A new episode of The Humanist Hour is available for listening. Keep reading to find out about the guest on this month’s show.
In this month’s podcast, Dan Savage, 2013 Humanist of the Year, is interviewed by Dr. Marty Klein during the American Humanist Association’s 72nd Annual Conference held May 30-June 2, 2013 in San Diego, CA.
Listen as Dan and Marty discuss a wide range of topics including his Humanist of the Year award, marriage, sex, monogamy, children and family, politics, LGBTQ issues, and more.
Note: This episode’s interview has been edited for length and language to meet broadcast requirements but still contains explicit adult content. For those who would like to hear the unedited interview, click here.
Dan Savage was named the 2013 Humanist of the Year for his long history of sex-positive writing, advocacy of separation of church and state, and work for LGBTQ youth. Savage also speaks out frequently on a variety of other issues including the Iraq War, the War on Drugs, and birth control. His syndicated relationship and sex advice column, Savage Love, is a frank, humorous and open discussion of sexuality. In 2010, Savage and his husband Terry Miller began the It Gets Better Project to help prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth. He is the author of several books, including How to Be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, and It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living.
Dr. Marty Klein
Dr. Marty Klein is a licensed psychotherapist, certified sex therapist, and international lecturer in sexuality and public policy. He has been an expert witness or invited plaintiff in many important state and federal obscenity and anti-censorship cases. His landmark book America’s War On Sex, with a foreword by the ACLU’s Nadine Strossen, was honored as Book of the Year by AASECT, and has since been released in an updated second edition.
Introducing new co-host Kim Ellington
This episode also introduces Kim Ellington as the new permanent co-host of The Humanist Hour, joining long-time co-host Todd Stiefel. Kim is a secular activist and lifelong atheist originally from New Hampshire. She now lives in North Carolina working to separate church and state. She is in her second year as a board member of the Triangle Freethought Society and has been a member for about four years. She is also on the board of Camp Quest South Carolina, a member of the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and a mother of an 8-year-old daughter. The work she does in the freethought and civil rights movement is to make the world a more reasonable place for her daughter and all future generations.
Links from this month’s episode:
- It Gets Better Project
- Video: Dan Savage Humanist of the Year Acceptance Speech
- Book: How to Be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself, by Dan Savage
- Book: The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, by Dan Savage
- Book: It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, by Dan Savage
- Website: Savage Love
- Book: Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex–and How to Get It, by Dr. Marty Klein
- Website: Dr. Marty Klein
- Unedited interview
Music from this month’s episode (in order of appearance):
Transcript: The Humanist Hour #86: Dan Savage
Marty Klein: This is Dr. Marty Klein. I have the pleasure of chatting with Dan Savage, author, political activist, and all around intriguing guy. Dan, I’m so pleased to be talking with you. Congratulations on getting your award last night, Humanist of the Year.
Dan Savage: I know, my god – me and Jonas Salk.
Marty Klein: You and Jonas Salk. Your mother would be –
Dan Savage: And Margaret Atwood, and Kurt Vonnegut. Like I said last night at the banquet, I just think you’re running out of people to give this award to. My name was drawn from a hat.
Marty Klein: I thought that was so funny. Well, it was either you or –- well, we don’t need to joke anymore about that. By the way, you gave a great acceptance talk. It was short and it really embodied the qualities of compassion and humanity that I think of when I think of you.
Dan Savage: Thank you.
Marty Klein: I was lucky I got to introduce you. In order to do that, I had to do some research, and what I got was behind the lying-piece-of-shit thing that you’re so well-known for. I guess we might as well start with the monogamy thing. I’ve been a marriage counselor for 33 years so that’s about 35,000-36,000 sessions. As a sex therapist, I’ve seen a lot of cases where the sex just is not working with couples.
Dan Savage: I just got a letter right before I came over. I looked at my email because if I don’t download my Savage Love email at least once or twice day, my computer explodes when I turn it on. There was this woman who is in this relationship. She’s in her 20s. She’s married, and she just doesn’t feel like she can be monogamous and her sex life with her husband has fallen apart. She started cheating on him and then she started fucking her husband again. The sex has been really great with her husband, but only now that she’s feeling like her husband doesn’t represent symbolically the death of all possibilities, sexual adventure, variety, she wants my help on how to break this to her husband that after he said, “I would never want to be in a non-monogamous relationship,” he is in one. He just doesn’t know it.
I get so much mail from people where the solution is not monogamy. The solution to what is ailing these marriages where one person isn’t interested, the other person is, or one person has a really high libido and the other has really low libido. There’s all this misery. The keystone in so much of this misery is that we can’t – in heterosexual marriage I want to say – people can’t conceive of or wrap their heads around maybe marriage is not about monogamy. Maybe monogamy weakens marriage. It doesn’t strengthen marriage.
Marty Klein: Yes. That’s that challenge to the narrative of monogamy that I think you’re doing so powerfully. It does raise an interesting question about integrity. It does raise an interesting question about, okay, let’s stipulate that for a lot of marriages, non-monogamy of some kind or other is going to be the best choice. How does a person look their beloved in the eye and lie to them and feel I’m okay?
Dan Savage: I don’t think that people should lie. I don’t think people should make commitments they can’t keep. I don’t think the culture should extract commitments from people under duress that we know they won’t be able to keep, but it does. I’ve said a million times in my column, sometimes you’re in a position where you have to do what you need to do to stay sane and stay married. Usually, for me, that involves a situation where someone is dependent on somebody else that divorce might harm a lot of innocent bystanders in the form of children and then maybe you’ve got to pass.
Also with kink, I think non-kinky people don’t understand that somebody with a foot fetish or somebody with an interest in female domination or whatever, that’s not something that person can will away. That interest, that desire of being eternally frustrated in a long term relationship, that will cause that person to subconsciously or consciously sabotage the relationship to get that need met and people go, oh, my god, it’s just a foot fetish thing. Okay, so let him do that with somebody else then. Let him go to a foot model party and get his foot fetish freak on.
As we see with Fifty Shades of Grey and as the male came in after that phenomenon, it’s not just men who have these frustrated desires for adventure or variety; it’s also women. But women come to them later in life. Men know what their kinks are when they’re 15 and they’re already experts at being off. Women seem to come into their kinks, based on my reading of my mail from my readers, women seem to come into the understanding of what their weirdnesses are at 30, around the time of sexual peak for a woman. When is a boy’s sexual peak? Fifteen – suddenly he knows what his kinks are at their age.
Marty Klein: I have a different explanation, but I observed the same thing. I think that women sexuality is more plastic and more fluid. Men sexuality tends to be more unidimensional, mostly straight men, but I think men in general. So when guys are jacking off at 15, they’re focused on one or two things. Whereas women, their sexuality as they go through adolescence and young adulthood, is expanding and they’re still learning who they are.
Dan Savage: What about the socialization of women to not be sexual and not have sexual agency and not make demands and not be able to speak up for themselves sexually?
Marty Klein: I think that’s part of it too.
Dan Savage: That may be part of what locks down a woman’s aberrant sexual desires until later in life too. But it’s just a fact that it happens. All these situations are ones where I look at and go, okay, maybe cheating is better. But I don’t think people should have to lie. With my experience, I was in a five-year relationship before I met Terry. My ex and I were really good together. I really loved him. We’re really not sexually compatible, and I cheated and I lied, and I hated it. I hated lying to him. I felt like a dog and a terrible person. When I got out of that relationship, I said I’m never going to lie again. It’s too much stress. Luckily, I’m gay and it’s easier for gay people to find romantic partners who aren’t hung up eternally on monogamy. I just said to everyone I dated after that I was like, “I will not be monogamous. I cannot do it. If you make me agree to monogamy, I’ll cheat on you.” Then I met Terry and he made me agree to monogamy for four or five years, and then he relaxed about it.
Can I correct the record here? Whenever this gets written about, whenever Terry and I get written about in our relationship, got written about in The New York Times Magazine, they always make it sound like – talking about the rate – I chipped away at Terry for five years until he finally succumbed.
Marty Klein: He caved in.
Dan Savage: Yes, he caved in and gave me what I want, which was permission for me to fuck a million other people. The fact is that I did it and I could do it, and I could do it for him. It was Terry that opened our relationship. It was Terry who arrived at this place where he was ready and wanted to. He initiated this honest, open relationship, monogam-ish; there’s just a little bit around the edges that we’re in. It has mostly been about him and not about me that if you totaled up all the people outside of our relationship that we’ve had sex with then it’s a very small tote board. You do not need an abacus; barely a whiteboard. It’s mostly been buy-in for initiated by Terry, not by awful, awful me. I just want to set the record straight.
Marty Klein: Did you know David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison?
Dan Savage: No, I didn’t.
Marty Klein: Do you know who they are though?
Dan Savage: No, I don’t. Pop — I’m terrible with names.
Marty Klein: Pop quiz. They’re both gone now. They lived in San Diego. They were a couple. They wrote the book The Male Couple.
Dan Savage: I’m familiar with that. I have that book. You see how terrible with names I am?
Marty Klein: That was David and Andrew.
Dan Savage: It’s on my shelf.
Marty Klein: They were a well-known San Diego couple. In the book, which is ancient, I mean the book is from the ‘70s, they documented at that time that the most successful — a huge percentage of successful gay male couples were not strictly monogamous. But that there was a culture of, okay, if you’re going to bring somebody in, the other partner wants to vet them; they have to be respectful to the other partner; there’s no question about who’s the primary partner – all of that. Isn’t it ironic – the interviewer leads you – that with all this talk about how gay people want to destroy marriage, it’s gay men who actually are able to see multiple forms of what marriage can look like so that you can have marriage?
Dan Savage: Yes, and we’ve remade marriage for ourselves. I don’t think it’s about making marriage safe for gay men. I think it’s about making — but this laboratory with gay men that’s reconceived a kind of marriage and a model for marriage that respects and accommodates male sexuality, not gay male sexuality but male sexuality. When you have two guys in a relationship and one of them hasn’t been instructed by the culture that she’s there to police his desires, that she’s there to be the regulator – which is a real problem in a lot of opposite sex relationships based on my reading of my mail. You have two people who are going to work this out and come to terms and come to an accommodation that allows the relationship to thrive and flourish absent that resentment, that irrationality about being in love means you don’t want to fuck other people. Being in love means you commit to each other, you love each other. If you have a monogamous commitment, it means you have agreed to refrain from fucking other people. You will still want to fuck other people.
The amount of time and energy particularly in straight relationships that people expend, if that’s the right word, monitoring and policing each other for evidence of what both know to be true. “Oh, you’re looking at porn. You checked that person’s ass out. You have the hots for your personal trainer.” All this arguing and looking for evidence of what we know, what you should know is happening. Even if your partner isn’t fucking other people, your partner wants to fuck other people.
There’s a great article on monogamy in The Guardian. I can’t remember the researcher who was quoted because I’m terrible with names. He’s described every monogamous relationship as a disaster waiting to happen because eventually along is going to come this incident. Hopefully, it will come in a form that’s not fatal to the relationship. But if your investment is totally — if what you believe is most meaningful and the most meaningful sort of talismanic token of your lover’s or your partner’s or your husband’s or your wife’s proof of their love for you is that they never will fuck anyone else ever again, you will be shattered at some point over the course of a multi-decade relationship because the odds of it happening are so high. So we’re setting every relationship up for failure in a way by encouraging people to be monogamous.
I obviously think there are upsides to monogamy around paternity, around disease, around emotional security to a certain extent because it’s true that if people are getting involved with other people sexually, they may fall for someone else actually and that could terminate the relationship they were in when they were out there being non-monogamous. And I forgot what I was talking about. There are upsides to monogamy, but there are downsides to it too. One of the downsides is if you’re really invested in it, the odds then that predictable infidelity will end what is an otherwise wonderful and loving relationship, skyrockets. Even if you want a monogamous commitment, a monogamous relationship, you need to short-circuit that. The power of that – the infidelity – that is likely to destroy it not by saying it’s okay, you’ve got a pass, I don’t care, I forgive you in advance, but by saying we love each other. We’re committed to each other. We’re going to be monogamous. If this thing that often happens to people who made monogamous commitments happens to us, we’re going to agree now that we’ll get through it and that we will work through it and that we will not let it destroy everything else that’s great about our relationship.
Marty Klein: That’s not a conversation most 24-year-olds are prepared to have.
Dan Savage: I had that when Terry and I were adopting.
Marty Klein: How old were you?
Dan Savage: He was 24, 25. I was 31.
Marty Klein: That’s an unusual conversation for anyone to have, much less a 24-year-old.
Dan Savage: It sometimes freaks out the marriage and monogamy marauders because I wouldn’t adopt with him if he didn’t agree that infidelity wasn’t a relationship extinction-level event because I wouldn’t do that to a kid.
Marty Klein: That’s brilliant.
Dan Savage: And it was about the kid. I said if he wanted to adopt, he was Mr. Monogamy and really adamant about it and I was doing it, I was like, “Okay, we’re adopting now but you had said to me previously, prior to the adoption, if I cheated and I’m just saying it or if you cheated, that we’re done.” That was Terry’s thing. I said, “Well, that’s fine and well and good when it’s just about the two of us. But now that we’re having a kid, that has to end because it would be unfair to bring this child in with that sword of Damocles hanging over that child’s head – that if there’s an infidelity, we’re going to break up.” How unfair to that kid. If there’s an infidelity before that kid, we’re going to work through it. We’re going to get through it.
Marty Klein: That’s a wonderful way to think about it. The sword of Damocles of infidelity is not just over your heads; it’s over his head.
Dan Savage: Over your kids’ heads. Sometimes that drives the lefty, sexist, lefty people crazy that I emphasize children so much. Somebody writes me a letter and says, “This happened. I’m thinking I should leave.” My first response always is, “Do you have children?” Because that’s going to really color my advice because I think the needs of children need to be taken into account and the damage that may be done to a child has to be factored in, and maybe you should suck it the fuck up for your kids.
Marty Klein: Well, it’s always a question. This question comes up mostly since the 1950s, which is the tension between doing what’s best for your kids versus self-actualization and all of that. The therapy industry is partly culpable. The therapy industry in some ways talks out of both sides of their mouth when on the one hand, we say self-actualization is very important and you should be true to yourself and all that. On the other hand, we want everybody to be good parents and all that. It turns out that co-parenting when you and your mate live in different cities is really difficult, really difficult. That doesn’t even include if you’re really angry with each other.
