American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politicsby Dan Savage
On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, Dan Savage delivers “powerful messages for both the head and heart” (Entertainment Weekly)
From the moment he began writing his syndicated sex-advice column, Savage Love, Dan Savage has never been shy about expressing his opinion on controversial topics—political/b>/i>
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On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, Dan Savage delivers “powerful messages for both the head and heart” (Entertainment Weekly)
From the moment he began writing his syndicated sex-advice column, Savage Love, Dan Savage has never been shy about expressing his opinion on controversial topics—political or otherwise. Now, he addresses issues ranging from parenting and the gay agenda to the Catholic Church and health care. Among them:
- Why straight people should have straight “pride” parades, too
- Why Obamacare, as good as it is, is “still kinda evil”
- Why what passes for sex-ed in America is more like “sex dread”
- Why the Bible is “only as good and decent as the person reading it”
Speaking to a broad range of subjects with brutal honesty and irreverent humor, American Savage cements Dan Savage’s place as a provocative and insightful voice in American culture.
“America’s most in-your-face sex columnist and gay-rights activist comes out swinging in these pugnacious, hilarious essays…Underneath Savage’s scabrous, bomb-throwing exterior beats the heart of a softie.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An extraordinarily personal, deeply felt book about traditional marriage, authentic and healthy religion and a traditional sex life."
-The Washington Post
"Savage's essays on fatherhood, cheating, and the subset of Americans, in American Savage, who still think sexuality is a choice are powerful messages for both the head and the heart." - Entertainment Weekly
"Dan Savage is the most prominent activist for gay rights in America....many of his proponents forget just how good of a writer he is. American Savage is everything a longtime reader of Savage would expect: a series of hilarious, often touching, essays that deal with sexuality, monogamy, religion, gun rights, and Savage’s family." –The A.V. Club
“Savage writes conversationally and wonderfully. Although some might be put off at first by his strong opinions, most readers will ultimately find him engaging. Recommended for general readers who enjoy the cutting edge essay format.” -Library Journal
“At turns serious and humorous, this multifaceted collection of essays will entertain both longtime Savage fans and new readers.” –Kirkus
“[Savage] takes on gun control, Obamacare, sex education in public schools, and gay marriage, among other hot-button topics. His provocative points are sharply made… Fans of Savage’s in-your-face rhetoric are sure to rally around his liberal pulpit.” -Booklist
“Dan Savage is a gay superhero… marvelously discursive and footnote-laden collection of new essays… American Savage will most likely preach to the choir, but its polemics are still beautiful, verbal slap-downs of sanctimonious bigotry.” –Time Out New York
“American Savage is at once deliberately outrageous and seriously thoughtful.” - The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“An entertaining and thought-provoking collection of short-winded essays…Savage has the ability to smooth over his rant’s foul-mouthed edges with a refreshing self-deprecation and, yes, a good old-fashioned Midwestern kindness.” - The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"American Savage: Insights, Slights and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics comes roaring into bookstores with such high potential that one can’t help expecting it to fail. But this book, with all its wisdom, ideas and ideals, does exactly the opposite - it supersedes all his previous work.” –The Edge
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6. My Son Comes Out
A lot has changed since The Kid, my memoir about adopting our son, D.J., was published a dozen years ago. For starters, D.J. isn’t an infant anymore. And no one sits at home by the phone waiting for a call from a hot guy he met at a dance club or a prospective employer or an adoption agency. Now our phones go wherever we do, in our pockets or (more likely) in our hands, practically a part of our bodies. But it wasn’t that long ago that someone waiting for an important, potentially life-changing phone call would be afraid to leave the house.
What else has changed?
Our country, of course, and by extension the world—whether the world liked it or not—on 9/11. Two wars came but just one—as of this writing—has gone. Americans put an African-American in the White House. Twice. Republicans put an idiot Alaskan on the national stage. We saw advances on gay rights all over the world. Marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples in nine US states and the District of Columbia, as well as Spain, Argentina, the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, and five other nations and counting. And now at least fifteen countries—including most recently, France, under Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault—have extended adoption rights to same-sex couples. When I wrote The Kid, Americans opposed full civil equality for gays and lesbians by wide margins. Today poll after poll shows that an ever-growing majority of Americans now support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
My boyfriend became my husband—in Canada, first, where Terry and I got married on our tenth anniversary, and then in our home state of Washington, where voters passed marriage equality in 2012.
Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Kim Kardashian, Sinead O’Connor, and Britney Spears got married.
Everyone I know got iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
Kim Kardashian, Sinead O’Connor, and Britney Spears got divorced after seventy-two, sixteen, and two days of marriage, respectively.
My mother passed away.
Myspace passed away.
Steve Jobs passed away.
D.J.’s mom, Melissa, is no longer living on the streets.
I wrote a couple of books, became the go-to guy for straight people in need of sex advice, and Terry and I founded the It Gets Better Project.
Nabisco introduced candy-corn-flavored Oreos.
Another big change: the number of gay couples adopting children in the United States exploded. In 2000, the same year The Kid was published, there were sixty-five hundred adoptions by gay American couples, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2009, nearly twenty-two thousand gay couples in the United States adopted children. This increase in the number of gay adoptive parents has been described as “stratospheric.”
The Kid played a role in the gay-parenting boom. I get letters daily from gay men who were inspired to adopt after reading about how Terry and I became dads. Many of these men tell me that they had always wanted to be parents but that they had concluded fatherhood wasn’t possible for them after they came out. Reading about our “journey to parenthood,” as social workers everywhere describe adoption, demystified the adoption process and helped them realize that they, too, could be parents. Because, hey, if they gave a kid to those guys— that sex-advice columnist and his disc jockey boyfriend?—who won’t they give a kid to?
Anti-gay “Christian” activists oppose gay marriage, gay workplace protections, gay military service, and, as they’ve made clear through their support of the fraudulent “ex-gay” movement, gay existence. So it comes as no surprise that they also oppose gay adoptions.
Opponents of gay marriage/employees/soldiers/adoptions/existence push one “big lie” to justify each item on their anti-gay agenda— gay marriage will harm society, openly gay soldiers will destroy military readiness, gay people can choose to be straight, and so forth. (In fact, gay people have been marrying in Canada for more than a decade and Canada is doing just fine; a study by the Palm Center, formerly at the University of California and now independent, found that the repeal of the ban on openly gay soldiers has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment, or morale”; in 2012 the head of the largest “ex-gay” group in the country, Alan Chambers of Exodus International, admitted that his organization cannot “cure” homosexuality.)
The “big lie” advanced by opponents of gay adoption is this: When a selfish gay couple adopts, a loving heterosexual couple is deprived of a child. Children who could have been adopted by straight couples are being given to gay couples, they argue, and they claim that it’s not just childless heterosexual couples who are being harmed. Children are being harmed.
In August of 2012 Bryan Fischer, a prominent anti-gay voice on the Christian right and the host of a widely listened to talk radio program, called for the creation of a new “Underground Railroad” that would “deliver innocent children from same-sex households.” Fischer is the director for issues analyses for the American Family Association and he exerts a powerful influence on Republican politics. And Fischer believes that children with gay parents should be kidnapped because getting your kids to school in the morning, making sure their homework is done, their teeth are brushed, that they have enough decent food to eat—basic parenting responsibilities—become “a form of sexual abuse” when same-sex couples perform them.
Children, according to Fischer and others on the right, need a mother and a father, and denying children two opposite-sex parents isn’t just tantamount to child abuse. It is child abuse. For many years opponents of gay adoption have dishonestly cited studies that demonstrated the advantages of having two parents, not two parents of the opposite sex, to justify their opposition to adoptions by same-sex couples.
In 2012, a new study that seemed to support the anti-gay-parenting position was released. The study, authored by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, was funded by two anti-gay think tanks. Regnerus claimed that he was comparing outcomes for children raised by gay parents with children raised by straight couples. He wasn’t. He was comparing children with married straight parents— children from stable, intact homes—to children from broken homes. The study has been widely debunked. (“Among the problems with the study was the definition of ‘lesbian mothers’ and ‘gay fathers,’ ” reads a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A woman could be identified as a ‘lesbian mother’ in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple. . . . That fact alone in the paper should have ‘disqualified it immediately’ from being considered for publication.”) Only two young adults out of the 248 interviewed in the Regnerus study were raised from birth by same-sex couples.
