Monday, April 7, 2003
But not all nudists support 'guerrilla' plans for prominent public exposure
By KATHY GEORGE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
ISSAQUAH -- Taking out the garbage on a recent sunny morning, Allan Arnold wore only his brown leather shoes and gold-rimmed glasses.
Nobody batted an eye at his nakedness. After all, he lives in a gated nudist park that's so remote and hidden by trees that nobody sees the nudity there by accident.
"We do our best not to get in people's faces," said Sharon Anderson, Arnold's wife and a longtime resident of the nudist park, called Forestia.
But the old way -- keeping out of the way -- is about to change.
A new activist group called the Body Freedom Cooperative wants to bring nudism out of sheltered private clubs and into the Seattle area's public places. And it plans to use "guerrilla pranksterism" -- flouting anti-nudity rules -- to press for clothing-optional beaches at local parks.
"We're pushing the envelope in what I think is a good way," said Mark Storey, a founding member of Body Freedom.
These are people who actually want to get caught with their pants down.
So far, the group has staged one public prank. Storey and two others went skinny-dipping at the King County park system's headquarters, Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, to signal their "commitment to bringing clothing-free opportunities on public lands closer to the people of the cities."
More stunts are expected. There's talk of a "mass nude photo shoot" at the Washington Park Arboretum this spring. And don't be surprised if you see some naked people jump out of a van in your neighborhood, clean up the street, then smile and zip away.
"I'm really looking forward to that," said Shirley Gauthier of Springfield, Ore., another Body Freedom founder. "It's hard to complain about someone cleaning up graffiti."
The group also has an artistic bent. It plans a trilogy of plays at this fall's Fringe Festival illustrating what it's like to be nude on a beach for the first time.
While nudity in theater is hardly groundbreaking, Body Freedom plans to have nude ushers and ticket-takers, too.
It's the "guerilla" part that makes Anderson and other traditional nudists a little squeamish. They worry that promoting nude beaches by being nude publicly may backfire.
"It would not be my choice," said Anderson, who was fully clothed as she gave a tour of Forestia's playground, picnic area and pools. "I don't like any sort of views foisted on unknowing people, and nudism is just one."
Nancy Trautenberg, president of the Northwest Nudists Association and co-owner of a Bellevue nudist club called Xena's Sanctuary, agrees.
"We like to have our nudist freedom, but we don't like to push it on anybody," she said.
Washington state has at least seven nudist clubs, including four with their own acreage -- Forestia in Issaquah, Lake Bronson in Sultan, Lake Associates near Mount Vernon and Kaniksu Ranch near Spokane. It has no public nude beaches.
It's not that Body Freedom has anything against the area's traditional nudists.
In fact, Storey, Gauthier and Body Freedom's other co-founder, Daniel Johnson of Seattle, work with local nudist clubs and established national organizations -- the American Association for Nude Recreation and The Naturist Society.
But they're tired of waiting for Washington to catch up to Oregon and British Columbia, which have officially designated nude public beaches with signs warning the unwary.
And the Body Freedom folks are not afraid of offending people. If they make some people laugh, that's OK, too.
"It used to be kind of a shock thing to say out loud that you're a nudist," said Gauthier, 52. "It's not that big a deal anymore."
She promotes nudism as a path to positive body image. Others tout it as healthy and natural. Body Freedom's founders like to quote a recent Roper poll, commissioned by The Naturist Education Foundation, which found that 80 percent of Americans support creation of designated, clothing-optional beaches.
"Problem is, where are the beaches?" Johnson asked.
As a lobbyist for the Naturist Society, Storey knows how to work the system. For example, he said he won support from the state parks director to designate Clayton Beach south of Bellingham as a nude beach.
But legislators blocked that idea, and usually nudists are on the defensive, fighting nudity restrictions. Storey and Johnson saw a need to be more proactive locally.
"In a nutshell, I'm a human being. The stuff underneath my clothes is who I am. There's no good reason for me not to be able to be myself," Storey said.
Johnson said he got serious about the issue two years ago after Seattle police threatened to arrest the naked bicyclists at Fremont's annual Solstice Parade.
As it is, he said, social nudity in Washington is limited to "those who have money to join clubs and the time to travel to them." And he thinks gated places like Forestia, at the end of a long dirt road on a forested hill, wrongly convey the message that non-sexual nudity is shameful.
"It's very creepy," he said. "I just find it really strange that people want to keep it secret."
Actually, Forestia is not much of a secret. Hundreds of visitors show up there for the summer Bare Buns Fun Run and annual Nudestock music festival.
The goal is not to hide, said Anderson, but to make sure those offended by nudity aren't exposed unwillingly.
That's the goal underlying Washington's indecent exposure law, the ban on nudity in state parks and other public nudity laws.
And while the First Amendment protects political expression, that doesn't mean Body Freedom activists can protest in the buff without arrest.
"The Supreme Court recently held that a government may penalize nudity under a statute that does not discriminate," targeting only politically expressive or non-expressive forms of nudity, said David Skover, who teaches constitutional law at Seattle University. "Prohibiting all public nudity, for whatever reason, has been held constitutional."
Trautenberg, the private club owner, would like Washington to have nude public beaches. But in the meantime, she said, "I don't like to upset people. That's not a nudist way.
"Most of the time, we're not trying to make waves."
Monday, April 7, 2003
Monday, April 7, 2003