Saturday, May 5, 2012

Alternative America

Alternative lifestyles
The 70s hippie culture of peace and love is transforming slowly into New Age at the beginning of the new decade. The hippies promoted free love and an anarchistic life style, while the dawn of New Age in the 80s means commercializing spirituality with a variety of self help books to buy, and self-developing courses to attend (links). The couples (and singles) wanting more out of life than a traditional marriage are organizing as “lifestylers” into swingers associations and swingers clubs. The hippie lifestyle included living together in houses out in the countryside, in the 80s the “cohousing”-movement is a further development of this and is growing bigger, also in the big cities. Quite a few of the cancers survivors in the Saratoga Pact have chosen an alternative, hedonistic lifestyle to praise life and live it to the fullest.

New Age

The subculture that later became known as New Age already existed in the early 1970s, based on and adopting ideas originally present in the counterculture of the 1960s. Widespread usage of the term New Age began in the mid-1970s (reflected in the title of a monthly New Age Journal) which probably influenced the many book- and gift-stores that increasingly defined themselves as New Age bookstores. The alternative spiritual subculture lumped into the new age category include practices such as meditation, crystal healing, astrology, aura readings, astral projection, and various forms of alternative medicine. It has ideological roots in older religious traditions such as gnosticism and occultism. But it is a uniquely modern form of spirituality. It is often strongly individualistic, emphasizing the spiritual potential of every person that can be released by undertaking a journey of self-discovery and transformation. The belief in reincarnation, imported from the religious traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism is no longer seen as a predicament of the human condition but celebrated as life never ending with the potential to grow spiritual from one life to the next. The new age tradition include techniques to try to access previous lives to help the individual in it's spiritual journey. Some important pop cultural events occurred which raised public awareness of New Age ideas: the production of the musical Hair (1967) with its opening song "Aquarius" and its memorable line "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius", publication of Linda Goodman's best-selling astrology books Sun Signs (1968) and Love Signs (1978) and the autobiography of the actress Shirley MacLaine's Out on a Limb in 1983. It follows the journey of MacLaine through various forms of New Age spirituality and popularized put these ideas to a larger section of “ordinary Americans” . New age was no longer just a fringe / alternative culture, but had also become integrated into the suburbs.

Tantra – spiritual & erotic at the same time
Some parts of the New Age movement were specifically erotic and sensual, and “tantra” was a wide spread practice in the 80s, which started with the fascination for eastern spirituality in the 70s. Tantra was developed from around 1900, as a serious and intense (Buddhist or Hindu) path to wisdom and wholeness. But in the 80s and amongst the people at Saratoga we are thinking more “Californian way” of tantra practice: 

(From Wikipedia:) Popular authors such as Joseph Campbell helped to bring Tantra into the imagination of the peoples of the West. Tantra came to be viewed by some as a "cult of ecstasy", combining sexuality and spirituality in such a way as to act as a corrective force to Western repressive attitudes about sex. As Tantra has become more popular in the West it has undergone a major transformation. For many modern readers, "Tantra" has become a synonym for "spiritual sex" or "sacred sexuality," a belief that sex in itself ought to be recognized as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a more sublime spiritual plane. Though Neotantra may adopt many of the concepts and terminology of Indian Tantra, it often omits one or more of the following: the traditional reliance on guruparampara (the guidance of a guru), extensive meditative practice, and traditional rules of conduct—both moral and ritualistic. According to one author and critic on religion and politics, Hugh Urban:Since at least the time of Agehananda Bharati, most Western scholars have been severely critical of these new forms of pop Tantra. This "California Tantra" as Georg Feuerstein calls it, is "based on a profound misunderstanding of the Tantric path. Their main error is to confuse Tantric bliss ... with ordinary orgasmic pleasure.” The modern American tantra practitioners like those present among the Saratoga friends will naturally scoff at such criticism, arguing that they are actually practicing a purer tantra with deep routs in ancient tantra not contaminated by patriarchal organized religion more hostile to actual sexuality. Lifestylers = swingers
At this time the name of the national organization was “The Lifestyle Organization”. To be a lifestyler, or “living the lifestyle” implies that you include more than one partner in your love life. It is a heterosexual lifestyle, the gay communities doesn’t use the terminology. It does NOT imply a “poly lifestyle” (“poly” as a term was not invented yet in the early 80s) if it means living together with more than one partner. The lifestyle’s starting point is the couple, and there are several ways to live it out- All these practices are called “swinging”:

  • Two (or more) couple watching each other having sex.
  • A couple includes one or more partner in their love life for petting, but keep the intercourse only for them selves. Often it means the two women having sex with each other girl, the men just watching or helping.
  • A couple + one extra woman. A couple + one man extra: But with focus on the woman, the two men usually doesn’t touch. It is very uncommon among “lifestylers” that two men have sex with each other.
  • Full swapping or “wife swapping”: Two couples change partners. It can be just at one occasion, at a swingers club or at home or it can be steady relations with another couple (or more couples) meeting regularly also for other reasons than sex.
  • Open relationship: each of the partners in a couple are free to swing with others without her/his spouse as well. In these kind of relations it also happens that the man is having gay sex too.
Swingers Clubs A swingers club is most often a membership sex club primarily for heterosexual couples, but with singles allowed always or on special nights. It is a club for adults, for swinging, swapping and sometimes gang-bangs (one or a few woman and many men). Prostitution is banned. At least one swingers club from the early 80ties is still running in Uptown Manhattan, and is still on the same premise: La trapeze:

A regular composition of the clientele present at a swingers club who allows singles could be:
  • 2-6 couples, often in their 40s or older
  • 10-30 single men, aged 25-60.
  • Once in a while a single lady joining a couple, or even more rare a single adventurous lady going on her own.
The clubs always have a socializing zone, with a bar, maybe some snacks, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. Here people wear sexy clothes or underwear, or some clubs might require a towel only or a bath robe. The action take place in different small rooms, some with porn movies on, some with big beds (with plastic sheets) with room enough for 10-15 people at once, the love swings hits USA at the beginning of the 80s. Popular to put one person in it, with a lot of people around, caressing while one man is having sex with the woman in the sling. Some rooms for just action for two, three and four people, closing doors, other places where people only watch. Many people goes to swingers club and just have sex with their own partner, just getting hot on the action around and of being watched. The action is most often traditional fucking, with some oral sex and fingering. It’s common for the men who watch someone else to masturbate while watching. No-one used condoms at swingers clubs in the 80s, even for the first years after the HIV-virus was discovered, as AIDS was considered a gay disease. “As long as we just do it with other swingers AIDS won't spread to us”, was the common view. These attitudes were still common in the early 90ties. Some clubs have special nights for men only, bisexual nights or gang-bang nights. For the later the club owners usually know a few women who are into this and who are specially invited for those nights.

