like pebbles between her fingers, only to scoop them up and drop them again. She loved how they captured the light, the sound they made, like tinkling raindrops, even the cold, hard feel of them. For the first time in her life, she knew what it meant to possess beyond what was necessary, to be truly, decadently wealthy. She was ankle-deep in gold, in ornaments most people could never hope to own. A dazzling dragonfly necklace adorned her neck, its gold wings spread across her collarbone. A gold serpent with ruby eyes coiled about her forearm, from her wrist all the way up to her elbow, and her mind flooded with possibilitiesIt was enough to never go hungry, to have servants, if she so wished! No one would dare imprison her, or look down upon her, or mistake her for a harlot. Princess Thelana, they might call her. No, Empress Thelana! She was giddy as she pictured herself in her own palace, surrounded by family and a cornucopia of food . . . but the reality of her current situation was not far behind. How would she transport such wealth? And could she even find her way back from the Dead Zones? She quickly chased from her mind the memory of trekking back across that sun-scorched wasteland. There had to be another way.   

Next she moved to examine the chariot. An assortment of shields, swords and bows leaned up against the wheel, and it reminded her that she was not a princess, but a hunter and a wanderer, that she was free of the trappings and hypocrisies of civilization. The longbow was of dull gold, shaped like two serpents joined at the tail. The craftsmanship was exquisite, perhaps superior to her jade bow, though the pull string was missing. Slinging the serpent bow over her shoulder, she was overcome by a new sense of prosperity, and she could not recall when last she was happy. It was so long and forgotten a feeling that it gave her pause. The gods were cruel, she knew, and no fortune came without sacrifice.

Taking greater precaution, she continued to explore the room, finding things that spoke of ancient evil. With meticulous detail, the legs of the furniture were carved to resemble men, but in a kind of deformed mockery of the human body. Bent at the task of supporting seats and tabletops, the slave’s limbs were spidery, and their ribs jutted out over stomachs that held the appearance of hollowed out pits. Anguish was cut into every ivory face. Bringing the torch to the wall, the fire revealed a mural, a golden city of obelisks, statues, and sphinxes. Massive saurians were driven along paved streets, but never by humans. Men and women were depicted laboring under the whip, burdened under slabs of rock, leashed to wagons. Every human figure was emaciated, deformed, wincing. Shuddering with disgust and horror, she reconsidered adorning herself in the accouterments of that evil race. She let the coiled snake bracelet slip to the ground and cast away the dragonfly necklace, not even bothering to unhook it from its chain.

But just a handful could buy back her family’s freedom, if she should find them, or Borz’s, at the very least.

The torchlight indicated a passageway, but she could not leave the room without securing some of the treasure, enough to never want from hunger, for herself and for her brothers and sisters. Coins and jewels filled her sack and she stuffed the gourd with gems until the water began to leak out. A few rubies, the size of grapes, would not fit through the opening and she considered swallowing them. It pained her to let them go, imagining what they could buy, perhaps a plot of land with good soil, but her sack was heavy with jewels already and that, she decided, would have to be enough.

Translucent webs impeded the passageway like silk curtains, thick and white and sticky about the edges. Air flowed from beyond, causing the loose threads to flutter and the veil to swell and retract as if the passage was alive and breathing. Touched by the flame, the webbing disintegrated in a flash of orange and red, illuminating her way. She moved forward, the glow of her torch chasing shadows on the wall, revealing splashes of color from the continuing mural. She had no knowledge of archaeology, but knew enough to understand that the images told a story.

In simple lines etched into the limestone, there were a number of figures, the first of which were neither human nor snake man, or any other race she knew, and yet their distinct shapes were familiar. They were wide-bodied creatures, with rounded, dome-like heads and enormous hands. Ultimately, she recognized them, and shivered.

Golems.

Like the boulders littering Ilmarinen, like the faceless statues in the ruins in the woods, the resemblance was unmistakable. But who or what were they? By the pictographs on the wall, she could see that snake men and humans, even the people with fish-heads that could only be merquid, knelt beneath the golem-like race, perhaps as subjects. Her curiosity piqued, she followed the story with her fingertips, commanding Grimosse to bring the torch closer to the wall. In the following panel, the golem and snake race stood alone under a strange moon, surrounded by exotic, leafy plants. But their moon, or perhaps it was their sun—it was difficult to tell as it was nothing more than a simple circle—expanded, filling the sky, and the plants of their world were no more, and the golem race vanished also, or so she figured, since they were never shown again. There was a cobra-headed king then, who directed his subjects to build galleys without sails or oars, and in his hand was a scepter, its red jewel radiating lines like the sun. The galleys were set to sail without water, amid the stars, and many things happened after involving ellipses she could only guess at, but there was no doubting the basics of the history. The king reemerged from his galley and the three simple shapes representing mankind were shown to be kneeling, just as the other races had knelt before the golems.

They came from another world to enslave us. But this is ancient history. The snake men are no more.

Where the mural ended, there was a wall, engraved with stars of rubies and sapphires. A reddish glow radiated from behind it in vertical, parallel ridges. She could feel the sizzle of power against her probing fingers. Scrubbing the surface, the reddish light formed into the shape of a door. She called to Grimosse, who had to crouch to advance, and with a gesture from her he brought his door-making hammer to the wall.

Thoom!

Her ears quaked at the sound, but the wall did not surrender access. As rubble rained down on them, she squatted under his kneecap, fearing that the centuries-old architecture might fail atop them.

On the third attempt, a cloud of glittering vapors swallowed the hallway. She rushed blindly through the opening, under falling rubble, coughing, rubbing the haze from her eyes. A cavernous chamber spread before her. It reminded her of a mausoleum, dank with the musky odor of things long dead. The walls and ceiling, if any existed, vanished in the gloom. Moss and lichen covered every surface. Weeds split the floor, bulging under paving stones, and thorny vines came down from the shadows to weave across the floor.

Further on, a crimson sphere beckoned from a dais. For how long it shed its light, like a beacon summoning a ship to shore, she could scarcely imagine, though she knew no eyes had lain upon the chamber for untold ages. She moved toward the glow as long-tailed creatures with flipper-like appendages slithered across her path, mutations of a forgotten history, things like serpents but not.

As she approached the pedestal, Thelana could see that wherever the light of the sphere touched, the room was fractured, like a shattered mirror. Each fragment seemed to exist separately from the others adjacent to it, in its own light, in differing states of decay. One piece of the room was dimly lit, gray and lifeless, while another was green and vivid and bright. How was such architecture possible? She moved into the lighted area, fascinated by how sharply it divided from the rest of the room, and as she stood over it she was startled by the sudden warmth washing over her, and by the surprising echo of birdsong. Stepping backward into silence, she passed her arm through the space again, feeling the soft sudden rays of sunshine. When pulling away, the dank atmosphere gripped her arm and the skin prickled with gooseflesh. With great difficulty, she accepted what she was seeing was no clever trick of masonry, that somehow, beyond compression, where the sun appeared to touch her was an actual place, existing within the room but only occupying a part of it.

Many of the fragments were similar in size, while most varied greatly in proportion, either large enough for her to stand in or no bigger than the width of her finger. The break lines converged to a single point, a shatter point upon the pedestal, the red glow. It was the fire from within a gem fixed to the mouth of a scepter. It was the Serpent’s Eye.

The decrepit steps chipped under her weight as she climbed the dais. She did not know the reason, but her heart quaked as she neared the source. Something about the gem unnerved her, and yet its strangeness possessed her with a yearning to know its secrets.

As she reached the top, the jewel’s radiance enveloped her. A fine white ash, like powdered bone, covered the floor of the dais. The pedestal was a simple granite slab tinted red by the Eye’s glow, but as she moved closer, its timeworn features became defined, revealing a great sarcophagus in the semblance of a hooded snake man, the scepter protruding from its stone claws. There she froze, marveling at it, losing any hesitation she might have had for stealing it. The gem was the size of her fist, its thousand glassy facets multiplying her reflection in a kaleidoscope of reddish hues.

She could buy the entire world with this stone. No wonder Nesper was after it. No wonder he would have killed them for it.

As she reached for the scepter, her arm bent like a broken stick and her fingers became elongated. She moved her hand through many odd, distorted angles, the air around the gem bending the light like still water—at least, still water was the only way her mind could process it. Shrugging off her sense of unease, she closed her hand about the scepter and it came loose without resistance. The Serpent’s Eye was lighter than she expected, and turning it in her hand, she noticed that the Eye itself was not set between the serpent’s fangs, as she had thought, but held by some invisible thread. She’d never seen any such thing, but it reminded her, for reasons she did not fully comprehend, of Emmaxis, of something otherworldly.

She returned from the dais briskly, skipping down the steps like a child late to supper, in her heart a mix of guilt and relief. Thelana could not remember being so fortunate. Such a treasure would be easy to carry and was no doubt equal to all the valuables in the other room combined. And then, as she lifted her eyes to look for Grimosse, her heart lost its rhythm, forgetting for a moment to beat.

Another person was in the room with her and it was clearly not Grimosse. It could not be a native, she told herself—there was not a trace of life in Shess. Was it a wanderer like herself? No—that was impossible, for who else could survive the journey here and arrive at the same exact moment? Yet there it was, standing between the dais and the door she’d come through, an apparition in sun-tortured and eroded garments, with deep folds suggesting a woman or a young boy, a body emaciated by hunger like her own.

“Wh-Who are you?” Thelana asked, despite the sinking suspicion that she knew the answer already.

The other girl stared, just as wide-eyed, just as frightened. “Who am I? I am Thelana.”

“No, you can’t be Thelana,” Thelana said, feeling her lips quivering as she spoke the words. “I am.”

 

Uh-oh. Who is the real Thelana? Or could they both be real? Uncover the mystery of the Serpent’s Eye in Ages of Aenya

Ages of Aenya: Xandr Battles the Snake Man

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Naked but unafraid, Xandr must prove mankind’s worthiness against the Septheran champion.

Sunlight reflected off the Septheran’s body, tinting him violet, but where the sun did not touch directly, his scales were as black and shiny as volcanic glass. Like his brother, the Pharaoh, the creature named Purple Death Adder possessed the cobra-like membrane connecting the top of his head to his shoulders. With his approach, his awfulness became more intimidating. He was much taller than any human, with sinewy arms that reached to his knees and talons that snatched at the air, and in each hand was a long dagger in the shape of a crescent moon. Tellhus charged with a lame leg and a desperate cry, his khopesh thrust at its gut, but the prince of serpents did not stir. Whether staring down his attacker or sleeping, the creature’s eyes showed no sign. But as the sun moved across his pointed face, his pinpoint eyes flickered from black to white and his head pivoted like a predator before a kill. In the instant of impact, the Adder became a torrent of motion, slashing at Tellhus’ sword arm. Blood gushed from the limb, cleanly cut from the elbow, but Tellhus simply stared where that part of him had been, the pain having yet to reach his senses. Retracting the scarlet blade, the Septheran crawled, lizard like, along the man’s body, biting deep into the shoulder. As the venom took hold, he became rigid, and even from a distance Xandr could see the discoloration—the subtle purple tint in the veins beneath the skin. Tellhus fell, shriveled to the bone, like a preserved corpse dead a dozen or more years.

A wretched sound circled the arena, filling the ears with dread, hisses and snare drums and human cheer. It wasn’t a battle they had been anticipating, but a slaughter. And they approved, Xandr realized with disgust. Even the human slaves accompanying their masters were too cowed, too complacent in their misery, to think otherwise.

As the spectators grew silent again, Purple Death Adder turned his attention to the three remaining humans. At this, Soog keeled over, his vomit pooling between his knees.

“Up!” Xandr commanded him. “Do not show them any weakness!”

“But we are weak!” Soog admitted. “Haven’t you figured that out yet? Tellhus is dead! Dead! And we’ll soon be with him!”

“We’ll all be dead someday,” Xandr replied softly, “but few men die with purpose.”

Few men die with purpose!” Eldin repeated excitedly. “It’s a popular saying of yours, you know.” Xandr gave him an annoyed look, but he went on. “Come to think of it, I must live through this day, either me or Soog, or who else will have recorded it? You don’t happen to be a bard or historian, Soog?”

“No . . .” Soog replied timidly, “but I could start.”

“You’re mistaken,” Xandr said to him. “I learned the saying from my mentor.”

“Precisely,” Eldin agreed, “but it was passed down from you, from the Batal, which means—by the gods!—you were meant to embody your ancestor!”

Ever so gradually, the Septheran prince was making his way toward them, to prolong the kill for the crowds, and to torment his victims with impending death. In his periphery, Xandr could see Eldin retreat behind him. “If you’re so certain about all this, why do you tremble?”

“I —um—am only human,” he admitted, “and my calculations may be off!”

“The two of you stay here,” Xandr said finally, taking the least beaten sword from the ground and the small ax from Soog’s bumbling fingers.

Compared to the weight of his two-hander, carrying the khopesh was like going into battle empty-handed. The sickle-like blade twirled in Xandr’s palm as he rummaged through his memory for the techniques his mentor taught him for small swords. It was too dull to chop, that much he knew, but the Septheran’s armor-like hide made that a moot point. Any sword could do the deed if one were to simply push. The ax was a distraction, so he tossed it, marking the divide between him and the prince.

Purple Death Adder’s crescent blades silvered in the noonday sun. His neck stretched, accordion like, making him a head taller. His eyes rolled over Xandr’s body, studying his build, his demeanor. Caution showed in the snake man’s coiled posture.

You do not fear me.

The voice was thick and venomous, rattling his brain, but Xandr resisted the instinct to step away from it. “No.”

Even while standing, the prince was all motion, every limb writhing, its head bobbing, its tail curling and snapping and recoiling. Why not? he asked simply.

“Because my loved ones have already gone to the Taker,” Xandr answered, “and you cannot harm them.”

Do you not value your own life?

“I do,” he said, digging his fingers into the khopesh’ rusty hilt. “But I value the lives of others more.”

That is folly, the snake man communicated telepathically, his head agitated from side to side. Compassion is for the weak! All the while, the chatter from the wall intensified, the masses having never witnessed such an exchange between a man and a Septheran.

“You cannot understand because you are coldblooded,” Xandr said, his heart quickening, watching for any sign of attack, though the snake man’s posture and constant motion was utterly alien, mesmerizing. “Your cruelty is your weakness. No species can thrive on the suffering of another. The day will come when humankind shall triumph over you.”

That day is not today!

Xandr’s head screamed, the voice in it shaking him to his knees, as the prince’s scales quivered, his mouth gaping wide enough to swallow a man whole, his fangs milky white, dripping with ichor. Anticipating the attack, Xandr bent at the ankle, but he was already too late, the moon blades crossing his throat, grazing the stubble of his chin. He had never seen anything, beast or man, move so swiftly. In retreating, Xandr made a slashing shield with the dull edge of his sword, but the tail came out of nowhere, cutting his brow like a whip. The snake man was less limited by tendons, moving more fluidly than any man could, attacking from the side as readily as from the front. Xandr was outmatched and he knew it. Without thinking, his hand went to his breast, clutching his heart as if it might jump out, but the familiar scar crossing his torso was not there, and he remembered that he was not himself. He was Batal, and somehow . . . somehow the Batal had managed to make history. If he were to die at the hands of this monster, before so many witnesses, what difference could he make?

I must not lose. I must move faster.

But the Septheran was everywhere at once. Silver clashed with dull iron, pelting him with rust. Attacks came so suddenly and in such succession that Xandr could not hope to use his khopesh but to defend, and he realized with some horror that he was fighting only to survive. The tail, though it could not kill him, flayed his skin to ribbons, cut slices from his body piece-by-piece. The mouth lunged, flashing fangs, but they came too quickly for Xandr to contemplate—only some primal terror distanced him from their venom.

The crescent moons crossed again, the black-purple maw snapping between flashes of silver. As the first blade whizzed past his nose, the rusted sickle caught against the second. But Xandr’s weapon was wearing thin, each deflected blow adding a notch to the blade.

As hopeless as things seemed to him, he knew that from the walls above, the spectators could see the defiance, courage, and strength of a human slave, a sight never before witnessed in that arena. To Xandr, their faces were stony abstracts, too distant to distinguish, yet he could see the turmoil on their brows, in the sunken ridges of their eyes. Despite their masters’ angry lashing tongues, one-by-one, from the lowest to the highest tier, slaves began to rise from their seats.

The onslaught was unrelenting. And the day was sweltering hot, sapping the fight from him. Blinking the sweat from his eyes, he did not see the blade until it was too late, until he felt it tear across his liver. He watched his blood speckle the orange rock, the curved edge turn red as if dipped in paint. The arena was spinning, Eldin and Soog and Tellhus, and shadowy faces far and wide dashed with hopelessness, all spinning. Without any sense of falling, he was on the ground—there was no pain, only cold and numbness.

Where is my sword?

It was gone. Knocked somewhere out of his hand. He tried to regain control of his feet but they would not obey. He’d done all he could do.

The roar of thousands hushed to a whisper, and Xandr wondered why Purple Death Adder had not yet killed him. His only desire, his only regret in that instant, was that he would not see Thelana again. It was a selfish impulse and he knew it.

Out of the orange haze, a female shape was walking toward him, her hair like the tributaries in the valleys of Ilmarinen, and at first it was Thelana, but somehow she was more, was Alashiya also, for he remembered that the Goddess was in him, and all things of Aenya, and her skin glowed gold like the sun, became the sun.

You are not alone. Xandr. Her voice was a song, a mother’s coo.

When Alashiya reached down to him, and her hand was clasped in his, he was no longer in a place of darkness. Xandr stood to face Purple Death Adder again, sword at his side. The Septheran took a step back. The human spectators began shouting with fervor. Looking around him, at every hopeful face, he understood what he had to do. The fight was not his to win—it was theirs, and the Batal would not fail them.

“You wish to cow them?” Xandr cried, waving his sword over the masses, “then show them what they most fear . . . Bite me! I welcome the purple death!”

The prince was quick to the bait, leaving his moon blades in the dust. You do not know for what you ask . . . it is not a good death. It will avail your species nothing!

“Enough!” Xandr screamed, dashing forward. “Show me!”

Purple Death Adder leapt, his pink glossy gums agape. But Xandr drew him in with a delayed counter, the tactic taught to him by his mentor, giving the attacker what he thought he wanted. Rather than bite throat and shoulder, as the Adder intended, Xandr offered up his forearm. The fang cut deep, through to the other side, and as Xandr tore himself free the venom started to fill, coursing through his veins like searing needles. His hand was a bloody pulp. His forearm dangled from the elbow in meaty tatters. But the prince of serpents staggered back, the elongated neck stretched to its breaking point. With frantic strokes, it clawed at its mouth, desperate to remove the sliver of iron from its throat. Xandr moved slowly, weakly, despite his urgency and the short time he had in which to live. With his one remaining hand, he retrieved the ax, bringing it down upon the serpent prince, in a wedge though its slender face and head. Purple Death Adder flailed backward without so much as a hiss, now groping blindly at the ax handle jutting from its face, and hit the ground writhing.

Cheers sounded above panicked hisses. He had defeated the Septheran champion at the cost of his own life, but would it be enough to inspire men’s hearts to revolution? The poison was setting in. Each heartbeat was a dagger twisting in his chest. But they would not be wasted. Raising the ax overhead, wet with blood of the fallen champion, Xandr turned toward the stepped walls, to man and snake man alike. “I am a man . . . and I have beaten you!” Even as he spoke, the venom continued to cripple him, his fingers growing icy, his legs giving way.

“Men of Aenya!” he gasped. “You lose no freedom . . . when you are free to fight!” Those were his last words before he dropped to his knees, toppling forward to join Tellhus.

It would have to do, he decided, confident that the name would live on to inspire hope, to become part of folksongs, to pass through history and be recalled by generations, in cities by the sea, and by the simple people of the Goddess, those untouched by civilization. One name.

Batal.

 

What happens next? Find out in Ages of Aenya!

Ages of Aenya: Thelana’s Perilous Leap

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Lightning strikes as Thelana leaps from her bird onto the beak of a giant caw!

