The making of a bare-chested bike ride (Philadelphia)

Blog Ride Cover Photo
Schuylkill RIver Trail, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 2015.

Captain’s Log: November 27, 2015

8:20 am:  Check the forecast.  Sunny, mid 60’s.

8:23 am: E-mail the Philadelphia Police Department (multiple recipients).

“Good morning, Lt _______.   I am writing to ask for confirmation on how the Philadelphia Police Department treats public female bare-chestedness.  I see conflicting information on the Internet.  Many sources seem to indicate that bare-chestedness is legal in Philadelphia, but I saw one reference that women have to cover their nipples, at least with pasties.  This assertion did not seem based in fact or law, though. I have researched Philadelphia and Pennsylvania law and see nothing criminalizing female breast exposure.  I would like to take advantage of the warm weather today and go for a bike ride and I would like to do it bare-chested.  I am not a protester and I certainly don’t want to be arrested. I just wish to go for a bike ride on a nice day.  Thank you.”

9:15 am: No response.  Phone call to the precinct that covers the route I want to ride.  A female officer answers.

Me:  “Good morning.  I have read online that female bare-chestedness is legal in Philadelphia.  I am calling to confirm this.  I would like to go on a bare-chested bike ride on Kelly Drive today and would like to know that the Philadelphia Police Department won’t arrest me for doing so.”

Officer: “Um…I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.”

 Me: “Could you find me the code or statute for me?”

Officer: “Um… let me put you on hold.”  (Ten minutes later.)  “Yes ma’am.  It’s illegal.”

Me: “Can you read me the language?”

Officer: “You want me to read to you the language in the code?”

Me:  “Yes please.”

Officer:  “I’m not going to read it to you.”

Me: “Well, what is the code number?”

Officer: “3127.”

Me: “Pennsylvania Code 3127?  Indecent exposure?”

Officer:  “Correct.”

Me: “I have 3127 here in front of me.  It says only genitals are indecent.  It says nothing about breasts, male or female.”

Officer:  Pause.  “Maybe you would you like to talk to our legal department?”

Me: “Yes please.”  Silence.  “Can you give me the name and number?”

Officer: “You want the number?”

Me: “Yes please.”

She gives me the name and number  of a captain in the legal department, but not the e-mail address.

9:27 am: I call the legal department.  No answer.  I do an Internet search and find the e-mail address of the captain to whom she referred me in the legal department.  I send the same e-mail as above to the captain and a couple people in the commissioner’s office.

10:10 am: The legal department captain responds by e-mail.

“As counsel for the Department it would be inappropriate for me to provide personal  legal advise to you. However, I think a quick Google search may provide the answer to your question.”

10:27 am: I reply.

“Good morning.  Thank you for the quick response.  I’m not looking for personal legal advice though.  I’m asking for a confirmation of what appears to be clear legal language.  I called the Precinct to ask for a confirmation that my Internet research was correct, and that I would not be arrested if I appeared bare-chested on a bike ride on Kelly Drive this afternoon and she gave me a misinterpretation of State Code 3127, realized I believe her misinterpretation and directed me to you.  She told me that if I had a question about a legal definition as it relates to enforcement I was to speak to you.  If you are not the person to talk to, to whom should I?

But with that said, if I’m interpreting your answer, I find no evidence that female bare-chestedness is criminal in Pennsylvania or Philadelphia, and that you are not willing to confirm that position here, even though the language is clear.  
What I am really hoping for is some confirmation from an official within the police department that I should not be stopped or arrested by Philadelphia Police today for merely appearing bare-chested.  It seems like a question that has been asked and answered within the police department previously, based on articles I am reading.  If so, it seems it should be an easy thing to confirm here, so that I can also feel assured when I am on the street and can have a meaningful, civil conversation with a patrol officer if one should approach me.  I don’t think it would be responsible for me to rely on the media or Google when I should be able to simply ask for an answer from the police department directly.  It would be the same as someone asking if he or she was allowed to openly carry a weapon in Philadelphia or ride a horse in Rittenhouse Park.  Asking me to rely on an Internet magazine or forum contributor is perilous for me and the department.   
It also seems unfair that I have to have this conversation on the street with a patrol officer, who is simply going to end up referring it to you or another senior officer anyway.  I’m trying to do both myself and the Philadelphia Police Department a favor by having this conversation quietly without a public confrontation or illegal arrest.  Thank you.”

10:40 am: Finally a substantial reply!

