This article originally appeared on VICE France.
After spending the last few years trying to figure out where I fit within the queer scene, I feel I've finally started to develop a solid relationship with my body, gender, and sexuality. So to test out this newfound sense of self, I decided the next logical step would be to get completely naked in a nightclub full of strangers.
France's first public nudist night was organized earlier this month by Point Ephémère—a multipurpose arts center in Paris. The event was titled "222-32"—after the criminal code that outlaws indecent exposure in public. For me, the concept was intriguing, and not just because of the mass nudity. I was curious to see how social rules play out in a space where everyone is naked and drinking, but, as the organizers dictated, "behavior of a sexual nature is strictly prohibited." If you're naked and you can't flirt in a traditionally sexually charged environment, will you feel more liberated or more constrained than usual?
On the afternoon ahead of 222-32, the organizers put on a series of workshops and lectures on the concept of nudism and naturism as a lifestyle, offering anyone who'd be attending that evening a chance to meet the organizers and get a better sense of why the world could do with more nudist clubs. And just as for the late night festivities, nudity was encouraged for the afternoon sessions too.
I arrived feeling really nervous about getting naked on a Saturday afternoon and having to do so right by Paris' popular Canal Saint-Martin. But we were told that we could keep our clothes on for the workshop and lectures if we wanted, which I did—though I felt a bit embarrassed by my reticence to strip down.
After the lecture, I caught up with one of the organizers, Jérémie Lapeyre, who explained that he and his colleagues had debated at length over what role sex should play at the club night and whether they should allow attendees to hook up. Eventually, they decided that it should be prohibited entirely. "We wanted to host an event where people felt free, while maintaining all the values associated with nudism," Lapeyre told me. "We didn't want people turning up just for sex. And I didn't want to have to spend the entire evening policing the event."
I mentioned to Lapeyre how open and welcoming the event feels, and he pointed out that it was by design. "Being naked has an effect on your behavior and the way you interact with people," he told me. "It makes you act more human, in the broadest sense of the term."
Later on in the afternoon, the organizers had to kindly ask anyone who was naked outside on the terrace to head back inside. Even though the area was exclusively reserved for the event and it seemed like nobody else could see unto it, the police were starting to receive complaints from neighbors.
That inspired Lapeyre to argue with me again about the values of nudism. "Nudism de-eroticizes the body," he said. I asked him whether he really thinks you can genuinely separate nudity from sexuality, or that if two naked adults stand next to each other for long enough, will sex inevitably become an option. He replied that in his "heart of hearts," he believed that two adults can be naked in each other's presence indefinitely, without there being any sort of sexual tension between them.
Later that evening, I arrived back at Point Ephémère a few minutes before the doors opened. At that point, I was still not feeling that great about getting naked—I was very worried about bumping into someone I knew. In order to fix that, I knocked back about some beer in a bar in the neighborhood, before finding the courage to get in line.
The majority of people in the line were white gay men in their 30s. As my fellow clubbers waited nervously to get in, most of the conversations focused on trying to figure out what "behavior of a sexual nature" actually meant—it was a relief to know that I wasn't the only one thinking that.
As we handed our clothes over to the coatroom attendant—one of only about ten women in the club that night—she reminded each guest that sex and drugs were forbidden, to which the guy next to me quipped, "we'll see."
Alone and naked in what was pretty much a still empty club, I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do at first. So I just sauntered over to a corner to sit and observe. Maybe Lapeyre had had a point earlier when he said that "clothes are the devices in which we lock ourselves in, the stepping stones to all kinds of oppressive relations." Maybe that was what was wrong with me—I was used to hiding behind my clothes and the way I wanted to be perceived. All the same, looking around, I couldn't help but notice that you can tell a lot about a person by how confidently they hold themselves in pubic while naked.
The club eventually filled up, and the longer the night went on, the more it felt like any other night at a club—people splitting into their natural groups either on the dance floor or off to the sides in conversation. But there seemed something different in the way people related to each other. With sex off the table, interactions seemed more natural, kinder, and less predatory. Some light flirting did happen, but it seemed less codified, less bold.
There really was something good-natured about the occasion. It didn't have that frantic energy you get on some nights out, and it was refreshing to see people in a Paris nightclub actually dancing instead of just staring at the DJ. After a while, I completely forgot that I was naked; I was only brought back to reality when I talked to the bar staff, who were all fully clothed. Overall, it seemed like by shifting the focus away from interacting with other people with any romantic or sexual intentions, the organizers enabled you to focus more on yourself. It was refreshing, and I highly recommend getting naked in a nightclub—as long as everyone else is, too.
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