Through a series of unusual events, I found myself at a predominantly gay party on the Fourth of July, clutching a glass of sangria in one hand and a plate politely filled with of hors d’oeuvres in the other. Although the hosts were only a few years older than myself, the party was strangely grown-up: flank steak barbequed on the garden porch, platters of well-arranged cheese-cubes and caviar smears, and casual, drink-in-hand conversations instead of raucous drinking games. Very posh. Very gay.
I didn’t know any of the other guests, and so I spent my first few awkward minutes surreptitiously scanning the rest of the party for a group that looked friendly enough to adopt me. There were more invitees than I had expected, somewhere between 30 and 40 people, and with an age range just as broad. I settled on a group of about five people who all appeared to be around my age, and approached with my friendliest smile-and-nod routine.
Either because of my irresistible charm or because of the deep neck of my tank top, I was happily absorbed into their circle. I spent most of the evening with them, exchanging small talk and not much else. Just as I was leaving to go meet friends in the city for fireworks, though, they off-handedly mentioned that they were planning on going to the beach next weekend, and that I was welcome to join them. I gave a noncommittal agreement, quickly gave one of them my number, and left.
I thought that the invitation had been originally extended in the same vein as the insincere omg-it’s-been-so-long-we-have-to-catch-ups that we toss at acquaintances we run into across campus. As such, I was surprised when the offer was renewed that Friday. The beach was on my to-do list for the summer and, since I had been completely unsuccessfully in convincing my friends to accompany me, the opportunity was perfect.
The next morning I tried on various swimsuits, deciding between wearing trunks or briefs, trying to strike a balance between fuckable and coy. Ultimately, I decided on my American flag briefs, rationalizing that the patriotic theme excused the more revealing cut. I put some clothes on over my suit, chucked on a pair of Chucks, and shoved my very Princetononian beach read, To the Lighthouse, into my day bag before heading outside to meet my ride.
I somehow secured shotgun, and as such I was elected to be the group’s navigator. As we passed the Newark skyline, the driver (we’ll call him New-Friend #1) told me to boot-up my maps app to find a route to Gunnison Beach. “It’s the very far end of Sandy Hook,” he told me. Having never been to a Jersey beach, I was quite excited. We weren’t going to the Shore, but I still vaguely hoped for a spectacle similar to what MTV had prepped me for.
Halfway into the drive, during a lull in the conversation, one of my new acquaintances asked me if I’d been to a nude beach before—a strange topic to broach during a Sunday car ride, but at the time I had thought of it as a way for him to fill the silence. Happily occupied with the second half of my Wawa panini, I shrugged it off with a simple no.
“It’s an experience,” laughed New-Friend #2 from the backseat. “It’s actually a lot less crowded, and cleaner even, than the other Sandy Hook beaches.”
This got me to actually put my panini down. “Aren’t we going to Sandy Hook?”
“Oh, yeah,” said New-Friend #1. “Sandy Hook has a few different beaches. Gunnison is the nude beach.”
Considering how frequently I find myself in hyperbolic situations, it’s surprising that I was even surprised. And yet, I had been tricked. Kidnapped? Bamboozled into going to a nude beach. It certainly did not seem to be a SHARE-kosher situation.
Still, after my initial feelings of betrayal had subsided, I was intrigued by the opportunity. Regardless of if my invitation had been an elaborate ruse to see me with my clothes off or if the surprise had been unintentional, I decided to forge ahead. Besides, we were already half an hour out from my apartment; I was, as it were, past the point of no return. So, I settled anxiously back down into my seat for the rest of the drive.
A voluptuous, middle-aged woman dancing a lone bacchanal to EDM music was the first thing I saw as we trudged across the sand from the parking lot to the beach. She was, of course, entirely nude. An aggressive first encounter, but thankfully one that did not define the rest of the day.
In fact, the most surprising part of the experience was how quickly the nudity ceased to be provocative. There, is of course, the initial shock of seeing hundreds of naked bodies (about 80 percent of all attendees are completely naked, a percentage that—in the interests of my modesty and some misplaced sense of defiance—I did not join). But beachgoers appear to mostly disregard the free-hanging phalli and exposed areola, and the abundance of skin seems to have a de-sexualizing effect. So much of one, in fact, that one (me) can stretch out, sun tan, and read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse without feeling inordinately out of place.
And so I did, thinking to myself that, however accidentally it had happened, I was ultimately glad that I had come.