Interview: Dan Savage

Dan Savage’s Savage Love sex column runs in alternative papers across the country. The corresponding podcast has a huge following. So when he throws his weight behind something, his fans notice.

When he pitches something, it doesn’t always take. But his coining of a new meaning for Rick Santorum’s last name – making it a NSFW Google search – has probably shot down that bigoted politicians presidential opportunities.

The It Gets Better Project is turning out to be a similar success. As we mentioned in a previous post, Savage started a YouTube channel where adults can tell gay kids that things will get better as soon as they’re out of high school.

This was especially significant for Savage and his boyfriend, Terry. “My boyfriend’s really private,” says Savage. “The reason I don’t write about our sex life in the column anymore is because believe me, [laughs] if I do…”

But, after the hearing the story of Billy Lucas, they both felt something had to be done, leading them to post the first video, featuring the first pictures of their son they’ve released publicly.

“His heart was really broken when he wrote about Billy Lucas and the spate of gay suicides in Minnesota,” says Savage. “He wanted to do this as much as I wanted to do this.”

Check out after the jump for my interview with Dan Savage.

Dog Blog: In your writing for The Stranger and your postings on the Slog, it’s obvious that a lot of really terrible scenarios come across your desk. What was your reaction when you came across the story of Billy Lucas?

Dan Savage: I was just heartbroken, again. Stories of gay teenagers committing suicide – or suicides of teenagers being picked on because they’re gay whether or not they’re gay – bubble up through the news constantly. There’s another one that I just put up on the blog today, in Wisconsin. You know, your heart sinks, in part because you can really empathize. You were there. I was a gay teen in high school and middle school once and felt miserable and isolated and alone and was full of despair. Reading those stories kinda takes you back.

How did it occur to you to start the It Gets Better Project?

I put a link to the Billy Lucas story and a brief comment, and someone in the comments thread said they wished they could’ve talked to him for just a few minutes to tell him that it gets better. It really resonated with me, because that was my thought too. I thought, Oh my God. I thought this every time I heard about a gay teenager committing suicide, that I wish I could’ve talked with him for five minutes to tell him that it gets better, and that as an adult, grown-up gay person, out of high school away from the bigots and the bullies, that I have – and they could have – a terrifically rewarding life.

I read that comment, and I thought about feeling the same way, and it just suddenly occurred to me that I had the tools at my disposal to actually talk to these kids now, to use YouTube and digital video.

As I wrote, I often wish that I could go in and do talks in high schools. I get to go into colleges, but I would never get to go to a high school. I would never get the permission. I would never be invited. I just thought about YouTube, and I thought, “I don’t need to permission. I don’t need to invited anymore,” that I could make an end-run around the homophobic mega-church pastors and bigoted school administrators and, often, the homophobic parents of these gay teenagers, who don’t want them talking, who don’t want them to have hope for their adult lives and their future. That’s kinda how it all popped into my head.

There seems to have been a big reaction so far with people posting videos and viewing them. Have you heard from any teens in high school saying that this has helped them out?

I have. I’ve gotten some e-mails from the Savage Love e-mail, and there’s been some comments. There’s been, like, eight million comments on the YouTube channel, and there are comments from 14 and 15-year-olds where they say they’ve taken a great deal of comfort and courage from these videos.

It also just seems to be a good community building effort, just to have all these people working towards something positive.

Yeah, and reaching out. A lot of the videos right now are just people and their webcams, and they’re great. I know there are some people working on videos that take a bit more time to shoot and edit and produce and post. What I’m hoping is that more gay adults sharing some of their lives with gay youth – You know, one of the things that I think makes very isolated gay youth despair is that they can’t picture themselves. They can’t picture an adult life for themselves. They can’t see it. They see Ellen on T.V. They see Adam Lambert on T.V. But they’re celebrities. They’re important, and they do a tremendous amount of good, and I’m not disparaging the visibility or the activism of Ellen DeGeneres or Adam Lambert or Neil Patrick Harris. But even then, I think some gay kids think, “But they’re celebrities, and how many people get to be celebrities when they grow up?” and they don’t see a lot of everyday, regular Joe gay or lesbian or bi or transgender folks getting on with their lives and living lives that are full of joy and pleasure and connection and family. That’s really what they need to see, and I really think that in addition to the gay celebs out there will help and will save lives.

I watched the video with you and Terry, and a lot of what you’re talking about, especially about your son, sounds really ideal. Is that something you could’ve imagined for yourself when you were in high school?

Oh, absolutely not. But think about how oooold I am. [Laughs] When I came out in ’80, ’81, ’82, AIDS was slamming into the gay community. We were just becoming aware of it in ’82. Coming out then meant going to your parents and saying, “I’m never going to get married, I’ll probably never have a long-term relationship.” I mean, that was the stereotype, there were plenty of gay people in long-term relationships at the time, just nobody knew about them. “I’ll never have kids. I’ll never give you a grandchild.” And just in the course of my life, so much has changed so radically. So much more is possible for us that sometimes I just have to take a moment and let my jaw hit the floor, again because I have so much in my life and so much more joy in my life than I ever thought I would when I was a gay teenager.

Author: James Brotheridge

Contributing Editor with Prairie Dog.

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