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Stripped poker

We take a gamble on a group of gay male nudists.

Photograph: Jason A. Heidemann
CHEEKY MONKEYS The Nude Dudes ante up.

Buck naked and bending over a craps table in Boystown, surrounded by a group of men who are all staring at me expectantly, I suddenly feel very self-conscious. Holding the dice in my hands, I realize I have no idea how to gamble. True, I also don’t have a single stitch of clothing on, but then neither do the 45 other guys in the room. It’s casino night for Nude Dudes Chicago, a monthly gathering of under-40 gay male social nudists.

Nude Dudes Chicago formed in 2006. Cofounder Glenn-Paul Nehlsen, 38, who discovered naturism through an ex-boyfriend, says that other local naturist groups like C.A.N.S. (Chicago Area Naturist Sons) tend to attract older men. Nehlsen, his roommate Jack and others were looking to hang out sans clothing with guys their age. They placed ads on Craigslist and in chat rooms, quickly generating interest. “Some people say NDC has an age discrimination,” Nehlsen says. “It’s not so much a discrimination as it is a peer setting.” Case in point: Casino night is a joint effort between NDC and C.A.N.S. (Other monthly NDC events include blacklight parties, Greco-Roman–themed nights and naked bowling.)

I arrive early. After coughing up $20 in exchange for $200 in fake gambling chips, I strip down to my birthday suit, tucking my clothes away in Nehlsen’s basement. As professional (and half-dressed) dealers work the blackjack, craps and roulette tables, I hit the self-serve open bar (a lifesaver). The other guys in attendance are mostly NDC members who range in age from 25 to 40. Every time the doorbell rings, I pray it isn’t someone I know.

But as the evening progresses, being naked in front of a group of strangers becomes the most ordinary thing in the world. And aside from the irresistible double entendres (my favorite: “At least I know I won’t lose my shirt”), this diverse assortment of white, Asian and Latino guys from every social stratum isn’t interested in talking about its nakedness.

“People who are new to the nudist experience say, ‘Can I sink into it slowly?’” Nehlsen says. “I always tell people, ‘After five minutes, you’re going to feel like it’s the most natural thing.’ And that’s always the case. Everybody worries for nothing.”

When Nude Dudes member Tracey Swanson, 25, placed a Craigslist ad seeking other aspiring nudists, NDC contacted him. Casino Night is his second NDC event. “In college, I was always the one who’d be mostly naked by the end of the party,” he says. Swanson admits his initial interests were partly exhibitionist. “There’s a thrill in being naked,” he says, “but then that piqued interest in more social nudity. Once you’ve seen someone naked, you can talk about anything.”

NDC events are all nonsexual; the group’s website makes clear that sexual advances are unwelcome. Although I can’t resist looking in every direction imaginable, sexual tension is at a minimum. “It can be a challenge,” Nehlsen says, “but people are mostly respectful and they follow the rules.” For his part, Swanson says he does a “fair amount” of checking guys out.

If not sexual, social nudity can be comical. Nehlsen recounts a blacklight party with about 35 naked guys who got so loud the police showed up and let themselves in. “I think they were more embarrassed than anybody else was,” he says.

Enjoying the camaraderie of my fellow nude dudes, and killing at roulette, I’m admittedly hooked. By night’s end, my wardrobe seems like an affront. “People wear masks, and clothing is often just one of those types of masks,” Nehlsen says. “When you can’t hide behind it, all of your better qualities come out.”

NDC events happen monthly. For more information, visit nudedudeschicago.org.

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