July 10, 2016 by Drew
I won’t bury the lead. The formula is: Vulnerability + Solidarity + Safety = Joy
First, a few caveats. Then the good stuff at the end.
Caveat 1: Pastors should probably avoid public nudity and public nudity events. I don’t think anybody really wants to see much of their pastor’s skin, especially when he’s north of 200 pounds. I get that, but went anyway, and didn’t show too much.
Caveat 2: While there were likely some exhibitionists and gawkers at the event, it didn’t have that vibe at all. The motto was “nude, not lewd,” and that’s what it was. If a person wants to show their naked body or look at naked bodies, they can do so with much greater efficiency on the internet. For me, this event wasn’t about being seen or seeing others.
Caveat 3: This event was not only safe, but affirming. (I’m open to correction from women and/or queer participants, who I’m sure had a different experience than I did) The most common responses of people we rode past were claps and cheers. We saw so many smiles and laughs (friendly laughs, not mocking laughs) and very few scowls. A few people tried to stay cool/casual, as if they didn’t notice 200 people in various stages of undress biking past (It didn’t work). There were a few lewd comments, but the individuals in the group supported one another through them.
Caveat 4: There was one particularly problematic thing about the ride for me, and it was our trip into the East side. When a mostly white group enters a mostly black neighborhood, it needs to be done with respect. Nobody chose to be disrespectful, but a massive undressed group ride flaunted privilege in a way that’s not ok with me. I hope that the organizers address this before next year’s ride.
Now the good stuff. Why the ride in general, and why was it good for me? What’s the deal with this magic formula?
The stated purpose of the ride was for motorists to see cyclists. Bicyclists of all types have faced aggressive behavior from motorists and have sometimes been simply not seen (almost as dangerous). A group ride creates safety for us, and by taking our clothes off, we show how vulnerable humans on bikes really are among all these heavy, fast, metal boxes.
The ride was also about “body positivity,” something I am in favor of (i.e., we should feel comfortable in the bodies we have, without feeling shame for not meeting some elusive ideal), but don’t really consider “my issue.”
Something I do feel strongly about is racial justice. And this week has been a long one, for all of us. I was tired, in every sense of the word. And that’s why this ride was just what I needed. I was found some life in the magic formula.
Yes, I know that some people cannot put their vulnerability off and on like clothes.
Yes, I know that my nervousness is but a shadow of the real and genuine fear that other people experience, against their will, daily.
Maybe because of that, it was good for me to, in a world that constantly protects my feelings at the expense of others, to experience being exposed.
Vulnerability is terrifying without safety, though.
We knew, even though we were vulnerable, that we would be ok. Part of that comes from privilege. Lots of it comes from solidarity.
We were in it together. Older and younger, different gender identities and sexualities, different sizes and colors, different states of undress, all of us. Watching out for one another, we were able to do together what few (if any of us) would dare do alone. The power of people united is amazing.
I want to be united and vulnerable to make the world safe for everybody. This week, we saw again that it was’t true. And we’re going to fight to change that. But it was a heavy week, and a tiring week. And having strangers clap and cheer as I biked past in my boxers? Knowing that my (mostly) new friends and I were taking power together? Feeling the wind (and rain) places that I usually don’t? That’s just what I needed.
I hope more and more of my friends will ride next year, as bare as they dare. But even if you don’t, may you use that formula to create not only joy, but goodness.