Closing Out the Year

A few years ago, writer/director Cynthia von Buhler invited us to her immersive theater show Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, and we had a great time. There was a recreation of an old-time Broadway revue, an investigation of a scandalous celebrity death, and the chance to wander around a beautifully appointed space, mixing with the actors and audience members — sort of like Sleep No More, only instead of having to wear masks, Cynthia let us wear nothing at all from the waist up. Can’t do that at Hamilton!

So when Cynthia let us know she had a new new show opening last week, we were there. This show is called Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini, and it’s based on Cynthia’s graphic novel of the same name, about the death of the famous magician, escape artist, and debunker of phony spiritualist mediums. The mystery to be solved this time is: did Houdini die of natural causes on Halloween 1926, or was he a victim of a plot by the spiritualists…?

It’s all very exciting stuff. Along the way the audience gets to attend seances and have their palms read by mystics with swinging pendulums…

…sip bootleg absinthe cocktails (this is during Prohibition, remember)…

…and watch Houdini prepare for and perform (and teach his lovely new assistant to perform) his famous straitjacket and rope tie and Water Torture Cell escapes.

Minky is the private eye hired by Houdini’s wife, Bess, to find out whether Houdini is cheating on her, only to discover there are bigger games afoot. (Speaking of which, Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is in the show too. He and Houdini were friends in real life. For a while. Until they were enemies.)

The show takes place not in a Broadway theater but up and down the three floors of a Prohibition Era speakeasy building.

There is a theater on the ground floor…

…but you’re also transported to hotel rooms, hospital rooms, bedrooms, barrooms, and more.

Oh, and? We were — possibly for the first time in our history — not the nakedest people in the room. Seems the spiritualist mediums of the 1920s sometimes did their stuff completely in the nude. (The adulterers, too. Go figure.)

The chance to participate in a show like this in our customary state of undress was a treat, especially since we also got to combine it with 1920s-style garb and decoration.

We didn’t attract too many stares inside the theater (maybe other audience members thought we were part of the cast?), and even when we found ourselves out on the sidewalk, crossing from one of the building’s entrances to another, passersby took our appearance in stride. It all felt free and fabulous.

The show runs until November 10, so if you’re in NYC, by all means check it out. We can’t promise there will be topless audience members there the night you go — but there always can be, if you’re feeling brave enough! Just tell Cynthia hi, from us.

And tell Houdini to watch his back.

Update: The center of this photo has been removed to adhere with Google’s hatred of boobs

Have you guys noticed that it’s been really effing hot lately? Like, so hot you just want to walk around with as little clothing as possible? The women of the free Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society have noticed, and are beating the heat with the kind of casual nudity we can all get behind. Their mission statement, “Making reading sexy” is accomplished pretty simply. Show up in a park, take out a book and ditch your shirt. And why not? The law says they’re well within their rights, and who can argue that lying out in the grass and reading Mickey Spillane is scandalous? Heartbreakingly, they currently only meet in Manhattan. But since a love of reading isn’t restricted by borders, I spoke by email with a member of the society who mysteriously gives her name only as A.A. about how and why to go topless and the eternal optimism of the male half of the species.
Are you holograms? My friend is convinced you’re holograms.
Yes. We’re cunning, tactile, life-size holograms. Your friend has figured out our secret.

Why do this in parks, as opposed to in the yard of someone you know?
Well, when you live in New York City, the city’s parks are your yard — or the closest thing you and your friends have to one. Besides which, why in the world shouldn’t we? Does anyone ever — EVER — ask a man, “Why did you choose to sit on a towel in Central Park without your shirt on, instead of doing it in someone’s yard”? If anyone ever did, the answer would be, “Because I fucking felt like hanging out in Central Park, not in someone’s yard, you got a problem with that?” But that never needs to get said because no one would ever dream of asking. So why do people think it’s okay to ask women that question?

Why pulp, as opposed to other genres, like say, literary fiction or memoirs?
Our members have wide-ranging tastes, and once in a while you’ll see Steinbeck make an appearance at one of our get-togethers, or Anais Nin, or Zora Neale Hurston. But pulp fiction feels particularly well suited to our adventures — it’s entertaining summer reading, slightly lurid, and features cover paintings in which women display the same disdain for wearing clothing that we do.

Is the Society like a book club, where everyone who shows up reads the same thing and discusses it, or is it more freeform?
It’s more freeform. We do have multiple people reading the same book sometimes and in that case they do sometimes get into discussions, but generally it’s just a batch of friends all reading for pleasure and enjoying each other’s company.

