Savage, syndicated sex columnist and editor of The Stranger
Age: 37 First job: Working at a print shop, half
a block from his Chicago home, which printed the neighborhood newspapers and
restaurant menus Career highlights: "Editor
of The Stranger; Randy Cohen praising my column in his
interview with mediabistro.com; my upcoming dinner engagement with Katha
Pollitt; seeing something I wrote for The Stranger on Iraq praised in
National Review; dating a really hot German guy in Berlin in 1989 who
had a cage in his bedroom." First Sunday Times section he reads:
Front section. ("Then Week in Review, then Sunday Styles, then the Magazine.
I'm pretty methodical.")
| Under a woozy, Benadryl-spiked haze, Dan Savage
spoke to MB from his office at The
Stranger, the Seattle alt-weekly he's worked as a writer and editor
since its conception in 1991. What did the author of "Savage
Love," the nation's sauciest syndicated sex column, whose beat includes
vomit fetishists and man-thongs, have to say? Surprisingly passionate and astute
political observations, contentious reflections about the current crisis in
the Catholic church, and the word on a possible Dan Savage gig on... NPR?
How did you start writing "Savage Love"?
I was the night manager at a video store in Madison, Wisconsin,
and one of my coworkers was moving to Seattle to start a weekly newspaper [The
Stranger]. I said, "You have to have an advice column. Everybody hates
them, but everybody reads them." I was advising him because I'm a pushy
busybody, which apparently qualifies me to write advice. He said, "Why
don't you write it?" I had never written anything before in my life. It
sounds disingenuous now, but I really wasn't angling for the gig.
What makes you qualified to dispense sexual advice to the American
The amazing thing about advice is that you don't need any qualification.
If you look up advice in the dictionary, it says "opinion."
I think people respond to my advice because I know something about
sex. Gay people know more about sex, have more sex, and are better at sex than
straight people. In gay sex, everything is negotiated; nothing is assumed. I
get it from straight people a lot saying, "Where do you get off giving
advice to straight people?" It is possible to be a straight person who
is completely ignorant of homosexuality. It is not possible to be a gay person
who is ignorant of heterosexuality.
You seem to have a strong understanding of fairness, though.
Well, there's the golden rule. Then there's "don't be an
asshole," which is my mother's version of the golden rule. A large part
of it was being raised Catholic and dealing with guilt. With guilt, you put
yourself in the other person's shoes. It makes you careful about the way you
move through the world.
I did tone it down, but I didn't say anything that I didn't believe.
I had columns on ABC News where I wrote about how three-ways aren't the end
of a relationship. I didn't ever say, "You must have monogamy!" I
told women who'd been cheated on that if a straight guy cheats on a woman only
once or twice in 50 years, he did a really good job with the monogamy thing
and you should thank him. [Laughs.] I couldn't entertain questions about
beer enemas or gangbangs, but I didn't get questions about beer enemas or gangbangs
Are you ever shocked by some of the questions that people send
Once you get two or three letters from "mom-fucking poo-eaters,"
you are just not shocked by anything anymore. I get 2,000 letters a week now,
so I've gotten kind of jaded.
What's with the obsession with tighty-whities?
Somebody sent in a letter bitching
about tighty-whities, and I pointed out that on the right guys they look
great. It was surprising; I got tons of mail pro and antitighty-whitey
underwear. I thought that there is obviously something to this. So I decided
to throw it open
to a contest for fun. One of the things that I've always tried to do with
the column is keep myself entertained. One of the ways that I can keep myself
entertained is by getting a lot of pictures of good-looking guys in their underwear.
How does your family, being Catholic, respond to your column?
My family reads it and loves it. I
held a contest for my readers to come up with a name for a woman fucking
a man in the ass with a strap-on dildo. That's quite a mouthful, when it should
just be a butt-full. Tens of thousands of people voted and one of the suggested
terms was "pegging." It's actually perfect, because I have an Aunt
Peg. So I mentioned her in the column.
Does your family respond favorably to what you write about
The one thing that was kind of ugly was when The Chicago Reader
picked up my column. My mom was really thrilled. She works at a university in
Chicago, and she ran around telling all of her students, "If you ever pick
up the Reader, Danny's column is in it now." She doesn't believe
that it was an accident, but that week we got the question, "What is the
difference between blowjobs, cocksucking, and fellatio?" So I said, "Blowjobs
are what my sister gives, cocksucking is what my boyfriend does, and fellatio
is something that my mother performs." My mother wasn't too happy with
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Skipping
Toward Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America?
