T.V. Stokes, when he elects to wear clothes, cuts a neat figure.
With a trim gray mustache, khakis, a cardigan and clear eyes framed by a pair of bifocals, he seems relaxed and reverent.
Not so, says Stokes. "I'm a rebel," said the 56-year-old leader of the Washington area's largest nudist organization.
This is a man who calls swimsuits disgusting. Interviewed yesterday in a bustling restaurant in Fair Oaks Mall, he proclaimed in a rising voice: "The thought of a swimsuit is disgusting. Who wants a wet, slimy swimsuit?"
Stokes, as president of the National Capital Naturists, a nudist group with a mailing list of about 1,300, this week confronted authorities on Virginia's Eastern Shore who have pledged a crackdown on the unclothed who bathe on an isolated stretch of beach on Assateague Island.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors passed a law June 20 designed to end nude bathing there. This week, county authorities apparently decided to enforce it.
Sheriff's deputies Monday descended on the beach -- part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a longtime favorite of the unclad -- and charged three members of Stokes' nudist organization with violating the county's new ordinance.
That sent Stokes and the National Capital Naturists (generally, nudists prefer private clubs and naturists are inclined toward beaches, Stokes explained) reeling. They vowed to launch a legal assault on the ordinance, financed by the sale of T-shirts with the motto, "Bare Assateague."
For Stokes, a Northern Virginia electronic test engineer who lives on five secluded acres near Leesburg, the fight over nude bathing will be the culmination of one of his longtime interests.
A native of the District, Stokes bought his first nudists' magazine, "Sunshine and Health," as a teenager in the 1940s. He skinny-dipped now and then, ran nude with a cousin in the woods, but then let the interest lapse for some 30 years.
In 1977, he persuaded his wife La Verne, who balked at first, to accompany him to a nudist colony in Pennsylvania. "Like most women, she was hesitant about becoming a nudist," he said. "But that's changing nowadays as more and more women try it. It's part of the liberation of women's minds." He says his wife now is as committed as he is to nudism.
Stokes says he knows there's a lot more liberating to be done before nudists are accepted by the public. He says he has encountered hostility from religious organizations and conscientious inattention from federal authorities, who refuse to designate portions of national parks and refuges as nude beaches, a longstanding nudist goal, according to Stokes.
"They're persecuting us by ignoring us," he said. "When you go to the government to try to get them to respond to your needs, when they try to pretend you don't exist, isn't that a form of persecution?"
What started as a pleasant hobby and a mild challenge to convention has evolved into a cause approaching a passion for Stokes.
"It's the physical feeling," Stokes said, struggling to explain the appeal of public nudity. "I think it's mentally stimulating, it gives you a feeling of freedom. I'm kind of proud of what I'm doing, the fact that I'm an activist is something I'm proud of."
Stokes says there are 30 million Americans who have skinny-dipped at some time. He called nudism a movement of "social change . . . that can benefit humankind."
Stokes says his group does not intend to continue confronting the authorities at Assateague for now. He predicts the issue will be in the courts in the near term. But he promises not to give up.