If You Oppose Topless Beaches, Consider This

May 2nd 2015

Venice Beach Neighborhood Council made a move for the second time toward legalizing topless bathing for women on the neighborhood's Calif. beaches. In a 12-2 vote on Apr. 21, the council approved a motion stating that it "supports women being afforded the same rights as men to sunbathe topless."

Related: Women Are Fighting Sexist Double Standards on Social Media

Although the council argued that the sanction on topless sunbathing needed to be revoked to come in line with the area's European cultural heritage, the central reason motivating the change appeared to anti-sexism.

"This is a serious [gender] equality issue," said Melissa Diner to the Los Angeles Times of her sponsorship of the resolution as council community officer. "And I'm not going to shy away from it."

The prohibition against female toplessness dates back to 1974, when the City of Los Angeles -- of which Venice, Calif., is a suburb -- voted to ban nudity citywide. Why the sudden modesty? Ironically, in response to the neighborhood's last liberal experiment with nudity at the beach, negative media reports prompted the Los Angeles City Council to take action.

Currently, the law governing beaches in Los Angeles reads:

No person shall appear, bathe, sunbathe, walk, change clothes, disrobe or be on any beach in such manner that the genitals, vulva, pubis, pubic symphysis, pubic hair, buttocks, natal cleft, perineum, anus, anal region or pubic hair region of any person, or any portion of the breast at or below the upper edge of the areola thereof of any female person, is exposed to public view, except in those portions of a comfort station, if any, expressly set aside for such purposes.

It's the language specifically calling out "female persons" to which Dinar objects, and which sent her to the neighborhood council chambers to ask her fellow members to support changing the LA law.

"I think it's significant because it shows that it's specifically calling out only females," Dinar told VICE. "[W]e should eliminate specifically calling out 'female persons.' Just take out that one sentence -- really, only a couple words."

As the previous owner of a pair of breasts, I couldn't agree more with Dinar's thinking about toplessness.

A transguy's take on why anti-topless laws are sexist

In many ways, topless restrictions don't matter to me anymore. After my top surgery, I no longer possess a pair of these highly regulated appendages. I can run out in the morning to check the mail or grab something from my car without putting on a t-shirt, and guess what? No one cares. Aside from my scars, there's no difference between my chest and the pecs of a cisgender male. Translation: I suddenly have the green light to take my shirt off in many public locations without risk of legal sanctions.

The logic here baffles me.

I have literally the same skin and the same nipples as I did prior to my gender confirmation surgery. (Well, perhaps less of the same skin, but still.) My fabulous surgeon may have trimmed my nipples down and relocated them, but they're still the nipples I had before. So what's the big difference?


I remember the first time I posted a photo for #toplesstuesday on Instagram after my surgery. I was so happy but also so anxious. I felt like I was flashing people; when I take my shirt off in public almost eight months later, I still do. Thinking about it, perhaps every guy that walks around without something covering their chest is flashing those around them. But we're not taught to think of it that way because of the gender of the person involved.

Toplessness was previously illegal in the US for men, too.

GoTopless.org spokesperson Lara Terstenjak speaks to that point in her interview with TheLipTV, when she discusses how even men weren't allowed to go shirtless on beaches in the 1920's.

In fact, it wasn't until 1934 that the first male chest was salaciously bared on the silver screen -- thanks, Clark Gable! -- and it took years of protesting before men were legally allowed to go topless on the beaches of Westchester, NY. The legal change came in 1936. Historically, there's no precedent for men's bare tops being treated any differently than women's chests. It just happens that the push to legalize partial male nudity in the 1930's was more successful than later attempts to free women of similar puritanical American standards.

If that doesn't convince you, consider what happened to Ashley Del Valle in 2013.

Georgia resident Del Valle was arrested in Savannah for indecent exposure by Chatham Metro Police because "her breasts were exposed" violating public decency laws. When she was taken to the county jail for booking though, police realized that Del Valle was a transgender women -- and immediately put her in a men's cell.

According to Chief Deputy Roy Harris, they could "not have put her in the women's dorm" because she was "classified" as male by the jail nurse. But if she was considered male for law enforcement purposes, how could she be held for a crime that only women are capable of committing?

This question isn't rhetorical, this case isn't fake, and this bizarre contradiction could only happen with the confluence of transphobia and sexism.

Similar questions are raised by a televised surgical program that my friend once watched which showed a transwoman's breast surgery. Her initial masculine-appearing chest and nipples were apparently fine for viewers' eyes, but once the implants were in, watch out! Breasts were visible and nipple blurring commenced. (This weirdness at least partially brought to you by the FCC.)

So where do we go from here?

We #freethenipple. Actions take place across the country, including annual "go topless" protest days in Venice Beach, Calif.

Although I agree with LA Councilman Mike Bonin, Venice representative to the legislative body, that our priorities should be on "housing the homeless and protecting affordable housing, reining in overdevelopment" and other core concerns, there's also great merit to this seemingly frivolous issue. This individual law may not change, but if it increases interest and involvement in local politics, Dinar's campaign will still have been a success. Just as importantly, though, amending this archaic law would also send a big message about gender parity.

Getting back to my previously obscene, now totally-okay-to-show-in-public chest, I've experienced my share of sexism. Being continually, publicly sexualized for having breasts is a part of the institutionalized double standard that we impose on women and female-bodied persons. I should know. I may be male, but I've also directly experienced this type of unequal treatment. Happy as I was to stop being a non-consensual sex object every time I left my house -- at least in the eyes of the law -- the stark turnaround in my day-to-day experience on the street and at the beach points to a systemic inequality that makes me cringe every time I take off my shirt in public. Why is my body no longer controlled by the law and society just because I've had surgery? At what point precisely did my chest start being socially acceptable and stop being legally obscene?

Someone please let me know. Because it seems from the absurd experiences of others, like Del Valle, that the law clearly can't.

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