Naked Bike Riders

 

“Hey…have some decency would ya!? At least tie a ribbon around that thing.”

These words came from a gregarious elder man standing behind my 8-year-old daughter and me as we were waiting in the port-a-potty line at the end of the Fremont Solstice Parade. His words were directed at another elderly gentleman exiting the blue plastic outhouse clad in nothing but a few smatterings of paint swirled here and there on his naked body. As I heard the words that came out of this man’s mouth behind me, I found myself drawing my daughter closer in. I could feel my desire to protect her from the shame that was oozing out of him. In truth, I believe I was actually in a bit of shock at what I had somehow found myself witnessing here on this day at this parade that I celebrate in part for its extreme lack of shame. Yet, here shame was, right next to me and of course, next to my daughter.

The Fremont Solstice Parade aims to “celebrate the longest day of the year through profound street theater, public spectacle, and a kaleidoscope of joyous human expression.” The parade also begins with what we in Seattle call, “The Naked Bike Riders”. Nearly 1000 people take to the streets on their bikes, naked. Some are painted, some may be wearing bikini bottoms, loose tutus, a hat, but mostly it is a spectacle of flesh. And it is phenomenal! It is hard to explain what happens to the psyche when you witness The Naked Bike Riders. One very clear thing to me as I stare into the sea of multicolored moving body parts is how little we see what real people look like under their clothes. It is a truly life changing event.

So how could this man at this parade be saying what he was saying!?? Didn’t he know that his words were defilement to the very essence of the day?

As I pondered the potty line, I began to recall more moments throughout the day that caused me to take pause in that “Did that really just happen!?” sort of way. The crowd is littered with men wearing telephoto lenses that are larger than my purse. One such man approached my friends 5 year old and requested if he could take photos of him. His “No” fell on deaf ears as the photographer snapped shot after shot. My husband watched as a woman cussed out another man who attempted to “get a better view” by sticking his video camera under the oversized shirt she was wearing.

This year I was fortunate enough to walk in the parade with Seattle Acrobatic and New Circus Arts (SANCA). To represent yet another phenomenal piece of culture here is Seattle, SANCA sent their youth performance troupe to share their talents with the crowd. 5 year olds to college age kids juggled, tumbled, folded their bodies in half, uni-cycled and so much more. I even did a few cartwheels myself. But what actually shocked me were people from the sidelines literally placing orders. I heard numerous times in quite demanding tones, “Do that backbend thing.” “Do that more.” “Go over again.”

Now on the “blow Mommy’s mind you children are amazing” side of things, I saw no child fill their orders. Even my 5 year old went to bed tonight reflecting on one such order. She said to me, “Wasn’t that funny how that woman kept asking me to do it again.” I said, “I did think that was sort of strange. What did you think?” She said, “I just thought it was funny.” Of course, I held my tongue and didn’t share with her that I wanted to have a slightly stern chat with the woman that assertively requested that my 5 year old dance for her over and over again. Instead we just left it at, “That was funny.” But do know that my ears are open for any more conversations that may need to be had about these “funny” people.

So what was going on? What was bothering me? When I brought these things up to my husband he offhandedly said, “Well yeah, it’s a parade.” So what does that mean exactly? To me it means just what the Fremont Arts Council intends for it to means. It is an event to “celebrate the longest day of the year through profound street theater, public spectacle, and a kaleidoscope of joyous human expression.” It is a day to revel in that. It is not a day to celebrate objectification and commodification of the human experience.

A number of us in the Holistic Peer Counseling community have been active members of the sex-positive world for some time. As parents, we often discuss sexuality as it pertains to parenting, the world and ourselves. We are Raising Kids Without Sexual Shame. It was the events of Isla Vista not too long ago that passionately spurred us into conversations around objectification and commodification. Many of us believe that this is the festering wound that really needs our attention. For the most part people blame the outside world for their plights and believe that their pleasures are only attainable through outside sources. What this does is produce a society that can’t hear the “No” because we are too busy trying to get what we want. It produces a society that demands others meet their needs even if they are only 5 years old. It produces a society that wants to shame others instead of recognizing how their own shame is eating them up inside.

There is a difference between witnessing someone’s talents and demanding that someone perform for you. There is a difference between taking what you want from a person and hearing what they will share. There is a difference between owning your own sexual shame and controlling others to avoid it. And yet these things far too often get conflated. “Cover that thing up.” screams “I am ashamed of my body.” “Do that for me.” screams “You work for me.” Nonconsensual and invasive photography screams “I must own you later too!”

As a parent of two young girls I walk away from the parade thrilled that we participated and very much looking forward to next year. (I hear we may even build a float!) I am grateful for the entire day, shame and all, because it is real. While I may be incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many people actively working on healing their sexual shame, the shame is thick and ubiquitous. And regardless, the “blow Mommy’s mind you children are amazing” moments DID exist. These kids held their authority. They shared their talents. They did not perform on demand. If anything they found these behaviors confusing and amusing and I would say that is a very good thing!

About the author

Community.Relationship.Intimacy.Sex.Birth and so much more. Do you know how to find yourself and the space between you and another? Nekole can help you find your way. One small warning....Nekole has been known to change lives!

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