I imagine the woman sitting across a small plastic table from me, wearing clothes. I confess I have done the reverse thing before. Of course, who hasn’t? Or hasn’t anyone, ever? I don’t even know. It’s not something I talk about to my friends: have you ever sat on a tube train or on a bench in the park or in a cafe, or stood in a pub, and imagined the people there naked? All of them? Or even just some of them? And taken the thought further into their world and wondered: how do they make love? Do they ‘make love’, or do they have untrammelled, wild, passionate sex? (Why do we have to say ‘have sex?’ Why, in a language that verbs like no other, have we not adopted ‘to sex’ as a verb? As in ‘how do they sex?’) And with whom? What do they look like, and sound like, and feel like, during their sexing, and in the shower, afterwards? What will they have for breakfast, if anything? Who or what do they see when they cast a glance in the mirror, naked? Is it normal to ask yourself these questions? Or is it weird. What isn’t ‘weird’? What is?
Now, I’m sitting opposite a middle aged woman who has a certain amount of volume to her body—her breasts sag a little, her tummy folds over the patch of pubic hair that adorns her vagina, her arms wobble as she gestures, which she does a fair bit—and I wonder what does she wear, normally? She has spread towels over a half dozen plastic chairs on which we all sit. My small backpack leans against mine, and part of me feels tempted, still, to just reach down now and take out the shorts and the shirt, and put them back on. Part of me though feels relaxed. Quite remarkably so.
Her girlfriend, the woman’s, is pouring tea from a pot into half-size colourful mugs which have on them motifs of beach life in England. They’re handcrafted and pleasant and add to the general feeling of familiarity. There is nothing remiss with this world as I see it, it seems, and I wonder why do we call our partners, if we have them, which at this time I don’t, ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when they are clearly way into their forties or fifties, and what, then, is a transgendered friend. Surely not my ‘transfriend’?
The ‘girlfriend’, who is certainly nearing her mid-forties if not in fact pushing fifty, and of a similar build to her partner/lover/otherhalf/technically-wife-though-they-be-not-married-even-though-now-of-course-they-could-if-they-wanted-to, while pouring tea into the mini mugs that are more sturdy than dainty, but lovable all the same (a bit like the couple themselves), recounts the story of their progeny—the mugs’—and how they—the couple—got them from a friend of theirs who in turn had made them herself especially for their beach hut here, outside which we are sitting, as a present.
But my mind isn’t on tea or on mugs or even on the extraordinarily large buttock that advances on me alarmingly as she bends down to pour the sixth mug. Instead, my mind briefly wanders into un- or only tangentially related territory, and I wonder can we not just call this, ourselves, the Rainbow Community. We’ve adopted the flag, we enjoy the concept, it’s served us well, it does the job and it’s friendly. LGBTTQQIAAP sounds, frankly, ridiculous. It may be inclusive, but as a word it’s unpronounceable, and as an acronym preposterous. And though it list everyone anyone can currently think of, it’s bound to be incomplete.
There is certain to be someone out there somewhere who does not feel their gender or sexual identity adequately represented by either ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘transsexual’, ‘queer’, ‘questioning’, ‘intersex’, ‘asexual’, ‘ally’, or ‘pansexual’. Rainbow, let’s face it, does the trick, as in: ‘Brighton & Hove is a haven for the Rainbow Community, there is no real reason why Bournemouth & Boscombe shouldn’t be too.’
I have a feeling the idea can hardly be new, and I surmise it has probably been tried or at least aired before and for some reason or other rejected, or dismissed, by at least some. But, my mind goes: we need better than a string of letters that looks like an unsolved Enigma code and has no sound. ‘Rainbow’ is fine, seriously. It may have hippie connotations, and the peace movement of the 1990s may have a claim on it too, but so what. It’s embracing. It’s non-ethnicity specific, it’s even pretty. It’s natural. Rainbows happen all over the world. All the time. Like living, like loving. Like questioning, querying and doubting. Like being naked under the sun. For whatever reason, to whatever end.
