I have recently been on a journey. Not a journey as traveling from place to place, but rather a sort of inner journey. I’m still on that journey, so think of this as the story from my inner travels, or even better yet – part of that journey.
Among other things I’ve been trying to figure out what actually made me like being naked. Is it really just pure freedom of expression of my own humanity, or is there something more (or something else) to it? For clearly, one could argue that nothing is more an expression of humanity than distinguishing oneself from animals as much as possible, by doing what no other animal does – wearing clothing (poodles that wear sweaters notwithstanding).
The distinguishing physical characteristic of humans among other animals is our brain and regarding mental capacities, our ability to form abstract concepts. So there is some validity to such an expression. We make clothing as a tool that protects our bodies from the elements of environments they are not equipped to deal with using exactly this ability (among with other abilities, such as hand dexterity, eye-limb coordination, etc. which are not really our distinguishing characteristics). So yes, we can say that we express our being human by making clothing, by making tools, cars, houses, skyscrapers, cities, culture… civilization.
But I would argue that by going this far in building our civilization, it is easy to forget that we are still animals, that millions of years of evolution have happened which ultimately gave us the body which carries with it certain requirements. Besides the obvious requirements, such as food, water, sunlight, etc. there are other requirements that we deprive ourselves and our offspring of by means of this civilization that we build. Science has only recently begun to research the effects of lack of physical touch on babies and concluded that babies in fact need much of skin-to-skin contact in order for their brains to develop normally. That is the civilization-erecting brains that they will ultimately need in order to exist within the already existing civilization and then to make their own contribution.
So it is false to claim that we are celebrating our humanity to the highest degree if we wrap our bodies in an impenetrable cocoon of whatever material is the rage of the age. Our body demands touch from the earliest age, or it will malfunction somehow and the malfunction will not be obvious, but it will be there. And since it will be there, it will somehow ultimately manifest itself, be it in the form of an adult who is unable to care for himself, or an adult who believes he must take what he has not earned, or who must destroy, or who must listen to others for guidance, or who must follow others into certain death, to war, to destruction…
We will not, of course, prevent this malfunction simply by providing skin-to-skin contact to our offspring in their earliest childhood, but it is one small step in the right direction. There are other things our bodies need; there are things even that our souls need in order for us to develop from children into freedom and peace loving individuals.
This is why my journey began in my childhood. The truth is that I had a really bad childhood. And don’t get me wrong, I know of people who have had it so bad that my own childhood would look blissful in comparison. But I believe each of us owes it to ourselves that we label things as they are. My journey was about my own childhood, the things I had to cope with during my childhood, ways I learned to cope, etc. Back then I had no point of reference to other people’s childhoods, there was only my own and it was my reality and I didn’t like it – not at the time, not later, not today, not ever.
I mentioned skin-to-skin contact above for a reason. There was a severe lack of it in my own childhood. There was so much lack of it that the first time I was touched gently that I can remember was by another boy, a year older than myself, in a barn, when I was about 7, or 8 years old. He touched me with his lips and his tongue. On my penis. And I loved it!
I loved it so much, in fact, that I kept returning for more. I wanted desperately to repeat that first experience, that gentle touch, thinking that that is the only way that anyone ever needs to touch me for me to be happy. It was not an orgasmic sensation and I have only much later discovered that the same sensation can be achieved by gently touching other body parts that are much less private and much less erogenous – like thighs, or the neck, or the back – sometimes I would even feel it if someone would accidentally brush against me as I walked through a crowd. But I could not erase the fact that the first time I ever felt this sensation was when this boy asked me to “play sex” with him (and then I didn’t even know what “sex” was, let alone that there was some other use of my penis besides peeing).
I kept returning for more. It was not just the touch that my body needed, it was also the attention. My parents’ attention was rarely fully devoted to me. They would never help me with the problems I was facing as a child and would instead brush them aside as inconsequential and irrelevant. The only times that I had their undivided attention was when they delivered “lectures”, when I had done something “wrong” and was expected to explain myself (with an implicit understanding that no explanation is good enough), or when they delivered beatings (which weren’t as frequent as lectures, but still a looming threat). As such, being the center of someone’s attention has never proven to be very beneficial to me during my childhood. Quite the opposite, in fact, and this is why I believe I suffered such severe social anxiety that my fight-or-flight instincts switched on every time I suddenly became the center of someone’s attention all the way into my late twenties.
