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June 13th, 2007 Brandon Seifert | Featured Stories
 

Critical Ass

On bikes, in bars or on beaches, Portlanders love to get nude. Here's the naked truth why.

     
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I was down to my glasses and a pair of Superman boxers when I failed to answer in the form of a question.

It was the Friday before Halloween 2006. I was one of the night's three Strip Jeopardy! contestants at No Fish! Go Fish!, a restaurant on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. And it was time to lose another garment.

I'd only been in town for a month, and Portland had yet to see me do the full monty. But the ladies in the crowd were shouting that I should take it all off, and the contestant next to me got her finger under the elastic band of my boxers and started to tug. I spent the next 40 minutes totally naked, perched on a barstool in front of 40 people.

"That was really brave," my friend Jason told me on the walk home. "And you've got a pretty nice package."

It doesn't take courage for me to take my clothes off in public anymore; I've done it so many times that I'm more comfortable naked than I am in a swimsuit. And here in Portland I'm in good company. Public nakedness is so common here that some people stripped down and ran across the Morrison Bridge on the last day of March before they realized that the advertised "Naked Fools Parade" was just an early April Fool's joke at their expense. Each fall, Lewis & Clark College administrators must debunk the persistent notion that the Southwest Portland campus is "clothing-optional," interrupting a handful of naked dance parties and in-the-buff dips in the school's outdoor pool. And between last weekend's World Naked Bike Ride and a 5K nude walk/run through Forest Park, all Portland would've needed to host a Nude Triathlon was a leg of skinny-dipping at Rooster Rock.

With convenient access to two nude beaches, scads of strip clubs and state laws that practically give us a constitutional right to bare all, the City of Roses is also the City of Disrobing.

Portland gets lots of attention for some of its naked people. This is the city that gave the world SuicideGirls.com in 2001, and even though the alt-porn pioneers moved to Los Angeles in 2003, Oregon still has more past and present SGs than any state besides California. And while Houston, Atlanta and Nashville all claim rights to the all-important title of most strip clubs per capita in the U.S., nobody claims it louder or takes more pride in it than we do. (There's no U.S. Department of Tittie Bars providing convenient stats on a biannual basis, so it's not clear-cut who really has the most per capita. But based on the 60 strip clubs listed in Portland on the Ultimate Strip Club List website, we beat the pants off of all those cities, and we flat out have more clubs than Las Vegas or Los Angeles. And Seattle's measly four strip clubs look on in shame.)

London Lunoux thinks Portland's professional nudity trickles down to the rest of the city. She's in a good position to know—she bartends at Devil's Point in Southeast, go-go dances at Dante's and was SuicideGirls' Portland photographer for five years, as well as being a featured Girl herself.

"There are a lot of sex-industry workers here and a lot of artists," Lunoux says. And when they combine their powers, "suddenly you have nudity in places you wouldn't expect."

The reason Portland has so many strip clubs is also one of the major reasons we have so much other nudity—it's protected as "freedom of expression" under Oregon law. For a full explanation, see the sidebar on page 45.

That's good for the Portland leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, an annual Critical Mass-style event attended sans clothes. A group of cyclists in Vancouver, B.C., started the ride in 2004, but in 2006 Portland scored the biggest turnout in North America, with more than 500 participants. Much of that turnout is thanks to Pedalpalooza, the big summer festival in Portland bike culture, which coincides serendipitously with the nude ride.

(Due to another quirk of scheduling, the ride also falls in the middle of the Rose Festival, so many of the ride's spectators are sailors in town for Fleet Week. "What they write back to Mom in Iowa I don't know," says local WNBR facilitator Jasun Wurster.)

Head counts from the rides around the world were still coming in at press time, and it isn't known yet whether PDX held onto its title. More than 800 people came to the ride's kick-off dance party late Saturday night at the Organics to You warehouse in Southeast Portland, and just before midnight hundreds of bikers (including me) in various stages of undress flooded the startled streets of downtown, Nob Hill and Southeast.

The bars in downtown emptied out to watch us pass. People cheered and stood by the side of the road to give us high fives. And they pulled out their camera phones, too.

"This is awesome!" a guy on West Burnside yelled. "I love all of you!" At Southeast Hawthorne and 30th we passed a yellow VW Bug whose two passengers had stripped off their clothes. One stood by the driver's-side door; the other stood on top of the Bug.

One inevitably wonders: How comfortable can it be to ride a bike naked? Doesn't it chafe? Isn't it cold? And what if you fall off?

I'd been a little worried about my virgin ride, but things turned out fine for me. Sitting down on the bike seat was a bit of a shock (it was cold!), but nothing ended up getting chafed, pinched or crushed, and the nipply, drizzling Saturday weather had turned into a balmy night. And while I didn't see anybody get hurt, I watched two bicyclists sideswipe each other, a bike in front of me dropped its chain, and someone almost got their hand run over reaching for a bag they'd dropped. It was a little scary.

Besides the midnight ride, Saturday also saw a small daytime nude ride through North and Southeast Portland (15 people turned out in the rain, down from 50 last year), plus as a nude walk/run through Forest Park. The Fig Leif 5K walk/run (named after Leif Erickson Drive in Northwest, where it took place) is part of the Bare Buns 5K series, a set of nude runs in Oregon. There are two Bare Buns runs planned for Collins Beach on Sauvie Island (Sunday, July 1, and Sunday, Sept. 9), as well as a "beach scramble" at Rooster Rock State Park in August. As if Collins Beach and Rooster Rock don't see enough naked people—they're the only official nude beaches in Oregon, and they're both only a short drive from Portland.

Rooster Rock was the first official clothing-optional (hint: nude!) beach in the United States, and nudity at Collins Beach got the go-ahead from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1993. Rooster Rock started as the more popular of the two, but it fell out of favor among the optionally clothed crowd because so many people were having sex there. And that's not what nude recreation is about, says Don Zirbel.

Zirbel is a firefighter-paramedic in Canby. He founded a volunteer group called the Oregon Clothing-Optional Beach Alliance to take care of Collins Beach and Rooster Rock, and to drive out people who use the beaches for inappropriate (and illegal) public sex.

Zirbel describes Oregon as "nudity-friendly" because it combines pleasant summers with a progressive mindset in both the populace and the state government. PDX, he thinks, is just an example of the state at large.

"I talk with a lot of people up in Seattle that are involved with the pro-nudism movement," Zirbel says, "and they are actually pretty jealous of what we have down here." Places like Florida, he says, may have nicer climates but aren't as open-minded as Oregon, while Seattle has a liberal populace but doesn't have a government or a climate that's kind to taking your clothes off. He may be onto something: Oregon's Willamettans, the Northwest's largest nudist club (400-plus members), will host the 76th Annual American Association for Nude Recreation convention outside Eugene, Ore., this August.

Zirbel and his group subscribe to naturism, a philosophy that stresses living in concert with nature and rejects "the culture of lust and shame" that surrounds our uncovered selves, according to ORCOBA's website. Like many people who practice social nudity, Zirbel doesn't see anything wrong with our bodies and feels that a blanket taboo against nudity in all situations is actively unhealthy.

Being nude in mixed company can be healing, says Richelle Corbo, the director of Northeast Portland's Common Ground Wellness Center. Many of the patrons of Common Ground's coed clothing-optional sauna and hot tubs have told the staff that the nude environment helped them get past their body issues.

Plus, it just feels nice. "It's lovely to be able to soak without wearing a swimsuit," Corbo points out.

Nobody's skinny-dipping at Common Ground right now, not until the hot tubs and sauna reopen in a new facility near Northeast Alberta Street this fall. And nobody's getting pantsed over Daily Doubles at Strip Jeopardy!, either.

The night I played Strip Jeopardy! turned out to be the penultimate game at No Fish! Go Fish! The restaurant has a large staff turnover and stopped staying open past lunchtime. Strip Jeopardy! lives on, though, after a fashion. No Fish! owner John Doyle hosts a Wednesday trivia night at the Fifth Quadrant brewpub in NoPo, and the first game of every odd-numbered month is played Strip Jeopardy! style—except Doyle is the only one who takes any clothes off. But Doyle thinks the old-school version of the game would do well in a place like Dante's or Acme, and he feels like he might be willing to host it again by the end of the summer.

And if he does, Doyle promised I'd be one of the first people he calls.?

Get Naked, It's the Law!

In Oregon's statues, "Public Indecency" covers intercourse (or "deviate intercourse") in public or where the public can see you, as well as showing your genitalia with the specific purpose of turning somebody on. If you aren't using nudity as a way to hit on people, you aren't breaking the law.

"The police will usually let people do whatever they want, including walking around naked," said Stu Sugarman, an associate at local law firm Warren and Watkins. Sugarman is currently defending Reverend Phil Sano, a cyclist who had charges brought against him following an altercation with an SUV during the 2006 naked ride.

Sugarman points out that while nudity isn't illegal in Oregon, it's illegal in Portland under a city ordinance that prohibits visible genitalia in mixed-gender places, and in areas visible from mixed-gender places.

Sugarman describes the ordinance as "very, very rarely enforced." He believes it isn't used more often because the public doesn't want it to be. "I don't think people are offended by nudity here," Sugarman says.

The ordinance is also of questionable constitutionality in the state of Oregon. The state constitution says "no law shall be passed restraining the freedom of expression." And if two women going down on each other onstage is considered "freedom of expression" (it is, as long as the performers aren't paid for it, according to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2005), then there's a good chance riding your bike balls-out is protected too. —Brandon Seifert


Visit worldnakedbikeride.org for a history and, uh, photos of the World Naked Bike Ride, and barebunsrun.com for more information on the nude run series, including the Sauvie Island Sun Run on Saturday, July 1, and the Columbia Gorgeous 5K Beach Scramble on Sunday, Aug. 5.
 
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