Dan Savage might surprise you. He's a mouthy, tarty, gay leftist who answers horrifyingly smutty questions in his sex-advice column "Savage Love" while also editing Seattle's fab alt.-weekly The Stranger, being prosecuted by the state of Iowa for voter fraud, and authoring books. His first, The Kid, was a wonderfully heartfelt account of how he and his boyfriend got pregnant—think Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, but gay. His second, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America, is a rhetorical smackdown of scolding guardians-of-virtue such as Robert Bork and Bill Bennett. It's very funny—though not as funny as his column, which would no doubt be illegal if it weren't for that pesky Constitution—and well-researched. But like Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, the book suffers by letting the Right frame the debate. While Savage answers them eloquently and logically—especially "strict-constructionist" Bork's bizarre assertion that the Founding Fathers didn't really mean for us to pursue happiness—it's that very reliance on logic that keeps the book from dealing any meaty KOs. You think Ann Coulter lets herself be stopped by little things like "consistency" or "fairness"? Savage does. He calls the Left on its foolishness when he sees it, and he's unapologetic about failing to toe the party line. "I would rather bomb Osama bin Laden," he says, "with bombs," and not, as Toni Morrison proposes, "with love."
It's surprising to realize that Savage is a responsible, slothless, ungluttonous, humble, not-too-envious and not-that-angry (but, yes, very lustful) American, rather than a furrie-advocating degenerate. And even more surprising is his intellectual honesty, which is rare on either side. Once he has made an argument (in this case, that sin is happiness and thus is good for us), he sticks to it. In his chapter on anger, he focuses on guns. He's appalled by them (and offers up lots of really creepy stats on gun violence), but he's a Bill of Rights purist. What to do? Accept and even advocate the Second Amendment—and hope the gun nuts will return the favor when the First Amendment's on the line.
OC Weekly: Do people corner you with sex questions wherever you go, like asking a doctor at a party to look at their rash?
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Dan Savage: Yes, but that's happened all my life. Most straight people look to their gay friends for sex advice. They think we're better at it and have more of it, which is true. I hate to generalize, but sex is what makes gay people different from straight people, so we tend to think about it more, read about it, and do more about it. Which has its good points (more sex, good) and its bad points (more disease, bad). What's the worst question you've gotten, off the top of your head?That one. I get asked that question every day. It's especially bad because I have terrible problems with long-term and short-term memory loss. [I had an accident] as a child and basically lobotomized myself. So, first of all, it's hard to think back. Then, I get 1,100 letters a week, so in the past 11 years, I've had literally hundreds of letters from people who eat feces, many from people having sex with their moms, and some from people eating their mom's feces. Are they made up?A lot of the letters are made up, but not the letters from poo-eaters. Made-up letters tend to be more bizarre than simple poo eating. But if I run a fake letter, so what? The column has tens of millions of readers. I'm not just answering that question for that one person. Somebody somewhere has that problem. And it's a humor column. I'm not trying to help anybody. Advice columns aren't there to help people. If I was trying to help people, I'd be a union organizer. Or a doctor. I was very struck, in the new book, with how square you are personally (I mean, aside from the sex). It seemed that you were trying to talk yourself into enjoying sin, even though you didn't really approve.Well, with the gambling and the guns, I was trying to find out what the appeal was. I didn't really talk myself into them; I went and experienced them. You can't just be a smug lefty; I extended to the gun nuts the courtesy I wish they'd extend to us. But it seems that you're personally, if not politically, very conservative. You smoke pot twice a year, which despite what your sister [a drug counselor] says, is not drug abuse. You're against the concept of Gay Pride.Well, let me defend myself. I would be much more of a libertine if I didn't have a kid. [His son is now 4 and a half.] You can't go out and pick up guys and have three-ways when you have a kid. Same with drugs. Right now, we can't really be high all the time, on pot or acid or 'shrooms. I don't feel like a good parent if I'm out of my head. That's just common sense, and common sense is not a conservative plot. I guess you could also say it's "conservative" to not like running around with your shirt off at gay pride events. I think people who do that when they're 42 look ridiculous, but I'll defend to the death their right to do so, or to run around gay pride parades in nothing but a green thong, like a man I write about in my book. But then, you also don't have the right to be "protected" from other people's low opinion of you. SKIPPING TOWARDS GOMORRAH: THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS IN AMERICA BY DAN SAVAGE; DUTTON. HARDCOVER, 320 PAGES, $23.95.