Chris González LaCorte
Being in the Atlanta area has its perks. There is an endless amount of things to do daily in the city: we have one of the busiest metropolises in the country, and we have the busiest airport in the world where you can catch a flight to pretty much anywhere. But what if you need a bit of time to escape and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? I recently attended Gay Naturists International’s “The Gathering” in the Poconos for the fourth year in a row. I have been attending every year since I moved to Atlanta, and I have to say that this year was a new experience for me. While I go camping to get away from what is the norm for me, I also go to see folx, who have now become my chosen family, and those who return each year to shed their clothing and bare their all. Men of all shapes and sizes attend the event, and it truly is diverse regarding the age demographic, as it can be as young as 21 and sometimes as old as 91. You bunk with cabin mates that you may know and some you may not. You eat in a dining hall daily with over 500 men who identify as gay, bi, pan, whatever! It truly is a magical experience. However, the main magic that happens isn’t just the joy you find in spending time naked amongst a sea of men but the joy and love you find within yourself by the end of the week. By shedding your clothing, you realize that we are all much more alike than we are different, and that lesson is much more apparent when we shed the outer layer that hides our insecurities and assets.
From the gracious smiles of the board members and volunteers at check-in to the introductions to your cabin mates or the re-acquainting hugs with other campers, there is an air of welcomeness here that you often don’t find elsewhere. Nightly shows range from comedy to variety shows because, as Drag Queen Stormy Weather says: “It’s a lot easier to find variety than it is to find talent.” As I walked across the camp with nothing covering me, I noticed the smiles and eye contact people gave me. There is a level of genuineness behind their eyes that you rarely find anywhere else. There is an authenticity (a very overused word) about the camp and its members that show you there are folks who truly enjoy being nude; it doesn’t have to be about sex. I have heard from numerous former sex workers in the business that they are afraid of going to camps like this because they feel as though they won’t be able to escape their sex persona when nude around other gay men. That’s why they don’t go to River’s Edge or Oz.
But I find this to be the opposite of what happens. When someone sees another person naked, there is a vulnerability associated with that. There is an understanding that they are showing you something that others may not have seen, they may have been ashamed to expose, or they simply don’t like being naked. However, there is a new way that I am choosing to embrace my nudity. I want to feel empowered and strong when naked. There is only one body that we are all given. This body, this vessel that allows us to move through space and time, is the only capsule we have available to us. If we choose to shame it, we shame all it has been through. With all the heartbreak, death, love, joy, laughter, etc., that comes with being human, why would we ever want to disregard that which has helped shape us into who we are today? There is no need, and quite frankly, it is disrespectful. If we only have one body, we owe it to our parents, ourselves, and the powers that be (whether you are religious or not) to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. As humans, we can indulge and refuse, love or hate, and listen or ignore, but we still need to do our best to keep our bodies young at heart.
And THAT is what I learned the most at camp. Youth truly is wasted on the young a lot of the time. These men of a certain age I was bunking with absolutely had a blast at camp, and they were incredibly lovely to spend time with. All over 50, and they had the heart and energy of a much younger camper. If we embrace the joy around us and live in the moment instead of getting stuck doing things we hate, then maybe (just maybe) we can live a bit longer.