Friday Free-for-All #21

Friday Free for All

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What is the most comfortable piece of clothing you own?

A lot of people might not consider it clothing, but I do, and the answer to the question is: the outfit my mother made for me.

That may be a bit euphemistic, but a lot of people, particularly Americans, freak out over the real answer. The most comfortable piece of clothing I own is my own skin.

I mean, for one thing, no matter where I go, I’m always wearing it, no matter how many other layers of crap I have to cover it up with. But, when I don’t need all that extra crap, it’s gone, and I suddenly feel my most calm and comfortable.

And when I’m around other people who feel the same way and we’re all wearing the same outfit, nothing could be more, well, comfortable.

Right now, I can hear the Americans clutch their pearls while people from most other continents just nod. (Not all of them, but I’m not going to call out anyone not from my culture.) Perhaps they’re labelling me a nudist right now with some disdain, but that misses the mark.

The better term is naturist, and it simply means someone who prefers to be nude when they can be, and outside if possible and permissible.

Here’s another clue-in for the uninitiated. In English, at least, there are two words: naked and nude. Essentially, they mean the same thing — without any clothing or covering. However, functionally, they are very different.

When someone is naked, they don’t want to be. There is a sense of shame and embarrassment in being naked, as if a person was stripped of their clothing and dignity.

Meanwhile, if someone is nude, it’s because they want to be, period. No shame, and no embarrassment. So, basically, I’m never naked, but often nude.

So why is “nudist” wrong? Mostly because textiles (people who prefer wearing clothes) conflate nude and naked, then assume that being in either state only implies one thing.

S-E-X.

And nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, my route to naturism happened in probably the least sexual ways possible. Number one, I was raised in a suburban, white, middle-class neighborhood — but throw on top of that a mother who was a lapsed Catholic who nonetheless never let go of the guilt and body shame.

Or, in other words, naked was nasty. And I remember many a time when she, my dad, and I would be watching some movie on cable in the den, and no matter how violent or gory something was, she didn’t bat an eyelid or make a move to shield young me from it.

But… flash a single bit normally hidden by someone’s “bathing suit area,” male or female, and she would cluck in disgust at my father, announce, “Oh, I didn’t know that this was one of those ‘nudie’ movies,” and he would change the channel while she reminded me that I had homework to do.

However, I grew up at the very ass-end of the era when P.E. in school was still associated with communal showers — in fact, I think I literally hit middle school a class year before it was phased out one year at a time.

To younger readers who might be boggling at the idea that yes, we all were expected to get nude together in the locker room and go shower, that ain’t nothing. Apparently, it wasn’t until about the 1970s that schools finally ended the practice of requiring swim classes and practice to be done in the nude.

Swimmers were segregated by sex, of course, but apparently this was a tradition rooted in history, and it went back to the 1920s. The only likely explanation is that once upon a time, swimsuits were made out of wool — this was before things like nylon and polyester — which meant that they shed fibers, took forever to dry out, and weren’t exactly that comfortable, either.

Apparently, girls were required to wear swimming costumes — not just for modesty, but also because of menstruation.

But to save schools the expense of doing all the boys’ laundry every day, not to mention wear and tear on the filters, they did away with the suits. And, again, this wasn’t that weird. It wasn’t until around the turn of the 20th century that bathing costumes even really existed, mostly because it wasn’t proper for women to go out into nature before that, and because boys and men didn’t need the formality.

Many decades later, it was still totally normal to get naked and take a shower in a locker room. And so, my first year in middle school and the first Friday of P.E. class came the day when we were finally required to do so.

By this point in my life, I’d only ever been naked around my parents, mostly at bath time and, to be honest, I think it had been a while by this point as well — certainly before I’d hit puberty, which actually got me early, in about fifth grade.

But there we were, and factor in the possible weird points of me also being around friends, some of whom I’d known for most of my life, some not quite as long.

But we’d been given the rules, so off my clothes went, and a funny thing happened as soon as I was nude and marching down the aisle between the benches to the showers.

I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me. It didn’t seem to bother my friends, either. The only thing that seemed to be going on was a strange and silent acknowledgement and admiration toward those few of us (myself included) who had already pubed out from those who hadn’t (most everyone else).

I think there was only one kid in our incoming class in the entire school who had refused and worn a swimsuit — and he was mercilessly mocked and teased for it.

Otherwise, I just felt like it was a secondary P.E. uniform, not unlike the school color shorts and T-shirts we wore out on the field. And I certainly wasn’t feeling anything sexual. Rather, what I was really feeling was this: “Wow. I bet my mom would freak out if she knew I didn’t really care about this.”

And, true to form, at dinner that night, she asked me about the whole thing — clearly, the school had been in touch with the parents to “warn” them about the Big Day, which was the first Friday of the semester.

“Did you have to… shower together today?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Were you embarrassed?” she asked.

My honest answer would have been, “Oh, fuck no. Why would I be?” But the way she’d asked it made me think I had to make her happy, so I lied and said, “A little.”

Once I’d gotten to high school, I only had to do the locker room thing for a semester, but then I joined marching band, which counted as physical education but also didn’t require any of the locker room stuff — boys changed into uniform in one of the music classrooms, girls in the other, and no need to showed because, “They can’t possibly get that stanky during a football game.”

Narrator: “Yes. They could.” But at least they dry cleaned them for us every week.

Still… middle school had knocked the shell off the walnut, as it were, and that was that.

One insight I can provide about being a naturist is this: far from being vulnerable without clothes on, it can actually make you stronger. I learned this firsthand when friends invited me to a clothing optional pool party at their place.

I happened to get there first and adhere to the dress code — and then everyone else who showed up turned out to be a fucking textile. So it was one naked man (me), and eight not-naked people. You know who felt uncomfortable during the whole thing? Hint: It wasn’t me.

And they didn’t feel uncomfortable because they were all looking at my dick because this happened to be a group of gay men. It also wasn’t because I had the most fantastic, ripped body at the party, because I didn’t. I was just average, and at least a few of them were actually really hot.

Nope. Quite simply it was because they did not feel comfortable in their own skins.

So in the dynamic of this situation, I wound up having all of the power because I had none of the fear or insecurity.

That’s because I was wearing an outfit I felt (and feel) totally comfortable in — and if you want to learn to do the same, well… Bea Arthur, bea naked.

Besides, if you’re still working from home and not via Zoom — why not?

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