Co-written by Ron Honn & Heather Lindsey.
Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him: “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
And [God] said: “Who told you that you were naked?”
Genesis 3:9-11, New King James Version
Like many folks living in the Bible Belt, I’ve read it through a time or two. But as I prepare to visit Oaklake Trails Naturist Park, just off of I-44 in Depew, the above words make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I’d never noticed that the intention of Adam to clothe himself was a red flag to the Almighty that the original man had committed Original Sin. He was expelled from the Garden, the story goes, and his kids have been in various degrees of chaos ever since. It follows that, if nudity was mankind’s perfect, original attire—or lack thereof—then an entire multi-billion-dollar clothing industry has grown up pretty much founded on man’s rebellion against God, Biblically-speaking.
At the moment, my concerns are less theological than physiological. I’m 10 years and 30 pounds removed from my first foray into the naturist world of California. My former six-pack abs look more like a 12-pack that ripped out the bottom of the Walmart bag and have noisily rolled a couple of cans out onto the floor. My initial terrors about showing my naked body to others have multiplied, but I take a deep breath, feel the fear, and remind myself that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
I won’t be heading out into naked bliss alone, though. Having cajoled my adventuresome friend Sara to go along, I can divert my apprehensions about my own bodily decrepitude by focusing on her first-time reactions to the experience. Besides, Sara simultaneously brings many perspectives to bear on the subject of nudism:
First, Sara is a very attractive young woman—and yet she wrestles with the same body image issues everyone struggles with. “I’ve gained weight!” she fusses. “And I think I’m getting those little dimples that make my ass look like I got hail damage!” It’s a uniquely Oklahoma metaphor that requires no explanation. I’m not a professional appraiser, but after a quick perusal of her rear bumper assembly, I assure Sara that she has no damage beyond normal wear and tear.
Second, she is a former “exotic dancer.” She’s familiar with nudity in its more socially acceptable manifestation, namely, using one’s body to get tips. This will be her first experience of public nudity as non-pornography.
Third, Sara is a converted fundamentalist Christian. She may not be the most regular attendee at church, but she is sincere and devout in her way, regarding herself as a work in progress. She modestly wears her hair long, sleeves down to her wrists and skirts all the way to the floor … until today, of course, since we’re taking a Bible class field trip to Eden.
Finally, Sara is a single mother. When I mentioned that naturist resorts frequently have children running around nude, Sara’s reaction is immediate and visceral. “Are the kids safe from sexual predators?” she asks. Parents who’ve discovered the joy of nudism want their children to grow up with a healthy sense of self, and nudity seems to reduce, rather than exacerbate, bodily shame. In the post-Jerry Sandusky world, however, the very notion of naked children running around has summoned up Sara’s inner Mama Grizzly.
I imagine it’s why we don’t hear of more bank robberies committed in the nude. Somehow, shedding your clothes just removes your sense of urgency.
As it turns out, there’s a lot of Mama Grizzly built into the system among the clothing-optional. Arriving at the gate from a small country road, we see a discreet, friendly sign for Oaklake Trails, behind which is a heavy steel pipe gate, firmly locked. There is a surveillance camera nearby, and the sign advises that all new guests and non-residents must call in to the front office first in order to be admitted. If it’s going to be a safe place to be naked, after all, the naked must be protected from prurient looky-loos.
At this point, Sara has a petit mal panic attack. She gets out, leans over, elbows on the hood of the car and smokes a cigarette, feigning hyperventilation and asks: “Okay, talk me down here. Why are we doing this again?”
“Take your time,” I reassure her patiently. “You’re going to love it, and your safety comes first here. If it freaks you out too much, we leave immediately.”
Once she’s recomposed, I call the front office and the gate slowly swings open. A winding lane prevents any direct view from the outside, and after a couple of turns, we arrive at a cheerful office cottage, where we meet Jackie, the weekend facility manager. She greets us from behind the counter wearing only a smile and wireframe glasses. After dwelling among the clothed for many years, her nudity is shocking, then immediately soothing and peaceful. I notice myself unconsciously exhaling deeply and r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g. I imagine it’s why we don’t hear of more bank robberies committed in the nude. Somehow, shedding your clothes just removes your sense of urgency.
Jackie hands us a registration form in exchange for our driver’s licenses, which she copies. It’s the rules of the road, according to the American Association of Nude Recreation, of which Oaklake Trails is a member. Your background is checked, your I.D. is on file, and if you behave squirrely here in any way, you are Pete-Rose-Banned-For-Life from entering an AANR-registered naturist resort. The organization makes it very clear that this is not a “swingers” club, and though there are non-AANR facilities that swing that way, Oaklake is family-friendly and kid-safe.
Paperwork finished, we drop our drawers at the car, slip into denial that we’ve been friends for a few years yet have never seen each other naked, and wade into the action. Presently we are confronted with a national body-painting competition, as an elderly gentleman greets us, painted head to toe to look like Mr. Incredible from the Pixar movie The Incredibles. It’s not a bad rendering either, right down to the “I” logo on the chest. I’m trying really hard to maintain eye contact with the man behind the mask so as not to notice the distracting black-painted wiggly bits down below. Eye contact is a big deal here. It’s explained to us that it’s considered bad form to gawk, and while there are no “rules” about it, there’s certainly an unspoken etiquette.
From body painting to the Bible, we next blunder into a Bible study meeting conducted by a Christian Nudist Convocation. As facilitator Boyd Allen explains, CNC ministers nationwide to the under- served naturist community while simultaneously seeking to open the minds of their more puritanical brethren. For Sara, this is something like divine intervention, and her self-consciousness fades as she is now among fellow-believers who also happen to be naked. I notice that the children here run and play among the adults after church just as they would among the clothing-impaired. They do so without shame or self-consciousness, and you can see that they feel safe.
It’s here that we meet Rob, a 42-year-old engineer from Denver, who’s been frequenting naturist resorts since he was 7. He explains that growing up among naturists is like growing up is for any kid, with perhaps fewer hang-ups.
“Being naked around our house was no big deal,” Rob said. “If Mom was in the shower and forgot her towel, she’d run out to the hall closet and no one thought anything of it. My parents said maybe it was like religion and politics—you don’t necessarily talk about it with everyone, so I didn’t exactly volunteer information about our family weekends. And when kids at school occasionally found out and made fun of me about it in groups, they’d corner me later, individually, with curiosity, and ask: ‘What’s it really like being at a nudist camp?’ ”
By now I’m thinking it’s as wonderful as I’d remembered from long ago. We make our way to the pool as I share with my fellow travelers my past impression about how non-sexual nudism seems to me, and a vigorous discussion ensues. I’m told that of course there is sexuality in play here—just like there is at the mall or church or anywhere else. Only here there’s honesty about it. Rob describes my biggest fear when first I contemplated dwelling among the naked: arousal. As the women in the group acknowledge, this is potentially more embarrassing for men, obviously.
“Males get erections sometimes,” Rob said, “and when I was a kid, I knew that it wasn’t just me and that it happened to all boys, so I was comfortable with that. When it happened, it was like no big deal. My mom or someone around would say: ‘Hey Rob, put a towel around yourself ’ or ‘Go jump in the pool and cool off’, and I’d be like ‘Oh, yeah. Sorry.’ Or, as we joked later, I’d think: ‘Dead puppies … dead puppies … dead puppies.’ Like when a really cute girl would walk by? I’d be like ‘Hey, I gotta go jump in the pool … Dead puppies, dead puppies …’ ”
One last luxurious nude swim under the stars, and Sara and I head back to the car and suit up to resume our expulsion from Paradise.
The conversation, as it were, goes on, the heat of the day yields to a lovely evening, and finally we must go. One last luxurious nude swim under the stars, and Sara and I head back to the car and suit up to resume our expulsion from Paradise. As we pass the dance pavilion, Sara glances at the dance floor and notes that, “If they had a pole in here, I could blow these peoples’ minds!” On further reflection, she muses, “Or maybe they wouldn’t even notice me around here …”
On the way home, we don’t say much. We aren’t the same people we were a few hours earlier, though. Sara e-mails me a few days later, thanking me for “changing her life forever.” We tend to greet each other now with a hug that would’ve seemed forward just last week, and we talk about hugging properly and consciously like we’re trying out a new dance step. One day we’re standing around chatting and Sara grabs her boobs, adjusting her bra, unselfconsciously muttering about the cup size being wrong. Neither of us think this is weird, I notice. From the vulnerability of mutual nakedness, we’ve crossed a threshold from acquaintances to siblings in the human family.
Maybe that’s the takeaway from our little experiment: When we strip away the all the uniforms and stand naked, face-to-face, there may be more that unites us than divides us. Word has it we came from the same Garden, after all.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 4, Issue 2. Jan. 15, 2013.