Dan Savage

 

Dan Savage fell into the advice-column business by accident; he was clerking in a video-rental store in Madison, Wisconsin when Onion co-founder Tim Keck mentioned that he was starting a new alternative paper. Savage suggested an advice column; Keck asked Savage to do it, and they went from there. Savage Love launched in 1991 in the first issue of Keck's Seattle-based alternative paper The Stranger, and now runs nationwide. In his column, Savage discusses love, relationships, and sex in frank, unflinching detail, fielding questions on everything from dating etiquette to rimjob etiquette. Since the column launched, Savage has become an essayist, columnist, and journalist, appearing in The New York Times, on National Public Radio's This American Life, and in The Stranger, where he's taken over as editor. He's also published a collection of Savage Love columns and three funny but personal non-fiction books: The Kid (the story of how he and his boyfriend Terry adopted a son), Skipping Towards Gomorrah (a pro-vice look at sin in America), and 2005's The Commitment (about his struggles with the idea of marrying Terry). With February 14 looming on the horizon, The A.V. Club sought Savage's advice on Valentine's Day, his column, and the possibility that he's driven people to suicide.

The A.V. Club: What's your take on Valentine's Day? Corporate exercise, or meaningful reminder of romance?

DS: It is a corporate exercise; it's also a holy day of romantic obligation. It's also a day of torment. Mother's Day is a torment if your mother is dead. Valentine's Day is a torment if you don't got one. And at some point in our lives, we will be tormented by Valentine's Day even if we're relatively lucky in love. It's just like Christmas. Christmas can have a real melancholy aspect, 'cause it packages itself as this idea of perfect family cohesion and love, and you're always going to come up short when you measure your personal life against the idealized personal lives that are constantly thrust in our faces, primarily by TV commercials. I find, though, that if you avoid TV, you don't succumb to the despair. I wouldn't say that holidays are manufactured by corporations, but they're certainly exploited and mined by them. If you're not a big consumer of television, I don't think it's too much of a torment even if you don't have a love interest.

AVC: Do you and Terry celebrate Valentine's Day?

DS: No. [Laughs.] But we're not sentimental weirdoes. We barely acknowledge our anniversary. It took us 11 years to get married. Our anniversary will come and go, and we'll both realize it about a month later and say, "Oh, shit. Yeah, happy anniversary." But we're both guys, and that helps with avoiding Valentine's Day as a holy day of obligation. Valentine's Day is much more of a holy day of obligation for a guy in a relationship with a woman, because a woman has certain emotional expectations. Even if she doesn't value Valentine's Day, or views it as a corporate exercise, she still often wants her boyfriend or husband to go through the motions, just in case she values it. I get letters every year from women who think Valentine's Day is an empty exercise, but are ironically pretty exercised when their boyfriends neglect or forget it. There's this movement to form a day called Steak And A Blowjob Day, which would be the male version of Valentine's Day, where women would come through with a steak and a blowjob in return for the chocolate and flowers that guys come through with, and I support that holiday.

AVC: It would be interesting to see Hallmark try to take advantage of that.

DS: That's one of the great things about it. It's probably one of the reasons it hasn't really taken off in the few years people have been trying to promote it. How do you make a card for Steak And A Blowjob Day?

AVC: You've written books about your relationship, your adoption, and your marriage, which presumably opens your personal life up to scrutiny. Do people come up to you at readings and ask about your boyfriend and your son—

DS: Whether I really went to jail, whether I really was a crack addict, whether I really went to Hazelden, and all those things that didn't happen. That's why I left them out of my book. I never assaulted a police officer. I should have put a lot of bullshit in my book.

AVC: Do you get tired of the exposure?

DS: I live in kind of a George Bush-esque bubble, I guess. I come here to work where everybody hates me—at The Stranger, I'm not deferred to a lot, and people here know me, so they're not particularly interested in my personal life. And I go home to my boyfriend, who's not particularly impressed with me, and that's about it. It is weird when I go out on a book tour or something. I meet people who are fans who remember anecdotes about my childhood that I have already forgotten. I included them in The Kid 'cause I was interviewing my mother or talking to my siblings about our childhood, and they brought something up, and I was like, 'Oh, I'll stick that in,' and then I forgot about it. I'll meet people who've apparently memorized them in a way I haven't. That can be wonderful and it can be disconcerting, depending on who the person is. When you write about your personal life… People who are cool hang back—people who really dig the book, who have good social skills and good boundaries, don't get up in your face about your life. They're like, "Oh, I really loved The Kid, it was great to read that adoption story and learn more," and "There he is. Oh, wow, I'd approach him and tell him how much I love his book, but I don't want to bother him. He's having dinner with his family, obviously." And so the people who do approach you are the ones who don't have good boundary perception, who may be a little bit nutso or off-putting. You end up getting this skewed perception of people who like your work, 'cause the people who are cool who like your work don't come up and talk to you, usually. And the people who aren't cool will, like, charge at you in an airport, which happened to me, and will grab your dick in the line at the coffee shop, which has happened to me. I write about sex, therefore you can grab my dick in a Starbucks in Manhattan.

AVC: Was that meant as a come-on?

DS: No, just friendly joshing, "Oh, there's the sex guy, I'm gonna reach through his legs and grab his dick, then he'll turn around and laugh out loud about him being the sex guy." And I turn around and I'm like, "Who the fuck are you? I'm gonna call the police."

AVC: You've said that gay people can't make un-self-conscious decisions in public places—adoption is a political act, marriage is a political act, everything that you do is a political act to some degree. Do you get sick of that dynamic?

DS: You get tired, you get sort of exhausted, it wears you down. I don't think responsible, reasonable adults engage in a lot of PDA, because it's childish, it's for teenagers, but [adults] engage in a certain amount of it. But when you're gay, you reach a point when you're like, "It's not worth the kisses, it's not worth the look over the shoulder," although we live in Seattle and it's really safe and I kiss my boyfriend frequently. But I've kissed him goodbye and stepped out of the car and gotten called a faggot by the crack dealers on the corner near my office. I congratulated them on their perception. Most people have to see a videotape of me actually blowing my boyfriend just to work it out that I'm gay. Just a kiss usually isn't enough evidence.

You know what would be a lot more tiring? Being gay 50 years ago. We gripe and gripe and gripe, gay people do, 'cause we do have legitimate beefs. But I'm one of those gay people who's constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to live now and not to be Ennis and Jack [from Brokeback Mountain] or whatever—not that I'd mind being Ennis for half an hour. But it's been so much worse recently. It still is terrible. In Iran, they're hanging gay teenagers. I'm grateful for how far the United States, even with its crazy Christians, has come on a lot of issues. And the fact that I get called a faggot occasionally by a crack addict, while annoying, certainly isn't a lobotomy and prison.

AVC: You've written a lot recently about the ongoing attack on gay rights. Do you think this is a temporary setback, or are we at risk of going back to where we were 50 years ago?

DS: I don't think you could slip back, on gay rights, to where we were 50 years ago. I think on women's reproductive rights, we're seeing a lot of erosion, but I don't think you can stuff this thing back in the bottle. There's just too many gay people who are too far out and too integrated into the mainstream culture to pretend you can unscramble these eggs. And we wouldn't cooperate, our friends and family wouldn't cooperate, our employers wouldn't cooperate. Occasionally, the publisher of The Stranger gets a letter saying that he should fire me because I'm gay. [Laughs.] I'm like, "Like he's gonna do that." But who knows? It was illegal to murder a Jew in Germany in 1910, and three decades later, suddenly it wasn't. So things can change for the worse, and change in profound ways. So you don't want to be a Pollyanna about it, you have to be vigilant, but when I look out at the crazy anti-gay whackos with their anti-gay marriage amendments, screaming and yelling about gay people adopting children, I feel threatened by them personally, but I'm confident that if we get up in their faces, we'll win. And I'm confident that more and more straight people, especially younger straight people, the kind of straight people I hear from all the time for Savage Love, view sexual freedom as a continuum. And it touches their lives too—there isn't a big difference between taking away a woman's right to emergency contraception, and taking away a gay person's right to be a gay person. A lot of young people regard a threat against one person's sexual freedom as a threat against all of them, and that's absolutely how they should regard it. But it's heartening to look at the polls on young people on gay people, gay marriage, and sexual-freedom issues. They're terrific, and that's why the religious right is so desperately trying to lock in their current bare majority for prejudice: because their constituents are dying. They're losing votes every time the ambulance pulls up to the old folks' home. Let's hope it pulls up a little more frequently.

