Thursday, 8 March 2018

Forced Nudity in The "Volunteer" and the Tami Smither series

It's probably become apparent now, but a central theme of my writing is scenarios in which a person (usually a young woman) is without clothing in a place where their nudity is the exception, rather than the norm.  Whether it's Becky in Best Friends With a Naked Girl streaking around the library at Lisa's university, or Rachel in my forthcoming novel Brave Nude World riding the subway naked, I seem to have a real weakness for putting naked people up against clothed people, often in public places.

In the majority of my stories, the people are naked because they want to be, because it's fun and enjoyable for them.  But imagine you weren't naked in public through your own choice but because you were somehow required to be - and for a very long time!  In other words, forced public nudity.

The concept of forcing a character to go naked in public concept relates broadly to the BDSM side of  the public nudity theme in erotic fiction.  To make a character be naked in front of other people is often to make them vulnerable, embarrassed, humiliated.  It's therefore the perfect action for a dominant character to do to a submissive one.  Much of this type of fiction is written in that mould.  A character does something they shouldn't, and is forced therefore to submit to the whim of an authority figure who, out of their own sadism, decides that the character should be forced to be naked in public.  It might be a mean boss making a secretary strip while at work to keep her job after a bad mistake, or a pervy college professor forcing a co-ed to attend class naked after they are caught cheating on a test. But the point is the humiliation and degradation of the naked submissive, who is robbed of free will and subjected to embarrassing exposure to teach them a lesson.

I was thinking about this concept in relation to what is one of my favourite public-nudity themed stories; The "Volunteer" by D H Jonathan.

On the surface, The "Volunteer" seems to be in keeping with that dom/sub, forced-public-nudity-as-humiliation power dynamic.  Pretty college student Dani screws up and cheats to get ahead, and is caught out by an influential sociology professor, Dr Slater.  Dr Slater uses the information about Dani's transgression to essentially blackmail her into taking part in a unique sociological experiment - she will test her fellow students attitude to nudity by attending class, social events and anything else on campus completely naked for the remainder of the semester - and pretend it is all her own idea.  The effect of her behaviour on others will be observed via a microphone and earpiece.  At the end of it, she'll not only have avoided academic punishment for her crime, she'll also be rewarded, enabling her to graduate debt-free and with the highest faculty recommendations to carry her to her future career.

It would seem, then, that we're about to have a classic dom/sub relationship between the professor and the student.  Dr Slater will force Dani to be naked, Dani will hate it, and the Doc will get off on the subsequent humiliation and degradation of the pretty girl while all the while sternly forcing her to do her bidding.

Except that isn't the book at all.  In fact, rather than desiring Dani's humiliation, the sociologists genuinely believe in their research (for some very personal reasons for Dr Slater, we later learn) and don't view what Dani is doing as any sort of punishment at all.

The only reason they blackmail Dani into "volunteering" is because they have been unable to find a genuine volunteer to take part and carry the study to a viable conclusion.  Desperation (remember, the Doc has some particularly personal reasons for wanting her research to succeed) pushes them down this dubious path, not a desire to assert authority or sadistically punish pretty girls.  True, they behave unscrupulously at times, and are ultimately no heroes.  But their motives remain somewhat higher than simply desiring Dani's sexual humiliation.

In the key scenes where Dani is persuaded to take part, or continue her participation, she always has a choice - she isn't going to be stripped against her will.  She can accept the consequences of her actions in cheating, and take the academic punishment that might well mess up her future dreams.  Or, she can undertake participation in an experiment where she will be naked in public for two months, in front of all her friends, peers and teachers, without even being able to offer the excuse that she's taking part in an experiment - but which will be over after that and, coming out of the other side of it, she will have financial security and a strong chance of getting the future she has always wanted.

Dani agonises over this choice - after all, wouldn't you? - but in the end she agrees to volunteer.  It might not have been a great choice, but she starts the experiment with the view that going around campus naked is the lesser of two evils compared to owning up to her misconduct.

Of course that lasts about two minutes before she realises what she's let herself in for - but rather than assert their authority and force her to stay naked against her will, the sociologists are supportive and even kind, constantly monitoring her safety as well as gathering their data.  Their role in the narrative, like many of the supporting characters, is to enable Dani's nakedness to continue even at points where she finds it unbearable - so, for example, a lecherous teacher who tries to assault her is quickly found out and dismissed - and they do so by making it more possible for Dani to cope, rather than by simply asserting their authority and threatening her with expulsion.

I'm inclined to compare The "Volunteer" to an earlier "naked in college" story - the Tami Smithers series, which begins with The Unintentional Nudist.  In this series, a college freshman panics when she is caught streaking on campus - an activity for which she fears she will be expelled - and explains her nakedness by stating that she has taken a religious vow to never wear clothing again.

