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December 2006

How I Got the Interview

The Inside Story of My Chat With Berkeley's "Naked Guy", Andrew Martinez

Andrew and me on the street


I  first heard of Andrew Martinez, "The Naked Guy", the same way everybody else did: through the media. I was preparing the program for a scholarly conference in San Diego -- the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (now the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality). I forget if it was the TV or the newspaper, but I heard that this fellow (Andrew) was attending classes nude at U.C. Berkeley. In interviews he seemed insightful, and I thought he might make a great speaker. So I rearranged the schedule slightly and invited him to speak on a panel about public nudism.

He accepted, came to the meeting, and charmed the intellectual pants off us, speaking with intelligence and erudition -- and with his shirt off. He would have preferred to do it naked, of course, but in a sea of fully dressed academics his seminudity made the obvious point.

He charmed us afterwards, too, by hanging out, naked, with some of the participants later on in their hotel room (see this link).

But something happened at the conference which, looking back, was a bit disturbing.

It was an afternoon session, and Andrew had been my houseguest the night before. I gave him breakfast, of course, and then we headed over to the conference hotel. I had planned to take him to lunch at the hotel restaurant, but there was a buffet spread out in a lobby outside the meeting rooms. I had to go to the restroom, and by the time I came back Andrew had helped himself to the food. Before I realized this, a hotel official hustled himself over to me, upset that Andrew hadn't paid for the meal. I quickly arranged to have it put on the conference tab, and later reimbursed the conference out of my own funds.

So why did Andrew help himself to the food without paying? Did he not realize that these things cost money? Quite possibly he had never attended an academic conference in a hotel before; he was, after all, only a sophomore in college. Did he assume that, as a guest of the conference, everything was prepaid? Was it perhaps a Marxist act of revolution, performed fully conscious of all the details?

A  couple of years later, one of Andrew's friends found my photos online and emailed me saying that he had recently run into Andrew on the street in Berkeley, scrounging for food, muttering that food should be free. Ouch; that was not good news. Of course I flashed back to the conference lunch and wondered whether that had been a sign of his illness.

All kinds of things can get reinterpreted once you know how things turn out.

But let's go back to the story. A few months after the conference I flew north to the Bay Area, having arranged to interview Andrew for a local nudist newsletter. One striking thing I discovered by way of the interview was that he did not start getting naked from a desire to show off his handsome bod. Quite the contrary. He had to talk to himself, convince himself, step by step, to gather the courage to get naked in public -- to make each move every new step of the way.

At the time I thought that this "convincing" process suggested insight, sanity, and non-sexual intentions. But I showed this interview, soon after it was completed, to a friend of mine who is a clinical psychologist. Right then and there, he raised the possibility that Andrew was mentally ill, because he thought he saw patterns in this thought process that reminded him of some schizophrenic patients he had treated. (By the way, I have not received any formal training in diagnosing mental illess. I have a Ph.D., not an M.D., and it's not in a psychological field.)

Schizophrenia is a terrible disease, and it comes in many forms. The form my friend had in mind was one of the worse ones. Patients of his with this form of the illness felt compelled -- were somehow "told" -- to do quite extreme things, such as the time when one of his patients set out on a walk to Washington, D.C. Nothing necessarily crazy about that, of course, but the devil was in the details. This patient was "told" to start walking immediately. Even though it was snowing, and below freezing, where he was. In North Dakota. In the middle of winter.

So was some inner force telling Andrew that he had to take his clothes off, no matter what the cost?

Andrew had an intellectually aggressive, challenging streak which showed itself only every now and then. At the time I interviewed him, I was a professor at a local university doing AIDS research. I was starting to live nude at home almost all the time (whenever I could get away with it), and I was learning how to accept my lumpy, middle-aged body for what it was. I was discovering attractive men who liked my body exactly the way it was, and I was one day going to discover my own courage -- my own ability to prove I've got balls -- by showing people my dick (as it turned out) at a Gay Pride march in Toronto.

Andrew and me on the streetBut at the time of the interview, I wasn't there yet. I arranged the meeting with Andrew by snail mail and telephone, flew to the Bay Area, rented a car, and drove over to see Andrew at the Co-op where he lived in Berkeley. He was still a student, not yet kicked out of the university. I brought along my friend Phil, who is now the co-webmaster of, who snapped the photos accompanying this editorial. It was a cool day, and strangely enough when I got up to Andrew's room he was wearing sweatpants. He was cold! As a furry bear myself I didn't feel chilly, so we went downstairs and I interviewed him, nude, while he, the supposed nudist, was wearing clothes. His dormmates paid us no attention whatsoever.

