Cooper Beckett for ASN: F*cking Anxiety in New Orleans
I was somewhere over Arkansas when the reality sunk in that this trip was no longer a maybe, an if, a hypothetical. The next morning, I would get up and register for Naughty in N’awlins, one of the largest swinger events in the world. Over three thousand swingers concentrated in a radius of only a few blocks on Bourbon Street in The Big Easy. I hoped my cursed companion anxiety would ebb and I brought along some leftover pills from my old clonazepam prescription in case I needed to do a bit more heavy lifting to get it to go. Somewhere here, in this city, at this event, I hoped to find my mojo, the reason, that central truth I’d discovered long ago, that Sex is Fun, and that the connections it often brings are the most important thing in life.
I had two nJoy Elevens, a custom wooden paddle from Milwaukee, a leather flogger with a polished wooden handle, a leather harness with a spider web pattern, stainless steel butt plugs, a golden silicone Dalek dildo, two G-Spot Lollipops, the G-Spot whisperer itself, the Pure Wand, and more multi-colored silicone dildos than I would’ve thought possible. Not that I needed all of these for the trip, of course, but once you get going on a serious sex toy kit, the impulse is to push it as far as you can.
From the plane’s windows, I could see the plains below. An orange starfield of houses and streetlamps, clustered around highway exits, with seemingly endless swaths of lonely darkness in between. They call this “real America,” though I haven’t heard that in a while and wonder if the nebulous “they” still does. They’re real because they have their day-to-day routines: they go to PTA meetings and church on Sundays, they throw barbecues and run Cub Scout dens. Real because they’re the common clay of this country. Everyman and Everywoman. They’d never do anything scandalous, like, and this is just off the top of my head here, engage in double vaginal penetration with their partner and a guy they picked up at the club while a delightful young woman they’d just met this very night rubbed her dripping vulva against Miss DVP 2019’s hungry mouth and waiting tongue.
They’d never, right? Not in a million years.
I’d thought so too. But eleven years ago, I’d opened a door, and my life had been irreversibly changed. I’d suddenly seen beyond what people had told me forever, beyond the script that took you from birth to school to marriage to parenthood to retirement and grandparenthood to death. I’d been shown another way to live, to love, to relate to the world and those around me.
Suburban subdivisions looked different, so did those PTA meetings, so did the kindergarten teacher we’d known for years who admitted she’d be interested in coming over and drinking a box of wine with us and “…seeing where things go…” something she’d said with a mischievous glisten in her eyes that could only mean one thing. We were seeing where that thing went. Where the sex thing, the sex as a trio thing…where it all went.
And where it all had gone, indeed. Eleven years on and I no longer identify as swinger pure and simple. As with my sexuality, I’m on a spectrum that includes many things, and it’s all kind of a moving target these days. I am a swinger, yes. But I’m also poly. I’m also just open to seeing where individual connections lead. Because connections are the keys to life, and they make it worth living. Connections and relationships sustain us, they keep us from giving in to the despair that is the world in this foul year of our lord, 2019.
In traditional hetero marriage, in suburban nuclear family society, we have each other, the duo, the couple as a unit. We have a smattering of friends, but most are other couples who live in proximity. As we age and our lives change, those groups grow ever smaller and we forget why we sought the new in the first place. This goes for every aspect of adulthood, in fact. There’s a moment in our lives, it could be at twenty, it could be at forty-five, it could be older, where we think: This is who I am. I’m never going to become more.
We stop. We forget. We calcify.
So many in that proverbial “real America” do this, most without regret for the selves they left behind. If they’re happy in this, more power to them. I challenge, though, that so many allow themselves to discover the end of growth because they don’t know that there is any other option. Like Paul said, though (the letter writing one, not the song writing one) “I will show you a still more excellent way.” That secret is that we have choice. We are not required to take that path, to follow that script. Monogamy (or attempted monogamy peppered with infidelity) isn’t the only way.
But look who I’m telling…
The real secrets, though, are the people I’ve not mentioned. Those in Real America who had their eyes opened. The veil has fallen away, and they see what could be, rather than simply live with what is. In Terry Gould’s excellent The Lifestyle: The Erotic Rites of Swingers it was estimated that one in seventy people are swingers. That means that at least one person on my flight is probably a swinger. That means look across this broad swath of America, one could carve a good cross-section of people out of it. People from every race, every religion, every political affiliation, every age, every social standing who have found The Lifestyle. They may be very different in so many ways, but they share one common truth. They reject thousands of years of dogma and instead appreciate sexuality and variety as a core and fundamental need as human beings.
That commonality is what brings two thousand swingers to New Orleans, the epicenter of party-dom in America for a week of hedonistic carnality that would make the Greeks of old blush. They also come for exploration, learning, and discovery.
