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Naked In The City

Last Saturday about a half dozen naked men came biking down the street towards Golden Gate Park. Two had skimpy jockey shorts on, another had a backpack on, and one had only a hard-on, and I'm happy to report one of them was fat, not young, and not beautiful. In other words, not politically correct in his bodily form, as were the protesters for nudity I'd seen at the Plaza at Market and Castro streets a few weeks previous. These men had a crier/announcer in front exhorting bystanders to join the nude bikers protest on Sunday. None of the cyclists were riding showy bikes, maybe not wanting to share our attention. But near the bus stop, no one paid much attention. I doubt if any were convinced to join the World Naked Bike Ride in which roughly 100 people rode from Justin Herman Plaza to Golden Gate Park and back with spectators trailing. This formal bike protest was billed as an international protest against fossil fuel — one of the bikers carried a sign, "Less gas,  more ass."

On February 1st a San Francisco ban against nudity in public took effect, the exceptions to that being the annual gay pride parade and the Folsom Street Fair. And at City Hall that day four nudists were arrested after stripping down. They claimed that outlawing public genital exposure violates their First Amendment rights. A judge had ruled previously that nudity is not protected free speech, it doesn't have a political content. Thus, since this is San Francisco, and the protest in favor of nudity in public is probably not going away — at least not until the heavy cold fog rolls in — I predict we will see a continuing ongoing push to connect the "movement" with political elements.

One of the February 1st arrestees had a message written on his back, "War is obscene, not my body." It all got me to thinking about this city, its inwardly directed concerns and its determination to force us to be politically correct. I've been here through the 60s and never would have guessed that the outlaws of a new century in the city would be bicycle riders and smokers of unadulterated tobacco. And now, nude bikers and nude walkers. It got me thinking how this "movement" has implications, complications, and foreshadows other situations if it continues to blossom.

I first encountered the nude protests as I rode the 24 bus on February 17 to an afternoon jam at the Lucky Horseshoe on Bernal Hill; as we lumbered past the Market and Castro Street plaza there were about 20-30 men (mostly) and women, most meeting the legal standard with codpiece coverings and pasties. One woman held up a sign: "Optional clothing," and another held one that said, "Body freedom." As the bus passed, a passenger said he thought it was a funny city to launch a naked people movement in, being that it's often cold and windy. I was thinking, What would be the fallout from this "rights" movement were it to become successful?

First thoughts were whimsical, like, what about the cost to the city when irresponsible nude people leave home in China Basin, say, and come out to the Outer Sunset and after the sun goes down they have to turn themselves into a police station to avoid hypothermia? Would there be a special recovery team for nude hikers, or would there be lots of volunteers for the job? Then I thought, Would it really work to have nude people walking Broadway in North Beach giving away for free what most club performers try to sell? It might bring in more tourists to San Francisco, yes (but only of a certain sort I guess), and it might mitigate the problem of people carrying concealed weapons, or concealed anything.

But would having bared pubes in a bar or at a picnic really work without legalizing public sexual intercourse also, as well as other sex acts on the continuum? Doesn't "body freedom" include this freedom, as well as making public urination a right? And then will that freedom be one for women as well? Well, the complexities start to balloon as one ponders the future of bare bottoms all over San Francisco. Even clothed people are not spectacularly self-disciplined when it comes to "just say no" to sexual potentials. Think about it for a while: we're in a city where in-public erection to ejaculation can take less time than catching the fastest Muni express bus.

Then there is the more serious consideration of public health, the distasteful subject of how nudity might spread pathological microorganisms. While urine is usually — but not always — sterile, the same is not true of anal emissions, and most people have no idea how easily transmissible fecal bacteria can be if it spreads to a water source or food, or kids toys, etc. We're talking about a range of disease-causing bacteria here, and you can add to that parasite eggs and viruses. In a bacteriology class once our professor told us we'd be surprised how many bugs we could grow on an agar dish from our fingers, even after washing our hands. I never did it, but he was a seasoned and reasonable man and I believed him.

Healthwise, exposing the body to moderate amounts of sun and air would most probably be positive. Nude people would likely be more polite because they'd be vulnerable in a way covered-up people aren't. And it would be an interesting experiment for a city, for sure. (Once people were free to be legally nude, how would you get them back in their skivvies again if it were necessary?)

But what struck me first as my bus passed the Castro-Market Plaza nude protest scene was that while these Americans are demanding "rights" to go nude in public, there are others in the world like Syrian citizens who are watching their family members die and suffer and unable to get food, shelter, or clothes. This insulated self-referenciality is why I think San Francisco may end up eventually a fascist tourist's Disneyland in which there will be politically correct nudity along with politically correct everything else. According to the February 26 SF Weekly, for instance, there's a company located in the Mission District Armory that produces "ethical pornography." One of the porn workers talked about how, when representing the porn company at the Folsom Street Fair, she sustained permanent scars on her thighs from a 35-minute whipping, and the company's CEO said the rules to prohibit any permanent marks didn't hold in this instance because "no shoot was shot at the Fair for purposes of publication on our paid sites." The event was filmed, however, and used as an advertisement for the porn website. How many of a person's sexual whims ought they pursue at risk of losing the balance in their lives? How many addictions ought each of us support? How many discussions of the intersection of porn and spirit take place at the Armory? And how many affordable apartments could be made out of that Armory space?

The salient aspect of a lot of social adjustments is how it can be very good for a while, up until the inevitable extension of human desires carries the original worthwhile idea into a state of complete exaggeration. Then it's no longer a good thing and it needs to be recalibrated. In the decades I've lived in San Francisco I have witnessed the sex change discussions, along with whether or not one's healthcare should pay for the operation, and I thought that was a discussion to have because these citizens are paying taxes just as you and I are. But when I think of "body freedom" in all instances, I think: Please let me know when we can get a species change.

Don't get me wrong — I love street theater, I think the nude body is not a frightening thing in public at all, and I know pretty well that our culture's deconstruction and discussion of gender roles — which involves inevitably anatomical and biological differences — is far from complete.

But I suspect that after nude was the "in" thing, I'd probably not be able to ride my bicycle with the nudists if I was fully clothed, and hey, I'm not about to leave my paperback and coffee money and water bottle at home when I cycle to the Park. To say nothing of my biodegradable shopping bag. And, will I ever ride past a protest at Market and Castro where there is signage that says, "Optional Age"?

Penny Skillman has a new e-novel, "Temp Girl," available on Amazon Kindle.

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