Early review: American Savage

When I was in college, I discovered Savage Love, Dan Savage’s weekly sex advice column. While it’s been years since I’ve read the column, I’ve remained a fan of Savage and his blunt, and often practical, advice. But I have to say, going into American Savage: Insights, Slights and Fights on Faith, Love, Sex and Politics, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was a surprising wealth of information.

Make no mistake; Savage is pissed about a lot of things. Topics run the gamut from cheating to gay marriage to Rick Santorum to Washington’s Death With Dignity law to the It Gets Better Project. But for every argument he puts forth, he fleshes it out with studies, other media stories, court cases, and in some instances, personal anecdotes. I had a hard time not bawling at my desk while I read about Savage losing his mother to pulmonary fibrosis (Extended Stay), which lead to his thoughts on Death With Dignity. I may not have remembered the exact reasoning behind spreading santorum, but I did remember the letter that started it all (Rick and Me). And I found myself trying to think of ways to get my coworkers to read the chapter on the Affordable Care Act (Still Evil. Less Evil. But Still Evil.) Also, I wish I could have met his mother. She sounds like a fantastic person.

Here’s the thing about this book: there are likely a number of people who will give it a pass because they find Savage too angry, too gay, too liberal. He’s all of those things (well, except for maybe the “too angry” bit). And he doesn’t apologize for it, which is why I love him, and why I loved this book. The arguments set forth in the essays are sometimes simple (on gay marriage – don’t like it? Don’t get one.) to ones involving multiple citations and statistics (GLBT teens are four times more likely to commit suicide. GLBT teens whose own families are hostile toward them are eight times more likely).

Those are the people that need to sit down and read this book.

I’d only gotten a few chapters into American Savage when I was talking to the BF about it. While familiar with Dan Savage, he hasn’t read much of his work other than a passing glance at Savage Love. I found myself trying to summarize Savage’s reasons for why cheating, on occasion, isn’t a bad thing. I must have done an okay job, because the BF agreed with me. (For the record, Savage’s position was that if one person’s sexual needs are not being met, and every other reasonable accommodation has been made – doing their fair share of the housework/parenting, open communication, et cetera – then yes, it’s okay.) I’ve always looked at cheating as the ultimate betrayal, and so does the BF. But after that chapter…I can see how for others, it may be a viable choice to save their relationship. Weird, I know.

Savage talks about how Brian Brown ended up at his dinner table (and his husband’s reaction to the invitation to dinner). He talks about the gaffs he’s made over the years, including the incident that caused several students to walk out on a speech he was in the middle of giving. And, of course, he talks about gay rights: the right to create a family, the right to marry, the experiences he had as a gay teen growing up in Chicago versus what Terry, his husband, had to deal with growing up as a gay teen in Spokane. He talks about outing and fetish festivals such as Folsom Street Fair and International Mister Leather and why they’re necessary (do you know how many people try self-bondage because they’re too scared to say something about their kinks? How many of them have hurt or killed themselves because of it?), and the debate, staunchly kept in play by conservatives, on whether homosexuality is a choice.

The essays American Savage contains could, and should, serve a purpose: to spark a conversation. Whether it’s on gun control (It’s Happened Again) or being open and communicating effectively with your partner (The GGG Spot), your dinner table definitely won’t be boring.

American Savage: Insights, Slights and Fights on Faith, Love, Sex, and Politics is on sale May 28th.

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