As I made my way into the living area of the quiet house on the outskirts of Houston, I looked down at my conservative sweater and dress, and suddenly felt very overdressed. Yes, my attire was part of my pop-art Lichtenstein costume, and yes, this sure was a costume party, but I was the only one in the room wearing clothes.
There were naked troll dolls, naked iron chefs. There was a nude witch, and a very bare ghoul. Breasts and buttocks surrounded me, and I suddenly felt a bit like a voyeur. What was I doing here, and why had I thrown on so many clothes?
It's a strange thing, the feeling of entering a party and being the only clothed person in the room. It's hardly like that old adage of picturing everyone naked to overcome your social anxiety. Let me tell you -- if everyone in the room is naked, and you're dressed for a snowstorm, you'll definitely still be dealing with those nerves. This experience proves it.
They were supposed to be naked, though. I was the one deviating from their social norms, because this was a Halloween party for nudists. I was in the company of the members of Healthy Hides of Houston, the non-landed clothing optional group that supports and fosters healthy nudism in a club environment.
And while they're all hanging out together while nude, they do normal people stuff, like throw Halloween parties. And no, there's no hanky-panky. Sorry folks. This is all good, clean naked fun. You'd be surprised at how normal sitting around with naked folks can feel, even if you keep looking down at your sweater with contempt.
The world of nudism can be difficult to navigate, especially if you've never been exposed to it. The closest I'd come to nudism included a couple of drunken outings to alt-lifestyle clubs in the early '00s, which is hardly representative of what nudists are about. The naked sex that occurs in "lifestyle" clubs is easy to reconcile; they're naked with a sexual purpose.
But nudists, by definition, are not naked for sexual reasons. They are just naked. That idea can be quite confounding to contemplate. I mean, why folks would want to hang out together while naked if it's not for sexual gratification, right? What gives?
The questions that surround recreational nudity are the reasons that I set out to explore the subject more deeply. Luckily, Healthy Hides and their president, Wayne Kircher, whose home I was invading Saturday night, were patient enough to let my clothed rear follow them around to check things out. And check things out I did.
As I made my way around the room, trying my darndest to look at faces and not chests, I set out to find out why a person becomes a nudist in the first place. Well, the answer isn't quite as simple as the question. As expected, each person gives a slightly varied answer as to "why." The simple answer, though, is why not? The resounding theme that could be gleaned from the naked zombies and ghouls was that it's something they flat out enjoy. They like being naked.
Easy enough, right? If they like being naked, they should just be naked. Well, it's not really so cut and dry. By all accounts, it can be quite polarizing to be a nudist. There are jobs and reputations to protect, and being in the buff can be quite controversial in a state as conservative as Texas. And although there have been large strides in the acceptance of recreational nudity, there are still major repercussions for some of the members -- especially the women. That's where HHH comes in.
Not many of the members of HHH are allowed the liberty to be "open" with their employers, or even with their friends. The group is full of Houston's business professionals -- there are doctors, attorneys, and the like -- all of whom consider themselves nudists. They can't be as open as they'd like to be with their lack of clothing, for obvious reasons.
What they've found in Healthy Hides is acceptance for a practice that is still unjustifiably stigmatized. They can be naked -- which they quite prefer to be -- without the repercussions they face in their day to day lives, with a group of friends who have the same naked interest.
And that whole "being naked" thing was a non-issue as I observed the group interacting. Where the idea of someone walking into a clothed party in the buff would surely be the topic of conversation, being naked is an afterthought to the members of HHH. Their costume party, which took place shortly after I arrived, was evidence of that.
As the participants paraded around the room for the judges, often wearing only bits of costumes -- a Superman shirt and cape, or a negligee and a witch hat, for example -- there was no focus on the lack of clothing. The focus was on how innovative the person was, given the lack of clothing that a nudist would use for a costume.
It was like no one but me noticed how naked everyone else was. They were just there, judging a costume contest full of people adorned with witch hats and exposed penises. That's how much the nudity is a non-issue with these guys. No one is concerned with sucking in the gut or hiking up the breasts. Every body part hung out, in all its fabulous body glory.
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And eventually, even I found myself to be much more conscious of the clothing on my body than I was of the nudity that surrounded me. I was odd man out, with my silly oversized sweater and massive amount of Lichtenstein-esque war paint.
I was the person naked at the party, but it was my clothing exposing me. I'd spent my night focused on trying not to stare at body parts that society deemed naughty, and these folks were challenging that idea.
Can I say that I fully understand the idea of hanging out in a group of nude people? No, not entirely. But I certainly can respect it more now. It takes a lot of balls, pardon the pun, to hang out in a group where caution -- and clothing -- are thrown completely to the wind. There's nothing standing between you and another person, and you're all on an equal, nude playing field. That's ultimately kind of a beautiful thing.
So yes, they were naked, but so are our faces. And after a while, it really wasn't that big of an issue that there were naked breasts dotting the room around me. So long as they weren't mine, anyway. My conservative sweater just wouldn't allow it.