Here I sit on the other side, trying to figure out how to cover it. Should it be a trip diary? Objective and omniscient coverage? Subjective and embedded? I must reject even the basest idea of objectivity, as I’m both far too close to things and far too opinionated. But in the grand tradition of gonzo journalism, I feel like I need to scratch out from within, explore my own truths and reflection as I observe others in this community that shares many commonalities with my real-world identity, but also approaches them slightly differently. I see no better place to swingers in their natural bacchanal habitat. And I got laid as I did it. Wouldn’t the good Doctor be proud?
My first glimpse of New Orleans was a city after midnight, as I waited and waited and waited for my Lyft to arrive after walking through an airport ghost town. Stepping out of those doors into the night heat left my lungs screaming and my head pounding. The Big Easy would be soaking panties for all sorts of reasons this week, for sure.
I’d experienced heat of course. Chicago has mind-numbingly hot summers. I visited the world’s largest thermometer in Baker, the last bastion of civilization before the final burn to LA from Las Vegas, on a day that hit 122 degrees. And last July, I’d visited Texas, not once but twice! So how was it possible that night at least a dozen degrees below those, felt so oppressive. Well, that was easy, the bullshit yarn that people spin about Vegas’s “dry heat” isn’t bullshit. Anything that instantly vaporizes your sweat is doable. But a wet hot. A swamp hot…. well that’s something entirely different.
“How can it be so hot?” I pleaded with my Lyft driver, “It’s after midnight!”
He only shrugged and told me that I should be happy, a cold front had blown through and would remain for the next few days.
We drove into this “cold front” of eighty-seven degrees in the dead of night, toward the French Quarter where Dylan and Ginger, my two Life on the Swingset partners, had already set up shop in their Air BnB, with Dylan vibing and loving on the owner, and Ginger trying to break some sort of land-speed sex record that would, before the week was out, amount to perhaps more sex than I’ve had thus far this year.
After a silly long first day, from work to the airport to New Orleans, I crashed hard. After all, the next day would bring the crowds, and Naughty in N’awlins 21 would begin in earnest.
The swingers had begun to arrive.
Saturday night near midnight I’d sequestered myself in my room, not quite feeling the night’s Mardi Gras theme and atmosphere, and trying in vain to bang out a structure for this very piece of writing. As I looked back over the week, I saw the stark delineation between what those around me had experienced and what I had personally. It wasn’t that I’d been somehow duped or sold a bill of goods on what this event would mean, it was simply that my shell was harder to get through.
I recognized then, and still do, that my failings in this community are my own, and what I’d experienced over the past week, flashes of brilliance, flashes of beauty, was worth savoring and celebrating, even if I’d let myself down. Because at the end of the day, that’s it right? We stand or fall as ourselves, and so often have no one else on which to assign blame.
I’d retreated to this introvert’s paradise with a bottle of rum, a bucket full of ice, and a pizza that I’d acquired from a nearby late-nite joint. Over the course of my week, my room had been many things, a space to fuck, a space to sleep, a space to write, but often it’d been the “fall back” location. But even that sanctuary could not hold. As I tried to write, and longed for home and my beloved binary star Elle, and our girlfriend, I was startled into action by the blaring of a fire alarm and then a repeated message that sounded like something that would be played in the bunker on LOST.
“Remain calm, remain calm. Do not use the elevators. Do not use the elevators. Use the stairs to reach your designated areas.”
I debated the merits of staying in my room over actually evacuating, and when the alarm stopped for a while, I felt confident that my choice to stay had been warranted. Unfortunately, the alarm began anew and the commotion in the hall increased. Grabbing my phone, I followed a smattering of barely dressed and Mardi Gras theme costumed guests down a dozen flights of the stairs until we emerged from an emergency exit onto Bourbon Street, startling some tourists. Walking around to the front of the Astor, I see people milling about in the lobby with little to no sense of urgency. I shrug and head to the elevator bank and back to my room to resume my attempts at writing with a fresh slug of rum.
Ultimately, the emergency had been nothing but an idiot smoking too close to a smoke alarm. Nothing was wrong, no one was hurt. But that excitement got my blood pumping, my heart beating, the creeping urgent panic and terror across my chest. In a way, this feeling was a mirror of one I’d felt multiple times across the week. From being in numerous extremely crowded environments, to trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to ask someone back to my room.
In the run-up to this trip, my anxiety had doubled and trebled, and at one point after both my physical and mental health deteriorated to a disturbing degree I’d decided not to attend. On a whim, though, on a particularly lucid day, I decided that I’d have to re-emerge at some point, so why not do it at an event like this. You can’t get wetter than wet. Welcome back to the deep end.
One thing I’ve learned over my two-year plus struggle with chronic pain and mental illness, those who haven’t experienced these things don’t really understand them. They might sympathize, they might empathize, but can you ever really understand the view from within someone else’s head? My chronic pelvic pain, which sometimes manifests as back pain, and other times like a vice around my balls, is completely invisible. As is the chemical imbalance in my head that draws out depression, alienation, and anxiety seemingly at the drop of a hat. I combat these things with medication, but unlike so many ailments, fighting these seems more art than science.
