INTERVIEW: Dan Savage makes punditry cool
On Christians and the whole gay marriage thing, Dan Savage says, “Jesus Christ Himself condemned divorce, yet we’re not amending state constitutions to prohibit people getting divorced. It’s hypocritical of these people to say that they cannot come around on the gay issue because of the Bible when they ignore so many other parts of it.”
On warlust among certain so-called Christians when it comes to the Middle East: “They’re just dying for the day when Jesus comes floating down on a cloud to kill everybody – because He loves us all so much.”
On the U.S. government shutdown that just ended: “These psychotic hostage takers in Congress do more damage to our system than assholes flying planes into buildings ever dreamed of doing.”
Outspoken enough for you? Dan Savage says he didn’t plan to become a pundit when he started writing a sex advice column in Seattle’s alternative weekly more than 20 years ago. It just happened.
“No one was more shocked than I when the New York Times wanted me to write opinion pieces for them occasionally,” Savage says in a recent phone interview to advance his appearance at the Winspear Centre on Monday, Oct. 21 as part of LitFest. “When I sat down and started writing what is generally regarded as the filthiest sex column in America, I didn’t think, man, this is my way to land a contract with a mainstream publisher! That wasn’t my agenda at all. I just sat down and started writing about sex using the language people use when they talk about it with their friends – which is really dirty and jokey, but very honest and straightforward.”
He hit a nerve there. “Savage Love” has since been syndicated in dozens of newspapers and magazines around North America, including in Edmonton’s Vue magazine. In addition to numerous other writing, television and activist projects, he was given an Emmy for his It Gets Better project, directed at gay youth who are bullied; and is a favourite Stephen Colbert guest and author of six books. Savage will be in Edmonton (on election night!) to talk up his latest collection of essays, “American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics,” whose title doesn’t seem to leave anything out.
The connection between sex and politics should make more sense if one is a regular follower of Savage Love. Aside from frequent digressions into the political arena – notably as concerns gay rights (he’s also famous for trying to change the meaning of the word “Santorum”; look it up, we’re not going to get into it here) – the ability to see through the BS has been critical in the 49-year-old writer’s success. As his sexual and relationship advice cuts to the heart of the matters in question, with no topic too kinky, so too does his political punditry. He jokes about readers who complain he should stop writing about politics, “I’ll stick to sex when politicians stick to politics.”
But on his role, Savage is humble, saying, “The only thing I’ve ever done is offer commentary and jokes. Politics is nothing but a giant conversation with some real consequences getting locked in by law at the end.”
Gay rights (at least in America) are actually coming along pretty nicely, he says. Gay marriage, once a divisive issue on the left now divides the right, he says, also pointing out that while homophobia used to only hurt gay people, it now hurts churches or companies that foster such prejudice. Just a little further to go. As for the next hill to climb, or to die on, depending, Savage says it’s probably going to be over the legalization of sex trade workers or marijuana. Atheism is further down on the Savage list than Bill Maher might prefer it, but this too is controversial.
Savage says he is atheist, “except for that moment before the plane takes off when I cross myself,” and has no problem with any of the “loving Christians” in his circle of family and friends – people who have learned to ignore the right parts of the Bible, that is. Admitting to being a non-believer can still be difficult.
“There are people who describe telling their parents they’re atheists is like the coming out process: Getting that reaction, that push back from the family,” Savage says. “Unfortunately, unlike being gay, belief is actually a choice.”