Every week, I pick up a copy of The Stranger (a free Seattle weekly paper) and read Dan Savage's sex advice column out loud to my friends as we sip our coffee and offend eavesdroppers with naughty words like "twat" and "ass-fucking." For nine years, "Savage Love" has been one of The Stranger's staples, entertaining readers with spare-no-detail sex talk and occasionally dispensing some good advice.
"When I started writing the column, people thought The Stranger was crazy for running it. They thought it would destroy the paper," Savage tells me. But the same scandalous language that initially made his column so controversial has now made him one of the most popular advice columnists in the nation--each week he's read by four million people in the United States and Canada. And his political writing is no less outrageous. Savage's article in Salon chronicling his hilarious attempts to give former Presidential candidate Gary Bauer the flu generated more hate mail than the online magazine has seen in years. According to Savage, there's one thing that makes him an expert on sex: he's gay. "To some extent, everybody who's gay is an expert on sex," he says. "It's the mystery of our existence." And I can see his point. In the process of figuring ourselves out, queers usually do a lot of reading about and experimenting with sex, involving ourselves in communities that tend to be more sex-positive than the larger het world.
Savage's new book, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant: An Adoption Story (E.P. Dutton, September 1999) is not about sex. It's about parenthood. Two years ago, Savage and his boyfriend, Terry, adopted a baby boy, and The Kid tells the story of their unconventional road to fatherhood. Already Savage has pissed people off with his sarcastic attitude toward parenting and pseudopedophilic comments about his son (meant to make fun of homophobic stereotypes about gay men, but still shocking to hear). More important, his saga of two men and a baby challenges gender clichZs about raising kids and other so-called women's work. So who is Dan Savage? He's a smart guy with good intentions. He's also a self-righteous know-it-all who could stand to be taken down a notch or two at times. But he always manages to do what he set out to do--entertain his readers--and teach some of us (some of the time) a thing or two in the process.
I'm constantly telling women to be more assertive about the things that turn them on, about demanding sexual satisfaction from men. Whatever it is a guy needs to get off, he will insist on. Livestock and uniforms, whatever else--he's gonna arrange for it in his sex life, and a woman should make those same demands and arrange for them. I get letters from guys who are having sex with women and don't know where the clitoris is and don't seem very curious about it! You gotta wonder about the guys, first of all, and then you gotta wonder about the women. Why they're putting up with this and what has conditioned them to accept so little in exchange for so much.
I'm also constantly insisting guys not expect anything from girls that they're not willing to do themselves. Chiefly, oral sex. Any straight guy who won't eat pussy is no straight guy any woman should be having sex with, period. End of discussion.
I think one of the reasons straight guys are so violent and crazy is that sex is hard to find when you're a straight guy. It really is. Women are less willing to have chance, random encounters with men, because sex is riskier--physically and emotionally--for women. Letting someone into your body is always going to be more taxing than sticking it into someone's body. And so long as straight people regard sex as just vaginal intercourse, women are going to be less likely to engage in casual sex.
When two men consent to go to bed together, that's the beginning of the negotiations about what's going to happen. When a man and a woman consent to going to bed together, that's--in almost every case--the end of the negotiation. What's gonna happen is, he's gonna fuck her. Women know that, and so women are less likely to consent. My boyfriend and I don't fuck each other in the ass every time we have sex, my god! We wouldn't want to! So long as straight people have such an idiotic and narrow definition of sex, straight guys are gonna have a hard time finding it. And it's their own fault, to a great extent. Because they assume that sex means vaginal intercourse, and when they don't get it, they don't think it's sex, and they're mad. That's crazy.
I know I've said this before; I'll keep saying it until I die: the religious right is opposed to gay sex, they don't think we should have sex, they think we need to be celibate if we're gay. They're also opposed to gay adoption. But if they really want to stop the gay sex, they should get behind gay adoption, because nothing put a stop to the sex in my house faster than adopting. Really and truly.
A friend of mine called me up and said 'So how's the hetero-normative lifestyle treating you?' I go to work; my boyfriend stays home; he's the primary parent. We do sort of have a relationship that breaks along gender roles. But are they really gender roles if two men are doing it? There are people who have a domestic flair and enjoy it. He is one of those people and I'm lucky to be with him. He's happy not having to kill the rat in the basement, and I'm happy not having to wash my own clothing. It's lucky. The problem with gender roles--I think we should call them 'gender clichZs' rather than 'gender roles'--is when they're shoved down people's throats against their will. That's the problem. That's something that feminism has had to wrestle with, this belittling of women who are comfortable with and would rather play the traditional female role. Feminism should be about women doing what they want.
I think the availability of open adoption helped us get a child. A lot of the women who place their children through an agency would have aborted if they didn't have the option of open adoption. Closed adoption is very hard on most birth mothers, because what you're told is to pretend you never had the baby. It's all about lying. It's bad for kids; it's bad for birth mothers; it's bad for adoptive couples. It's bad for everybody. In my book, I got in a little trouble around issues of adoption, choice, and abortion, because it was hard to imagine a birth mother who would get inconveniently pregnant and choose to give her baby to gay men, instead of choosing to have an abortion. So we were sort of rooting for the woman who would 'choose life.' And choose fags. We thought she would never come along, and then she did. I think parenting should be about leaving a person or a couple of people behind when you're gone who aren't assholes. I think children are basically monsters, and empathy and compassion have to be taught. We will do all we can to fill this child with empathy and compassion. People might think that's hilarious, because the last thing you might ever perceive from my column is that I am someone who has any empathy or compassion, or could teach it. But I am and I do. That's basically our guiding principle, just to raise someone who's not a jerk.
Nomy Lamm is currently working on a new rock opera called "The Transfused." Photograph by Mark Van S.