American Savage by Dan Savage

‘Hey, Faggot.’

That’s the bold way that Dan Savage used to be addressed in his long-running syndicated column, Savage Love. These days, Savage is still bold, and still more than willing to be loud and proud, but he is definitely addressed more politely.

Well, maybe that’s not quite true. But more on that in a moment.

In his new book, American Savage, Dan Savage takes on a number of big issues: monogamy, the death of a parent, outing politicians, assisted suicide, gun control, festivals/conventions for kinksters, gay marriage, and much more. His topics are most often the political and the sexual, and the overlaps between them. Regular readers of his wonderful column will recognise many of the views he expresses and even some of the phrases or paragraphs (some of the chapters in this book seem to be expanded versions of work he has published in The Stranger newspaper), but they should still read American Savage, even if they can guess what Savage will say about a given subject.

Dan Savage is an intelligent and funny writer; because he is known as a sex-advice columnist, I suspect that he is sometimes underrated in regard to his brains and his writing skills. There were many places in this book where I laughed out loud, and many more where I could only think that I had the same point of view as Savage but that he explained it much better than I ever could.

Dan Savage
American Savage
by Dan Savage
301 pp., New York: Dutton, 2013.

Many of the ideas are classic Savage. In ‘The GGG Spot’, Savage explains his acronym GGG, i.e. that partners should be ‘good, giving, and game’ in bed, willing to try to meet their lovers’ sexual needs. In ‘Folsom Prism Blues’, he explores why so many Catholics seem to be into kink, and also why kink events (such as International Mr. Leather) are important for all people, and not just LGBTQ ones. Savage is, as always, right about how attacks on gay rights and LGBTQ sexual behaviours are also in fact attacks on all human rights, and all human sexuality.

The more political chapters are understandably rather US-centric, as that is where Savage grew up and is based, but his clear analyses of issues can certainly help explain American ideologies and issues to non-Americans. For example, many people outside the United States wonder why the US is the only Western country without universal health care. Savage discusses the Christian perspective on this (namely that Jesus Christ wants people to be charitable, but he wants people to have the choice to be charitable, and having people be forced to give taxes to the government so that everyone can receive health care is thus not actually being charitable by choice), and then he manages to point out the hypocrisy and to skewer such ideas. ‘We can, they [Christians against universal health care] argue, employ the coercive powers of the state to close women’s clinics, arrest doctors who perform abortions, imprison women who obtain abortions. Using the coercive powers of the state to force a rape victim to carry her rapist’s baby to term? That’s the right thing to do, Jesus-wise. Using the coercive powers of the state to collect taxes so that the women you’re forcing to give birth to their rapists’ babies can get prenatal care? That’s an outrage, Jesus-wise.’

And that is in part where some of Savage’s critics come in. He quotes from them, even citing some of the impolite ways they refer to him, his ideas, and his family, in order to courteously – but humorously and shrewdly – point out how they are wrong. He invites the notorious head of the National Organization for Marriage (an anti-gay marriage group rather than actually being a group for marriage in general), Brian Brown, to his home for a debate on gay marriage. This is after Brown publicly says of Savage: ‘You want to savage the Bible? Christian morality? Traditional marriage? The Pope?…let’s see what a big man you are…’ Once in Savage’s home, Brown makes it clear that he thinks Savage and his husband should have their son taken away from them (presumably to be raised by some heterosexual couple). And yet, even while showing how Brown, and others like him, misunderstand the bible or selectively employ it, Savage never suggests that such people are less than human, the way they do about him.

American Savage is one of my favourite non-fiction books of 2013. Savage’s contributions to contemporary society are extremely important in the sexual realm and in regard to LGBTQ activism but, as this book shows, not limited only to sex and gay rights.

In his writing and thinking, Dan Savage certainly knows how to hit the GGG spot.