NEW YORK -- It's been quite a run for Dan Savage, what with all the podcasting and tweeting and in-your-face defending of marriage equality.
Between speaking gigs, radio and TV appearances and the syndicated sex-advice column he writes from a desk that belonged to Ann Landers, Savage managed another book, "American Savage," out this week from Dutton.
Savage, 48, looks back on his mom, who died in 2008, takes us into his rationale for why cheating may just save your marriage and offers a glimpse of life at home with husband Terry Miller and their 15-year-old son.
He says he wanted to write the book in part because "you know, I'm kind of gay and kind of prominent and I've been slugging away at the marriage equality issue for a long time." But the book is about more than that. Savage talked to the AP about upsetting social conservatives, trashing the Bible and being among the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Washington state.
AP: How has becoming a father and watching your child grow changed you as a sex-advice columnist?
Savage: It has changed me a little bit. I've been getting letters from teenagers who are 14, 15 and 16 years old, and sexually active, and with questions or problems, and I would give them advice, and now when I get a letter from a 15-year-old I look at my son, who's 15, and I think, `You're too young to be reading my column, you're too young to be in this situation.'
It's that getting older and becoming a parent and sort of drifting into that hypocrisy and the great forgetting of what being 15 is like, because I was sexually active at 15 and I'm fine, but when it comes to your own kid, you look at your own kid and go, `No, no you have to wait at least 10 more years.' There's a surprising conservatism that parenting can unearth in your soul.
AP: Do you have any regrets about your speech last year at the high school journalism conference in which you said there was bull--- in the Bible and called a walkout by a small number of participants "a pansy-assed move?"
Savage: Yeah, I do. When you screw up you want to apologize and I did apologize for `pansy-assed.' That was name-calling and that was hypocritical of me. I didn't apologize for `bull----' in the Bible because there is, indeed, bull---- in the Bible. ... I don't pull punches when it comes to religion and I cannot avoid religion talking about the abuse of (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) kids because so much has a religious motivation or rationalization.
AP: How does your late mother, who was a lay minister, influence your work?
Savage: My mother was really compassionate. There are three women I credit for sort of stumbling onto this gig and it being the right gig for me, and that was always Ann Landers, Xavier Hollander, who wrote the `Happy Hooker' column in Penthouse magazine, and my mother.
My mom was Dr. Phil for the neighborhood. I was a weird sort of sensitive mama's boy and I would be in the kitchen, you know, hanging out doing nothing, sitting under the table while my mother sat there and hashed out problems with neighbor ladies and gave them advice. It was really listening to my mother give advice, and talk things out and listen to people and pick up on what they wanted, what they didn't want. My mother used to say, `That's the way the world works. You make a living doing what I did as a woman for free.'
AP: Amid the backlash from religious conservatives over your speech to the high school journalism students, you invited Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage for dinner and a tense dinner-table debate, which has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube. How was it off-camera, behind the scenes?
Savage: I didn't run it by Terry, that I was going to invite a very prominent anti-gay bigot into our house for dinner, so I had to come home and say, `Oh honey, guess who's coming to dinner?' That did not go over well. The debate itself was really tense. I think I over-prepared. It felt like all the pressure of Christmas and then none of the delight. You know, all the preparation for a big Christmas dinner and instead of it being Santa Claus and chocolates and presents showing up it's a bigot.
AP: How does your advice on cheating differ from your predecessors' advice on cheating in a committed, monogamous relationship?
Savage: The standard position is that cheating is always wrong, and that we as sex-advice professionals are never allowed to tell anyone that cheating is OK, or the right thing to do. And in reality, there are times when cheating is the right thing to do, when cheating is the lesser of two evils.
I don't think people should violate commitments. I don't think serial adulterers get a pass. I don't think that someone should make a commitment that they can't keep. But knowing what we know about infidelity – something like 60 percent of all men in long-term relationships and 40 percent of all women cheat at some point – our default position should not be cheating must always lead to divorce. ...
I look at a marriage and I see a life and a shared history. I see children. I see shared property. I see shared goals. I see real love and longevity, and then there's an infidelity. ... There are cases where women and sometimes men later in life are no longer interested in sex at all and cannot fake it and it's emotionally scarring and traumatizing to fake it and go through the motions. What is the solution, divorce? Or some allowance, some accommodation, the turning of a blind eye. There's a lot of marriages like that, where late in life it's just not about sex anymore.
I'm a conservative. That's the irony. I think people should be the Clintons, not the Sanfords. I think people should be Anthony Weiner and his wife and not to default to divorce.
AP: Tell me about Dec. 9, 2012, the day you got married at Seattle's city hall, having previously been married to Terry in Canada, and the day marriage became legal in Washington state for same-sex couples.