 

They dived, Xandr and Thelana flailing and nearly falling from the bird’s sides. Ahead of them, the sky turned gray, heavy, and wet. A deep rumble rolled underfoot, popped and cracked in their ears—it was deafening. Hair Thelana did not know she possessed grew long and straight out from her body and then everything turned white. She was blind. Pellets of water were pounding her, beading across her bosom, rolling over her every limb. As her eyes refocused, she could make out the jagged blazing tendrils cutting through the haze. A second pair of wings sounded behind them. Its screech was still terrifying, despite the thunderclap that dulled her ears. Looking over her shoulder, the gray void was thick but empty. Her hairs pricked up again and she slammed her eyes shut against the light. A second bolt split the sky. She could see it through her eyelids, and when she looked again, the long purple form of the vulture hawk loomed above, vanishing and reemerging with every flash. Suddenly the caw was at the ib’s tail. Its vulture-like head was bigger than Thelana could have imagined, its beak snapping wildly at anything within reach. When it screeched, the sound came in waves so powerful she thought she could see them, shaking her so violently the noise remained like a poison in her ears.

“Can you hit it?” said a voice, the syllables blown by wind and rain, by the thunder and that awful screeching. “Can you hit it?” Xandr shouted again, “With your arrows?”

“I never miss,” she replied, snapping her sword apart. The presence of arrows, concealed within the blade’s shaft, surprised her as she remembered the battle atop Sargonus’ head, when she was left to fend off merquid with nothing but her sword. Had Ouranos been so thorough in regaining their arms? Had he expected a struggle? With no time to think, she slipped a strange-looking arrow between her fingers, avian in design, as Flick Flack banked in a sharp angle and the caw spun from view. Avia wrestled with the reins, but the bird was terrified beyond her control.

Distance, direction, and wind—every factor amounted to total chaos. The ib buffeted with frantic strokes, making her aim impossibly unsteady, but her target was huge. The arrow escaped into a cloud. Again the ib banked, and Xandr and Thelana were thrown sideways, struggling to maintain balance.

“It disappeared,” Thelana remarked, re-nocking her bow.

“Do you think it’s gone?” Xandr asked.

In answer, the caw’s great beak broke from the clouds, stealing feathers from the giant pigeon, snapping at Thelana’s foot. Now Avia lost all control, and predator and prey fell into a spiraling dive. The surface of Aenya emerged clumsily, rolling overhead. Everything turned sideways, upside down, and right again. Thelana let out another shot to no avail and it came closer, too close, the gold edge of her blade ricocheting off its beak as if hacking at a chunk of iron. At any moment, that beak would clamp down and their mount would be devoured, and then they’d be fodder for the caw. There was no recourse but to do something bold, desperate. Cold dread turned to fire in her veins, when she threw herself headlong at the caw, bridging the gap between the two birds, the mountains like crumpled bedding underfoot. All her weight was in her hands as she came down, her steel breaking through the shell, sinking to the hilt into the monster’s beak.

“Thelana!” Xandr cried. “Where is she?”

Wounded, the caw sailed backwards. Thelana’s feet slipped from its rounded beak, but she was still hanging on, clutching the hilt of her embedded sword.

“I’ll get her!” Ouranos said, twirling back around.

But the caw was already upon them. Its talons cut like a scythe across the bird man’s back and he fell away with a shriek. The second talon hooked through its prey and Thelana tumbled down against the ib. Xandr caught her by the ankle, but the violence between the tangled birds loosed even his powerful grip. Everything was spinning. There was no way to make sense of direction and Avia, their only guide, was nowhere to be seen. Thelana managed to bend into a C-shape before flopping earthbound, her braid a four-foot jumble of movement below her.

Hold me. Xandr.

Without a sound, Thelana slid away from him and into the ether.

 

What happens next? Will Thelana survive her fall? Find out in Ages of Aenya!

 

Ages of Aenya: Thelana Makes a Stand

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Off in the distance, a contingent of archers emerged from their hiding places. “Traitors! They’ve killed the mouth of god!” It was a rallying cry from nowhere, and others joined in the chorus. An arrow went flying at a high angle, descending through Gol’s neck, and the blood shedding ensued.

Merquid bodies, flaccid as dead fish, flew at them, with nothing but claws and jagged rows of teeth. Xandr, Thelana, Grimosse and Demacharon banded to form a defensive ring. The commander moved his gladius with deadly precision, finding vital organs beneath scales, dropping merquid with every stroke of his arm. Within the circle of devastation forged by Grimosse’s hammer, Thelana retreated, folding her bow into a blade, but as the hammer came crashing and the merquid fell into disarray, she emerged, sword in hand. Not a claw or stinger managed to graze her skin, and she relished in the knowledge that her agility protected her more than any armor ever could. She danced in loops, her sword an extension of her arm, and merquid’ heads rolled from the collarbone in flashes of gold. Still, she felt comforted by the fact that Xandr never strayed beyond reach of her, bludgeoning the incoming tide by the pommel and crossbeam of his sword, pushing them through the throng to an open space, where Emmaxis came around in his hands, cutting a path of dismemberment. But the merquid continued to press them, growing in number despite their losses.

“They’re terribly weak,” Thelana said, “like feeble old men.”

“Aye,” Demacharon replied, “but they’re many. Too many.”

The battle drew them inward, to where the idol had collapsed. With nowhere left to retreat, they were forced toward higher ground. Xandr and Demacharon clamored over the knuckles and broken fingers of Sargonus as hoplites fell and were devoured behind them. With nothing but the weight of her sword to encumber her, Thelana was first to reach the head of the fallen god. A cluster of webbed hands groped her ankles as she reached for the earlobe, but her sword was quicker, shortening the reach of their arms as she swung herself up and over the idol face to safety.

Gelatinous limbs flailed up, yanking men down from their perches. Merquid were slow to climb and defenseless as they ascended, so Thelana found the killing effortless, but disturbing. Destroying life, even in self-defense, detached her from the world, and made the Goddess feel remote. She would have preferred using her bow so as not to stare into those horrid bulbous eyes, but the compartment that held her arrows was empty, and there were no dead archers around for her to steal from. She alternated between cutting down merquid and reaching for survivors. Most were torn apart before making it to the top, but what of Xandr, she suddenly realized? Her heart throbbed as she dared to glance out across the chaos, where few of the Hedonians’ red and gold armor could be counted among the pale green of the merquid. But her dread was short-lived. They were back to back. She could feel him against her, his warm shoulder blades flexing as he fought.

“I rescued you from that pit only to let you die a few passings later,” he said, without turning to face her.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, finding sanctuary atop the statue’s nose, where she stood above the warring masses that moved in patterns demarcated by bloodshed. Cupping her mouth, she cried out, “We meet Alashiya with courage!”

The Sea continued to rush into the temple and the merquid, weary of battle, found respite at the base of the falls. But the ceiling above was eroded enough for the sky to peer through it, and there the few remaining defenders gathered, under the sunlight, where it pained the merquid to follow. Water tumbled and sloshed in the sun, and the roiling mist obscured sight of all, so that none could say whether the attackers were being repelled, or if the ragtag force of humans was in its death throes.

What happens next? Follow the action in Ages of Aenya!  

Ages of Aenya: Thelana on the Plains of Narth

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On the Plains of Narth, Thelana watches as all of the men in her troupe are killed. Embittered by the horrors of war, she is left with nothing but a longing to return to nature, and to the innocence of home.

Under an orange sky choked by fumes, the din of battle died away over the Plains of Narth. Most of the bodies were human, but the little ones, with their bony frames and taut gray skin and cruel etched faces, were not. Vulture spiders roamed among them, their elongated legs picking among the carrion, carrying the bodies away in web cocoons. Further in the distance, the hills were moving—or things that looked like hills—bashing anything that stirred. Since the dead did not stir, they crossed over to the dying, occasionally crushing the skulls of allies as they went. Thelana knew she was the only one that remained—neither horg nor bogren nor corpse—a small figure flitting swiftly through the haze. It was difficult for her to run without broken arrowheads digging into her soles—they clustered like weeds—but she managed her way back, vaulting herself over the makeshift ramp of sludge and dead and supplies.

“Torgin is down,” she said calmly, pressing her back against the rampart beside him.

“Are you sure?” Dantes said uneasily. “Did you see the body?”

She wanted to tell him how she’d found him, how his brains were splattered against a horg’s iron, how his lazy eye was as still as any other, but she answered simply, “Yes. I’m sorry.”

Usually, Dantes would say something to stir the soul, or mutter some prayer to his gods. But this time, he cursed. Dantes loved Torgin as a brother. “What about the lines? Are they intact?” There was real desperation in his voice, unlike anything she had ever heard.

“I . . . didn’t find anyone out there, Captain. I believe they’re all—”

“Damn it to Skullgrin, Thelana!” he screamed.

Even after cycles of fighting, he had called her, ‘new girl’. ‘Come here, new girl,’ he would say, or, ‘What did you find out, new girl?’ She hated it at first, but gradually came to think of it as a sign of his affection for her. After all, much to the irritation of the others in her company, he made tactical decisions that, one way or the other, put her out of harm’s way, using her swift footing, for instance, for scouting out the enemy. Only recently, when their numbers began to dwindle and her bow came into play more frequently, did he begin calling her by name.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.

Dantes was never known to admit defeat. Most often, as in the case of recruiting his youngest and best archer, he would get his way. It was what Thelana loved about him. But now his pride, his refusal to retreat, had led his friends and comrades to their deaths. “It’s over for us,” he said quietly, “but we’ve done our duty. That is all the gods can ask of us. We’ve slowed their advance, that much is certain, and the city guard will be waiting.”

“But what will we do? Where we will go?” She was frightened of the answer even as she asked.

“We will stay,” he replied, without a trace of hesitation. “We will fight to the end.”

Having lost so many lives, to flee could only bring him shame. Men of honor could not live with shame, yet she pressed him. “But what good will it do? Let’s leave this place. Together. Begin a new life somewhere far away.”

“No,” he said, without argument, without explanation of any kind.

“But—”

“Am I still not your Captain?” he shouted. “Every second we delay those monsters, every second they spend fighting us, is another second we give to the people of Kratos.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her hand moving close enough for him to feel it. “I was being selfish. But—but if we are to die,” she started, surprised by her nervousness even in the face of the Taker, “at least tell me what I mean to you.”

His gaze fell hard on her, as if suddenly realizing that a woman was fighting alongside him and an uncomfortable space started to form between them. “I don’t know what you’re trying to . . .”

She had always believed, or was it mere hope, that he would be expecting such a query. Is it too soon? How can it be? Unless he doesn’t know . . . unless he feels nothing.  “I thought you cared about me. You always sent me on those scouting missions, and in battle you kept me close to you—”

“Thelana,” he said, his face souring, “of course I care about you. You’re a great archer, a loyal ally—”

She cupped his hand with her own. His knuckles were hard, her palm scabrous—their scars fit together in places. “Dantes, that’s not what I meant.”

The words froze between them. She searched his face for any sign of affection amid the anguish for his men. He averted her gaze, focused on her as he would any soldier. But he understood the meaning in her questing eyes, saw the love he could not return. And suddenly she felt ashamed, wanting to take back even those simple words.

“Thelana, you’re a very young girl and I have, well . . . I have a wife waiting for me.”

“You’re joined?” Her heart tightened against the pain, but the revelation kept digging deeper like a bogren’s spear. “I’ve never seen her! You’ve never mentioned her!”

“And I have daughters as well. One of them is your age.”

She wanted to cry out, to weep, but amid so many dead and dying, love seemed like a foolish thing to weep for.

“Now you know why I can’t retreat,” he said. “My wife and children are in the city. I need to give them time. It is for the families of Kratos that we face the Taker.” As he finished speaking, a terrible groan echoed across the plain, making them rattle in their armor.

“It’s close,” he said.

She pulled herself over the heap of dirt and broken bodies. It was there at thirty paces, a grotesque heap of fat. Boils popped from its folds, sizzling on the ground. The blood of its victims gleamed from a gargantuan battle-ax. Its skull was cut open like a melon, revealing a brain and the cords stretching out from it. A little gray creature sat on its shoulders, massaging the brain into submission, manipulating the strings with its other hand to move the horg’s massive limbs like a marionette.

Thelana ducked back under. “It’s a smart one.”

“Can you take it down?”

“Do you have to ask?” Peering over the mound, she surveyed the broken landscape for unseen dangers, but there were none she could see. She slipped her longbow from her shoulder, nocked an arrow in it, and waited for the monster to turn her way. Horgs were nigh invincible, could take dozens of arrows in their leathery folds and keep coming. But they were also as stupid as herd animals. Without their bogren masters, they were easily trapped and killed. Her arrow went soaring just as the gray one’s eyes narrowed in her direction. The bogren shrieked and tumbled from its perch—the cords attached to the horg’s brain pulled tight and went slack. Without a creature to control it, the horg shambled toward her, bellowing in agony, swinging its enormous ax at invisible enemies.

“Dantes!” she cried. “It’s coming straight for us. Run!”

“No,” he said, hiding his dark brows beneath his helmet. “We must meet the enemy head on. There’s no other way.”

“We’ll be killed.”

“One less horg for the city guard to worry about!” he cried, less to her than to himself. With shield and sword high, he rushed at the monster, without strategy, without an ally with whom to organize an effectual assault.

No, Dantes, this isn’t like you . . . this isn’t like you at all . . .  

He ran into the arms of the Taker as he ran into the monster’s ax. Thelana shouted after him, but turned away at the final moment. Suddenly, all her years of daydreaming came to nothing. A thick lump welled up from the base of her being, up into her throat, choked her.

He was gone. The man she had loved.

No one stood alive on the Plains of Narth, no other human but her. The emptiness was overwhelming, but such emotions were a luxury afforded to mothers and wives and to those wealthy enough to purchase walls. The world stood vast and barren all around her, but the weight of its people still pressed her. Broken swords, clutched by inert fingers, spread like blades of grass. The horror of it—so remote from the simple world she was brought into—shattered something inside her and she ran screaming, clumsily in her boots, into the midst of the dead.

Unsatisfied by Dantes’ blood, the horg lumbered for another kill, braying like a bull. She tugged at her beloved’s shield until his body surrendered just as the ax came crashing against it, laying her flat. She fumbled for a sword—any sword—and sprang back to her feet. The ax came around again, splintering the wood from the boss and tearing it from her arms. With the shield in pieces and her shoulder aching from the impact, she stumbled over the fallen bodies of her regiment, knowing that soon the horg would cut her down and all her pain would be over. But a distant memory was teasing her—she had to keep moving. Against the overwhelming force of the horg’s ax, her leather bindings were inconsequential, a hindrance that weighed and constrained her motion. This was not the way that Ilmar fought. Dantes had given strict orders that she keep her clothes on. You’ll lose face, he’d said. You will not look a soldier and the men will think you’re available. But Dantes was gone and every eye that might have shamed her was closed forever. In their armor, she was a prisoner, her breeches shackles of shame from a world she scarcely understood. She rounded the monster, keeping safely from its whizzing ax, and piece by piece, the accouterments of the Kratan soldier dropped like empty shells, the horrors of war peeling away with her chain greaves and belt, her brassiere and boots. She tore at the stitching as if burned by it. Even the fine muslin tunic Dantes had given her, the only article of clothing she had loved, crumpled in the dirt.

Wearing nothing but a sword, she stood under the sky, the Goddess a river surging through her. She closed her eyes to the enveloping touch of the battlefield, the shift in the ground as the horg stomped in blind circles, the small hairs of her body prickling as the ax came around and around.

He was twice her height. Ten times her weight. One blow and she was pulp. But having lost everything, she faced him. The horg charged, and she met him first, clambering up his rolls of fat, crossing his arm like the bough of a tree. Before his dimwitted mind could work out where she’d gone to, she was riding his back, plunging her sword into his exposed brain. The horg gave a confused groan and toppled like a column as Thelana rolled from his shoulders.

 

Where does Thelana go next? Find out in Ages of Aenya

 

 

 

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

Least Likely to Become a Nudist: A Memoir: Part 6: Finding Love in a Clothes-Minded World

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Love

I was born with a cleft lip. If you’ve never seen pictures, let me just say it can get pretty ugly. Basically, it looked like a mugger took a knife to my mouth as I exited the womb. The doctors did their best to sew me up, but the scar remained. As a result of the surgery, my nose was lopsided, with one nostril higher than the other. I did not suffer any adverse effects except for some psychological damage, because kids can be assholes. “What happened to your face?” was a question I often got asked, but I played it up cool, which worked better in my teen years. “There was a gang! I fought them off the best I could.”

For years, I tried not to think about my looks, avoiding mirrors when possible, but then high school happened and a girl named Leah. She crushed me hard. I wrote her a long poem on reams of dot matrix paper and she read it to our entire 11th grade English class. I turned every shade of red with every tortured metaphor. The evidence was all over my face, literally. I was so embarrassed, I might just as well have been bare-ass naked. Of course, Leah didn’t exactly jump into my loving arms, for you see, at that time I had to worry not only about my cleft lip nose, but a terminal case of acne. Kids in the hall used to turn just to get a better look. “Shit, did you see that guy’s face?” I also wore thick-rimmed glasses and was about as plump as an animated Tim Burton character. And this was long before “I Love Nerds” T-shirts, so girls weren’t exactly lining up to ask me to the prom.

Then in Greece one year, my uncle called to me, “Hey, Hermes.” I was in my underwear at the time, and as any mainland Greek will tell you, this is the highest compliment you can give a guy. Hermes by Praxiteles is a statue from the Classical age, representing the messenger god, and like Michelangelo’s David, stands as an ideal of male beauty. Which got me to thinking. Me? Hermes? My uncle is quite the exaggerator, but he didn’t say it in an ironic way, I am sure. So I checked with the mirror and sure enough, I could find nothing hideous about me, other than my cleft lip. After that, I started to think that maybe I’d look better in the nude. At the very least, it’d draw attention away from my face.

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Hermes

By the time I was in my 20’s, now a frequent visitor to Paradise Lakes, my confidence shot through the roof. My acne was no more, thanks to a dangerous drug called Accutane; a surgery at eighteen corrected much of my disfigurement; and I’d even gained a few pounds. More than that, naturism taught me the illusory nature of beauty. But I still had a problem and it weighed on me heavily, more than my nudist secret ever did. Paradise was full of couples, but I was by myself, alone. I needed a girlfriend, someone like Nicole, or an older version of Britney, but like Mr. Lee told me, single women were a rarity. My only chance was to find someone from the outside, clothing-loving world and introduce her to the lifestyle. But what crazy girl would agree to such a thing? Keep in mind, this was before online dating and my wooing skills were nonexistent. I mean I wasn’t exactly a player. Thanks to my cleft lip nose, and extreme social awkwardness, due, in part, to being locked in my house for a decade, I’d never even kissed a girl. And the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that my nudist days were soon to be behind me. Did I really want to risk a potential relationship just to play nude volleyball in a nursing home?

Being a restaurant manager can have its advantages, especially if you’re looking for love. Is it legal to date your employees? I don’t think so. But I never really thought of myself as “the boss.” I was just a college kid looking after my parent’s business, and far from the pervert some people imagine nudists to be, I was like the Amish when it came to sex. My brother, meanwhile, who never showed interest in social nudity, hit the clubs every weekend looking for a one-night-stand.

I found it easiest to talk to hostesses, who had nothing to do but greet customers and roll silverware. That’s how I met Maria. She was Greek, incidentally, and a few years younger than me. Ideal marriage material, if you were to ask my parents. But she was a big time flirt. Now, if you’re in the restaurant business, you know when a girl casually eats from your plate or drinks from your straw, she’s not afraid of getting your cooties. We used to share food all the time and not just pizza. And as you can imagine, two forks and one- spaghetti can lead to some pretty Lady and the Tramp situations. Eventually, we ended up at my parent’s place while they were off in Greece. She was eager to toss off her pants and watch porn, and later expressed an interest in taking nude photos (of herself, not me, silly). Being ever the gentlemen, I did not think to press my advantage, but photos? What guy can pass up nude photos? Now, for all you young people reading this, imagine a time before sexting, when taking naked selfies was especially challenging. Nobody had camera phones in those days, and you simply couldn’t drop a roll of sexy-time memories off at Walgreens without getting asked some serious questions. But I had a solution. It was this new fangled thing called a digital camera. So, as Maria sat on my bed readying for our Playboy shoot, I rifled through my desk to find—where the fuck is my camera? My brother, as it turns out, had stolen it! I was sure upset at the time, but looking back on it now, I should probably thank him. Given the butterfly effect, my kids today might not exist, and I’d be far less happily married. For you see, while Maria had little trouble getting naked, she was a shallow person, often judging people by their looks. She’d have hated Paradise Lakes if it weren’t stocked with Calvin Klein models.

But Maria wasn’t my only prospect. Jaime was a waitress who seemed into me, your typical blonde, all-American girl-next-door who liked to paint. When I asked her what she thought about nudity, she remarked, “I wish clothes had never been invented!” So . . . Jackpot? Not exactly. Nudism matters a great deal to me, but there’s more to my personality, and to love. At around the same time, I met another girl at the mall who made crepes. She was short and cute and just a little bit shy, but she always seemed to smile when I asked for my usual banana and Nutella combo. Somehow, I managed the courage to ask her out, and we talked well into the night about our favorite writers and philosophers. By contrast, Maria and Jaime wouldn’t have known Jean-Paul Sartre from Britney Spears. So when Valentines Day rolled around, I knew I had a decision to make. Maria was waiting for me, because we always went out that day, but there was also crepe girl, who was smart and considerate and I loved being around her even when we just sat on her couch doing nothing. Only problem? I couldn’t have met a girl further from the nudist lifestyle had I tried. Crepe girl was fairly timid, covering her backside with a jean jacket wherever we went, but that was the least of my worries, for she was living in America on a student visa from—I kid you not—a Muslim country. Far from the carefree attitude of the Greek isles, in her country, religiously observant women cover from head to toe, and the beach is just a field for boys to kick a soccer ball around as families mill about the sand in their Sunday Friday best, with nary a bikini in sight. Heck, not only would you never find unicorn girl here, she’d immediately get thrown in a Midnight Express dungeon. Or worse.

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Far from the Greek isles

When it comes to my life, it seems, God has a weird sense of humor. There was every possibility she’d be leaving me for her homeland upon finishing her studies, or go running for the mosque should she discover my nudist proclivities. But it was worth the risk, because I loved her, even if I had to give up the things that made me who I am. I don’t know how I broached the subject of nudism, but I did, not wanting to end up married ten years still harboring a secret. Whatever her response, I knew I owed her the truth.

Love, it seems, can make you do things, stupid things, crazy things, things you’d never imagine doing. On our first visit to Paradise, I assured her that clothing was very much optional. But what made her feel awkward was everyone else. Societal norms had flipped on her, and she became the odd one out, the crazy person in a one piece. Just like my mother, she hated any appearance of impropriety. Honestly, I think she’d have loved to live during the days of poofy wigs and corsets. But when in Rome, she’d be first in a toga. So by our second visit, she got out of my Volkswagen Beetle proclaiming, “Who needs bathing suits?” and what took me years to build up the courage to do, she did in a week. My younger, timid self could never have made that jump. But love is a powerful thing.

And that’s when I realized crepe-making Muslim girl was far better than a born-nudist, because she was willing to meet me halfway. For me. For shy me, for cleft lip me, for ugly me. She wasn’t a unicorn, but something better, a girl like me. Least likely to become a nudist.

Just last week, my wife and I returned from a naturist resort in Cancun. And in case you’re not following, yes, I married that crepe girl. We’ve been together fifteen years now and, during that time, managed to pop out two clones. Both are of my wife. I mean, really, the relatives say I wasn’t even there, but that’s probably for the best. And while we’re far from the nudist family I’d dreamed about, every night when I climb into bed and look at those three identical faces, I am reminded how incredibly fortunate I am. The main thing, of course, I am loved. But aside from that, I no longer panic when the car door slams in the driveway because I forgot where I put my shorts. Around my wife and kids, I can be myself, and I think that’s what nudism is all about. Just being yourself. And we are teaching our kids to do the same. To know that they are loved, and that they are beautiful, just the way they are.

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Family

As of this writing, I am 41 years old, too old for young naturist events, and yet it has taken me this long to figure out why nudism caters mostly to people over sixty. That’s just how long it takes for some people to come out to friends and family, to overcome shame, to realize the truth. From parents, religion, and the media, we are pressured into believing that the human body is shameful and obscene, a thing to hide and be disgusted by, but that it is sometimes, paradoxically, beautiful and arousing. But this is a lie—the most prevalent lie in history. A great many more people never overcome the “shame of being human,” going to their graves fully dressed. In church clothes no less.

Perhaps in some ways, I never fully overcame my repressed childhood. My wife, who is tolerant of nudism, still makes fun of me. “That’s your philosophy,” she says, “being naked?” But nudism, I tell her, isn’t about nakedness—strippers aren’t nudists, after all—it’s about being alive. At some point in our history, in our rush to evolve and separate from nature, we’ve forgotten that life isn’t merely to be seen and heard, but to be felt as well. We have forgotten that our bodies make us what we are—human—and there is no shame in being human, or in being without clothes, or being seen without clothes. To be naked is simply to be oneself. A breast or a penis or a vagina is no more embarrassing than an ear or an elbow. Body parts are only as significant as our society makes them.

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Free at last!

Missed Parts 1 through 5? Search “Least Likely to Become a Nudist”

Special thanks to Felicity Jones and Jordan Blum for first posting this story on their blog!

Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World?

Confession time: I would live naked 24/7, if I could, and I suspect I am not alone in this regard. I hate clothes. They block the sunshine, the air, and most of your body from the sense of touch. They are grating, hot, and sometimes they itch, not to mention expensive and a lot of work to maintain. How much time is wasted washing, drying and folding underwear? How much water, for that matter? I believe there are many thousands, possibly millions of people, who would go without clothing if given the chance.

Cold weather and sunburn aside, clothing doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. Some people argue that it is necessary for adornment, to make us stand out, but jewelry, body paint, piercings, and tattoos can also be used to accentuate the body and express one’s individuality. If anything, a society free of body taboos allows for greater fashion possibilities. Imagine an outfit from the future, made without the restrictions imposed by shame? As for me, the unclad body is infinitely more beautiful. Evolution has been designing us for millions of years. Through a process of sexual selection, we have been deciding the qualities we find most appealing in men and women.

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Nudism allows for more fashion, not less. Here, Rihanna attends the 2014 CFDA fashion awards in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Conservatives insist clothing keeps us from engaging in wanton sex, but any nudist will tell you that an orgy has never “broken out” at a clothing-optional resort, and in fact, becoming accustomed to bare skin helps us to control unwanted urges. In Muslim countries, women are often blamed for rape, the assumption being that men cannot resist revealing attire. While sexual violence is never excusable, accusing the victim is always more prevalent in societies with stricter dress codes. Liberal minded individuals, on the other hand, contend that clothing is simply our natural state of being, that we are animals with removable layers.

