Meet New York City's Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society

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Back in June, when it was sultry and sunny on the city streets, there was a woman who walked the Bowery topless. Some were shocked, as people sometimes are; others responded coolly, knowingly that, actually, it is legal to be topless as a woman or a man in New York City. Still others were inspired to try it for themselves. And then, we all pretty much put our shirts back on and went about our business, except for a group known as the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. After a first meeting on August 17, they are still going topless as they read pulp fiction outdoors in various New York City locales -- although probably not today, given the rain. They are hoping to take female toplessness from "something taboo," albeit legal, to something that people don't much notice, or care about if they do. They've got a blog that's been seen by more than 100,000 people (and they're on Twitter, now, too). We had a chat with a couple of the group's members this weekend.

How did the group get started?
A: I know a lot of women who've said, "It's great that in New York the law says you can go topless anywhere a man can, and I'd love to try it sometime, but I don't have the guts to do it by myself." Finally a bunch of us decided to try doing it together: Just pick a day with nice weather, go to a park, lay out a towel, and do it. But we figured if we were just lying there people would come up and bother us, so we thought, What if we brought books and were reading? People would be less likely to bother us then, and we'd have an excuse to ignore them if they did. Then the question was, What sort of book would go well with a bold topless outing? And the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society was born. We had our first outing about a month ago, in early August. I only wish we'd started sooner, so we'd have more of the summer left!

C.L.: The overall purpose of the group is for girls who want to take advantage of the legality of being topless in New York to be able to, while reading books. Along with bare-breasted sunbathing being something that we enjoy, we also have noticed that despite female toplessness being legal, there are very few who take advantage of it. We are hoping to go from this being something taboo to something of social inconsequence.

Were you inspired at all by the topless, still anonymous, Bowery woman?
A: No, we knew about the toplessness option before all that coverage, but that probably helped get us talking about it a bit more than we otherwise would have.

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How many outings have you had since you started?
A:
We've had eight so far, and we plan to keep going until the weather turns (which, sadly, will be pretty soon). We've gone to a batch of parks and some other public spots like the Battery Park esplanade and the tables outside the Flatiron Building. We'll pick a convenient place to meet, and then decide where to go from there.

How do you choose your reading material?
A:
A good friend of mine is the editor of a line of books called Hard Case Crime. I knew they were coming out with some new books in the fall and looking for ways to make readers aware of them, so I asked him if he'd be willing to supply us with advance copies. He was glad to. So we've been reading their forthcoming titles. One that's been particularly fun to read in public is Getting Off by Lawrence Block, since the women on the cover are wearing even less than we are.

How many members do you have?
A:
So far we've had something like 15 people participate, though not everyone has come to every event. Usually it's maybe 3-7 people at a given event.

Are you all friends outside the group?
A:
Some are friends and friends of friends, some are complete strangers who heard about us by word of mouth and asked if they could come, some are people who've done work for my friend at Hard Case Crime. One nice thing, though, is that a lot of people who didn't know each other before they met at one of our events have exchanged e-mails or phone numbers and have met up socially since.

C.L.: I participate because I feel like these are people I can really become friends with, and that's a pretty great feeling in and of itself. What it means to me is that I've finally found a group of like-minded people who believe in equality. It means there are other people who want to help dismantle the stigma of breasts in public being something "dirty."

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Do you have a "mission statement" or anything?
A.: Not really a mission statement, though our website says "Making reading sexy," so I guess that's sort of a goal. Why shouldn't reading be sexy? But the real point is just to go outside and relax and have a good time, and to enjoy the freedom the law gives us but that most of the time women are too nervous or anxious to take advantage of. It's fine to say women can do the same things men can, but if they never do -- and it's not because they don't want to but because they're scared to -- is that equality?

According to your name, you're co-ed. What about guys?
A: We have had guys show up from time to time -- a couple of participants had their boyfriends meet us in the park and hang out with us for a while, and my editor friend has come along, but it's mostly women.



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