Dan Savage is a busy man. He’s parlayed a successful career as a writer and author into mainstream cultural influence. He launched an antibullying project that inspired tens of thousands of people—gay and straight, well known and not—to record testimonials insisting that life can get better after high school. He’s married. And he and his husband, Terry, have an adopted 17-year-old son. In other words, he enjoys a life that someone who came out in the early ’80s might never have expected to enjoy. But don’t expect him to stop advocating for change. He’s having too much fun pushing buttons along the way. —Matthew Halverson
My parents brought me up to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And there were people I wanted to do things unto and who wanted to do things unto me, and nobody was harmed by it and it created more joy in the world and I didn’t see what the problem was. I couldn’t see what the problem was.
When I came out to my mother, she said, “Don’t bring a boy around to the house.” I would say, “How come my sister’s boyfriend can come over, but my boyfriend can’t?” And my mother would say, “It’s different.” What was different was she would look at my sister and her boyfriend and see the potential for marriage and family life. So she knew my sister was fellating her boyfriend, but she didn’t have to see the blow job because she could picture what would come from it. And she would look at my boyfriend, and all she could see was blow jobs and a dead end. I said, “That’s not our fault. Who’s making our relationship a dead end? The culture. You people. Straight people.” Eventually she was like, “All right. I don’t want to hear about you sucking your boyfriend’s dick anymore. You can bring him to dinner.”
I’m for pride parades, and I’m for pride. I just wish more people understood what that term is supposed to mean. It gets abused by some queer people as a shield against self-reflection and any sort of accountability. Pride meant all this garbage was thrown at you and you came through it as a healthy, sane, functional adult. Pride didn’t mean everything queer is good or better than anything straight. Pride didn’t mean you have to act on any impulse you have as a queer person without thinking about consequences or other people’s feelings.
The term gay community is silly because it creates unrealistic expectations. And people can become very bitter. They are told that coming out is a solution to all their troubles when, in fact, coming out is the beginning of new and different troubles. And they have this expectation going into the gay community that they’re going to meet all of these wonderful, nice, lovely people who will love and support them. But you know what? There are shitty gay people in the world.
Anybody who runs their mouth for a living is going to run themselves into a ditch every once in a while. And so having to say “Yeah, that was a mistake, and I’m sorry” is part of the gig. And I’ve done that. On several occasions. What’s weird is that the thing that you apologize for is constantly thrown in your face over and over again, as if you hadn’t already apologized for it. It’s brought up constantly as fresh new evidence of your assholery. And that process disincentivizes apologizing for shit in the first place. Because nothing is ever settled.
When I wrote about the fact that Terry and I are not monogamous, I expected more anger than I got. And I actually got a lot of support. Most long-term gay male couples are not monogamous. And there was this disconnect between the way we live and what was being said about us in the argument about marriage equality. The standard riff was, “Why shouldn’t loving, committed, monogamous gay couples be allowed to marry?” But not all of that was true. Loving? Yes. Committed? Yes. But most of us are not monogamous. Monogamy is not something straight people require of each other to be legally married. The Clintons are still legally married.
What makes me uncomfortable? Compliments and praise. The It Gets Better project is five years old, so I’m meeting 22-year-olds who were 16 or 17 when it started. They approach me and Terry in restaurants or airports, just sobbing because it saved their lives. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “I have to hug you,” and I’m like, “Really? You have to?” The way to give me a hug is not to touch me. Those are the hugs I love the best.
Your kid is going to say faggot. My kid says it. There’s a certain amount of panic and insecurity that’s hardwired into adolescence and into all the little straight boys because they’re all afraid it’s going to happen to them. And so they externalize that fear, and they want to broadcast to the world that they ain’t faggots. So what’s important for the gay kid in the room is not that no straight boy ever says faggot and no straight boy or girl ever uses gay as a pejorative. It’s important to see adults pushing back against it.
When you go to the gay pride parade—and everybody should—you see a million kinds of queer people. You see the leather guys, the drag queens, the Christian groups, the parents, the dykes on bikes. And the takeaway for a straight person is that there should be at least as many ways to be straight as there are to be queer. But there aren’t.
When you’re trying to move the center you need people at the edges screaming and yelling. You need the unreasonable people for the reasonable people to then move in. This is my life.