(Originally posted at http://www.freerangenaturism.com and reposted here at the suggestion of Richard Foley)
“For a book an naturism, this is far too blood thirsty, it does not convey any feeling about the naturism, only the crunching of bones” wrote the only one star review on Amazon for my novel (called "Naturist, Red in Tooth and Claw"). I was delighted to get that review. In a way it vindicated why I wrote the book, and to a larger extent, why we both put so much work into the website.
Let me give you a little bit of background to the book. It all goes back to a trip we did to climb Ben Mhanach, a Munro in the southern highlands of Scotland. It was a long walk in and several times the well constructed path crossed a river, fording it and allowing us to cross. Normally I’m pretty sure footed on river crossings, but this time it felt slippery, and at the first crossing I put it down to the artificial nature of the ford, probably a result of a bulldozer.
It got me thinking about how dangerous nature can be and an idea formed in my head. A story began to form, a dark Gothic horror about a group of friends, some naturists and some not, getting lost in the wilds and picked off by nature herself. I began to write furiously, creating a group of what I thought were interesting characters.
But while the characters were working, the plot wasn’t. They became in my mind a group in search of danger, a deadly peril they could be tested against and I found it in one of the most traditional horror genres of all, the zombie.
Not just any old zombies of course, that would be boring, and the plot needed a unique naturist take on the zombie horror, one which once I found produced what seemed to me to be an interesting idea and a very different direction to any other naturist fiction I’d ever seen.
So I had my characters and my zombies, and with a little bit of romance I was able to bring my knowledge of free range naturism into the story, adding the odd hint of my own experiences here and there into the story.
But it remained a horror story, and there was blood, gore, dashed brains and zombies trying to eat people alive. Of course there was, its a zombie story. Why wouldn’t it?
Yet someone seems to think that’s not appropriate, that naturism shouldn’t mix with other genres. And that attitude seems to be the perfect metaphor for a wider attitude that seems to pervade in some naturists.
Traditional naturism is dying. Controlled for years by ‘national organisations’ and landed clubs, the long standing habit of naturists flocking to designated and specific areas is beginning to wane. The average naturist club offers very little to young people and instead they seek out new territories, exploring wild areas and remote landscapes. They embrace the natural world instead of locking themselves away from it, and in doing so embrace and epitomise the word “naturism” far more than someone who sunbathes on a manicured lawn or swims in a heated pool.
It was inevitable a small minority would feel threatened by this, especially if they can’t make any money from it. By neglecting the younger generations, the landed clubs have thrown away any chance of future financial security, and some fight back the only way they know how – by trying to control naturism.
In 2011 Lady Gaga suggested that she wanted to be nude in all her TV appearances, yet what was the reaction of the American Association of Nude Recreation? They said they only promoted nude recreation in “appropriate settings” and invited to her to a landed club. In fact the whole official response (see it at http://www.aanr.com/blog/aanr-responds-to-lady-gagas-nudity-is-timeless-quote/ ) is about landed clubs, places almost devoid of young people. They attempted to control nudity, to make it a commodity to buy and sell, with themselves as the only broker.
When one national organisation presented evidence to campaign for naturist’s rights during a review of their country’s sexual offences act they told a legislative committe that every naturist in the country was literally a card-carrying member of the organisation. While their testimony was helpful to all naturists in regards to the law, the claim to speak for every single one of them was not unexpected. Worse still was their implication that if you didn’t carry a card you weren’t really a naturist, a worrying thing to have them tell legislators.
The simple truth is that nobody owns naturism and nobody owns nudity. In parts of the world an entire generation of young naturists have been ignored and brushed off by organised naturism, left to fend for themselves or to take what they were given by the landed clubs.
I visited a landed club once on their open day. It was possibly the most depressing experience I have ever had with my clothes off. There were a few facilities, a bar, a swimming pool and lots of space to sunbathe in, but it was a grim place to be, a corner of a suburban area all set up to be a sterile and static approximation of nature. The owners and regular members seem delighted to see us because of our age, but frankly I couldn’t wait to leave. There was literally nothing to do.
The sad thing is it didn’t have to be like this. There are plenty of young naturists around (just visit http://internationalyn.org for proof) and there are some organisations who are moving to cater for them. The Naturist Society (http://www.naturist.com/) makes a good effort to involve all kinds of nude activities. Young British Naturism actively promotes naturism for young people, and with some success. But this isn’t enough and these organisations are likely to be the ones that survive the transition from traditional clubs to more free range activities as the norm for naturism.
Its such a shame because clubs could have had so much to offer. With facilities for children they would have made a wonderful getaway for young parents, which in turn would have brought down the age demographic and made them more appealing to younger people generally. And younger people would have brought more energy to the clubs, keeping them alive and interesting for potential new members of any age.
Instead they went to waste. We’ll see a lot of clubs start to die off over the next couple of decades. The baby boomer generation is getting old and many won’t be going to these clubs soon, and when they stop going, the clubs will die. I’m very pessimistic about their future, but I can’t see how any more than a few will be able to reverse the trend.
A whole way of life is threatened by this, and I think that’s partly what produces the instinct in some to try and take ownership of naturism. They feel that if they can own it, they can control what others who want to try it can do. You can say that “true naturists” don’t wander off somewhere to hike naked, they stay in designated areas where they can relax. Or that “true naturists” always go to the designated beaches.
Which brings me back to my review and why I was delighted by it. Had he given me a one star review with negative comments about characters, or plot development you can be sure I wouldn’t have been so happy. But he didn’t do that. He made a philosophical point, claiming ownership of the concept of naturism and effectively stating it can’t feature in any fiction that crosses genres that don’t meet with his approval. He tried to cut me down and belittle me with his one star review by defining naturism as what it meant to him, regardless of what others may think. He summed up in this one short review the mindset of naturism that is dying, the mindset of defining and controlling naturism, of packaging it up as a commodity to sell to the public. Like a national organisation talking about “appropriate places” he stated his opinion as fact, without any justification at all.
Well sorry, but no. People with that attitude had their chance and they blew it. A new generation is taking over naturism and if they want to cycle naked, to climb mountains naked or even write books about zombies and naturists, then we will, and to hell with anyone who says we aren’t “true naturists” for doing so.