“The facts and circumstances that occur on the street are beyond my ability to speculate. The mere fact of being bare breasted is not an issue to the PPD. However, if your actions create other issues impacting public safety, I can not say that the police will not interact with you.   I see no charges that would be applicable for being solely bare breasted.”

10:44 am: “Thank you.  I understand.  I appreciate your time.  Be well.”

10:47 am: I call the precinct back.

Me:  “Yes, ma’am.  Are you the officer I spoke to earlier about female bare-chestedness?”

Officer: “Yes, I am.”

Me:  “I received an e-mail response from the legal department which reads, “The mere fact of being bare-chested is not an issue to the PPD.  I see no charges that would be applicable for being solely bare-breasted.”

Officer: “Okay.  Thank you.  Can you forward that e-mail to our precinct lieutenant so he can communicate that to the patrol officers?”

Me:  “Yes, absolutely.  Will you please tell them that I will be on the Schuylkill River Trail later this afternoon?  And possibly Pine and Spruce Streets as well?”

Officer:  “I will.  Thank you. Enjoy yourself.”

Me:  “Thank you.”

 

11:15  am: In the car and driving north…!

11:35 am: I receive an e-mail from another lieutenant in the police commissioner’s office reading,

“In response to your email.  It is not illegal for a female to go topless in Philadelphia.  The nipples do not need to be covered with pasties.  This includes for bike riding.  However if the presence of a topless female causes a disturbance anywhere within the city, she can be arrested for disorderly conduct. 

Additional information to consider.

From Jan.1st to Oct. 31st, 2015 in Philadelphia the statistical number for sex related crimes are as follows.  Rapes- 1116  Other sex offenses- 890.

So Be careful!  Regards,”

11:36 am:Deep breath and respond.

 “I very much appreciate your time and quick response.  Regarding the argument that a police officer may still charge a bare-chested woman with disorderly conduct, public indecency or open lewdness: merely being a female is neither disorderly, indecent nor lewd, any more than being a male is. Since no one would consider mere bare-chestedness disorderly, indecent or lewd in a male, it cannot be considered so in a female.  Disorderly conduct traditionally consists of such actions as using vulgar and obscene language, vagrancy, loitering, playing loud music or creating excessive noise, intentionally causing a crowd to gather in a public place in such a way that it impedes movement or creates a danger, or annoying passengers on public transit.  Bare-chested sunbathing or walking or bike riding involves none of those things.

One of the reasons it is so important to normalize female bare-chestedness and cement gender equality is to disassociate females and their attire from perceived consent. I have been going for bare-chested walks, bike rides, beach trips etc in places where it is legal all over the country. Not once have I ever been sexually assaulted or touched inappropriately. I have been touched inappropriately and verbally harassed about my gender and looks numerous times while being fully clothed. The problem is not clothes, as you know. Sexual assault is a very complicated issue, and I do appreciate your concern.

I love Philly and am sure that I will enjoy my afternoon!

Thank you again.”

2:33 pm:One of the most normal bike rides of my life.

_____________________________________________________

[If any female reading this wishes to use my wording and/or e-mails as a template for her own outdoor bare-chested excursion, please do not hesitate. I post my experiences and this information so that others may use and learn from them. I would only ask that you maybe share (publicly or privately) your own experiences with me!

E-mail: breastsarehealthy@gmail.com

Good luck and enjoy yourself!

Your bare-chested friend,

Gingerbread]

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22 thoughts on “The making of a bare-chested bike ride (Philadelphia)

  1. Wow I really appreciate your approach to normalizing top freedom. Being so thorough patience and instucted with the police department seemed to empower them to do the right thing according to the law as opposed to being confrontational. Thank you for sharing it is a positive example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you again. I’ve really enjoyed your blog this evening myself. Yes, I enter conversations with the police with the assumption that they want to do their jobs well and that if I treat them with respect and have mature conversations with them, at a low volume, I will keep them from going midbrain themselves and panicking, which will allow us to hear each other. It’s worked very well so far. I’m going to write an article on my recipe for approaching police soon. I keep saying that, but then I keep finding myself in the middle of a conversation somewhere and I keep waiting for it to resolve before I write the article lol. I’m just going to have to pull the trigger here soon and write it. Once we have established the legality of female bare-chestedness, the challenge becomes creating either the social acceptance, or even better, the strength in individual women, to exercise the right, to feel that freedom from shame, body pride and self-love. It’s going to be a long road, but I can feel tangible progress and it is very, very exciting. Thank you again. Keep up the awesome blog on your end too!

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      1. What a coincidence! I’ve followed your efforts from my home on the West Coast, but I was walking down the very path you were biking on about two hours prior to your ride. I probably would have been the only person to recognize you if you had zoomed by while I was there.