Savage: It was just beautiful, 140-some couples married that day. What you saw were these same-sex couples who had been together 10, 20, 30, 40 years, their friends and their families. What was really remarkable about it was all the heterosexual people there who were volunteering, who were assisting.
I tell this story in the book of being at this park in Seattle many years ago, where a limo pulls up and a bride and a groom tumble out to get their portraits at this very famous park with a beautiful view of downtown Seattle. And as they're walking back to the limo everyone starts to applaud, and rightly so. Everyone takes delight when two people find each other and make that commitment. I was standing there clapping next to these two older gentlemen with two big dogs. It was clear that they were gay and I was gay. And as they get into their car, the one closest to me looks at me and says, `We are always happy for them. Would it kill them to be happy for us?'
We've reached that tipping point, where they are happy for us. Now you see straight people looking at gay people and recognizing something about themselves in us.
Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie
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'And Tango Makes Three'
This 2005 children's book, written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, tells the story of two penguins raising a baby penguin in New York's Central Park Zoo. Sounds innocent enough... except for the fact that both penguins were male. Conservative opponents, such as the Focus on the Family Action group, said the book was inaccurate and promoted a political agenda to little kids. The <a href="http://www.ala.org/" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a> reports that "And Tango Makes Three" was the most challenged book of 2006 to 2010, except for 2009 when it was the second most challenged. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.simonandschuster.com/" target="_hplink">Simon & Schuster </a>
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
Stephen Chbosky's 1999 coming of age novel details introverted Charlie's first year of high school. Among controversial issues, such as drug use and suicide, the book's coverage of homosexuality landed it third on the <a href="http://www.ala.org/" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a>'s list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009. Check out the trailer for this fall's film adaptation of the book.
'Running With Scissors'
Augusten Burroughs' 2002 memoir traces his adolescence, living in the dysfunctional household of his mother's psychiatrist. A central point to the memoir is the sexual relationship between thirteen year-old Augusten and thirty-three year-old Neil Bookman. This homosexual content, along with profanity, drug use, and "moral shortcomings," led it to be <a href="http://www.marshall.edu/LIBRARY/bannedbooks/books/runningwithscissors.asp" target="_hplink">banned in some high schools</a>. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/runningwithscissors/AugustenBurroughs" target="_hplink">macmillan</a>.
This 1991 children's book, written by Michael Willhoite, is about a young boy whose divorced father now lives with his gay partner. It was one of the first children's books to portray a same-sex relationship in a positive light and shows a normal pairing between the two men and their boy. Consequently, the book has become one of the most challenged books in recent years, with the <a href="http://www.ala.org/" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a> listing it at number 2 in their list of the 100 most challenged books from 1990-1999. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.alyson.com/" target="_hplink">Alyson Books</a>.
'Heather Has Two Mommies'
Lesléa Newman's 1989 children's book was one of the first lesbian-themed children's books to be published. Heather's family, which includes two mothers, is discussed simply and positively. The <a href="http://www.ala.org/" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a> ranked "Heather Has Two Mommies" as the 11th most frequently challenged book in the United States in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.alyson.com/" target="_hplink">Alyson Books</a>.
E. M. Forster's tale of homosexual love in early 20th century England, follows Maurice Hall from youth to adulthood and details his struggles, and eventual acceptance, of his gay tendencies and his relationship with another man. The book was published in 1971 after Forster's death. The author resisted publication because of public and legal attitudes to homosexuality -- a note found on the manuscript read: "Publishable, but worth it?" So, in this case, the author himself was the one challenging the book, only because he knew how the book would be received in early 20th century England. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.hodder.co.uk/books/work.aspx?WorkID=1469" target="_hplink">Hodder & Stoughton</a>.
'Leaves of Grass'
When Walt Whitman published this poetry collection, in 1855, he was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior, it was burned by fellow poets and it was referred to as a "mass of stupid filth." Subsequent editions of the collection were banned by some distributors for obscenity. Along with criticism of the collection's obscenity came some of the first public accusations of Whitman's involvement in gay acts. Photo via <a href="http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/leaves-of-grass-walt-whitman/1101605861?ean=9780553211160" target="_hplink">Bantham Classics</a>.
'Annie on my Mind'
This 1982 novel by Nancy Garden follows the romantic relationship between two 17-year-old New York City girls, Annie and Liza. Although it was a widely praised piece of young adult fiction, it also brought critics, particularly in Kansas. Because of the gay themes, copies of the book were burned and superintendent Ron Wimmer of the Olathe School District ordered the book removed from the high school library to avoid controversy. Garden later <a href="http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA300723.html" target="_hplink">commented</a>, about the burning: "Burned! I didn't think people burned books any more. Only Nazis burn books..." Photo courtesy of <a href="http://us.macmillan.com/FSG.aspx" target="_hplink">Farrar, Straus, and Giroux</a>.
'Howl and Other Poems'
When Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" was published in 1956, the iconic Beat poem was considered "obscene literature," and U.S. Customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem. "Howl" contained references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. At the obscenity trial, literary experts testified on the poem's behalf. Supported by the ACLU, the California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance," and it went on to become one of the most popular pieces of Beat literature. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100465920" target="_hplink">City Lights</a>.
"Luv Ya Bunches"
This children's novel about four elementary school girls was pulled from Scholastic Book Fairs in 2009. Scholastic asked author Lauren Myracle to edit out some inappropriate language -- "geez," "crap," "sucks," -- and turn one character's lesbian parents straight. Although Myracle was fine with changing the language, she saw nothing offensive about a child having gay parents and wouldn't replace them with a heterosexual couple, so Scholastic didn't accept the book for fear of getting hate mail from parents. <a href="http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6703349.html" target="_hplink">Myracle commented</a>, "Over 200,000 kids in America are raised by same-sex parents, just like Milla. It's not an issue to clean up or hide away... In my opinion, it's not an 'issue' at all. The issue, as I see it, is that kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It's an extremely empowering and validating experience." Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/Luv_Ya_Bunches-9780810942110.html" target="_hplink">Abrams Books</a>.
'Uncle Bobby's Wedding'
In this children's book, Chloe, a young guinea pig, is afraid that she will lose her uncle's friendship after he marries another man. With its normalization of gay marriage targeted toward young children, "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" was on the American Library Accociation's 2008 <a href="http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged#2001" target="_hplink">most challenged list</a>. Read how one librarian responded to the challenge <a href="http://jaslarue.blogspot.com/2008/07/uncle-bobbys-wedding.html" target="_hplink">here</a>. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780399247125,00.html#" target="_hplink">Penguin</a>.
'It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health'
This children's book about going through puberty and growing up covers controversial topics like HIV/AIDS, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. Because of its frank treatment of these and other topics, with accompanying illustrations, the book has become the twelfth most challenged book from 2000-2009, according to the <a href="http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a>. One woman checked out every copy at a local library and <a href="http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070918/NEWS/70918004" target="_hplink">refused to return them</a> so that others couldn't see the material, writing "Since I have been sufficiently horrified of the illustrations and the sexually graphic, amoral abnormal contents, I will not be returning the books." Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763644838&browse=Title" target="_hplink">Candlewick Press</a>.
Edited by Amy Sonnie, this anthology was created by and for radical queer youth, committed specifically to youth of color, young women, transgender and bisexual youth, (dis)abled youth and working class youth. The resource for queer students was widely controversial and was even <a href="http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/08/nj_public_library_removes_lgbt_book_after_request.php?ref=mp" target="_hplink">targeted</a> by members of Glenn Beck's <a href="http://the912-project.com/" target="_hplink">9/12 movement</a> and on the <a href="http://www.ala.org/" target="_hplink">American Library Association</a>'s <a href="http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged" target="_hplink">list of most challenged books</a> in 2010. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.alyson.com/" target="_hplink">Alyson Books</a>.
'The Color Purple'
Alice Walker's 1982 novel about the lives of black women in the 1930s American South is one the American Library Association's <a href="http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics/reasonsbanned" target="_hplink">frequently challenged classics</a>, for reasons including "the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book." Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.hmhco.com/" target="_hplink">Houghton Mifflin Harcourt</a>.
This 1959 novel by beat writer William S. Burroughs, which was included in Time magazine's "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005," was banned in Boston in 1962. Among many claims of obscenity covered in the <a href="http://realitystudio.org/texts/naked-lunch/trial/" target="_hplink">Boston 1965 trial</a> to defend the ban, was its frank discussion of gay acts. Luckily, "Naked Lunch" proponents such as Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg defended the book's cultural value in court and the ban was overturned in 1966. Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802140180 " target="_hplink">Grove Atlantic</a>
'Am I Blue?'
Though 1994's "Am I Blue?" -- a collection of stories about being LGBT from authors like Francesca Lia Block, Bruce Coville, Nancy Garden and James Cross Giblin -- <a href="http://harperacademic.blogspot.com/2010/05/banned-books-gay-lesbian-literature-in.html" target="_hplink">was honored with awards</a> from the ALA and the New York Public Library, it was <a href="http://www.marshall.edu/library/bannedbooks/books/amiblue.asp" target="_hplink">also challenged for its content</a>.