Interviewing the President of gotopless.org

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To illustrate the earnestness with which I’ve tried to weigh this topic, I’m going to be perfectly honest about my feelings. When I first learned about GoTopless and the organization’s pride parades — public events where men and women march bare-chested in the name of equality — and their prevalence throughout the world, I shifted in my seat from discomfort. I then thought about the pervasiveness of women being harassed during their day-to-day while wearing all manner of clothing, even winter coats in the middle of February, and said to myself, “That’s a really stupid idea.” And then I felt guilty. Not because I had called topless pride parades stupid, but because I did so impulsively. Maybe topless pride parades are an asinine concept, likely to attract an open-mouth salivating horde, complete with knuckles dragging along the ground and eyes wider than a supermoon. But I’d never been to such a parade, and I’ve never spoken to anybody who’d been to one. Honestly, just saying, “I think I’m going to go check out the topless pride parade,” even if with noble intentions, makes me want slap myself. “Why?” someone might ask. “So you can go check out some tits?” Then, for a moment, my mouth may just hang open because neither yes nor no are completely honest replies. Even if I arrive at a parade with pen, notebook, and a recorder, looking to interview a participant, I still really like breasts. I repeat: I really like breasts. I am inevitably going to have a moment where someone will end up saying, “Excuse me, but my eyes are up here.” Or, at least, that’s my concern. But an advertisement depicting the parade also showed male allies. “Gay? Working an angle?” I first thought, before answering myself with, “Or, maybe not. Maybe just cool. Maybe just an ally.” And then I became curious about what a topless pride parade ally might look like, what a man might do to support the cause — even if, while writing an article about being an ally for topless equality, he finds himself periodically fantasizing about breasts because he’s writing an article about breasts. So, I emailed gotopless.org (NSFW) and asked if there was anyone I might be able to interview for a Good Men Project article.

I became curious about what a topless pride parade ally might look like, what a man might do to support the cause …

Nadine Gary, president of GoTopless, was happy to speak with me. Below, you’ll find an adjusted transcript of our conversation, which I found eye-opening, educational enough to leave me wondering how I really feel about adding NSFW next to the organization’s URL, and motivated to consider GoTopless’s efforts for reasons that extend far beyond sexual appetites.

Quentin: What inspired the founding of GoTopless?

Nadine: In 2005, an activist went topless in public in New York City and was arrested, even though she had broken no laws. That activist, Phoenix Feeley, then sued the city of New York and won. Rael, the founder of GoTopless learned about the story and wanted to generate a conversation on the national level about men and women having the equal constitutional right to be topless.

Quentin: “Free your breasts! Free your mind!” is a quote found on the front page of gotopless.org. Can you expound upon that? What would you say if someone earnestly asked, “How does freeing my breasts, or how does my daughter freeing her breasts, free a mind?”

Nadine: Women’s bodies have been repressed for centuries and when you repress the body, you’re also repressing the mind. For example, if I said to my left hand, “You can’t move anymore; you’re no longer allowed to move,” eventually my left hand is going to be affected, not paralyzed but its usefulness will become reduced and have a comprehensive impact on my effectiveness as an individual. Women freeing their breasts is actually a way of making society more livable, because emancipating yourself from the repression gives your mind an opportunity to see the world and yourself differently. For any person, man or woman, to take their place in society and effect a positive change, the body is always a part of the equation. You have to be comfortable with your body.

For any person, man or woman, to take their place in society and effect a positive change, the body is always a part of the equation. You have to be comfortable with your body.

And, really, “Free your breasts! Free your mind!” serves men as well. When you never see breasts — it’s like in Times Square — everyone is taking pictures and giving women a dollar for them. In France (Nadine Gary is originally from Lyon), there are topless women on the beach regularly. And you’d never see a guy offering women money for a picture because it’s such a common thing — breasts aren’t a show, nor a spectacle. So, free your breasts and free their minds also, the minds of men. This is also creating an unhealthy mentality for children as well. Children start to think that there is something wrong or bad behind the bra because of all of the secretiveness. That’s why where some would say being topless is dangerous for the child, we say the opposite is true. Not being topless, that is dangerous for the child because they develop unhealthy stigmas that way, stigmas that societies some would call primitive don’t have amongst their children about breasts. There’s no obsession. It’s just a natural site. And, yes, sexual arousal is going to happen but who’s aroused every second of his or her life? We’re sexual beings. It’s going to happen. But everything takes its place, in that regard, and eventually balances out. For example, if you go to the Middle East in parts where women are completely covered, a woman showing her leg in public is analogous to a woman showing her nipple in public here. But here, a woman’s legs are just a natural site.

Quentin: Sonoko Tagami, a supporter of GoTopless, filed a lawsuit in Chicago earlier this year over the right of women to be topless in public after she was ticketed and fined at an event at Chicago’s lakefront. Chicago responded to the lawsuit by saying “The (Indecent Exposure or Dress) Ordinance is substantially related to the City’s important objectives in ensuring public safety and protecting unwilling audiences from exposure to nudity …” Do you or GoTopless think nudity, under any circumstances, is something people should be protected from?