Dan Savage: No doubt. I’m against self-actualization.
Marty Klein: That’s because you have it already.
Dan Savage: I once got into trouble because -–
Marty Klein: You live in a gated community.
Dan Savage: I do not. One of the things I get in trouble for is I’ve said to people that once you have kids, you can’t keep reinventing yourself for a while. Constancy is a virtue that is under-discussed, undervalued, and I think is a huge gift you give your children that for a little while you’re just like I’m in a cocoon and I’m in a different butterfly shit on hold. Not that you can’t keep learning and growing. Not that you can’t change incrementally, but there’s no like I’m moving to India dragging these seven-year-olds along with me and reinventing. I just think you need to – like Barack Obama’s mother – you need to stay rooted a little bit for your child’s sense of security in the world, in you and your relationship, in their home. I think that is important.
Marty Klein: Before we get off the subject of children, I know that everyone is dying to know why your child has initials for a name. I ask my patients this all the time. I ask, how did you name your kid? People come up with shall we say interesting stories.
Dan Savage: Terry wanted to name him for his dad, Daryl, who is deceased and died just a year before I met Terry. I thought, well, I would like to give him Jude for my mother’s middle name. That just became Daryl Jude or DJ. His last name, Pierce, is his mother’s last name. Because we had this big debate about my last name, Terry’s last name, a hyphenated last name, some other family name that we would all take. In the end, we decided a name from Terry’s family, a name from my family, and a name from his family of origin to sort of embrace all three identities and the complicated way he came to be our son and our family came together to embrace that instead of run from it.
Marty Klein: From a practical point of view, having a different last name from you is probably not a bad thing.
Dan Savage: Until you’re trying to get on an airplane with an infant that has a different last name than you.
Marty Klein: True enough.
Dan Savage: That was where the wheels came off. We’re like, “Oh, yes.” Or cross the border, drive across the border with a two-year-old to Canada who doesn’t have either of your last names and that’s an interesting experience. They ask you whose child that is and you’ll say yours and they don’t believe you.
Marty Klein: Have you had many conversations with DJ about his famous father and all that?
Dan Savage: No. It’s in the air that he breathes and he knows that I’m known.
Marty Klein: It’s his normal.
Dan Savage: It’s his normal, and he doesn’t like it, just like I didn’t like the fact that my dad was a Catholic deacon at the church that I went to that was attached to my Catholic grade school. My dad was on the altar every weekend. He gave the homily every weekend. He preached sermons. So for us, it was a nightmare, for us kids, because we were held to a higher standard and more scrutinized than the other kids in the Catholic school because our dad was a deacon. We didn’t like that scrutiny and we were self-conscious about it. So DJ is a little self-conscious about the fact that his dad is a sex writer and he doesn’t like it in a healthy and appropriate way, just like I didn’t like that my dad was a deacon.
Marty Klein: Do you think of yourself as famous or do you think of yourself as known?
Dan Savage: If it’s fame, it’s kind of piddling, minor, localized celebrity. I’m known here and there in pockets. I’m not universally known or nationally known.
Marty Klein: You don’t think you’re nationally known?
Dan Savage: I’m infamous in pockets here and there. I get recognized in every airport I go in so maybe I am nationally known to some extent.
Marty Klein: Well, that’s one way to measure.
Dan Savage: But I’m not a celebrity. We don’t have that kind of wealth and fame. I bitch and bitch and bitch about living in Seattle, but in some ways living in Seattle over the last 20 years as I’ve done this has been good because Seattle is so unpretentious and isolating in a way. For people like me and Sherman Alexie and people in Soundgarden and other rock bands whose names I don’t know, it’s a good place to be. People leave you alone. People don’t care. People aren’t impressed. People are doing their own thing. I can go to restaurants, and go to bars, and walk down the street and be unmolested.
Marty Klein: When I first saw you yesterday, when you first got here, I actually saw you. I was on the balcony here and I saw you walking down the path and I thought that looks just like Dan Savage, but of course he would never be walking just by himself.
Dan Savage: I go everywhere by myself.
Marty Klein: Well, I just learned that. So to the extent that you have this minor, what you call minor celebrity, what you call, oh, shucks, not really –-
Dan Savage: I used to call it PMLC, piddling, minor, local celebrity. When my column was syndicated, I was like as famous as a weekend weatherman in a lot of different regional markets.
Marty Klein: To the extent that you are one, are there any surprises to you about what it’s like to be one of those piddling, minor celebrities?
Dan Savage: This is going to sound horrible and it’s going to upset anyone who has ever approached me. I’m going to say in advance you are all the exceptions. I met some really famous people. I’ll meet real movie stars and real television stars and this has come up. This is the truth. Cool people who see somebody famous or somebody whose work they really love, which isn’t what I think I am, I’m not famous but some people really love my work. A cool person looks at you and go, oh, there’s that guy. I love his stuff. He’s with his kid and his husband and they’re having dinner. I’m going to leave them alone. That’s a cool person’s response. That’s actually the response of someone you might want to have a conversation with.
The person who approaches you have self-selected we’re not cool in a way because they see you and they go, oh, my god. I want my picture with you. Even though you look like hell and it’s Sunday morning and you’re having brunch with your husband and you both have baseball hats pulled down low and you’re playing cribbage and not even talking to each other. So this person will barrel up to you and has already self-selected. They’re probably not having the social skills that you would like to have in someone you just met because if they did have those social skills, they probably would be leaving you alone.
There are always exceptions. A lot of very nice people have approached me, but there are so many people who approach you who are crazy that you kind of get flinchy and it’s only after the interaction that you go, okay, that was a cool person who approached me. Because there are so many people who approach you just by that self-selection process who are self-selecting for no boundaries and no social skills and then you get trapped in this corner with this person who’s madly humping away at your leg. There’s no way for you to extract yourself from that. You cannot be rude. This is someone who really admires your work. You want your work to be admired and you don’t want to be an asshole to someone who likes you. But then 20 minutes go by and your husband is glaring at you and you can’t peel yourself off this person who’s taken 12 pictures and asked you to call their mother and tell them that you just met them. It’s very hard to gracefully extract yourself from that situation.
Marty Klein: You don’t have a signal with Terry that when you put your finger in your ear, it means “Terry, come and get me?”
Dan Savage: Terry is a jerk. When it happens and it’s bad, Terry blames me. He gets mad at me. Terry is very German. When it happens, he gets aggravated not with the person who’s doing it but with me. It’s like, what am I supposed to do?
Marty Klein: I guess what that means if you’re a piddling, minor celebrity as you put it –
Dan Savage: PLMC.
Marty Klein: — it means that basically you’re on duty every time you walk out the front door.
Dan Savage: Yes. You can never pick your nose ever again in public so I do a lot of that in private.
Marty Klein: That is the alternative.
Dan Savage: This is what I want. I want my work to be read and this comes bundled up with that. It’s a measure of your success and it’s one I’m grateful for. I met a lot of really great people. Anyone who is listening who has approached me, you are one of the great ones. People in airports, people in restaurants, I had great conversations with them.
But then I was at IML with Terry last weekend and there’s somebody who wanted their picture with me who was really drunk and kept taking the picture and it kept not working and it was too blurry and he kept coming back. After a while, it was just Terry finally put his hand on his chest and said, “You’re done. You had your chance to get a picture. You have to leave us alone.” For once, he was mad at somebody else and not at me. He’s all decked out in leather and looked like a Nazi so it was very effective.
Marty Klein: It was very effective. All he needs is a little bit of a faux German accent.
Dan Savage: I know. That would be good.
Marty Klein: You will go away.
Dan Savage: That would be great. I would love that.
Marty Klein: Just for the record, Dan is now smiling broadly.
Dan Savage: Yes, and shifting in my seat.
Marty Klein: Let’s shift in our seats a little bit and talk about your more overtly political stuff. I say overtly because all your stuff is political as is mine. As any political activist, any time you do or don’t pick your nose in public, it’s a political action. Were you surprised at the extraordinary response you got to the Google Santorum thing?
Dan Savage: Yes, I was surprised.
Marty Klein: I guess I should say what the Google Santorum thing is.
Dan Savage: Rick Santorum in 2003 gave an interview to the Associated Press and compared not gay people fucking, but gay relationship – people in long-term committed gay relationships – to kid rape, as in dog fuckers. He compared those relationships, my relationship, to somebody who randomly runs out and rapes a child or fucks a dog. It was actually dying down and the political president declared a little scandal over it. George Bush had gone on TV and said Rick Santorum is a good man, and it was done. A reader wrote me and said, “I don’t want this interview ever to be forgotten. I want this to hang around his neck forever. You should have a contest to redefine Rick Santorum’s last name. Then if that’s successful, it will memorialize forever this interview with the AP.”
Marty Klein: So that’s the guy we should be talking to.
Dan Savage: In a way. I gave him credit in the book. I unpacked the whole Santorum campaign in my new book. I totally gave him credit. I quote his letter. Then my readers sent in, proposed new definitions. I let my readers vote and they picked “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”
Marty Klein: I love the word sometimes in that.
Dan Savage: It’s the operative word for me. The guy who invented the term, who I also interviewed in my new book, says frothy is the word that for him was the really important one. That was the word that he thought would click, would catapult his definition to victory. I thought about it sometimes because if you’re doing anal sex right, there is no Santorum, lowercase or uppercase. There is no Rick Santorum and there is no substance Santorum. Because when you’re doing it right, there’s no fecal matter. If you know what you’re doing, you can have the butt sex. You don’t have ass sex with your ass full of crap for the same reason you don’t have oral sex with your mouth full of food. It makes a mess. It’s uncomfortable.
Marty Klein: Well said, Dan.
Dan Savage: You have to know yourself a little better to know when your butt is empty and good to go. I put that in the column. I’m not tech savvy. People always say I’m really tech savvy because of the Santorum campaign and the It Gets Better campaign that I must be this genius and these companies want to bring me in to talk about how to use the Internet. I’m really an idiot. I just floated that out there, but my readers ran with it. Google investigated as to whether it had been Google bombed, if we had manipulated something or my readers had. No, it was totally legit that’s why they didn’t knock it out of the rankings. It was totally legit. This was being linked to and talked about in news, the new way that people are actually looking for this new definition when they were searching it and clicking through to it. There was no manipulation of Google’s algorithms, and then it just sat there forever.
Then when he ran for president in 2012, all these stories were written about the 2003 AP interview which was exactly what the reader who thought of it wanted hanging around his neck forever. Because anybody who said, oh, he’s got this Google problem. Well, why does he have this Google problem? Well, because this interview he gave led to this sex writer doing this with his readers. It was unpacked over and over and over again in every story about Rick Santorum. He had to answer for it. He was being asked in 2012 when he was running for president about that interview, about his comments, about gay couples, whether gay people and same-sex couples were the moral equivalent of dog rapists and kiddy fuckers.
I think when he said that in 2003, more Americans would probably have agreed with that statement. Then in 2012, because there’s been such an advance in people’s understanding of same-sex couples in relationships and our loves and our lives, that what for Rick Santorum to throw out in 2003, this Republican red meat, anti-gay hater you’re not that controversial. And 2012 really hurt him, and it’s going to hurt him in 2016 when he runs again. And he is running again.
Marty Klein: Wouldn’t it be bizarre if that was the thing that tipped people away from voting for him?
Dan Savage: It increasingly is. I mean, he is the rump bigot parliament bloc of the Republican Party anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-access to birth control, the nutty anti-sex for pleasure wing, which is what links all those things. Sex can’t be for fun. Even though human beings have a thousand sexual encounters for every one live birth even though straight married people have a great deal of sex and very few children, there is this religious Catholic understanding of sex – that it should only be for procreation and only open to procreation. That is why they attack access to abortion, access to birth control, same-sex relationships, us in particular because we only have recreational sex. We prove what sex is for: intimacy, connection, release and every once in a while when straight people do it, children. But straight people have sex for the same reason that gay people do 99.99 percent of the time.
Marty Klein: Actually, the way that I put it when I lecture is that if you think of all the sex that’s going to go on around the world tonight, almost none of it is deliberately for the point of conceiving, almost none of it.
Dan Savage: Nor should it be. And there should be less of it. However much of it was for conceiving, there should be less. There are too many fucking people in the planet.
Marty Klein: Spoken by a man who spends a lot of time in airports where there are way too many people.
Dan Savage: Way too many fucking people.
Marty Klein: So going back to my question about Santorum, were you surprised at the effectiveness of the campaign?
Dan Savage: I was. I was surprised that it had the legs that it did. I was surprised that it held on to that top spot on Google for so many years only finally to be knocked down in 2012 off the top ranking. Santorum declared victory, but it was still the third return so that definition was still sitting there right there at the top of the page for anyone who Googled him.
Marty Klein: It’s still on the first page with more than one entry too.
Dan Savage: Yes, because there’s more than — the Urban Dictionary definition, it just pops up all over the place. I was surprised by its success. Yes, because I thought I was just creating a little term that would float around in the sexual sub-cultures, the kind of urban-sex-having-fun young people who read my column. But the genius of it was this was a thing that actually existed that did not have a name and it needed one, and Santorum’s name is really kind of rare and it sounds quasi-medical.
I remember my other second favorite proposed definition from one of our readers was you know when you go to the doctor and they say, “Do you have any pain or itching during urination or during the STI test?” Instead of saying that long sentence about asking if you have any pain or pus discharge or this during urination, they could just say, any Santorum? That was the other one. Or farting while someone is rimming you, that would be Santorum. Those are the couple of the other definitions that I thought that I liked.
But that was genius because Rick Santorum is obsessed with anal sex. He’s obsessed with recreational sex. He’s obsessed with gay sex. And to tie him forever to this unfortunate byproduct, this thing that when it does happen, when fecal matter appears during anal sex, it ruins it. It’s over. That’s what Santorum himself would like to do. He’d like to ruin it for everyone. He wants to ruin sex. Ruin sex for pleasure. Ruin anal sex. Ruin gay people’s sex lives and their emotional and married lives. So it’s so delicious and brilliant. It’s not delicious. That’s not a word you want to associate with Santorum.
Marty Klein: No, it’s delicious.
Dan Savage: It’s so perfect in every way. It’s so complete.
Marty Klein: It’s artistic.
Dan Savage: It is. The guy who came up with the definition is total genius. It was a thrill. After all these years, it was a thrill that he finally agreed to talk to me. He was really worried.
Marty Klein: He was worried?
Dan Savage: He’s from a red state.
Marty Klein: He didn’t want to be identified?
Dan Savage: He didn’t want to be identified.
Marty Klein: No kidding.
Dan Savage: Professionally, it could really hurt him.
Marty Klein: I would be so proud.
Dan Savage: Professionally, it could really hurt him if it got out who he really was. So I went round and round with him. I said, “I’ll interview you on the phone. I’ll let you see what I’m going to use. I’ll let you see the whole chapter so you can see everything in context. I’m going to give you a pseudonym and you can approve it so if it’s too close, you know.” He didn’t want any. I offered to change identifying details, change this, change that, put you here, put you there. He said, “No, I don’t want to lie so that if I ever do get caught, I don’t want you misrepresenting.” So it’s actually very kind of bare bones because I could only share a little bit of information about him and he was comfortable for having shared.
Marty Klein: So for all of our listeners or all of our readers, it could be somebody living on your street who invented this.
Dan Savage: It could be another member of the U.S. Senate.
Marty Klein: There you go. Oh, what a great idea.
Dan Savage: It could be. I’m not saying it was.
Marty Klein: That’s a new rumor, folks. That’s a new rumor. Spread that around.
Dan Savage: It could have been Senator Bob Kerrey’s second attempt because he famously said after meeting Rick Santorum and Rick Santorum walked away, he said, “Santorum, what is that, Latin for asshole?” So maybe it was Senator Bob Kerrey, or former Senator Bob Kerrey’s second attempt at redefining Santorum. Who knows who it was?
Marty Klein: That’s great. I think we can have a contest on imagining who actually that was. The It Gets Better Campaign, another thing — now I don’t know if you thought of that as a small thing that just got bigger than you ever imagined. Or did you hope that that would be bigger?
Dan Savage: I didn’t. We never — I’m old and gay. AIDS happened. It took Ronald Reagan seven years to say AIDS. The idea that when we launched this thing that within four to six weeks the president of the United States would be making an It Gets Better video, we didn’t see that coming. Honestly, we had hoped when we launched it, we very grandly called it the It Gets Better Project and rolled it out in my column. It wasn’t celebrity-based. It wasn’t about politicians. If you read the column that I wrote about it, I was asking everyday ordinary LGBT people to share their stories to make these videos because when a queer kid kills himself, part of what he’s saying is he can’t picture a future with enough joy in it to compensate for the pain he is in right now. The research bears that out, that the queer kids out there are isolated and who can’t imagine how they get from where they are to where someone like me is. I don’t mean like semi-famous piddling, minor, local celebrity. Happy adult. When we rolled it out, we grandly called it the It Gets Better Project. We grandly called it the It Gets Better Project’s channel in YouTube with that one video of me and Terry.
I wanted 100 videos. That was my goal, 100 videos, because I thought if we get 100, we’ll get some of everybody and I’ll have this wonderful resource at my disposal for people and kids who write me. LGBT kids write me all the time from all over the country. I’d be able to direct them to these videos. If there are 100 of them, we’ll get African-American gay guys living in Chicago and short, tall, white, black, trans, cis. We’ll get everybody if we get 100. We got 5,000 in a week, and they just kept coming. What It Gets Better says is that there are 50,000 others. There’s way over 100,000 now according to Google. And there are It Gets Better projects in Paraguay, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, Chile. It just keeps going. NASA released an It Gets Better video this weekend.
Marty Klein: NASA?
Dan Savage: Yes.
Marty Klein: Wow.
Dan Savage: NASA came out with astronauts and engineers and managers at the Space Center who are all openly gay, lesbian, bi, or trans, and it just keeps going. The goal though wasn’t we’re going to have the most videos ever on a YouTube channel and we’re going to get the president to do it and Pixar to do it.
Marty Klein: That will be a trivial goal.
Dan Savage: Yes. The goal was to save lives, and we know we have done that. We have heard from LGBT kids that the videos made the difference where I — the people who approached me that have carte blanche anywhere in the world are now 19-, 20-year-olds and they go to colleges, who were 15, 16, 17 when the videos hit, who come up to me just with tears running down their face, telling me that the videos saved them. And you have to take my fucking word for this. You can actually go to YouTube and look up videos, and you can see kids commenting on the videos, and you can see the creators of each individual video then responding to the kid who’s commenting on their video. You can see kids getting help and referrals and support in real time.
You know, we’ve heard from these kids. There’ve been other suicides. We never said that the project could stop bullying. We never said that it could prevent all future LGBT suicide. In the case of Jamey Rodemeyer, he was a kid who made an It Gets Better video who killed himself. And to watch his It Gets Better video after his death was shattering because to watch it knowing that the kid he was talking to was himself, and it didn’t work. It just makes me cry every time I think about it and the pain that he was in. But they don’t write newspaper stories about the kids who haven’t killed themselves.
Marty Klein: It’s a dog-bites-man story.
Dan Savage: Yes. Well, there’s no story. Something didn’t happen. And we’ve heard from those kids that this thing didn’t happen to. We’ve heard from thousands of them. If we’ve gotten 100 videos, we’ve gotten 50 videos and we saved a single life, the project would have been a huge success. But it’s been so massive, and they had this other — it accomplished these other things. The deal the culture made with queer adults since Stonewall basically was you’re ours to torture until you’re 18. Once you’re 18 you can move away, you can come out; you could do what you want. And if we haven’t fucked you up too badly, maybe you can have a life.
There’s one thing you cannot do though, you cannot talk to the kids that we are still torturing, the queer kids in the same schools, homes, churches, families where you were tortured. If you reach out to those kids, if you try to talk to them, if you empathize, if you offer them any assistance at all, we will accuse you of recruiting, of being pedophiles, and trying to seduce children to the gay lifestyle.
Marty Klein: That’s the argument with the Boy Scouts right now.
Dan Savage: Right. And it was so deadly politically, particularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s that we — the gay adults backed the fuck off. We’re like, all right. Once you’re 18, if you could escape, there’s a community here for you. But until then, whoa, you’re on your fucking own like I was. And what was so beautiful about those first couple of weeks when the videos poured in as you just saw all these LGBT adults, you saw the old order, this whole deal just collapse. You saw these people reaching out, speaking to — no longer being intimidated or silenced by that charge of recruiting or attempting to seduce kids into the gay lifestyle. That was over.
The other thing that it did was it gave so many people – politicians, sports teams, corporations — it became this question, are we going to make any It Gets Better video? Whose side are we on? Are we on the side of queer kids who are being bullied? Are we on the side of LGBT folks or are we on the side of the bullies and the bigots and the assholes? We’re destroying children. We are killing children. A lot of people stepped up at that moment and took a side that — the president started ranting up. The president’s video came up before the DADT repeal while his Justice Department was still defending DOMA before he delivered on any promises to the gay community.
That was very dubious because I was one of the critics of the president in the first few years saying, “Enough with the speeches. Where are the results? Where are the promises being kept that were made to us?” So I watched the video thinking, if this is just more fine words and no action, I’m going to be pissed, because he can offer more than help. He can offer that change yet, and there hadn’t been much of that at that point. I watched the president’s video and I said, “Oh, this is huge.” You have the president of the United States looking at gay boys in the eye and lesbian girls and bi kids and trans kids and he said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” By implication he is saying there is something wrong with the people telling you there’s something wrong with you. For queer kids all too often, those people are their own parents and their preachers. The president inserted himself into the middle of that conflict and sided with the queer kids. That was huge. It blew my mind.
Marty Klein: That must have been quite a moment to see that’s — to use a current cliché, a game changer. I mean, when the president comes out and says there’s nothing wrong with gay kids, every other position has to defend itself.
Dan Savage: Uh-huh. Those were the side benefits. The chief benefit is to save lives. I hear from emergency room nurses who on their iPad will write me and they’ll say, “I sat all night in bed with a kid who tried to kill himself watching videos on my iPad.” He hadn’t even heard of the project, some 15-year-old kid in Texas. And this nurse lay with him in bed all night watching videos, and that created this resource for people. We didn’t create it to have sparked the creation of this resource. We got an Emmy for the It Gets Better Project, but that Emmy is for everybody who made a video. The project is what it is. It’s had the reach and impact that it’s had. It’s created this gold mine resource that will always exist because so many tens of thousands of other people made videos and participated in the creation of videos.
Marty Klein: At this point I’m assuming that hundreds of entrepreneurs have talked to you about creating It Gets Better coffee mugs and key chains and socks.
Dan Savage: We were speaking last night briefly about your critics from the crazy left in mind. One of the early criticisms was right when it exploded we trademarked everything, copyrighted everything, international trademark, It Gets Better Project. The thing was, people are like, it’s going to be like those Life Is Beautiful t-shirts for sale in airports, right? The reason we did it was not because we wanted to do coffee mugs and t-shirts but because we didn’t want there to be coffee mugs and t-shirts. We also didn’t want the message perverted or misused which happened in Sweden, of all places, where an anti-gay organization started to make It’s Better campaign.
Marty Klein: How odd.
Dan Savage: I know. This like fundy, Christian, hate, anti-gay corporation around adoption and foster care started this It Gets Better campaign that was explicitly anti-gay. And it was only because we had trademarked and copyrighted everything internationally that we were able to get lawyers and flattened them, which we did. So the reason you haven’t seen coffee mugs, t-shirts, the reason you haven’t seen anybody profiting from the It Gets Better name which is so huge and internationally known is because we did this, because we trademarked and copyrighted it.
Marty Klein: Since this is a Humanist forum, it’s appropriate to say that last night someone approached me who knew I was interviewing you and said, “When you talk to Dan tomorrow, ask him about the following phenomenon, that there’s all these atheist kids who they come out. They lose their families. They lose their friends. Their churches throw them out. They’re miserable, they want to kill themselves. Please ask Dan his thoughts on either somebody creating a side project or including atheist kids in It Gets Better Project or whatever.” You’ve probably been approached like this for other cohorts of kids anyway.
Dan Savage: Mental illness, for — yes, lots of different permutations. Anyone’s free to start their own It Gets Better style project and helping others. I’ve been tweeting out in the whole — tweeting is an activism, but I’ve been mentioning over and over again as we debate a lot with openly gay kids to remain in the Scouts. The debate keeps being framed as openly gay people joining the Scouts. Now, these are about kids who are now 14 who started scouting when they were 5 and are realizing they’re gay and not throwing those kids out of the Scouts. It’s not about gay kids joining the Scouts. It’s about kids who are already Scouts who grew up, realized they’re gay, not being persecuted in front of other Scouts.
I always say in tweet, maybe I hope they come around and the atheist kids, too, soon and stop throwing them out. Yes, I’ve heard stories about atheist kids who have that problem and are persecuted. It’s very similar to the coming out process, and the blowback can be very similar to what a lot of gay kids suffer. I would be very into supporting a project that was affiliated with or aligned with or modeled on the It Gets Better Project for those kids. But I am unapologetic about the It Gets Better Project remaining focused on LGBT kids, because there’s a unique need among LGBT kids for the love and support and the role models that they lack in their lives. Maybe it’s so similar that they should be really closely affiliated because when I think of — one of the criticisms of the project out of the gate was it’s not just queer kids who are bullied, it’s not just gay kids who were bullied. Straight kids are bullied because they’re geeks, they’re smart or whatever. I was aware of that.
Actually, when the project was exploding and I was on TV all the time talking about it, I would invariably be asked about when I was bullied and I would talk about St. Jerome’s which is where I was bullied – St. Jerome’s my middle school. I was talking about it so much on TV, I began to think, I bet my brother Billy has seen me talking about this on TV. We’re really close. I called him and I said, “Just to say I don’t want you to think that I have forgotten that you had it worse at Jerome’s than I did. I was bullied; you were brutally bullied at Jerome’s. And I don’t want you to think that as I talk about my bullying experience, I’m erasing that or forgetting it. I remember how much worse it was for you.”
My only brother, Billy, is straight. He’s smart and that’s why he was bullied. It was the ‘70s. He read science fiction before that was cool. He typed his homework before kids did that in middle school. He knew the answer to every question. He aced every test and kids were brutal to him for that. And he said something very smart when I said it was worse for you at Jerome’s. He said, “Yes, it was worse for me at Jerome’s. But every day we would go home and I had mom and dad, and you didn’t.” And that’s the difference for a lot of queer kids who are bullied. But I can see that that would be very similar to atheist kids who come out as atheist. They go home to bullying at the hands of their parents who may be very angry about them walking away from their faith.
Marty Klein: And if the church is a source of social support where they’re in a church youth group or their friends all hang out in church or whatever, and then they lose that. It’s about more than ideology. It’s about losing your social network and all of that.
Dan Savage: Some of the advice I give gay kids is think about when and how you’re going to come out and when is the right time. Because the last thing I want to see is a gay kid being told that they’re letting down the side of you’re 15 or 16, you know you’re gay and you’re not out, you’re not a good gay person, you got to be out – because the consequences for being out can be so extraordinary and deadly. Forty percent of homeless youth are gay kids who were thrown out after they came out or were outed. And we tell gay kids to look at who your family is and wait. If they’re going to retaliate against you, go on deep cover and wait. Maybe that’s advice that some atheist kids should get. If it’s your entire social network and your parents are psychotic, which is what I tell queer kids, if your parents are fucking crazy and you live in a shitty place full of shitty people who are going to be shitty to you, you can wait. You’re not a bad gay person for being a smart gay person and timing it. Timing your coming out in such a way that you’re not going to nuke your own life in the process. Take notes and wait.
Marty Klein: Have you gotten criticism from the gay community, from purists who say you’re being internalized homophobia or that you’re — ?
Dan Savage: When I tell gay kids to wait?
Marty Klein: Yes.
Dan Savage: Yes, absolutely. There was a side project. Some people said It Gets Better is too passive. You’re just telling kids to wait around and things will improve without them having to do anything, or them taking control, an agency and making it better for themselves. There’s a Make It Better Project that someone started. I thought, okay, yeah, the message. Yeah, the message is a little passive. It Gets Better, not You Did Something to Make It Better. But if you watch the videos, almost all of them are about what these people did to improve their own lives. Including this one by a gay kid who was 17 when he made his video about he’s in a shitty place, everyone’s horrible. He got his GED and went straight to college. It’s straight to the community college. I’m not going to sit in this fucking high school and get my face beaten in for no reason. So I’ll go to the prom. [sounds like] I’m out.
