Dan Savage does not hate you.* I know, because he told me so when I asked him. Last Saturday, Savage delivered the keynote address to “Pro-Queer Life: Youth Suicide Crisis, Catholic Education, and the Souls of LGBTQ People” at New York City’s beautiful Union Theological Seminary, the oldest independent, multi-denominational seminary in the nation. The event was intended to “call upon the Catholic Church, as a significant provider of education and producer of culture, to seek the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.” I’m not sure if the Catholic Church answered, but it was an important event and Savage was extraordinary.
(For those interested, this was part two of a four-part series, called, “More Than A Monologue: Sexual Diversity And The Catholic Church.” The last two events look fascinating as well. You might want to consider going.)
Savage, who doesn’t look anywhere near his 47 years — his birthday was yesterday — as it turns out, in conversation is an amazing amalgam of witty on-the-spot soundbites, and long, ruminating explorations. He is more charming than you might have imagined if you’ve only read his advice columns on love and sex, or his angry rants, which he says he’s good at. (Trust me, he is.)
“I punch people who punch me. I punch back,” he says, with a slight grin.
Savage is animated, and does not appear nervous or stressed in the small bedroom used as a “green room” at the seminary, just minutes before he was to stand in front of hundreds of people to deliver a speech about the Catholic Church and its relationship with the gay community. Here is a man who was raised Roman Catholic by an ordained mother and father, sitting with three journalists, moments away from speaking in a church about his life as a married gay man who — like many — dances on the line between atheism and agnosticism, though he calls himself, “culturally Catholic.”
“It is right-wing fundamentalist asshole monster Christians who are claiming to speak for all Christians, who are fighting the bad fight. Trying to prevent social progress for LGBT Americans.”
Perhaps all this appears remarkably easy to Savage because he puts it all out into the open; Savage doesn’t hold any punches. He doesn’t hide anything, and it’s almost impossible to not know where he stands.
“Santorum is a by-product,” Savage quips. And there’s more.
“It’s God Hates Fags with a big smile, but that doesn’t make it not God Hates Fags,” Savage professes about the Marin Foundation, which claims to be “the very first organization that works to build a bridge between the religious and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in a non-threatening, research and biblically oriented fashion.”
“Marin’s just the same old hate in a brand new bag,” Savage says, pausing, then adding, “all wrapped up in a new bright shiny lie.”
“We will contribute to a culture that beats you down, and then when you’re down and out we’ll condescend to scoop you up, and play the hero, but we won’t change the culture so you’re not winding up homeless,” Savage says of the leaders at Sojourners, a “progressive” Christian publication.
“40% of homeless teenagers are LGBT kids,” he continues. “Most of those kids are thrown out by parents who accept what the religious right tells parents what they should do when their kids come out to them. Reject them and be hostile. Make their love conditional upon their ‘recanting,’ or ‘changing,’ or becoming ‘ex-gay.’ They [Sojourners] should run an ad for a homeless shelter, they should shut the fucking thing down and run a homeless shelter and take some responsibility for the damage they’re creating.”
“The politicization of the church in America is appalling,” is Savage’s global answer to my question about the (greatly misguided and dangerous) move by the right to erase the wall of church and state separation by allowing clergy to support political candidates at the pulpit.
“We’re looking at an increasingly secular society. Increasingly, if you force people to choose between their gay and lesbian friends and relatives and co-workers, and their mega-church and their faith and their pope, they’re going to choose their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors — as well they should.
“As they [the Christian Right] put all their chips down on hate and wanting to roll us back to the 1930s and 40s, they’re going to lose the battle, and they’re going to lose a lot of their congregants.”
Savage, to his benefit, does not like to put up facades. And so, he’s going to call a spade an spade, even if you might not like that, even if it’s not politically-correct. And if need be (maybe) he’ll apologize later.
In preparing for our interview, I went on Twitter and asked my followers, “What do you want me to ask Dan Savage?” The majority of responses were, “Ask him why he hates bisexuals. We’re people too!” and “Why do you hate trans people?”
And so, I said, “Dan, my readers asked me to ask you why you hate bisexual and transgender people.” I thought it might hit a nerve, but instead it hit a wellspring of frustration, and revealed the Dan Savage that I found earlier this year when I called him out for both his comments on marriage, his comments on same-sex relationships, and the timing of those comments. In the end, Savage is interested in getting it right, not PC.