        You’re doing great work. I wish you the best of luck.

        In your post about Coney Island, you mention the prior successes of Scout Willis, Moira Johnston and the Coed Topless Pulp Fiction Society. My understanding is that there is a general widespread recognition in New York now of the right to be topfree. In fact, this was seemingly confirmed by your Coney Island experience.

        Perhaps you too should be a little bit more public about your successes to prompt more widespread acceptance of topfree rights in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas. Let folks in those areas know you’re a trailblazer acting in accordance with your rights and the topfree movements can experience the growth that the New York movement is enjoying. You need a publicist!

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        1. Now that would have been epic, if we had met on the trail. Your last comment regarding the publicist makes me think of a day on Ocean City beach, Maryland, a couple summers ago when a group of teenage girls approached me to object to my bare-chestedness. They started out really upset with me but after we talked about 20 minutes they had decided they supported this form of equality and wanted to join me (I would have accepted except one was drunk, and 18, so I didn’t want to invite a hassle). Anyway, my point is that one of the girls said, “You know, you’re really good at this. You should do this, like for real.” And I said, “Do what?” And she said, “Promote equality and the right to go topless.” I laughed and said, “That’s exactly what I just did!”

          My blog has had 20,000 views in the 8 weeks since I’ve put it up, from 60 countries. I’ve talked to almost a dozen police departments and have had positive feedback from all over the globe and I was just quoted in the London Sunday Times. So believe me, the word is spreading.

          But this blog is not about celebrating me. Not at all. I have been going bare-chested for years quietly and anonymously before friends asked me to write this blog, to share the lessons I was learning by quietly going bare-chested in otherwise normal ways. I have declined to put advertisements on my blog or on my YouTube videos because I don’t want people to think my motivation is financial, or to receive personal accolades. I appreciate that people think what I’m doing is pioneering, but really it’s not. There have been a lot of women doing this before me, for decades. If I’m doing anything unique, it is simply that I am just going out and doing it. A lot. That’s what it’s going to take, women actually just going out bare-chested, walking, gardening, beach trips, just being normal, making it normal. The thing that tipped me to start this blog is because people in my friends circle were listening to my stories and were telling me, see, I could do this with someone like you there with me. But what they meant was, they needed to feel confident they weren’t going to be arrested or harassed. I don’t want to be arrested, but I’m willing to be. So I figured, well, I’ll just keep going out and testing out places, and posting pictures and videos to prove I did it and didn’t get arrested. Maybe word will spread. And it is, in the best way possible, by word of mouth. I don’t want to be recognized out there, I really don’t. I rather like my quiet little life. But someone has to do this work, and I stand in a unique position to do it. So I am. Hopefully women will use the space to feel free and empowered.

          Anyway, sorry we missed each other. That would have been something else! Thank you for reading my blog and for commenting with those kind words.

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  2. I so admire your dedication, diplomacy and persistence in dealing with the PPD on this issue! I can’t believe they told you to ‘just google it.’ Because whatever is printed on the Internet must be true, right? How absurd. Anyway I’m glad you got a sure confirmation from them and corrected their assumptions about going topfree and sexual assault.
    Keep it uppp, and I hope we get to meet soon 🙂
    ♥ Felicity

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I know… unfortunately, I (and I am sure many others) get many erroneous statements tossed at me. Most of the time I believe it to be because the person/s saying such things just don’t want to deal with me. Once I make it clear that I am not going away, they tend to reconsider and put more thought into their next responses. *shakes head* Thankfully, I have almost inexhaustible patience when I choose to!
      I would love to meet you! I truly appreciate your and all the YN support. You guys are awesome!

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    1. Thank you and please do!! I plan on writing other “recipe” sorts of posts, and I want other women to use the information. One of the main reasons I do this, aside from personal enjoyment and freedom, is so that I can test waters and find soft routes for other ladies to take. All it takes to break a dam is for a little bit of water to find a crack…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great job!!! Thank you for your bravery! I truly believe that you are the trickle that will soon bring forth the flood! Maybe you should start a cycling club and invite people , especially women, to join you if you haven’t already. I know there is a topless book club in New York, so we can have a topless cycling club in Philly how cool would that be! I live in South Jersey so I can be one of your first members lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bryan: Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and comment. I wrote an article on this subject. titled, “Why I Don’t Ask Other Women to Join Me (but would love them to.)

      I struggle with the question of holding events, group rides, walks etc. I see their obvious benefit in making women feel safe in numbers. But then I think about observers. To some people, and police, the sight of one woman bare-chested is new and scary. How about 10 or 20? A whole pack?? Gah! And since my goal is to normalize, by which I mean, remove the fear triggers from bare-chestedness, instilling more fear in someone is counterproductive. I’m still chewing on this though.

      I’m also sensitive to creating excuses for negative police interaction or arrest. Example. The day I was walking around at the base of the Washington Monument in D.C., the one I show in my profile picture, I was up there for about a half hour quietly and without drama. But then I sat down to rest and a young man and his mother approached me, said they were from Columbia and asked to take a photograph with me. Of course, I said yes. That prompted two brothers from Georgia (the state) to ask the same, followed by a family from Georgia (the country.) Followed by a park police officer approaching me and asking me to leave. I asked why? He said he knew “it was legal” but he considered it “making a demonstration.” He asked me to step outside the flag circle.

      Now, with the benefit of time, I can scroll through a list of responses I could’ve/should’ve made. How is being merely bare-chested, standing there, demonstrating? How is agreeing to pose for photos like any other tourist demonstrating? And HOW IN THE WORLD, at the foot of a monument to our first president, is making a demonstration forbidden???

      Anyway, my real point in answering your comment, is that gathering a group of women to go bare-chested in some type of procession (walk, ride, etc.) is possibly inviting the police to claim we have organized an unpermitted event, or are causing a crowd to gather, or are being disorderly etc. I know it’s not, for the record, but in some cities we are still in the baby steps and I want everyone on both sides to have time to process this new reality. It’s the same reason I use crosswalks and wait for green lights. No excuses for arrest.

      We are trying to change what normal looks like to people. That’s a slow process if we want to do it in a way that does not incite panic. Most people, frankly, would be totally cool seeing a bare-chested group bike ride and just the thought makes my heart happy. But I know there exist people out there for whom this is quite scary, on a number of deep psychological levels, and I’m trying not to incite them into action. (See Fort Collins, Colorado and Springfield, Missouri at this moment.)

      I very much look forward to the time when such groups exist, and I don’t think it will be long. A year or two? Maybe not even that long. It depends if other women begin appearing bare-chested in public in numbers that allow people to normalize the sight. You’re right, the Co-Ed Pulp group in NYC is rocking it. New York and New York City have been moving this direction since 1992 though. Other places are just getting there. But we will get there. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment. Take care. Stay tuned…

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        1. I’ll talk to anyone who will listen and apparently some who won’t lol. If there is a bike group somewhere within geographical reach of me who wants to ride with me I’d be happy to meet them and discuss details. Thank you again for reading and commenting. Be well.

          Like

  4. I applaud getting the police involved. They’re not always bad guys. The Portland WNBR coordinates with law enforcement, is it’s an enjoyable, joyous, safe ride. San Francisco doesn’t, and it a nasty ride with a high perv factor. Police can be very useful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’ve found the police to be generally professional and well-mannered after I have established thr legality with a supervisor. They feel more comfortable knowing it is someone else’s call and that that call has been made. I have met very calm and professional patrol officers and some who have trouble viewing women as competent humans capable of making rational decisions. This is why I feel so strongly about establishing legality ahead of time. I just couldn’t be sure I would get a patrol officer responding to a 911 call or complaint who would be calm enough or willing enough to actually listen to me. Supervisors so far have all listened and heard me. Patrol officers in theory listen to supervisors so the formula is logical and has proven successful now quite a few times. So I’m going to ride it til the wheels fall off… thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I watched three of your Philly bike-ride videos, specifically checking out the reactions of the folks walking, jogging or biking in the opposite direction. I was genuinely surprised at how unremarkable the reactions were. Most didn’t even turn around to get a second look or do a double-take. Your nonconfrontational efforts at “normalization” would appear to be working.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joseph-
      Thank you for watching and commenting. That is the very reason I post them unedited and in their full length. I want people to see the world isn’t ending and that I’m not just making it seem that way in my writing. I appreciate your time!

      Like

    1. Hi Dave: Thanks for visiting and commenting. It certainly would be nice if we had a more mature and respectful attitude toward the human body. Equality is key for me. My mission is to normalize female bare-chestedness in the same manner that male bare-chestedness is seen as normal. I think all genders benefit when all genders have equal opportunity to pursue happiness. Thank you. Be well.

      Like

  6. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but annually, the World Naked Bike Ride comes to numerous cities across the globe. I actually took part in Philly last year and there were supposedly 3,000 participants. You might want to consider doing it.

    Like

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