And so a lot of the It Gets Better videos laid out how to make it better like the steps you could proactively take to improve your life. But the Make It Better videos that I watched were – and I said this to them – they wanted me to promote them and talk about them. I did a little bit. I acknowledged it. I did a thing in my column saying there’s this other thing, it may have merit as well. But I watched the videos and they were bullying gay kids. They’re saying, “If you’re not out, if you haven’t helped form GSA at your school, then you’re not doing all you can. You got to make it better. You got to get off your ass.” That sort of unrealistic horseshit that some gay people traffic in without recognizing there are some kids who are trapped, they can make no move at all, and all we can give them right now is an image of the future and also some advice about how to get there without nuking their lives right now.
It was just bullying. It was more bullying. “Oh, you’re 15 years old and you’re growing up in some shitty small town and your parents are rabidly anti-gay and you have no resources, no help and no friends, and you’re not out, well, you’re part of the problem.” I’m not going to send that message to gay kids. Adults forget what it’s like to be a vulnerable teenager, and gay adults forget a lot, sometimes it feels like. We want to say, “Come out, come out. This is the solution to all your problems.” No, it’s often the beginning of all new problems. And they can be life and death problems for a 16-year-old who gets thrown out of the house because she’s a lesbian.
Marty Klein: It can be the beginning of adult problems.
Dan Savage: That’s what I tell the kids. I actually get in trouble. I’m accused of being homophobic because I tell them not all gay people are good when I talk in colleges or to younger people. One of the things I always throw out there is Jeffrey Dahmer ate a friend of mine. Not everybody you meet in a gay bar or at a gay pride parade is going to be a decent human being. You cannot do this thing that straight people suck and guy people are awesome and let’s move away from the straight people and around the gay people. I’m with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and I’m safe. No, you’re vulnerable in new ways. And I’m not supposed to say it, that people get mad at me when I say that to gay kids.
I have brothers, my gay, lesbian brothers and sisters. I have actual brothers. I never got a rope burn or an STI or my heart broken by my actual brothers. You will get all that shit from your gay brothers. A lot of gay kids come out, lesbian kids. They come out with their force field down. They come out. They have the wall up to protect themselves and bullshit detectors up and force field on full and they come out and like, “Oh, I can relax.” No, no. You really can’t. There are sexual predators in the LGBT community. There are –
Marty Klein: It must drive people crazy when you say that.
Dan Savage: — assholes in the LGBT community. There are not nice people in the LGBT community. You could be not nice a person. We can’t say that we commit suicide at greater rates, attempt suicide at greater rates, drink at higher rates. You abuse drugs, to be distinguished from using drugs, at a higher rate. And some of us are very sexually destructive, self-destructive at higher rates because of the homophobia, because of what’s done to us when we’re young, because of what the culture says about us. But, we’re also a wonderful people to be with and hang out with, and the nicest people on earth, that once you’re out everybody is — it’s going to be like a birthday party that your mom threw you and the rest of it. No, gay people are also raving assholes at a higher rate; in the same way self-destructive, and other destructive at a higher rate. We are.
Marty Klein: I see the pull quote right there, Dan.
Dan Savage: We are. I wrote years ago that to be gay is like to exclusively select from a pool of Vietnam vets your romantic partners with that cliché stereotype on unfair prejudice that Vietnam vets are crazier at higher rates than the general population. It doesn’t mean they’re all crazy, but every once in a while — remember the ‘70s when we’d shoot up in McDonald’s and people are, “Whoa, Vietnam vets.” That’s what we are. A lot of us are walking wounded. And the trick when you come out is to learn how to spot and avoid those walking wounded queer people and the walking wounded straight. But there are more walking wounded queers. There just are. So learn to avoid them and to self-assess and make sure you are not one yourself. That’s hard, and that’s complicated. And you’re not allowed to say that because it contradicts it like rainbow windsock waving part of the pride parade.
Marty Klein: I’d like you to please talk about that a little bit which is the way that you’ve been attacked from the left and how the leftist movements or progressive movements — we had a great example of that last night during the Q&A at your banquet. How do you deal with being attacked from the left, and what political advice do you want to give people who are just so angry?
Dan Savage: At me?
Marty Klein: Well, not just at you, but at reality, I guess. I mean, there’s this common expression, the problem of making the — “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” right?
Dan Savage: Right.
Marty Klein: So last night, this person stands up and asked you — supposedly asked you a question. It was really –
Dan Savage: Reads a statement about what an asshole I am.
Marty Klein: Reads a statement about how dangerous and destructive you’ve been when you’re undoubtedly the best friend that this person has ever had and will ever have. (a) How do you deal with that personally, and (b) what do you have to say to a movement who keeps eating its leaders like that?
Dan Savage: The narcissism of small differences. I get attacked for being transphobic. And then I watched Keith Ablow go on Fox News and say that parents shouldn’t allow their children to watch Dancing With the Stars with Chaz Bono because their sons will then turn around and cut their dicks off. If I’m transphobic, what the hell is he? And why am I the one who’s getting all of the grief?
I’m accused of being transphobic because I had — until the trans movement sent out a memo saying that tranny was now a hate term and nobody could use it, and I basically stopped using it in the column. But up until that point, Kate Bornstein would use it and Buck Angel would use it. It was just sort of a common usage. But they changed the rules, and now they select their radical crazy actress. They’ll pull things out from pre the announcement that we couldn’t use this word, and say, “Look, he used tranny in his column.” But I always use faggot in my column. I’ve defended straight wide-mouthed comedians from GLAD that used faggot. If I fell down on the floor and clutched my pearls and had a fit when somebody used faggot and then I turned around and used tranny, then I’m a hypocrite. One of the things the atheists find in the column was everybody uses the words they actually use when they talk about sex.
Marty Klein: Right.
Dan Savage: Including hate terms in a non-hateful way and non-hateful context in my column, and colloquialisms and sexual slang. So what do I do? What do I say? Sometimes it gets to me; it couldn’t not. I don’t like being glittered as I have been.
Marty Klein: Glittered?
Dan Savage: Yes, where people throw glitter at you, especially when they throw the jar the glitter was in at your face. The problem with it is that people go — right now, gender is the issue with a lot of focus on trans issues, as there should be. The movement moves on to things that we have not yet nailed down or fully impacted. But what people get out there is, oh, trans people hate him, he must be transphobic. People who haven’t read you just go, oh, you’re that transphobic guy, because some crazy motherfucker threw a jar at your face.
And you have to respond to a certain point. I have this big platform. One of the ways that I retaliate is by continuing to share it. Kate Bornstein, I’ve known for almost 20 years. She’s a wonderful person, and she’s battling cancer right now. By any chance she hears this, hey, Kate, I hope you’re doing well. She’s been in my column for 17 years giving advice, speaking for trans women, speaking from the trans perspective, not speaking for all trans women just as I don’t speak for all gay men. She’s a hero, and rightly so to a lot of people in trans land. Even to a lot of the social justice trans nuts, she’s a hero.
