There was a photo of me from 1977, at just under four years old. My brother’s birthday in April that year fell in the midst of a heatwave. We played outside in a tiny plastic pool, my brother and cousins and some kids from the neighbourhood.
I actually remember the day surprisingly well. I went inside and my mother removed my wet bathing suit. Then I insisted on helping bring a tray of cups out.
The photo shows me, nude and smiling, standing at the back door with my tray.
My mother always referred to that photo as “The Dumb-waiter”.
That was my parents’ attitude towards nudity and sexuality all my life: if you couldn’t pretend it didn’t exist, mock and ridicule it. Not in a mean way — they weren’t mean or nasty people — but you knew, as a kid, that nudity wasn’t okay.
But something stayed with me: as I got older, I realized that I got a charge out of being naked. I couldn’t discuss it with anyone; I couldn’t even acknowledge it. But I remember claiming I was sick one day when I was about thirteen, and after everyone had left the house, I showered… and then remained nude for an entire glorious day.
That day remains burned in my mind. But I also knew that nudity was wrong, unacceptable, possibly even sinful. So I hid it, deep down. My teenage years were full of shame and fear, as many teenagers’ are; I learned to associate nudity with sex; and without parental guidance of any kind, I made the unconscious decision to quash my propensity for nudity.
That’s not to say it didn’t bubble up from time to time. In the swimming pool change room, I would linger naked, while at the same time burning with shame; I would sometimes sleep naked, although I kept pajamas nearby in case someone came in unexpectedly.
I worked at a library for a couple of years. I remember distinctly seeing a feature article in a magazine about a nudist resort not far from me; it even had a couple of photos of nude women, including one of an older woman playing badminton — with breasts exposed. Of course as a fifteen-year-old boy, the picture of breasts grabbed my attention pretty easily. But the thought of people being nude and playing badminton was not only titillating, it was intriguing. People really did that? Just outside the city where I lived?
But again, I suppressed it. I had never seen a nude woman in real life; there was no internet, and pornography was difficult to find.
But my fascination with nudity stayed. The idea of going to a nude beach still lingered in the back of my mind. And then one day, by chance — sort of, I was probably surfing for porn — I came across a real nudist site.
That got me thinking. There were still nudist resorts in my area, weren’t they? There were probably other nudists, too. I could even… try it out.
I joined some message boards, read everything the nudists out there had to say. Asked about the places in my area. And waited for the opportunity.
I waited for about two years before I was ready. Then on a beautiful July Saturday, I drove an hour to a nude beach on the shore of Lake Erie. I followed the directions I printed out from online: drive to the provincial park and pay for parking; go to lot number five, furthest from the gate. Walk out to the beach, turn right, and follow it until you reach the end of the park.
I got to the markers, about five minutes’ stroll from the lot. I could see people in the distance, but no one was close enough to see clearly. Were they nude? Was it real?
And what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to take my clothes off here, or should I wait until I found a place to lay out my towel and sit? No, surely not. There weren’t that many people on the beach. I could find a spot first.
But I passed a couple of knots of other beachgoers, and started feeling out of place. I was only glancing out of the corner of my eye, not wanting to stare, and they were nude. Most of them were nestled up in the driftwood and bushes near the top of the beach, but there’s something about nude bodies. You can just tell.
So I stopped at a large, sun-bleached log and put my bag down. My breath was shorter and shorter, my head spinning with what I was about to do.
I undid my shorts.
Pulled them down, stepped out of them.
It was like slipping into a bath, the warm breeze from the lake enveloping me, touching skin that had not felt sunlight in many, many years. In seconds my shirt followed.
And I was nude.
I walked to a clear spot, put my towel out, lay down, and felt the sun fall on me.
I was a nudist now, and would never again be anything else.