memory

A Brief History of Public Nudity

I went to a nude beach for the first time this weekend.  I didn’t go to prove a point or for some exercise in exposure therapy or to reclaim a confidence lost to tragedy and ridicule.  I went simply because my friends and I have heard tell of this mythic place in up state New Jersey and were curious.  

A few weeks ago, we compared calendars and picked an available weekend just like you’d plan a trip to a vineyard or that cool new bar on top of an old school.  The day finally arrived.  We all got up early as fuck because we’re grown people who rise before the sun, packed up Brian’s car, made a trip to Starbucks and hit the road.

We arrived at the beach two hours later, bypassing all traffic.  Gunnison beach is tucked away in a state park in New Jersey.  For $15 a car, beach enthusiasts can enjoy a quaint and well preserved stretch of beach that feels sequestered and peaceful.  There’s no hustle or bustle that’s generated by a busy boardwalk or dense residential development.  

At every turn, the park gives off a family friendly vibe which I found surprising given that we were about to visit a nude beach.  I had been primed to expect a gay-centric space that catered to muscles and hot bods.  I found the opposite.  Sunbathers of all sorts were there. Men, women and, presumably gender non-conforming individuals of all sizes, shapes and colors made camp with their umbrellas and coolers.  At the bathrooms just outside of the beach we even saw families with small children though they seemed to hang away from the nude bathers.  

In any case, what I expected to feel like a sexualized day was anything but.  More like “anything, butt” am I right?!  Anyway, my friends and I stripped down to nothing and enjoyed what felt like every other day at the beach I have ever spent in my entire life.  Sure, I checked out the bods, but, like, even that felt like pretty common place. 

Within my own self, I also didn’t feel any anxiety about getting naked.  I was just one naked body in a sea multi shaped bodies.  There wasn’t a specific aesthetic expected of the bathers.  It felt inclusive and sublime.   

I’m no stranger to being publicly nude so the whole ordeal wasn’t particularly shocking either.   A friend of mine has been known to throw naked parties once in a while.  A year ago, my two besties and I attended our first one.  We weren’t sure what to expect.  Given that it was thrown by gay men for only gay men, I was sure it would to turn into an Eyes Wide Shut situation.  

When we arrived at the house, we were greeted by a horde of naked dudes holding solo cups chit-chatting like you do at a house party.  We were directed upstairs, given trash bags for our clothes, and stripped down.  The three of us shared a deep breath and made our grand entrance.  

Sexualized it was not.  Not really anyway.  We all checked each other out, for sure, but strip away the stripping and it was a pretty standard house party as far as parties go.  I caught up with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, had some drinks, ate pulled pork and we all played a game or two.  

After the initial shock subsided, the novelty of the nude bodies kind of passed and we were all just a bunch of cozy dudes chatting about Game of Thrones.   

Now let me be clear, I didn’t walk into the party with anything resembling the confidence or nonchalance I’m presenting right now.  I did a lot of soul searching, iron pumping and physical landscaping to prepare for it.  I feel as complicated about my body as anybody else.  

I mean, I love it.  I do.  Generally speaking, I think I have a pleasing face with balanced features.  I’m relatively in shape and have an ass that won’t quit.  I’m good.   

But then there are those mornings or weeks or months when I feel betrayed by it.  I’m either too bloated, too soft, there are too many surprise crevices that spring up as I reach for a T-Shirt in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

The journey to personal physical satisfaction is a damn bear and I’m just Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling it, doing whatever it takes to earn a damn Oscar.

That said, at this point in my life, I’ve been exposed enough times that I don’t really feel threatened or fearful of it.  I accept myself, flaws and all, and understand that nudity can be a source of fun and joy.  

But like all things that require extreme amounts of bravery, it often takes an unexpected thrust to cross that boundary.  

Flashback to 2007…

I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college dancing for a very corporate theme park in Tampa, Florida which shall remain unnamed because I’m not tryna get sued here.  I, along with seven other people, was put up in deluxe suites for the length of the gig. We worked six hours a day, six days a week and were home by 2pm with unlimited pool access at the hotel and free entry to a local water park.   As far as summer jobs went, this one was pretty dope.  

This was, however, an especially tenuous moment in my life.  At this point, I had never admitted my sexuality to anyone save for the few guys back at school with whom I shared tawdry clandestine trysts.  I made them all cross their hearts and swear to secrecy like all terrified closeted homosexuals do.  And like most juicy gossip, word started to spread that I was one of Rupaul’s chosen people.  

Nevertheless, my secret persisted.  Or at least I chose to believe that.  While I was firmly denying any public accusations, like  Winona Ryder in The Crucible, I was also slowly beginning  to personally accept the truth of accusations, like how I wished The Crucible ended #witchesrevenge.  

Tensions inside of my own brain were high.  My grip on that closet door was slipping and a swift breeze would have blown the damn thing off of its hinges.  Fortunately, I was living with a group of people with whom I felt just as comfortable as I did unfamiliar.  Our relationship began and ended with this job.  

In our group were two gay men and five women who couldn’t have been more open and loving.  I was asked on day one if I was gay or not.  I choose to answer with the lie while white knuckle gripping my closet doors shut.  Obviously they assumed I was in denial but no one pressed me further.  Regardless, the gays boys treated me as one of the fold and I didn’t protest too much.  

I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test out the homosexual life.  We would spend our afternoons at a nearby water park.  I know, they’re gross but we got in for free so get off my back.  Bobby, one of the gays, made up a game where we would assess the hotness of the bathing men.  If we passed a guy we wanted to smash, we’d say “No” and if we wouldn’t smash, we’d say “yes.”  It wasn’t the most original code but if anyone heard us, it shrouded our intentions to a degree.  I kept silent at first, making my own notes until I started vocally agreeing or disagreeing with the men they spotted but never initiating assessment.  As it turned out, Bobby and I had similar tastes which he found all too fun.  

During our stay, we befriended another sweet gay man, Andrew, who also worked at the park.  Andrew took us under his wing and decided he would show us the fun places to go in Tampa.  There weren’t all that many and, as I mentioned before, we worked 6 days out of the week starting at 7am each morning performing three times a day.  Night owls we were not.  

Monday was our day off and so we lived for Sunday Nights.  We were a mixed crowd of people over and under 21 which made finding a spot that would allow us all in together a challenge.  As it turned out, the only bar that would let us all in was this divey gay bar.  

The first time we went there was as rebellious of a moment as I had ever experienced.  Not only was I under age but it was my first time stepping foot into a full gay space.  Nothing about who I told myself I was belonged there and yet I bubbling with energy and excitement to be standing where I was.  I was flirting with what felt like every possible disaster.  

I don’t remember much about the first night there.  Partly because I wasn’t yet great at holding my liquor and partly because I was so concerned about how enthusiastic I appeared.  At one point, Bobby and I were in the bathroom when someone flirted with me.  I remember blushing and telling the guy I was straight.  Bobby rolled his eyes and  I dashed from the exchange but felt a powerful force drawing me back to that man.  I never went back.

Another week went by and it was time for our night out.  We went back to the same bar.  That night, they had their outdoor patio opened.  It stood over the sidewalk and overlooked the water.  My friend, Amanda, and I sat on the patio and chatted with Andrew.  I started getting loose as one does after a few drinks.  I felt dazzling and magnetic, like I was letting myself fully effervesce for the first time.  

Eventually, the three of us heard a ruckus coming from the dance floor.  A circle had formed and inside of it was a drag queen emceeing what we took to be a dance contest.  There was a shirtless man performing a lame Magic Mike-esque dance.  This was, of course, before Magic Mike actually came out so we can’t hold his subpar moves against him now.  

Amanda and I, feeling overconfident from the Long Island Iced Tea, decided that we could dance circles around this dingus.  Were we not literal professional damn dancers?  We slammed down our glasses, no doubt splashing cheap cocktail over the railing and onto the sidewalk below, and pushed through the riff-raff around the circle launching ourselves into its heart.  

Now, for context, this was the summer that Rihanna’s “Umbrella” came out.  We were HUGE fans of that song and naturally had our own choreography to it.  I’m not sure if “Umbrella” was actually playing in this moment but we gave it a 5, 6, 7, 8 and fully and spiritedly started to set the dance floor on fire with our well prepared moves.

Just as we were deep deep into our groove, two burly shirtless men came charging into the circle and pushed Amanda aside.  I started to panic.  We were busted.  Not only were we underage, we must have violated the official rules of the dance contest.  We were pariahs and were going to be kicked out of the bar, or worse, arrested.  

The two men flanked me.  They were positioned within an inch of my face and back.  I stood stone still ready to surrender myself and exit the bar with what I now understood to be the bouncers into the custody of the Tampa police.  Then I felt a tug at the bottom of my Hollister polo.  Suddenly I felt the man behind me yank the bottom of my shirt over my face lifting my arms above my head while the other man began unfastening my cargo shorts (remember, I’m still straight in this moment.) With my arms tangled over my head, I was unable to stop whatever was happening below.  

Then, at the same time, both men pulled in opposite directions, tearing away my shirt and lowering my shorts to my ankles leaving me stark naked in the middle of the circle.  The crowd began shrieking and I was left wholeheartedly alarmed and, honestly, fucking confused.  I pulled up my pants with a quickness, grabbed my shirt off the floor and booked it to the safety of my group who had been watching from the perimeter of the circle.  

It turned out the innocent dance contest Amanda and I attempted to crash was in fact not a dance contest but a strip contest.  And because our dance was going on for far too many 8 counts without so much as a button undone, the go-go dancers, not bouncers, decided to take matters into their own hands.  

It was mortifying.  But fortunately, my company of pals helped me laugh off what was, in retrospect, a comical misunderstanding.  Not only that, they had befriend another group of people who all wanted to get to know the “straight” fool who wandered into a gay strip contest.  What was a truly horrifically embarrassing moment turned into a conversation starter and I was lauded as brave and hilarious: two of my favorite descriptors. 

In the end, I not only survived but I also came in second place.  Obviously this had nothing to do with the sensuality of my strip tease and everything to do with the fact that our party made up about a third of the people at the bar that Sunday night.  The prize was free drinks all night which I rightfully decided was not necessary.  And because this was before everyone owned a smartphone no one was able to record this moment which I maintain is for the best.   

Most of my coming out stories were like this one: unexpected and immediately filled with paralyzingly terror.  A simple conversation took a sharp turn and somehow I was completely and utterly exposed.  Not every one, of course, ended with a laugh and free drinks.  Some were infinitely more challenging than others.  All of them are, however, cherished memories that forged deeper love for the people with whom I shared them.

It’s been ten years since that summer where I clung to the last vestiges of my secret.  Where exposure seemed deadly.  I stand now stark ass naked, amongst friends and strangers feeling the sand in my toes, the wind on my backside, and the sun on my front daring anyone to tell me to cover up.    

I will, however, keep that spf 70 within arms reach.  

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Cupid, draw back your bow. No, seriously.

Perhaps the most complicated relationship I’ve been in is with my OkCupid account.

It all began in February of 2010.  I moved to Philadelphia the November before that and very shortly after I met and fell madly in love with a man who lived in Michigan.  Suffice it to say it did not last.

During our brief courtship, Michigan Man off handedly mentioned that he had an OkCupid Account.  I, having remembered this detail, created mine solely with the purpose of remotely monitoring his love life in Michigan.  (Oh, yes, by the way, I’m a crazy person.)

After finally accepting the fact that Michigan Man’s trysts were beyond my reach, I started using OkCupid for its intended purpose.   I went on one date that ended with the guy saying, “Well, you were a lot nicer than I expected.  Let’s do this again.” And then I met the Ex.

Truth be told, the Ex and I never closed our accounts.  I did change my status to “Seeing Someone” and honestly, I never initiated a conversation with anyone while we were together.  But I guess deep down I knew I would need it again.  Ok, so it wasn’t buried that deeply.

The first Monday after the Ex and I called it quits, he went on a date with the man who ultimately was the catalyst for the break up (that’s another damn story for another damn time.)   He was beginning a new relationship while I was home rekindling an old flame.

link wink

The world of online dating is a strange one.  In theory it’s great: an open play ground for single people trying to find Mr. or Ms. or Mx or (ideally) Dr. Right.  More often than not, however, they’re mostly just a breeding ground for uncomfortable encounters and weird sex stories.

I kept things casual that first month.  Not only was I moving to a new place, a show I was performing in was opening.   I didn’t exactly have time for innocuous messaging.  Eventually, the show wrapped up and my boxes were unpacked.  I was ready for love.

We all know how these things go.  You browse around, see a profile you like, visit it one or nine times until you finally summon the courage to send a message, and then if you’re lucky, three days later you get a response.

One fateful night, the most miraculous thing happened.  I messaged a guy who not only was “online” BUT he responded right away.  He even asked me a question he sincerely wanted me to answer.  This cycle went on all night.  We had a full-blown conversation!

Our correspondence wasn’t limited to that one night, either, like so many of these fleeting cyber romances.  Over the next two days, things started getting digitally real.  We were learning about each other’s families, sharing deep dark secrets of our pasts, we even created an inside joke!  AN INSIDE JOKE! Something about opening a Pumpkin Beer Brewery and running ourselves out of business drinking the whole supply… swoon much?

This was getting serious, folks.  He convinced me to meditate! Like I was some rich lady or a bike messenger!  I fell asleep doing it but still this was big.  The Ex had tried many times over to get me to meditate with him only sort of succeeding twice in three years.  Even the silly X-Box mediation game he bought couldn’t fool me.

Kristen-Wiig-Aunt-Linda-Oh-brother

“Oh, brother indeed”

It was time to meet.  I don’t remember who initiated the plan but we set a date, time, and location.  At that point in the online dating process, I typically close communication until the real meet-up.  You know, so as not to exhaust all of the usual first date prattle.  And, still, he continued to message me! Some one was certainly gunning to be Future Husband.

The big day arrived.  It must be said, I don’t get nervous before a date.  I don’t.  Small talk is my jam.  But, this guy, he had me on edge.  And I’m not talking like a little extra nervous sweat.  In the frenzy that was my pre-date preparations, I actually locked myself out of the bathroom and had to remove the door from the hinges using only a butter knife.  (Did you know you can do that?)  I was a mess.

calm down woman

The text I sent myself

It was 45 minutes before the date and a message came through the Cupid App, POTENTIAL_FH says “Hey, I had a long day and need a drink STAT.” (he was a med student, bonus points!) “I’m heading over now.  I’ll see you when you get here. :)” Well, I put on my favorite blue plaid shirt, did my hair, and peddled my cute little buns over to the bar as fast as I could!

The bar was crowded as it was a Friday night during Happy Hour in Center City.  I did a lap and couldn’t find him.  This didn’t raise any alarms immediately because his pictures were sort of vague.  In one picture he was wearing sunglasses and the other had a grainy Instragram Filter.  He could have been any blurry sunglass wearing 20 something in the bar that night (which if you’ve been to Moriarty’s is half of the crowd.)  No matter.  I sent him a message telling him I was here.  He didn’t give me his number when I gave him mine so my communiqués had to come through the app.  Wait, is that weird?  No.  It’s fine.  I’ll just grab two seats at the bar.

Two pumpkin beers, please.  How lovely.  He’ll find me, sitting here; prepared with the drink that was so important to us.  (If you know me at all, you know I almost never offer to buy the first drink.  I was in it to win it.)  I started sipping my beer while waiting for a reply or for Future Husband himself to tap me on the shoulder and say something cliche like “Waiting for some one?” or “What’s a beautiful lady like you doing drinking alone?” Ugh, he’s so lame, I thought, blushing.

My beer was getting emptier until eventually I finished it.  No reply.  Ok, I’m a bit nervous so I guess I’ll start drinking his beer now.  Calm the nerves.  He won’t know I bought it for him any way.  A half hour passed and I was nearly two beers deep.  I checked my phone because, you know, sometimes it doesn’t send you an alert.  Nothing.

I suddenly started to notice the frustrated patrons around me.  I had been holding this seat for thirty minutes now while at least 5 people were standing behind me eyeing it up like we were a group of people stranded on a dessert island and I was holding the last Luna Bar. Didn’t they get I was saving this seat for my Future Husband?  Back up! BACK UP! And wipe that look off of your face! He’s coming, dammit! Won’t you look stupid when he gets here and you see what a great time we’ll be having!

But still…

I sent a text to my friend David.

“How long do you wait for a date to show up?”

“15 minutes.”

“I think I’m being stood up.”

“Girl, get out of there.  I’m going to a party.  You can come with me.”

I order one more beer because it’s happy hour for ten more minutes and beers are half priced… and I can wait ten more minutes, I guess.

I finished the third beer, paid my tab, offered my seat to the guy wearing a Phillies Hat and his lady friend with the high pony tail and headed directly to David’s.  This was my first time being stood up.  I sort of thought it was something TV writers made up so they could play the sad music before the commercial break.  Good thing there wasn’t a composer scoring my life right now…

Oh what’s that?  A homeless man playing “Memory” on a broken violin? Yes, that is PRECISELY what was awaiting me outside of David’s apartment.  (He lived on South Street so this probably wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.) You’re a sassy bitch, you know that, Universe?

David’s the perfect friend to have when a man wrongs you.  He gives you his version of the “You is smart” speech from The Help, plenty of alcohol, and when possible will walk up to that scumbag and read him to filth.  He is the perfect medicine for a broken heart.

help gif

After my treatment, we hopped in a cab and went to this party for his friend’s birthday.  Unfortunately, no one told me it was “Pink” themed for a group of gays my friends and I affectionately refer to as “The Plastics.”  (Can we gays go a day without a Mean Girls reference?)  So there I was, the only man in a sea of pink-clad, perfectly quaffed, ripped gays wearing blue and feeling blue.  (Also, I was the only one eating the enchiladas.  Did the caterer really think these boys would be caught dead eating?)

The next morning, it dawned on me!  Maybe something terrible happened! I didn’t want something bad to happen to him.  But if the last thing he said was “I’m on the way” then doesn’t it stand to reason that just maybe he was hit by a cab or something?  Was this my An Affair to Remember?  Now, that was of course this last thing I would wish for him or anyone.  But I have to admit, a cab accident would have really pulled me out of a funk.

an affair to remember

So I messaged him.  I told him if he didn’t want to see it me it would was OK, I can take it, but I’m genuinely worried now that maybe he was lying in a hospital room somewhere.  I asked that he please write back with an explanation post haste so I could at least put my worried mind at ease.  No reply that day.

It was Sunday night and I was tending to my usual post-Saturday hangover, which in light of recent events was particularly heinous.  My phone started buzzing.  “POTENTIAL_FH has sent you a message.  You better take this.  And, hey, whatever happens, you’re great,” alerted my OkCupid app.

I’ll give you the abridged version of his reply: “Hey, so listen.  I’m not dead or in a coma. The truth is these pictures are not mine.  The profile is fake.  I am recently single and just wanted to see what was out there.  I didn’t expect to find some one I would be so interested in so quickly.  I was at the bar but I was too afraid to come clean so I left.  I hope you understand.”

Wait, what?

what-the-what

I think my reaction was a mixture of utter shock, blind rage, and the gluttonous hunger.  Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been lying to me?  That you were at the bar?  That you may have been even sitting next to me?  You watched me order beers for the two of us, hold a seat for you, drink alone and said nothing!?!

Now usually when presented any type of fuckery, I am inclined to flick my wrist with a “Girl, bye” and go about my business with nary a hair out of place. But this was fuckery on a new level.  This was some Lifetime Original Movie starring Gina Gershon shit.  Some one better get my erasers and chalk because I’m about to school this child.

grumpy amy

I won’t make you read my whole long response but I will give you the most important part:

“You might see this [OkCupid] as a safe fun place to anonymously browse hot guys.  But there are real people here hoping that we’ll find the person we’re looking to potentially share the rest of our lives with.   You’re not responsible for the way I react to your bullshit, but you are responsible for treating ALL people with respect.  You’re not ready for this, little boy, and you don’t deserve to be here.”

He closed his account that evening and good riddance.  I sometimes wonder if I was too harsh.  After all, he was 22 and lord knows 22 year olds don’t have a good goddamn clue.  I don’t care what you say, Taylor Swift.  But some one needed to set the record straight for all of us out there.

tswift shock

There is no room for some one like that in the world of online dating.  While most people probably aren’t so irresponsible, I think we take for granted how difficult online dating is.  Simply by signing up for a profile we are all broadcasting to the world, “I’m utterly single and lonely and desperately want to find love.”  And yet most of us, myself included, seem to forget that behind the carefully selected album of pictures and diligently crafted personal essays beats a real heart riddled with insecurities and vulnerabilities just like ourselves.

We’ve all been there.  You send some one a thoughtful message; you see they visited your profile, implying they have read your greeting, and then nothing.  Something, a face you made, an answer to a question, a movie you like, your interests, your size, shape, race, penchant for cats convinced them you aren’t worth the courtesy  of a “hello.” We’ve all done that too.

I know I’m guilty of some online dating transgressions.  I’m not perfect.  And I’m not necessarily suggesting we develop LTRs with every guy who notices you.  I don’t have the time or money for that type of consideration.  But it’s important that we remind ourselves once in a while that we’re dealing with people who feel and hurt and are more than a few pictures and words.

That little boy was probably exceptionally offensive.  But I think this story is indicative of our growing lack of empathy that stems from these sterile online interactions.   When you can’t see some one’s face, it’s way easier to act like a total dick and think nothing of it.  If some one came up to one of us at a bar and said “Hello,” would we look them up and down and turn away as if nothing happened?

I hope not.  I hope our communication doesn’t regress to that.

But if you did, you’d be a real douche-toot.

Epilogue:

A few weeks later, my dear friend Brian updated his Grindr picture, which just so happened to have my face in the background.  We’re not posed together in the picture.  I’m just part of the mis-en-scene, like an extra bush or cloud.  Brian’s profile states he is in a relationship so every now and again some one would figure I was the boyfriend and suggest the three of us get together (obviously we’d make an adorable couple.)  One evening, Brian sent me a screen shot of a conversation he was having where the person said “Tell Tim I said hey.”  The guy also included a picture.  I wasn’t familiar with his face and asked Brian to find out how he knew me.  The guy replied “Tell him I’m sorry I missed him that night for our pumpkin beers.”

Girl, bye.

bernadette gif