29 Jun


The stated laws of society and their application are often misguided. The recent case of streaker, Murray Greig, an overnight celebrity at the Scotland-Australia International Rugby match, is an interesting case in point no matter what you think about the rights and wrongs of nudity, public or otherwise.

Patriotically kilt-wearing Murray Grieg had taken a few drinks and felt emboldened to entertain the crowds with a routine of handstands  and the like in a distinctly exhibitionist fashion. The crowd was by and large entertained, so much so that he  promptly got dubbed “Braveheart” after Scotland’s rebel leader William Wallace (celebrated in the Mel Gibson film where he moons the Brits). Uninterested in sport, I chanced to learn about the story when checking the religious news on Christian Post which oddly included a whole article on the subject. Report had gone viral and there were media interviews for Greig and the promise of TV ad work. The police, perhaps bending to popular feeling, didn’t answer the call Greig had been required to make to them and so he has received no charge and fine. Yet on a regular basis police in Australia, the side which lost the match, can otherwise be ruthless to the point of absurdity towards nudists.

In a case now famous or notorious in the part of Australia I inhabit, back in ’06/7 respected Queensland artist Ken Wenzel spent a painful two years fighting off the quite serious legal charges against him (criminal in effect) of being indecently exposed in a conservative state which still lacks even one legal free beach for the benefit of tourists or locals. The charge got laid on Ken for presuming to be naked for a swim on a deserted beach where no one could see him except police who went deliberately looking and then maintained shock and outrage upon finding him. One even claimed he had never seen a naked man – they hadn’t showered at school! If Ken’s nudity was a crime it was a victimless one. At one point the frustrated police tried to make out his wrong was against the state which legislated against the condition of being naked. (As well say the sun and skies were offended because this kind of reasoning gets mythic!). One sometimes has to wonder if the more outlandish Australian responses to nudity aren’t linked to knee jerk negative attitudes towards the country’s Aboriginals who lived their lives clothes free before the empire arrived.


If you go to rugby matches in Oz, or anywhere, you can expect some wild behavior and a few streakers thrown in. But what’s principally shocking about “Braveheart” Greig is that back in Scotland itself the so-called naked rambler Steve Gough is still in prison, segregated from other prisoners and in virtual solitary confinement after six years and he is so for walking nude in a street in bonnie Scotland. [ Gough finally got out of Scotland in Oct ’12 but in June ’13 served 11 months in England]. Given how society now treats burglars, child abusers etc all this is seriously controversial. It is tantamount to implying one of the worst crimes anyone could ever commit is to be either naked or an English eccentric campaigning for something. (Or perhaps it means that one of the worst risks to your well being is to fall foul of Scotland’s revenge for past wrongs from down south!). Gough had already walked the whole length of England en route to John o’ Groats without being taken in; but when he got across the border (and lost the sun and some goodwill apparently) he was charged by police because a young postman had felt “frightened” to see a naked man in the street. (Hadn’t the postman even heard of the rambler’s much discussed effort to reach Scotland’s northern most point, and did he think he was about to be raped?). Scotland the Brave indeed! The laws of Scotland which seem blithely ignorant that – whether you or they like it or not – gay nudists can be naked on the streets at Pride parades in San Francisco, Toronto and Berlin and sometimes on a regular basis, just can’t let the heterosexual Gough out of the jail naked to make his cherished point. He is re-arrested every time he leaves and is now threatened with lifelong incarceration if he can’t respect the laws whose power and dignity are raised way above what Gough chooses to consider his human rights in the matter.

Though I don’t write this as a card carrying supporter of Gough and before we single out cold Scotland for pettiness and moral panic as regards treatment of the prisoner, we may note that despite San Francisco’s freedoms, even to Frisco’s south in San Diego this year a gay male at the city’s Pride parade was arrested for a nudity that wasn’t even nudity. Understandably he now wants to sue the city or police. He was wearing a gladiator uniform, a covering jockstrap and a kind of Roman skirt covered his buttocks. When I saw the picture I wondered whatever it was the police could be thinking of and seeing. Except that she isn’t gay and male there might be more reason to arrest pop tart Britney Spears. Plainly some people just imagine nudity and then the laws are permitted to bend to the whims of police who as a group are often more conservatively minded than many in regular society.


In a variety of western nations today police can arrest a person for, say, “public disturbance” or “breach of peace”. But this can amount to no more than the officer’s merely subjective impression of how a person looks or how they interpret a concerned citizen’s report of their feelings at the sight of somebody strange as in the case of the oddly “frightened” Scots postman or the many mums of Australia who believe their children will be corrupted if they so much as glimpse a naked person. (The latter idea is the usual excuse in tropical Queensland with its many vast deserted beaches never to permit even one legal nude beach. No matter how removed from people the nudity may be, on the path to it there is always some house, some street, some district or some children who are supposedly seriously threatened by it and if it’s not morality at risk it’s the property prices). If anyone is arrested the magistrates can then be expected to believe the police whether they are right or wrong, righteously sane or insanely bigoted. Any other  perspectives on the situation then involve the accused in major costs by way of defence to get beyond the typical and highly controversial alliance of trust between magistrate and police  – this helps explain the insulting, ridiculous nature of the mentioned Ken Wenzel case.

