There is a creek several miles south of where I live that my friends started taking me down to on sunny days. There are rocks where it’s safe to jump into the water, others where it’s not, a fallen shelf that deposits you into a perfect natural Lazy River ride, trees and moss, ferns, jewel weed, and poison ivy. This is a spot that probably goes by many names. We haven’t decided on one yet. I’ve heard mouths call it The Rocks and I’ve heard mouths call it Suzie’s Hole, though it’s not actually Suzie’s Hole, Pennsylvanians, it’s down the creek a little ways from the Hole. I call it The Spot, but I also call our practice space in the city The Spot, so don’t listen to me.
Now this is the place for skinny dipping. You drive down there and you pick up your friends from various street corners and cafes before you leave the city, and they’re not prepared, being wrong to plan a swim as it always is, so usually nobody has a swimsuit (or even wants one). There is one of my friends who tends to bring his Speedo, but that’s abnormal preparedness bordering on the irreverent, and he’s quick to ditch the Speedo anyways.
What you quickly notice skinny dipping during the day is that shame is entirely alive. I’ve heard my friends shouting apologies to those passing by on the trail, I’ve seen them clutch at their crotches with fingers fixed in the sign of the fig leaf, and I’ve seen people with their clothes still on suddenly become determinedly interested in the displays of their mobile phones, fixing their shoulders and backs against the bodies in the creek. Even in this place—used almost exclusively as a sanctuary—a withdrawl into nature—no one lives here, after all—shame is entirely alive. How can the very basis of a natural life remain the crux of such shame? The body, after all, is the end and the beginning of humanity. The apology for one’s nakedness, the acknowledgment (playful though it be)… all of it is based on the puritanical assumption that a stranger does not want to face the reality of the human body. Restrooms work in the same way. They are temples built to shame. The natural process of waste filtration is squeezed into a stall of privacy, and a smooth, shining throne of a toilet is presented like a slight of hand, to distract from the pissing and the shitting. How did denial of the exceedingly obvious become polite? How did denial of the absolutely universal become polite? And here in 2016… how does it remain as such?