Episode 6 - North American Nudist Pioneers


Gerardo Cisneros hard at work
Photo by Andrés López aka Andy Frame, 2018; Courtesy of Gerardo Cisneros

I was caught off guard by Gerardo Cisneros. It’s not that I hadn't realized he had done important work for Mexican nudism. I knew that he was involved with Federación Nudista de México. I knew that he was a very active nudist, and rather vocal on Twitter. But I wasn’t aware of the breadth of his impact on nudism in Mexico, nor the cleverness of his ways or his sharp sense of humor. Those things, it turned out, were a great joy to discover through conversation with him.

I had originally set out to interview Gerardo not for Naked Age, but for The New Nudist Podcast, a podcast created and hosted by Scott Cline that I occasionally contribute interview content to. I had recently interviewed another Mexican nudist advocate for The New Nudist Podcast named Ángela de la Cruz, and shortly after its release, Gerardo contacted me to say that he felt I had not accurately represented the Mexican nudism movement in her episode. This was a completely valid criticism, as I admittedly knew embarrassingly little about nudism in Mexico. Gerardo suggested he could help clarify some things, and I was genuinely interested to learn, so I readily agreed to interview him for New Nudist Podcast to help correct the record.


One key difference in how I handle the two different podcasts is that with Naked Age, I generally conduct significantly more background research before going into the interview than I will for New Nudist Podcast, which is a little more candid and conversational in style.

Courtesy of Gerardo Cisneros

In addition to helping explain how I might have gotten some things wrong about Mexican nudism in my interview with Ángela, hopefully this might also establish that while I had done some basic research on Gerardo in order to write a few thoughtful questions, I wasn't prepared to go as deep as I tend to go for the more intimate style of interview that I usually pursue with Naked Age.


So on Cinco De Mayo, when I was sitting in front of my computer screen listening to Gerardo share his story with me over Zoom, it began to dawn on me that his story had great historical significance. You can even hear my authentic surprise in the interview as he describes the events he had a hand in bringing to fruition. When I listen back to the interview, I can pinpoint the moment that I was struck by a vision of an episode of Naked Age exploring Gerardo Cisneros and his work building a nudism movement in Mexico.


I began to feel excited—a byproduct of creative inspiration—I could practically reach this episode with my fingertips, if only I could get through the end of the interview. I'm an editor, so that's where I get to really put in the work. Episodes of Naked Age rarely come together quickly, but here I was with the whole image sketched out, and all I had to do was paint it.


But first I had to draft a humble apology to Scott Cline of New Nudist Podcast for stealing this interview to use for my podcast instead of his like I'd promised. Sorry again, Scott. 😬


Process

This vision I had for a Naked Age episode about Gerardo's work included contextualizing Gerardo’s story by exploring another historical case of building a national nudist organization. Luckily, I had the perfect historical account ready, in the form of an audio tape of Canadian nudist pioneer Ray Connett, which I had transcribed nearly two years prior for the American Nudist Research Library. The tape was from 1979, and featured Ray Connett sharing his personal account of 1940s nudism in Canada, when he and several other Canadian nudist leaders established the Canadian Sunbathing Association.

Nudist leaders of the American Pacific Northwest finalize their governing documents, c. 1946.
Courtesy of Western Nudist Research Library

I’d been sitting on this tape for a few years looking for an opportunity to use it in a project, but not really finding the right fit for it. I loved the tape enough that I would go back and listen to it from time to time out of boredom, or looking for inspiration. Ray Connett was a personal nudist hero of mine. He began his career in Canada where he and his wife Mildred were prolific nudist advocates for two decades. They actually knew my great great grandparents who owned a nudist club in Washington state (both men are pictured above, formalizing organizational documents for the Northwest Sunbathing Association in 1946). In 1959, the Connetts moved south to California, and founded Glen Eden Sun Club, the nude resort where I quite coincidentally had my very first nudist experience nearly fifty years later.

Photo by Ángela de la Cruz, 2020

Reflecting on my discussion with Gerardo over the next few days of early May, I started to see parallels between Gerardo’s and Ray’s stories, despite their taking place over seventy years apart. For one, both men used the available media of their respective eras to communicate and organize with other nudists. Both men share accounts of their first experiences with nudism, and the apprehension of their spouses. Both men contributed greatly to the language of their organizational bylaws. Both men served as the inaugural secretary of their national organizations. The more you listen to both of their stories, the more similarities you can find.


Lessons

When I try to identify the things that have made Gerardo successful in his efforts to grow a space for nudism in Mexico, the phrase "fake it 'til you make it" comes to mind.

Courtesy of Gerardo Cisneros

Only he really doesn't fake anything at all. He is canny and hardworking, that much is clear. He's also very clever and quite bold. He traveled to Uruguay on his own dime to make a bid for his nudist organization—which still only had a handful of members—to play host to the next international nudist gathering Encuentro Latinoamericano de Nudismo (ELAN) in just two years time. Now that's bold! Sometimes being bold means swinging for the fences when the odds seem impossible, because you have nothing to lose. Perhaps "swings for the fences" is a better phrase then. Or is that too much of a cliché? I don't know.


What I do know is Gerardo Cisneros and Ray Connett both swung for the fences. When you're paving new ground for the first time, you sort of have to do that, right? Neither of them did it alone, they were both parts of a larger team. Integral parts. And they both found success not just for themselves but also for their teams by being bold. They've demonstrated another popular phrase, "fortune favors the bold".


Alright, I'll stop with the clichés.


- Evan


Listen to Naked Age Episode 6 - North American Nudist Pioneers