Thoughts From the NAC Chair: Passing

Thoughts From the NAC Chair: Passing

Most people who know me also know I’m a naturist. Sometimes, someone will suggest that I’m a member of a really small group…also sometimes with the implication there is something “wrong” with being part of a small, relatively invisible group. There’s a problem with that. 

When someone says “I don’t know any naturists” my first response is “You don’t know whether you do or not….you could be surrounded by them.” The resulting look of surprise becomes one of a searching appraisal of others in the room when I suggest that because naturists are so “closeted” we could be right next to one or more card-carrying naturists. 

For naturists “passing” as a textile (someone that likes wearing clothes) this isn’t a good thing. Acceptance comes slow to those who try to quietly assimilate or “pass” for something they aren’t. African-Americans suffered the trials of persecution, discrimination and bias long after the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13 ,14th and 15 Amendments. Just “trying to fit in” wasn’t working so well. It took Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, Martin Luther King. But it also took Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X and his “by any means necessary” approach. It required the many heroes of the civil rights movement using both non-violent and confrontational practices to stop the discriminatory laws, culture and treatment by whites. African-American practices of sit-ins, voter organizing and “freedom rides” were augmented by the Harlem, Watts and Detroit riots. While we are far from the “prize” …there has been great progress. 

Gays, lesbians bisexual and transgender people “passed” as straight for years utilizing a strategy of non-confrontation and education. It didn’t work for them either. American treatment of LBGT people prior to 1969 was more discriminatory and legally prejudicial than that of Warsaw Pact countries. In 1969 the New York City cops, in a not unusual tactic of “rousting the gays”, raided the Stonewall Inn…a known gay/lesbian bar in Greenwich Village. They were just out to have a little fun…bust some heads and throw some “fags” in jail. Only this time the gays fought back…fed up with the bashing, hate speech and homophobic behavior characteristic of the times. The resulting “Stonewall Riots” galvanized the gay community, leading to the creation of activist groups and the first “Gay Pride” parade in 1970. We’re not to a position of full acceptance here either…but the progress from 1969 has been remarkable. 

Other groups have not gone through this “trial by fire” to win acceptance and some are still suffering as a result. Who is still on the outside looking in? 

Interestingly, women, who lead organized marches and enlisted influential leaders of the day to support the suffragette movement never engaged in the same level of violence as was evident in the Civil Rights movement or the Stonewall Riots. And, many argue, women didn’t achieve (and many would argue still haven’t achieved) full acceptance or true parity in American society to this day. Were women too nice about it? 

Does that mean it takes civil disobedience, violence and confrontation to change the racist or bigoted parts of our society? I’d like to think it doesn’t. But our history isn’t encouraging. While we like to think of ourselves as open, fair and treat people equally there is plenty of evidence to suggest that view is a self-congratulatory conclusion based on members of white systemic privilege talking to each other. 

If we really want our society to treat all of its members as equal, we will have to engage in that “tolerance” I spoke of in my first column. You know…the “interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own…” Putting ourselves in the shoes of a person of color, a disabled person, or a naturist (shoes would be all that you would wear) can change perspectives pretty radically, pretty fast. 

And, naturists, disabled, people of color, etc. will have to stop “passing”, stand up and demand they be recognized.