I continue to offer Kate my platform, have Kate on my podcast. Not on my podcast, usually Buck Angel goes on my podcast. And sometimes when I do it, I think I have to set aside like this is going to piss off the people who hate me because they love Kate and they hate me, and they think I’m the anti-Christ. I’m going to like quote Kate this week because that’ll piss them off. But I don’t want to use Kate, you know what I mean, to piss off them. But every once in a while I just think — anyway, asexuals think I’m the enemy of asexuals. But I’m just the enemy of people who are asexual, misrepresenting themselves to people who are sexual, as some asexuals justified to me in columns a while ago. But I just had David Jay back on the podcast who founded AVEN – Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Because somebody got a question about asexuality, and I’m going to give my podcast and some time to David and let him talk and let him speak. Part of me goes out, that’s the right thing to do, I should do that. And part of me goes, this will piss off the people who think that I hate asexuals and I’m the enemy of asexuality everywhere.
Marty Klein: You seemed to portray yourself as a person who doesn’t mind being misunderstood on a daily basis. Surely that can’t be true.
Dan Savage: I have shit to do. I don’t want to go to NGLTF’s Creating Change conference. I’m not invested in a position of leadership in gay land. I speak for myself. I write what I think. I do my column. I have my family. I go snowboarding with my son. I live in Seattle. I suck Terry’s dick. I’m not part of this hothouse little queer terrarium environment. And I have no desire to be a part of it. I don’t want to be in anybody’s board. Anytime anyone has ever asked me to be on a board, I kind of laughed. You realize that I would never do this, and I don’t want to be on a board. But you do realize that –
Marty Klein: I will make trouble.
Dan Savage: No, it will be trouble if you have me on your board. Then it will be just a nightmare for you for having invited me.
Marty Klein: You’ve just been given an award by the American Humanist Association, and as you say –
Dan Savage: They just ran out of people to give it to.
Marty Klein: So it turns out we didn’t just run out of people. We had a few other bankrupt airlines we could have flown on, but we chose yours.
Dan Savage: Thank you.
Marty Klein: What does this mean to you, Dan? Can you say some charming things?
Dan Savage: I admire the organization very much. I’m a humanist, and I’m an atheist so I joke about being a Catholic. I call myself a Catholic, culturally Catholic. It is to be publicly good without God, and I think I am good without God. And I think a lot of my writing is about how to get there and do that and how to have an ethical approach to sexuality which is important because you can destroy someone with your dick or your twat. You really can. You can shatter a person. So you have to think and feel and empathize and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So to have that ethic that I’ve been jokingly unpacking in my column for so long, to have that thread teased out and recognized and honored.
Marty Klein: Yes. Honored is the word.
Dan Savage: It’s kind of shocking but very gratifying. Because the thing I get from the right as opposed to the queer left, the thing I get from the right is I’m an amoral, hedonist, anything-goes, if-it-feels-good-do-it, and I’m not that. Anybody who reads my column I don’t think more than once or just doesn’t read a column about piss play or something is going to come away without the impression that I’m the anything-goes guy. Because I really do think that there’s an ethical moral framework that you have to construct for your sexuality and how you express it and how you move through the world interacting with other people. And it feels like that was what was being recognized by the Humanist Association. That’s gratifying because I kind of bury it in my column.
Marty Klein: Not well enough. Not well enough for me, I spotted you.
Dan Savage: I bury the activism too. I was an activist for a long time, was in ACT UP. I was an activist in college campus for queer rights. When I started writing this column, I was like, oh, this, this is activism. Ninety percent of the time it’s about straight people. Ninety percent of the time it’s jokes and dirt and smut and sex and advice. But every once in a while, because these people read me and they trust me and they know I’m not going to waste their time. If I say, “Do this,” they’ll do it. Just like the It Gets Better Project which I launched in my column. Here’s a thing that needs doing. You like me, you trust me, you read me, do it. And I have this ability to do that.
When Constance McMillen’s high school was fucking with her, I was one of the first people to write about it and talk about it. I said to my readers, get on this – to my listeners – let’s do this. The school was saying they couldn’t let her go to the graduation or prom with her girlfriend because it would be too big a distraction. And they cancelled prom which was a move to get her killed. In a small town in Mississippi nobody gets to go to prom because this bitch wanted to take her girlfriend to prom – get her. They were painting a bull’s eye on her back. That moment I said to my listeners and readers, let’s make discriminating against gay kids a much bigger distraction then treating them fairly ever could be. And people just jumped on that school and jumped on that school board. They flipped, they freaked, and then the ACLU was on top of them too, and they were just miserable. And it floats out there in school land.
This is an example of it’s a little bit of protection and there’s still schools fucking with queer kids. The lesson and example of Constance McMillen and what happened to that school and the school board, the money that they had to pay and the grief and all that anger, all those emails, all those faxes, all those phone calls matter. And for me that, in a way, has sort of the ethical shit in Savage Love that a lot of people recognized, but the Humanist Association did, but the activism shit in Savage Love. I call them my flying monkeys. I call them out every once in a while. I don’t abuse them. I don’t do it every day. One of the things some people on the left are mad at me about, the queer left, that I hear from is that every week’s column is in cri de coeur — how do you say that?
Marty Klein: Cri de coeur. That you don’t do it more often.
Dan Savage: That I don’t do it always, week after week, because there’s always some injustice. I have to keep this power drive for when something really needs to be exploded. One of the problems with the left is always making people feel guilty about not doing everything and enough. I borrow from the right and from my own activism back in the day with ACT UP. You want to identify the small ask and the doable thing because that makes people feel empowered. Then they’re likelier to do the next doable thing and the next doable thing. Then they find themselves doing a lot more than they realize they could. But if you just lay in front of them all the world’s problems and go, you’re a bad person if you can’t fix all of these right now, it gets better with here’s a doable thing. Sit in front of your computer and talk for 12 minutes, 10 minutes. Make a video and talk and upload it. It’s a small doable thing. That can make a difference.
Marty Klein: You know when I lecture on America’s War on Sex, and people ask me, what can I do? I say, well, for starters, how about you write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper? And people look at me like how square is that, how dumb ass is that? I say, you know what? You’d be amazed at how few letters they get. And people are going to read your letter. And if you want to do more than that, we can think of things you can do. Have you called your state legislator lately and said I’d like to drop in and say hi? People say that’s just so square. I say, yes.
Dan Savage: And it makes a difference.
Marty Klein: And it matters. You’re absolutely right.
Dan Savage: You know who does that shit?
Marty Klein: Yes.
Dan Savage: Right-wing nut bags. They’re up their state legislator’s butts and they’re all over the op-ed pages in the letter section. They are.
Marty Klein: They’re well-organized.
Dan Savage: We should do it too. And doing the doable thing is fun once you start doing it.
Marty Klein: Dan Savage, political activist, humanist, Humanist of the Year, 2013.
Dan Savage: Me and Gloria Steinem and PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins.
Marty Klein: You and Margaret Sanger.
Dan Savage: Margaret Sanger, Betty Friedan. I’m just flabbergasted. All these people must be returning their awards posthumously.
Marty Klein: Again, just to summarize, the reason that we gave Dan Savage this award is because we recognize that Dan is a highly ethical, highly moral person, and is showing people how to be ethical and moral and politically active in the world. Plus he’s really cute.
Dan Savage: Oh, shucks. I’m old.
Marty Klein: This is Dr. Marty Klein, thank you for joining me.
Dan Savage: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed chatting with you.
[End of transcript]