May 30, 2015 in Uncategorized
The lens of disability is as valuable an interpretive tool for the historian as is gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. Not only do people with disabilities have a place and a voice in history, but the very category of disability has also been used as a construction of oppression throughout history. It has been used as a marker to justify the oppression of women, non-whites, and gays and lesbians, among others. It has been used as a marker to deny entrance to institutions to those whom the dominant group wished to exclude, including entrance into the physical nation as well as citizenship within it. It has also been used as a marker to delimit how we may present our bodies as well as which bodies may participate in the public sphere. I will contend that the cultural injunction to compulsively cover and hide our bodies at all times in all public spaces has a disabling effect on our well-being and consequently we suffer discrimination and exclusion if we wish to live unencumbered, natural, naked lives. Additionally, we who choose nudity are marked as diseased in order to justify exclusion and illegality.
During the height of San Francisco rush hour traffic on June 10, 1970, three people walked west on Market Street from Stockton to the Powell Street cable-car turntable, where they then turned and walked up Eddy Street. As they walked, “eyes widened, jaws dropped, and faces filled the windows of the street cars rolling past.” Jerry Carroll, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, described the three as “two willowy blondes … a dwarf who had a peg-leg and a beard.” They walked hand-in-hand. What caused eyes to widen, jaws to drop, and faces to fill windows of the passing public transit was not entirely the willowy-ness of the two blondes or their companion’s wooden leg, but rather the fact that they were completely naked.
Americans have a very ambiguous relationship with their bodies. Much of that ambiguity is a result of the interwoven influence of two Western traditions: the Judeo-Christian heritage which conflates nudity with original sin and the Greek tradition which saw in nudity the state of the ideal human. We seem to delight at the sight of what we are taught to see as the “ideal” naked body, but anything less than ideal we find disgraceful, offensive, and obscene. We equate nudity with both contamination and sex, and we are taught to see sex as shameful. We ascribe seemingly illicit motivations too those who do not see shame in their bodies or in their sexual urges because we imagine illicit motivations to be the only viable ones which could possibly motivate such perspectives. We hold our bodies hostage to impossible standards not only of beauty but of physicality as well, which we then use to exclude from view any bodies that do not satisfy this self-imposed yardstick. These impossibly high standards then become seen as normative, what Alison Kafer refers to as “compulsory able-bodiedness/able-mindedness,” so that bodies that do not reach these standards are seen now as sub-standard or abnormal.
While I do not wish to perpetuate the well-intentioned but ableist declaration that “we are all disabled,” I do wish to put forth the idea that viewing our bodies with feelings of shame, disgust, and revulsion must have a disabling affect on our emotional well-being, on our very psyches. Kafer investigates the notion of the “nondisabled claim to crip,” while calling for paying critical attention to specificities so that we may explore “the possibilities of nondisabled claims attending to the promises and dangers of the category’s flexibility.” The clothed public, when it ascribes its own imagined motivations to showing the body’s nudity, pathologizes the showing of the naked body by naming its genesis in exhibitionism or perversion. Is it possible to imagine the idea that our collective fear and shame disables our ability to live in and embrace our bodies’ naturalness and, thus disabled, when some do decide to present their naturalness, their nudity, they are then treated differently and suffer exclusion and discrimination?
On that June day in 1970 in San Francisco during the height of rush hour traffic, a young man named Baba Om identified the two naked willowy blondes and the naked peg-legged dwarf with a beard as members of the Om family and explained that “people confuse nudity with sex… The way to rehabilitate sex – and rid the world of war, chaos, and destruction in the bargain – is for people to take off their clothes and leave them off.” Nearby the Powell Street cable-car turntable was a group belonging to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON ) or, as Jerry Carroll identified them, “Hare Krishna people.” One of the ISKCON monks told Carroll “there’s nothing in Om about running around naked. are using the spiritual life for their own sense gratification, sense of exhibitionism or whatever it is.” For the monk, being naked was not “simply unauthorized” as he claimed, but rather it was seen as a sickness, a pathology. By diagnosing his own ideas of what healthy behavior should entail, the monk was assigning a state of disability to the naked Om family, thereby reinforcing his perceived right to discriminate against them by controlling their behavior in public.
One hundred and twenty-seven years earlier, in Massachusetts, Bronson Alcott founded Fruitlands commune, a commune whose purpose was to produce the perfect being. The community believed if they could live according to the original rules set forth in the Garden of Eden before the fall, their moral natures would reach the proper fullness of maturity to prohibit impure thoughts and they could then purify themselves and reproduce children free from original sin. To purify their bodies the community members consumed nothing that involved violence of any kind. By isolating themselves from the outside world, being entirely self-sufficient and paying careful attention to dress by not wearing clothing which was produced through the violence or coercion of slavery or the killing of animals, the residents of Fruitlands hoped to free themselves from what they saw as the evils of government and society. They hoped to make a connection with nature as it had been in the original biblical Garden of Eden by not loving or worshipping nature but by becoming a part of nature. Samuel Bower, one of the members of Fruitlands, was a British transplant whose views were not only were in accord with those of the community but carried those ideas even further. Bower advocated a life lived completely naked in order to achieve the acme of purity and health. Alas, the commune only permitted Bower to experiment with nudity at night and then he was forced to wear a white sheet. Perhaps the other Fruitlanders’ moral natures had not reached the “proper fullness of maturity” to prohibit impure thoughts from occurring at the sight of Bower’s naked body.
Both original sin and children have played an important role in the history of disability. Prior to the emergence of the medical model of disability in the mid to late nineteenth century, disability was often viewed as a moral failing, the result of sin. As Henri-Jacques Stiker shows us, sin is vehicle by which a social morality is attached to disability. Sin is a failing of humans, not God’s failing. It is therefore up to humans to heal themselves. Children have been the exception. They have generally been seen as innocent and worthy of help, and therefore subject to exploitation. Think of “Jerry’s Children.” The Jerry Lewis telethon used the poster child as “victim in a wheelchair,” Lewis even referred to people in wheelchairs as “half persons,” to raise millions of dollars for Muscular Dystrophy. Children are also seen as a metaphor for the future. As Lee Edelman has argued, an investment in the future is almost always figured in reproductive terms. Thus, the child serves as “the telos of the social order.” The future, as imagined through the child, is therefore always one of able-bodied/able-minded heteronormativity. For the residents of Fruitlands, the future imagined through the child was one which was free from original sin, a future where humans would have no necessity of “healing themselves” as moral failings and disability would no longer exist, and humans would once again be innocent –– and pure. As Kafer has made abundantly clear, notions of the future have been used against disabled people. The futures we imagine reveal the biases of the present, so consequently we have a need to imagine futures that include disabled people –– we must imagine futures that include all of us.
Bower would go on to expand on his belief in nudity as a source of purity and health, when he wrote in the November 1850 issue of the Water-Cure Journal, “Why does civilized man put on, at all seasons, over that natural garb which the all-provident Creator has given him, clothing? . . . Not to preserve health, certainly. These practices minister to disease.” The air and the sun, Bower believed, where the chief reason that all living things lived, and people ought to expose themselves to these elements at all times over their entire bodies. In other words, Bower was advocating that people should live naked. Bower was not the only health reformer who spoke of the healthful benefits of nudity. Other reformers who advocated nudity included Sylvester Graham and Thomas Low Nichols. Describing the nakedness of more “exotic” cultures as “perfect,” these other reformer’s arguments were always moderated by the dictates of climate and social norms based on morality; none would prove as insistently radical as Samuel Bower’s.
This idea of equating nudity with “perfection” has roots in the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the so-called “New World.” Environmental historian Richard White notes that Christopher Columbus was both the creator of Neo-Europes in the Americas and the first European to speak with nature in the Americas and preserve his conversation. White notes that Columbus “expected nature to display the marks of humanity, but he did not expect humanity to display so openly the marks of nature.” Nudity became the central defining fact of Indian-ness for Columbus, and nudity became the human expression of nature in his diary. According to White, the word natura, as used by Columbus, referred not to nature but to human genitals. Columbus struggled to place Native American society within parallel European forms, but was continually dismayed and frustrated by their open display of natura.
Europeans, thrilled by the prospect of an untouched Eden peopled by innocent, naked, welcoming natives, but at the same time were desiring profit and, preoccupied with Old World social restrictions, projected the inversion of their own world onto an unknown land and the people within it. Thus nudity for those Europeans symbolized the lack of civilization.
In 1754 in New Hampshire during the conflict between Britain and France, Susannah Johnson wrote how ‘‘my three little children were driven naked to the place where I stood,’’ and upon ‘‘viewing myself I found that I too was naked.’’ Wendy Lucas Castro asks, did Susannah Johnson mean they literally had no clothing? Were they scantily clad by eighteenth-century standards and therefore nearly naked? Were they metaphorically naked in the way they were exposed to their captors with nothing to protect them? What did “nakedness” mean for Susannah Johnson and her children? Castro posits that for the English during the eighteenth century, clothing functioned as a substitute for identity. In the Elizabethan English theater, clothing functioned as a marker of identity since all actors were male, and by putting on a dress a boy actor would be transformed into a female character. Puritans worried that the wearing of women’s clothing by boy actors would turn them into women. Difference, and the lack of clothing, marked those who bore them as uncivilized and savage, as can be seen in the English designation of the “naked’ Irish and later the Indians. So if clothing was a metonym for identity, nakedness essentially equaled social death, an apparent lack of civilization and with it the inability to dominate nature.
Colonists viewed indigenous bodies as inferior. Worried that close contact with Indians would result in contamination and the subsequent disablement of their European bodies and culture to that of the weaker, inferior, indigenous body and culture, Carolina frontier settlers were described by Virginia planter William Byrd as “wretches live in a dirty state of nature and were mere Adamites, innocence only excepted” and as being “just like the Indians.” Charles Woodmason, an Anglican minister, who ministered in the South Carolina backcountry for six years beginning in 1766, said of the colonists “nakedness is not censorable or indecent here, and they expose themselves often quite naked, without ceremony.” Woodmason added that the settlers conducted themselves “more irregularly and unchastely than the Indians.”
Ferdinando Gorges, grandson of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the founder of Maine, wrote in the frontispiece in his America Painted to the Life (1659) below an engraving of “America” shown as a native woman, topless, complete with bow, feathered headdress, and a severed, footless, human leg, “T’is I, in tempting diuers, for to try / By sundry meanes, t’obtaine me, caus’de them dye / And, last discoure’d, undiscouer’d am: / For, men, to treade my soyle, as yet, are lame.” Here was America, seductive in her exposed physical sexuality, but conversely dangerous to European men who could be killed or crippled trying to obtain her. As Joyce E. Chaplin explains, “To court death, to resist desire, and to survive unlamed were the related tasks of the colonist.” European colonists, according to Chaplin, felt themselves likely to be annihilated by America, either by being literally consumed, a gruesome death indeed, or else by being consumed by savagery, losing all cultural and physical distinctiveness.
Chaplin further argues that for the English in America, the body was a springboard from which they launched arguments about the Native’s technical inferiority. English claims of first bodily superiority, then technical superiority, and finally intellectual superiority over Natives were all assertions of mastery over nature, over America, and over Indians. As stated earlier, for English colonists clothing was a metonym for identity, nakedness essentially equaled social death, an apparent lack of civilization and with it the ability to dominate nature. Nakedness represented savagery, the lack of that European Western construction “civilization,” the loss of the ability to control nature, or, in Columbus’ lexicon, natura, genitals. Therefore, the naked body was seen as inferior and abject, not a representation of perfection, but rather as something showing lack of cultural, technical, and intellectual mastery, as something disabling.
In 1676, seventy-eight years before Susannah Johnson wrote of her and her children’s nudity in her captivity narrative, the Algonquin Metacom, better known to the colonists as King Phillip, was executed, thus ending the war known as King Phillip’s War, a war which devastated the New England colonies, ruining more than half of the New England colonists’ towns and pushing the line of English habitation back almost to the coast. Jill Lapore explains that the connection between English property and English identity was so strong that many colonists employed a common metaphor for the loss of both, the metaphor of nakedness. For the English, naked men were barbarians and naked land a wilderness. The Algonquins, aware of the English connection between property and identity, stripped their English victims naked. All over New England, English bodies were left to “lye naked, wallowing in their blood.” When captured and still alive, Algonquins would strip the English of all their clothing, leaving them entirely naked without their clothing and without their identities.
The English were worried about their identities for a larger, more encompassing reason. By the seventeenth century, some English believed that the natives were, like themselves, migrants from Asia or Europe, and thus had become contaminated by America’s savage environment, just as Ferdinando Gorges depicted in his frontispiece of the native America, savage, sexual, and dangerous. If this were true of the Indians, could it then happen to the English? Could this savage environment that was America contaminate the English, turn them into naked heathens, thus disabling their claim to civility? Meanwhile, as trade grew and English civilization encroached on Native lands, as natives died from European disease, natives worried that they were losing their identities and becoming “English.” It was this blurring of boundaries, this fear of cultural disablement, that led to war. The English were fighting to maintain their “Englishness” and the Algonquins fought to retain their “Indian-ness.”
In 1829, one hundred and fifty-three years after the end of King Phillip’s War, two disparate yet oddly related events occurred. Andrew Jackson, on December 8 during his first annual address as President of the United States, announced his policy of “Indian removal.” A new play Metamora; or, the Last of the Wampanoags, starring the most celebrated actor of the nineteenth-century stage, Edwin Forrest, debuted in New York one week later on December 15. The separation of these two events by just seven days was indicative of two developments, or, perhaps just one according to Lapore, the popularity of Indian plays and the pursuit of Indian removal. It was the same struggle playing out in the nineteenth century that was first fought over in the seventeenth century, Lapore argues, the struggle for both American and Native identity. Through plays like Metamora, white Americans came to define themselves in relation to an imagined Indian past. That definition required that there be no substantive threat from nearby Indians. Thus the timing of the play’s debut and the beginnings of Cherokee removal from Georgia symbolized the ongoing war between the colonists-now-Americans and the Native inhabitants of the continent they invaded, the war for identity and survival.
Edwin Forrest modeled his depiction of Metacom on his close friend, a Choctaw named Push-ma-ta-ha. During the mid-1820s, the two men were living together. One night, lying by a campfire, Forrest asked Push-ma-ta-ha “to strip himself and walk to and fro before him between moonlight and the firelight, that he might feast his eyes and his soul on so complete a physical type of what man should be. The young chief, without a word, cast aside his Choctaw garb and stepped forth with a dainty tread, a living statue of Apollo in glowing bronze.” Although Forrest and Push-ma-ta-ha shared a romantic and physical relationship, Forrest’s attraction for Push-ma-ta-ha’s naked masculine body, Lapore reminds us, speaks to the broader attraction of the idealized Indian held by Americans in the first half of the nineteenth century. The nakedness of the Indian that signaled depravity, disorder, and the disabling of civilization in the seventeenth century now signaled virility and liberty, but only as long as the threat of the Native inhabiting their own land, that which was now called America, was removed. As long as the Indian remained somewhere, the Indian identity remained ambiguous, simultaneously noble, virile and sexual, a worthy opponent defeated in American fantasy, but in reality a savage, dirt-worshipping heathen, less than human, carrier of disease and ignorance, something so offensive and disabling that it must be removed and eventually exterminated at all costs.
