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Is Dan Savage The Gay Ann Coulter?

by David Badash on March 24, 2010

in Bigotry Watch

I like Dan Savage. Well, I used to. Until this week. Dan is on a roll. If anything, I think maybe Dan’s upset that he’s not the one who got kicked out of an Ottawa college speaking invitation. But Dan Savage is using anti-gay slurs to insult the same people who are targeting the LGBTQ community. And that is unacceptable.

So, let’s play a game. Name the author of the following statements:

  1. Al Gore is a “total fag.”
  2. “…but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I’m – so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about [John] Edwards…”
  3. “Ken Cuccinelli Is a Fag.”
  4. “Transgendered Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna Betrays His Community.”

Are you sure?

OK. Well, probably it was pretty easy for you. #1 and #2 are from conservative author Ann Coulter, and they’re from my piece last year, “The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Ann Coulter And The Business Of Anti-Gay Hate Speech In America (Part One).”

Sadly, #3 and #4 are from liberal, gay author and activist Dan Savage.

#3 is the title of Dan’s column today in The Slog.

#4 is the title of Dan’s column yesterday in The Slog.

See where I’m going here?

Savage is doing this on purpose. Yesterday, in response to the immediate uproar his column received, Dan wrote this:

UPDATE: I’m getting some very angry emails about this post. What can I say? I’m so sorry. I wrote the post in a hurry but that’s really no excuse. But I promise that in all future posts about Rob McKenna I will not fail to include a link to the Facebook page “Washington Tax Payers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna’s Lawsuit.”

So, what’s the big deal here? Well, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna is NOT “transgendered.”*

Savage, evidently, thinks insulting someone by calling them a “fag,” or “transgendered,”* is funny.

It’s not.

Trans people and the entire LGBTQ community have enough challenges without having those in a leadership position offering our identifications as insults. “Fag” and “Transgendered”* (as Savage wrote) are not intrinsically insulting — except when they are used as insults.

Yesterday, a great number of the comments in Dan’s post pointed out how Dan had crossed a line and pointed out how offensive it was. In “How to squander your credibility as a civil rights advocate,” Lurleen of Pam’s House Blend weighed in:

Dan Savage is a gifted Seattle-based gay writer who has done so much wonderful advocacy for our community.  Steven Colbert refers to him as “the spokesgay”, a role he seems pleased to fulfill on national television and in The Stranger, the newspaper he writes for.  People speaking from such powerful platforms have a special responsibility to not embarrass and misrepresent the people they purport to speak for, and today Dan has greatly embarrassed and misrepresented this lesbian with this diary at The Stranger’s blog, the SLOG.

With action on ENDA hopefully right around the corner, I can only wonder how Dan could possibly think it was reasonable to use a negative and baseless accusation of transgenderism and transexual history against an elected official who he has a political disagreement with.  This absolutely sickens me.  Major fail, Dan.  Shame on you.  You make LGB people look like the very homobigots you rail against daily.

I agree.

And here’s another real danger. Abdication of leadership and responsibility.

Dan Savage is a recognized LGBTQ leader. People listen to him and assume what he says is be “OK.” So, while yesterday Dan took some heat in his column’s comments, today, with the following disclaimer, a great many of his readers just laughed it off.

For the record: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay. I mean, obviously. So while this particular state attorney general—this bigoted douchebag—might not like being called a fag, I trust that my fellow fags aren’t going to think I’ve insulted them by calling this guy a fag.

That’s the danger of taking your role in a community for granted. As members of the LGBTQ community with a platform, we all have a responsibility to uphold higher standards and to be role models for the people we serve. Dan abdicated his leadership and responsibility when he chose to use those words. He discredited his great work when he did it twice.

Using “fag,” or “transgendered,” is the same offensive concept that says it’s OK for blacks to call someone the “N” word, because they’re black.

Well, it’s not OK.

It’s not OK to use labels to insult people, labels that relate to the the very “who” of who someone is.

I expect it, unfortunately, from the Ann Coulters of this world, and I’m prepared to fight back. But I’ll also fight the Dan Savages if I have to, although I’d rather be fighting with them than against them.

*For the record, Savage uses the word “transgendered.” It’s actually inappropriate, and he should have used the word “transgender.” My use of it is in quotes, as I am quoting him.

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Matt March 25, 2010 at 12:03 am

First, appropriating words used to demean a minority is standard and regular practice. Where do you think "queer" came from in the first place? When Dan Savage uses words like fag it holds an air of humour to it, because he too is a fag. That's the point. When Ann Coulter says it it's pure hate. Additionally, the excessive use of words like fag make its connotations far less severe, essentially making Coulter's language less powerful, which is a good thing.

Secondly, as you mention, Dan Savage is very good at apologizing and retracting statements when he's been confronted by his readers about the severity/inaccuracy of his own words. There's always going to be someone who gets offended, but at least Dan Savage attempts to make amends when people voice their disappointment with him.

To compare the two is a little extreme.

David Badash March 25, 2010 at 1:19 am


"First, appropriating words used to demean a minority is standard and regular practice. " So, that makes it OK? Sorry, but no.