And then there was this boy, who had given me undivided attention and a pleasurable experience, all in one – something I could then not even conceive of. How could I not beg for more? He, however, grew tired of it all rather quickly and began making me run naked across the lawn, promising that attention and tenderness after I do it “just once more”. Desperate and naive, I kept complying again and again until this was stopped by my mother barging into our secluded spot, picking me up naked and all and parading me, crying, through the village, naked.
It was not until at least eight years later that I began looking for hidden places in the woods, where, completely subconsciously, I began doing the exact same things that that boy would ask me to do – put my clothes on backwards, tie them in some silly way, run across the lawn naked, then jog, then walk casually – promising my “reward” afterwards. It may have been that my subconscious was looking for some kind of normal closure to what had been happening since that day when he first asked me if I would like to “play sex” by somehow urging that I go through the motions of his demands and see what happened as a result. Of course, nothing would happen. Being alone then, this could not have brought any kind of closure.
As time went by, these expeditions started having two distinct purposes. On some days, the motives were of purely sexual nature – I was in the full rage of puberty then, after all, and all alone thanks to my social anxiety. On other days, something different began to emerge. I started liking being naked for the sake of being naked. Or so it seemed.
I would only notice a different pattern as I read Stefan Molyneux’s “The Art of the Argument” recently. This too was part of my journey, as is this text. In that book, there is a passage that reads thus:
[The hunter] is dealing in absolutes – the deer, the gun, the kill – while the deer is dealing with probabilities. What are the odds that the sound is a predator, or just a rabbit, or the wind, or a tree branch creaking? The deer can’t run every time it hears a sudden sound, but it must stay alert.
This short description of what a deer feels like all the time as it’s potentially being hunted by a predator is a very precise definition of what I felt almost every time that I set foot in the woods without my clothes on. I was the deer, and everyone else was the hunter. I had no way of knowing whether anyone was there, how they would react if they found me, if they would have children with them and if I would then be accused of some kind of harassment, or some other horrible thing, of their children just for being naked. I may have had completely innocent reasons to be naked, but who is to say they would have cared about my reasons?
This feeling – the fear of being hunted – is another emotion that was prevalent in my childhood. I was never to be “caught” doing something good, but whenever I was doing something that guaranteed screaming lectures, beatings, or rhetorical questions about my innocence being doled out, or any combination thereof, it was better that I was on a lookout. By going naked I emotionally put myself back into that position that I knew so well from my childhood. None of this was planned, it’s just a way that our subconscious works, I suppose, by evoking in us the emotional states it is familiar with, by somehow influencing our behavior. Since children require attention from their parents, they will – and this is a fact of developmental psychology – do things that bring them any kind of attention, positive or negative. If the reaction is positive, the child may have learned something new; if it is negative, the provocation still succeeded in reaching some sort of closure, e.g. the child has refined his skill to manipulate his parents by means of his own behavior and will most likely similarly manipulate others in the future.
Being naked for me is, therefore, putting myself in a situation that is familiar to me. There is, however, another aspect – like a third branch that grows from the same bud. That day, when I stood naked before the boy, I put myself in a very vulnerable position. For all I knew, the “game” of sex might have been a bloody one, like the games the ancient Romans were watching for fun in their arenas. Because I was in a position of the player of that game, rather than its spectator, I was in a vulnerable position from that moment until it was all ended so abruptly.
I find that I am even now in a similarly vulnerable position as I write publicly about some of the things that I have kept hidden for so long from everyone, from my parents, from my friends, from my own wife, from the world in general and even from myself. But I also find that without exposing this vulnerability I am unable to move on. It seems to me as if this aspect of my personality will always be returning to that boy in the barn, yearning for his touch, his caress, hoping for it as I play his games, skipping naked in the forest, across lawns, doing everyday chores in the nude… and I would never realize if all this I do just for him, or if there truly is something more to it all.