We could call ourselves the Turing Community, with a reference to the unsolved enigma that is being LGBTTQQIAAP, and to honour a human who has done more for humanity than most others and suffered terrible injustice as his reward. I resolve to try it out on my new friends here, at the next opportunity and say something like: ‘The Turing Community has really made great strides this century, but the struggle is by no means over.’ Upon which they are bound to ask: ‘What’s the Turing Community,’ to which I’ll reply: ‘Us, the Rainbow Community,’ and there’ll no doubt be a long discussion about what we should call ourselves, and whether we can even think of ourselves in any way as a ‘community’. And that could be fun, or at least diverting. Or conversationally stimulating, who knows…
Before I can do so, we are joined by another friendly couple who are participating in the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll together with their little dog. The dog is panting a bit in the heat now, so he gets a bowl of water as a priority. Everybody gets up, that is my big burly new friend, who’s effectively adopted me as a Nude Beach Stroll newbie, his somewhat demur friend who has not been saying much since I tagged along with them, and their sunny woman friend whose welcome it was that had convinced me and won me over so quickly.
The British ritual of kissing friends and close-enough friends of friends, even if you have never met them before, on the cheek, once—or twice? you can never be entirely sure which—here takes on an additional layer of ‘slightly awkward’, because parts of peoples’ bodies that are usually unnoticeable enough, wrapped in some clothing, now dangle and wriggle, and you just have to get used to the odd nipple or tip of a cock brushing against you, and make nothing of it. As do these kind folk, whom to be with I feel happier and more comfortable about all the time.
There is now a veritable plethora of people represented around this little impromptu tea party, and instead of toying with gender nomenclature, I imagine them going about their ordinary business during the day naked. That’s just as entertaining, I quickly realise, as imagining them clothed. The host couple, it transpires, are both social workers of some sort, though one, it appears, in the statutory, the other in the voluntary sector. The mixed couple who have just arrived are semi-retired, it seems, but I can’t quite disentangle their various community involvements and interests from their part time professional activities, which lie broadly in the region of ‘consultation’.
My burly new friend is a carpenter, and his friend who turns out to be his partner—the one who strikes me as a little suspicious, or possibly simply wary of me—a lawyer. Their woman friend works for a big company on the outskirts of town. In personnel. I imagine being employed by her big company on the outskirts of town and needing to see her about my annual leave or my P45, and wandering through a large open plan office full of naked people sitting at computers doing things that to me are incomprehensible in the way, say, cricket is, but not quite as fascinating or soothing, and knocking on Jane’s door and hearing her friendly, warm, sunny voice call, ‘come in!’ and finding her sitting there at her own desk with her big broad smile, and her very red lips and her quite strawberry hair and her freckled nose and her large-nippled breasts, and her necklace that has a Buddhist, I reckon, symbol on it, or maybe it’s just generically spiritual, and her interesting silver green-shade coloured nails. And I imagine her offering me a seat.
There are many things inherently impractical indeed about being naked. You don’t want to, for example, sit down in a leather chair where you know someone else has just sat, for maybe half an hour or longer, talking to their Human Resources manager about a recurring health issue. What exactly is the issue, you wonder, and is it contagious?… Or the carpenter. Now, in some respects that makes a little more sense: making furniture is proper physical exertion, and why should he not do so free from textiles, but perhaps, for reasons of personal safety, no more than topless…
I like his chest, Paul’s, as it bounces when he laughs at a joke I wasn’t quite listening to and therefore didn’t quite get, and I like his magnificent belly which doesn’t seem fat so much as voluptuous. He is wholly, and wholesomely attractive, though not in a classical, or traditional, or obvious way. His personality beams and bestows on the people around him reassurance. I like that. His living partner (of many years, it transpires) is the exact opposite. Dry and wry and analytical. They obviously complement each other, and although he, the boyfriend—yes, you see, it really doesn’t work for him, ‘boyfriend’—hasn’t warmed to me yet, I sense his underlying suspicion, if that’s what it is, slowly ceding. It’s maybe the tea, maybe the realisation I am not going to be a threat to him or his relationship, ever; or perhaps it’s the cookies. I wonder could it possibly have happened that we’ve been served hash cookies, without being told, but then dismiss that idea as absurd. I would have fallen asleep by now, because my tolerance of dope is practically zero.
I suddenly long for a prosecco and wonder is that an option, when I’m pulled out of my disjointed but pleasurable reverie (in the nude) by hearing my name spoken, loud and a little provocative: ‘and what is it you do, Sebastian?’ Clare asks me with a look of frank expectation. She’s the girlfriend of the host couple and the one, I believe, whose social work is more statutory. I’m momentarily startled, and before I can prevent myself from thinking the thought, I wonder, but for a fraction of a second, what happens when nudists get involuntary erections, but I gather my senses and I reply: ‘I am a writer.’
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