on childhood trauma and nude beaches

I guess maybe the definition of trauma is when things that shouldn’t bother you bother you hella tons?

We went to a new beach.

There aren’t that many new beaches for us on this island. I was real excited. A new beach! You have to hike down to it, Jacob cut his leg on a rock, but it was glorious when we sunk into the nice sand after clomping down the red muddy rocks. A whole beach sprawled out on both sides of us, only a few people far down at the end. We decided to walk the length of it then hang out for a while.

About midway I realized one guy standing with his back toward us walking slowly along the tide line was nude. Ah well, whatever. Then we realized everyone else we passed—maybe 8 people in all, sitting in chairs, wading in the ocean, lying on towels—were also nude. Nice, a nudie beach—right?

It made me so angry. I couldn’t figure out why.

I do not hate nudity. Most of the time I’m chafing at the beach, wishing I could just take this sandy suit off already. I’m always that weirdo with her bikini top discreetly undone. I wear underwear roughly half the time & if I wasn’t a woman with womanly things happening I’d probably be done with that too. I see not much point to clothes in warm climes, and, in my conscious mind at least, I celebrate those who could care even less / feel most free & like themselves without them.

There’s a feminist point to be made about nude beaches, of course—a bunch of them. Like in theory I’m all for laws favoring public nudity but that would amount to a shitload more men sexually harassing women on the regular. And the whole thing of third wavy feminists (PETA & co) throwing women’s naked bodies at issues for PR in the name of freedom. & That nudists (all the ones I’ve come into contact with, anyway) are overwhelmingly baby boomer-age straight white dudes (with a sprinkling of gay men, too). That in & of itself is a nice doctoral thesis waiting to be written (“Shifting Sands: Identity, Class, and Expressions of Privilege and Gender on the Nude Beaches of Hawaii”).

But we ain’t Women’s Studies majors anymore so let’s just kick those issues to the curb and discuss me me me:

Why should I care? At first I told myself it’s because nudists force you to decide how you feel about them, and I’m on the beach & don’t want to decide anything at all.


It was such a deserted beach that you generally said hello to each person you passed, but I’m not about to say hello to some dude with his nuts out. And so a decision has been made to be non-neighborly. But who cares? Not the nudist, I’m sure. I could be friendly or not to him, as I pleased, I doubt he’d care as long as I wasn’t admonishing him.

So we walked and I got more & more mad, mad in that special way where something happening to me had something to do with my childhood and I knew I had to do all this stupid internal work to figure out what it was before I was able to be OK again. So I had to talk about it.

I grew up in a somewhat clothes-optional world, which is basically to say that there were a lot of naked/half-naked weirdos around.

Phoenix, Arizona. Capital of naked/half-naked weirdos being around. It’s never cold enough to wear clothes in the first place and if you’re somewhat of a druggie/fuck-up you probably aren’t all that concerned about clothing. Phoenix has an unlimited number of druggie fuck-ups, so in retrospect I’m surprised I ever saw anyone wearing anything.

That whole thing of parents who met at Woodstock reaches its tentacles into every part of my childhood: of course “bodies are just bodies, nothing to be ashamed of.” Which of course sounds good in theory. And maybe could have worked, if I’d been home- schooled, as other friends of mine, with similar parents, were (my mom was too busy working so we could eat food, and my father was too busy stealing her money for drugs, neither of which left much time for homeschooling), or otherwise kept out of the mainstream world more—more cautiously cushioned to be eased into the world most of the world lives in.

But I wasn’t, and a lot of the stress of childhood was the stress of the sharp lines dividing my home world from the rest of my world. The rules were so different in and out of my house, having to behave two different ways was so exhausting and often terrifying—the stakes were so high in each. Remembering your role was crucial to your literal survival. At school we were taught that police officers were friends, at home we were taught that the only good pig was a dead pig ha ha ha.

The pot-clouded laziness toward clothing was a ridiculously sharp contrast to the rest of the world, I mean obviously. I had a million reasons not to bring friends home from school, but not knowing if they were going to run into Miracle Man lying in the hallway shooting up with no pants on made it a million and one. (Actually that’s a million reasons right there. Someday I need to tell you more about Miracle Man, but not today and even better—not ever.)

So instead of clotheslessness being a joyful option for me, it became another in an unending string of slightly horrifying differences from the mainstream world that I wasn’t given any tools with which to understand. It just was, and because it was connected to my father and drugs and people who were gentle one minute and horrifying the next and filth in all meanings of the word, it’s become one of those things, like the Grateful Dead and tapestries and The Anarchist Cookbook and mirrors on coffee tables and Be Here Now that make me queasy when I catch glimpses of them and make me mysteriously angry until I take a step backwards and tell myself, “Ah—childhood thing. Careful.” When I label it I can let it pass over me, come out on the other side of it like I always do, keep walking down the beach, think about taking my top off, why not, life just goes on.

What scares me is how mysterious it can be—I hadn’t remembered about the nudity until right then. Almost 20 years ago. Not knowing the triggers that could be waiting to flash their tanned droopy balls at you sets my teeth on edge sometimes. What else am I not remembering? I guess it doesn’t matter, I guess what matters is knowing that whatever it is I’ll keep on walking, or something like that. Some hopeful and inspirational crap like that.

It really is how I feel, though. It doesn’t feel bottomless, the trauma, anymore. And my responses to it have come a long way from the drowning terror I used to slip into so easily. Growin’ up. I even own a tie-dye dress, these days. Progress!


2 Responses to “on childhood trauma and nude beaches”

  1. Delia

    Thanks, I needed that. Thanks for your insight and courage and willingness to share.


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