IMG_7732There we were on the sidelines, waiting for the Ultimate Freedom Concert to begin in Times Square, arguing the way bookish folk do: did the adjective “Ultimate” modify “Freedom” or “Concert”? Was it a concert celebrating the ultimate freedom, or was it the ultimate concert celebrating freedom?

It was a way to kill some time as the men inside the enclosure paced and noon turned to 1pm and 1 inched toward 2. One of the men, a sober, even severe, fellow in a charcoal gray t-shirt, held a microphone but didn’t speak into it. Drums stood in one corner, not being played. Yoga instructors balanced tentatively on one foot, then the other. Everyone was holding fire.

The man was a singer and activist calling himself Ton Dou, who’s been traveling around the country for the last several years, trying to persuade people that nudity isn’t anything to be ashamed or frightened of, and governments that it shouldn’t be illegal. Nudity, he believes, can be non-sexual and healthy and beautiful. And somehow he’d convinced New York City to let him hold a concert in Times Square fully nude himself, with anyone attending free to go fully nude as well.

But here we were, an hour and a half after the announced start time, and everyone was still fully dressed.

Was it cold feet? Literally, yes: going nude means going barefoot, and on this autumnal day the pavement was chilly. But maybe metaphorically as well. Ton Dou had the courage of his convictions, and he’d gathered perhaps two dozen men of varying ages and sizes and complexions to join him, but aside from one brave yoga instructor, no women. When Ton finally gave the signal and the clothes came off,

IMG_7727IMG_7720IMG_7744IMG_7754IMG_7724…it was surely the most penises Times Square has ever seen at one time, and all without a police whistle blowing or anyone getting carted off to jail. And that’s wonderful. We agree that nudity isn’t shameful or dangerous and that it shouldn’t be illegal. And yet — with the one brave exception, it was an all-male demonstration. Not even our cadre of body-positive women felt like stepping behind the protective fence and disrobing surrounded by twenty or thirty naked men and several thousand iPhone-wielding spectators. (One of the photographers at the event, a woman representing ClothesFree.com, who gladly goes nude in her own site’s videos, chose to stay clothed at this event. Several of our members who said they were curious and might attend changed their minds when they arrived and saw the gender imbalance.)

It’s interesting to note that this hasn’t been a problem when Human Connection Arts has held bodypainting events in Times Square — those have had a fairly equal mix of women and men from the start, and everyone felt comfortable. (Those also had paint, of course, which may not do much to hide one’s naked body, but does help disguise one’s face, which can be a consideration if you’re going to be naked in front of thousands of onlookers in one of the most public places on Earth.)

RandAIMG_8447IMG_8290So was the Ultimate Freedom Concert a failure? Not at all. It served its purpose: it showed that people can be naked, and can see other people naked, without any catastrophic consequences. People walking through Times Square to celebrate Brazilian Day got to see their share of, uh, brazilians. We overheard conversations between spectators and participants that suggested honest curiosity and supportive dialogue. (“What is this?” was the most common question, followed by “Is it legal?” and “Doesn’t your penis get cold?”) Some faces in the crowd seemed downright bored by the sight, and if that isn’t a victory, we don’t know what is.

IMG_7717But not being a failure doesn’t mean it was a success. A gathering that women don’t feel comfortable participating in — even if that wasn’t the organizers’ intent — might be a step in the direction of freedom, but the ultimate freedom it is not.

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