Dan Savage spends a lot of his time thinking about other peoples’ problems. He writes about sex – strap-on dildos, golden showers, fetishes from smoking to scat – in his nationally syndicated weekly advice column, “Savage Love.” After dispensing sage advice to readers for 14 years, he’s placed his long-term relationship with his boyfriend Terry at the heart of his latest book, “The Commitment.” Savage will read from his new book today at 7:30 p.m.
“It feels a lot riskier,” Savage said of “The Commitment.” “The book is much more revealing. I talk about my sex life, and I talk about my family; I talk about my grandmother’s sex life, and I talk about things that go right to the heart of who I am and how I live and who I love.” Although Savage has written about his personal life in a previous book, “The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant,” “The Commitment” explores the long-term relationships in Savage’s extended family as well as his relationship with Terry and their son, DJ. “It makes me feel much more vulnerable than the column does,” he said.
In his last book, “Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America,” Savage explored the relationship between American excesses and far-right pundits’ statements that the country is on the fast track to hell. “Writing ‘Skipping Towards Gomorrah’ was much more like jumping in and out of sinful lifestyles that didn’t necessarily appeal to me,” Savage said. “I was much more of a sociologist and an explorer than I usually am – (That book) was a whole bunch of fish-out-of-water stories. (I tried) to see what was there in other peoples’ sinful pleasures that didn’t appeal to me.”
“The Commitment” involves discussion of Savage’s family life with his boyfriend and son, as well as his mother’s, brothers’ and sister’s long-term relationships. As a gay couple, Savage and his boyfriend felt a little like fish out of water: “(We) are not entirely comfortable with the idea of marriage. We didn’t want to jump in.”
And with good reason. In “The Commitment,” Savage and his boyfriend face a life-changing decision: They’ve been together for 10 years and have a son together, so isn’t getting married the “right” thing to do – or should the pair just get matching “Property of” tattoos?
After researching his grandparents’ marriage and questioning his mother and siblings for their thoughts on the subject, Savage believes one universal truth about marriage. “If it’s the right thing to do, it doesn’t change anything about your relationship – but it sets other people at ease about what your relationship means,” he explained. In Savage’s case, one of the “other people” would be his mother, who, in stereotypical mom fashion, sends Dan and Terry clippings from newspapers about the benefits of marriage. But one of the most vociferous opponents to the possibility of Dan and Terry’s official union isn’t Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell: It’s their son DJ, who believes, thanks to elementary school-level gender politics, that “boys don’t marry boys; they marry girls.”
Savage’s hilarious and touching analysis of his family’s dynamics serves not just to work out his and Terry’s feelings about their relationship: As in his other books, there’s a strong political undercurrent to “The Commitment,” with Savage countering anti-gay marriage (and just plain anti-gay) politicians and commentators with his own compelling logic. He answers to claims made by the eponymous Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) (thanks to Savage, his readers now use the word “santorum” to mean “that frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”) as well as Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. He parallels straight failed marriages with his and Terry’s relatively traditional gender roles (Dan brings home the bacon, Terry stays home with DJ) and details the benefits he and Terry would receive if the law would allow same-sex couples to marry – all while wondering if marriage would “jinx” their great relationship. But when it comes to his rights and the rights of those he loves, Savage isn’t afraid to fight back.
“(Americans who oppose gay marriage) will eventually have it shoved down their throats, whether they like it or not,” he said. “The religious right and the anti-gay crowd’s solution to the ‘gay problem’ is that we should all stop existing, that we should all accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior and be miraculously made straight. That’s not going to happen, and we’re not going anywhere.”
The strength of the book lies in Savage’s ability to match a face – and a family – to the gay marriage debate. His practical insistence is a significant strength of his argument: “America’s always last in freedom,” he said. “We’ll be the last to have a female president, we (were) the last to give women the vote, we (were) the last to free slaves in the west, we (were) the last to do the right thing on gay marriage – but it’s inevitable. It’s coming. (Legal gay marriage in Massachusetts) didn’t change anything for anybody who was straight, but it helped gay couples without taking anything away from anybody.” Savage reiterated the basic idea he puts forth in “The Commitment”: “Marriage and love are not zero-sum games, and if two gay people are in love, it doesn’t harm two straight people who aren’t in love with them. It’ll come. It’ll arrive.”