This reformulated identity for the virile noble Indian (now that the Indian was removed from the civilized East) fit with the Fruitlander’s idea of paradise regained and the perfect nudity of uncivilized tribes, only contemplable now that naked Indians and the illusion of untouched, disorderly, nature was removed. The ideal of perfect nudity that only one man, Samuel Bower, dared take seriously could not exist, as American identity required the domination of nature and rejection of the natural. As historian David Rothman argued, the vast proliferation of institutions for “the deviant and the dependent” in post-revolutionary America represented that unease with disorder. That which is untouched and natural must be improved upon, regimented, and disciplined, made to fit in with the industrialization of the nation. With that industrialization came the introduction of standard, normative humankind as a disciplined physical type ready to function and re/produce to serve a capitalist need for labor and a national need for order. The assumption was that human behavior could be managed, manipulated, and altered through professional intervention. There could be no room for the undisciplined or non-normative non-functioning body, be it natural and naked or disabled.
We must remember that “civilization” is a construct of Western white men and therefore, whether it is perceived as Edenic or monstrous, indigenous “third world” or “under-developed” and “savage,” the “lack of civilization,” just like the idea of disability, is a construction of Western white men as well. If Western “civilization” could accept a humanity that openly displayed the marks of nature, binary constructions such as decency/indecency, abled/disabled, heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white might become unnecessary, similar to the way indigenous peoples’ understanding of the oneness of the body, mind, and spirit allowed for more fluid definitions of bodily and mental norms, or the way deafness was an unremarkable concept for the inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard prior to the advent of tourism as a business in the mid-twentieth century. The ability to be publicly naked would become unremarkable as well, for what would openly display “the marks of nature” like simple nudity? Naked people would then be treated no differently than clothed people, and naked people with different abilities and mobilities would be treated no differently than clothed people with different abilities or mobilities, or indeed, No differently than anyone else, for difference would be remarkable only in the way it was celebrated and seen as useful.
Bower, Samuel. “New Views on Health.” Water-Cure Journal 10,5 (1850):175. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest ( 24 Feb 2011).
Carroll, Jerry. “Naked Crusaders” San Francisco Chronicle, Jun 11 1970.
“From the North British Review,” Littell’s Living Age, 23 Oct 1858, 752. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011).
Graham, Sylvester. “Bathing, Air, and Clothing.” Water-Cure Journal 3, 11 (1847):161. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (2 Mar 2011).
“Importance of Sunlight.” Flag of the Union 12, 27 (1857): 213. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011).
Nichols, T. L. “A Few Words on Clothing.” Water-Cure Journal 11,2 (1851):25. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest ( 22 Feb 2011).
“Nudity Favorable to Physical Developement.” Mechanics’ Magazine and the Journal of the Mechanics’ Institute 4,6 (1834): 365. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011).
“Researches on Light--Sanatory--Scientific and Aesthetical.” Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature 45,3 (1858): 291. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (29 Apr 2011).
Castro, Wendy Lucas. “Stripped: Clothing and Identity in Colonial Captivity Narratives.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6, No. 1 (Spring 2008): 104-136.
Chaplin, Joyce E. Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500-1676. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.
Godbeer, Richard. Sexual Revolution in Early America. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Groce, Nora Ellen. Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Johnson, Harriet McBryde. Too Late To Die Young: Nearly True Tales From a Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005.
Kafer, Alison. Feminist Queer Crip. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013.
Lapore, Jill. The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vantage Books ed. New York: Random House, 1999.
Miller, Elwood. “Samuel Bower in Perfect Nudity: Antebellum Health Reform and the Self.” Ex Post Facto, San Francisco State University XXI, 2012.
Nielson, Kim E. A Disability History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
Parniola, Mario. “Between Clothing and Nudity.” Translated by Roger Friedman. In Fragments for a History of the Human Body. Part Two. Edited by Michel Feher, with Ramona Naddoff and Nadia Tazi. New York: Zone. 1989.
Sticker, Henri-Jacques. A History of Disability, translation by William Sayers. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999.
White, Richard. “Discovering Nature in North America.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 3, Discovering America: A Special Issue (Dec., 1992): 874-891.
Jerry Carroll, “Naked Crusaders” San Francisco Chronicle, Jun 11 1970.
Mario Perniola, “Between Clothing and Nudity,” translated by Roger Friedman, in Fragments for a History of the Human Body. Part Two, edited by Michel Feher, with Ramona Naddoff and Nadia Tazi (New York: Zone, 1989).
Alison Kafer, Feminist Queer Crip (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013) 8.
Elwood Miller, “Samuel Bower in Perfect Nudity: Antebellum Health Reform and the Self,” Ex Post Facto, San Francisco State University XXI, 2012. 109 - 111.
Henri-Jacques Sticker, A History of Disability, translation by William Sayers (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1999), 27.
Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late To Die Young: Nearly True Tales From a Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1005), 48.
Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 11.
Kafer, Feminist Queer Crip, 29.
Samuel Bower, “New Views on Health,” Water-Cure Journal 10,5 (1850):175. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest ( 24 Feb 2011).
T. L. Nichols, “A Few Words on Clothing,” Water-Cure Journal 11,2 (1851):25. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest ( 22 Feb 2011); Sylvester Graham, “Bathing, Air, and Clothing,” Water-Cure Journal 3, 11 (1847):161. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (2 Mar 2011); “Importance of Sunlight,” Flag of the Union 12, 27 (1857): 213. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011); “From the North British Review,” Littell’s Living Age, 23 Oct 1858, 752. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011); “Nudity Favorable to Physical Developement,” Mechanics’ Magazine, and the Journal of the Mechanics’ Institute 4,6 (1834): 365. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (22 Feb 2011); “Researches on Light--Sanatory--Scientific and Aesthetical,” Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature 45,3 (1858): 291. American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest (29 Apr 2011).
Richard White, “Discovering Nature in North America.” The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 3, Discovering America: A Special Issue (Dec., 1992): 878.
Wendy Lucas Castro, “Stripped: Clothing and Identity in Colonial Captivity Narratives,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6, No. 1 (Spring 2008) : 105.
William Byrd, “History of the Dividing Line,” in Louis B. Wright, ed., The prose Works of William Byrd of Westover (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), 212. as quoted in Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 150.
Charles Woodmason, The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, ed. by Richard J. Hooker (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1953) as quoted in Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 120, 151.
Ferdinando Gorges, Grant of His Interest in New Hampshire by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to Captain John Mason (September 17, 1635) TeahingAmericanHistory.org.; Ferdinando Gorges, America Painted to the Life (London, 1659), frontis. as quoted in Joyce E. Chaplin, Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500-1676 (Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2001), 161.
Joyce E. Chaplin, Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier, 1500-1676 (Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2001), 161.
Jill Lapore, The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, Vantage Books ed. (New York: Random House, 1999), xii.
Nathaniel Saltonstall, True but Brief Account of Our Losses, as quoted in Jill Lapore, The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, Vantage Books ed. (New York: Random House, 1999), 79.
Jill Lapore, The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, 7-8.
Ibid., 196, 204.
William Alger, Life of Edwin Forrest: The American Tragedian (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1877) 238-40 as quoted in Jill Lapore, The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, Vantage Books ed. (New York: Random House, 1999), 200.
Jill Lapore, The Name of War, 201.
David J. Rothman, Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971) as quoted in Kim E. Nielsen, A Disability History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012), 51.
Kim E. Nielson, A Disability History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012) 11; Nora Ellen Groce, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).
May 1, 2015 in Uncategorized
I would like to tell you about Andrew Martinez. During the time he was active, some people viewed him with a sense of awe, as a potential leader, as someone worth emulating. Others viewed him as disgusting and shameful, a monster.
On September 10, 1992, Andrew Martinez began to attend classes on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley naked except for sandals, that ubiquitous student accessory, a backpack, and a peace sign and house key that dangled from a chain around his neck. Once the commotion over his initial appearance died down he became a standard fixture on campus, acquiring the moniker of “the naked guy.” No one seemed to notice and, according to one of Andrew’s professors, John Tinkler, not noticing was something of an unwritten law on campus. But someone must have noticed because the University’s media director Jesus Mena claimed that by October “his behavior really was beginning to disrupt the educational process.” Some students and staff felt “very offended.”
The idea that anyone is in need of protection from offense is a vexing one. The notion that a naked human body is offensive is learned social behavior. The sight of a naked human body causes no harm. Studies done at UCLA have shown that childhood exposure to parental nudity produces improved relations with adults outside the family and higher levels of self-esteem. Any perceived harm is merely a matter of discomfort resulting from feelings of disgust and shame. To be offended is to experience an emotional reaction. Legal scholar Martha C. Nussbaum explains that emotions are important measures in relation to the law. They are responses in which we react to damages we have suffered, or might suffer with anger and fear. According to Nussbaum, shame and disgust, however, are different from anger and fear, in the sense that they are more likely to be distorted by localized norms, and therefore are unreliable guides to both public practice and the law. Allowing people the right to restrict conduct that does not harm, simply because they are repelled by it, sets a dangerous standard.
Why did Martinez attend classes naked? Andrew thought about the total insanity of having to wear clothing in extremely hot weather. In spite of the obviousness of this truth, he realized he was prohibited with the full force of an entire nation, and of virtually every person he could conceive of from taking the next seemingly logical step. For Martinez, this moment would have lasting repercussions; he would begin to question and critique the entire structure of western capitalist values. In thinking about why he must wear clothing at all times, Andrew was analyzing not only the body’s and the self’s relationships with private and public spheres, but also the ways that the body and the individual were defined and controlled by the institutions and structures through which they moved. In his mind, “the relationship between the self, politics, the state and nudity so telling that could pick one symbol to sustain his critique.”
Andrew wrote that he hoped to begin an “enormous struggle for body liberation.” Andrew was disappointed with what he viewed as the 1960s student social justice movements’ selling out for middle class values. Andrew was raised in a household that did not place much value on the usual popular symbols of success. Andrew’s mother, Esther Krenn, did enjoy dressing up and owning attractive things, yet it was not important to her to have designer labels. Esther hoped those values would be instilled in Andrew. According to Esther, Andrew did . He just took them to a deeper level.”
Andrew discovered that in 1992 in Berkeley mere nudity itself was not illegal, it had to be combined with some sort of indecent or sexual behavior. Andrew’s first priority was to show people that they need not be constrained by socialization and assumptions about what defines normalcy, that they could just enjoy themselves and have fun. Andrew did help to inspire a movement for Body Freedom. Body Freedom is the right of individuals to decide not to hide their own body under coverings. Body Freedom movements would subsequently arise in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and London, England. Activists such as Vincent Bethell, Terri Sue Webb, Daniel Johnson, Mark Storey, and Stephen Gough have continued the work of advocating for the normalization of the human body in the public sphere. How much Andrew’s example has inspired these other activists is difficult to measure, but it is safe to say that Andrew was a pioneer in the nascent Body Freedom movement.
How did Martinez communicate his cause? Organizing a Nude-In on Sproul Plaza on September 29, 1992, Andrew distributed flyers which featured an anatomically correct male Cal bear and the messages “smoke pot,” “take acid,” and “sex.” Andrew wanted people to define normalcy on their own terms and come to grips with their own sexual shame, to acknowledge and embrace their sexuality and their bodies, to realize that the repression of sex and the categorization of sexual acts into a hierarchy of acceptability was no more than a means of control. Andrew viewed the shame and repression that controlled people and kept them from fulfilling themselves as a form of colonialism – a mental slavery. Quoting Malcolm X, Andrew said, “you are socialized to buy into something you don’t want to buy into.” Andrew saw the Nude-In as a “historical turning point” and vowed to keep appearing nude until he was arrested.
Getting arrested did not take long. Only four days after his Nude-In, on October 3, 1992, Andrew was stopped and arrested while jogging near the Unit 1 resident hall complex clad only in jogging shoes. Then, on the night of October 5, Andrew was again arrested for walking through Sproul Plaza naked. Andrew said he was out to pick up a copy of the student newspaper, The Daily Californian. The Alameda County prosecutor dismissed charges against Andrew because, as Andrew had previously discovered, nudity without lewd conduct was not illegal. Andrew Martinez was more informed about the law than the police who, by applying their own sense of morality, were attempting to enforce their idea of what they thought the law ought to say.
Following the Nude-In, Andrew appeared on the pages of Newsweek and Time and on television talk shows. Then, on November 4, 1992, University Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien issued a new policy which banned “lewd or sexually offensive conduct, including indecent exposure and public nudity” on the Berkeley campus. It took the institutions and structures which were established to define and control the students’ sexuality and their relations with each other through the process of education, the very institutions that Andrew wanted to critique, only one month to attempt to silence Andrew’s critique. Andrew’s freedom, his nakedness must have been seen as very dangerous to the existing power structure’s need for regimentation and control.
Debbie Moore, a member of the X-Plicit Players performance group, related how Andrew would regularly walk around Berkeley wearing only his sandals, his necklace, and a small backpack containing bumper-stickers he had made that read “HEY MAN, IT’S JUST A DICK! Militant Nudist Revolution.” He would walk at a slow pace in such a way that if anyone wanted to chat, he would stop and chat. Debbie related how most people reacted very positively, however some of the men who would stop him were really angry. With a very aggressive tone they would say to him, “Put something on,” or “Cover that up.” Andrew would stop, look at them in a very relaxed manner, and ask, “Hey man, what’s up with this, it’s just a dick,” as he handed them a bumper-sticker. He would start laughing, almost dancing a little bit, somewhat like a jester. By the time he had finished, the scene would be pacified and the aggression would disappear. Debbie Moore asked him what this meant to him, what his nudity was all about. Andrew told her it was his own personal martial art form. He was practicing with it, developing an approach to his body and its relation to everything he passed through and everyone he encounter.
Like his hero Henry David Thoreau who went to jail rather than pay a tax that supported the Mexican American War, Andrew would not obey Chancellor Tien’s new policy. On Saturday morning November 7, 1992, someone spotted a naked Andrew on the west side of Wheeler Hall and complained to the University police. Andrew has given a fourteen-day exclusion notice and escorted by police off school grounds. Andrew felt the university could have acted in a more productive way by facilitating some dialogue between those who objected to his nudity and himself. Andrew suggested several compromises, including sitting behind those students who were offended as well as arriving early to class. Andrew was interested in challenging the unquestioned notions of conformity through his nudity, but he wanted to do it in a peaceful way. His self-described militancy was a way of questioning through engagement similar to the dancing, benign gestures he used to diffuse masculine aggression on the street. This is the way in which he was willing to compromise. He made it clear that he was not willing to wear clothing, but he acknowledged that his nudity could be seen by others as dangerous, and was interested in relations of interdependence rather than dominance.
On November 11, 1992, university officials held a hearing regarding the school’s nudity policy and Andrew’s exclusion from campus. Andrew attempted to attend the hearing, but officials refused to speak with him because he was only wearing his sandals and a backpack. “We won’t talk unless you put some clothes on,” Andrew was told by officials at the hearing. By refusing to talk with the naked Andrew Martinez, school officials were determining which bodies were heard and which bodies had legitimacy in the public sphere.
On January 23, 1993, Andrew Martinez received an expulsion letter from the University of California. According to Jesus Mena, students felt they were being harassed and complained about it. Some were threatening to drop out of classes. No one ever complained to Andrew and he felt students who were offended should have talked to him about it. According to reporter Julie Aquilar of the Daily Californian, many students felt that Andrew’s expulsion was evidence of how much the university controlled everything they did, further they believed it was antithetical to Berkeley’s reputation of supporting individual rights.
Andrew continued to live a very naked life in Berkeley after his expulsion. In 1992 many people assumed public nudity in Berkeley was illegal. Andrew, along with Debbie Moore and Marty Kent established through a series of arrests followed by the dismissal of charges that nudity was in fact not illegal. In the spring of 1993, because of Andrew’s, Marty’s, and Debbie’s actions, people began to realize that they too could be naked. Consequently more and more people began appearing naked on the streets of Berkeley. For months and months, Andrew and his friends literally spent their lives living naked, leaving their houses to go somewhere and just being naked on the streets.
Eventually the City of Berkeley followed in the footsteps of the University. When Berkeley started pursuing an anti-nudity ordinance, Andrew became very upset and worked very hard at preventing it from happening. He even appeared naked at Berkeley City council meetings to try to convince them there was nothing harmful or shameful with the human body. In July of 1993, the City Council passed an anti-nudity ordinance, making public nudity in the City of Berkeley punishable as a misdemeanor. This would allow people arrested the right to a trial by jury. In 1997, after a nudity trial ended with a hung jury, the city began to enforce the law as an infraction, which, like a traffic ticket, is not eligible to a trial by jury. However, Judge Ron Greenberg ruled in April of 1998 that the city could not enforce the nudity ban as an infraction. So, in June of 1998 the mayor, the city attorney, and city manager proposed a revision to the law that would allow the ordinance to be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. Now, no longer would anyone arrested for public nudity in Berkeley be guaranteed the right to a trial by a jury.
Andrew Martinez wrote a manuscript in 1993 to answer people who wanted him to justify his acts of nudity as well as his “choice” of nudity as a cause. Andrew wrote that he saw himself as being what he referred to as a “thought criminal” and saw the distance between himself and mainstream culture as his “thought crime.” For Andrew, this “thought crime” was the political consciousness behind his acts of nudity. He believed that no matter what he said or did, he was ultimately a criminal under the Christian moral structure that he saw as supporting mainstream American culture. That Christian moral structure Martinez saw is a direct consequence of the Judaic metaphysical tradition that envisioned divinity as veiled and nudity as deprivation, as opposed to the Greek tradition, that saw in nudity the state of the ideal human. Italian philosopher Mario Parniola’s essay, “Between Clothing and Nudity,” names these two distinct metaphysical traditions as major factors behind the ambiguous nature of nudity, both as metaphor and as physical state, in the Modern West.
Andrew Martinez saw his revolution as being larger than just nudity however, and he felt he needed to reveal what exactly that entailed, or he would spend the rest of his life justifying individual acts of nudity. Martinez understood the necessity in altering the balance of power involved in social space; moreover, he believed that to articulate his political consciousness, he would need to offend more people than he could with just his simple act of nudity.
Andrew Martinez did not want his legacy to be just “the Naked Guy.” For Andrew, nudity was the perfect symbol through which he felt he could communicate all that he saw wrong with current political and social constructs: the capitalist fueled madness of unlimited consumption and resource exploitation from a resource limited planet, humanity’s unwillingness to accept and recognize ourselves as mammals whose survival depends on our relationship with all other species on the planet, and humanity’s inability to live in the moment--to realize that our lives are not what we remember of our past or plan for our future, but right now.
Body Freedom is a movement that is not going away, but rather seems to gain strength each year. Growing concern with climate change and species extinction has resulted in many questioning the efficacy of global capitalism in its current form with its patterns of unlimited consumption and unlimited growth. Martinez showed how all of these issues could be critiqued through the lens of nudity and body acceptance. Examining our place within the closed ecosystem we inhabit, how we view it, and how we view ourselves is imperative to our survival, and historians must also face this challenge. Andrew Martinez, his vision and his message, were prophetic.