Personally I believe Gough should put his clothes on and go south, rejoin his abandoned family and tell the media of his rough experiences at the hands of the dour Scottish legal and penal systems and not hold out against the world as he is grimly and rather irrelevantly doing. My subject here is first and foremost just the reason and logic that is prior to, or should be prior to, any human rights or minoritorian issues of the kind democracy is supposed to consider. It must be supposed that the idea of those who oppose Gough and any kind of naturism of the more public variety, is that if we (or Scotland) tolerated Gough, the laws and respect for them would fall apart and the world would be invaded by nudists and nudity. It’s the old “moral panic” argument (psychologically akin to the “homosexual panic” plea that used to excuse almost any violence to gays in law courts because the gay person’s looks or gestures had been supposedly corrupting). But is this reasonable?

Plain reason and the evidence tells us it is false. For several years until last year Barcelona totally rid itself of anti-nudity laws. Almost no nudists were out on the streets and they merely presented as a colourful tourist curio if occasionally they did appear. Most of these nudists were men, probably gays (even in the most liberal of societies women will probably never so readily expose themselves in public for reasons of peace and safety). The law was finally cancelled, not because the main streets were invaded by hoards of exhibitionists but because in certain back streets foreign prostitutes were encouraged or pushed into displaying themselves to men who were then having open intercourse. This was indeed “indecent exposure”, one that was felt to render the city less free than merely sleazy but it was nothing to do with the genuine naturism of the likes of Gough and its theoretical rights. In San Francisco, the everyday nudity of a few gays in the gay quarters has not produced the same kind of abuse and has now been tolerated for years. And even if it is felt that nudity is in bad taste since most people don’t present beautifully, at least the unglamorous nature of some nudists and nudism would seem to prove that comfort, a simple dislike for the encumberment of clothes rather than exhibitionism and sexual predation is behind the phenomenon. One can’t have it both ways where objections are concerned.


It’s high time that for every reason from the legal to the sexual that greater reason, logic and just fairness entered into the approach to nudity and that “indecent exposure” should mean actual sexual behavior, flashing etc that people are confronted with as opposed to persons simply being naked. I may be wrong, but I suspect that a lot of the problem and the reason that the West especially has made its now almost immutably fixed connection between nudity and sex, is because for some reason, and despite rather than because of Judaeo-Christian traditions, nudity in art and photography has come to be associated principally with the female. Curiously it is the naked male who has been rendered particularly indecent and who today is far more likely to have a run-in with the law than an exposed woman. This situation is against history and many cultures.

Not to mention the widespread male nudity in the life of the ancient Greeks, in India there were and are the naked Jain monks to be seen and even biblically we learn that in the times of Samuel the prophets went naked at least sometimes. Isaiah went naked for three years and the prophet Micah declares he will go naked. Outside the West nudity has a variety of meanings beyond the purely sexual. But male nudity is, if you like, a degree more natural to the extent the male is deemed and felt to be symbolically “solar” where the female is “lunar” and the male genitals are naturally exposed where the female genitalia are hidden. Some would consider that insisting on male modesty is moral. But it could be argued that making lack of modesty in public a matter for near horror, a major legal offence as against to the numerous things one might not like to see in public (like people badly dressed, dirty, grossly obese or eating in the street) only renders the genitals so “unconscious” it facilitates the kind of phallic hate that accompanies much sexual aggression.

We don’t want or need to revive any cults of Priapus nor encourage everyone to go naked (though I have read a younger Obama is supposed to have said it would be a better world if no one wore clothes!), but some measure of acceptance of the phallus wouldn’t hurt. But beyond this the naked person is a sign – of many things as when the World Naked Bike Ride protests freedom from pollution by the forces of the unnatural – but not least and obviously of a certain dissociation from the norm. Many people dream, often fearfully, of being found naked in public. Those few who actually do go nude in public might be said to live something like, and create something like, a trance state amid the everyday run of things. And I think this is where there is some connection with the mystical and religious because the prophet is the person of the trance state who recalls people to the Beyond.

We are reminded of that aspect of nudity but rarely because, ironically and paradoxically, even biblical prophets would get fined or jailed today if like Gough they claimed a right to go naked. In the technical language of post-modernism nudity is something of a floating signifier. It means different things to different people in different situations. It’s not to advocate a universal nudity or the behavior of exhibitionists to say the laws should respect and reflect this variability, that they should become more rational, logical and just, certainly more subtle than some police on the beat would allow. Streaking antics aren’t and shouldn’t be what nudity is about, yet it is precisely these rather antisocial gestures that currently society, and the laws somewhat, do tolerate.

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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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