Dan Savage on sex, Brian Brown, politics
|Photo by Christopher Staton|
In addition to books, podcasts, an MTV program titled Savage U, and ongoing speaking engagements, Savage has also co-founded the It Gets Better Project with his husband of seven years, Terry Miller. In anticipation of Savage Love Live at the Pantages Theatre this Friday, City Pages spoke with him about the contemporary state of sex in America.
Savage Love made its debut over two decades ago. Are you surprised by the questions anymore?
I'm surprised every day. I just got an email from this girl who's dating a boy who wants to have anal sex with her. They're 15 years old, and he doesn't think anal sex is sex, so he can still be a virgin on his wedding night if he fucks her in the ass.
I get that question a lot from young people, particularly young people who go to private schools that don't have sex education or have abstinence-only sex education where they're told it's important to be virgins on their wedding night and the only sex that exists is vaginal intercourse -- so anything else they can think of is technically not sex.
I always write back and say anal sex is sex. You know, you say "Obama" and people think Barack, but Michelle is an Obama, too.
Are you finding that young adults on the campuses you visit are better informed today than they might have been 20 years ago?
Oh no, they're much less informed. More titillated, less informed. It's been beaten into them that sex should be natural, and that you're a better person if you didn't plan for it. You know it contributes to binge drinking on campuses, because if you can pin the blame on the beer, you don't have to take responsibility for the choices that you made in the moment. The damage that has been done by moralizing abstinence-only sex education programs can't be underestimated.
On the other hand, we now have this open debate over same-sex marriage that would have been unimaginable in the recent past with a sizable portion of the population advocating for change.
Absolutely. Polls show that a growing majority of Americans support equal rights for same-sex couples. And that's really about gay people coming out of the closet. We have an advantage as a minority group in that we're born into majority group families. Gay people aren't born to gay people exclusively. With more gay people having kids these days there will be some gay kids out there with gay parents, but the overwhelming majority of us are born to straight parents and raised side by side with straight siblings. So when we come out as gay, we're not only changing our own lives, but we can really change the lives and perspectives of our straight family members.
You want a measure of how we've come so far so fast: We went from a president like Ronald Reagan who couldn't bring himself to say the word "AIDS" while tens of thousands of American citizens were dying, to a president like Barack Obama who can endorse marriage equality before his reelection campaign.
The difference is gay people coming out. When I was coming out in the 1980s, a gay guy with parents who loved and accepted him was so rare that it would blow your mind. Now, the family that rejects is the exception and the family that accepts is the norm. That's why we've come so far so fast on issues like marriage equality, because our families are now on our sides.
The It Gets Better Project has gone a long way in promoting that kind of awareness among youth. As one of the co-creators of the project has it been a gratifying experience?
It's been tremendously gratifying and in some ways heartbreaking. You know, It Gets Better became the "feel good video of the summer" and has this "up with people" aura. What a lot of people have lost sight of -- but I haven't and certainly a lot of the people who have created videos haven't -- is that the It Gets Better Project is an act of aggression. The kids who we have created this project for primarily are those kids who are not only bullied by their peers, but also bullied by their families. Kids who are LGBT are at four times greater risk for suicide. When their families are hostile and homophobic and rejecting, they're at eight times greater risk for suicide. It doubles an already quadrupled risk. The project at its core is for those kids.
It's important to add that not all gay kids are suffering, not all gay kids are suicidal, and not all gay kids have homophobic parents. But the project is for those kids who are and do.
That goal can't be helped by groups like NOM (National Organization for Marriage). Speaking of NOM, I was fascinated by your response to the president of NOM, Brian Brown's challenge to a debate, which you countered with an offer of dinner at your home. Has a date been set?
It's going to be sometime in late August which is the earliest all three of us -- me, Brian, and Mark Oppenheimer from the New York Times who agreed to moderate -- can all get together at my place.
What's interesting is that you didn't respond with a scathing rebuttal in your column or in the public forum, but with a more personal gesture. Do you think that a one-on-one conversation can help get past entrenched ideologies?
No. The hardcore haters are not going to change, and Brian really is a hardcore hater. It's not like I think that sitting down and breaking bread with Brian Brown is going to make his heart grow three sizes. I just didn't want to give him what he was clearly asking for, which is an opportunity to play the victim.
We'll both get to air our opinions, and hopefully have a more reasonable discussion than we would have had with crowds present and both of us grandstanding and playing to our respective peanut galleries. I'm sure we'll both be diametrically opposed before dinner and the same way after, but one of the things that gets swapped in this debate is the notion that we're all human beings and inviting Brian to dinner meant I had to acknowledge his humanity and he had to acknowledge mine.
With everything you have going on -- your Savage Love column and other duties at The Stranger, your podcasts, television programs, and speaking engagements -- I've got to ask: Are there any questions you would be ecstatic never to answer again?
You know what I get every day? "What does GGG mean?" and "What does DTMFA
mean?" I use a lot of acronyms, not to be obscure or opaque, but to save on words to fit it into the paper. In addition, I get the crazy questions like, "I heard about this thing called pegging?" Or, "What's a cock ring?" All these questions that if you're online and emailing, you could have just Googled instead of waiting for an answer in the column two or three weeks later.
Those are the questions I never want to get again. "What does GGG mean?" You know, I think GGG even has its own Urban Dictionary page, it has its own Wiki, it's on my Wiki page. It's out there, and it's not hard to find. Invariably when I get those questions, I look at the email address and it's from an AOL address.
What does that say?
It says grandma is online and reading my column too.
IF YOU GO:
Savage Love Live
8 p.m. Friday, June 22
710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis