Thursday, February 18, 2016

Outing Yourself as a Swinger

For most swingers, whose “vanilla” lives do not broadcast their membership in a non-mainstream subculture, whether or not to “out” themselves is answered with a resounding no. The typical reasons are that they don’t care what other people think, they don’t think other people will be able to understand the Lifestyle, and/or they are afraid of negative judgment or reprisals. If they do think about outing themselves, this is typically to parents, siblings, children, and close vanilla friends. 

Workplace
Divorced swingers, whose exes are not in the Lifestyle, have a lot to lose if this aspect of their private life comes up in a child custody dispute. Oh, and did we mention we live in the Bible Belt? Audrey knows of a couple in the Lifestyle in which the male half, an engineer, was outed as a swinger after his employer discovered sexually explicit text messages on his work cell phone. The privately held company, owned by fundamentalist Christians, had a morals clause in their employment contract and terminated him on this basis. He looked for a new job in the area, but ultimately was forced to move across the country when he could not find employment locally.

PRO TIP: Keep your sexting and nudie pictures off of your work phone and email. Many employers explicitly state that they have the right to monitor you, while using company equipment or on their time.

Kids
Most people do not make the conscious choice to out themselves to their kids. This usually happens by accident.

PRO TIP: Kids are notoriously nosy with electronic devices. Keep your cell phone off limits and be very careful about your computer. Delete those profile histories and browse swinger dating sites incognito. If your kids discover your sexy profile pics and HAWTCPL69 alter ego, we suggest this handy cover story used by friends of ours: “Mommy and Daddy decided to spice up their sex life with a little fantasy role play…” As anybody who has ever thought of their parents having sex can attest, this will send most teenage children gagging and running before any further explanation is required.

The good news is that certain emotionally and psychologically mature children, usually in later teenage years, will handle this better than their parents imagine. The child’s first concern is usually the stability of his parents marriage. Once you reassure them that 1) you are not cheating on the other parent 2) the other parent knows about this and this is something you do together 3) you are not getting divorced and FOXYMILF77 is not going to be their new stepmom, the typical teen reaction is: My parents are crazy. This is just a new iteration of their craziness.

Not surprisingly, how well your child handles the news about your little hobby will probably have a lot to do with the child him/herself and how you have raised them. Are they generically angry with you at this point in their life, and thus prone to be judgmental? Are they the kind of child who is confident being different from the crowd? Have you raised them to be tolerant and accepting of others? Are there major contradictions between what you do in the Lifestyle and the religious and social beliefs with which you have raised your child?

If you go to a very fundamentalist church with negative views of adultery, premarital sex and a very judgmental view of “who will be saved,” your kid is wearing a purity ring and their social life revolves around Christian Camp and Youth Group, they may not have as easy a time accepting your participation in the Lifestyle as the kid whose parents regularly have discussions with them about safe and healthy sex, accepting other viewpoints and whose idea of a family outing is going to Pride to support their gay allies.

Friends
Neither of us has much to say about outing to vanilla friends. All of Audrey’s close vanilla friends know about her participation in the Lifestyle. In fact, a vanilla friend inadvertently prompted her entry into the Swinger community when he pointed her to a writing assignment covering a swinger’s club. Her other primary vanilla friends were all volunteers for a non-profit that sought to eradicate global poverty. In most cases, these friends were already to the Left with counterculture leanings and open-minded viewpoints, a few of them having had experience in non-monogamy.

Claire talking here. I have not disclosed this to many of my vanilla friends. My close friends are people who are open minded and non-judgmental. However, some of them are a bit more religious or socially conservative than Audrey’s friends. They are not religious fundamentalists or ultra right-wing politically. However, I don’t choose to bring this up with them because I think it would simply be confusing and there would be no upside to them knowing. If they found out through other means, I hope that my evaluation of them is correct and that they would not negatively judge me for this. I tend to feel people out and only want to disclose this if I am very close to them and other aspects of their identity indicate they would be favorable. One such exception was a very good friend who happened to work in the Arts, who was open to me about his bisexuality. He told me: “I am done with love. I just want to have lovers. Lots of them. Male and female.” This was a pretty good lead in for my revelation about swinging.

Parents and Siblings
Most people’s parents are not former commune-dwelling hippies. And even those who profess more liberal social or political beliefs tend to hit a wall when it comes to marriage and family. When Claire asked a good friend what his mother would think if she found out he was a swinger, he responded, “I have no idea and I don’t care to find out.” She pushed: “But you must have some idea. Maybe this is why you are reluctant to tell her?” He answered: “I frankly don’t care what she thinks. The only person whose opinion counts in this matter is my wife.”

In contrast, the two of us felt the need to be “authentic” with our parents. For us, not telling them we were swingers felt like the equivalent of hiding some key aspect of our identity from them. On top of that, we both fundamentally, from our teen years on, have resisted conformity. For us, being honest about our participation in the LS (Lifestyle) is about “owning” our identity and having the courage to say: our choices may not be mainstream, but they are the right choices for us. We are not ashamed of this community or of our actions. We do not hurt people, we do not cheat on our spouses, we are not hypocrites. If other people feel that our actions (which have nothing to do with them) make us “bad” people, then that is their problem and not ours. 