*So, if you’re bi or trans, and think Dan Savage hates you, he does not.
Here’s what Savage told me:
“In 2005, a study came out that showed there were no such things as bisexual arousal patterns in men. They’ve just come out with a new study that says, ‘Oh, we’ve just found bisexual arousal patterns in men,’ and the problem with the original study is they didn’t control for people who were saying they were bi as part of their coming out process, but were actually gay, an people who were lying, and claiming to be bi who were not. And when they went in and controlled for those two groups, and didn’t just accept people at face value who said they were bi — they didn’t take someone’s professed sexual identity as the last word — they were able to document bisexual arousal patterns.
“So, only by behaving as what I would describe as being biphobic for doing — I say some people as transient, some people are identifying as bi early in their coming out process — that gets me called biphobic. Some people are lying — that gets me called biphobic. I’m told by the bi activist crowd you have to accept someone’s professed sexual identity at face value, no questions — and to them I say Ted Haggard. But then, when these researchers turn around and do exactly what I’m accused of doing, being biphobic, for describing as phenomena, they documented bisexual arousal patterns in men. If these researchers had listened to me in 2005, we would have documented bisexual arousal patterns then.
“How do you disprove a charge like you’re transphobic? I’m not afraid of trans people.” Savage then goes into a mimicking voice, knowing not to say, “One of my friends is trans,” but does say that he has a friend who is trans who comes to his house for Christmas. “We hang out all the tie,” Savage says. “I certainly have had a journey in the last 20 years — as have we all — on trans issues. When I started writing Savage Love 20 years ago, and you can yank quotes 15, 18 years ago and flat them up today and say, ‘You know, that’s transphobic,’ I’d probably agree with you. 15 years ago I didn’t know as much as I know now — nor did anybody.”
Afterwards, I found this clip of Dan talking about this very issue, last month:
But perhaps Savage’s most-poignant moment was this one, which came a little out of nowhere.
“I love the idea that I’m bullying Rick Santorum, because all he wants to do is write anti-gay bigotry into the U.S. Constitution, prevent me from going to my partner’s bedside in a medical emergency, get in a time machine and prevent me from being able to adopt my son, reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t tell. Literally destroy my life. That’s all he wants to do,” Savage says, reeling. But then, he pauses.
“And I made a joke at his expense,” he sums up. “I’m the bad guy,” he says, almost sadly. “And he’s the victim. All he wants to do is beat this to death. How dare we — tease him.”
But taking into account the impetus of the event — to ask the Catholic Church “to seek the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people” — Savage says, “It is right-wing fundamentalist asshole monster Christians who are claiming to speak for all Christians, who are fighting the bad fight. Trying to prevent social progress for LGBT Americans.”
“And when I get into Tony Perkins, and I condemn Christians, and I buy into his binary rhetoric about, ‘Here’s the gays, here’s the Christians; we’re all enemies,’ what happens is I get a million emails from people, going, (he whispers,) ‘we’re not all like that.’ I call them NALTS — Not. All. Like That.”
“My response to them is, ‘I know you’re not all like that. Tony Perkins doesn’t. Yell at Tony Perkins.’”
Savage points to a study a few years ago that found that the largest growing segment of the U.S. population reported they were “unaffiliated – no faith.”
“When people plowed into those numbers, what they found was a lot of those people were actually Christians who no longer wanted to identify publicly as Christians because they didn’t want to be associated with hate.”
“And that’s a problem for liberal left Christians, that you’ve seceded Christianity in the public square to these motherfuckers,” Savage stresses. “And I can’t fix that.”
“Only left, liberal Christians can — and they can only do it by being as loud and as hyperbolic and as mean and as well-financed as Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association.”
A few minutes later, we are in a massive cathedral-like stone auditorium and Dan is talking about his mother — a lot. Dan really loved his mother, and shared a glimpse of what it was like growing up Catholic.
Here’s the clip of the first few minutes of Dan’s keynote speech which I took (and take responsibility for the shakiness of — it was on my iPhone,) last week, in which he talks about his mom, and growing up, and the It Gets Better project.
No. Dan Savage does not hate you. But if you’re a right-wing fundamentalist asshole monster Christian who is claiming to speak for all Christians, look out.
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