by James Crotty
September 15, 1998
here is a dark streak in this good-natured, yet
Scorpio-ruled city: the clean, WHITE,
Seattleite's need to be bad
We interviewed sex advice columnist Dan
Savage because he is the brutal mid-wife for
the pent-up Seattle darkness lurking beneath
the perpetually courteous Seattle smile.
When you talk to Savage you feel as if he has
taken on this role reluctantly, almost
out of some perverse vision of public service, or,
rather, sadism. As he told one
young woman seeking job advice, "I didn't pick
this career, it picked me." You get
the feeling he'd be just as happy at home
caretaking the young child his male lover and
he just adopted, or fleeing such cutting edge
domestic bliss for the life of a European
bohemian, which was exactly what Savage was
prepared to do when he learned a Madison,
Wisconsin friend was heading to Seattle to help
start an alternative newsweekly called
the Stranger. Dan's words of advice were
simple: "make sure your paper has an advice
column--everybody claims to hate 'em, but
everybody seems to read 'em."
Those weren't idle words, but reflected both our
culture's avid interest in the advice
column (the popularity of Dear Abby and Ann
Landers attest to that) and Savage's
own personal love of the genre. Growing up an
Italian-American kid in Chicago's Rogers
Park, he enjoyed overhearing his mother, the
informal neighborhood counselor, give
out sagely advice. As a "sensitive" gay boy,
ostracized from normal hetero pursuits,
he spent hours with his mom, as she explained to
him the reasons for her counsel.
In addition, Dan spent hours clandestinely poring
over the columns of Xaviera Hollander in
his brother's "hidden" copies of Penthouse. It was
Xaviera that opened up Dan to
the possibilities of not only his own gay sexuality,
but the panoply of sexual styles
Fortunately for Savage, his Madison friend took
Dan's advice to heart. When asked
what kind of advice column he had in mind, Dan
suggested a raunchy, frank, even rude
sex column, written, for a change, by a young
man (well, Dear Abby. is often written
by a man, but readers aren't supposed to know
that). More precisely, a young
man. Savage had himself a job.
At first, Dan used his Stranger platform as a
vehicle to insult, mislead and prank
his readers, chastising anyone who took his
opinions literally. But as so often happens
in Seattle, his words were taken to heart by a
largely straight audience desperate
not to appear uncool or, God forbid, homophobic.
Suddenly, this most improbable of counselors,
this caustic entertainer, was foisted into the role
of avatar, advising eager readers
on a whole range of sexual topics. But what
made the column stick out was its bold
reclaiming of an old homophobic epithet: Savage
asked all readers to begin letters
with "Hey Faggot."
Over time what was patently obvious to Savage
became very clear to his audience: this
gay guy knew more about heterosexuals then
heterosexuals knew about themselves. Savage's
analysis of this phenomenon today--gay people
are defined first and foremost by their sexual
orientation and, as a result, are naturally more
curious, open and thus
knowledgeable about sexuality--sounds a little ex
post facto. It is doubtful Dan
was this theoretically clear when he began.
However, what was clear when Savage began,
in 1991--at the height of ACT-UP, Outing and
queer chic--was that America's young--raised
on Boy George, La Cage Aux Folles and the
gender-bending antics of Madonna and
ready for an acerbic advice column from a
brazen out of the closet fag.
We spoke to Savage just before the release of
his first book, Savage Love--a collection
of letters and responses culled from his best
columns--which is bound to catapult
this reticent queer-centric firebrand onto the
national stage. Move over Dr. Ruth.
Hey Faggot, let's talk about your entrance into
the advice column scene here in Seattle.
Savage: When I got to Seattle in the early 90s I
wasn't getting paid to write the
column. So it certainly wasn't paying the rent.
And for a couple of years I got twelve
bucks a column from the Stranger. I did the
usual artsy fartsy liberal arts degree
white person white collar ghetto jobs, or service
industry ghetto jobs.
Monk: When you got to town what was your
view of the Seattle sexual climate?
Savage: It was a pretty wild place. In addition to
the music, alternative culture
scene, grunge thing explosion, at the same time
all that was going on, there was
this big S & M scene going on in Seattle.
There was a sex toy store called Sin that
sold S & M sex and fetish clothing to club
kids who were then getting dressed up in it and
going out in it and doing it at big S & M rave
parties. And it was mostly straight,
but gays and lesbians were there too. It became
a pansexual sadomasochistic party
that went on for about two years. And that was
really interesting--to get to go into this
sexually charged environment to see straight,
gays and lesbians all being sexual
together without it meaning that straight people
had to worry that they were gay.
It was permissive in a really empowering way. It
gave people permission to be who they were.
Monk: Sometimes group sexual encounters like
that can challenge your identity. The
worst thing you can do is to talk about it.
Especially for men.
Savage: We don't do that to women. We just
do that to straight men. We don't say to
women, "what do you mean you had a three
way with two girls and a guy and you ate
her pussy a little bit. You must be a lesbian." But
we say to guys, "you mean you
[touched a dick]. You must be a fag."
Monk: Why is that?
Savage: Straight male sexuality is all about this
paranoia about am I feminine or am I
So the man who allows himself to do something
perceived as womanly or faggoty is
not a man anymore. Straight guys think that if
you derive pleasure from having your
butt played with that's something that only gay
men like and do. I get letters at
the advice column from guys who are like, "my
girlfriend fingered me, rimmed me, touched my
butt, does this mean I'm gay?" And it's like, "no."
What do you think about when
you jerk off? That tells you exactly who you are
sexually. Because at that moment
you cannot lie to yourself. You know what tapes
are playing in your head. If what you're thinking
about is women, then you're straight. But
identity is really complicated. I always
say, identity is three things... it's behavior, desire
and choice. The more accurately your chosen
identity reflects your desire and behavior the
less conflicted you're
going to be. The more accurately your behavior
reflects your desire the less conflicted
you're going to be. So you want to look at your
desire to figure it all out.
Monk: What is the state of sexuality now in
Savage: I don't think there's anything
necessarily very unique about Seattle except
for the things that make it distinct in general--it
being a very white place, a very
polite place. But [in Seattle], Chicago or New
York, you'll find all these straight
identified queer people. People who take what
would have been a very anti-straight
attitude about sex, who are straight. A
generation ago straight people grew up,
fell in love and got married. The only people out
there having a lot of partners
and [exploring] their kink were gay people. And
now there are straight people too. And I think
what really caused it to accelerate and flip over
was the AIDS crisis. Straight people
watched gay people finesse the AIDS crisis and
still have sex.
Monk: So what you're saying is that what
happened in the last decade is the triumph
of the queer approach to straight sexuality.
Savage: Which is a user-friendly, recreational,
Monk: Is there such a thing as bisexuality?
Savage: I think there's such a thing as bisexual
practices. I think just the fact
that if you pair off, if you go into a couple
scenario--and that's what most people
do; most people want to settle down with one
other person--that just undermines bisexuality as
an identity because you either end up with the
same sex or an opposite sex partner
and then what are you? You're gay or you're
straight. Because identity isn't just
what's inside and what you feel, it's also behavior.
And sexual identity is behavior,
desire and choice. There's a whole new different
kind of straight guy happening. Not
homophobic and not scared of women and not
scared of their own buttholes.
Monk: But some would say that men are losing
their virility. That they're becoming
Savage: But virility is violence.
Monk: Yet in many ways there's been a lot of
castrating by women under the guise that
all men are violent and all men are pigs.
Savage: But I think it's good that we be able to
say men are pigs because I think
men ARE pigs. I think men should embrace being
pigs. I think it's very empowering
for me to say I am a pig.
Monk: What's pig-like about it? Just because
you want to make love with somebody makes
you a pig?
Savage: It means I am a horny motherfucker
and I would fuck four thousand people in
two days if I was attracted to all of them and I
Monk: But aren't women like that?
Savage: No, women are not like that.
Monk: Even with the sexual revolution.
Savage: Even with the revolution. I believe that
biology isn't destiny, but I believe
that biology has an impact and if you look at the
male in every other species but
our own [how can you say] we're not subject to
those same impulses.
Monk: Guys just want to spread that seed
Savage: I think that's what's great about being
guys. Women are wired almost in the
opposite. Women are biologically wired and then
socialized to be sexually incompatible
with heterosexual men. Monk: Because
heterosexual men are not monogamous by
is that what you're argument is?
Savage: Yeah. I don't think male mammals are
monogamous by nature.
Monk: And so in some ways marriage as we
know it is a completely social construct.
Savage: Right, and it can be very frustrating for
men. Because men don't understand
that their desires are natural. They think there's
something wrong with them for
wanting to fuck everything that's walking down
the street. And then they feel guilty.
If you're going to have a monogamous
relationship, the woman needs to understand
man is making a sacrifice in being monogamous.
Monk: So women need to have more tolerance
of this side of men.
Savage: Yeah. And women need to be grateful.
If a guy is willing to give up this
for her, that's not a minor thing for a guy to walk
away from. And the guy who can
do that is rare. But women expect it of
of them. Though there are female
non-monogamous sluts out there who feel
to have sex with lots of people, and there are
male monogamists. There's always
Monk: What are the big no-no's you would tell to
straight guys looking to meet women? The big
no-no's and the big to-do's.
Savage: The big no-no's are don't be a fucking
asshole and don't be a stalker and
don't assume because a woman talked to you
for two minutes that she owes you anything.
The to-do's are really easy. The to-do's are don't
be a homophobe, in terms of picking
up women. More and more women understand
that homophobia is misplaced misogyny. Straight
guys who have a problem with gay guys don't
like gay guys because they're like women.
They get fucked. They suck dick. They're like
women. More and more women understand that
a guy who's homophobic is also a guy who's
misogynistic. The best way to meet
women is to have women friends. Women in
general want the guys that they date vouched
for by other women. Because there's so much
violence. Don't be a stalker, don't be
a rapist. I say that and it sounds like a joke but I
totally mean it. It's a dangerous
thing to be a sexually active straight woman
because straight men can be so volatile
and violent. Consequently a lot of straight
women have problems trusting straight
men because they probably have been
harassed. So it probably makes more women
around straight men because straight men are a
source of grief for them. So if you're
a guy that is a friend of one of their girlfriends or
part of a social scene, that's
just the best way to meet people. If you're going
out and you want to go out on the
town to meet women, go out with women to
meet women. Don't go out with ten other
guys to meet women. Anybody who's going out
to a singles bar, pick-up joint, gay
or straight, the loner or the stalker never gets
picked up unless its a leather bar. They want
to see you interacting in a large group of people
because it's sort of like a way
of being vouched for. This person has friends.
There's consequences. There's some
restraint implied on boorish behavior because
there's other people around. So if you're going
to go out and try to pick up women go out with
two or three guy friends and two or
three girl friends.
Monk: Don't just go out with four women?
Savage: Don't just go out with four women
because they'll think you're a fag. The
other women in the bar that you might want to
pick up might think you're a fag.
Monk: That's such incredibly good advice.
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