Strip and tell: baring it all for Yale tradition
Date: Tuesday, March 07 @ 13:20:09 UTC

One girl’s intimate journey into Yale’s unclothed private parties.


hen I was very young, my mother would ask me, “Kelly, where are your private parts?” Using my own body as a diagram, I would point and declare, “Here, and here.” Her next question would be, “And what are you never going to do?” I would reply automatically: “Let strangers see them.” This gives you a sense of my upbringing—the modesty and restraint built into my system, since childhood, for my own protection. You can imagine, then, how taken aback I was listening to the words my friend uttered one Sunday morning, as we brushed our teeth and discussed the weekend’s antics.

“What’d you do last night?” I mumbled through

frothy toothpaste.

She spit her mouthful into the sink. “I went to a naked party.”

“You did?” I spattered. I stopped brushing. I had heard about this phenomenon, but never before had a friend or loved one been involved. “How was it?” I asked, intrigued.

She replied nonchalantly, “It’s really not a big deal,” like that middle school kid who’d tried cigarettes before everyone else.

Later that day, when I was in the bathroom again, I faced the mirror. I tugged down my shirt and bra, and stared at my boobs. Could I ever show this to a room full of people? I put my shirt up and unzipped my pants, pulling them down past my butt. I craned my neck to inspect. It was definitely an untoned, white ass.

Later, I lay on my bed awhile and wondered if I could ever bear baring it all. At Yale, it seems people hardly bat an eye at the idea. I tried to imagine myself: mingling, chatting, drinking, naked. The prospect of actually going to a naked party gave me butterflies—as if, once again, I was that young girl about to move in for her first kiss.

Three Pundits face off au naturel against campus evangelicals in 1995.

If you think about it, I’m the wrong type for a naked party. Public nudity is for crazy exhibitionists, those don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass marauders. Yale’s resident gang of crazier-than-thou kids are known as the Pundits, Yale’s fourth-oldest society, founded in 1884 for campus wits. The Pundits have always prided themselves on extravagant pranks (the group was once forced to temporarily disband after damaging a residential college), but it was about 10 years ago that a group of senior Pundits took their hijinks to the next level.

The Pundits’ current official historian was among this group of pioneers. This alum will tell you that he and his graduating Pundit class threw Yale’s first naked party, inaugurating nudity as a lasting tradition for their progeny. The year was 1995, and the boisterous group asked them-selves, “How can we end the year with a last hurrah?” They decided on a party at an off-campus house. The theme was cocktails and sushi, a soirée civilized enough for their fellow society members and guests. But like the theme, the undertones of the party were, well, a little racier than one might have thought. Suitable attire, it turned out, was not only optional; it was also forbidden. The historian called that party a “watershed moment.” The party guests seemed to enjoy the wild exploit so much that every succeeding generation of Pundits has opted to keep the practice alive.

Even if, like me, you’re not in the club, naked parties aren’t limited to pranksters—though they used to be. During the late-’90s, only a select few would receive invitations advertising, sometimes, a “bar mitzvah party,” the code for a naked party. Today, most are free to all. But the new openness, it seems, does not stop Pundits and friends from composing the majority of naked partiers. Naked parties still retain the primarily entertaining type. One regular attendee and aspiring Pundit, who wished to remain anonymous (I’ll call him “Aspiring Pundit No. 1”), told me there is a distinct scene: “It’s the same people, usually: the Pundits, their friends, comedy kids, theater kids, off-campus kids, many hipsters, mostly liberals.” But he assured me that, despite the presence of the typical nude enthusiast, there are always first-timers who come out of a nervous curiosity (who would have thought?), and that they always know someone there. That’s comforting.

The Pundits paste their faces into the official men’s crew portrait.
Many naked partiers are aspiring Pundits, and with reason: To get into the group, the key is whether you care to bare your wares. A second aspiring Pundit (Aspiring Pundit No. 2) told me that improv people are commonplace at naked parties because, like improv, they attract Yalies with a cool-kid, risk-taking mentality. “Improv people are more willing to go out and make complete fools of themselves,” he said. “They don’t give a shit.” Aspiring Pundit No. 1 admitted that being in the Pundit social order does give one a crazier-than-thou feeling—which serves to unite the haves and exclude the have-nots. “Of course it’s cool if you have gone to a naked party,” he said. “One is proud to go. One loves the camaraderie established when, the following morning, you see a fellow nudist and share a sly smile as you pass on Cross Campus.”

