Nudists are vying for a bare-only beach. But the clothed deserve space, too.
On a blazing hot summer day in 2012, a friend of mine and I made the ferry crossing to Toronto Islands. We trekked down a sun-dappled, treed-in path a few minutes to a beach, found a quiet space, set up our towels, and slapped on some sunscreen—the usual beach routine, save that I had forgone a swimsuit. Hanlan’s Beach is, after all, one of Canada’s two clothing optional beaches, and I took full advantage of that.
It was my friend’s first time at Hanlan’s. He was nervous leading up to our beach plans, but I assured him that, while I’d be going nude, he was free to wear a swimsuit on the clothing-optional side of the beach. During one of our quick dips in the lake—where I tried not to think about what’s in the Lake Ontario water—he said he would go nude. I thought that was great, and let him peel off his swimsuit in his own time and adjust. We spent the rest of the day reading and chatting, cooling off when we needed to. It was a perfect beach day.
Hanlan’s Point beach has been a leisure destination for Toronto since the late 19th century. After years as an unofficial nude beach and a pilot project by the City, it received its designation as an official clothing-optional beach in 2002 due to the advocacy of several nudist/naturist groups. “Clothing-optional” is key, because you’ll see a spectrum of dress and undress along the southern side of the beach.
But some beachgoers are taking umbrage with that option.
Last week, the Toronto Star reported that a pair of beachgoers, a man and a woman, were approached by two nude men who told them they had to go bare as they made their way onto the beach. According to the Star, there seems to be something of an unauthorized nude-only beach campaign. Someone had posted signs, since removed by the City, that read: “Beyond this place, you should be nude. For the comfort of the nudists and to show respect for the nudists.”
Apparently a sense of irony was shucked with their clothes, since these nudism enthusiasts feel entitled to dictate what people can or can’t wear.
Nudists and naturists who have spoken to the media have complained of “gawkers.” On any given summer day at Hanlan’s there is no shortage of voyeurs who come onto the beach to take in the spectacle of nude bodies. They snicker; they howl in amusement to one another; they judge aloud; they point and stare; they take pictures. They also argue that clothed people have “taken over the beach,” and a few people suggest that Hanlan’s should rid of clothed beachgoers altogether. But it’s important to point out that there’s a world of difference between malicious, obnoxious “gawkers,” and people who choose to go clothed at a clothing-optional beach.
There’s a number of reasons to go clothed, after all. I went on my first trip to Hanlan’s with my boyfriend at the time who identified as transgender. He was repeatedly misgendered, not out of malice but out of ignorance. I’ve visited the beach with or run into people across the gender identity spectrum who have gone in various states of (un)dress, and I respect that they might not want to put their bodies on display to be judged and misinterpreted.
Hanlan’s has also had a problem with sexual harassment—local nudists and law enforcement have both tackled the problem in the past—but it’s reasonable, if unfortunate, to not want to be leered at or photographed naked without your consent.
In response to the nude-only-beach controversy, blogger and advocate Jillian Page shared a story about a time when she was visited a naturist resort and “Mother Nature didn’t fully co-operate. The first half of the day was cool, and many people wore clothes to stay warm. Nobody criticized those who covered up—everybody understood the necessity. And even if it weren’t a necessity, nobody would have criticized anyone who chose not to remove their clothes.” It’s a positive, affirming attitude that Hanlan’s beachgoers could stand to learn from.
There are also those who just don’t feel comfortable going completely nude, or are working their way up to. The nudism enthusiasts, while likely passionate and well meaning, are tackling the issue in an inappropriate way. Tables, pamphlets, and respectful advocacy are a fantastic idea. Nudist and naturist communities organizing around the beach is fantastic. But forcing beachgoers to strip down is the wrong approach.
Like many of my friends, I’m a young person without much of a disposable income, a driver’s licence, a spouse, or children. The organized nudist and naturist community in Southern Ontario, geared toward families, is largely inaccessible to me.
But outside of my home, Hanlan’s is all I have. I go to the beach with mixed groups of friends who go nude or clothed, and there’s no issue. Advocating for a nude-only beach isn’t the answer—it only segregates those seeking to strip down without giving space for others to adjust. Without that space, those like my friend, who might come around to enjoying the option of going nude, will never have the chance to relax, unwind, and give it a try.