Are single guys welcome as well? Or is “co-ed” used more in the way that Mitt Romney (presumably) refers to young college women?
Ah, the “co-ed” question. We try hard to keep the female-to-male ratio as high as possible, since even if the guys are completely nice and cool and supportive and non-pervy, the atmosphere would be different if it were, say, six girls and six guys (never mind six girls and 60 guys, which it could easily turn into). So it’s usually six or seven or eight girls and one or two guys, and the guys generally stay quietly on the sidelines (which is why they don’t turn up in the photos on our site much, though if you look hard you can spot a couple). But most of our members are women, and it’s likely to stay that way.

Who are your favorite authors, pulp division and non-pulp division?
Me personally? On the pulp side, I love Lawrence Block — amazing, amazing mystery writer. I also like the books my friend Charles has written (especially the two he wrote as “Richard Aleas,” Little Girls Lost and Songs of Innocence), but he’s a friend, so I’m biased. On the non-pulp side, I like some of Paul Auster’s books (especially early ones like The Music of Chance), and Kurt Vonnegut, and Graham Greene.

Who would win in a sultry-off: Nancy Sinatra or Lana Del Rey?
Oh, please – Sinatra in an instant. She’s the real thing. LDR’s a pretender.

Do you think there might be a day in the future when women can hang out topless and not have to read to ward off strangers? Will you feel at least partially responsible for that, if it comes to pass?
Listen, that day is here, only not so much in this country. If you go to Spain or France or the Caribbean, you can go topless and no one says a word. And you know what? When we hang out in Central Park, hundreds of people see us and just smile and keep on walking. It’s just that inevitably there’s one pervy guy who sits nearby and stares or comes up and says “Can I take your picture?” and having the books to hide behind does help in those cases. Will it ever go away entirely? Probably not. But I do think we’re having a small impact. Now when we go to Sheep Meadow and get topless, we often see other women doing it too. It makes us very happy and proud to see that.

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for any woman thinking of ditching her shirt but is still a little skittish about it?
Do it with friends. One woman alone is still potentially a target, at least for ogling and comments. It takes balls of steel to come up to a group of half a dozen topless women and make an ass of yourself, and even if some steel-balled guy does it, it’s easy for the group to send him on his way and laugh it off. One other piece of advice is to remember that you’re 100 percent absolutely within your rights to do it — anywhere a man can go topless, you can, too. And finally, don’t worry about what your boobs look like. This is not a beauty pageant; it’s not about providing pleasure for people who see you. It’s about enjoying the sensation of the warm sun and cool breeze on your chest.

Do you tell just anyone who wants to join where and when you’re meeting up and see who’s brave enough to come out, or is there some kind of selection process or filter?
Yes we do some filtering. First we filter on gender: we get a lot more inquiries from guys (ever the optimists) than from women, and since we want our events to be female-friendly and female-focused, we only send invites to a small fraction of the men who contact us. For the women, we describe what we do, so we’re sure the person understands and is still interested. If so, we see if their schedule and ours match up at all, and if the answer to that is yes, we invite them to an event.

Why go fully topless instead of stopping at a bra?
Only someone who has never worn a bra in 90-degree heat could ever ask “Why not stop at a bra?” Guys take their shirts off when it’s sunny and hot because they’re sweaty and want to cool down, or because they like the feeling of the sun and the breeze on their skin, or because they’d like to get a bit of a tan, or because they’re proud of what their workouts have achieved and want to show it off, or just because they feel like it. Girls are free to do the same thing, for the same reasons. Such questions , with the implicit judgment that a reasonable woman might content herself with half-measures while her male peers are free to enjoy full comfort and full free use of public spaces, go a long way to perpetuating double standards and repressive treatment of women.

Hey, Rosa Parks, why? Why do you guys do this, as opposed to just sitting in the back of the bus? Is there something wrong with the back of the bus? It’s the same bus; the back’s no different from the front. Couple of yards further back, but so what? You still get where you’re going in the end. So just explain to me, why — why aren’t you satisfied with less? Why do you insist on being treated as equals?

Apologies for getting annoyed, but this superficially innocuous question is actually anything but.

Are there plans for the Society to expand into Brooklyn? Or at least visit? We have wonderful parks.
Yes! We’ve had a number of requests for some outer-borough events and it’s just a matter of picking a time and place.

Late Thursday afternoon in New York City, an hour or so before the sunset, a nude woman in combat boots jogged casually around the lawn of Summit Rock in Central Park. About 100 yards away, an audience of around 200 people politely pretended not to see her; she was, technically, “backstage,” and the show hadn’t yet begun.

For the past few years, the women of the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society have been reading shirtless in New York’s public places. You can find them stretched out in Central Park or Washington Square, taking the air and, with their presence, quietly reminding New Yorkers that toplessness has been legal for all genders since 1992. Most of the time, they go unremarked; occasionally, they are asked to leave after taking pictures in front of Lincoln Center’s famous fountain.


The book club usually prefers anonymity or pseudonyms and small group outings. This spring, though, they did something new: to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, they planned their own, stripped down (har) production of The Tempest, performed at Central Park’s highest point and “selectively” in the nude, with an all-female cast.

“Why The Tempest? A couple of reasons,” the book club’s co-founder, who goes by “Alethea Andrews,” told Jezebel, a few weeks before the performance. “First, several of us just love the play — it contains some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful writing, it’s fanciful and magical, the characters are wonderful. Second, it’s set entirely outdoors, which makes it a natural choice for the Central Park setting: from the top, Summit Rock almost looks like an isolated island. But most important of all, the text itself contains some important notions about propriety and impropriety, and about the relationship between what we think of as “civilized” behavior and what we think of as the state of nature, all of which gives us a foundation to explore the theme of body freedom and openness.”


A two-second, mostly accurate refresher: In The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero is exiled on a remote island with his daughter Miranda. A tempest shipwrecks a group of survivors on the island, one of whom falls in love with Miranda, with a little help from Prospero’s magic. There are supernatural creatures prowling about, led by Caliban, a sort of freckled monster, and the whole thing ends in a wedding.

The Free Tempest, as the topless book club dubbed their version, plays with nudity to explore notions about propriety, civilization, wildness and freedom; Miranda and Prospero stroll around the island naked, as do Caliban and the other half-demons, who wore only psychedelic body paint; the shipwrecked Europeans at first stubbornly cling to their clothes, but then slowly shed them as the island’s stubborn heat and all the sorcery gets to them.


“Shakespeare makes a big point of telling us that their clothing has been magically preserved intact, despite the ordeal they’ve been through,” Andrews told us. “And in our staging this will be a sort of punishment for them: they’ll learn over the course of the play that court garments are a terrible choice when you’re climbing around on rocks or sweating under the equatorial sun. And so, bit by bit, as they become reconciled to their new setting and come to terms with Prospero, they’ll shed these outfits, and meet the exiles on their own terms.”


It is, Andrews added dryly, “impossible to talk about Shakespeare and not sound a little like an over-earnest undergrad. But at the same time, we really do mean it. This isn’t just an excuse to get naked—it’s an attempt to say something serious about why getting naked matters, and what it can mean, and why the freedom to do so is important.”

Andrews added that the nudity in the play is meant to be non-sexual: “The difference between Miranda’s entirely casual attitude toward nudity and the shipwreck victims’ attitudes at seeing her that way can illustrate the gulf between what nudity means to the more conventionally minded and what it means to us.”


The Free Tempest is a two-performance only affair: one happened Thursday afternoon; the other will take place Friday, May 20, at 2 p.m. At Thursday’s performance, the crowd was mostly young and hip, joined by a few beaming senior citizens in comfy shoes who may have just been making their way through the park. In the audience, one of the book club’s members, clad in a big black sun hat, tights and heels, casually put sunscreen on her chest. A tiny, adorable girl of maybe seven or so sat with her father. She contentedly ate a piece of pizza the size of her face, gazing at the actors in quiet wonder. An usher only had to ask an intently focused man with an iPhone to stop filming twice.


It started to get colder and darker on Summit Rock, as the play drew to an end. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” Prospero told the audience, as an older gentleman with bird-watching binoculars wandered by. He regarded the actors through them, then shuffled away.


“As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free,” Prospero told the audience as she pulled her clothes on (Shakespeare’s naked bid for applause). They obliged; the actors took their bows and then, still nude, vanished from Summit Rock, a tiny hint of sorcery of their own.

Top photo courtesy of OCTPFAS; all others by Anna Merlan

Why an Army of Topless Women Took Over the Streets of NYC

Close to a dozen women and trans men—of varying shapes, colors, and sizes—strut down the streets of New York City to a pulsing electro beat. Each dons a mannequin-like mask and no top, their breasts exposed to the elements, be they heckling men or oncoming traffic. These valorous vessels of female empowerment are the subjects Narcissister: Breast Work, a new documentary short that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by Narcissister, a New York-based performance artist known for her explorations of the female body, the 10-minute film sees the various nude people traverse different neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn—Harlem, Chinatown, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, and Williamsburg—in order to assert control of their own bodies, and sexuality. (It’s been legal for women to be topless in New York City since 1992.)