The history of swingers culture:
(From homepage of NASCA, National swingers club association, and refereed to in many of the swingers club sites: ) The terms “swinging” origin is from World War I: “It is reported that wife-swapping was initiated by military husbands going off to WW1. Friends would arrange parties to wish each other well and the men left behind would promise that if anything happened to a soldier that they would take care of his wife’s needs (including sexually). Later (not in wartime, but with inspiration from it, eds. Comment): key parties were created where couples would arrive together and the husband would deposit his keys in a bowl. At the end of the night a woman would choose a set of keys and go home with the keys owner…. again, harkening to the term wife-swapping.
Swingers clubs began as house parties. Groups of swinging couples would meet at each others homes. Some bars and lounges began catering to swingers, and most swinging early on was in the larger metropolitan areas of California, Chicago and New York. By 1972 there were at least 18 on-premise house parties in Southern California. In 1973, The Lifestyles Organization held their first convention in Riverside California. Over the last 30 years the lifestyle has become more and more “out”, as it has continued to spread across the country and into even the most secluded areas. The advent of the swinger mag in the 70’s and 80’s helped swingers in finding other like-minded people. Prior to that you would mainly find other swingers through people that you knew. During this time more and more clubs were opening as well (both on-premise and now off-premise socials). As early as the 80’s Bulletin Board Systems (a predecessor of the Internet) helped the lifestyle grow through anonymity. BBS’s were popular and people met on these boards to discuss any sort of topic. This allowed swingers a new venue for meeting others.
Co-housing (Indigo House)
Co-housing was (and is) a movement who promote an environmental and social lifestyle with more than one family (and singles) sharing the same house or flat. Most of the people in the organization do not believe in free love among the co-housers. But some people refined the hippie lifestyle in their co-housing projects. Indigo House in our game is such a house. Some “lifestylers” will include this kind of life in their movement, others will think it’s to radical. “The Lifestyle” is something one keep to oneself.
In a non-monogamous co-house everyone is in the same relationship, and no-one owns each other. It is expected that you (can) have sex with everyone else of the co-habitans, but you are not supposed to have sexual relations outside the house. It is a very strong norm to keep the sex in-house only, and you might be kicked out it you brake that rule. In this kind of co-house it is quite common that men have sexual relations between each other as well. There is also lesbian and gay co-houses formed this way, but it’s not very common.
Before a new fellow co-houser is allowed in to the group, it is a long process where everyone must approve. Because everyone will have a relationship to him or her. Often it’s a trial period, for some weekends or weeks, where the newcomer lives with the rest of the house.
In the 80’s there was quite a few examples of non-monogamous co-housing in US - more in California than in New York. And in Scandinavia we saw the dawn of “Det Blå Huset”in Oslo, with performance artist (to day professor in Gender Research) Wenche Mühleisen in front, was well known and intensely debated. 8-12 people lived together for 6-7 years in this way. “Det Blå Huset” is an inspiration for the Indigo house in our story. To get an impression of what it is like to live in such house, try for instance Starland Retreat. Imagine what this was like 30 years ago. The Starland retreat are amongst others inhabited of members of Radical Faeries movement. The Radical Faeries actually started as a response to aids in the gay community, with tribalist nude male-only ceremonies in the woods.

Another contemporary example (there were no internet those days, so to find 80’s examples on the net is hard) is Nasalam, a spiritual and tantric cohouse community. On their website you can read:
It would seem that to create such a spiritual community along traditional lines would be challenge enough, but to add to the complexity Nasalam is also a tantric community. Tantra is a term that covers many different beliefs and practices, but the most common use of the term in the West is with reference to certain sexual practices. Tantra has focused on developing sexual techniques because it is the strongest natural force we have at our disposal and it makes more sense to work with that force than to oppose it. Sex is the source of all life and anyone interested in maximizing life must also be interested in understanding sexual energy. As a tantric community a primary practice expected of all members is same-sex erotic massage, and experience shows that only queer people open to this kind of energy exchange.”

The Paddle – S&M-club in New York
Alternative lifestyle can also means other kind of sexual fulfillment than the mainstream heterosexual intercourse. At least one heterosexual S&M-club (BDSM was not in common use as a term yet) in New York City in the 80’s, “The Paddles” () is still going strong. There are some references to heterosexual S&M scene dating back to late 70s.
While the gay s&m-clubs was called “leather bars” or “leather clubs” and also includes fetishism, the S&M clubs devoted themselves mostly to spanking (hitting bums) and bondage (use ropes or hand cuffs to tie someone down – while you spank). The Paddles Club was (and mostly still is) in an own league, really devoted to spanking, with the lady (or sometimes the man) bending over the partners lap to get a handful spank with bare hands. Or sometimes a paddle. Whips are not in common use. Other sexual activities in these clubs was really rare, but sometimes in hidden dark corners. Most commonly the man is on top (called Dominant, Master, Dom or sometimes Daddy) and the woman the “bottom” (submissive, masochist, sub, slave or little girl). But on every club night there will be woman on top/man on bottom as well. To be “switch” – changing between being top and bottom is not common and were looked down on – in the 80s. S&M-clubs are as hidden and tabu as leather bars for homosexual, and most people did not use their own name. It is forbidden to talk of the action outside the club. The oldest S&M organization (founded in 1971), with a rather theoretical approach to the scene, is The Eulenspiegel society (link) who still invites to discussion nights and social (not sexual) evenings. Here is a short article about them. The Eulenspiegel society has also been a great contributor to HIV preventive work.

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