By Andrew “Ellard” Resignato, guest contribution
December 2, 2012
“Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character had abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and courage which it contained.” – John Stuart Mill
The final vote on San Francisco’s nudity ban is this upcoming Tuesday, December 4. This draconian law represents a serious failure of leadership on the part of Supervisor Scott Wiener and brings up many interesting questions about this issue and the direction of our city.
First, if there is sexual and lewd conduct going on in Jane Warner Plaza then why is the current law section 314 of the CA penal code, which covers lewd behavior in public, not enforced? Why is such a broad ban needed for a problem that could be solved by applying the laws on the books? Why haven’t some of the solutions to the issue offered by the nudist themselves been explored by Wiener? Do we really need to limit personal freedoms on this level for this problem?
I think the answers have less to do with alleged lewd behavior or exhibitionism and more to do with the ‘c’ word. Yes, ‘c’ for conservative. It seems the sterility that befell Manhattan is creeping into our city and Wiener is looking more and more like the San Francisco version of Rudolf Giuliani.
San Francisco has always led the way in important fights that challenge the current social paradigms. We constantly pat ourselves on the back about this, as we should. This fight over a nudity ban is no different. Nudity offends ‘some’ people – but should we ban things in our society and especially our city because they offend ‘some’ people? If this were the way we operated, think about how different our city would be. I’m sure there have been many people who want to ban the Folsom Street Fair, but San Francisco has been a leader in pushing back against the conservative, repressive, tendencies of our society. It is almost our responsibility to be more open and tolerant.
Walt Whitman said, “Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.”
Lewd behavior in public is and should be against the law, but nude is not lewd. The body is natural and banning nudity in public sends a signal that nudity is bad. Children are not harmed or traumatized by seeing nude people. Sure they might have questions about it but the honest answers to those questions are important to the healthy development of that child. Children are more harmed by the violence and limited body images that they are exposed to everyday in the media. They are more harmed by sexual repression or our society’s failure to prioritize education. The list goes on.
One important tenet of nudism is a taking back of what profiteers and social conservatives have stolen – love for our bodies. Nudism, or the ‘body freedom movement,’ is springing from the need for our society to come to grips with some of the warped feelings we have around body image and sexuality. It is not surprising that San Francisco is at the front lines of this fight.
Many people feel that the nudity ban isn’t an important concern compared with the many other important problems facing our city – and they may be right. However, I do believe there are deeper issues at play here. This law is discriminatory by exempting some permitted events while excluding other events that do not have costly permits and might want to use nudity as a convention. Also at issue is the idea that nudity is a form of political speech. Examples are plentiful. Lastly, is this the new way we deal with acomplex issue in our city, with overreaching laws that limit freedom? That is not my San Francisco.
Unless Board President David Chiu changes his vote and votes for what is best for San Francisco instead of for his political ambitions to run for the State Assembly, it looks as if the 6-5 vote will hold up and another ‘only in San Francisco’ phenomenon will be gone. There are cities, in fact all of them, where there are no nude people hanging out in plazas, riding bikes, walking down the street, or running in marathons. The naked truth is that the loss of the eccentric things that make our city a unique and important antidote to the status quo is a loss for everybody.
Andrew “Ellard” Resignato was born in Brooklyn, NY, and educated in the New Jersey public school system. He is an East Coast refugee who enjoys SF culture, people and waves.