February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized
I am an advocate for Body Freedom; the idea that the human body is natural, normal, and good, and therefore need not be kept hidden from view in public spaces, that there are benefits to be derived from not doing so, and that all bodies are beautiful. In San Francisco, body freedom was set back with the passage of 2013’s nudity ban, which requires the coverage of the genitalia. The Body Freedom advocates, the ban, and subsequent protests have garnered international press. This past Sunday, photographers from New York Magazine were in San Francisco to shoot some Body Freedom Activists for an article on the ways in which San Francisco might be losing its liberal values. An email was distributed by one of the Body Freedom activists which stated, “ don't want to see nudist who are heavy. They are cool with a little bit of chubbiness and they are cool with people of all ages but they don't want to photograph people who are heavy. Please don't take this personally, it's just our shallow culture where superficial things sell.”
How we accept diversity in bodies and define what is acceptable can be mapped visually by viewing photography of people and bodies through time. Even more telling, however, is seeking to understand the ways in which photographs of bodies deemed unique, deformed or disabled were used, interpreted and exhibited in the time in which they were produced. Photographs originally produced as research material for the United State’s Army Medical Museum during the Civil War intended to document the types of diseases and injuries a doctor would be confronted with on the battlefield. By 1867, however, they were housed in Ford’s Theater for public viewing. These photographs, including ones showing soldiers holding strings which traverse the holes in their bodies left by bullet wounds and naked amputees sitting or standing next to their amputated limbs would continuously travel the United States on touring exhibitions after the war, appearing in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition as part of a celebration of national identity. Although photographs of naked soldiers with exposed genitals were artfully covered by fig leaves by this time, their eyes and faces remained uncovered, revealing them as portraits rather than specimens.
Nineteenth-century exhibitions were not limited to examples of medical specimens from the Civil War. The exhibition of actual people with real and alleged physical anomalies was wildly popular in circus, museum, carnival, world fair and amusement park side-shows. Along with these exhibits flourished a highly profitable business in marketing photographic images of these people displayed as “freaks,” people without arms or legs, dwarfs, unusually large individuals (obese as well as tall), conjoined twins, and others with physical differences which would be classified as disabilities today. These were studio portraits, taken by professional photographers in their studios with painted backdrops, props and appropriate costuming. In Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen, and Other Photographic Rhetoric, Robert Bogdan suggests these photographic studies fell into two distinct categories: the aggrandizing mode and the exotic mode. In the aggrandizing mode, according to Bogdan, the freak was pictured as an upstanding, even exceptional person with a highly regarded social status. Attributes such as social position, achievements, talents, taste, intelligence were fabricated, elevated, or exaggerated. Bogdan explains that the exotic mode took the opposite tack, pinpointing the exhibit’s strangeness and alleged foreign backgrounds. Developmentally disabled persons were often directed as exotic “Aztecs” or “Africans.”
While the intent of the Civil War medical images was to document, inform, and then commemorate; because their purpose is to reveal that which is normally hidden from view, one cannot help but feel the voyeur when viewing them, seeing what would normally be most private presented in such a straight-forward manner. This effect is heightened by the age of the photographs, as one is accustomed to seeing Victorian portraiture with all of its attendant coverings which tended to give the body almost an upholstered look. This is similar to the feeling encountered by the public when confronted with a naked Body Freedom activist, or nudist, in a public setting; that vertiginous feeling of viewing something which is recognized as having been heretofore forbidden but with which one is now confronted and expected to know how to properly re/act. It is the same effect I remember experiencing the first time I was confronted with seeing a woman with a mastectomy at a nudist event, or indeed, my first encounter as an adult gay man accustomed only to the sight of other naked men with nudist women at a mainstream event. The photograph does allow the relatively safety of contemplation of the static image, however, without fear of the discomfort to which a live encounter might lead to.
While the soldiers in these medical photographs had no agency in their display, the freaks encountered in the side-show memorabilia presumably had more. Although we are tempted to view them as victims of capitalist hucksters, and surely some must have been, we must also remember that for many the occupation of freak allowed them to earn a living on their own terms. As Bogdan states, the human exhibits shown “were better off financially than the people who purchased their pictures.” The medical photography and the side-show freak are evidence of the nineteenth-century’s obsession to catalogue, categorize, and pathologize.
Freaks are shown as the antithesis of normality, yet on some level we recognize that their abnormality is a construct, a shifting line between and “us” and “them” paradigm. Looking at these photographs allows us to see the shifting lines of normality through time. As the boundaries and definitions of normality have changed over time, the value placed on being normal has also shifted depending on the cultural climate. Today we seem to possess a compulsion to absorb the abnormal and freak within the everyday until it becomes banal. The exclusion of certain body types in photojournalism about the loss of “liberal values” is but one example. There must be a better way to accommodate difference without explaining it away as a product of our imagination and incorporating it into the commonplace.