Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Caveat lector (which, according to Twitter's latin scholars, means let the reader beware): If you believe that sex should only take place between a man and a woman who are married, and you are offended by the idea that anything else is acceptable, skip this post. I respect that, and you probably won't appreciate this post.

OK, now that we've got that out of the way. Here's the post.

I've had several virtual best friends over the years since I've been online. Social media allow you to feel like you're getting to know someone you've never met. You feel like you know them really well. Like they could be your best friend. The Bloggess, for example. Or any of several writers whose blogs or tweets I've followed.

My new virtual best friend is Dan Savage, and he's gay, so he can be my gay best friend, right? At first glance, he's not an obvious pick for my VGBF. He's brusque, pugnacious, sometimes obnoxious, often outrageous—not qualities that usually define me. He’s also thought-provoking and interesting, and on the turn of a dime, he can be quite kind and even sweet. But he's not putting up with bullshit and lies. He doesn't back away from controversy, or stirring it up, and he's not afraid to be blunt about what he's thinking.

I've been reading Dan’s online column, Savage Love, for a couple of years now. (I don’t want to link to it, but you can google it easily enough.) I think Julie was the one who originally told me about him. Savage Love is a sex advice column, and it’s fascinating. 

Then a couple of weeks ago I read his collection of essays American Savage, which are maybe a bit uneven, but there's some serious food for thought in that book. Dean and I had a couple of really interesting conversations about it—he didn’t read it, but I kept bringing it up.

Let me warn you ahead of time that there are some reasons not to read Dan’s writing. Profanity abounds, for one thing, and there is plenty of explicit talk about sex of every variety. Ohmyword the things people ask about. *blush* (A word to the wise: when he warns, "Don't read this one if you're squeamish," don't read it. Not kidding.) There is also a community of commenters at Savage Love who don’t hold back their opinions, or even phrase them politely most of the time. When they disagree with Dan's advice, they let him know. Sometimes they are more outrageous than Dan, sometimes they rein him in.

But if you can see past that stuff, there are even better reasons why you should read Dan's work. It helps that he and I agree about most of the political issues he raises, but mainly he's just interesting. A mind awake, as they say. Other than being middle class white parents, he and I have very little in common, but I've found some good relationship advice on Savage Love, and some good general information on being a decent human being, too.  

What I love about Dan is that he's waded in to the morass that is modern sexuality and tried to make some sense of it. Underneath the outrageous questions and the eyebrow-raising situations that come up, you can hear people trying to figure out, is this OK? Am I a freak? What does it mean to 'do the right thing' in this situation? and I find it fascinating. It’s like a huge, amorphous sociology experiment.

He and his community have come up with a number of ideas that are starting to enter the mainstream--like the "price of admission," i.e., whatever it is that you have to do to stay in a relationship with some particular person. A simple example--if you fall in love with someone who is highly allergic to cats, the price of admission for that relationship is you're never going to have a cat. Or "the campground rule": if you're in a relationship with someone significantly younger or less experienced than you, you have a responsibility to leave them in better shape than you found them.

Dan has popularized the idea that you can't really control what turns you on, so there's no sense fighting it (those are your "kinks"). But knowing what turns you on should make you smarter about choosing your relationship partner. Someone out there has the reciprocal kink(s), and you can find that person rather than making yourself (and your partner) miserable in a relationship that doesn't work. For example, if you know you're not going to be able to be monogamous, it is irresponsible to commit to someone who wants a monogamous relationship. And if cheating itself is what turns you on, find somebody who is turned on by being cheated on, because apparently they're out there (Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses, would probably be one of them).

It's not traditional morality--at least not compared to the morality I was raised with (and thank God for that)--but it is morality. A lot of this is stuff that should be common sense, but we have a culture that is so weirded out about talking about sex that the conversations often don't happen. Of course, it's way better now than it was back in the prehistoric days before I got married, but still. He's opened up a lot of topics to public conversation that were previously off-limits, and it can be really refreshing to read that.

Just for the record, I don't agree with him about everything, and there's possibly going to be one more post about my major disagreement with him. But it wouldn't be so interesting if I agreed with everything he said. I think he's worth reading. Like I said at the top, if you're of the mindset that sex should only happen between a man and a woman who are married, you're not going to appreciate DanBut if your experience is wider than that (mine isn't), or if you're just curious about what's going on out there in the world (like me), Dan's your guy. And if you're willing to broaden your definition of sexual fidelity to include "being faithful to whatever my partner and I have agreed to," he's got some pretty eye-opening insights.

No comments: