Is bare-chestedness legal here? (Part 3, state laws)

Ocean City, Maryland, Summer 2015. So comfortable I fell asleep!
Ocean City, Maryland, Summer 2015.
So comfortable I fell asleep!

So, state laws and local ordinances.  Here’s where the real stuff happens, because even in states that allow bare-chestedness these are the laws ill-informed police officers are going to use to try to get you to cover your breasts.  Many police know their laws and get it right.  Some don’t.  Be patient with them if you can.  It helps me to believe they are trying to get it right.

State laws are sometimes very clearly worded (Delaware, for example, which defines indecent exposure in males as genitals and anus, and in females as genitals, anus and breasts) and sometimes very vague (Maryland simply says indecent exposure is a misdemeanor but does not define which body parts are indecent.)  Know what your state laws say.

Next try to find case law in which a female has been tried for being bare-chested.  These can be hard to find and seem to almost always involve some form of formal protest or demonstration.  The police I have talked to (and it’s a lot) almost always say they will ask a woman to cover up before arresting her.  If she refuses, they can then claim that she is failing to comply with a lawful order or committing disorderly conduct (neither of which will probably stand up in court, several police have told me, but by then the woman has been arrested and had to pay for the expense of her trial.)

Usually people charged with indecent exposure have been doing something else asinine while also being “nude” in some way (remembering our argument that female bare-chested is no more “nude” than male bare-chestedness,) usually drunkenly assaulting a police officer, urinating in public, or having sex in public.  The indecent exposure charge is almost always tacked on to other charges, and often dropped before or during the trial.  Case law is important because it sets precedent.  So if one judge has found bare-chestedness to be indecent, the next judge will have to at least consider that when making her/his decision.  Legal precedent is one factor, not the only factor, but it pays to know what the courts have done with it in the past.

Police, I have found, don’t know much about case law and often don’t know the language in their own statutes.  This is understandable.  They are not lawyers and laws are ever-changing.  It’s a tough job and they are doing the best they can.  Knowing case law, however, is a huge help to me.  I email myself the cases so that when I need them, I simply pull out my phone and have the information available.  It has neutralized objections on several occasions, if for no other reason the civilian or police objector realizes I am prepared and knowledgeable.  My demeanor when I walk is light and carefree (because I feel that way) so when I respond to emotional protests with calm and quiet information, they usually don’t know what to say in response!



2 thoughts on “Is bare-chestedness legal here? (Part 3, state laws)

  1. I live in Northern Virginia and go to the beach in Ocean City, Md., a couple of time each summer, but you seldom even see a woman in a thong there, and I’ve certainly never seen a woman topfree there, at least not face up. (Some will untie their tops while lying facedown, and at best prop themselves up on their forearms to read or to take a drink of water, taking care not to “expose” themselves.)

    When were you there, and where? Off the boardwalk, or further north, closer to the Delaware line with fewer beachgoers? No reactions from other beachgoers or lifeguards? What about those women behind you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ocean City is home turf for me, and is near to my heart. Yes, bare-chestedness is still rare in Ocean City but thongs have been established as legal since a court case in 2007 and each year I see more and more. The bare-chested women I have seen have been exchange students, Russians and Eastern Bloc, etc. Last year I saw two women sit up before putting their tops on. The year before I saw a woman turn over, reach for stuff, etc. I was close enough to hear them speaking what I believe was Russian. With that said, I’ve been bare-chested in O.C. about 20 times over the last two summers. The majority of my beach days were somewhere between the pier and 7th, i.e. “downtown.” The beach is wider there and the boardwalk is farther from the surf. There are still super duper crowds, but the police don’t walk out in the sand. they let the beach patrol make first contact, and beach patrol can’t arrest people. The very first time I went bare-chested in O.C., about 18 months ago maybe, I had been sitting up and laying on my back for about an hour, when I noticed the beach patrol quad roll by slowly four times in just a few minutes. About ten minutes later a female life guard came over and told me this wasn’t a topless beach and walked away. She didn’t tell me to cover up lol, so I didn’t. Ever since then, I’ve not had a single interaction with police or lifeguards. Maryland legal language is quite clear and there are no local ordinances in Ocean City or Worcester County barring bare-chestedness but no one knows this. As such I do get some second looks and stares, and questions, but my “record” is more than three hours of uneventful sunbathing. I only quit because I had had enough sun. I stood up, walked to the water, swam, dripped dried, etc. I’ve had people ask me if it was legal, I’ve only had one young woman voice objection but 10 minutes of conversation later and she was asking if she could join me (she was 18 and said they had alcohol hidden in their beach towel so I asked her not to. No need to invite a charge.) The last visit in OC this summer was in September and I stayed with a friend around 65th street for a week and I spent part of every day bare-chested up there. More families than downtown, but the same people each day so maybe they were used to me. People set their towels close to me. Those women you asked about in your question for example set up after me. A lot of families set up close to me actually, which I find encouraging. Anyway on 65th I walked from my blanket to the water and swam etc. per normal too. On the first day we talked to a beach patrolman and explained the law. He told me he would talk to a supervisor and an hour later I checked back in with him and he confirmed my assertion (and expressed surprise but also support, in a mature way. He was a career guy, very cool) and gave me the usual song about a possibly disorderly conduct charge. Nevertheless, I laid out near his stand and he would occasionally come by and check in. I just kept giving him thumbs up and he returned them. After that I went to the police station and spoke with a corporal who swore breast exposure was illegal until we looked it up, and then he did the same as everyone does, confirmed that there was no law but emphasized the disorderly conduct issue, and said HE would talk about it with a superior officer and asked me to contact him this fall. I haven’t followed up on that yet but it’s my plan to have that conversation this winter. I’m in the middle of another conversation that might affect that conversation so I’m back-burner on O.C. at the moment. O.C. town council is notorious for passing unconstitutional ordinances. They take it as the cost of doing business to defend and lose these cases I think. Because they keep losing but they keep doing it. Most of them center around free speech violations on the boardwalk. I look forward to the day when I can walk the entire length of that beach bare-chested though, believe me. Fingers crossed that it might be this summer. I’m being careful because I don’t want to scare the city council into doing something that will take a long time to undo. Thanks again.


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