Interview concluded, we moved out front to take some pictures on the city sidewalk. As Phil snapped away, Andrew obligingly stripped starkers (see photos). Then we decided to take a stroll over to Telegraph Avenue and walk around a little on Berkeley's most famous street.

Andrew and me on the street, naked! My heart was pounding, as I had never been naked in public before. I loved every moment of it, and at the same time I was terrified. As we walked down the first block, I got a very strange sensation -- and you're going to think I'm stupid to even mention it. For the very strange sensation was this:

Everybody was looking at us.

Well of course everyone was looking at us! Duh!! We were both naked!!! But even so, the feeling was dreamlike, and as I write this now I find it impossible to describe fully. PEOPLE NOTICED, IN CAPITAL LETTERS. We stopped traffic, literally and figuratively. Every single person within sight dropped what they had been doing and started paying attention to us. Drivers -- male, female, old, young, gay, straight -- everyone slowed down to be sure that we really really really REALLY were naked. Could they see our dicks? THAT would be the proof. Had to see those dicks, had to be sure we really were buck fuckin starkers NAKED. Heads swivelled, cars slowed, oaths were muttered... I'm amazed that we didn't cause any collisions. We would be talked about that evening, I would imagine, by every person who saw us.

Yes indeedy, naked we were. A young hippie boy (born 20 years too late but in the right place at the right time that afternoon) walked toward us and tried to pretend that our nudity was no big deal. No staring, no stopping, no double take. But when he actually got up to us he couldn't hold it in any longer and muttered, "Cool, dudes." This sort of thing was, after all, why he had come to Berkeley.

Telegraph Avenue approached, and Andrew had so far been a model of politeness and good manners in my presence. When we actually arrived at Telegraph, I lost my nerve. My legs went weak and I suggested we turn around and go back.

This we did, but on the way back came Andrew's moment for confrontation. The questions came assertively fast (but not furious). He suddenly asked me how it would look if the police stopped us and tried to arrest us. Would I give my real name? Would I try to avoid getting arrested? What would it look like if I -- and then he stated my full name -- Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD, AIDS researcher and gay man, were to be arrested for public nudity in Berkeley, California?

Up until that moment, I had assumed that Andrew remembered my identifying details hazily, if at all. He was getting so many inquiries from the media all over the world, to him I was just some forgettably odd gay nudist, probably obsessed with him, not dangerous, not important (I thought). Indeed, if I had been in his position I wouldn't have remembered every single identifying detail of the people who wanted to talk to me; there were just too many of them. Dan Rather calling? That I would definitely remember. So-and-so from the Such-and-such cable network? No, with them I'd get foggy. Jim Blahblahblah from U.C. San Something-Or-Other? Yeah, I've heard from him, I think, maybe. Where is his letter?

But Andrew had clearly remembered every significant detail about my personal situation, and was now, apparently, judging me negatively for having not as much courage as he had. I'm not saying he was wrong, I'm not implying he was right. I'm just saying that it surprised me that he remembered me so well. And yes, I was also embarrassed, because I didn't have answers to his questions.

Andrew had a way of being vague which, in retrospect, might have had something to do with drugs. Or it might have had nothing to do with drugs; it's a common enough trait in even drug-free Californians (and yes, drug-free Californians do exist; I am one of them). But this vagueness suddenly disappeared that brisk afternoon.

Yes, that afternoon, in one careully aimed, mildly confrontational moment, Andrew Martinez stripped away my defenses and made me feel very, very naked. Even though I had already, quite willingly of course, taken all my clothes off.

I don't know whether the intellectual aggressiveness I saw that afternoon eventually metastisized into the physical aggression which landed Andrew in jail. Whether those aggressions were joined by a thread through the years, or whether they were completely unrelated, of course is not a question which can be answered. But I do know this: Andrew's demise was a tragedy in the full Greek sense of the word. Enormous potential. A tragic flaw. Inevitable doom. The demise. A full-blown, goddamn fuckin tragedy all round. Those Greeks knew what they were talking about.

Andrew walked beside me in my very first foray into a couple of minutes of public nudity. He found my timidity distasteful, but he was there for me nevertheless. I needed to accept my middle-aged body as it was, and Andrew helped me out. He was not even remotely sexually attracted to me, but there he was, lending support. I had read about the Naturist Society's principle of Body Acceptance, which is all well and good, and 100% correct. But that was the theory; Andrew was the practice.

I needed both. And on that chilly spring afternoon, I got them both.

Thank you, Andrew. Rest in peace. I loved you. I barely knew you. I learned from you. Your legacy lives on. Thank you...



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