It was just after breakfast, though all that existed inside me was half a mug of coffee with almond milk and a clementine. I was on my way to a place I never thought I’d enter: a giant building full of saunas, pools, rooms to sweat out and disrobe from the toxins tearing up our insides. I was beside one of my favorite humans, a writer with a similar soul to mine. She had been to this place many times, preparing me to just bring my swimsuit to which I replied: I don’t own a formal bathing suit. So, I put something together that would permit me entrance into a swimming pool, and prepared to be cleansed.
At this place, the humans are given uniforms. I called them costumes, to permit the drag I was about to encounter. Pink shirt pressing against unpressed chest. Shorts. Tiny green towels.
Men and women were separated. Men got the blue shirts and I asked aloud if there might ever be a time when a third option might exist. You know, for those unwilling to pick a side.
First, saunas. This space was absolutely beautiful. Each one looked like a hut and the temperatures varied from 120 degrees Fahrenheit all the way to almost 190. There was a pink salt room and one full of jade, containing calcium and magnesium with infrared healing elements. When it got too hot that no more sweat could exit my pores, we entered the freezer, which was only 40 degrees, but covered in ice.
As I sat, I thought of my body as a calendar. All the days that have been ripped up and X’d. Moments of significance. Moments of clarity. Living in New York City has caused some bruising. I could feel the colors lift out of my skin. It’s too dramatic to call myself healed, but I was beginning to feel less……unfurled.
We changed out of sweaty costume and into bathing attire. For me, sports bra and boxers with tank top to cover. We headed outside into the pre-Winter air toward heated pools with massaging jets on every side. The water washed away the sweat. I watched some of my poisons float away. Then, back to changing room to remove wet suit from body.
We had worked our way toward nude.
So….we take everything off? I asked.
This is one of the reasons they separate genders. In the pools and saunas, everyone merges. But in the nude spaces, no mixing aloud. Though I would not use the words deeply comfortable to describe my feelings toward being coupled with the WOMEN ONLY space, I knew being surrounded by nude men would only deepen my discomfort.
So, I disrobed completely and headed out.
I did not grow up in a household where nudity was celebrated. This doesn’t mean we were raised to be ashamed of our bodies; I just always remember covering up. Wearing robe from bathroom to bedroom post shower. I was never given a sex talk and there was NO internet back then. I had many questions back then (still do) and the times I was naked with friends were few and far between and always included some level of perversity that we never talked about.
We entered the enclosed space full of various pools and saunas. Everyone was nude and although I was wearing my glasses, I tried not to see too much. I was immediately brought back to high school locker room days before I knew I was gay. I only knew how uncomfortable I was changing around other girls. Afraid they’d notice me peeking. Secretly comparing my body to everyone else’s. Wondering why mine looked so dissimilar.
In this space, no one sucked in their protruding bellies. No one walked backward into the pool to shield others from cellulite or stretchmarks. There was no apology in these shared waters. We reveled in our various versions of nude in the most erotic and beautiful way.
I did my best to contain my stares. But it was difficult. I am so deeply in love with and moved by bodies. There were no six-packs. There were no air-brushed versions. These bodies were real. Stunning, in fact.
Because I am me, I searched for queer bodies. Though I started to wonder if anyone looking would even call mine this word. At one point, I did feel stared at, but my friend suggested it might be from our combined tattoos. I suddenly realized, at that moment, we had the only skin that had been inked.
I did not think about my breasts all day until I put my shirt back on. Pink costume with sweat stains. I felt deeply aware of how full my chest felt. My nipples were trying to upstage me. I had no binder and my sports bra was wet. This is when I realized though there was a time I would channel my inner-hippie and walk around bra-less…..that part of me was no longer.
My breasts feel enormous, I said to my friend. I am so used to pushing them down.
And I’m so used to you not having any, she said. I became further reminded in this moment of why I love her so much. She sees me as I see me.
Then I wondered, was I seeing those women in their nude as they wanted to be seen? Unapologetic folds and exquisite excess. Wild and free. Is this how they wished they’d be viewed with clothes on?
I cannot control the stares of others just as I have a difficult time controlling my own gaze. I struggle with how inconsistent my nudes are. I am far past my 20’s and I still have no idea how to be nude sometimes.
I still am unsure of how I want to be touched.
My attractions and desires are shifting. My emotions are fumbling to control themselves. Sometimes, I am an inferno of question marks all guided at myself.
Maybe I need to be in more places like this….where nudity is not necessarily about sex but healing and purging. Maybe this is how I will exchange some of my question marks with more permanent answers.