Author Dan Savage often draws upon his own experiences in his writings about gay life and popular culture. His bluntly honest syndicated advice column, Savage Love, now appears in more than 60 papers. The Kid, his award-winning memoir of gay adoption, tells the story of D.J., the son that Savage and his partner Terry adopted at birth. In his new book, The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family (Dutton), Savage explores the issue of gay marriage, as the couple, who lives in Seattle, struggles with the decision of whether to tie the knot in Canada. We caught up with Savage by phone as he passed through Manhattan on his book tour:
Galley Girl: Initially, you weren't interested in getting married. Why?
Dan Savage: I'm uncomfortable generally with public displays of affection, and is there a more public display of affection than a wedding? It's sort of the floor show, the big Broadway extravaganza of affection. Also, I'm 40. When I came out at 15, 25 years ago, you sort of let go of certain things. You thought, "Oh, I guess I'll never be getting married, never be having kids. There will be jobs I'll never be able to have, and places I won't be able to live." In some ways you were sort of mourning those things: "Oh, it's too bad I'll never get married." In other ways, you're relieved: "I'll never have to get married." So when our number began to come up, particularly after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of Review painted a bulls-eye on our backs as far as my mother was concerned [she favored a wedding], it was hard not just to feel joyful about it. It was hard not to feel a little ambivalent about it, because this is something I never thought I'd have to face up to or do.
GG: Your boyfriend Terry was more resistant, wasn't he?
DS: Yes, much. I'm uncomfortable with public displays of affection, but he's positively horrified by them. It's really ironic that he should end up in a long-term relationship with a writer who writes about him, because he's just a really private person.
GG: Your son D.J. wasn't for it initially, either. Why?
DS: When he was little, before preschool, there were things that he liked because they were the things he liked. They weren't boy things. As soon as he got to school, everything that he liked became a boy thing. He happens to be a little stereotypical boy's boy, and so the stuff he liked...suddenly you get to school and everything's gendered. They might as well be speaking French in preschool to kids. Everything is a boy things or a girl thing, and marriage was a girl thing. Weddings were a girl thing. It was about princesses. I call it, in the book, "nuclear cooties."
GG: Has much changed since your wedding?
DS: When you're a writer, you want to try to avoid cliches. Unfortunately, when you're writing about marriage or family, all cliches seem to apply. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. The marriage didn't change anything for us, or how we feel about each other, but there's been this intangible alteration in the way D.J. in particular perceives our relationship. I think the Massachusetts Supreme Court was really right, and maybe the religious right is correct to some extent, that marriage is kind of about kids. Kids value it in this way. Particularly D.J., particularly now, because so many of his friends' parents are getting divorced. At the moment that these other couples, who promised to stay together are, in his mind, breaking that promise, that his parents stepped up and made that promise has been a tremendous comfort to him.
GG: You write about all of the state laws that were passed banning gay marriage. Do you think there's more public acceptance now, or less?
DS: I think there's definitely more. I think the reason the religious right is so exorcised about this is because they know they're losing the debate.
GG: How high do you think the interest is right now in the gay community in marriage?
DS: I think that there are a lot of gay and lesbian couples who are just not interested in marriage. There are also a lot of gay and lesbian couples like my partner and me who are ambivalentstill, I call him my boyfriend. (Laughs.) My son is always correcting me"No, he's your husband!" He's more comfortable with the idea now than we are. There's this sense that these are borrowed garments we're wearing right now. All cultures create their own marriage rituals and symbols. I don't think gays and lesbians have had enough time with this to have created their own marriage rituals and symbols that have meaning. Because I don't think that gay and lesbian relationships are identical to heterosexual relationships. I do think that heterosexual weddings, or at least most of them, are sort of camp pantomimes about male and female sex roles, even if the couple is marrying as individuals and equals...I think it's going to take three or four generations of gay people being able to get married before it starts feeling less like we're going through these motions, that we're aping a heterosexual institution.