December 10, 2010

Dan Savage Interview, Part 1: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Gay Marriage

In the first part of a five-part series, Dan Savage talks about two issues that often make headlines: the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and gay marriage.

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Question: Do you think we’ll see gay marriage across the country in your lifetime? And, are we getting closer to seeing the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

Taking Classes At Indiana University

Annie Corrigan: First of all, why are you in Bloomington?

Dan Savage: (laughs) It’s a secret. I’m writing a book about this human sexuality thing that we’ve all heard so much about lately. For a chapter in the book I took a human sexuality class taught by Debby Herbenick. Her last name is so hard to pronounce.

AC: So many people think of you as a sex advice guru. So it’s funny in a way to think of Dan Savage taking formal Sexuality classes. Because it feels like you know it all.

DS: But I don’t know it all, and I’ve actually never taken a human sexuality class. So after 20 years of writing Savage Love, it really was about time. And I learned a lot! All mad props and credit to Debbie and her really amazing class. I took it with mostly college freshman, 18-year-olds. And the things that I learned: the cowpers gland! Who knew about the cowpers gland? Debbie knew and sex researchers here at IU knew, but I didn’t know.

Writing About Sex, Love, And What’s Normal

AC: I’m curious about your new book. Tell me a little bit about that.

DS: I’m curious about it too. And now that I’ve taken the class I have to start writing the book. It’s about human sexuality as lived and experienced and the way we torment ourselves with this false ideal of what normal is and what everybody else is dong. And the standard we try to hold ourselves to that – if you actually look at the sex that any given person is having on a Saturday night, what we think of when we say, “picture normal sex,” is so freakishly rare that the “normal” people are the wierdos.

AC: You’ve actually written four books; one was about getting married to your boyfriend; another was about the two of you adopting your son. Is this a case of the personal is political or does your life just make for really good stories?

DS: (laughs) It’s just a case of people kept giving me book deals and I had to pull something out of my ass. The personal is political. Not to flate myself too hard, I’m not that limber, I really do think that those two books about marriage and starting a family as a gay male couple kind of documented a moment in time for particularly gay men, because lesbians have been having children forever.

Oscar Wilde had kids. Gay men have been having children forever. But gay male couples really weren’t having children and weren’t adopting until 15 years ago or so when the “gayby” boom started.

When I came out at 16-17 years old in 1980, when you were telling your parents you were gay, it meant two big things. You were never going to get married and you were never going to have children. Those were not possibilities for gay men. Within a couple of decades, within my lifespan, as an out gay man, both those things became possible for gay men. And both those things required kind of a massive adjustment in worldview, and a personal assessment of what it means to be a gay man or a parent and a gay man and married.

I hope those books captured those moments for gay men with a great deal of humor and insight. They’re an important document.

Making A Commitment

AC: As you mentioned in your book, “The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, And My Family,” you’re wearing a skull wedding ring that your son picked out?

DS: Yeah. My partner and I had a 10 year anniversary party and we invited our family and friends and the invitation said no gifts, no toasts. We decided to get married shortly before it but not tell anybody. So everyone was at a wedding reception, but they didn’t know it was a wedding reception.

When we ran up to Vancouver and got married, was all very impromptu. We were literally driving in the car and we called the officiant, or whatever the person is called in Canada, and said, “Alright, I think we have everything we need.” And she said, “Don’t forget rings.” How unprepared culturally were we for this moment. We hadn’t even thought of rings. So we pulled off the highway and stopped at sort of a rock and roll jewelry store and my son picked out these skulls, these rocker rings with skulls on them, because till death do you part. And every time we look at the ring, he wanted us to remember that we can’t leave each other until we’re dead. And maybe not even then.

AC: That’s morbid, but fabulous!

DS: It is. I think everyone should have a wedding ring with a big fat skull on it. It works for my boyfriend. On him it looks rock and roll, because he’s so rock and roll looking. On me, I wear my ring turned around so you can’t see the skull. Because on me it looks like I’m a white supremist, because I just don’t look rock and roll. A skull ring on me gets misinterpreted on airplanes. So I turn it around.

Equality In America

AC: Do you think we’ll see gay marriage across the country in your lifetime?

DS: I think we’ll be surrounded in my lifetime. I think we’re going to see full civil equality for gay and lesbian people, also known as marriage rights and everything else in all of Mexico, most of Latin America, all of Canada, before we get it here. Because as I like to say, Australia got the convicts and Canada got the French and we got the Puritans. And we will be wrestling with them always.

We’re always last in America when it comes to this freedom thing. The Brits did away with slavery 40 years before we did with a vote in parliament, and we had to have a war. Then we had to have Jim Crowe for 100 years, and we really didn’t do away with slavery until the 60s and 70s and culturally we’re still wrestling with it’s legacy. It’s going to be the same thing for gays and lesbians, and it’s going to be the same thing for a female president.

You know, Pakistan has had a female president. The Philippines, you know, Israel. Everyone is going to beat us to it, and when it finally happens here, in traditional American style, we’ll pay ourselves no end of compliments about how wonderful it is and what it means. Someone is going to have to jump on a chair and scream – Benazir Bhutto, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, we’re last! And it’s going to be the same with gay marriage. We’ll get there eventually, but it will be embarrassingly late compared to the rest of the world.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

AC: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is all over the news these days, particularly as conversation heats up in the Senate about whether or not to repeal it. A few months ago, the pentagon announced that they were going to accept openly gay recruits, but then a federal appeals court put a freeze to that. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this.

DS: Yeah, the federal appeals court just thought hey, why not put a freeze on that. No – the Obama Department of Justice went to the Federal appeals court and asked for an emergency stay. Because of the enormous potential consequences, of which there have been none. American soldiers are serving side by side in Afghanistan and Iraq with openly gay British and Canadian soldiers right now. So if the presence of openly gay soldiers is so deleterious, we would already have that evidence. It’s not. It’s a lie. And it’s not judges just getting bugs in their butt about issuing stays. It’s the Obama administration’s Department of Justice that is dragging this out endlessly.

AC: Are we closer to seeing the end of this or is it just going to keep going?

DS: I think we’re close to seeing the end of this, and this is the low hanging fruit in the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. This fruit hangs so low it’s practically a potato. 70%-plus of the country wants to see Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed. A broad majority of Conservatives, of Independents, of Tea Partiers, and of course Liberals and Progressives and Democrats all want to see it repealed. It is not controversial except among some ancient Republican senators, bigots like John McCain, agents of intolerance like John McCain.

We will get there, and I think we’ll get there pretty soon. That and marriage really are kind of the final things we need to achieve to get very close to full civil equality. And of course Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Gays In The News

DS: One of the things that so amuses me about anti-gay conservatives, is if you can really sit down and talk to them, and I’ve done it. I don’t recommend it. It’s bad for the blood pressure. What they object most to is hearing about the existence of gays and lesbians. The newspaper stories and they can’t turn on the TV without their kids being reminded that we exist. That may put it in the minds of their gay kids that they can actually come out one day and have a life.

They want to live in a world where they hear about us a whole lot less. Ok, well give us everything we want and you’ll hear about us a whole lot less. The reason we’re in the news all the time is not because we’re just so fabulous. We’re in the news all the time because you’re denying us our full civil equality and we are demanding it. That conflict keeps it in the news. You want us out of the news, you want to hear a whole lot less about us, give us everything we want, because we’re not going to stop demanding and asking.

I was in the United Kingdom for a summer a few years ago and I read all the papers over there and watched the news and it occurs to me that I’m not reading anything about me, about the gay thing. It was just like, of course not, because they don’t throw gay people out of the military and they have employment protections and they have civil partnerships. They have marriage in everything but name. So gay people there really do have everything they want. There isn’t this endless sturm and drang and conflict and wrestling and arguing about whether gay people deserve their full civil equality. They’ve got it. Same thing in Canada now.

More: Listen to Part 2 of Kinsey Confidential’s conversation with Dan Savage.


    I love Dan Savage! He is my hero!

  • I enjoy reading Dan's segments in the local paper here in Santa Fe NM. It's neat to hear a voice with his writings!