Ages ago, we lost our fur (we’re actually in the process of losing it still) to shed body heat quickly, which helped our ancestors chase down prey over long stretches of land. Even today, a marathon runner can outlast a horse in a long distance race. Clothing appears to have been a byproduct of losing our fur. But the parts of the body we choose to hide is largely dependent on climate, which, in turn, impacts local culture. Compare the burqa worn by Afghan women to the nakedness customary to the Bororo people. The Sahara is dry and hot and saps needed moisture from the body. Covering the head and mouth is necessary for survival in the desert. After a time, this survival technique became culturally conditioned, and as Islam spread throughout the world, so did the practice of covering the head. Conversely, the Amazon rain forest, where the Bororo live, is humid and warm, ideal conditions for nakedness.

But our lives are no longer dictated by climate, at least to the extent it once was. Throughout the world, most people rely on some form of air conditioning, so that, even in a country not ideally suited to nudity, clothing need not be worn. In Munich, Germany, there are public parks with “urban naked zones,” even though, for much of the year, the cold makes it impractical; while in Scandinavia, getting into the sauna wearing anything but a smile is greatly frowned upon. Cap ‘d’agde, France, is perhaps the freest city on Earth, as tourists can literally go anywhere, from the bank to the grocery store, in nothing but their birthday suits. But if this were a perfect world, we would not have to travel halfway across the world to enjoy such simple pleasures. We could all choose to visit a park, the beach, or even the mall as God intended. So why don’t we live in such a world? More to the point, why does the thought of public nudity strike most people with dread?

There are numerous factors to consider, of course, like religion and the media. But in a world that has largely come to accept homosexuality, religion does not hold the sway it once did. Even the fashion industry, which profits from making women feel unattractive, is losing its influence. Beauty pageants are becoming a thing of the past, a product of a more sexist age, and far fewer women are wearing makeup than decades ago. But while athletes, actresses and singers pose nude without scandal, they are having little effect on the nakedness taboo, at least when it comes to the general public. Part of the reason is the photographer’s lens, which is a form of cover in itself. The artistry of movies and magazines, much like in the Renaissance, allows for cultural exceptions. Despite our increasingly secular and liberal society, public nudity continues to shock. It’s not simply a matter of popularity. It’s not as if skin isn’t trending. For 99% of people, stepping naked beyond your front door is like jumping from a plane without a parachute. But why?

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It’s OK to be nude in a magazine, if you look like this and you’re famous.

Sure, we have nude beaches and resorts, but those who frequent them represent a tiny minority. Where are the nude cities? The nude countries? Nudists have always been outliers, challengers to the status-quo. We argue over 2% of skin, from coin-sized nipples to square inch pubic regions, which seems silly if you think about it. There is hardly any difference between a bikini and total nakedness, yet everyday beach goers never think to cross that line. It is not as if they hold some deep seated beliefs about modesty. We all do what society expects of us, just as Muslim women rarely consider the moral implications of the hijab. The freedoms we enjoy in America, from not having to wear the swimsuits of the 1900’s, is a thing we take for granted. Proper attire has everything to do with time and place. A woman in a miniskirt might get called a whore, but a grandmother in a one piece, by virtue of being on a beach, is deemed more modest. Once, it was taboo to go to certain venues without slacks and a dress jacket, like to church or a fancy restaurant, and we are likely to be shocked if the president addresses the nation in only a tank top.

In most situations, nakedness elicits a sense of shame, and shame can be a powerful emotion, one that overrides our reason. Sometimes, it can even be destructive. Sexual predators use shame to hide their actions. It is a tool used also by racists and bigots. For how long have LGBT people lived in fear of public humiliation and ridicule? Peer pressure is another form of shaming. The desire to “fit in” can be so powerful, teenagers will ignore their better judgment to engage in destructive behaviors, like drinking, smoking, using drugs and having unprotected sex. But the question remains, why does shame have such a powerful impact? The need for acceptance is as primal as that for food and water. Again, the question is why?

Like most of human nature, the answer can be traced to evolution. If the Discovery show, Naked and Afraid XL, has taught me anything, it’s that primitive survival is hard. We are a social species, relying on one another for our basic needs. The romantic notion of Adam and Eve, living alone in the wilderness, is just that, a notion. While real-world examples of Tarzan, Mowgli and Robinson Crusoe have been recorded, they are always the exception, never the rule. Our earliest ancestors lived in communal groups, divvying tasks to each member of the group. While a small band of young men went hunting, those who stayed behind had to raise the young, stoke the fires, maintain the shelters, find and maintain clean sources of water, and gather fruits, nuts and vegetables. Every one of these jobs was essential to survival, and no one person could be expected to perform them all. Even the best, modern day survivalists depend on modern equipment, medicine, emergency paramedics, and a home to return to, if all goes bad. This is why we have such a strong need to “fit in”—because, in prehistoric times, not fitting in could very well mean a death sentence. Shame, then, is a gauge to help us determine how best to fit in, to better align ourselves with our communities. People with no sense of shame were likely to become outcasts, who did not survive to pass on their genes. Maybe this is where we get the phrase, “I’d die of embarrassment,” because, historically speaking, “dying from embarrassment” was a legitimate concern.

Today, we no longer worry about survival like we once did. If we are socially ostracized, we have the option to move to another community. Nobody is likely to “die of embarrassment” anymore. But shame continues to be a part of us, just like our spleens. This is why we can never live in a perfect, free world. Even the staunchest of nudists are prone to this gene. Free body articles (like this one) pop up almost on a daily basis, but I can count on one hand the number of bloggers willing to offer their real names, or to post nude selfies. Those of us who long for a nude world continue to hide in anonymity, never telling our coworkers, friends or families what we believe. Though we can never hope to get rid of shame entirely, we can change the things we consider shameful. Just like in the Amazon, Celtic Europe and Ancient Greece, nudism can become our tradition, so that when someone in the future goes to a beach, the only exposure they’ll have to worry about is exposure to the sun.

I once dated a girl who had never visited a nudist venue. Before meeting me, going nude in front of anything but her bathroom mirror was unthinkable. But she liked me a lot, and was willing to join me in an outing to Paradise Lakes. To make her feel at ease, I stressed that she didn’t have to go au natural if she didn’t feel like it, since the resort was clothing optional. But after an hour of lounging by the pool, she started to feel out of place. She was in a different community, where everyone was naked. I kept telling her, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it,” but eventually, out of a sense of shame, she got rid of her bathing suit.

We may not live in a perfect nude world, but the Ilmar do, or did for most of their history. In Ages of Aenya, I envision a world where clothes do not exist. When this primeval paradise is lost to climate change, Xandr and Thelana are forced to confront civilization, and the prejudice that comes from rejecting the human body. You can read about the Ilmar and their adventures by following the link below. It is the first naturist epic fantasy written by a lifelong naturist.

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