Of course, Tami is then forced to make good on this hasty declaration and begin attending classes and everything else in the nude, not because she wants to, but because if she doesn't, the administration will know she lied (and is using the religious aspect of her story to claim protection from punishment on the grounds that it would be discrimination).

Where Tami's story and The "Volunteer" differ (aside from the fact that D H Jonathan has obviously put a lot more thought into shoring up his premise than the author of The Reluctant Nudist did: both require suspension of disbelief but Tami's story demands several crane-loads of suspension) is that Tami is from the start at odds with the authority figures in her college.  They seem to know - or outright know - that her story is a pack of lies - but as long as she walks the walk, they can't question her talking the talk.  As long as she continues to go everywhere naked, they can't prove she has lied - after all, who would ever pretend to be a person whose religion obligated permanent nudity if they didn't have to?  As her nudism is some sort of protected religious activity, to avoid a potentially costly discrimination suit, they have to force a confession from Tami that she made up her "religious nudist" status to cover up campus misbehaviour.

So they endeavour to either catch her out, or make her experience of being nude on campus so horrible and sexually humiliating that she gives up and confesses her lie.  They take sadistic delight in placing this naked girl in scenarios deliberately intended to maximise her exposure and embarrassment (for example, forcing her to do work placements in customarily male-only environments, or act as a life model in a series of ever-more-explicit poses) while constantly monitoring her behaviour for any sign of inconsistency in her religious nudism.  Even when, in later stories she leaves campus to visit home or travel, Tami finds the fear that the administration are still monitoring her means that she has no choice but to continue to be naked everywhere she goes, on the off-chance that some spy for the college might see her if she put her clothes on.  And of course, the more she does it, the worse consequences she will face if she ever cracks and confesses - her crime escalating from 'streaking on campus one time' to 'spending four years walking around in public completely naked' - so the more incentive she has to keep going.

The contrasts and commonalities between the two stories show two approaches to writing a "forced nudity" narrative.  Both are stories of young female college students pretending to be some sort of devoted nudist by going everywhere in public.  Tami has to pretend to be undertaking a religious vow, and Dani has to pretend she's a body freedom activist so that the integrity of the social experiment remains uncorrupted.  Both stories have to construct their narrative in ways that mean the protagonists continue to be naked in public long past the point where a real life woman would have said "screw it, I'll take the punishment for my original crime" and put her clothes back on.  And both use a young college student's natural obedience to authority figures to make that happen.

In the Tami stories, the authority figures are there simply to make Tami be naked 24/7 - they force her to endure the endless parade of humiliations they dream up in the hope of breaking her spirit.  But in The "Volunteer", the authority characters are, for the most part, on Dani's side. They want her to be able to continue her public nakedness even though they know it is difficult for her, and their primary concern is with keeping her safe.  They may have selfish reasons for doing so - they want their experiment to succeed - but from that selfishness comes a supportive factor that leaves Dani much less alone in her endeavour than Tami is.

It's one of the things that makes The "Volunteer" the better story, in my opinion.  In Tami's tale, humiliation upon humiliation is piled upon her while all the time she longs tearfully to be able to clothe herself and end this trial by endurance; as a reader, we start to become weary of her persistence.  Just take the punishment, you find yourself exclaiming as Tami once again laments her naked life and stares with longing at some clothes in a shop window.  No matter how much her college education means to her, her endless suffering seems somehow a disproportionate endurance.

But The "Volunteer" isn't about Dani enduring suffering.  It does a much more successful job of making her an agent in her own continued nakedness, as she gradually adjusts to each new experience and finds that, actually, this is something she can manage to pull off.  Of course, then events begin to escalate beyond the wildest imaginings of the sociologists - and beyond Dani's control - but by then she is in too deep and, again, manages to not just endure but adjust to and even enjoy her experiences.  The ending (which I will try not to spoil) leaves you in no doubt that Dani's experience of public nakedness has been a defining and ultimately positive one, no matter how difficult it was along the way.

Tami Smithers never gets a definitive conclusion.  Her stories are written by a multitude of individuals whose intent is to give the reader as much time to play in her universe as possible; and here status quo is the enemy, as instead of evolving and growing as a person, Tami starts and ends each new story the same utterly humiliated young woman, ever the victim of determinedly sadistic authority.  The stories about her aren't bad, although the original is kind of flat some of the later ones are written well and enjoyable to read up to a point, but I much prefer The "Volunteer" for Dani's spirit and agency than I do Tami's gritted-teeth endurance of her various authors' whims.

Read for yourself 
The "Volunteer" by D H Jonathan can be bought as an e-book or paperback from Amazon.
The Tami Smithers stories have various authors and can be found all over the internet.  The original story, The Unintentional Nudist, can be read here.

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