The first time I read Dan Savage’s Savage Love column, I put down the newspaper and wished I could immediately wash my hands. That’s how strong was my negative reaction to Savage’s frank and explicit sex-advice column. I am, after all, about as conservative as one can be when it comes to sex: I am a straight, cisgendered, monogamous Christian woman, and some of the advice Savage gives his readers — like the idea that it’s sometimes OK to cheat on your partner, to which he devotes a whole chapter in American Savage — did not sit well with my world view. Plus, he described people doing things that were, well, icky.
About the only positive thing I can say about my initial reaction to Dan Savage was that I didn’t read enough of the column to realize he was gay, so my response was not driven by homophobia — just by an innate distaste for people whose view of sexuality was different from mine.
But the next time Dan Savage floated onto my awareness-screen was as the founder of the It Gets Better project, something I wholeheartedly approved of and supported. And when I began to read interviews and quotes from him that contextualized his experience as a gay man and how he relates to his own Catholic upbringing and to the Christians who oppose LGBT rights in America today, I realized, with some reluctance, that there are a lot of points on which I agree with Dan Savage and a lot of ways in which I admire him.
So I decided to read his latest book. And everything I like as well as everything I don’t like about Dan Savage is fully on display here. Yes, he’s brash and confrontational and explicit and talks about things I’m not comfortable reading about. And I still agree with him about infidelity even though I will admit he makes a very good argument for his view. I love the things he has to say about religion and sexuality, the way in which he still respects (some) people of faith and even, on some level, faith itself, while vehemently disagreeing with those he considers bigots.
This book is not for everyone, but if can handle bracingly frank language and opinions about sex and want to see how the culture wars around LGBT issues look from the perspective of a gay man who’s been fighting those battles very publicly for much of his adult life, you should read American Savage.