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Queer sex adviser to the straight crowd manages to piss off just about everyone
DAN SAVAGE as part of the kids are alright talk on queer parenting with author Ann-Marie MacDonald and her partner Alisa Palmer , hosted by Diane Flacks at the Edward Johnson Bldg (80 Queen’s Park) Friday (June 25). 7:30 pm. $7-$17 sliding scale. 416-922-8744.
DAN SAVAGE at the NOW Booth Sunday (June 27). Noon to 1 pm. 416-364-1300. Rating: NNNNN
Is there anyone Savage Love columnist Dan Savage hasn’t offended? Does he care? For 13 years, long before Queer Eye For The Straight Guy was even a brain blip, he’s been the gay guy answering (mostly) straight people’s questions about sex in 26 alternative newsweeklies and other publications across North America, including this one.
He finds women’s vaginas gross, he thinks Gay Pride is a recipe for exploitation and he considers bath houses dangerous and disgusting. But no matter who threatens to stop reading, it makes not a dint in the 1,500 e-mails that pour into his mailbox daily from readers hoping to get his take on their most intimate dilemmas.
Savage still goes through them all himself, mining for the select few that he will skewer or stew in his column each week.
He does this on top of his duties as editor of The Stranger, Seattle’s alt-weekly, and father of a six-year-old in a two-dad family. Plus he’s authored two books, the first of which, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend And I Decided To Go Get Pregnant, documents his journey into parenthood from conception – in this case in the minds of he and his partner – to birth and open adoption.
It’s parenting that brings Savage (with the family) to Pride this week-end. He’s part of the The Kids Are Alright parenting panel at the Edward Johnson building tomorrow (Friday, June 25) and will check into the NOW booth on Pride Day for an hour at noon.
“Kids are like heroin, ” he says, talking from Seattle. “Those moments that you’re high, you’ve never been so high in your life. And those moments when you’re miserable, you’ve never been so miserable. It’s all cliché, an AT&T commercial.”
Frankly, this kind of positivity is creepy for Savage. He’s much more comfortable being clever and obnoxious. The secret strength in all of Savage’s work is that he maintains a fervour for progressive politics at the same time as he’s thinking the absolute worst of everyone.
Savage mentions he’s the son of a cop, so that may be where he gets it. And he was raised (Irish) Catholic, which I guess introduced him to evil. Plus he’s gay, so he knows there’s also lots of fun happening where the sun don’t shine. Savage sees the dark’s danger and delight. He isn’t into denial. He’s into containment.
This eye for the human dark side is what frees Savage’s vision from the more common niceness of the liberal-minded. Nice, as we all know, is the death of funny. Which he is.
But he’s also very traditional in some ways. It’s not what some expect from a gay sex writer, but being queer has honed Savage’s radar for both the fun and the overdone.
“Some people think that because I’m gay, I must be a kind of Marquis de Sade libertine who just gives people permission slips to do whatever sort of fucked-up, immoral, crazy bullshit they want to do, damn whoever it hurts. I just don’t think that you should engage in sex or have a relationship if you’re not willing to think through the potential consequences and know you’re responsible for those consequences.”
Savage could never be as good as he is if he gave much of a damn about other people’s feelings. Which may be why what really gets Savage off is politics. That’s what motivated him to start Savage Love in the first place.
“I started writing it in 1991. AIDS was still as much a medical crisis as a political crisis. And that sense of the connection between sex and politics has always been present. Because Savage Love is mostly about straight people, straight people read it. And then every once in a while it’s about gay stuff and straight people out of habit get a download that they wouldn’t usually get.”
He says he receives loads of mail from pissed-off queers who wonder why he’s ignoring them. But that’s nothing compared to the other ways he challenges the iconic thinking in his own community. Take his attitude to Pride.
“Usually it’s the very young people who fall for the Rainbow Flag rhetoric that we’re all gay and lesbian brothers and sisters – all this crap that just isn’t true.
“Coming out of the closet is not the solution to all gay kids’ problems. It’s the beginning of all the serious ones. Cuz then you’re going to get your heart broken. Then you’re going to be at risk. Then you have to learn how to spot the assholes.
“Pride doesn’t teach that. Pride tells them that we’re all wonderful and that every gay thing that pops into your head you should instantly go do. And then if you get yourself infected, there’ll be drugs there for you paid by the Canadian government. Congratulations.”
And if you find that a bit harsh, just take a listen to what Savage has to say about AIDS agencies.
“We know enough now to prevent every single infection, yet gay men are busily recreating the exact same sex culture that laid out the welcome mat for AIDS in the 70s and 80s. The lesson of AIDS is that a hitherto unknown sexually transmitted disease can emerge and take root in a community of extreme promiscuity without anyone knowing about it until it’s too late. AIDS agencies don’t tell gay men anything they don’t want to hear, and we’re at this point right now where gay men need to be told, ‘Stop it. You can suck too much dick. You can rim too many people in a weekend. It’s not homophobic or gay-sex-phobic to say that.”
Ironically, the people who he feels are getting the sexual shaft right now are actually straight guys. He feels they are, as a group, the most over-policed in their sexuality – by the culture, by their lovers and also by queer stereotyping.
This sympathy doesn’t stop him from sharing with straight women his truth about their (and his) men.
“Men are pigs. Men aren’t monogamous. Men are always going to look at porn, and if you’re going to be in a relationship with a man, that’s what you’re signing up for.
“You can’t ask him to pretend you’re the only woman on earth he wants to fuck. Because you’re asking him to pretend that he’s a lamp, and not a man.”
Savage famously loves men even when he’s being his most disparaging. But what about women?
“I love women,” says Savage, “but it’s tough love. I’m like Dr. Phil, but a cocksucker.”