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By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Each side accuses the other of engaging in pretense: the City of Duncanville in claiming this is not about sex but about zoning; The Cherry Pit in claiming theirs is not a business but a private dwelling where invited guests congregate.
Says Trulock, "This is no different from people getting together to watch the Super Bowl. Or people parking on a street in a neighborhood so they can attend a concert at a school.''
In a more candid moment, Cagle cuts through the legalese and gets to the heart of Duncanville's problem with The Cherry Pit: "It's just gross.''
Both sides agree that this tug-of-war might have been avoided if the issue hadn't become a public one. In September 2007, two local TV stations began reporting on the conflict, but the story entered a higher media orbit when Fox's Bill O'Reilly aired his January 16, 2008, "exposé" of The Cherry Pit. To some, the tale seemed a revelation. In her July 25 Dallas Morning News column, Jacquielynn Floyd wrote that she was surprised to learn that a "swing club'' can be something more than a venue to listen to big-band music.
Truth is, the lifestyle has roots much deeper than Duncanville, reaching back to the hedonism of ancient Rome. More modern times saw World War II pilots who, while stateside, cared for and bedded the wives of those flyboys who were in combat. While many of those outside the lifestyle view it as immoral, harmful or downright bizarre (the 1997 film The Ice Storm certainly painted it that way), 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice gave swinging a funny and satirical twist.
Adds Trulock, "It's going on everywhere. In every big city and every little town. People from all walks of life. People come here on Saturday night and then go to church on Sunday."
The Dallas Observer interviewed a dozen locals who agreed to speak frankly but anonymously about "swinging'' in the metroplex. Many of them view The Cherry Pit as being on the low end of a subculture in Dallas that includes thousands of people who embrace the lifestyle and its unique rules, values and mores.
They describe their avocation as something akin to what's portrayed on the freshly minted CBS show Swingtown. The hit drama reflects on a stylish 1970s America in which cul-de-sac couples dropped their keys in a fishbowl before dropping their bellbottoms. Locals make the case that Dallas, a reputed bastion of conservatism and the shiny buckle on the Bible Belt, has its own Swingtown.
"The schoolteachers are by far the freakiest,'' says Jerold Morgan (not his real name). "Teachers, lawyers, business owners—one guy is a district attorney. Another's a judge. A minister—oh, and cops. Lots of cops. We used to know a mother and daughter who came out together. Very attractive women. And, honey, remember Doc and his son? Doc was a Dallas doctor with a bad toupee. And his son was an Air Force pilot. They were like tag-team partners.''
Responds his wife Janet, "Yeah, that was a little over the top.''
The Dallas couple counts themselves as part of a lifestyle whose numbers are difficult to gauge. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, renowned for its research in human sexuality, maintains 4 million Americans participate in the lifestyle, but if Web traffic is any indication, that number seems understated. AdultFriendFinder.com, the largest sex-and-swinger site (meaning it's not just swinger-specific), boasts a membership of 22,914,156, making it the 42nd most popular Web site in the world, according to Alexa.com, an Internet traffic watcher. Of its registered members, 1,076,158 are Texans. In Dallas, Jerold and Janet are "VIP members" at IniQuity, which bills itself as a "couples club," whose rules for its more than 23,000 members state, "Playful behavior is welcome.''
While the exact number of swingers may be difficult to discern, its definition is not:"Couples engaged in non-monogamous, consensual, sexually related activities," says marriage and family therapist Kim Hatley, the co-founder of the Coppell Counseling Center and past president of the Texas Mental Health Counselors Association. "It is abnormal in the social sense, maybe, but it has never been abnormal in the clinical sense. There is reason, in my position, to be an advocate of whatever helps a couple be happy and stay together.''
The Morgans live in Lewisville, have a 17-year-old daughter, and operate a successful construction business. Jerold is 41, muscular and fit, with stylishly spiked blond hair. Janet is 39, slim, pretty and a bit shy. The Morgans look 10 years younger than their ages. They've been together for 21 years, married for 19, and they say they are very much in love but deeply involved in the lifestyle.
They are close friends with Thomas and Tammy of Plano. Thomas works in PR, is a long-distance runner and wears a tiny earring. Tammy is a busty brunette with a successful career in the catering business.
Both couples stress that the bulk of their lives is as interesting, mundane and challenging as anyone else's. It's the other sliver of their time, when they participate in swinging that makes them something of a curiosity.