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Illustrations by Quinn Lincoln
DAN SAVAGE HITCHED his fate to Rick Santorum’s wagon when he instigated the now-infamous Google-based redefining of the Republican senator’s last name in 2003. Against all logic, Santorum has surged ahead as one of two frontrunners in the 2012 race to select Barack Obama’s opponent for the next term of United States presidency – and Savage is riding the frothy wave. Savage and Santorum are as radically opposite as Batman and the Joker, and as inextricably entangled. And like his conservative foil, the controversial sex columnist can be as sure of taking a glitterbomb at each speaking engagement as he can of packing the house.
Savage and his husband Terry Miller live with their son D.J. in Seattle, Washington, where Savage works as Editorial Director for alternative newspaper The Stranger. Savage founded the It Gets Better Project (IGBP), a series of anti-bullying Youtube videos to help combat the prevalence of LGBTQ youth suicides. He also publishes his syndicated weekly column “Savage Love” in several dozen alternative papers, including Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight.
The unapologetic pundit has become a kind of iconoclastic celebrity, a household name, his acerbic commentary sought across popular media on all manner of civil rights issues, especially what he calls the eternal battle of same-sex social equality.
That’s why when Santorum finally trickles out, Savage will be as relevant as ever.
Q: You recently made the arduous trek from Seattle up to Vancouver. Did you notice anything different about a post-riot, post-Occupy Vancouver?
Nope. Things seemed to have returned to normal—Granville is still Granville. My mom had a framed “God Bless This Mess” needlepoint hanging on the wall in her (neat-as-a-pin) kitchen. I always think of that needlepoint when I’m walking down Granville.
Q: So, Washington state! How does that feel? What do you think is the likelihood of a referendum overturning that decision?
Marriage equality comes to Washington state! It doesn’t feel like anything yet, actually, because we haven’t actually achieved it. We knew from the start that it would go to the ballot — the bigots assured us, all along, that they would file a referendum and attempt to repeal the law. And, while it’s exciting, we still won’t be equal under the law. DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) remains on the books, at the federal level, and that blocks most of the rights and protections of marriage—and some of the most important. I can’t, for example, marry a cute Canadian snowboarder and get him citizenship, so long as DOMA’s on the books. (Don’t know why a Canadian snowboarder would want to marry me, or if Terry would approve, but there it is.) I’d put the chances of a successful repeal at 50/50. But even when we lose, we win. Every time we have the debate — and it’s going to be a huge debate — we win more support. Let’s hope we win majority support before November. But if we don’t win this November, we’ll win in a future November. Marriage equality was repealed at the ballot box in Maine last year. (Might have been two years ago; double check.) And it’s back on the ballot this November. The fight for marriage equality isn’t over until we say it’s over and it’ s not over until we win.
Q: Remember that one day where everybody thought gay marriages performed in Canada were dissolved? You told CBC that despite the government’s insistence they weren’t reopening the issue, it was too late, it had been reopened. Lambda Legal released a clarification saying why they weren’t worried about it and news sources later caught up. The whole thing blew over. But do you still believe Prime Minister Harper wants to undermine the validity of Canadian same-sex marriages?
Anyone who doesn’t think the outcry was responsible for the quick reversal — the lightning-quick reversal — is fatally naive. I don’t know if the Harper government intentionally kicked the hornet’s nest, but they kicked it, and they had no idea how many hornets were inside. I think Harper wants to stay away from this issue. It might interfere with his plot to pollute the world with dirty, sandy oil.
Q: What is your view on the current climate of Stephen Harper’s Canada?
Well, I just spent a week in Canada, visiting some of my favorite places (the Summit Hut at Panorama, the fire place in the hotel at Sunshine Village) and it seems fine, very normal, still Canada. I hope that one day Canada’s long national nightmare ends and Harper is shown the exit, along with his conservative cronies. In the meantime, everyone in Canada should react to any attempt by the Harper government to roll back civil rights or reproductive freedoms the same way folks reacted to the sudden invalidation of same-sex marriages performed in Canada for foreigners: like a bunch of angry, motherfucking hornets.
Q: Did you ever imagine you’d see Santorum…well, surge? Is there even a small chance he could be elected president? Why or why not?
Yeah, there’s a chance he could be elected — if he gets the nomination. He’s still a long shot, but the threat is real. If he gets the nomination and the economy goes south (Greece defaults, the Euro implodes, gas prices skyrocket), and/or if there’s a terrorist attack… you can game out a scenario where the other guy — whoever he is — wins the election. It’s scary. While a Santorum nomination would probably be good for me — it would keep my name in the papers, for sure — even a small risk of a Santorum administration scares me to death. So I’m rooting for Romney.
Q: Why is U.S. political discourse shrinking back into such obsessive sexual conservatism?
Because it’s all they’ve got. The economy is improving, which erases Romney’s reason for being/running, and they’ve reverted to form: attacking people for the crime of having recreational sex. Their opposition to abortion, contraception and gay rights — it all comes down to an obsession with recreational sex and a desire to punish people who have sex for the “wrong” reasons. It’s pathological. I like to say “Canada got the French, Australia got the convicts, America got the Puritans.” It’s why these issues, down here, will never, ever be resolved.
Q: Do you think it’s easier for teens today to be gay than when you were a teen?
It depends. If a kid lives in a relatively tolerant place, goes to a school with a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and anti-bullying policies that are actually enforced, and has the love and support of his family, there’s never been a better time to be a gay kid than right now. Really. But if a kid lives in some backwards shithole, goes to a school without a GSA or anti-bullying policies (or, God forbid, a private Christian school), and he has homophobic parents who are bullying him — there’s never been a worse time to be a gay kid.
Q: What specific factors in the current cultural discourse are impacting that?
The 30-year anti-gay hate campaign that has been waged down here by the religious right. They have injected poison into our culture, and kids are paying the price. Adults who fall for the hatred and lies — gay marriage is an attack on your family, gay people want to destroy the family, being gay is sick and sinful and will lead to the downfall of our civilization — can only attack gay people with their cheque books and their votes. But their children — children who are exposed to the same hatred and lies — go to school on Monday morning and there’s the gay kid. They’ve listened to their pastor rant and rave about how God hates fags soooooooo much, and they’ve been told that gay people, by simply existing, represent an existential threat to their families. Mom and dad attack gay people at the ballot box. Their straight kids attack gay kids they encounter in the hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms and lunchrooms.
Q: Do you believe in the Werther Effect? How much does the rate of gay teen suicide stem from adulation or martyrdom of victims?
I’m not a shrink. If the science is there, it’s there. We don’t make heroes or martyrs out of the victims of suicide, for fear of inspiring copycat suicides. The IGBP is an attempt to reach and speak to kids who haven’t killed themselves.
Q: You said the worst advice you ever gave was when you told a young Jake Shears to come out to his family. What other advice do you regret giving?
Oh, that. The advice I gave to Jake wound up being the right advice — it was a short-term disaster, a long-term success. Advice I regret? Early on I toed the AIDS.org line and repeated the it-doesn’t-matter-how-many-people-you-have-sex-with-it-matters-how-you-have-sex lie a few times. It actually does matter how many people you have sex with. You can suck too much cock, you can stick too many dicks — even condom-covered ones — in your ass. Straight people need to have more sex than they do, gay people need to have less sex than we can. There’s a balance that has to be struck.
Q: Is there a piece of advice that has stuck with you and that you’ve been particularly proud of?
GGG (being good, giving and game for your sex partners). Price of admission. Monogamish. “What are you into?” If straight people embraced those “Savage Love” concepts — all of them have their own Wikis — it would do so much to improve their sex lives, the little dears.
Q: To what do you attribute your popularity?
My rock-hard abs.
Q: What’s your strategy for when the zombie apocalypse strikes?
You mean it hasn’t?
[Editor's note: a shorter version of this interview was published in V-Rag, "Vancouver’s Gay Arts & Culture Magazine".]