Offensive Contemplation

The other day I was talking to a co-worker about my trip to Pride over the previous weekend. As with almost everyone I've ever met who has spent time in the military or prison, he is a very tolerant person with no overt bias about race or sexuality. So it surprised me when his response to my friend's t-shirt was negative.

The t-shirt in question read, "Sorry girls, I like dicks." I find this very amusing and am jealous that he wouldn't let me wear it to the parade that day… a topic for another blog. My co-worker found this shirt to be tacky and referred to wearing it in public as class-less.

As to an explanation he offered a comparison to an opposite point of view: "That's like saying I wore a shirt saying 'Sorry guys, I like pussy' in your bar."

I was taken aback further by the territoriality of this statement. What he implied, realizing it or not, was that the street on which we were celebrating and protesting was "their" street and we were allowed to use it for the parade. My bar is where I may choose to be crass, but not in his areas.

One of the big questions facing nudists in the concurrent political and social movement is that of offending others by our choices. For those who find no sexuality (or little sexuality) to the act of nudity, wrapping one's brain around the concept of taking offense to such behavior is difficult.

I began to think maybe the nature of offense was tied to that of possession and territoriality. If something happens in "my" space, I pass judgement and have a vested interest in what happens there. Perhaps it's a control thing, deciding what occurs around me so I feel more comfortable because I feel in control of my environment.

This seemed to be only half the answer as I went about my occupational duties the rest of the day. Odd for a person who has spent the last twenty-five-odd years dabbling in all things psychology and sociology, I took quite a long time to finally land on an idea that seemed more accurate in describing the conversation I had those many hours earlier.

Offense is taken largely because a pattern is broken. Our minds are always trying to find patterns around us so that we may safely predict the future. Everything from our standards of beauty based on symmetry to the structure of a movie is often better to us when we can predict any outcome that may arise – as we can then prepare for it and remain safely in control of our environment. Anything that lies outside these predictable patterns causes us stress.

This jolt – such as brake-lights of a car in front of you while driving on the highway – grabs our attention. Our brain begins to suck in any and all information it can through the senses and attempts to find familiar patterns. The biology of stress is one of the most studied fields in medicine and the list of physiologic responses to stress is long. Amusement parks and horror filmmakers play to this very response to create a pleasurable sense of excitement.

So back to the idea of offense: it seems we're actually talking about a stress response to an unexpected stimulus, one which is judged unpleasant upon review in the seconds after. There are studies showing a person actually makes judgements before identifying that which is being judged, visceral reactions to images of snakes and other dangers to survival, but in the case of nudity we must assume social conditioning. A person witnesses nudity, reacts to the unexpected, then passes a sociological judgement based on core beliefs meant to ensure social survival.

As a politically active gay man, this is not a new phenomenon to me. However, as a newbie nudist I spend time pondering effective responses to these reactions. The Gay Community reacted to police brutality and oppressive hetero-centric laws by rioting at the Stonewall Inn. Pride month is June as a commemoration to these riots.

I don't see laws and treatment of nudists as being as harsh as 1960's New York was to the Gay Community so I don't recommend any riots at this year's bicycling rallies, however the Gay Community has spent the intervening decades attempting to normalize our behavior through all manner of political and social activity, the idea being that if a pattern becomes familiar less offense will be taken.

Aside from those folks in Westboro, I think society has made progress in the U.S. The Gay Community has changed its message over the years, spun the debate to such a degree that sexuality is no longer about sex but love. Abortion changed the spin to women's health vs. baby's rights. Recreational marijuana use spun out a healthy use campaign.

The nudist community must also find a spin that serves them; removes the eccentric aging hippy stereotype from the public image. These partnerships with the green movement to promote environmentally sustainable bicycling as alternatives to cars only goes short step away from granola munching tree huggers of old. There must be some other link to the broader public for the nudist community to really begin to attract attention and achieve normalization… but I'm at a loss so far as to what that link is.

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