AVC: You say they're losing votes, and that people couldn't stand it and it wouldn't happen, but a lot of people think that about a lot of things that have happened in the last five years.

DS: That's true. It's a terribly perilous moment. Like I said, we can't be Pollyanna, we have to be vigilant, and we have to have a divided government again, so there's some limit on the powers of the President and some limit on sycophancy in Congress. [Laughs.] But I'm hopeful. I think our country has always had a pretty robust immune system. I think our country's also been tremendously ill at times, and this is one of those times. But there seems to be this capacity in our culture and our society for things to get really shitty, and then for things to right themselves through the efforts of, and the eventual coming around of, the idiotic American people. American people are dumbfucks, but eventually they get it. I love those polls that say, "A majority of Americans" agree on the gay-marriage debate, as if that's the conversation-stopper, as if that wins, proves that it's not the right thing to do. A majority of Americans has been so wrong, so often, on so many issues, that a majority of Americans supporting something should be cause for as second look at its rightness. A majority of Americans supported slavery, a majority of Americans supported the internment of the Japanese, a majority of Americans supported denying women the vote, a majority of Americans supported the Communist witch hunts, a majority of Americans often have their heads up their asses. And then we're embarrassed 10 years later when we realize we have shit all over our faces. And I think we have shit all over our faces on gay rights, and we will come around. People will feel embarrassed one day when Mexico has gay marriage, Canada has gay marriage, the whole world has gay marriage. America will be last. Pakistan will have gay marriage before we do.

AVC: You use your column to advocate freedom, but that often seems to scare people. Historically, it seems like there's a real terror that other people might somehow get the freedom to do the things we ourselves don't want to do. Why do you think that is?

DS: Because Canada got the French and Australia got the convicts and we got the fuckin' batshit crazy Christians. And that matters. We're all lied to in high school—"The Pilgrims came here seeking religious freedom." No they didn't. They were the Puritans kicked out of England. They went to Holland, Holland was like "Fuck you people," and they kicked them out too, so they came here. They came here seeking the ability to persecute everybody else—and each other—for their religious beliefs. And we are living with the descendants of those nutjobs, and we have to fight them.

We also have to concede some things to them. There's a big mistake the left has made with talking to religious people, which is attempting to talk them out of their interpretations of the Bible, attempting to have theological debate with them. When I'm on right-wing whackjob radio, when people call up to inform me that I'm going to hell, I concede the point. [Laughs.] "I'm going to hell. Yes. Can you leave me alone now? Isn't that enough? Isn't punishment for all eternity enough? Do you have to screw with me here on Earth, too? Can't you just sit back content that I will roast on a spit in hell right next to Ronald Reagan, adulterer?" And often if you concede their theology and let them have their crackpot religious beliefs, you can make a little progress. The left has made a mistake trying to argue with religious people about their religious beliefs. They have a legitimate beef when it comes to thought police from the left getting up in their business and telling them how they should interpret Leviticus. Well, who gives a fuck how you interpret your fuckin' Grimm fairy tale?

AVC: You've also used your column as sort of a bully pulpit to give your readers information about issues that they should act on, and to tell them specifically where to go and what to do to preserve their freedom. Have you seen signs that that makes a difference?

DS: I think in the "Santorum" case, you can see the reach of Savage Love. It was just mentioned in The Economist. They said "gay activists"—plural, although it's just me—"are trying to make his name synonymous with something that cannot be described in a family newspaper." They're all family newspapers, that's their problem, the millstone around daily papers' necks. It's hard to say what the impact is. I don't think all the tons of people who read Savage Love are waiting for marching orders from me. I get feedback from websites I mention when their traffic explodes after the column appears. I know that when I ordered people to call up the pharmacy in Arizona that denied a rape victim emergency contraception, it was kind of a trial for the pharmacy. A lot of people do call. But you can't really measure impact. I can't say that my begging people to vote for John Kerry actually got him elected, because it didn't.

AVC: Savage Love basically originated when Onion co-founder Tim Keck was starting up The Stranger, he needed an advice column, and he asked you to do it, right?

DS: Yeah. I met him through a friend—I was working for a video store in Madison. I said, "Oh, have an advice column, everybody hates 'em, but everybody reads 'em." And he thought that was good advice, and asked me to write it. It sounds so disingenuous all these many years later, but I wasn't trying to get the job. I'd never really written anything before in my life, except for student papers. If you read the first couple years of Savage Love, it's pretty clear I'd never written anything before in my life.