Nadine: NO! We were born naked and it is our society which has dictated these rules. Nudity isn’t something people should be protected from. People should be protected from violence. Of course we know that genitals are near universally thought of as body parts to be covered in public, and GoTopless is just dealing with the top anyway, and gender equality. We’re not addressing the genitals and nudity. And, honestly, we’re not even addressing being topless as much as we are focusing on the simple fact that women should have the same freedoms as men. But, also, no, we don’t think nudity is dangerous for the public. And as far as indecency, men in 1936 couldn’t go topless for the reason of indecency. So, at the time, men would be fined or arrested. Nevertheless, there were very strong willed men who would dare to go topless until they won that right. But then men who were perceived as gay were still being arrested for going topless in the 1940s. Harvey Milk and some of his friends were arrested in Central Park in 1947 for going topless for indecent exposure, while other bare-chested married men who were present that very day were left alone. Do you remember I Dream of Jeannie? For the longest time, the actress playing the genie — Barbara Eden — had to wear an outfit which covered her navel. And then when her navel was seen for the first time, in the 1970s, that was a scandal — a scandal, in the 70s.

For the longest time, the actress playing the genie — Barbara Eden — had to wear an outfit which covered her navel.

So, first it was the man’s nipple, then the gay man’s nipple, then the navel, and now women’s nipple. Maybe the nose will be indecent one day. What other frontier of indecency are we going to invent next?

Quentin: On a macro level, it seems like being topless is readily accepted in America. A map provided by gotopless.org shows that all but three states, to some degree, allow women to be nude above the waist in public. But the closer you get to the ground, so to speak, there are more local ordinances defying state laws, prohibiting topless women. What do you think causes that discord among America’s governing bodies surrounding breasts?

Nadine: I honestly don’t care why this happens but it needs to be challenged because it’s illegal. These local governments, no matter how much their constituents rail against topless women, it’s not their issue to touch. It’s the same as local governments saying black and white people can’t marry. If you’re going to have it that way then you’re going to have to amend the Constitution. Otherwise, you can’t have the local governments making up their own little menu. They have to be challenged.

These local governments, no matter how much their constituents rail against topless women, it’s not their issue to touch.

Quentin: My personal inclination is that taking pictures at a topless rally for one’s private gratification is creepy. But, at the same, I really like breasts. And for a lot of people, breasts resonate deeply with their personal sexual energy and desires. With that said, what would you say are the obstructions to topless equality? Is it the laws? Is it society’s mindset? Is it human sexuality? A combination of many factors?

Nadine: First off, GoTopless is not an organization that thinks the breast should be desexualized. It’s an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. Human beings are sexual. You are likely here because two people were sexually attracted to each other. But these laws make things unbalanced. If the laws change, society will change on its own. And we can change the laws now because it’s unconstitutional to treat half of the population one way and the other half another way It’s the laws — keeping breasts hypersexual, and blowing things out of proportion.

Quentin: It feels negligent to not ask about the controversy surrounding the “desnudas” of Times Square. Officially, it’s been couched as a matter of aggressive panhandling though some officials, including Governor Cuomo, have called their nudity a harkening back to the “bad old days” when vice and crime sullied much of that part of the city. But, sometimes an argument isn’t always about what it looks like on the surface. In your personal opinion, how much of the conflict do you think is really about breasts?

Nadine: I think this is another example of breasts being blown out of proportion because of a stigma that pervades people’s thinking. But if you let these women go on for a few years, they’re going to go out of business because it gets old. How many pictures can you take of breasts, especially when you can just go on the internet? We’ve even noticed a change with our own parades. Year after year, we’re noticing that the men are becoming more relaxed. “Meh, it’s the eighth year in a row, we’ve seen it already,” they’re basically saying. It’s slowing down and I think the same dynamic applies to the Times Square matter. If you let the women keep painting their breasts and doing what they do, men will remove the stigma in their mind themselves. It’s really a simple thing. You couldn’t show your legs in the 1920s. Imagine me painting my legs in the 1920s, the guys would have taken pictures with me back then and lost their minds. But today … well, today the frontier is breasts. Just let it go. Gay rights is another example. Men holding hands isn’t the big deal it once was. Human beings have this wonderful way of adapting.

Imagine me painting my legs in the 1920s, the guys would have taken pictures with me back then and lost their minds. But today … well, today the frontier is breasts.

So, give them the situation where they can adapt. And then there’s the Naked Cowboy, attracting all the ladies. I don’t know how many problems he’s had, even though now the mayor is trying to come down on him also. But he’s been there for years, so I think that’s only happening because there are breasts in the area and he can’t look biased.

Quentin: This has, honestly, been an amazing conversation. Do you have any final thoughts?

Nadine: Right now we live in a society which has a very strong masculine presence. In politics, in industry, in all of the dominant parts of society, women are significantly marginalized or excluded. We feel that as a stronger feminine presence enters the equation, a stronger feminine energy from women who are empowered with their entire body, sensuality, sexuality, and presence — their entire personhood — and take their place in society, that balance could actually help save humanity from self-destructive tendencies. Sometimes it’s just a little thing. Just the nipple, a little body part that can be utilized to help women take their place in the world, and advance humanity toward a more sustainable stage. That’s the bigger picture. The small picture is the nipple. The big picture is that just this little body part can make a difference for an entire society.

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Originally published at www.qluke.com on October 16, 2015.

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