Despite how cool and composed these cucumbers seem, there is a degree to which they’re all just nervous wrecks. Though the amount of alcohol consumed varies by attendee, first-timers commonly get crunk before showing rump. Even the Pundit historian and his pals needed help to strip themselves of inhibition, the first time around. “We had straight vodka when we ran out of vermouth and martinis,” he said of that inaugural party. Though most experienced naked partiers will tell you that time heals all hang-ups, and that it’s perfectly normal—and sometimes more enjoyable—to be sober at a naked party, Aspiring Pundit No. 2, no matter how many times he’s been to one, takes his self-consciousness straight up. “Absolutely, you need to get drunk,” he said. “You need to make something like this OK.” In anticipation of his first naked party, he and a friend pelted shots of Absolut Vanilla for 35 minutes. His drinking buddy passed out before making it past the common-room door, but the aspiring pundit, with half a handle consumed, was ready for his carefree, clothes-free adventure. “They should have punch all the time at naked parties,” he said, “to keep things drunk.”

This familiar equation of nudity plus alcohol yields a predictable sum, and let’s just say two wrongs do not equal a right, especially in my parents’ eyes. I’m told, however, that naked-party etiquette bans sex and all of the requisite foreplay. An  anaonymous Yale senior Pundit, broke down some of the standard policies. “Eye contact is tricky,” she said. “You’re allowed to give everyone a quick once-over as you say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’, but after that, you’ve got to maintain pretty good eye contact.” She added, “‘Are you looking at my penis/boobs/vag/butt?’ is not something you want to hear.” She assured me that it would be “a big faux-pas” to do anything sexual at a naked party. At the Halloween naked party, when she was guarding the front door, “Two kids started making out while naked,” she said. “I yelled something along the lines of, ‘Hey! No kissing! You’re at a naked party!’, and then I poked them with an 18-inch dildo.”

Megan Crandell, PC ’07, a frequent naked-party attendee, concurred. “A naked party is the most well-behaved collection of penises you will ever encounter in a single room,” she said. “Erections are strictly prohibited.”

But rules are meant to be broken. One of my friends, who wishes to remain anonymous, had no idea he would transgress at his first naked party. “For a lot of men, the big fear is getting wood, but I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I’m a controlled guy.” Sadly, he lost control at his first party. “Everything was going fine,” he said. “Hugs were from the waist up and chest to chest, certainly not bottom to bottom, until I ran into a friend of mine. She had clearly been drinking a lot, and she comes up to me and gives me a hug, but the difference is that when she hugged me, she grinded, did a little body roll, and there was definitely pelvis-to-pelvis contact.” The poor victim lamented that, when women grind against him, his body often has an unavoidable reaction. “I was kind of half-cocked, but there was still noticeable swelling and popping,” he recalled. “So I ended it and went away to get a beer and held it against my penis, to combat the memories of the woman who’d ‘hugged’ me.”

Molestation: not such a justifiable pastime to anyone outside the Yale bubble. Especially parents. Unlike Crandell, whose folks annually attend naked grape-crushing parties to makewine, and Gordon Jenkins, JE ’07, a regular naked-party attendee whose parents “think it’s funny, and certainly know I go,” my purist parents would sympathize more with Farber’s, who think naked parties are “depraved” and have turned her into an alcoholic nudist.

In her Christian Todayarticle [“What to Say at a Naked Party,” 02/2005], Frederica Mathewes-Green warns parents about this debauchery taking place on “one Ivy League campus” (we can only assume she means our humble institution): “It makes you want to weep for the children, for girls in particular, who deserve to be protected from this carnival of leering and molestation … How can we help them resist this expectation?” She draws a tension between naked parties and morality that climaxes thus: “‘God hates sin,’ some emphasize. But God hates sin like the parent of a leukemia victim hates cancer. God really does love the sinner. In order to reach the sinner we will have to love them, too, and offer ourselves humbly and authentically as examples of what God’s power can do.”