What could I, a depressed, anxious, grumpy queer outlier, offer the swinger community, as it exists in this day and age?
In the roughly ten years since Ginger, Dylan, and I began Life on the Swingset I’ve felt growing disconnect from what I would term the traditional swinging community.
Traditional isn’t meant as a negative modifier, to be clear. Many just do things the way they’ve been doing things for the last decade, twenty, thirty, forty years, some. Swinging as a subculture has very long roots, dating back all the way to the second World War. For so many in the community, it’s an escape, a rumspringa from their lives that they can indulge in here and there, suck the marrow from life’s bones, and drink and fuck their way through oodles of others looking for the exact same thing. This is certainly what swinging looked like when my ex-wife and I first poked our heads around the door jam.
But, see, in addition to the aforementioned physical and mental impediments, I’m also a reviled bisexual man, a quadrant of sexuality that the swing community is only starting to begrudgingly accept. Sure, plenty of swingers welcome bi guys and play with bi guys. Many are happy to say, “I don’t have a problem with them.” But one need only look at the paragon swinger spaces, the resorts like Hedo, who are “fine” with guy on guy play, but only because whatever you do in the privacy of your own room is your own deal. Acceptance only if they can’t see it.
Not only am I bisexual, but I’ve slid down that wild non-monogamy spectrum in the scary direction of polyamory. My partner Elle and I have a girlfriend whom we love dearly. We date others as well. We are enthusiastic in our pursuit of love and sex and connections with others. Polyamorous folk and swingers, even though they may be just one or two degrees apart on the central finite curve, just love slinging mud at each other. “I’m not like those dirty swingers!” “I would only ever love my partner, that’s for us, not others!” This animosity is by no means solely the fault of the swing community, either; the polyamorous community’s stingers are just as barbed.
And then there’s my aforementioned mental illness.
Many others are mentally ill, even if they don’t embrace calling it like that. I’m certain that I'm not the first, nor the only one at Naughty in N’awlins. But I may be the only one wearing it up front instead of cramming it deep down inside to that place we don’t go at playtime. My mental illness isn’t extreme or dangerous, but it is occasionally all encompassing. It’s a wonderful mélange of severe depression and anxiety, the kind of thing you could spend a lifetime trying to find the right cocktail of pills to, not cure, no, just level off the roughest bits.
As Elle couldn’t attend Naughty with me, I found myself a bisexual, polyamorous, single male with very high anxiety, at an event over ten times larger than any swinger or sex-positive event I’d ever attended.
Naughty is like swinger “Taste of Chicago,” the one event that everybody knows about and tries so very hard to get to. And fuck, I sure cannot blame them. This thing is tight! It spans multiple hotels, but all very close together, party and event spaces up and down Bourbon Street. Not playrooms, but play floors, being monitored and cleaned immediately after couples’ finish. Themed parties every night, classes and workshops every day, and just about every swinger podcaster I’ve ever heard of. It was the place to be. It was all happening! And I was fucking stressed, anxious, on high alert.
I’ve never been one that could comfortably slide into the swinger niche that is “politely” called height-weight proportionate or HWP if you want to pretend you’re discriminating slightly less. I’m also not anything approaching normal, instead a flamboyant weirdo, with sparkly rainbow Chuck Taylors and a penchant for writing in the lobby instead of partying. In high school, I didn’t go to the dances, because I knew that if I did, I would stand off to the side hoping someone would come to talk, or dance with me. I would mirror this very behavior years later at my first swinger parties.
But my stated modus operandi these days runs that if something seems scary or overwhelming, then I should give it an emphatic yes. The emphatic part is probably only masking the panic that has already taken over inside. On the plane to Naughty, my anxiety assured me, like a onetime friend who’d turned on you, that it would always be with me, omnipresent, and would happily join me in New Orleans no matter how many clonazepam I’d found in my medicine drawer.
My week isn’t a constant. The timeline is wildly askew, and contains numerous delicious meals interspersed with listening to wise people talk, watching confident people party, and asking people who I perceive are far out of my league if they might, just maybe, want to go up to my room.
A flare in the timeline.
Friday night, and I was exhausted. Despite it pinging my geek radar, I wasn’t feeling the interstellar party, as I’d already done the glow party and honestly one night of EDM is plenty for me. Instead, I sat in the lobby with my iPad and keyboard banging out one of many alternate versions of this very article. I'd written and abandoned several already but felt no closer to a solution to the problem of coverage. The danger was, as always, just listing things because that’s how the exhaustion addled mind processes. Though I wondered if I could even do that? The days have already begun to blend together, to merge and split and merge and split, creating chimeric memories of events that almost happened, but certainly not that way…right?
As usual, I drifted to twitter, scrolling the endless feed of friends and foes.
“Meatloaf!” she exclaimed, rushing to where I sat. I didn’t know if it was a command, a veiled comment about my weight, or a desire to find some food. But finally, she clarified with, “’Paradise by the Dashboard Light!’” and thrusted her finger in the direction of the ballroom across from us.
Over my time sitting here I’d heard plenty of broken warbling emanating from that room, so I took a stab with, “Karaoke?”
“Yes! I need Meatloaf! C’mon!” She nabbed my wrist and pulled me into the room just as I heard the beginning of the track. A microphone was thrust into my hand, and for the next six or seven minutes, we shouted and sung Meatloaf’s epic ode to using sex and love as weapons and ultimately preferring death to spending time with a woman he just wanted to fuck.
But seriously, I love that song.
Karaoke pushed back the fuzzy clouds of anxiety, and before it wrapped up for the night, I sang “Sweet Transvestite” (my go-to), butchered “Wrecking Ball,” and rounded it all out with a half-spoken-word/half-sung rendition of Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al.”
Along the way, I took significant amusement from the silent one-reel comedy happening around karaoke, as a gorgeous woman in glasses and a tight NASA t-shirt tried desperately to either take away, unhook, or remove the batteries from the microphone of an odd man covered in glitter adding his own bizarre flare to every song. I left the karaoke room with a young couple telling me how much they’ve appreciated the Swingset podcast. I was, though, unable to put together a legit proposition of these two lovelies, especially as it’s already two in the morning, so instead, I called it a night.
Thirty-five (ish) hundred people in less than a mile radius. Surely, they’d be on some hook-up, app, right?
Before the trip, I download Feeld, Bumble, and Tinder, set up my profiles, and activated the week-long trials of their “upgraded” services which, honestly, felt like what the service ought to be in the first place. I also have #Open, the service I’m helping to usher into the mainstream. It wasn’t long, night two in fact, that I’d swipe literally everybody in the immediate area. I was quickly disappointed with OK Cupid in the fact that I couldn’t reduce the distance to less than fifty miles… I’m sure you have your reasons, OKC, but I was specifically looking for people within this event, and I consider how great it would be to be able to tag an event and search only that. (Note to self, contact #Open about this very thing.)
When the apps failed me, save a few NOLA locals whom I wouldn’t be able to invite back to the hotel anyway, and one very sexy bi couple who lived in my home area of Chicago, I turned to social media. Anything to keep me from having to approach in person, right? To ask in person. To declare interest in person. Why is this? Well, declarations invite “no”s, don’t they? Of course, they also come with the possibility of yesses, and my old Schrödinger’s Pickup theory assured that I had to ask, or it’d be a guaranteed no. But I don’t have to ask in person, do I?
Confident people tell me that I must just do it, put myself out there. I know, objectively, that this is the true-true. Not so many years ago, I even felt I could do it. I’d gone up to people I didn’t even know and told them I found them hot and would love to chat. Also, we could replace that word chat with fuck. Once, long ago, I went from chatting up a woman in the kitchen at a play party to fucking her on the floor in less than twenty minutes.
But I've grown older. And my mind and body have failed me.
“Coop, you lazy ass,” you say. “You can fix this with exercise and a positive attitude. Also, you’re only as old as you feel. And 40 is fucking young in the swinger community.”
You make a good point, if rather aggressively. I don’t really feel old when you get right down to it, nor do I think that age matters much. Especially as I sit very close to the median in the swinger community.
Fat and unappealing, however…that’s my jam, homie.
In the six days I was in New Orleans, I propositioned two women and a couple in person, as well as several people via the various social media sites. I have not been unsuccessful, to be clear. There has been sex, and quite excellent sex at that. There have also been lovely deep and passionate kisses. I took a “no thank you” gracefully. I followed attempted pickups into long and lovely conversations. I also endured the radio silences or topic changes after propositions.
Part of this, I know, is my habit of asking at the very last minute, when I sense opportunity is waning. My first proposition of the week was at the very end of a great extended conversation and I think I gave too big an out when I said, “I find you very attractive and would love to play with you, but you don’t have to give me a yes or no right now, as I know you’re calling it a night…” Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get that yes or no the rest of the week.
I can’t be the only swinger who does this or feels this way. I can’t be the only one uncomfortable in my skin who tries so very hard to find myself at a level of confidence high enough to say fucking anything. It is a variation on the path of least resistance. Though least resistance would be to say nothing at all, and my previous MO, sending messages post-conference rarely yielded much of value. (Sometimes, though, those seeds flowered years later.) This is progress, but not the level I was at when I was my best, where I could confidently offer cunnilingus to someone I’d just met.
I wonder how most swingers deal with it.
Objectively I know that even the most conventionally sexy people in the world suffer from lack of confidence all the same, don’t always like the way they look, and have their own difficulties. But at the same time, I find it hard to believe that anyone else feels the way I do.
Somehow, I’m alone in my relations with the swinger world. Alone and adrift.
Most of my evenings at Naughty ultimately trended to ordering a pizza in my room of safety and eating it in bed while I played on my iPad. I’m not saying this for sympathy in any way. I find this type of decompression essential when I’ve spent so much time around people I don’t know well. On my Swingset Desire trips, I can run all the way in the red, burn both ends of the candle and sometimes right up into the middle, but when I don’t know a lot of people and when I don’t have my partner as a touchstone, it’s easy to get lost in thought and need to vanish.
If there’s one thing I am confident about, it’s my prowess with sex toys. Having done reviews for almost ten years, my toy collection is epic and expensive. That’s not…well, I suppose that is bragging. It’s also the reason I can’t seem to leave home without far more sex toys than I will ever use at an event. This collection has served me well over the years and continued to do so at Naughty.
The twinkle in the eye of the incredibly attractive woman sitting across from me as I talked about the toys just eleven floors above us told me that, despite her comments about usually not having one-on-one playtime, instead opting for group play, she might be more interested than she was letting on. I showed her the photo of my toy spread on Instagram and I saw hunger in her. It wasn’t even all the toys!
It’s not just sex that I’m after. The connections I make, these micro-relationships which, like supernovae burst and burn out in an instant, leaving long phantom trails of lovely memories and the promise of possible future connections, are something I crave. I’m often accused of talking down to the greater swinger community, of yucking their yums, urging them into some woo-woo commune bubble of polyamory.
I’m really not.
Polyamory is about building a life with people who fit. It’s long term, it’s Capital R relationships and Capital L love. (To be clear, there’s also both Capital S and lowercase s sex in the poly community.) When I tell swingers that they should open themselves up to relationships, to love, to family, to community, I may as well be labeled a sexual heathen and burned at the stake.
I’d like to clear some things up, especially since here I am opining in a swinger publication. Love doesn’t have to be undying love in the fashion of Romeo and Juliet…or Bella and Edward if it please ya. Relationships aren’t all ‘till death, in fact most aren’t. And connection, well, connection is literally everything. So here I issue a challenge to open your mind to the possibility of new definitions for these words; or if not new, then slightly alternate.
I challenge that every interaction is a connection; nodes on a circuit board, neurons in the vast collective unconscious. When we connect we become more whole. Because what is community but a series of extended connections? As swingers we often want to differentiate our swinger friends from our primary relationships, hence fuckbuddy, playmate, and other terms of endearment. It is our primary, our spouse that we love, that we have a relationship with, that we connect with. Were we to do those things with anyone else it might diminish our pair-bond. I challenge that we all agree that fucking others in no way diminishes our bond with our spouse or partner. In fact, almost all of us see the crazy benefits that come along with it.
So, if that wild intimate act, literally putting a piece of ourselves into another person, or receiving them in us, doesn’t diminish our relationships, why on earth would words? It’s not unreasonable to want to save romantic love, serious relationships, the nighttime sweet nothings for our partners. But we forget that love is a universal. Love is infinite. We love our family, we love our friends, all in different ways than we love our partners.
Why can’t we love our playmates? Our fuckbuddies. Our swinger friends.
By that same token we have relationships with our family and friends, because a relationship is an intertwining of interests and lives over time. Extending connective threads to others in the world is the best way to expand ourselves, because the more people we connect with, relate to, and love others, the greater humans we become.
When I sit across from someone and look into their eyes and talk to them about things both great and small, I send out the tendrils of connection, and through this we feed our curiosity. Meeting anyone leads that way, doesn’t it, after all? It’s curiosity of, “How do you do you? How do you do this?” Curiosity can also be entirely based on wondering how that person tastes or feels inside. Often, it’s all of these at once.
As I sat across from that lovely woman in the lobby, listening to her tell the story of how she found our podcast, I wondered about her mind. I wondered about her body. I wondered how she navigated non-monogamy. I wondered how she fucked. We exchanged these informative tendrils and learned, sated our curiosity, filling our cups at the founts of each other.
It may seem like I’m ascribing some grandiosity to the simple act of flirting with hope and intent toward fucking. But the tendrils of connection are how we begin to get confidence of interest. I’m never fully confident of this. In fact, I think my confidence center has been mostly taken over by the negativity and anxiety bureaus. But the twinkle in her eye after I talked about the toys, the leaned in enthusiasm as we connected and fed our curiosity, these were the pings I needed so that I could “confidently” (because I was anything but) lean in and say, “I know you usually look for group activity, but I was wondering if you’d like to see my toy collection in person, try anything yourself.”
She liked that idea and we went. In my room we flirted. We pressed pause when Dylan arrived to gather his things scrambling a bit when he recognized the intent of our standing around with toys on the bed. Then we awkwardly removed our own and each other’s clothes. We giggled at our shared awkwardness. Then we came together. There was squirting. There was fucking. There was sucking. There was connection. There was love.
I am 100% talking about variance here. Love is Love and love is love. I don’t fall in Love on a whim, but I feel love emanate from people that I fuck, that I kiss, that I hug. That kind of love is like radio signals we’re all putting out, sometimes the noise ratio is high, sometimes the signal is strong. But love is always there when we connect. All we need is a willingness to receive it.
As Fred Rogers, one of the kindest humans this species has ever produced, said “The greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”
Love is the salve for it all.
When my fantastic playmate and I separated for the night, the love, the connection, the intentional living lingered, and I felt sated. For a time, the anxiety was quieted, the depression ebbed.
The world was again fine.
No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, swinging is a political act. We choose to defy. Whether we’re open about it or not. Whether we tell the world or keep it only between those we play with. If we swing, we rebel.
“Coop,” you say. “We just like to fuck other couples. We don’t want to get political. We just want to have fun.”
I get that, truly. We all have intense lives. We have day jobs, things that keep us busy and occupied. We have families, we have political affiliations. We are busy as fuck, and we can often only carve out this little time, a weekend, a night at the club, the odd week at Naughty in N’awlins or at Desire. This isn’t our life, this is our fun, right? This is our play. Our reindeer games. We work hard all week so we can get our fuck on. This is all very legit. But as with the thoughts of love above, I would suggest that you just take a moment and consider this next part.
What is it that we do? We fuck, yes, but that’s incidental.
We break the social contract. Often. Flagrantly. That contract that we’ve been force fed via every bit of media we’ve ever read, seen, heard. Because we meet that one perfect person for us, the one who will fulfill all our needs and wants, the one who completes us, and then we get married and live happily ever after. But we swingers, we the non-monogamous, reject that principle. We rail against religious teachings that only one man and one woman should be intimate. We bathe in our hedonistic pleasures and delights because, yunno what? There ain’t nothing fucking wrong with them.
Our defiance, our very existence as living, breathing, fucking swingers, sends society into tilt. When a swinger club opens, the government tries to close it. When swingers go to new hotels, the other guests try to shut them down. When it gets out to our job, to our family, to our church, that we are swingers, it can and has ended careers, relationships, hell, we can be excommunicated depending on our faith.
And yet most swingers would suggest they aren’t political at all.
There’s another part to this for me, of course, in my bisexuality. I already know how the community by and large feels about bisexual men and I know it’s starting to change, even that change isn’t coming fast enough for my dick-sucking-liking. I also know that probably 85% of the women in the lifestyle are bisexual and the other 15% are expected to be. Like it or not, most swingers are in the LGBT community. It’s right in the acronym after all. LGB(isexual)T.
Also, with the job fears and the club shutdowns and the busts, the swing community is an oppressed minority. And what is an oppressed minority if not political.
I know what you’ll say, though: “We just wanna have a good time!”
And I want you to, truly, I do. But I also want you to consider how easy it is for you to pretend you’re straight. To pretend you’re monogamous. To pretend you’re “normal” when you’re anything but. You’d be just as exposed as that poor queer kid you knew in high school trying desperately to look, act, and sound straight.
“So, what the fuck does this mean, Coop?” you ask. “Why are you ranting at us about this?”
It means you have a mission. And it is your choice to accept that mission. No one is going to force you to identify as a part of the LGBT community, or as queer. No one is going to make you swap out the upside-down pineapple flag for a sign that says, “Here Be Swingers,” or a rainbow flag. No one is going to force you to tell your friends, your family, your coworkers, your therapist, about the shenanigans you get up to on the weekends.
But wouldn’t it be nice if you could?
Why are we closeted after all? Some of us truly don’t believe it’s anybody’s business. But the reason we believe that, often is due to the judgement we would receive should we come out. And why does such judgment exist. Why do we need to go to a street in New Orleans once a year to fill our cups back up?
Because the normies don’t know any swingers. They have an idea of swinger that doesn’t necessarily (or even likely) line up with the real thing. Their concept is from CBS procedurals where the swingers murdered someone. Or worse, they’re thinking about Plato’s Retreat in NY in the 70s. We’re lunatics. We’re unsafe. We’re unclean. We’re indiscriminate anonymous dirty fuckers. No wonder they don’t want anything to do with us.
But really, we’re just like them. We have barbecues and coach our kid’s soccer practice. We have cocktail parties that don’t literally end with cocks in tails. We go to movies, to PTA, to church, to jury duty. We drive minivans, check homework and have normal fucking jobs like normal fucking people. But how would they know that?
They wouldn’t. They have their distinct vision of “what swinger is” and it’s not what we (most of us) are.
“Well, how the fuck do we change that?” you ask, perhaps seeing where I’m going with this, and growing rather grumpy about following my trail.
We come out.
How did the gay community change their image? They started to come out and suddenly we went from knowing no gay people to knowing many. And weirdly, they were just like us. They even paid their taxes! For every swinger that tells just one friend that they swing, that it’s normal, that it hasn’t made them wanton hedonists (assuming it hasn’t), one person will now, when thinking about swinger, think about normal for a change, not wild.
Obviously coming out isn’t possible for all of us. Many jobs have morality clauses. Sometimes religion and parents just don’t understand. But some of us, often those of means, those of privilege, can. And if we can and don’t, we’re sorta letting the rest of our community down. Because we are a community. We stand and fall together, like it or not. We are each other’s only allies. We are also allies of the LGBT community, the queer community, the polyamorous community, the BDSM community, and honestly, any other community that approaches sexuality left of center.
If we don’t stand together, we fall alone.
Naughty in N’awlins is working hard to foster community and inclusivity. They have the community part down solidly, as they have regulars who come back, year after year, to experience their favorite times with their favorite people. This is community and is one of the most valuable things we can work toward in our non-monogamous lives. Community breeds commonality, empathy, support, and acceptance. Many never feel accepted as who they truly are, and whether swinger is the mask your normal self wears, or normal is the mask your swinger self wears, here you have the option to be who you yearn to be.
From the first day’s Sexual Freedom Parade, walking down the famed Bourbon Street, ripping it up in the way that most college kids at Mardi Gras only wish they could. When we were in high school, in college, we were still scrambling for identity and meaning, still trying to figure out how to convince people to fuck us. But as adults we’ve figured it out. We’ve found identity as swingers. Truth. We’ve given into the urges we may have always had, the things that may have once caused us shame, once made us doubt, once made us hide, and refuse to tell even our spouses what we really think. But now we play. Now we swing.
And isn’t that identity a beautiful thing?
Swinger is a community of such variance, too. There’s little to no commonality be it ethnicity, religion, social status, background, political affiliation. The only true commonality, the thing that draws us to each other, is our desire, the hedonistic truth that we, put simply, want to fuck other people and would rather not cheat to do so. Over the course of my week in New Orleans, I was quite impressed, in fact. While still predominantly white and middle to upper class, the variances were more obvious than I’d personally seen in the past. The people of color, the polyamorous, those who clearly splashed out on this one and only trip because they cannot afford anything else like it. Naughty reached out, and for the most part succeeded.
In the welcome, they event spoke about consent!
I’ve heard all level of things from swingers about consent, which is literally asking if you can do something and being told “yes.” Not “maybe,” not “I dunno,” just “yes.” (Though “Fuck yes!” Is also appreciated.)
“But Coop,” you say, “I always get permission.”
If you do, wonderful! You’re doing the thing, fighting the good fight, being a stand-up swinger and all that.
“I mean, sometimes it’s more implied, like a look, or a nod. And I don’t ask for the first kiss…”
You’re not alone, believe me. Our society, unfortunately, as it has tried very hard to convince us to be monogamous baby producers has also been very clear about things like “fuck me eyes,” having some (re: many) drinks to loosen up, and the meaning of the slight lean in.
“Jesus, Coop,” you say. “You’re really taking the spontaneity out of it. Your way doesn’t feel sexy.”
Unfortunately, here’s where I say, “Too bad.” But also, where I challenge you to re-evaluate sexy. I know a lot of people who find leaning in close and asking, “Can I kiss you?” or saying, “I’d really like to kiss you” really goddamned hot! And if it isn’t for you yet, give it some time, find your way to it. Consent this way reassures that every act is being entered in with full enthusiasm. And just because you get a kiss doesn’t mean go ahead and grab the ass. Just because you fucked last night doesn’t necessarily mean tonight in a different circumstance completely a kiss, a poke, or a grope is appreciated. It may seem like a lot, but going from “Can I kiss you?” to “Can I touch your back?” (Or those in reverse order, you do you.) to “Can I take off your shirt / bra / pants / panties / boxers?” is a sexy dance. The language may be a bit stilted at first, but that’s alright. And there may (likely will) come a point in your interaction where you ask instead, “Is there any way you’d rather I not touch you?” or you’re just told, “Yunno, you can stop asking and fuck me!”
Leading an event with consent, especially in a town known for its excessive drinking, is especially impressive. This sets up a culture of consent, a culture of respect. If you don’t respect your playmate enough to get explicit consent, then you don’t deserve to fuck that person. I’m not calling anyone out, of course, but the best thing about defining your parameters is that you can be (reasonably) assured that things aren’t going to suddenly go south. Enthusiastic consent (the aforementioned “fuck yes!”) also ensures you don’t wonder if the person you’re playing with actually wants to do what you’re doing. Of course, I’m sure you experienced sexy folk don’t wonder, but I sure do, so engendering a culture of consent has been incredibly helpful.
