My partner used to like to take off his clothes in public. This was a frequent occurrence, the minute he’d consumed alcohol.
I blame it on the set he was hanging out with; horsey and aristocratic. That sort of running into ballrooms naked at midnight and jumping into swimming pools is more acceptable there than it would have been in the urban backstreets and dull suburbs where I grew up.
Funnily enough, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with public nudity. It’s not that I don’t like my body. I have the standard love/hate relationship with it that most of us possess. I wasn’t one of those teenagers who strutted around the locker rooms at school in the buff. I was too embarrassed. There was a whole dimension to growing up gay in the 1980s whereby I was mortified that the other boys would think I was ogling their bodies. I’d hastily change in the corner and dash through the showers, hoping to stay inconspicuous. I also didn’t grow up in one of those liberal families where everyone wandered about the house naked. Thankfully: to recall my father happily chatting about the day’s activities whilst stepping out of the shower with water dripping off his appendages is not something I’d want in my memory bank.
As an adult I’ve had brushes with public nudity, as many gay men have. The obligatory nudist beach on holiday, the drunken visit to a sauna in Blackpool and the ill advised trip to a clothing optional bar in Amsterdam: these things happen. If you’re anything like me then they only happen once. I’m a quick learner.
I decided to venture to a nudist beach once, whilst on holiday in the U.K. I’d never been naked in public before and decided that it sounded like a liberating and romantic notion to swim naked in the sea. I trekked the standard torturous 3 miles to the gay part of the nudist beach, arriving with aching limbs and a sweaty face. I put down my bag, stripped off my clothes and let the sun warm parts that the daylight had never seen before. I had a sneaky look round and it was like I’d suddenly entered a leather sofa store. The only difference was that the sofas were in the shape of elderly gay men. Expanses of orange leather flesh dotted the horizon as a variety of shapes and sizes of toughened hides stood lifelessly. Strangely, they seemed to be imitating poses from Kays’ Catalogue circa 1978. There must be something about being naked on a sand dune that makes men want to look out to sea with one knee flexed and their hand on hip at a jaunty angle. I didn’t stay long on the beach. There were drawbacks to the idyllic experience of sunbathing naked which I hadn’t thought through a) I’m not keen on sunbathing b) where would I stow my belongings while I dipped in the sea?
Another daunting experience was visiting a gay nudist beach in a slick resort in Europe. This was a time when I was going through a hate cycle in the love/hate body thing. The sight of gym fit gay Europeans with perfect pecs and all over tans, lolling on designer label towels was enough to send me scurrying back to my hotel room to hide under a duvet. I’d have been like the ‘before’ picture in an advert, had I taken off as much as a cardigan.
Naked bars, saunas, nudist beaches: they’re not for the insecure like me. They’re also not for the practical minded. Where do you keep your wallet and change, for one thing? I reproach myself sometimes. Why should I be ashamed to be naked? It’s our natural state and think of all that Vitamin D we’d absorb too. Then I remember all those lovely things that you can buy which can flatter and accentuate, hide and mask and make us all look better: they’re called clothes. I’ll keep mine on for now.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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