"When Dan Savage uses words like fag it holds an air of humour to it, because he too is a fag."
So, when Perez Hilton called a "faggot," that too was OK, right?
Sorry, but no.

"Additionally, the excessive use of words like fag make its connotations far less severe, essentially making Coulter's language less powerful, which is a good thing."
So, then you would advocate that it's OK to use the "N" word, or to call Latinos "Sp*cs," etc., to desensitize us?
Sorry, but no.

"Dan Savage is very good at apologizing and retracting statements when he's been confronted by his readers about the severity/inaccuracy of his own words."
Where's Dan's apology for calling Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna "Transgendered"? He had the opportunity and, as I wrote, scoffed at it. And the next day followed up by calling Ken Cuccinelli a "fag." That was a deliberate slap at those who complained the day before.
So, once again, sorry, but no.

Lauren--NY March 25, 2010 at 1:49 am

I agree with you on this, David, but I'd also hesitate to lump Dan Savage with Ann Coulter too quickly. As much I as I may disagree with them, there *are* people who genuinely believe that words like this can be "reclaimed," therefore losing their original hateful intent over time. I don't like it when people use them because I don't agree with that perspective, but I do believe that the people who hold this belief have actually *thought* about their position on this issue, as opposed to Ann Coulter who merely says the most outrageous thing she can think of to get ratings and sell books.

Ultimately, I'm with you on this. But I see Mr. Savage's perspective, whereas I don't think Ms. Coulter really has one. She's just looking for attention.

David Badash March 25, 2010 at 3:30 am


I am almost in 100% agreement with you, except I can't stop thinking that, as I've been saying on Facebook, people with a platform have a strong responsibility to protect and defend their community, or at least to represent their community well.

Does Dan work to make things better for us? Yes. Is this blindspot of his acceptable? No. I did not include it in the piece because I can't prove it, but a reliable source tells me that Dan is the instigator of the story that Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna is transgender, and points to this piece as having Dan Savage as the source. I can't prove it, but I trust the source.

So if it is true, Savage has been playing this "trans is bad" meme far too long. There are also questions about how he framed the vote after Prop 8. Again, I can't speak to it but there are members of the African-American community that aren't too pleased with him, from what I understand.

Lisa Spangenberg March 25, 2010 at 3:36 am

It's not OK. It really is not. It's not OK for a Jew to call another Jew a kike; it never has been, and never will be. And it's very very clear from the context that Savage is using transgendered and fag as negatives, as terms of approbation. Which suggest not only that he has issues with self-loathing and hypocrisy, but that his vocabulary is sadly lacking.

You call yourself an advocate and a writer Mr. Savage? You're not acting like either.

Adam March 25, 2010 at 4:27 am

Iam so disappointed at Dan. Some one I have always looked up. Now he is in the same track as people that tell all these lies about us. I know that many times when the rain drop hits the stone, eventually makes a hole. No need to be an asshole in how we conduct ourselves when the world is watching. Dan can you not be an ashole. Save it for ur partner or your phyco analy st…Please!!!

Matt March 25, 2010 at 6:23 am


"So, then you would advocate that it's OK to use the "N" word, or to call Latinos "Sp*cs," etc., to desensitize us?"
No, I am no advocating you or I, as caucasians, have the go ahead to use the "N" word or terms such as "Sp*c". But I'm certainly happy that those kinds of terms are used by the people those words are meant to describe, because it is empowering.

If you'll notice in the comments, any derogatory words that are written in full are the appropriated ones for that particular person. I'm gay so I can say fag without a feeling of embarrassment or dread; I'm making an educated guess that Lisa is Jewish as she had no qualms about using the "K" word, even if it was disagreeing with the term.

And if someone came in here spouting line after line of derogatory slurs to all of us, it may anger us but I for one would not feel violated and scared, like I may have ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. That's my point: the excessive use of these words within one's community gives these words less impact overall.

zoebrain May 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm

So Dan Savage is Transgendered ? Or are those freaks fair game for faggots as well as decent folks?

I think you get my point. This wasn't about empowerment. It was like saying someone was "passing for white", or that "the Jew McKenna betrays his own community".

A lot of people, gay, straight, white, black, baptist, catholic, jew or even Moonie despise those "weirdos" as the Washington Times called Trans people recently. Or "Freaks" as another commentator named Savage called them.

Brian Bu May 26, 2010 at 3:36 am

I'm not sure how I feel about this quite yet. But my first reaction is "so?" and this is why: If we continue to always be offended at the use of the word fag, it will continue to be a pejorative term for homosexuals. Language is essentially arbitrary and usages/contexts of words determine its actual meaning, Savage's use shifts the context and therefore the meaning slightly and could, at least in theory, shift its meaning away from homosexual. A perfect example of this that I just thought of/realized is a South Park episode. The boys get in trouble for using the word 'fag', but they didn't think of it as being gays, but these Harley Davidson guys and fought to have the definition changed. That being said, I think as a public voice Savage should be more careful in how he uses words, or stipulate the definitions he intends when he uses them.

I also fail to see the difference in why one can use 'queer', originally a pejorative term, as an umbrella term for the community but we can't use 'fag' as one? "fabulous and gay" anyone? Perhaps drop both of em, use "family" instead.
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