Dan Savage is an author, media pundit, journalist, editor, and activist, among so many other things. In his internationally syndicated column "Savage Love," he fearlessly doles out advice on sex and relationships, and no question is off limits. He and his husband Terry are also the creators of the "It Gets Better Project," which works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.
Last week, Dan Savage made a stop in Madison to do one of his famous Q&A sessions.
"Wouldn’t it be funny," I deviously surmised, "if I could get an interview with him while he’s here?" After a few days of sweet-talking, stalking and cyberbullying no less than three members of his team, I had my interview confirmed. And then I was, like, "Oh shit."
I mean, what was I going to talk to him about? Fragrances? But then I realized that I had SO many questions for him! From giving so many people such frank advice on everything from monogamy to butt plugs, and creating such a successful campaign like It Gets Better, how does he do it all?
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED:
Tynan: First, I guess I just want to ask you about last week, with the whole Andy Cohen, One Direction, "Twink-gate" thing.
Dan Savage: Would you like to speak for the twink community?
T: NO! That’s the thing, I fucking hate that word!
T: Yes, I do. I always have!
D: You will remember it fondly when you outgrow it.
T: Right. I guess. But, I know it’s not inherently derogatory and you spoke in defense of it. Some people celebrate it, but I don’t, so can you talk about that a little bit? It surprised me that it came up in the media last week.
D: Yeah, the same way that Twinkies were in mortal peril.
I understand some people might have a problem with the word. My objection is just redefining every word as a hate word. I think this desire to coat the language in bubble wrap so nobody gets their feelings hurt is ridiculous. And it’s not an insult! I can see with the way it’s thrown around by some, it’s used to dismiss people who look a certain way by people who used to look that way, or never looked that way and are bitter.
To be a “twink” is to be acknowledged as sexually desirable in this kind of cliché way that some people want to denigrate because they resent it, they resent people who have that. It’s like blonde jokes. Blonde jokes are predicated on the idea of the blonde being pretty but dumb. People don’t make blonde jokes about average looking blondes. When people say “twink,” they mean “hot guy” who is young and hairless and presents a certain way, but a hot guy. And "hot" is currency in gayland, particularly when you’re young. It depends on the context. Is it offensive when people who proudly identify as twinks throw it around? No, and that’s what I was pushing back against.
T: Every time I hear it used, it’s never a compliment, but I’m also the first person to say that words only have the power that you give them.
D: So what do people mean when they say it? When someone uses it in a non-complimentary way, what are they saying?
T: I think it’s dismissive and it goes to, sort of an insult to the person’s intelligence.
D: Like a blonde joke.
T: Like a blonde joke, yeah.
D: Do you see blondes out there picketing and rioting? You don’t see twinks out there picketing and rioting!
T: No! Nor do I think they should! I think it’s great if a twink loves being called a twink, I think that’s fine. I just pop off every time someone uses it in reference to ME. But I want to talk about "It Gets Better" for a moment. It’s gotten so huge and it’s going worldwide.
D: We’ve always had participants worldwide. Now there are stand alone It Gets Better Projects that are affiliated and licensed that are getting off the ground in Chile, Argentina, and the UK, Portugal, Spain.
T: What is your vision for moving on? What’s next for It Gets Better?
D: Nothing is next. From the outset, we said we’re meeting some particular little niche need that so many young LGBT kids have in their life, which is that adult perspective. A kid who is bullied because of his race or her faith goes home to their parents of the same race or same faith who they can turn to and open up to and ask, "How can I get through this?"
The queer kid, particularly the queer kid who is bullied by his own parents, doesn’t have that kind of adult perspective or support. We’re trying to provide just that. We don’t want to do a hotline because Trevor does it, we don’t want to outreach in the schools because GLSEN does it and they do it really well. We didn’t want to create competing, overlapping services or programs. We identified a little thing people could do using the Internet to bring the queer youth support group to queer kids who are in a part of the country that doesn’t have a queer youth support group, or their parents wouldn’t let them have a queer youth support group and we’re bringing it to them.
T: It’s funny you say that because it leads me to my next question. I’ve heard you say a lot that you knew that elementary and middle schools would probably not let you in--
D: Ever. Let me in ever.
T: Right. So It Gets Better is you speaking directly to the kids. But what would you say to the parents that wouldn’t allow that, or--
D: "Fuck you." I’d say, "Fuck you, game over." It used to be possible for you to isolate your queer kid and bully your queer kid with absolute impunity, and now thanks to the Internet, thanks to things like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, you can attempt to isolate your queer kid, but if your queer kid has access to the Internet, they’re going to find support. And if you don’t like it, you’re going to have to go live off the grid in Utah somewhere.
A lot of people see the It Gets Better project as a touchy-feely, feel-good project. But it’s really an act of aggression. What we’re saying is we’re gonna talk to your kids whether you want us to or not. Every day we hear about kids who have bullying parents and the videos are helping them tough out that stage in their lives.
T: I love that. My next question has to do with your column. "Savage Love" fascinates me because while the U.S. is so oversexed, I don’t feel like we live in a very sex-positive culture. But you have such a huge, loyal readership. Why do you think that you have people from all walks of life reading your column, which is so blatantly sexual, and reading it so religiously when they’re probably not comfortable talking about sex themselves?
D: I don’t know! People look at America and think, "Oh, very sexually repressed," and yet there’s all this sexual excess. We’re uncomfortable talking about sex and yet we never shut up about sex. The more sexually repressed we are, the more sexually obsessed we are. You hear less about sex in countries where people are not so insane about trying to stamp it out.
I think people respond to my column because I’m direct, in a way that you have to be to be gay. You can’t be indirectly gay, unless you want to be Ted Haggard when you grow up. And who wants to be Ted Haggard?
T: That makes sense.
D: [Addressing me and my outfit] So, if you don’t want people to go to "twink," [why the] deep V-neck t-shirt, painted nails, skinny jeans?
T: I mean, no, I get it! I own it!
D: Look at your faggy shoes!
T: I understand! I mean, I guess this wasn’t the best get-up to come into this with.
D: I don’t want say "Look at what you’re wearing," but…look at what you’re wearing! You’re calling it forward!
T: It’s my own problem with the word, and I realize that.
D: You should be able to wear whatever you want, and what you’re wearing is fun and faggy, but you take your body type, your look, your age and what you’re putting in people’s heads is, "Oh, look at the twink." You should be wearing a tweed blazer, with leather patches on the elbows.
T: I was GOING to wear that tonight, goddamnit!
D: Put on 100 pounds. Get a blazer. Burn those shoes. Then, maybe no one would call you a twink. You’re totally hot, and you rock that look so you should just own it.
T: I own it!
D: There’s nothing worse than somebody who is a bear who shaves their whole body and wears clothes that don’t suit them because they want to be a twink. And there’s nothing worse than a twink in flight from twinkdom. Old age fagdom will come for you.
T: Okay, I’ll wait for it.
Tynan is absolutely dying on Twitter @TynanBuck.