Among the perennial questions our community grapples with: how “exposed” do we want to be?
We operate a conference center, hold courses and workshops, host visitors, and receive frequent postal and freight deliveries. More often than not, our conference guests, students, and visitors fall on the socially progressive side of the spectrum, but most are not unreconstructed hippies or obviously enlightened indigo, crystal, or rainbow children. Nor are the relatives of everyone who lives here. Nor, indeed, are all of us.
Our neighbors aren’t either, and have a tendency to leap to quick conclusions on seemingly scant evidence. A drumming and chanting ceremony at the fire circle years ago precipitated a persistent rumor that we were a satanic cult. The logical leap from “glimpse of skin” to “nudist colony” is a surprisingly short one to make, within some neighbors’ mentality.
We’ve defined “clothing required” and “clothing optional” zones in our community, but few community members are fully satisfied with these. Clothing is required in areas that are visible from our main drive, and that are in or around our main dining area, kitchens, offices, and classrooms. It is generally required in any areas used by conference guests, when they are here, even in those that are normally clothing-optional. It is optional in most places that are generally used only by the community, as long as they are not in sight of our main drive, a neighbor’s property, or a road.
We generally agree on the meaning and application of “clothing optional”: complete nudity is acceptable. “Clothing required” is more tricky to define.
In most places other than our certified kitchen, male toplessness is accepted and practiced in hot weather. However, female toplessness is not accorded the same status. Every few years, this becomes a topic of discussion at a community meeting. We all agree that the distinction is patently unfair to women, who are required to endure discomfort that men are not. But the “public” part of our identity—and our economic reliance on it—always lead to the same conclusion: we can’t change the policy by which required clothing includes tops for women, but not for men.
Some men and women have lobbied for a ban on male toplessness wherever female toplessness is not allowed. Others have suggested that men can show support for women by voluntarily resisting the urge to take off their shirts in these circumstances. Others have said that male toplessness is the first step toward liberation, and that one step is better than none. Others have suggested that we change the policy to allow both male and female toplessness, and let the chips fall where they may in terms of impact on our reputation and businesses. And still others have suggested that in the absence of an immediate policy change, civil disobedience is the appropriate response: breaking our own rules to force the issue, and as a step toward getting comfortable enough to overturn them officially.
Ironically, toplessness is totally legal in our area for women as well as men—including on the streets of the nearest city. But a combination of conservative rural neighbors and a diverse clientele has kept our community—which fashions itself “ahead of the times” in most realms—behind the times here.
Although this gets under many community members’ skin—at the same time that it keeps many community members’ skin under clothing—the compromise endures.
On hot days, M. Broiling and T. Shirtless are (respectively) sweltering, and comfortable, around the community picnic tables at lunchtime.