Thursday, July 21, 2011

For the Love of Dan Savage

I've been having a love affair with Dan Savage. Well, his words anyway. Dan is one of those writers with such a strong prose voice that you can hear him right through the page (and of course, he has a podcast that I've heard raves about but haven't listened to yet; probably has a great voice there too).

I recently read three of his books, but alas, read them in the wrong order. If you think you can handle a collection of his advice columns, start your Savage-a-thon with "Savage Love: Straight Answers from America's Most Popular Sex Columnist" from 1998. He divides the collection of columns into chapters like "Kink" and"Almost Everything Breeder Boys Need to Know About Women's Genitals." As a lesbian woman, can I just say that I even learned some things from that last chapter (well, the former one too!). Dan is like that friend who you know is right but you don't want to listen to. He is usually harsh, sometimes cruel and almost without fail, hilarious. I loved his explanation of why he, a gay man, is very qualified to offer sex and relationship advice to everyone, gay and straight alike:
"Most breeders seem to believe the hype about breeder sex--that breeder sex is 'natural,' and that it should happen 'naturally,' certainly without unnatural and interfering conversations about what he or she likes to do in bed. ...Communication in breeder sex is almost always over after both participants have said 'yes'. ...For gay people, yes is just the beginning. ...Since who is going to do what can't be assumed, the girl couple or the boy couple have to talk it out, we have to communicate. There are no assumptions. Enlightened-let's-get-everything-on-the-table ... conversations that highly evolved straight people are having about sex are the same conversations that gays and lesbians must have the very first time we have sex."
Did I mention he was in-your-face and controversial? I love it.

Then move onto "The Kid: What Happened after my Boyfriend and I Decided to go get Pregnant." (Or skip to it directly, if, like the car of lesbian friends I tried to read some of the "Savage Love" book aloud to, you are wary of too much discussion of nipple rings, oral sex and kink.)

This is absolutely his best book. Dan and his boyfriend Terry decide it's time for a family, and go through an open adoption process which results in them adopting baby D.J., the biological child of two street punks. Dan infuses his account of the adoption with meditations on the religious right (he calls them "fundies"), thoughts on adoption from all different political affiliations and backgrounds, as well as a lot of reflection on what it's like to be a gay male and a gay male parent these days.

Dan is fantastic at putting words to phenomena that you recognize, but might not have been able to articulate. He discusses how now the norm in the mainstream is to set up LGBT intolerance with "no offense but..." or "personally I have no problem with gays but..." and then go on to spout bigotry. He gives the example of Colin Powell (book was written in 2000) who gave a speech about how he supported Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but began the speech by explaining that "gay Americans were just as brave, patriotic, and true-blue as any other American. He liked gay people fine, he just wanted us the hell out of the army." Then Dan describes the problem this sets up for queer folks:
"Since hatred styles itself as tolerance these days, how are we supposed to tell the difference? ...Social tolerance has become the norm for most straight people, which is nice, but at the same time appearing tolerant has become the norm for everyone else. How are we supposed to tell the nice straight people and the bigoted straight people if everyone has the same look on their face? Unfortunately, we can't, at least not until they run for office. ...[T]his may be progress. but it's a kind of progress that induces paranoia on the part of the tolerated."
And one of my favorite passages was about the real reason "fundies" are afraid of gays and lesbians being parents:
"What the religious right fears most about gay adoption is not that we'll be bad parents, or that we'll have sex with our kids, or that we'll try to make them gay. What they fear is that we'll be pretty good parents. ...I was going to be good at this dad stuff ...And that's what worried Pat Robertson. The more gay men and lesbians raise children, the harder it's going to become for the right to convince people that we're monsters. Once straights have seen boring gay parents at a PTA meeting bitching about class size and school uniforms ... we're not going to seem so scary anymore, even if (like a lot of straights) we do have old bondage equipment in our basements."
After "The Kid," head on over to his latest, the 2006 book "The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family." In the heat of the nationwide debate about marriage equality, Dan brings his personal story to the fore, weaving it with analysis of all the different political and media narratives flying around. The first couple of chapters are a little slow but it picks up and really speaks to all the different perspectives on marriage. Highly recommended no matter what your thoughts are on marriage.

Until his next book, I'll have satisfy myself with columns and podcasts, I suppose!


  1. I can't believe you haven't listened to the podcasts! They're better than the column, because you can hear his voice, and all the voices of these ordinary people. He even calls them back sometimes. I started from the beginning a year ago even though the podcasts I was listening to were years old, so I've kind of seen how the podcast has grown. I have spent so many nights alone in my hut, or handwashing my underwear, or on long long long car rides listening/laughing/crying to Dan Savage, or sometimes even the initial calls (before I could even hear the advice). I think he offers such a valuable public service, spreading compassion that's so evident no matter who he's speaking to. What a gift he has. -- Maya

  2. Crap, well now I gotta subscribe to the podcast! Doing it right now...thanks for the testimonial Maya :)