Audrey’s Reveal
In my own (Audrey’s) experience, being inauthentic with my parents had a stifling effect that seemed to suck away vital energy. The phoniness and the lies I told to maintain the fiction of monogamy created an inner conflict within myself that immediately was resolved upon telling the truth.

The actual reveal came during a thirty minute break on day two of a four day personal development seminar. I had shared my inauthentic relationship with my parents, as it regarded the Lifestyle, with my workshop partner that morning and he inspired me to grab the bull by the horns and stop putting off the conversation with my parents. My heart raced out of my chest as the phone dialed their number and when my mother answered the phone, I found out that only she was available. Nonetheless, the time had come. She was the one to whom I was the most afraid of telling the truth. This is due to her more conservative, Midwestern perspective, where being judged by other people for being different is very negative and frightening.

After finding out my father was unavailable, I went immediately into my confession. The seminar leader had provided the format for it; essentially you start the conversation by revealing something that you have been inauthentic about and from there explain how being truthful can help the relationship evolve. My mother’s reaction: “I’m surprised, yet I’m not surprised...Your Facebook friends seemed normal...I don’t approve of that lifestyle because I love your father...You could be doing worse things, I suppose...I want you to know, though, that no matter what I still love you...Your father and I, we’re not hicks from the sticks; you should never feel that you can’t talk to us.”

I had asked her not to tell my father as I wanted to reveal the truth myself when he was home later that evening. I called him during the middle of his favorite team’s hockey game, asking him if it might be okay if he took a minute to talk to me. He replied in the affirmative and I proceeded to rehash the confession I had made to my mother. His reply, very simply: “You are who you are.” My father always had a bit of a Zen attitude, so this came as no surprise. Still, I was a bit anxious to extract more of a response so I continued to blab about how he had raised me to be an independent thinker who could make decisions for myself and consciously question the dominant social norms and values. His response was mostly quiet but clearly accepting.

Interestingly, in taking the lead establishing authenticity, I opened up the conversation for further intimacy with my parents. This conversation snowballed into other realms, including the revelation that both of my parents, like my brother and I, had been bullied as children. I had previously been unaware that the entire family story centered around both generations, my parents’ and my brother’s and mine, having inferiority complexes. It was amazing to see how authentic sharing on one topic could unleash the floodgates for greater connection with my family. I felt liberated and closer to them at the same time.

Claire’s Reveal
I have been always close to my family, which consists of my two parents and one sibling. I chose to open up to my parents at a point in my life when I was experiencing stress and self-doubt. My parents had always provided me with support, stability, and unconditional love. I felt that I had made some mistakes in other areas of my life and I wanted to talk to people who had known me since the beginning and would not judge me. I wanted to know that they would still love me, even if they did not approve of all the decisions I had made in my life.

I live close to my parents and it is a lot easier for me to see them in person, than it is for Audrey to see hers. I had been wanting to tell my parents for a while. One day, I was visiting them. I really wanted to talk about it and kept looking for the right lead-in. We were joking about my sister’s and my teen years and her rebellious phase. I brought up, with my mother, the inconsistency of her having been the Junior High and High School youth leader at our church and leading a discussion on sex with a group of other people’s teenagers, yet her never having been really receptive to discussing sex with us when we were in high school or college, including one occasion when my sister sought her out. I asked them, “What would you say if I told you that my husband and I both had lovers.” They both paused and were clearly startled, not expecting me to drop this bomb on them.

My mother’s response: “Infidelity is rarely the problem. It’s usually a symptom. This would leave me to believe that something was wrong in your marriage.” My father’s response: “I know that this would really hurt me if I learned that your mother had a lover, and I have never wanted to hurt her. This has never been an option for us because we don’t want to hurt each other.”

I tried to explain that my husband and I were not “cheating” on each other. This was something we decided to go into together, that we were honest and open and supportive of each other. I do not think my parents really got it. They still loved me and were supportive of me, especially in the other life challenges I was facing, but it was clear that they thought that what I was doing was harmful for my marriage and my family and that they hoped this was just a passing phase in my life.

A few days later, my liberal Catholic mother sent me the write-up for a talk she gave to her Bible study group that she felt “might be helpful.” The title was “Repent or Perish.” She had helpfully highlighted the passage about Jesus coming upon the townspeople who were about to stone the adulteress to death. If you know the Bible, it’s the one with the line: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It was not a hell-fire or brimstone Bible commentary, but was full of Jesus’ love and capacity to forgive us. I wondered if this was her attempt at empathy.

I shared this incident with my sister, to whom I am very close, via text. I had already told her about my husband and me being swingers and she was non-judgmental and supportive. We both love our parents and laugh about their peculiarities. Her one line response: “Code Name Jezebel.”

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