I take each of the seven deadly sins, and I go hang out with the
people who are doing it. And I defend them. It's sort of a response to the virtue
crap and the mealy-mouth liberals who refuse to defend the American sinner the
way they should. The right to engage in activities that some other people believe
are sinful goes to the heart of American democracy. We have this class of moralizing
busybodies Bork and Bennett who never stop wagging their fingers,
and never shut up about the drug war and infidelity. Most Americans ignore them,
but in the public arena, because they're "good people trying to do good
things," no one ever tells them to shut up and fuck off.
What do you read in your spare time?
[Laughs.] National Review, The Weekly Standard,
The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Republic,
The American Prospect, The New York Review of Books, The Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.
Those are my subscriptions right now. I'm a news and politics junkie.
It's a surprise to people sometimes when they ask me what I am
reading and I hold up the National Review. I don't give a shit about
Penthouse Letters. I would rather read the Misanthrope's
Corner by Florence King, which is my favorite column. I think she rocks!
What political figure do you dislike most in America today?
Good lord. It's strange for a gay guy who was really politically
active in the late '80s, early '90s to see how feeble Jesse Helms has become.
I want to say George W. Bush. I hope he gets his ass handed to him in two years.
But I'm all for the war, which puts me to the right almost as much as Ann Coulter.
[Laughs.] When she
said we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them
to Christianity, I'd been running around saying that we should invade the entire
region and depose everybody. The woman who wrote the constitution for Japan,
she's still alive. We should fly her into the Middle East, bang out 30 or 40
constitutions and then sit there for 50 fucking years, just like we sat there
in Germany and Japan. We were sort of benign imperialists, and we should do
that again. It would be the best thing that ever fucking happened to the Arabs!
What is your take on the Catholic church crisis?
I think the problem is gay priests. People get mad at you
for saying that. The problem isn't gay people. The kinds of gay men who would
be attracted to the priesthood are, by definition, conflicted, fucked-up, self-hating
psycho priests. Of course those are the kinds of gay men who will act
out in inappropriate ways. Going to work for an organization that tells you
that you suffer from an intrinsic moral disorder says something about what you
think about your own desires and the kind of person you are.
The kinds of writing that you do in The Stranger are
paradoxical. On one end is "Savage Love," and on the other is very
political editorial writing.
I love having the platform. "Savage Love" is more lucrative,
but writing in The Stranger about Seattle city or national politics feels
more rewarding. It's also more difficult. So it's not like, "I couldn't
give a shit about 'Savage Love,' and I just bang it out." But it is much
more casual, conversational, and easier to do than the meatier stuff.
How would you describe your style?
Kind of Irish-Catholic-schoolboy-gonzo.
So I hear you're getting a radio program?
I recorded a couple of chats with people about their sex lives
for an NPR pilot. As far as I know, it hasn't gone anywhere.
At an awards ceremony a few weeks ago, you got a bunch of alt-weekly
publishing poobahs to down
shots and take their clothes off. Did you really want to see all those industry
No, I didn't. I just sort of tore through it with a bottle of
booze. I get really uncomfortable when I speak in public. The flip side is the
more uncomfortable I am, the funnier I tend to get. So I thought, If I am going
to be up here uncomfortable and miserable, I'm going to make them uncomfortable
and miserable. I was brought in as the junior varsity after someone from NPR
backed out at the last minute. Which speaks to the insecurities of the alt-weekly
universe. A couple of years ago, they had Cokie Roberts host it. Cokie Roberts
hasn't cracked open an alternative weekly in 30 years. Cokie Roberts is a dumb-ass
blowhard and yet the alternative weeklies paid her all this money to come and
blow at them and make them feel like they're players or whatever.
From what I've read, it seems everyone was grateful and had
a good laugh.
I think it reminded them that it's fun and alt-weeklies are alt-weeklies
for a reason and we don't want to be these other papers.
What can we expect in the future?
I'll keep writing "Savage Love," which I enjoy. I would
much rather write a three-times-a-week op-ed column, but it's sometimes fun
to surprise people with a piece about politics that's actually kind of informed.
"Whoa! That loopy sex guy? Where'd that come from?" But I don't want
to be 54 years old, and writing about fist fucking. I want to be 54 years old
and fist fucking.
Adam Wasserman is in the editorial
department of mediabistro.com.