"Nudity as expression"
Every episode of Naked Age begins with research. When it came to preparing to chat with Andy Tabbat, the research phase was a little more organic than it often is.
I first became aware of Andy on Twitter. Over a few months, it slowly dawned on me that he possessed an astonishing number of quirky images of himself nude, most of them in public, and evidently spanning many years.
As we began interacting over Twitter, Andy's delightfully idiosyncratic demeanor and humor came into focus. I found him appealing and engaging, and we were fast friends.
Before long, Andy sent me an article he'd written for his blog, titled "My Life in the Nude." In it, Andy detailed his naked story, from working as a figure model for art students, to posing for art photographers. From participating in marathons and marches, to being featured in the national press. Suddenly, the picture of a lifetime spent in the nude formed for me, and I knew I had to record a conversation with him.
I believe, deep down, that I am hard-wired to be a nudist. There are times, whether in nature, at a social gathering, or on a city street, when I think, “This moment would be perfect, if only I were naked.”
["My Life in the Nude", Andy Tabbat, 2018; The Naked Gentleman Blog.]
As an interviewer, I've found that sometimes research is a completely necessary basis for a discussion, especially when it relates to history. Other times, research is less critical than simply having a rapport. Luckily, Andy's interview fell into the latter category.
I don't believe that I had to work especially hard to earn Andy's trust, but I knew I did not want to take it for granted. The truth is, Andy knew his own story so well and was so eager to tell it, all I really had to do was listen, which was easy because I genuinely enjoyed hearing him tell his story. Charismatic and funny, it's easy to see how he was drawn as a young man to become a performer.
While I had come prepared with questions for Andy, I found myself preferring not to interrupt him, and eventually he answered most of them without my needing to ask. He seemed a little self conscious of the very fact that he was talking so much, but I tried to assure him that this was exactly what I was after. There's very little that I can add to his story, after all.
I always seek collaboration with subjects of these episodes, to whatever extent they feel comfortable. It is imperative to me that they have some feeling of authorship in their story. Still, most folks offer a round of editorial notes and not much more. Andy was more engaged and hands on, providing helpful edits and suggestions throughout the process. He sent me photos and ideas, and even got involved in the promotional strategy for its release. I enjoyed hearing his ideas and truly feel the finished product is much better due to his help.
It can often be challenging to identify the historic context for a person. After all, anyone who has done something stood on the shoulders of someone who came before them, but sometimes that's not always obvious. In the case of Andy, the epiphany for me came from his own story of once meeting Andrew Martinez, the rebellious young activist from Berkley, CA known in the 1990's as "The Naked Guy". Martinez was an example of someone who pushed boundaries to define his rights as a nude person, and sadly did not prevail. His life after being in the spotlight was tragic and came to an early end. If there is a silver lining to Andrew Martinez' martyrdom, it is that his defiant freedom of mind and body have inspired countless others to live more openly and proudly. Andy Tabbat is certainly one.
In the end, my biggest takeaway from speaking with Andy was the value of being open and honest about yourself, even if you're afraid to be. The fear of coming out with your truth to the people you cherish in your life, whose judgement of you will cause the deepest injury, is strong. That fear can build up in your mind and become insurmountable. There is a sharp irony in finding freedom in nudity, but hiding your joy from the people you draw on for support.
Of course, not everyone can have such a privilege. Careers, family, community and other factors may prevent someone from living a life of even private nudity, let alone public nudity on city streets and in newspapers. But as Andy's example illustrates, most of the time, the boldness to open up to people in spite of the fear of doing so, pays back in dividends. And the best approach is to do it right out of the gate.
In the time since I spoke with Andy in February 2021, I have found myself occasionally in a position amongst family and friends where it might not be a totally inappropriate opportunity to go nude. Scenarios in which previously the very idea of going nude would have never even occurred to me. This time, I found myself asking, "what would Andy do?" and after each instance I found myself a little more emboldened to put myself out on a limb, to be honest with who I was and how I liked to live. And each time it paid off, often with others joining rather than judging me. And each time, my relationships with those people got a little bit closer.
So next time you find yourself in such a scenario, I suggest asking yourself, "What Would Andy Do?"•