A couple weeks ago a woman named Hontouni Heart from the Washington D.C. area contacted me and asked if I would join her for a bare-chested walk in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C. She told me she was an experienced naturist and nude yoga practitioner, but had never made a bare-chested walk in public.
We made arrangements and she told me where to pick her up. It can be hard to find parking in D.C. so we arrived early and took the first space we could find, which happened to be in front of a yoga studio, which happened to be full of students, who happened to be lounging all over the sidewalk during a break.
Having time to kill I took a bare-chested walk right from there. It was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm and as far as negative interactions go, completely uneventful. So I was feeling good when it came time to meet up with Hontouni Heart. The yogis were still present in large numbers. I walked through them a second time and settled near our vehicle. They looked, some snuck pictures, but otherwise no one interacted with me.
I sent Hontouni Heart a text message telling her I was standing bare-chested near our vehicle, at the corner of such and such, in front of a yoga studio. Given my attire and the fact that we were probably in her neighborhood, I asked if she would like us to come to her, or if she would like to come to us.
Here’s the rest in her words…
“I knew exactly where they were parked: right in front of the studio where I practice and assist class. I also knew that 1) there were about 60 yoga people there, 2) that they were on lunch break for their weekend yoga teacher training session, and that 3) this would likely mean folks would be sprawled out on the sidewalk in a rainbow stew of spandex and Lycra. All this is also in the same neighborhood as the place where I work.
I texted Gingerbread back, ‘I can come to you.’ In fact, I had already left my office and was just around the corner from meeting my new friends for my first ever topfree walk in the midst of clothed society.
I had come across Gingerbread’s blog only a week prior to this meetup. As I read through her posts, I noticed many references to my city. ‘Wait a minute. Who is this redhead all up in my town?!’ I had to connect with and join her on a topfree walk. Essentially, the spirit of the email was:
– Me: ‘Yo, I wanna join you on a walk!’
– Gingerbread: ‘Awesome sauce!!!’
(I don’t know if Gingerbread actually uses phrases like ‘awesome sauce,’ but it’s my story, and in my story she says stuff like ‘awesome sauce.’)”
(Editorial note: I do use that term. It’s like we’ve been friends forever! ~Gingerbread.)
“I had never considered walking about the city topfree. I usually sneak around to be clothes free outside. I had read some accounts of The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society in New York, but usually I’d just think, ‘Oh that’s cool, good for them.’ Gingerbread had been researching topfreedom diligently for quite some time and learned that it was legal for women to be topfree in Washington, DC. In fact, she had successfully taken walks in the city without arrest. Once I started reading her accounts, it (finally) hit me that perhaps I, too, could enjoy that right here in my city. So, I was very excited to join her.
And nervous. ‘But WHY am I nervous?’ I wondered to myself. This year I have been to a number of clothing optional places. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been there, done that. It’s all good!’ Then it dawned on me: all of those places were far away behind gates, trees and covered windows. This walk would be my first time expressing any aspect of my clothes free life in the midst of the rest of society, and I had no idea how people might react.
I rounded the corner, still in shirt and skirt, and, indeed, there bumbled a crowd of colorfully-clad yogis outside the studio with eyes on the bare-chested Gingerbread. No one said anything to me, so I gave my attention to Gingerbread and her fiance. My arms flung open and we melted into a giant hug. We jumped into the truck and took off to Rock Creek Park for our stroll.
Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C. December 2015. Charge!
There were plenty of people out running and cycling, families playing and enjoying the day. December decided to be a summery 70ºF that day, and I was certainly in no mood to protest. A light breeze stroked my cheeks, and the sun warmed my skin. Initially, Gingerbread and I both wore our shirts in the park. But as we made our way up a steep hill the sweat on my back became too much of a nuisance. Without a peep I took a pause, removed my shirt and stuffed it in my bag. Gingerbread removed her shirt too and there we were topfree.
As the fresh air washed over me, I felt relief and that connection with the environment that I had missed dearly. It made a difference feeling like I had a right to be there, bare-chested, in the presence of everyone else.
Individuals, couples and families passed us, sometimes greeting with a cheerful hello, sometimes saying nothing at all. One gentleman taking his afternoon run passed us by and gave a quick thumbs up. We even encountered a group playing volleyball near a rest spot. Everyone saw us, but they simply carried on with their game. It surprised me that not a single person said anything lewd or rude to us. We were simply walking and conversing topfree, and people treated us like they would anyone else.”
Gingerbread here again. While we were walking on a wooded trail, Hontouni Heart said one of the things she felt nervous about was the reactions of children and their parents. Shortly thereafter, two parents and a young girl passed us coming the opposite direction. I would estimate her age at 7 or 8, my fiancé thought she was 9, and Hontouni thought she was around 10. So somewhere in there. She looked surprised to see us, in a pleasant way. She also gave us a big smile when we looked down, smiled and greeted her directly. We then looked back up at her parents, who nodded, smiled and continued on. I was relieved. Hontouni Heart’s first interaction with kids and parents had gone well. And that was that, we thought.
Fast forward an hour…
“As we made our way through the last field, we spotted a young girl, (the same little girl from before), perhaps 10 years old, topfree, bouncing a ball around with her dad while her mom watched from the side. I gave a small wave to the girl, and she waved back to us happily. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.”
Nor will I. That little girl looked so happy and free, way down deep in her soul. My fiancé made eye contact with the girl’s father and they nodded to each other. Both parents saw us and smiled. That was it. We went our way and they continued doing what they were doing. I don’t know about Hontouni Heart, but I was close to crying. It took a few minutes for all of us to process what had just happened, actually.
“Now that I have this experience of being able to bare part of myself in the midst of society, and having that choice of expression protected by law, I am even more inspired to bring clothes freedom for all into that as well. There is a huge difference between having to drive off to a segregated resort or hide on a secluded balcony somewhere, and being able to walk in the presence of others without fear of arrest or other punitive actions. It was this experience of being free to be free, and I want that option for all people.”