AVC: Did you discuss an agenda or a tone beforehand, or did you just go in swinging?

DS: It was just me and Tim, and it was 1991 or '90, and we talked about what an advice column would look and sound like at that moment. And I being the loudmouth faggot that I was, and still am—for years, I'd been reading advice columns, I'd read Ann Landers and Dear Abby growing up—I'm sitting at Ann Landers' desk, actually, while we have this interview—and I'd always been a fan of the genre. Forever, I'd read letters that had been written to straight advice columnists from gay people. Sometimes the advice was okay, but oftentimes it was clueless about gay issues or gay people or gay sex or gay rights. And I just thought it would be funny for once if there was an advice column written by a gay person where straight people had to get slapped around or treated with contempt. That was the agenda at first—I was just gonna be obnoxious and contemptuous about straight sex and straight relationships. That humor vein lasted about a year, and then I realized that I was gonna actually have to give advice and learn a little about heterosexual life.

AVC: You're still sometimes harsh or dismissive or aggressive with some of the people you deal with. Is there a philosophy to that attitude?

DS: Oh, absolutely. I always think of the column as a conversation I'm having with friends in a bar about sex. And people say, 'Oh, you're so mean.' That's only 'cause everyone's so completely pussified by our therapy culture, where anyone who's seeking counsel has to be fuckin' nursed at your hairy tit for half an hour before you say a discouraging word—"Ooh, poopy-poopy, it's so sad." But if you think about it, if you go to your friends for advice and you lay out the dumb thing you did, the first thing they do is make fun of you for half an hour, or two hours. They make jokes at your expense, they tell you you're an asshole, they ask you how you can be so stupid and idiotic, and then they give you some advice. I treat people who write me the way my friends and I all treat each other when we go to each other for advice, which is sometimes with supreme cruelty. I think that's what helps the advice sink in. If somebody comes at you with both barrels, the first shot opens your head, and the second shot allows the advice to get lodged inside.

AVC: You've said in other interviews that you don't really care if fake letters end up in the column, because it's entertainment, not group therapy.

DS: Every question is a hypothetical question for everyone but the person who asks it. People will write in and say, "Ah, I've seen this phrase in like three of the question-letters, so obviously you're writing the questions." I'm editing the questions. People who aren't writers send me questions that are four times longer than the column itself, and I have to boil them down to 200 or 300 words. So oftentimes, it will sometimes seem like letters in Savage Love have a similar tone. It's my tone, 'cause I'm often rewriting them to make them make sense. I get these letters that are one sentence with no punctuation that are 4,000 words long. I guess I could just print them in their entirety, and copy editors all over the country would die of heart attacks. People don't see the letters I get as they come in. I get a lot of bullshit that I never print. But some questions are just on the degree of plausible, where it's like, "I wonder whether this is true, but it's a really good question, and a really interesting hypothetical situation." Which is all it is for the vast majority of people who read the column anyway. And so I don't get too hyper if something slips in that was a good fake. Why should I? I don't take the column that seriously.

AVC: If you see Savage Love primarily as entertainment for readers, does that give you more responsibility toward the people you're entertaining than to the people you're advising?

DS: Oh, absolutely. The dirty little secret of the advice column is, you're really not trying to help anybody. The column gets serious from time to time. I'll answer questions from a girl who cut herself as a teenager, and then had a hard time forming relationships as a young woman, because she didn't want to show any of the scars all over her legs and arms. And I wrote a column that was pretty gentle about it, saying "We all have our scars. That's what falling is love is all about: revealing your scars to somebody who then loves you anyway." And there I am being the nice guy, and I got lots of letters from people who were like, "Oh, shit, he's gonna be mean to her, and then she's gonna kill herself." And then two weeks later, I got a very similar question from someone in a very similar situation, and of course I didn't run it, because I'd just answered that kind of question. I could run nothing week after week after week but questions from people who've been raped or abused, but I don't, because you have to keep the column varied. All advice columnists do this. You answer a question from someone who's a victim of domestic violence, and then you really can't touch that subject again for a while. It doesn't matter how many sad tales of domestic violence you get. You're gonna lose readers if it's the domestic-violence show every week. You have to be sort of cold. Thank God for email, cause it's made it really easy just to blast email back to people saying, "Oh my God, you need to call the police, not me."

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AVC: What percentage of your letters do you end up answering privately?

DS: One or two every day. Oftentimes, when people write me 4,000-word letters, I write them back and tell them if their problem's that complicated, they probably need a lawyer or a cop, and not me. There's a limit to what you can do for people in a snarky advice column.

AVC: Do people write back to you to complain about how you edited their letters?

DS: Yeah, people will write in and say, "You left out these other 4,000 words," and I'll write back and say, "The column is 1,200 words long. I couldn't include everything, every mitigating circumstance." And people often write in to say, "Oh, that person was giving blowjobs and swallowing loads, and you didn't point out all the health risks that that entails." I can't. There's a limited amount of space. What I love are the people responding to letters who bring in all this stuff that isn't in the letter, but hypothetically could be possible. Somebody is in a situation, and they give me the details, and I respond to those details, and somebody else responds, "Oh, but what if they're Croatian? What if they're Korean and their last names are both Kim? Then they can't marry!" And I'll be like, "Yeah, and what if they're space invaders?" You can't possibly deal with every possible hypothetical permutation. You have to run with what people give you, and beat the fuck out of them if that's what they deserve, and be nice to them if that's what they need.

AVC: Do you get feedback from the people you advise, complaining or thanking you?

DS: Very, very occasionally. I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. I have a letter here I have to run, which was the Mistress Fuckwit who I wrote about over Christmas, who's bringing her slave home for the holidays. She wrote in to explain that she wasn't going to abuse her slave in front of her family, and that her sister's letter was wrong. But rarely, if ever, do I hear from people who I've given advice. Maybe they're all killing themselves after they read the column. When I do hear back from people, it's usually a year or two later, and they'll write in and say something cryptic like "The advice you gave me really helped," and I'll write back and say, "Who are you, and what advice did I give you? It would help to know." And then they'll write me back. It can be really sweet. You'd be surprised how often I hear from people who are in very similar situations to the one that ran in the column, and the advice I was giving somebody really helped them too, accidentally. And that's tremendously gratifying.

AVC: You joke about people getting your advice and then killing themselves, but do you have any actual anxiety about the effect your column may have on people?

DS: No. I feel like I'm a compassionate guy, but I also feel if somebody's grip on life or sanity is so tenuous that a joke in an advice column that usually is nothing but jokes pushes them over the edge, then if not me, it would have been a leaf blowing past them that did it, or something else. You almost have to feel that way, doing this. And also, I'm not a big anti-suicide guy. I don't regard suicide necessarily as this huge unspeakable act of selfishness or tragedy. Some people take themselves out for completely legit reasons. Hopefully they'll get help, hopefully they'll think about it, but if they want to check out, I feel like they have a right to do that. I hope that nobody checks out because I made a joke at their expense, but anybody who's so weak that they could check out because of some stranger in the newspaper, in the anonymous treatment of their letter, is gonna bleed to death in a rainstorm if their skin is that thin. You can't really obsess about it.

AVC: You've said you get a lot of letters from people describing sex acts like donkey-punching or the Hot Karl, things you don't believe anyone ever really does. What's the most outlandish letter you've gotten that you actually believed was true?

DS: It was from a guy having sex with his mom who wanted to start a support group of parent-child incestuous relationships, and normalize it and make it healthy and okay. The problem about hearing about somebody having sex with their mothers is, the mental image that bumps into your head is you having sex with your own mother, and it just makes you want to go boil your head.

AVC: Presumably, you're harder to shock than you were when you started the column. Was there a gradual process of being inured?

DS: [Laughs.] Usually people just ask if anything shocks me anymore. Yeah, I got inured really early on. That question from the guy having sex with his mother, that was a long time ago. What could possibly be freakier than that? Then you get a string of questions from guys who eat their own poop or eat poop and think it's fun and sexy—invariably, it's always guys. And then you get the letter from the guy who's eating his mom's poop. You're like, "All right, I'm done, there's no depths left, we are at the bottom of the ocean." It took about a year of these questions until there was just nothing more depraved. Now it's just bank-shot stuff that kind of shocks you 'cause you never thought it was possible, like the woman who wrote in about her grandmother jerking off her parakeet. And I was just like, "Holy shit, somebody's jerkin' off a parakeet. Who knew?" You don't think of birds as having sex or dicks or spunk or anything, but there's grandma, jerkin' off the parakeet. And when I called people at pet stores and vets, and asked if that was possible and found out that it was, it just kind of blew my mind.

AVC: Would you like to reach a point where nothing makes you flinch any more, or do you think it's better to have limits?

DS: I think it's better to have limits. My limits are different from other people's limits. I'm all for freedom, I'm all for people doing what they want. I'm also all for people shouldering the consequences of their behaviors, and not being assholes, and not lying unless they need to, and being honest except when you shouldn't, and being faithful except when it's okay to cheat. [Laughs.] I guess I'm just a mass of contradictions.

AVC: You've said your parents were really repressive about sex. How did you get from growing up with them to being this honest and open and comfortable with talking about sex?

DS: They weren't that repressive. I wish they had been more repressed. We were kids in the '60s—my dad was a Chicago cop. My dad and mom were more like World War II-era parents, even though it was the 1960s, because they were both born in the '40s. They were young adults before the '60s even happened, and married, and already having kids. But by the time we were adolescents in the '70s, the whole culture was screaming at parents, "You're a good parent if you're open with your kids about sex." They attempted to be open with us about sex, and it made them want to die, and consequently, it made us want to die.

Having these conversations about oral sex with our parents made me want to jump out the window, particularly me, because I was afraid of getting outed. They're telling me about the fallopian tubes and women's genitals and how they work, and I'm just like, "Beep, beep, beep," listening to the clock-radio alarm in my head and trying to get through it. I'm still uncomfortable about sex, I don't like talking about sex with my family. I think one of the things that has made Savage Love really last is, it comes across to readers that it's written by somebody who doesn't only think about sex. Other stuff creeps into the column, often politics, but still other stuff, and I'm actually not that interesting or that interested when it comes to sex. I think what the column is often about now is conflict and behavior, and the difference between right and wrong, and the battle of the sexes.

If anything, the one way the column has changed me over the years is, I feel so sorry for straight guys. Because their sex lives are a terror, and are really circumscribed by straight guys policing the behavior of other straight guys—"Hey, you're a fag"—and by gay guys policing their behavior, and straight women. Paradoxically, straight guys run the world, but sexually, they're so imprisoned and it's not just a prison of their own creation. A girl goes to college and eats a little pussy and gets over it, and nobody thinks she has to be a lesbian because she did that disgusting pussy-eating thing once or twice. A straight guy goes to college and once or twice gets drunk and goes down on another guy, and if it gets out there, nobody's ever going to think he's straight, ever. It doesn't matter how much pussy he eats after that, or how many kids he fathers by a woman, he's secretly a fag. There's a problem with straight-male sexual identity where it's just a mass of negatives. It's not defined really by anything positive. Being a straight guy is not being a fag, not being a woman, and not doing anything that fags or women do, like have feelings or sit-ups or anything.

Half my mail sometimes is just straight guys going, "She put a finger in my butt. I liked it. Am I gay?" because he was penetrated. Or from women going, "I put my finger in his butt. He liked it. Is he gay?" And it's very sad. You wonder why straight guys are all so endlessly perverse. Like I said earlier, all the poo-eaters are guys. And it's just because there's so much more pressure laid on men about male sexuality that just squeezes out in weird, perverse ways. It's kind of tragic. It's also tragic that straight guys have so little access to sex. And it's always their fault. This just happened with Savage Love, with FS and WILLIE. WILLIE was the guy whose wife wouldn't have sex with him, and FS was the woman whose husband wouldn't have sex with her. And all the letters that I got in response to my column treated them both in a very similar way. In WILLIE's situation, it was his fault, and here's why, and in FS' situation, it was her husband's fault, and here's why. And it just put complete responsibility for sex on the men in those relationships. And men do sort of bear all responsibility—whatever's going wrong is completely their fault, women are always the victims. I just think there's no respect for male sexuality in this empathy culture that's shaped by and defined by a female perspective on relationships and emotions. I believe that if you marry somebody and you're gonna make the commitment to be faithful, you should be faithful. If your wife doesn't have sex with you for five years, I think you should fuck somebody else. [Laughs.] And it's not your fault if you're cheating at that point. You get a pass. Women are told that being in love means you don't want to fuck anybody else, so I get all this mail from all these women who are freaked out 'cause their boyfriend or lover or husband looked at some Internet porn. "Oh, he's got me, why would he look at Internet porn?" 'Cause he may have you, but he wants more. The measure of a man's devotion isn't that he doesn't want to fuck other people. It's that he doesn't fuck other people.

AVC: By your reckoning, it seems like more education, acceptance, and openness—enough to make men more confident about their sexuality and less paranoid about other people's—would be a solution to most men's sexual problems, and to homophobia as well.

DS: I actually think the solution to homophobia is eradicating misogyny. I think a lot of homophobia is hatred of women repackaged, 'cause gay men seem to preoccupy homophobes the most. It's usually about anal sex, and gay men are perceived as taking on the woman's role, and women are despised. The woman's role is less-than. And in a male-supremacy culture, men who take on the woman's role willingly kind of freak out some of the dudes. If you could eradicate misogyny, homophobia would evaporate. That's why I always tell women, "If you're dating a homophobe, you're dating a guy who's secretly a misogynist, who secretly hates you. And you shouldn't."

AVC: Either way, "eradicate this attitude" is an abstract solution. Is there a practical solution?

DS: No. There really isn't. Will we ever solve racism? No. The apparatus of the state has to be against it, the culture has to make up its mind that racism ain't okay. But you can't take "eradicating racism" as the goal, you'll never get there. We should fight homophobia, fight misogyny, but we will never eradicate them.

AVC: You often stress the importance of sex in relationships. You often advise couples who are sexually incompatible or even just sexually frustrated to just give up—you've even got an acronym for it.

DS: Yeah, DTMFA. ["Dump the motherfucker already." —ed.] I also advise people that it's okay to stay together and not for sex. I even said it in the WILLIE and FS column, that some relationships are about companionship and you stay together and I think that's totally legit. If sex isn't an important part of your marriage, you can't beef if your wife or husband does this unimportant thing with somebody else every once in a while, if you have no interest in it.

AVC: You advise them to stay together, but only if there's a sexual outlet.

DS: Yeah, unless you're both asexual eunuchs. I don't think it's fair to say that one person who wants to have a normal healthy sex life who accidentally married somebody who doesn't want to have sex just has to suck it up for 50 fuckin' years and never have sex. That's not gonna make for a happy marriage or relationship, and the person who wants sex is going to sabotage it and end it subconsciously. So you might as well end it honestly. Or, if the relationship is what's important, craft a deal to allow it to survive by allowing sex, which isn't important, to happen in some other way.

AVC: For several years, you did a call-in radio-show version of Savage Love. How did that differ from the print column?

DS: It was really fun. I'd get an FCC fine today for some of the stuff we did. But it was oddly unsatisfying. Radio is very ephemeral—it's just words floating through the air. It requires tons of preparation, as much as writing anything does, and then there's nothing left for you at the end of the day. The show kind of came and went. You write columns, you write essays, and they're still out there, they're still on your computer. You write a book, and someone picks it up eight years later and reads it. But you can't say the same thing about a radio show. It's taking away so much time and energy that could be going to something that feels more lasting.

AVC: Is that why you ended it?

DS: We were having trouble with the radio station—the station wanted to hold us at arm's length. People have talked to me about radio since, and I've never really aggressively gone after it. Every time I'm on a radio show, they say, "Oh, you should have a radio show." Al Franken says it to me every time I'm on the Al Franken show. If I went charging after Air America, who knows? Maybe I could get a radio show. But I haven't really aggressively pursued it.

AVC: You also did an advice column for ABC News' website for a while.

DS: I did. [Laughs sheepishly.]

AVC: That chuckle sounded a little embarrassed. What was it like?

DS: It was funny. It was no swear words. I can't deny that it was sort of a take-the-money-and-run moment. It was the Internet boom. I did it with my mom, which was fun. But what was interesting about it was—say I write an op-ed for The New York Times. I've written probably half a dozen. And I don't use the F-word in them, and I don't make dirty sex jokes, although I slipped one into the last one I wrote for them, and it got published, which made me very happy. And I get letters like, "Oh, you sold out, you're on ABC and you don't use the word 'fuck.'" But I never wrote anything I didn't believe on ABC News. I wrote columns defending three-ways and cheating on this incredibly mainstream news organization's website, and defending drug use as opposed to drug abuse. So I didn't change where I stood, I just changed how I said it. Is that selling out? I don't think so. I have a great-aunt who's a nun, and when I'm having a conversation with her, it doesn't sound like the conversations I have with my gay friends about sex in bars. Am I a different person when I'm with my great-aunt the nun, or when I'm doing a piece on This American Life? No. I'm just an adult who knows which kind of language is appropriate and when it's not appropriate. I don't feel like a different person when I'm with my great-aunt the nun. I don't stop being gay, I don't stop using drugs, and she's read my books, and she knows who I am, and if we get into a conversation about politics, I tell her the Pope can eat my shit. I don't use the phrase "Eat my shit," although I'm sure she'd like the Pope to eat her shit, too. She's no fan.

AVC: Are you still involved in local theater in any way?

DS: No, I've had to stop. I'm just too busy.

AVC: Would you like to be?

DS: I would. I really enjoy doing theater, but doing theater in Seattle is like dropping a brick in a bottomless well. It's gratifying, but it's almost like doing radio. It's ephemeral. In the end, I didn't have the time to devote to it because of Savage Love and The Stranger, and so the last plays I did weren't very good, because I didn't have the time to really be there for the entire rehearsal process. So I decided I had to stop.

AVC: Do you see yourself ever getting sick of the column or The Stranger?

DS: God, no. I have short-term memory problems. Every day, I show up at work and it feels like the very first time. And it's not all the pot. But I do feel like Ann Landers now. My column will be pried from my cold dead hands. Writing an advice column is such a great gig that you just can't, after a while, see yourself giving it up. I don't know—when I'm 55, are straight kids really going to want to hear what I have to say about fist-fucking? Maybe not, in which case I'll stop writing it. But it's really fun, and I still get tons of mail, and the column is still really wildly popular in the papers that it's in, and it just feels cool.

If you're paying attention, and I hope that I am, you don't become a fossil. There's always something new with sex. We lived in a world without Viagra, now we live in a world with Viagra. We lived in a world without blowjobs and anilingus in the Oval Office, and then it happens and you get to write about it. We live in a world where now the government is screwing with contraception and holding back vaccines that could save 4,000 women's lives a year, and you get to write about that. It's not as much fun as anilingus in the Oval Office, but what are you going to do? If you pay attention, there's always something new, and it's always really invigorating.

Sometimes I'm really shocked by people who write in and say, "Oh, you write too much about politics, stick to sex." Because politics in America is all about sex, and if you're writing for an American audience, you can't avoid politics. It's one of the huge defining differences between the two parties in the United States—sex and sexual freedom. So I find writing about the intersection between politics and sex occasionally in this goofy column really gratifying, and I'd like to keep doing it, because it's really such a fascinating moment to write about sex and politics—with jokes. Usually when I do interviews like this, we end up talking about the serious columns, but I'm really conscious of the fact that most people read the column for a laugh. And if every once in a while if I get serious, they'll read that too, because I usually entertain them. If I get serious about gay marriage or AIDS or emergency contraception or George fucking Bush or Ralph Nader, they'll go there because they trust me, 'cause I'm not gonna waste their time.

AVC: Apart from your column, what's the most rewarding part of being editor of The Stranger?

DS: I really love firing people. [Laughs.] No I don't, that's the worst part. I don't know, I love pulling the paper together, I love working with a big group of people. Actually, I think of The Stranger as the theater I do now. I think The Stranger has a really good rhythm, the actual physical paper. I think of every issue as a piece of theater with sort of an arc, and the curtain going up, and a nice little dénouement at the end of the book, and it's just really fun to put it together. We've got a great bunch of people on the editorial staff, and we boss the city around. It's a blast.

AVC: What do you want to do with the paper that you aren't doing yet?

DS: I want to put the other papers out of business. We'll never have the resources that daily papers have for, like, four investigative reporters who dig into stories for a year to find out there's nothing there.

AVC: What's next for you?

DS: Nothing. {Laughs.] This is the first time in eight years where I haven't had a book deadline looming. I'm talking to my publisher about a couple more books, and I'm taking a couple years to just do the paper and the column, and to just hang out with my kid and have weekends again. I didn't have weekends for about four years, 'cause I was always writing something. I want to do more goofy writing. That's what I call doing op-eds occasionally for The New York Times. I just did one for The Advocate, and I enjoy writing those essays. I'd like to do more of it.

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