But nothing shows community quite like seeing people together all at once, not at a party to meet and fuck, but outside, simply showcasing themselves, being themselves. Living their best lives. The Sexual Freedom Parade on night one of the event is a stunning example of the possibilities of community, and it’s here that we demonstrate pride. This term isn’t simply the purview of the LGBT community but is an ethos. We look inward and see ourselves and we don’t feel ashamed, we don’t feel wrong, we feel pride in who we are, what we are, how we behave, and who we fuck, and who we love.
An impressive number of swingers demonstrate the desire to be better. It is this that helps to separate us from the vanilla world. We strive to try, to explore. To be better partners, lovers, friends. We want to learn the tricks, the techniques. Naughty’s impressive lineup of educational sessions really reinforces this, and I am especially impressed at the diversity of these events. It’s not 50-50, far from it, but the representation by people of color is higher than in most spaces.
The flip side, though, to that desire to be better, is the thought that you’re just fine, and why should you have to change. This isn’t unique to the swinger community, to any gender or race, or even any country. There will always be those who steadfastly believe that what they’re doing is right, or if not right, then fine, and fuck you if you can’t handle it. It is, after all, not very far to “I’m queer, and fuck you if you can’t handle it,” right? How is it different?
I’m asked things like this a lot. “So, you don’t want to be discriminated against, but you want to be given separate space.”
“So, you want all these different labels for your interests and sexualities.”
It’s not asking a lot, either, for these things. If you want queer people at your event, you need to make them confident they won’t be treated like the “queerdoes.” We all crave the same things, when you drill down past the obvious of sexual contact and conquest, through interpersonal connection, deeper than even the love I spoke of before. We want acceptance.
Every swinger, whether they consider this their lifestyle or just a fun side thing they do sometimes, if they’re not in a secure job that wouldn’t care, with a very open family, has had that moment of “What if?” What if the world finds out? What if my family finds out? What if my school finds out? Swinging isn’t even close to being a protected class, and people would have no problem whatsoever with firing those dirty swingers. That’s something we should all consider.
Many think we could just abandon this lifestyle should we need to. Pack it in, pack it up, and go back to tradition and monogamy. I’ve never felt that possibility for myself, and I know I’m not alone in that. My life pre-opening-up included an excessive amount of consternation and guilty feelings from wanting to kiss, to love, to fuck other people and seeing the world around me telling me that just meant I didn’t love my partner enough. I know that, were I to try monogamy again, I’d be on the inside looking out, wondering about the variety and people to explore in the world beyond.
This is one of the few things about myself of which I’m quite confident. I am non-monogamous. As much as I am bisexual. It’s part of my identity. It’s part of my genetic blueprint. I refuse to deny the truths of myself any longer.
It does my heart good to see the older swingers at events like this. While some began swinging late in life, many have been doing this since the second swinging renaissance when the love generation moved to the suburbs and had families but realized they still wanted to fuck each other with wild abandon. To see the swingers who survived the era that nearly killed sex entirely, the AIDS crisis of the eighties. To see those who’ve adapted and re-adapted to changing relationships.
Because we all must do that. Our lives are different today than they were yesterday and will be even more different tomorrow. We are evolving creatures, whether we want to accept that or pretend we aren’t. It is the grace and nuance with which we accept our evolution and roll with our changes that defines who we are as humans.
Despite my anxiety, I discovered profoundly moving experiences at Naughty. From singing Meatloaf at karaoke, to flirting with fans, to fucking friends both new and old, to flirting and joking and laughing and dancing with all manner of people. There were high highs (the words “I’ve never squirted twice before” being one of those) and low lows (pushing back at those challenging our queer need for acceptance and diversity). And in the end, I survived with nary a single panic attack and plenty to tell, even if my article really doesn’t tell much of the event at all.
If I could leave you with one idea, it would be that a growing community thrives and a stagnant one dies. How do we push to be more accepted and visible? Communicate with those in communities who’ve come before us, and be prepared for a little shade and side-eye that your plight as swingers isn’t quite as intense as that of people of color, immigrants, and the LGBT community who’ve regularly been minimized, silenced, and murdered for the simple sin of being different than the norm.
We are all different. We are all unique. But our commonality is our strength. If we didn’t feel that on even a subconscious level, we surely wouldn’t need to come together in the thousands to celebrate that commonality. We already crave and fight for community. Now we need to do the work.
As Aaron Burr suggests, we must “Talk less.”
Above all, though, we need to treat each other as humans with value. The late Michelle McNamara, true crime author and investigator, and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, had the ethos that has become my creed. When asked by her husband what we can do to survive the horrors and injustice in the world (and this was before November 2016) said simply “It’s chaos. Be kind.”
And that’s what we must do. To all. Show compassion. Show empathy. Even if their experience is the furthest possible from yours, they are still deserving of your respect, your support. We must embody the change we want to see in our community. Light the beacons. Share love.
By Cooper S. Beckett
This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine.