Cass King and John Woods, perhaps better known as sophisticated sex comedy duo The Wet Spots, are partners in life as well as in showbiz. And they are also openly polyamorous. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview them. Their career has taken them as far afield as the Sydney Opera House, and seen them share the stage with the likes of Dan Savage and Margaret Cho. They wrote and produced a musical, Shine: A Burlesque Musical, in 2009 which played in Vancouver, Seattle, and at the New York Fringe Festival. Amidst anecdotes about picking up the phone to hear Alan Cumming warbling their now infamous song, “Do You Take It?” and discussions on sketchy landlords, we got to talk about musical theater, poly relationships, and how art contributes to a more enriched society. Cass and John share one of the most beautiful and unique poly relationships I’ve ever come across, and are great role models, I think, for how two poly people can create and nurture a productive long term relationship whilst maintaining independent dating lives.
How poly people meet.
M: My first question is how did you guys meet?
Cass: Well, we were double booked to perform at open mic at the now defunct Cafe Montmarte…
John: The host at the time says that he booked us accidentally on purpose cos he thought that we should meet. He suggested Cass do a piece and I accompany her on sitar, which I did.
Cass: It was spoken word, a piece of lesbian erotica called Late Bloomer.
M: So, you gave your piece of lesbian erotica and you played the sitar…
John: Yeah it was very “East Van”…
M: And then you looked at each other and said, “Hey, we should perform sexy songs around the world”?
John: Well, I had a gig playing at the same cafe again and I invited Cass to come check it out. She showed up with her spiritual adviser, who was this slightly insane Cuban fellow and they were kinda half in the bag…
Cass: Point of clarification- we were all the way in the bag and halfway out the other side.
John: At the end of that night I decided I liked her and we wound up making a date- and we wound up sleeping together before our first date… Cassie had a last minute cancellation with something else and I had a bunch of folks over, and I said, “Yeah, come on over, we’re watching the Ken Burns Jazz series on VHS” (to give you an idea of that era)…
Cass: He was being mister smooth and putting the moves on, and I was really conflicted. I was like, “Ok dude, I don’t want any big thing here, I don’t want a relationship, I just got out of a relationship, and I just got out of a relationship where I was collaborating with my partner, and I actually do want to write some songs with you, and make music with you and I just don’t want to enter into that kind of relationship again. I don’t want to fuck up the songwriting thing by, you know, making a mistake here.”
And he said, “Well let’s just kiss and see what happens.”
M: How many years ago was that?
Cass: Well it had to be more than that…
John: Maybe twelve….
[they do some math]
Cass: A little over twelve years.
M: You guys have a polyamorous relationship. Has it always been an open relationship?
Cass: Yes in theory, not in practice. We were both on the same page of this “I don’t want anything serious right now, we should take it as it comes.” I remember saying to him, “If you have a date, some night, just tell me!” And he’s like, “I have a date tomorrow night!” and I was like “Okaay!”
See: it can be like that. So, even when went through all of our NRE and were spending all that time together, we never had an expectation of being totally monogamous. The way it looked in the beginning is very different from how it looks now, and non monogamy is not the same as polyamorous. In the beginning we would have, lets say, close mutual friends…
John: Mmhmm, yup.
Cass: We discovered after a while that we didn’t totally have the same taste in partners, and it became a little difficult because, fundamentally, I didn’t want to be tugging on John’s leash- to put it bluntly- and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I think our love styles were also different, and have proven to be so in our poly lives.
John: Maybe yes, maybe no. I think I might be unsuccessfully aspiring towards your love style.
John: Maybe. (thinks for a moment) Oh, no, no, I think I’m more of a hoe!
M: So what does it look like for you guys now? How are your love styles different in your polyamorous relationships?
Cass: This very interesting thing happened a little over five years ago. I met a sweetheart, S, who was only ever one day at a time- but he became a big part of my life. And between that relationship and my relationship with John, I personally didn’t feel the need to go abroad much further. I had my hands full with everything we were doing. Did I mention that we three also wrote a musical together?
John: I’ve been in and out of shorter dating relationships, some that have lasted a couple of years, some that have lasted a couple of weeks, a couple of months. While I absolutely value things that are longer term and go into deeper levels of intimacy, I also happen to think that having sex is a really fun thing you can do with your friends, so that’s something that ends up being part of my love style. And like Cass said, back in the day we had a lot of mutual intimate friends, whilst now it’s definitely something we pursue separately.
Honoring your truth: Relationships as Ongoing Negotiation.
Cass: If you have something in your relationship that’s true for you, even if you think disclosing it is going to be the worst, most destructive thing you could possibly do and you try to avoid it yet it continues to be true, disclosing it will not be any less harmful than sitting on it.
We’ve gone through a period where it was like, “Are these people telling us that we don’t really have a marriage, are they right? Would it be simpler to just get a divorce and start over as friends? Are we in a marriage?” And we took that on and lived separately for a year while we were going through a period of individuation. We had to listen to people saying “Don’t you think that this whole poly business is just about cos you guys don’t love each other anymore and it’s time to let it go?” And we knew that they were wrong. We didn’t know where it was all gonna end up but we knew that they were wrong.
John: We knew there was something there and it was very profound and it did not look exactly like how other people would define marriage, and yet it seemed to us like one of the most precious things. I know it remains one of the most precious things in my life and it has made sense to continue to nurture it.
Cass: You know, the truth shall set you free. In my experience, that’s true.
John: Relationships are ongoing negotiation, and I think the number one thing you can do to be healthy in a relationship is to continue to be honest and fearless about what you need. When you put those cards on the table and negotiate, negotiate from an honest place, even if it means you gotta throw the whole thing away, even if it means that “We’ve been negotiating and we cannot find common ground here,” to throw that away. That can be such a scary place to get to, but even getting to that place is less painful than sitting around and being unfulfilled and being afraid.
Joy and Polyamory
M: How would you define love?
Cass: I think love is the point where you reach the outer limit of your own self awareness and look at somebody else without fear.
John: I think it’s a decision that you make. There’s NRE, and that can be awesome. I can only speak from my own experience. At a certain point, whether you know you’ve made the decision or not… well, Henry Rollins has this piece where he’s like, “Yeah man but then I started loving this girl, but that’s like- love- and that’s… aw dude, I love you you’ve got a big postulating goiter on the side of your neck but I love you…”
I think at a certain point whether you realize it or not you come to this place where, “When it’s really awesome, I’m gonna love you and when its really sucky and hard, I’m gonna love you,” and at some point its almost illogical-
Cass: But that’s one kind of love you’re talking about.
Love can be so fleeting and short. Ever fallen in love with a guy on the bus that you don’t know? And he gets off the next stop bus and you have this moment of, “I see you and you see me and we’re two human beings that are alive, together, right now.” There’s that moment, and love can be so fleeting and momentary, and believe me I’ve been around this issue of people’s different definitions of love. It’s been one of those things that I have had to examine a lot, because of one of the relationships that I’m in, and my definition of love is very different than my sweetie’s.
So when I say I love you, I kinda mean “I see you. I am here for you. I accept you.” You know? Also, “I feel seen by you.” Right? And that doesn’t necessarily come with any kind of long commitment. Whenever I’m around Reid Mihalko, I feel loved. And that guy has that gift. This guy (who I want you to interview next), this beautiful man- he’s a sex and relationship coach and he’s certainly helped me to turn a corner emotionally and spiritually with the idea of love, I feel loved every time I see the guy, and I see him once every few years. Its like that.
M: What’s the best thing about being poly?
John: Well, when it comes to non sexual friendships it’s not expected that the guy you go fishing with is going to also share your interest in vintage cars or be the same guy who plays bass in your band. To find somebody who could do all those things would be an amazing stroke of luck. And we don’t expect that! We go, “Oh yeah, I’m going fishing with Joe, that’s what me and Joe do: we go fishing. Joe doesn’t give a fuck about vintage cars, but me and Rick, we go to vintage cars shows, that’s our thing that’s what we do,” and that’s awesome! And it’s kind of accepted as unreasonable that you would find one person to be all those things to you: your fishing buddy, your vintage car buddy, your music buddy.
When it comes to the world of sex and love relationships there is a lot of pressure placed on monogamous sex and love relationships, that the person with whom you are sharing this relationship is expected to be many, many things. And particularly if you are somebody who is embracing your own kink, it may be that your partner and you have a whole bunch of overlap in your sexual interests, and some areas that really don’t overlap. And those areas are very important to you and your partner’s just not into it. So I think that one of the advantages of poly is that you actually get to have these experiences with other people.
When I think about some of the relationships I have had over the years, that have been very profound, friendships that have lasted for many many years, there are some friends in my life where I can pick up the phone or skype after six months and the moment we fall into conversation- we’re there. And part of that relationship has been a sexual relationship- it might even be that the sexual part is not part of the relationship anymore, but the intimacy I feel towards that person is informed by the fact that one dimension of that relationship over the years has been sexual, and that increases the intimacy of the connection.
Cass: (smiles) I think its about being able to share, being able to be open to the idea of intimacies with other people, people other than your current partners. I think its also the idea, a radical one, of choosing INTO your relationships every day. I know a group of people who call it ‘at cause’ being the one who is responsible for making the choice to stay in relationships- even though we all are- there’s nothing about a heterosexual monogamous marriage that takes away choice- but with poly thats just very much at the forefront every day, realising why we choose. And that we are choosing.
Making a difference in the world
M: What difference do you hope your creative work together makes in the world?
John: A few years ago this couple came up to us and they said “We first saw you guys about three years ago and we’ve been dating for several years, and you did this song called Smack my Bottom- and we left and were laughing all the way home “Can you believe they actually sang a song about spanking!”, and then we talked about it and she said “I would love you to do that to me some time” and he said “Really? Cos I have wanted to do that to you for years.” That was three years ago, we got married a year ago and tonight is our first wedding anniversary.”
Okay so here’s two people, both wanted to do this thing, and neither of them feeling like it was okay to ask. I think theres a lot of that in the world. I think digging out a ‘communicating-about-sex’ manual is valuable, but I think sometimes you can seep ideas into people’s consciousness through entertainment and it doesn’t seem like work, and then that seed can grow and you can get into these conversations.
So that’s one piece. I think it sparks conversations. Sometimes it gets people to open up and feel okay talking about things.
And I think a lot of good comedy and theater that tells you you’re not alone. Some of the stuff that makes Margaret Cho and Richard Pryor so valuable as comedians is they just don’t flinch from the pain that they’ve experienced. They don’t flinch from it. If you’ve gone to that place, if you’ve experienced pain that’s like that or similar, its powerful, it tells you you’re not alone. And it also allows you to laugh. If this person up on stage can talk about how painful it was, then maybe I can laugh at myself and lighten up too. I don’t have to be ashamed. I don’t have to be sitting with the shame on top of everything else. So I think the shtick of the Wet Spots is we don’t even understand that shame exists about this stuff, we just barrel in there! I think it kinda frees people in this way.
People struggle a lot with shame around their sexuality and their bodies. Am I good enough. Is this too weird? Am I weird to think this or want that? Am I wrong to want this or want that, you know, morally wrong- especially in the world of polyamory. I think to actually have an act that even talks about these things and jokes about how it can be weird and funny and wonderful- it just kinda makes people feel a little less alone and maybe sparks some communication and maybe puts a dent into some shame here and there.
Cass: I think the message is Self Acceptance. In everything we’ve done together, and I think a lot of what we did before we met, it was about letting your freak flag fly and finding a space where other people like you can also be unique, original, honest, real. You know, there’s a rebellious streak in that, I don’t think that life is as it seems in the Gap commercial. I think the Gap commercial people have french kissed each other and stuck their fingers up their butts when no ones looking and they are real, real people with real feelings, and I feel like the world is increasingly fake and airbrushed and filtered. I think the more that we can do as individuals to create space for people to be authentic- and so often that equates to weird even though I personally think EVERYBODY’s weird, on the inside- I think that creating space for that and creating examples of that automatically liberates others, like in that wonderful Marianne WIlliamson quote:
“As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”