When I heard that Nita Maddux had organized a clothing-optional bike ride in Missoula “as a way for people to demonstrate acceptance of their bodies and express their inner child,” I did nothing. I have no opinion on this issue, partly because I have the internet and can see as many naked people as I want, and partly because I burn easily. Also I will be out of town. Apart from reading about it in the Missoulian, my experience is exactly as if the naked bike ride were not happening at all. I consider that relevant, since a bunch of people are having the same experience and freaking out.
This naked bike ride thing is terrorizing the kind of people who go to city council meetings. Opponents of Bare As You Dare spoke for 90 minutes before council Tuesday night, one of them warning that any children who witness the event will be “scarred for life.” Another said he had “never seen anything so disgusting” as the city’s decision to permit the ride. Sixteen year-old Tessa Fausett warned that disabled people, who are “sweet and childlike,” will be irreparably harmed. She added:
As a Christian and a Mormon, I stand for purity. And I would like to ask everyone here what they stand for, and I think when people think of Missoula, Montana, they should think of it as a place that stands for goodness.
Which is why we shouldn’t let teenagers speak at city council meetings. It’s cool that this child regards disabled adults as children and herself as a symbol of purity, but the purpose of Missoula government is not to enforce a church youth’s idea of goodness. As Mayor Engen pointed out, remotely and probably wisely via read statement, nudity is not indecency. The Bare As You Dare ride is legal, and council is not in the business of stopping legal things unless they’re soup kitchens.
But I am not concerned with legal points here. I am more interested in another aspect of this issue, which is that people who oppose the naked bike ride could protect themselves from it by the simple expedient of not going.
Kathi Blair touched on this issue in her remarks, which addressed the preferences of adults in the room rather than hypothetical children and centered on a hike she once took in Glacier National Park:
There was a woman that wanted to take off all of her clothes and show us all that she was nude. And these experiences were unwanted. We talk a lot about our children, but I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to enjoy the day.
“These experiences were unwanted,” Blair says, instinctively using the passive voice to make her own preferences sound universal. Obviously, the woman wanted the experience of nudity. Her experience was unwanted by Blair, who might have turned away or shut her eyes but could not stop thinking about how somebody was naked, even years later.
I submit that her anecdote is a microcosm of the whole naked bike ride issue, itself an example of what is wrong with city government and democracy in general. There are two reasons to think that the majority of Missoula does not oppose Bare As You Dare:
- It’s legal under the body of municipal ordinances we agreed upon, and our elected representatives approved it.
- You can avoid it completely by not going to it during the hour that it is in progress.
Item (2) reflects my own experience, and it gives the lie to any claim that the bike ride injures those people who oppose it. Their problem is not that they might see nudity, something that almost certainly won’t happen unless they seek it out. Their problem is knowing that someone, somewhere is naked—a problem akin to worrying that somewhere two men are kissing, or that someone else’s kid is reading Fahrenheit 451.
The apolitical term for such a person is “busybody.” In politics, however—particularly local politics—the busy enjoy an advantage. While the rest of us express our non-opposition to naked bike rides and books containing “damn” by doing nothing, they fill our silence with their own deeply felt opinions about what other people should do. And I cannot think of a solution to this problem, short of ridicule. Do your part and make fun of someone’s sincerely held beliefs today.