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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nudity, Consent, and What I'd Have Said At The Skyclad Ritual

Modesty picture... to avoid my
boobs being posted on Facebook.
Content note that this post does contain a picture of my bare chest which may be triggering to some trans people.

Note:  Most of the stuff about being comfortable with my chest is out of date as of May 2018 when I decided to seek surgery again, but it is still accurate to the time period I wrote it for.

My partner and I went to a skyclad ritual at PSG (it happens every year, it's called "You Are Beautiful Skyclad").  The premise is that we collect for a brief ritual in a somewhat secluded area when it's dark and at a pivotal part of the ritual everyone takes their clothes off for as long as they want in a judgment-free zone.  In addition, most of the time I wasn't sunburnt I was going topless throughout the week, something I did not do last year aside from a couple rituals in the dark.  I, like most people, worry about how people look at me.

Anyway, the skyclad ritual.  There was a point where we could voluntarily offer why we were there.  I considered saying something--and am kicking myself a bit that I didn't, because I think the attendees could have benefited from the perspective--but the weather started to turn and so we were low-key rushed and I wound up not doing it.

First I'll explain why I went to this ritual (albeit more in-depth than I would have had I spoke there).  After the second page break, though, I'd like to talk to some of the consent issues that occurred, as this is a recurring problem that got worse this year (at least from my vantage point).

Picture of me featuring a comically tiny djembe.
I am somebody who is comically nervous about my own nudity.  I even, in a panic, cover my chest in a tizzy if it becomes partially exposed in my own home, even though this normally occurs in front of my roommates, both of whom have access to pictures of my nude body on FetLife and one of whom is an ex sexual partner who knows damn well what my body looks like.  I kind of wish I wasn't that way, because outside of other people's perceptions?  I'm very comfortable with my body.

As a non-op trans person I'm in the position where to the cis gaze I look like a particularly hairy woman if I am not wearing clothes.  I went on hormones for a few years to grow a beard and deepen my voice, but since I went off them a lot of the changes to my figure are going away, and I don't intend to try very hard to get them back.  I'm chubbier than I wish I was, but aside from that, I'm quite comfortable with my body as it is.

That comfort  makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  I'm not supposed to be comfortable.  Cis people don't like it.  Trans people don't like it.  There is literal medical literature defining me as being inherently uncomfortable with my body.

Cis people don't like it because they don't like when trans people do not seek to conform to their body norms.  There's a huge double standard here... they also hate it when we blend in well, because they pride themselves in being able to "read" transness in people, but to not even try puts cracks in the fa├žade that looking like a cis person is the only way to be comfortable in a body brings cis people a lot of anxiety.  No, I'm supposed to hate my breasts so much that I can't even bear to shower with the lights on, I'm supposed to hate my lack of a cis penis so much that I will not leave the house without a silicone replacement strapped to me or let a partner enter me.  I was supposed to want to be on testosterone forever because estrogen would make my body squishy, and Gods forbid a man be squishy.

Trans people also don't like it, although to be fair I am willing to use more nuance with them than I would with cis people's garbage opinions.  Trans people who are uncomfortable with my comfort with my body are dealing with the weight of the aforementioned cis opinions.  They're worried that visibility granted to bodies like mine will impact their access to lifetime hormones and surgery.  If I don't need them, after all, why should Aidan's parents believe he does?  I do, for the record, worry about things like that, and I also worry that my body is triggering to other trans people, but ultimately it is not my responsibility to make my body conform to a trans narrative for other people's comfort, including other trans people.

I increasingly go nude at clothing-optional events for this reason.  It's not a bravery thing, and the prospect of cis people calling me "brave" for showing my clearly-trans body kind of annoys me.  It's me making a statement that I can be comfortable and not culpable for either cis or trans people's feelings about that.  It's also a statement for trans people that you are not obligated to pretend to feel uncomfortable with your body (but if you aren't, of course, you are under no obligation to pretend you are, either).  Trans bodies deserve the right to be naked at these events just as cis bodies do, and that's something I want to advocate as loudly as possible.

So on that note, let's talk about consent and creepers.  I was somewhat uncomfortable topless at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly (at least until the sunburn kicked in; I'll be looking into more effective ways of preventing that next year, which alas may necessitate less nudity).  There were some stares, and some misgendering from behind (I don't blame them; I do have long hair and an estrogen-powered figure, so my ability to "pass" is concentrated in my beard!), etc. but it was otherwise uneventful.  Other than the skyclad ritual and a few short walks to the swim area and to the bathroom (always done either in the dark or kind of obscuring my crotch with pool noodles) I did not go bottomless.  Maybe next year, if I am feeling particularly bold, but probably not... full nudity is rare at Pagan festivals nowadays.

But... there's a reason for that.  Well, lots of reasons.  And you know what?  I already talked about that on Reclaiming Warlock a couple years ago. I want to instead talk about some consent-related issues that occurred.

First of all, I was kissed without my consent... twice.  One was somebody I knew.  The other was somebody I did not who was excited because my magickal gift exchange gift was super badass.  But it's still... ugh.  I'm becoming more and more personally comfortable with touch as I talk to people more and hang out in the in-person community more, so there was no lasting harm done to me other than annoyance, but I shudder anyway because there are so many people with histories of sexual abuse who are re-victimized by this behavior.  I know you're trying to be friendly.  I know you're expressing that you're glad to see me or excited.  But please, please, please start paying attention to this sort of thing.

Second, there was a bizarre consent incident I witnessed at a workshop where a presenter performed a fivefold kiss (which involves kissing the feet, knees, stomach, breasts, and mouth) on a volunteer without explaining first what a fivefold kiss was... at least I don't remember him explaining it first.  I asked my partner if she had detected any consent to this and she reported that she had not.  So basically this woman got her breasts kissed by a dude in front of everyone at a workshop without any pre-negotiation.  Side note:  I'm pretty sure this could have been verbally explained.

Third, my experience is heavily gendered.  I got a couple stares from people who were probably confused about my body (most probably ultimately were influenced by the fact that I am also fat; my breasts aren't cisnormative even for a fat guy, but there are lots of cis guys who come close).  But these dissipated in the first couple days.  My girlfriend, however, reported that she got a lot of stares while topless, like gross leering stares including objectifying grins.  In the article I linked earlier I talk about this phenomenon under the "creepers" header.  I'll copy the relevant passage here:
I'm surprised at how little the original article touched on the whole subject of creepers, because quite frankly there are a lot of them.  Then again, people are often unwilling to point out that these people are creepers due to the unfortunate association of open sexuality with being more socially evolved that plagues radical and alternative communities (I'll talk a bit about that later).  To use an example, the very first time I encountered nudity at a public Pagan gathering involved a woman who was minding her own business only to have some dude grovel at her feet thanking her and calling her things like "Goddess" because she was nude, as if her nudity was inherently something meant for him.  When nudity brings you this kind of attention, it makes sense that people would put their clothes back on.
For the record, this isn't about jealousy or anything like I'm somehow made insecure by other men looking at my partner; we are a polyamorous couple after all!  And I'm well aware she's beautiful as fuck and pleasant on the eyes.  But this is something that she was very uncomfortable with.  Men typically don't experience the kind of laser stares that women do, so maybe they assume that they're somehow not contributing to a toxic environment of sexual objectification, but I assure you... you are.

I saw less kilt harassment this year, but that was likely due to the absence of Celia Farran, whose "Men In Kilts" song caused a rash of women shouting inappropriate things to men last year.  I'm not saying that this is a problem equal in scope to harassment of women, because it isn't, but as somebody who would love to one day don a kilt, it makes me extremely nervous. Sidenote:  I love Celia Farran.  But seriously  Tone it down.

In short, I love public nudity, but we still have loads of consent issues we need to work out.