“It was inspired by my being a New Yorker and knowing for a long time about the legality of bare-breastedness for women in the streets of New York, but having never seen one woman exercise her rights in the course of quotidian existence in this city,” offers Narcissister. “So I wanted to create a stylized portrayal of what it would be like to exercise our right to bare our breasts in the streets of New York.”

The mask is a repurposed wig form, designed by the late Los Angeles artist Verna Doran for her company Plasti-Personalities in 1965. Narcissister happened upon it while designing store displays, and made it her signature.

“It’s meant to be an antidote to what I feel are problematic trends in society right now—extreme narcissism, and extreme involvement with self. The mask enables there to be a commentary on all of that,” she says, adding, “The Narcissister mask gave us a level of protection in emboldening us to bare our breasts.”

Narcissister shot the film over just five days, casting her friends, collaborators and fellow performers as her topless army of Narcissisters. And, while she conceived of it as a “love letter to New York,” it’s also an extension of the “Free the Nipple” movement, fighting back against ordinances banning women from going topless—as well as the notion that women’s bodies are sex objects. Text occasionally runs over the film footage, with messages like: “These laws and the cultural consensus behind them are based on gender bias and a fear of, and a desire to control, women’s bodies.”

“I did think there was something very intense about the softness—and femininity—of the breasts juxtaposed with the hard edges and concrete of the city. I feel like there was something strong in that juxtaposition. There’s something about making oneself so vulnerable as a woman in this city of intense energy,” says Narcissister.

The one neighborhood where they ran into trouble, strangely enough, was the East Village. In one scene, you see a man mock one of the topless women; in another, a man yells at one of the women, telling them they’re “going to hell.” The optics presented a problem for Narcissister, an intersectional feminist of Moroccan-Jewish and African-American descent.

“It got very complicated for me, being a person of color and that my father was African-American. There were a lot of men loitering about in the East Village, and most of them were black, and those were the few instances where somebody actually heckled us,” she recalls. “That was intense for me, being a person of color and thinking about race in my project, but the men who assert their presence in the film in a way that ends up being unsavory, or not positive, they were all black men.”

“In the short time that we did film, this is what was real,” she continues. “And I got criticism when I showed people early cuts of the film, about how the only men who respond badly or poorly or offensively in the film are black, and the thing is, I didn’t want to hide that because I really wanted to document it if we did this gesture, and that’s what happened. I don’t want to hide the reality of street life in New York. We didn’t look for those reactions.”

The cumulative effect of Breast Work is one of benignity; these topless people, marching down the streets with intense purpose, feel very much like part of the fabric of the city. It feels normal, as it should.

“I like to think that, in my own small way, I’m contributing to the increased safety and liberation for women and their bodies in this country,” says Narcissister. “Some would say a woman taking her shirt off in the street is not a subtle gesture, but I think the fact that we shot it without a lot of pretense or planning, that suits my sensibility of activism being available to everybody, and how it can be impactful in its simplest and subtlest forms.”

This Topless Book Club Is Empowering Women to Embrace Their Bodies

Members of New York City’s Topless Book Club have been baring their breasts in Central Park for the past six years. Recently, the group went viral after sharing a video about their mission: To prove that it’s perfectly possible for women to show nudity in a nonsexual way-while reminding New Yorkers that toplessness is very legal in their city.

“I feel like from a very young age women are told to be quiet or modest about our bodies,” club member Cheyenne Lutek says. “Society tells us to dress or act a certain way in order to be ‘normal’ or ‘accepted,’ and frankly I believe we can use our bodies any way that we see fit.”

Cheyenne joined the club in 2013 after reading about it online. It instantly sparked her interest because of its progressiveness. “They accepted me with open arms, and I’ve met some of the greatest people through it,” she says.

Rachel Rosen, on the other hand, was introduced to the idea in 2011 through a personal training client. “I thought it was a really amazing idea that I wanted to support,” she told us. (Related: Find Out Why Hundreds of Women Are Sharing Photos of Themselves Doing Naked Yoga)

Neither of the women had ever heard of anything like this before but fell in love with the group stood for. “It promotes the idea that we should be free to show up in whatever state of dress and undress in a pretty relaxed way and not be judged for it,” Rachel says. “It also increases awareness that it’s acceptable and actually desirable for women to be topless.”

