We met at the grave of Susan B. Anthony. And within ten minutes, he had agreed to pose naked for my blog. I love cooperative strangers.
The latest Project Naked adventure began when a couple of friends discovered that Frederick Douglass was buried in a cemetery just a few miles away from the campus where we were attending a conference. We agreed to slip away from the conference for a couple of hours so that we could take a walk in the sunshine and visit the gravesite. “We will be back by the 3 pm session,” Scrivener promised as he slid behind the wheel of the car.
“Hey, I’m bringing my camera, just in case any of you want to pose,” I said. Scrivener and Allistelling looked at each other. I knew what they were thinking: no way in hell. It’s a weird thing about my male friends. They love to talk about the naked photo project, but when it comes to actually taking off their clothes, they balk.
“It’s BECAUSE we’re friends,” Scrivener explained. “That makes it weird.” I rolled my eyes at this extremely lame explanation. Allistelling didn’t feel the need to give an excuse, but it was clear he had no intention of posing.
Candy Corn, the fourth person in the car, was curious about the project. We’d met just that morning, but somehow my naked photo project had already come up in conversation. “How do you get people to pose?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Mostly, I ask, and people say yes.” She looked incredulous at that explanation.
The cemetery was a lovely place for an afternoon walk. It was May in Camera City, which meant that lilacs were blooming, and green was bursting forth on trees everywhere. We easily found the grave of Federick Douglass. Then, with Scrivener consulting his phone, we wandered off to look for Susan B. Anthony. We passed a lawn of bluebells, some huge old trees, rows of grey tombstones, and a woodchuck who darted out of his hole to watch us walk by.
The tombstone for Susan B. Anthony was small and grey. We were sitting in the shade near the grave, talking quietly, when two young men walked over. They were carrying a sheet of white paper, which I recognized immediately. They were going to do a tombstone rubbing. I couldn’t resist snapping some pictures as they worked, and then I gave them my card.
“Send me an email, and I’ll send you the photos,” I said. That’s when we started talking. Cemetery Guy One said that the rubbing was for a friend’s project. It’s called the Gay Rub.
“Whenever I travel, he sends me to a cemetery where a famous LGBT person is buried, and I do a rubbing,” he said.
Yes. Every time he travels, he takes a couple of hours to make a rubbing for his friend’s project. That’s the cooperative spirit I like to see.
So of course, I told him about my naked photo project. And of course, I asked him to pose.
“Naked?” he said, laughing. “I don’t know if I want to pose with my dick hanging out.”
“Not that kind of photo,” I said. "And you get veto power, of course." I would have pulled some images up on my phone, but there was no wifi in this sprawling cemetery.
Cemetery Guy Two jumped into the conversation. “I posed naked for a friend last week,” he said helpfully. He gave Cemetery Guy One a look of encouragement. That’s really all it took.
“This will just take five minutes, I promise,” I said to my friends. We left them sitting, fully clothed, in the shade while I walked with Cemetery Guy One and Cemetery Guy Two over to the next section of the cemetery. We talked fast as we walked — about nudity, about body image, about gender.
“We’ll have to finish this conversation over skype,” Cemetery Guy One said as he stripped off his clothes.
“For sure,” I said. “The conversations are the best part of this project. Um – can you turn that way a bit more?”
Cemetery Guy One was a natural. He turned to look at his reflection in a tombstone, and I snapped the photo. Then I called for him to jump up and down, and I took some ridiculous shots of him in midair.
By the time we rejoined my friends, they were laughing. “We saw you jumping up and down,” Candy Corn said. “I love how comfortable and free you seem to be.”
I wanted to stay and talk for longer, but we had a 3 pm session to get to. “I want to look at your friend’s project,” I said to Cemetery Guy One. “I guess I can just google Gay Rub?”
“Um, no,” Cemetery Guy Two said. “I wouldn’t do that."
"Really,” said Cemetery Guy One. They both laughed.
“I’ll send you the link,” Cemetery Guy One said. “And we’ll skype one of these days.”
My friends were already walking toward the car. So we hugged goodbye. “Oh, and you get to pick your own pseudonym,” I said as I walked away. "Send it to me in an email."
“What?” Cemetery Guy One teased me. “I’ve got homework?”
We had to part ways — my conference was calling — but we’ve since exchanged a flurry of emails. He told me that he and his husband are going to ride their bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a seven-day 545-mile charity bike ride called the AIDS/Lifecycle. It’s an event that includes more than 2000 cyclists and will likely raise millions of dollars. I think that’s how he chose his pseudonym. “I can be Queer LA Cyclist,” he said.
And so it was decided. Cemetery Guy One is now Queer LA Cyclist. Next time, I'll get a picture of him with his bike.
Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos