Peter Kacalanos, frail and agreeable with a full beard and long gray pony tail, is the 59-year-old president and founder of the Skinnydippers, a New York City based nudist social club. A practicing nudist for forty years, he closes his letters with "Barely Yours," refers as if an expatriate to "the clothed world," publishes a newsletter ("usually while stark naked") which lists members' birthdays ("Birthday Suits"), contains a feature entitled "Lest We Forget" picturing restrictive bathing suits from a 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog, and advertises the mock "Color Peter Nude Coloring Book" for nudist children.

Among the Skinnydippers there are a several ministers, two rabbis and one Catholic priest. There are members from most economic and social classes, though the club and the movement in general is almost exclusively white. The club sponsors nudist special interest groups (nude skydiving, nude chorale singing, nude comic book collecting), and has a network of nudity counselors available to answer questions from beginners: Do men become visibly embarrassed during their visits to a nudist resort? Is it likely my wife would be improperly approached at a nudist park?

The Skinnydippers have invited me to a nude ("clothing optional," is the p.r. friendly phrase) pool party hosted by a fellow nudist club, The Tribe. They've rented out the Quest I Health and Tennis club in New Jersey for the evening.


Myself and a female companion meet up with Peter at his house. As instructed we've brought along towels which we're to carry with us at all times and use to cover each chair we plan to sit down on (nudist etiquette).

Are you planning to go nude?
Um, I'll probably give it a shot.
No pressure, go at your own pace.

We bandy the word freedom about until our ride shows up. Bob, a big, gruff, lovable lug, ex-marine, pulls up in a station wagon. Also in the car are John and Phil*. Phil, in his twenties, tells me not to use his last name; he doesn't want his boss to find out he's a nudist, his parents still don't know. Bob doesn't give a damn who knows. He talks about the burgeoning conservative strain in the nudist movement; no longer hippies or nature freaks but average Joes kicked back in a wading pool, ice cold Schlitz in hand, watching the Final Four, agreeing with Michelle Malkin (She's kind of a bitch but she makes some good points -- I was on the subway one time and these black teenagers came on and...").

Men greatly outnumber women in the nudist movement and recruiting women is always a problem they tell me. "Women feel much more vulnerable in the nude -- they think you're just trying to get them out of their clothes," I'm told. Damn, really.

A number of parks and clubs run by the American Sunbathers Association (ASA) have strict regulations prohibiting sex and push nudity as wholesome family fun; the nudist as non-radical who disrobes only when appropriate ("Hey, we're not against clothes, ever try to fry bacon in the nude," is the kind of common sense, plain folk trope that they like to use in an effort to move the nudist movement away from summer of love and into the Lions club).

In pursuit of this cause many clubs won't allow single men, dancing, holding hands or rubbing suntan lotion on members of the opposite sex (though there are fringe groups who buck the ASA image, like the now defunct Stoners, a special interest nudist group devoted exclusively to nude partying). ASA brochures are filled with photos of nudists eating healthy greens, walking in the woods, smelling flowers, playing volleyball, all shots discreetly avoiding genitalia. Enjoy life the natural way, edited for the mainstream.

Children are welcome at most nudist events though many nudists will stop bringing their children if they're going through a divorce and the child's custody might become an issue.

The group tells me the biggest threat to nudist beaches and the nudist movement today are gays.

"Anytime I see a couple of gays at a nude beach it scares the hell out of me," says Bob.

Seems gay men can't help petting, having sex on the beach, public displays of affection. This draws the park rangers, results in arrests, threatens the image of the nudist movement, attracts a bad element. A few of the largest men are appointed to walk up to the getting-down gays and hand them a pre-printed card on nude beach etiquette. They usually get the message Bob says and he's winking out there toward the Major Deegan.

And then there was the guy they caught taking pictures of nude children on Fire Island. And the two adolescent siblings (nudists since childhood) Bob was teaching to body surf who emerged from a breaking wave with the brother screaming in accusation, "She touched me, she touched me."

And the precociously developed 13-year-old girl ("believe me she didn't look thirteen"), whose father brought her to pool parties where she would grab the genitailia of adult males and they would reciprocate; some time later when the men found out her age, they had a talk with the father.


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