For Cheyenne, it was all about learning to be comfortable and confident in her own skin. “There just aren’t many opportunities like this out there and it’s definitely looked down upon,” she says. “But we need to be in control of our bodies and our health-that’s what this group is all about.”

The club currently has hundreds of active members, some who have created their own small groups around the world. Their goal is to get together once a month to read everything from Shakespeare to comic books while having intelligent conversations about women’s rights and issues.

“Being part of the group has brought light to many problems around the world for women, like pay, access to education, health care-I didn’t really know about some of these things before,” Cheyenne says. “It’s changed my all-around perception of what it means to be a woman in today’s world.” (Related: What I Learned About Myself from Trying Naked Yoga)

The group accepts anybody and everybody, as long as they are willing to leave all judgments behind. But onlookers don’t always offer the same courtesy. “Occasionally, we get some negative comments and looks,” Cheyenne says. “But together we’re more powerful and we support each other, so people who have something negative to say usually just mind their own business.”

Rachel likes to give these folks the benefit of the doubt. “I think they are more curious than anything else,” she says. “Plenty of people come up and commend us for what we’re trying to do for future generations.”

Over the years, both women have used the group to empower themselves and have learned to embrace their bodies in the process. “They’re just boobs,” Cheyenne says. “Being topless in public has taught me to be confident and in turn happier. Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone out and done things I would have never done before because of this.” (Related: How Running a Naked 5K Helped Me Embrace My Cellulite and Stretch Marks)

Rachel loves that the group brings different types of women together and provides them with a safe space to just be themselves. “It’s not the ‘supermodel topless group,'” she says. “Women in the group come in all different shapes and sizes and learn that the body is a natural thing. It doesn’t need to be sexualized. They learn that women can walk around without a top and it can just be an expression of who they are. It doesn’t need to be anything more.”

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I am not a member of a book club – perhaps it is rooted in the days of my education, but I just feel that I’d hate having to read something by a certain time. However, I am loving this week’s slew of articles about New York’s Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a book group which loves “good books and sunny days and enjoying both as nearly in the altogether as the law allows”.

As it’s sunny in New York, they’ve been stripping off all over the place, most recently “the rooftop sundeck of a nude-friendly, gay-friendly, everything-friendly boutique hotel”, where they read books “from hardboiled crime yarns to ancient-astronaut tracts to the indescribably glorious ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PRESIDENTIAL FUCK MACHINE”.

“Conversation ensued … Photos were taken. Relaxation was had. Why can’t every Saturday be a naked-with-friends-in-the-sun Saturday?” they write on their blog.

I’m not entirely clear why reading and toplessness go together, but I can’t help but warm to the evident fun the book group is having in the pairing (check out the pictures on their blog – although possibly not while you’re at work). I emailed founder A Andrews to ask what was behind it all; she told me that “four summers ago, my best friend and I were talking about the law in New York that says women are free to go topless anywhere a man can, and about the fact that no women ever did. It clearly wasn’t because no woman would ever want to – when it’s 90 degrees outside, who wouldn’t rather be bare-chested than suffering under a shirt and bra? But most women didn’t know they had this right, and those who did were often afraid to take advantage of it. So we decided to create a group to combat that ignorance and fear. We made it a book club because we loved books and loved hanging out with other people who loved books. And it’s been going strong ever since.”

Well, fair enough and good for them. So far, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive”, according to Andrews. “Oh, sure, every once in a while some passer-by will give us a dirty look, but far more often people who see us are enthusiastic and supportive and tell us how inspiring we are. And this is New York – most people go out of their way not to be fazed by the unexpected sight.”

And the group isn’t, she says, too distracted by the bare breasts around them. “It hasn’t been a problem; it’s not more difficult to try to read in the park with topless women around you than it is with topless men, who can be just as attractive (or not), just as sexy (or not), and just as distracting (or not),” says Andrews. “We don’t get as much reading done when we’re at one of our events as we would by ourselves in a silent, locked room, but then we don’t mean to – our gatherings are more social, and we spend more time chatting and discussing books than actually nose-down in the pages, reading them.”

Men, by the way, also attend events – although not many, and only those already known to members. Predictably enough, the society has received a lot of interest from men interested in joining. At the moment, there is only one Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, but it’s encouraging people in other parts of the world to start their own branches.

I wonder if Andrews et al will spark a new trend. I’ll be mentioning the concept to my parents, but I’m not sure it’ll take off in Suffolk. As for me, I’ll be sticking, top firmly on, to my solo pulp fiction appreciation society (current read – well, he’s not really pulp, but I’m enjoying a Raymond Chandler binge after loving John Banville’s take on Philip Marlowe). But I wish the Outdoor crew joy of the good weather and good books they have ahead of them, Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Fuck Machine not withstanding.

“In France, the Cap D’Agde allows it, as well as parts of Spain,” a completely naked man named Sam* is informing me as we bake in 81 degree heat on top of an adorable bed and breakfast in Manhattan’s Chelsea.

Rachel*, also completely nude, pipes up from the rose-petal scattered wading pool Sam set up for us, book in hand. “Here’s something to discuss – what’s an ‘above the pants job’? The protagonist in this book really wants one.”

“Probably a handjob through jeans, right?” replies Katie,* a dark-skinned, freckled girl with bright blue nail polish who’s lounging topless on a deck chair.

The first girl winces. “That just sounds uncomfortable.”

A conversation that could be had with clothes on, to be sure, but my bare boobs and I are hanging out with some other bare boobs at the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a two-summers-and-running New York club where members, often strangers to one another, strip down and read titles about forbidden same-sex lust and ’50s hard crime (I brought the authorized biography of Monica Lewinsky).

We’re on the lovely roof of the Cottage Inn, originally founded by Mel Cheren, known as “the Godfather of Disco” and an active member of the LGBT community, particularly in the form of HIV awareness. Before Cheren passed away of AIDS, he dictated that the Inn always remain gay-friendly and open to any affiliate queer-positive groups – and it remains one of the only places in Manhattan where people can be completely nude, both topless and bottomless, in public.

Sam, the co-founder of the group, is the only man present. Among the women in attendance are a student, a production assistant, a personal assistant, and an adult film actress – but it’s also frequented by bartenders, baristas, burlesque dancers, and other occupations unlikely to be used to learn the letter “B” on Sesame Street. The age of attending people has ranged from 17 to 44.

It is a truth not universally acknowledged by, say, Jane Austen, but a truth nevertheless, that taking your top off in public is way easier than I thought it was going to be. Do you know how awesome it feels to take off your bra in direct sunlight? It’s like getting a rim job from one of the cherubs painted on the Sistine Chapel.

Full disclosure: I have exposed my mammarian lady lumps to the elements once before, at a bacchanalian warehouse party in the depths of Brooklyn, after drinking too much champagne in a hot tub. (They offered more champaigne to anyone who’d take their boobies out.) What can I say, I was young (two years ago) and drunk (right now). The memory of trolling the Internet with greasy hangover hair the next day, searching nervously for photographic evidence, prevented any repeat offenses. So I felt it was only fair to balance one patriarchal, Girls Gone Wild-esque bare-boob experience with a SOBER, body positive, queer-friendly women’s lib form of toplessness.

As we roast ourselves like rotisserie chickens – after slathering on the SPF 50 so as not to get burned on our most sensitive areas, oww — and munch on raspberry marshmellows and Billy’s Bakery cupcakes, Sam explains the genesis of the club. A good friend of his — a woman who country-hops for her photography career — mentioned that her travels indicated far more comfort with the human body than we have in America. Sam works in publishing, so they decided it would be a nude book club, books provided by Sam, that met in public places. Often, they go to Central Park, but occasionally score a roof at the Inn, like today.

They discovered a piece of 1992 legislature that allowed women to go topless in public in New York (which the NYPD were recently reminded of after repeatedly arresting a topless woman in the streets, according to the New York Times .) Sam says: “The law’s been on the books for twenty years, and nobody took advantage.”

Among their fans is the iconic genre fiction novelist Elmore Leonard, who sent them free books and even requested a t-shirt with their logo – which they didn’t have. “I made one up and sent it to him. Actually, I made five up and sent him all of them,” Sam laughs.

“We thought it would probably be one of those one-off things,” he explains. But the interest in the club has been growing by year. Friends, and friends of friends, are generally welcome because they’re probably like-minded, but as word of mouth spread, Sam has introduced an informal screening process to keep out any potential pervy voyeurs. Not that the women can’t hold their own.

“Sometimes you’ll have a guy sitting a few feet away, but they eventually get bored. One of them pulled out a camera, and got right up in his face and took pictures of him.”

Quite literally flipping the male gaze. I’m down with that.

*All names have been changed to protect subjects’ privacy.

Follow Anna on Twitter.

Image via Getty

Anna Breslaw Writer.

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    Several justices agreed and effectively legalized female toplesseness in New York. Book Club Member 1: At one point in history it was also illegal for men to be topless as well. And only in the year 1937 did it become legal for men to be topless in New York. Book Club Member 3: The law should not be applied differently based on your gender.

    Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society …

    The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society is a group of several dozen women and a few men that has, since August 17, 2011, organized regular gatherings around New York City, meeting to read and discuss books in public while topless. Mary Steenburgen Photos – Actress Mary Steenburgen (L) and model Christie Brinkley attend the after party following the New York screening of “Book Club” at Omar at Vaucluse on May 15, 2018 in New York City. – “Book Club” New York Screening

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    How This Topless NYC Book Club Is Empowering WomenAround …

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    Bold New York bookworms strip down for Topless Pulp …

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    Topless Book Club Takes Off in New York

    A topless book club named the Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society has been started in New York, and it involves a group of mostly women who like to combine their love of reading with their love of being topless in public. Considering its legality, we look at the acceptability of public nudity for the sake of literature, in this … Book Club – read and add reviews of books, rate, share and recommend your favorite product to a friend.

    The Tao of Skinny-Dipping – The New York Times

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    Warming Up the Winter

    As long-time readers of our blog know, our events are generally not sexual in any way. In fact, that’s sort of the point: we want to demonstrate that it’s no more sexual for a woman to relax with her shirt off on a warm day than it is for a man to do the same thing. You see men jogging bare-chested, or playing basketball, or tanning at the beach or reading in the park all summer long, and no one accuses them of being exhibitionists or doing something shameful or immoral. A man’s chest is just a chest, no more interesting or worthy of comment than his elbow or his ear. Our goal is for a woman’s chest to be treated the same way.

    That said, many of us — most of us — do also enjoy sex. And sex is one thing (among many, many other things) that it’s fun to do naked. Is it surprising, then, that once in a while, especially when it gets chilly out and our events move indoors, we find ourselves enjoying our nudity sweetened with a touch of the erotic?

    What has that meant in the past? Once we were joined by alums of Betty Dodson’s famous Bodysex instructional group, which has been helping women discover their bodies and achieve orgasm since the 1970s. They shared a practice they call “erotic recess,” which is basically group masturbation, and we have to say, it was pretty great. Another time, we took over a spa in midtown for an evening and lay around in the relaxation room telling a very satisfying, very dirty story that we all collaborated on — sort of a group fantasy, unfolded by everyone, and having learned our lesson from the Bodysex crew, we had vibrators on hand for anyone who wanted to indulge.

    That event was so popular that we decided to hold another erotic storytelling event this past October, only bigger and better. Instead of just $15 CVS vibrators, we got these imported beauties:

    And instead of a little spa room we took over the penthouse suite in a fancy hotel, complete with its own private terrace,

    We stocked it with macarons and fresh berries and Writers’ Tears whiskey,

    and we lit candles,

    and then we turned down the lights and all sat around in a circle and started telling each other about our fantasies. Because we wanted to come up with a story that would excite everyone, you see. So we could do our storytelling again.

    Well, that was the plan. But you know what Robbie Burns said about plans — that the best-laid ones gang aft a-gley, and if you’re wondering what ganging a-gley might be like, well, we used to wonder too. Not anymore. We have an idea what he meant now.

    Not a single story got told that night. Not with words, anyway.

    And at some point pretty early on, we put the camera down too. Some things are private. But we also believe it’s important and healthy to be open about topics like this, so let’s not draw a gauzy curtain over it and leave you wondering what happened. What happened was one of the most positive and pleasurable experiences any of us has had: ten people of good will and kindness and enthusiastic consent deciding to explore their own bodies and each other’s, with love and without judgment, shame, or embarrassment. But maybe that’s still too much of a gauzy curtain. What happened was, we had sex, in pairs and triads and quintuples and whatever you call a pile of nine people. For a few people there it may have been their first lesbian experience; for pretty much everyone it was their first orgy. And so different from the cliched sort of sex party you read about, or that some of us have gone to. Without men there, for one thing, no one felt the burden of the male gaze or the sense that we were performing for someone else’s pleasure rather than our own. (We did have one solitary male in the group, but that’s very different from a room full of men.) And in the manner of the very best all-female events, everyone was supportive and thoughtful and collaborative. No one yucked anyone else’s yum. Orgasms cascaded from body to body like St. Elmo’s fire. It was a beautiful demonstration of what the female body is capable of and how good people can be to each other if only they want to be.

    After it ended, we were all a little giddy and breathless. We took a little break to get our heads together again.

    And then we went out into the night, hugging our secret close to our chests. We’d done this wonderful thing. But who could we ever tell?

    Well, now we’ve told you. And we hope you’re open-minded enough to see it for what it was: a little moment of magic that made us very happy. Nudity does not equal sex. But sex is nothing to be ashamed of either, and we’re not at all sorry to have had this experience. Every girl should have the chance to set her inhibitions aside for a night and just enjoy what her body can do.

    We’ll return to our usual sorts of events soon enough. But we’ll never forget this one. And maybe, once or twice each year, we’ll do it again.

    Freedom comes in many flavors. It’s good to taste them all.

    Women Go Topless in New York to Celebrate 25 Years of Equal Rights

    NEW YORK, May 11, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The summer of 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark 1992 court decision establishing that women have the same right as men to go bare-chested in public places throughout New York State. Celebrating this milestone with a summer-long series of outdoor events is the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society (, a book club founded in the summer of 2011 to give women in New York an opportunity to safely exercise their right to go topless in city parks, plazas, and other public spaces.

    Topless book club meeting in an NYC park Women and men topless together in the fountain at Washington Square Park

    The group’s events in past years have included boating on Central Park Lake, book discussions on the steps of the New York Public Library, picnics in Washington Square Park, figure drawing sessions on the High Line, and a 13-mile bicycle tour of the city – all done topless. Last summer, the group produced an acclaimed all-female, fully nude outdoor production of The Tempest in Central Park to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. (Full nudity is permitted outdoors in New York as part of the performance of a play or other artistic exhibition. Toplessness is permitted at any time.) The group’s activities have been covered by media throughout the world, including the New York Times, the Sunday Times of London, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, and Salon.

    The events planned for this summer (all of which are free of charge) include meet-ups in many of the city’s most popular outdoor spaces, and range from adventurous to simply relaxing: a gathering of 10-20 women reading on the grass in the park, as unconcerned about baring their breasts under the sun as the countless topless men in the park are about baring theirs. “A woman’s chest is no more inherently sexual than a man’s,” said the group’s co-founder, Alethea Andrews. “Eighty years ago, men weren’t allowed to take their shirts off in public, and today that seems ridiculous. Years from now, it will seem just as ridiculous that we ever restricted women in this way. Once people get used to the sight, it’s really no big deal.”

    The group welcomes inquiries from any women interested in coming to one of their events, and can be reached by email at [email protected], on Twitter at @toplesspulp, or through their website,

    Media inquiries are welcomed by email as well: [email protected]
    Media contact: Alethea Andrews

    SOURCE The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society (OCTPFAS)

    This NSFW book club is taking a stand for gender equality — by reading topless in public spaces

    Editor’s note: Salon’s original video report on the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, which can be found at the end of this post, is not safe for work.

    In many ways this New York City book club is just like any other. Members discuss the books they are reading, but also sidetrack into their personal lives, talking about work, love and hobbies. They nosh on snacks and sip their drinks. During the summer, they meet outdoors in New York City’s public parks.


    But this book club is different from the norm in one important way: The majority female crew meets and reads outside and bare-chested.

    The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, which boasts dozens of members, was founded five years ago to give women the chance to take advantage of the New York City law that allows women to go topless in public spaces.


    “For me it wasn’t necessarily a political move,” said one club member. “But if this groups sets an example that normalizes female toplessness, then I’m all for it.”

    “The extent to which boobs have been sexualized on our society is laughable,” she added.

    All club member names were withheld to protect their identities online.


    The club met on a recent, steamy Saturday afternoon in Washington Square Park to read “About The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes” by Lawrence Block. As each member arrived and disrobed, a crowd of ogling park-goers casually crowded around them.

    Some stared and took pictures. Others made under-the-breath comments. Some stopped dead in their tracks, not moving a muscle as they watched the group. But members acted as though they were doing nothing out of the norm. They simply continued to read and discuss.


    “I can’t care too much about how I am affecting them,” one member said. “I need to worry about myself and what makes me happy.”

    The members said that in the last five years they have had very few negative experiences and have never once been scared.

    “That’s what’s so important about this group,” one member said. “We get to exercise our rights in the safety of a group.”


    Watch Salon’s original video report on the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society below.

    Warning: This video is not safe for work.


    Central park pulp fiction book club

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