If you think becoming a father will soften sex advice columnist Dan Savage's views on the world, or his willingness to say whatever's on his mind, think again
By Jeff Walsh
You may know Dan Savage from his syndicate sex advice column "Savage Love," where readers up until recently addressed him as "HEY FAGGOT." He is also a columnist for Out magazine, providing one of the few bright spots in their awful redesign. But in his new book, "The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend And I Decided To Go Get Pregnant," Savage details the path he and his boyfriend took to adopt a child. But the book lives up to his catty reputation, and Savage's biting satire and wry observations pepper the entire process. For example, Savage said he is "surprised that it's not in parenting sections of bookstores, but in the cocksucking section."
Savage recently spoke with Oasis to share his thoughts on being a father, closet cases and the tired metaphor of gay pride during the San Francisco stop on his book tour.
First, let's address the obvious issue. Oasis is a queer youth magazine, so why feature a cover story on raising children? While it is true that your heterosexual peers can legally get knocked up while in high school, most children being raised by same-sex parents are not an accident. (Savage notes in his book that whereas straight sex can result in life, gay sex only results in a mess). But the point of raising the issue in Oasis is because most people, upon accepting their sexuality, wrongly assume that child rearing is no longer an option. Savage understand, because he felt the same way initially.
"That's what I thought when I came out, that being gay meant you were never going to have kids," Savage said. "A lot of our older gay and lesbian friends thought we were insane, because not having kids was what being lesbian and gay was about. Kids were like the spring of the heterosexual trap. You got into an unhappy heterosexual relationship because you were required to, and when you had kids you were stuck. Kids were doom. For them, being out and gay meant a childless life, so they felt betrayed by what we were doing."
Savage outlines all of the issues he faced in The Kid, a book he freely admits he wrote due to the huge advance he received from its publisher. From initially trying to co-parent with lesbians through the open adoption process he and his boyfriend ultimately selected, Savage details every step along the way, and there is something to offend everyone in the book -- from the conversations of why the baby is uncircumcised to the internal obstacles his own homophobia put in the way.
Savage said he and his boyfriend have even assumed traditional stereotypical heterosexual parenting roles, with Savage playing the breadwinner and Terry cooking and cleaning and staying home with the baby.
"I get to go to work and make the money," Savage said. "I get up sometimes before the baby's awake and home frequently after the baby's asleep, just like my Dad. And Terry washes bottles and does my laundry and makes dinner. We didn't want to do day care, because I worked in day care. I'm sure there's a lot of nice people in day care, but the pay is shit, the turnover is rapid and the only way they find out if someone shouldn't be working in day care is after they have demonstrated they shouldn't be working in day care. So, he quit his job and stayed home, and that made the roles shake out the way they did. He likes to cook. He likes to do laundry. I like to not cook and not do laundry. We feel guilty about it, but what the hell."
Savage also got a mini-circumcision debate going at the San Francisco book reading, when he informed the crowd his son was not circumcised.
"Our concerns were around flavor and physical autonomy," Savage said. "My boyfriend argued in favor of circumcision so that he would get more blow jobs from girls and boys (hopefully) when he was adult. With me arguing I didn't want to see him sliced and diced on his first day on Earth. Which is odd, because if I'm going to put a penis in my mouth I don't want a goddamned foreskin on it, but I'm going to go out on a limb here... the first time I changed my son's diaper when he was about two hours old, I finally encountered the one penis that I can say with some assurance will never be in my mouth, so it doesn't matter if it has a foreskin on it."
You probably get a sense of what the book might be like from that quote. Savage does delve deeper than punchlines and shock value, though. He said he went into the adoption process expecting resistance and, finding none, kept expecting it anyway.
"We faced no obstacles that we didn't create ourselves. My advice is to go deal with it," Savage said. "The things we came away from the whole adoption experience is that people believe from the outside that adoption is an adversarial process, that they're trying to prevent you from adopting. That's not true. Once you pass a rather low bar of proving that you're a sane, reasonable healthy person with some good reasons for wanting to adopt, then they're on your side. They're your advocates, not your adversaries. The other thing we learned is that we went into the process expecting to encounter some homophobic something and we wasted so much time and energy looking for it that we finally realized we were the only ones in the room with a problem with us being gay. Even in a room with seven straight couples, even at adoption agency get-togethers and in court."
click to buyAnother unique facet of the adoption process Savage and his boyfriend went through is their son's birth mother.
"The birth mother is a really interesting person," Savage said. "She's a gutter punk, one of those street kids that ask you for quarters because they reject mainstream values except for the job that you have that gets them quarters. She travels the country on the homeless street punk circuit and she's really interesting. The birth father is a homeless street kid. But getting to know them, I really think what they're doing is the Woodstock of their generation. It's easy to pooh-pooh the gutter punks, but in 20 or 30 years, they're be making great art and writing novels we'll all be reading, the novels of the gutter punk generation. And people who didn't do what they're doing now will claim that they did it, just like people who claim to be at Woodstock once its cultural magnificence magnifies over time."
With an open adoption process, the mother get a minimum number of visits a year and is involved throughout the baby's life. The records are not sealed and the child will know growing up that he is adopted and the identity of his birth parents. When asked during the reading if the baby understood the adoption process, Savage quipped back that "he's only 18 and a half months old. He doesn't understand the floor's going to be there every day yet." Softening, Savage then continued that "the baby does get that there are a lot of people in his life that think he's the shit and she's one of them."
Savage also plans to have another child, possibly with the same birth mother if (more likely, when) she gets pregnant again, although he isn't in a rush for another child just yet.
"We thought about having two, because kids should have siblings. And I think for children of same-sex parents, having a sibling would be valuable. Someone else to rely on, someone else in your family that suffers from the same slings and arrows that you're suffering from," he said. "But our little baby is so good, that we're spoiled. We lucked out. He slept through the night within four weeks, for like ten hours at a go. He doesn't cry and when he does it's not a demand cry, it's kind of a whine. He's just very happy and content, a good-natured sweet baby. We go out with our friends who have babies and they scream and yell and cry and we want to kill them. Because we never got used to what a real baby is like, we got this little miracle exception baby. And at the hospital, he didn't cry. When he was born, we were saying 'Why isn't the baby crying?' And the nurse kept going 'Oh, fuck you, you're so lucky.' So, we're afraid if we got a regular baby right away, we would smother it after about a month. So, we're going to wait a while so we can forget what it's like to have a miracle child."
And, despite their lack of religion, the baby was even baptized. Savage used an example to explain the rationale for taking his baby to the "big, scary Roman Catholic church."
"I have a lot of Jewish friends in Seattle and they all get together for big Jewish holidays and act like big Jews and blow the ram's horns and eat Jew food, and it's great. Sometimes we go and play along, too," he said. "But they eat bacon, and they don't believe the Messiah is coming and they eat lobster and don't keep kosher. They don't believe in any of it, but they feel culturally as Jewish people, they should do this stuff. And it was kind of important to me culturally to get the baby baptized and it didn't mean I believed any of it: virgin birth, transubstantiation, resurrection, nothing.
"But it was suddenly important. Some switch hardwired into my head by nuns in the second grade went off - 'Must take baby home to family church, must put in grandfather's baptismal gown.' So, we did," he said. "It was harder on my boyfriend because he's a more committed atheist and I'm a wishy-washy agnostic. It was also very important to my family, and they were so wonderful about treating my boyfriend as my partner -- no different than my brother's wife (or the woman who was his wife for six months). So, it would be weird to me to say, 'This stuff is so important to you? Fuck you. Fuck you, great aunts who were nuns who are as loving to my boyfriend as can be for Christmas. Fuck you, we're not going to have a baptism.' It just felt like a wonderful way to acknowledge their wonderfulness and not be a stick in the mud about a little oil and a little baptismal gown."
The baby has already had experiences that would not exist were he being raised by straight parents. For example, when a new Old Navy store opened up near them, Terry went and got the baby a lot of new clothes. He dressed the baby in the new clothes, held him up to show Dan and said something that has never been said by a straight parent: "He looks so good in fall colors."
The baby has even been illegally to a gay bar. Savage was out with the baby and walked past a gay bar that a friend owns and manages. The bar wasn't open yet and Savage took the baby into an office in the back, gave him a bottle and talked with his friend for a while.
"As we were doing this, the bar opened and the only way out of the bar was through the dance floor and out the front door," Savage said. "We have a liquor licensing agency in Seattle that's a little anal about infants in bars. And they are particularly rigorous about dropping in on gay bars, having a beer and just looking around. We couldn't just walk the baby out, so we took a case of Budweiser, took all the beer out of it, put the baby in it and carried it through the dance floor and out to the parking lot."
On a final parenting note, Savage said that gay men do not have to do too much to become parents.
"If you're gay and you stand in one place long enough, a lesbian will ask you to jerk off into a Dixie Cup," he said. "I've been approached three times by different lesbians. It's crazy. Who knew lesbians wanted our hot spunk so much?"
Spunk, cock rings and fetishes are Savage's area of expertise due to his wildly-successful sex advice column, Savage Love. Savage was doing theater and managing a video store when he started writing the column. He has no qualifications to give advice. "You don't need qualifications to give advice, someone just has to ask you for your advice to qualify. If you look up advice in the dictionary is says opinion, and everybody has an opinion," he said. Savage said a lot of people have the wrong idea about the purpose of an advice column.
"An advice column is not there to help anybody, it's to entertain everybody else. One person sends a question and -- my column is in 40 papers and five million people read it -- the column is not for that person, otherwise it would be a letter. It's actually for the 4,999,999 other people who aren't having that problem and didn't send the letter. It's to entertain them," he said. "If you help a little around the edges, then great. But you shouldn't fool yourself (a la Ask Isadora) as to what an advice column is for, and I don't. It's entertainment, it's not there for help."
But more controversial than explaining anal sex to anal-retentives on a weekly basis are Savage's columns in Out magazine where he has decried gay pride and railed against Hero Magazine. Most of Out's letters to the editor seem to be regarding something he wrote that people disagree with.
"It's really gay people who want to put a bullet in my brain," Savage said. "If you write something and a straight person disagrees with it, it's a disagreement. If you write something and a gay person disagrees with it, it's a betrayal, because 'You're not a good gay person unless you regurgitate everything I believe right back to my face.' All of my death threats are from gay people, which is creepy."
People can't even decide where he fits in on a debate, but that doesn't stop them from getting pissed off.
"I get accused by the assimilationists of not being assimilationist enough and I get accused by the anti-assimilationists of having assimilated," he said. "So, I'm kind of an orphan in that debate. I think if you're pissing off the assimilationists and the anti-assimilationists then you're right where you need to be."
Savage also took a lot of heat in Out when he attacked the hallmark of queer catchphrases: gay pride.
"I think pride is a tired metaphor," he said. "I think we can have a parade. I think gay has an ethnicity about it and we should have a little stomping match just like the Irish do. But I think pride is worn out. Interestingly enough, London has just rechristened their pride parade as Mardi Gras and is dropping pride, which I've been saying we should do for years.
"Pride is so whiny. Calling it pride sets up this two-headed argument. We shouldn't create a space where shame gets to be half the argument," he explained. "A pride parade is countering what? Pride is a response to what? We should change the terms by calling it Mardi Gras, or Fun... Gay Big Fun. That's what it wants to be and sort of is, but it has this albatross around its neck."
Savage says his own coming out began when he told friends at 15, and his family three years later.
"It wasn't easy. I'm from a big Catholic family and everyone is a cop and a printer and waitress. It wasn't like coming out to east coast liberal Episcopalians," he said. "The collapsed version sounds like it was a cakewalk, but it was hell. But I just think it's obviously better being out and worth it and I think we coddle people who are staying in the closet out of sheer cowardice instead of giving them a kick in the ass, which is what they need. There's too much hand-holding instead of shoving."
Savage respects that people, particularly young people, need to wait until it is safe for them to come out -- but after that point, there is no excuse.
"You shouldn't come out in any way that puts you at risk. I don't go into McDonalds when I'm in Montana and scream, 'I'm a fag, give me a hamburger.' But we sometimes perceive danger and risk where it is not to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of coming out, and that's crap," he said. "You have to come out to family. If you fear their rejection and don't come out to them, you basically rejected them and the end result is the same, you have no relationship. So don't be a chickenshit, tell them who you are. There's no excuse to be closeted. There's no excuse to be closeted at work. There's no excuse, none. And every excuse is 'I'm scared,' and that's just not an excuse. What would you say to a black person who wouldn't leave the house because they were afraid of racism? You'd say, 'You're sick, that's crazy. You have to leave the house. Your skin's not the problem, people who have a problem with your skin are the problem.'"
As for Savage's next book, he is hoping to hit the presidential campaign trial and write about it.
"If someone will pay me for it, I want to follow George W. Bush around with a little bucket of cocaine saying 'C'mon, you know you want it.'" Savage said. "And young Republican college boys are fucking cute. I went to the Iowa straw poll and half of everybody ate too much deep-fried cheese and the other half were all like an Ambercrombie & Fitch ad running around. And I can get behind that."