Perhaps she’s right. After all, the Pundits once pegged themselves as the antithesis of religious conservatism. One 1995 Rumpuscover shows members of the God Squad—an evangelical group that held what they called “campus crusades”—holding signs that read “God Hates Sin,” with three Pundits standing in front, wearing only backpacks. “I’m sure when [the God Squad] saw them, they thought they were looking at the Devil incarnate,” the Pundits’ historian said. “And somewhat rightly so; they were making a mockery of religion.” He was quick to add, however, “[The God Squad] was being intolerant and ridiculous.”

That’s not to say that my parents would argue that public nudity is sinful. OK, that’s a lie; they’d threaten to disown me. But there comes a point in a girl’s life when she must choose between the cool kids and her mother. So on Fri., Oct. 28, upon hearing there would be an off-campus naked party that night, I went into my bedroom, took off all my clothes again, and faced the mirror. “This is what you’ll look like later,” I told myself. That same night, over the phone, my father asked, “So what are your plans for tonight?”

I froze. I couldn’t tell him the truth. But what I did tell him was not quite a lie: “I have to write this article about secret societies, and tonight, one society is having this event that’s open, and I need to go to it.” The Pundits are a society; the event was open. People outside Yale just don’t understand the rituals that this campus has created. Even my friends at other colleges are shocked by the idea of naked parties.

Crandell agrees that Yale is unique in its nude habits. “When it comes to higher education and nudity, Yale is second only to the ancient Greeks,” she said. Offering tradition as an excuse, Yale made a nice girl like me want to show strangers what I had promised my mother no stranger would ever see.

Mom, if you’re reading this, think of nudity as a Yale tradition. The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges 2004even named naked parties the number-one thing a student must do before leaving Yale. This is a place with the kind of well-behaved, mature young people whom the United States looks to as its future leaders. Thus, its environment can support the risky social situation that is a naked party. Just ask Alex Charrow, BK ’07, who transferred to Yale from the University of Maryland. “At UMD, you could never have the same level of trust,” she said. “There were incidents of reported rape many times a week, lots of crime, and a general lack of trust by students for students. I wouldn’t leave my drink anywhere because GHB was a big thing there, and I was careful of minding my bag.” Everywhere else in this country, public indecency is against the law; at Yale, it’s an established pastime. It’s my right as a Yale citizen to bare arms—and everything else. Even Calvin Trillin, SM ’57, and John Kerry, JE ’66, were Pundits, though that gives “flip-flopper” a whole different meaning. Thank you, Yale, for the opportunities you’ve given me.

I am trashed, and standing in the hallway ofan off-campus house. As I peer into the two interior rooms, I see naked flesh in a soft red light. I’m here with two male friends, veteran naked-partiers already down to their underwear and stuffing their clothes into plastic Shaw’s bags. I quickly pull off my shirt and my pants. Once the boys start to yank their boxers down, I say, “Fuck it,” unclasping my bra and pulling down my underwear in one fluid swoop. Crossing the threshold, I hold my head high like a debutante, my naked escorts on either side. Everyone’s holding red beer cups, scanning the crowd for people they know, talking in little clusters. Just like a clothed party. The only thing that’s kind of awkward is that there’s nowhere to put my hands—but it’s cool, I just rest them on my thighs once in awhile. I run into one of my friends, who likes to dance with me at parties, and we start head-bopping, wiggling, body-rolling. No grinding, though; I was never really one for grinding.

Suddenly, another friend yanks me to where he’s standing, by a keg, with a guy wearing only a cowboy hat. I hear the cowboy say, “This your girl?” to which he responds, “Yes,” adamantly but with difficulty, because we are not, in fact, a couple. I hear the cowboy mutter, “Shame,” and my friend cringes as his pursuer moves away. After hugs from the waist up, beer refills, and conversations about how ridiculous it is that I’m at a naked party, the night begins to wind down. I’m feeling sleepy. My two friends and I somehow retrieve our clothes from a heap of pure pandemonium (no one tied their plastic bags). Feeling at once cozy in my clothes, I and my friends walk back home.

I’m back in my room, undressing again, but before I put on my pajamas, I look in the mirror. I laugh a little, shake my head, and get ready for bed.

Graphic by Katie Jenkins

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