By Sean Stephens
There I was, alone and naked in a dive bar waiting for my Jack and Coke. I looked around at the 150+ guys around me trying to figure out what happened in my life for me to be standing in that spot at that moment.
The month before, my fiancé broke up with me. I’d just moved to a new neighborhood and the wounds were fresh. A lot of trauma surrounding shame and lack of worth pulled me into such a deep, depressive, inescapable state. Much to my surprise, a naked social group had a monthly party at a bar in my new neighborhood. My heart immediately dropped when I got the reminder, I’d purchased the tickets in a drunk whim. But I was going to do this, and I was going to do it tonight.
What could I expect? Would there be creepy dudes with boners? Would I freeze up or have a panic attack? Would everything shrivel?
I arrived at the bar, took a huge breath and walked inside. A barrier was set up to block the view inside, I timidly ventured around it to see a friendly naked man at a table with a list. He warmly greeted me, checked me in, and gave me instructions. I needed to walk over to the clothes check area, through a sea of naked men, and place all my clothes in numbered trash bag.
I started my journey across the bar. As I walked through the sea of men, I noticed that there was every kind of man present. Older, younger, every ethnicity, every height, every weight. As I tried to catch my breath, I arrived at the clothes check and was greeted by another naked man.
As he hands me a trash bag, I realize that now is the time. There is no turning back.
I slowly unlaced my shoes.
“What am I doing?”
I felt my heartbeat through my chest. With every piece of clothing removed, I began to feel walls falling. I started to feel liberated, bare and calm. I handed my bag over and suddenly it was just me. I had nothing to shield me from the world.
I saw another guy around my age standing at the bar alone. One rule of this party is that phones were not allowed. Without having my phone, it was very difficult to mentally or emotionally check out.
This is the beauty of this kind of event. You are forced to interact with people. With no barriers or pretense, it is 99% successful that you will find a like-minded friend. I walked over to this guy. Being naked in a bar can be a solid ice breaker, and I decided to be brave and speak to him. I don’t think I’ve ever, in my entire life, gone up to a stranger at a bar and initiated a conversation. Let alone, initiate a conversation at a time when I was literally naked. Throughout the night, I made so many connections and friends, whom I now talk to on a regular basis.
It seems that losing layers of fabric sheds any remnants of shame. As gay men we are shamed, so often for simply existing. But in this dive bar, naked, we existed beautifully. For the first time in my life, I really felt all of the shame and scars fade away.