Dozens of legitimate, sound studies of children with same-sex parents have demonstrated again and again that our kids on average are just as likely to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as children with opposite-sex parents. Case in point: UCLA released a study, published in October of 2012 in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, comparing (and tracking over time) children who were adopted out of foster care by gay men, lesbian women, and heterosexual couples. The study followed eighty-two Los Angeles County children, a quarter of whom were adopted by homosexual parents, and then followed up with them for two years after being placed. Researchers found that “children in all three types of households benefited from adoption: on average, they made significant gains in cognitive development—their IQ scores increased by an average of 10 points—and they maintained stable levels of behavior problems. What’s more, the kids adopted by gay and lesbian parents actually started out with more risk factors, and were more likely to be of a different ethnicity than their adoptive parents, but after two years were on equal footing with their heterosexually-adopted peers.” Coauthor Letitia Anne Peplau concluded, “There is no scientific basis to discriminate against gay and lesbian parents.”
This study and the many others like it are supported by the reality that social workers, pediatricians, and family counselors nationwide see every day. Which is why mainstream child health and social services organizations unanimously support adoption by qualified gay parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this endorsement of same-sex adoption: “The Academy supports the legal adoption of children by [same-sex] coparents or second parents. Denying legal parent status through adoption to coparents or second parents prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable, and loving parents.”
Fischer’s bigoted rants stoke the vilest form of anti-gay bigotry: The belief that gay people, and gay men in particular, prey on children. The religious right continues to promote the myth of the gay sexual predator—gay people “recruit” by sexually abusing children—but that lie is fast losing its toxic cultural currency. It simply isn’t borne out by crime statistics (pedophiles are almost always straight-identified men, as Jerry Sandusky was, and they are attracted to children of both sexes, but they have easier access—as coaches, for instance—to same-sex victims) or by personal experience (most straight Americans know openly gay people now and the openly gay people they know aren’t sexually abusing children). Anti-gay voices on the right are attempting to stuff the same old fears (gay people prey on children) into a brand-new bag (gay couples steal children from straight couples).
Gay couples aren’t stealing children from straight couples. Even with more same-sex couples adopting children than ever before, there are still more children who need to be adopted than there are couples (or singles) who are willing to adopt them. The choice for children waiting to be adopted isn’t between gay parents and straight parents. It’s between parents and no parents. And as nearly half a million children languish in foster care across the United States, political organizations with the word family in their names spend millions of dollars every year lobbying for restrictions that would block many of those children from ever having families of their own.
Whenever someone asks me why the United States is such a mess about sex and everything that touches on sex—why the United States, out of all Western industrialized nations, will never stop fighting about abortion, sex education, birth control, the sex lives of politicians, the existence of gay people—I shrug and say, “Canada got the French, Australia got the convicts, the United States got the Puritans.” But, in one area, the United States isn’t doing too badly when compared to lands that are braver, freer, and that have, every now and then, elected actual socialist heads of state. And that’s in adoptions by same-sex couples. On this issue, and pretty much this issue alone, the United States leads. It is legal for same-sex couples to adopt jointly in eleven states; adoptions by single gay people are legal in forty-five states; and second-parent adoptions are legal in thirteen states. Same-sex couples who live in states where they can’t adopt are free to do out-of-state adoptions in states where they can. Our relatively liberal adoptions laws weren’t the result of an orgy of progressive, pro-gay legislation. In most states “liberal” adoption laws are something of a legislative oversight. Adoptions by same-sex couples and single gay people were never specifically banned, which allowed judges and social workers, their sights set on the best interests of children, to quietly approve adoptions by single gay people and same-sex couples.
Belgium, by way of comparison, created a “statutory cohabitation” law in 1998 that granted limited rights to same-sex couples. The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, but it wouldn’t allow for adoptions by same-sex couples until 2006. Portugal granted same-sex couples limited rights in 2001 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. But same-sex couples in Portugal are still barred from adopting children. The same pattern has repeated itself in other European nations where gay people have secured their civil equality: First comes marriage—or some form of marriage-lite (civil unions, domestic partnerships)—then come gays pushing baby carriages.
Here in the United States we’re doing it in reverse. Same-sex couples have been adopting—and having children through surrogacy and artificial insemination, and raising children born to us in previous heterosexual relationships—long before the marriage equality movement in the United States got off the ground. Same-sex couples that wanted to start families didn’t wait for permission or marriage licenses. We created our families and trusted that the culture would catch up. And that’s just what seems to be happening.
When President Obama announced his support for marriage equality in an interview on ABC News in May of 2012, he emphasized the gay parents he personally knew. (“When I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly [committed] same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together . . . I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”) If the gay men and lesbians who work for Barack Obama had waited for the president to endorse marriage equality before starting their families they never would’ve started their families. Instead they met, fell in love, started families, and trusted that the culture—to say nothing of the president they served—would eventually recognize their humanity and affirm their basic human rights. The effort to bring gay families into the established social order—the movement to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples—isn’t about upending the traditional understanding of marriage. It’s about recognizing new realities, and new kinds of families, and bringing these families inside our shared marriage tradition.
“I suppose marriage equality is socially liberal in as much as it tries to defend and integrate a previously despised minority,” Andrew Sullivan writes. “But it is socially conservative in its attempt to envelop that minority in the traditions and responsibilities of family life.”
Louise Pratt, a member of the Australian Senate, may have said it best, though. During a debate over a marriage amendment bill in September of 2012—a bill that, had it not failed 26–41, would have legalized same-sex marriage in that country—Pratt, whose partner is transgendered, said this: “We exist. We already exist. Our relationships exist, our children exist, our families exist, our marriages exist, and our love exists. All we ask is that you stop pretending that we don’t.”
The president of the United States has stopped pretending that our families don’t already exist. Nine states and counting have stopped pretending that our families don’t already exist. It’s only a matter of time before the other forty-three states—and the federal government—stop pretending.
Our son—who is being raised by same-sex parents in a state that has passed marriage equality—well, he most certainly exists. He’s fifteen years old now and he gets taller and more opinionated with each passing day. D.J. is a snowboarder, a skateboarder, a challenge, and a fan of rap music. (Rap music? Where did we go wrong?) He also came out to his parents a few years ago—as straight.
Terry and I knew our only son was straight long before he officially came out.
We knew before we became parents that the odds of having a gay son—or a lesbian daughter—were pretty slim. (According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2011, the average American believes that 25 percent of the population is gay. The best current estimates put the total of the US population that is gay, lesbian, and bisexual at roughly 3.5 percent.) And unlike the straight parents Terry and I have known, loved, and been raised by, we weren’t emotionally invested in our child sharing our sexual orientation. We were open to a gay kid, of course, and being adopted by gay dads would’ve been a lucky break for any gay babies that happened to be gestating when we were in the process of adopting. But we knew going into it that our child’s sexual orientation wasn’t something we could control.
And it didn’t take long for us to realize that the kid we wound up adopting wasn’t gay. We had him figured for straight back when he was a trucks-and-guns-obsessed toddler, just as my parents suspected I might be gay back when I was a musical-theater-obsessed fifth grader. (Some guns-and-trucks-obsessed toddlers grow up to be gay, it should be noted, just as one or two musical-theater-obsessed fifth graders are rumored to have grown up to be straight. There are numerous confirmed cases of the former but none of the latter as of this writing.) And the older D.J. got, the straighter he got. However complex or nuanced the question, D.J. has always been able to construct a monosyllabic response. He has never expressed the remotest interest in art or theater or books. He feels that farts are the height of wit and that all other food stuffs should have been retired after pizza came along. By the time D.J. was in the fifth grade, Terry and I realized that we were essentially raising the kid who beat us up in middle school.
We weren’t the first people that D.J. came out to as straight. Just as I first came out as gay to a couple of not-so-close friends to test the waters before breaking the big news to members of my immediate family (first my older brother Billy, then my mother, then my other siblings, then—years later—my father). The first person D.J. came out to as straight was John, a stay-at-home dad who lives across the street with his wife, Mishy, and their four kids. Heartbreakingly, D.J. swore John to secrecy, just as I had sworn my not-so-close friends to secrecy.
D.J. wasn’t ready to tell us, he told John, because he wasn’t sure how we would react. Hearing that kind of broke our hearts.
We thought we had communicated to him that we loved him no matter what. And we hadn’t just told D.J. that we would love him whether he was straight or gay; we went out of our way to make sure that he understood—and to make sure he knew we understood—that this wasn’t a coin toss. We told him it wasn’t a fifty-fifty chance he would be gay or straight. No, the odds were most definitely in straight’s favor. (One night, years before he came out to us, D.J. and I sat and made a list of all of the couples we knew. Same-sex couples in one column, straight couples in another. Most of the couples on our list were straight, I explained, because most people are straight. I told him that one day his heart—and another organ that I neglected to mention at the time (keeping the convo age-appropriate)—would let him know if he was straight or gay or if he fell somewhere in between.)
D.J. finally told us he was straight about a week after he told John. We were standing in the yard in front of our house when D.J. tossed it out. “So you guys know I’m straight and stuff, right?” We said that we knew. Not because John had told us, although John had, but because we sensed it all along. We told him we loved him and that we never wanted him to be anyone other than the person he is. We told him that his being straight didn’t change anything. Then we told him to go do his homework to drive that final point home.
D.J. was not supposed to turn out straight—at least not according to opponents of adoptions by same-sex couples. Another chief argument against gay couples adopting is that our kids will “adopt” the “gay lifestyle” when they “grow up.” Gay parents sometimes offer clumsy responses to this argument. Don’t get me wrong: It’s among the easiest anti-gay arguments to refute. Terry and I have four straight parents between us, seven if you include stepparents. (My parents divorced and remarried; Terry’s mother remarried after Terry’s father died.) If a person’s sexuality is determined by his parents’ sexuality, then why aren’t Terry and I straight?
And where did gay people come from before same-sex couples began parenting?
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, believes he has the answer to that last question: Gay people come from lousy straight parents. In a 2012 appearance on Hardball on MSNBC, Perkins told host Chris Matthews that good straight parents prevent gayness by “teaching their children the right way to interact as human beings” (i.e., the penis-in-vagina way to interact). And by “controlling” for certain “environmental factors,” factors Perkins neglected to name, good straight parents can prevent their children from growing up to be bad gays.
Where do gay people with straight siblings fit into Perkins’s theory on the cause of homosexuality? I have three siblings, all straight, and Terry has one brother, also straight. Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has one sister, Elizabeth, and she’s straight. Did my parents and Terry’s parents and Mary’s parents teach our siblings the right way to interact while failing to teach us those same lessons? Did they provide heterosexuality-inducing environments for our brothers and sisters while creating homosexuality-inducing microclimates just for us? Or—and this seems much more likely—is Tony Perkins full of shit?
Let’s go with Perkins being full of shit.
The mistake many gay people make, though, when we attempt to refute the it-will-turn-kids-gay argument, is primarily one of tone. In our hurry to reassure straight people that having gay parents doesn’t make kids gay, we sometimes sound like we agree that it would be some sort of tragedy if our kids grow up to be gay. But reassuring straight people that our kids are no more likely to be gay than their kids are without sounding like gayness is a tragedy is trickier than it sounds. (And it’s important that same-sex couples get this stuff right: Many gay adults who were raised by same-sex parents report feeling shame when they realized that they weren’t straight. Many of these kids had a difficult time coming out to their gay and lesbian parents as gay because they felt they were somehow giving ammunition to their families’ enemies.)
I lost track of the number of times we were asked, when D.J. was very young, if we were going to try to “raise him gay.” Terry would stand beside me rolling his eyes while I patiently explained that sexual orientation doesn’t work that way. We couldn’t control D.J.’s sexuality any more than our parents could control ours.
But if gay parents could turn their kids gay—if it works the way the Tony Perkinses and Bryan Fischers of the world would have us believe— how on earth did D.J. escape gayness? That kid didn’t just have gay parents. He had me, America’s Gayest Parent. I sang D.J. show tunes at bedtime for Christ’s sake. (“Maybe This Time” from Cabaret was a particular favorite before D.J. outgrew lullabies and turned to rap.)
We can’t say for certain yet that gayness is entirely genetic, although all current evidence points that way. But seeing as my son turned out straight, I think we can state with some certainty that gayness isn’t contagious.
And now, a dozen years after I wrote The Kid, and with roughly a million books out there by fathers about fatherhood, what can I possibly say about parenthood that hasn’t already been said? How about this: Having a child is like having a heroin problem. When you’re high, man, you’ve never been so high. When you’re high, maaaaaan, all you want is more children. But when you’re low, fuck, you have never been so low. When you’re low, fuuuuuuuck, you regret ever picking that first needle up.
Looking back, our low moments seem pretty mundane and they will be familiar to most parents: sleep deprivation and projectile vomiting when D.J. was young; sleep deprivation and epic conflicts about who’s in charge as D.J. moved into his teens. But the highs have been so sweet—and so unique—that they’ve gotten us through the lows. And the highs arrive when you least expect them and they often come disguised as lows.
When D.J. was four years old we went on a trip to Paris. D.J. slept on the plane all the way over; Terry and I did not sleep. We arrived at our hotel in the wee hours of the morning completely exhausted. Terry and I wanted to go to bed. D.J. did not. D.J. would not. It soon became clear that neither of us would get any sleep so long as D.J. was in the room. Someone was going to have to take D.J. for a walk, Terry observed, and the tone of voice made it very clear just who he thought that “someone” should be.
I was pissed when I left the room with D.J. that morning—pissed at Terry, who had successfully played the more-exhausted-than-you card (every parent is issued a deck), not at D.J., who was only guilty of being wide awake.
But my anger faded and my exhaustion lifted as I strolled through the streets of Paris with D.J. on my shoulders as the sun was coming up. At one point I noticed some Parisians—not tourists like us, but honest-to-God locals—slipping down an alley and returning a moment later with bags of pastries. D.J. ran ahead to investigate. The baker at a patisserie was selling warm pastries out the back door of his not-yet-open shop. We picked up a large bag of warm sugar brioche, found a bench in a small park along the Seine, and sat together, talking and eating, as Paris came to life around us.
Ninety minutes earlier I would’ve given anything to be in bed in our hotel room, sound asleep. But at that moment, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, or with anyone else, on earth.
Another high: A few years later, we moved into a new neighborhood and one day D.J. and a friend were rude to a pack of girls who lived down the block. The girls’ mother came over, introduced herself, told us what had happened, and helpfully suggested that maybe D.J. had “issues with women.” We suggested that D.J. was an eight-year-old boy, and like a lot of eight-year-old boys, he didn’t have much use for girls. That’s no excuse for rudeness, of course, and we were sincerely grateful to our new neighbor for giving us a heads up. We assured her that we would sit D.J. down and read him the riot act. And we did just that: Sitting at the kitchen table we explained to D.J. that he had to be nice to all the kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls. He didn’t have to play with the girls on the block. But there would be swift and painful consequences if he wasn’t civil to the girls.
“Anyway, D.J.,” I added, as the conversation was wrapping up, “one day you’re going to want to talk to girls so it might not be a bad idea to talk to one or two now, at age eight, while the stakes are still low.”
D.J. pulled himself up and said, nope, he would never have to talk to girls, because he was gay. He hated girls, girls were gross, and he had no use for them. So he was definitely going to be gay. Terry and I both burst out laughing. We explained that disliking girls at age eight typically isn’t a sign that a boy is going to be gay when he grows up. Quite the opposite, in fact. D.J. dug in: hates girls, girls are gross, gonna be gay. Terry pulled out a photo album and showed D.J. a picture from his ninth birthday party: The only other boy at Terry’s party was his brother. All the other guests—all twenty of them—were girls. All of his friends when he was D.J.’s age were girls. Gross girls.
D.J.’s eyes went from the photo album, to Terry, to me, and back to the photo album. Then he broke into a fit of laughter. At first D.J. was laughing at Terry—all your friends were girls?!?—but the quality of D.J.’s laughter quickly changed. It was the laughter of recognition— self-recognition.
Five short years and one casual coming-out scene later, I would sit at the same kitchen table and talk with D.J. about birth control. We’d had the birds-and-the-bees talk years earlier (botched at first, later amended), but now he had a girlfriend and I thought a review was in order.
“Dad! We’re not doing anything,” D.J. protested. “We’re only thirteen!”
I told him I didn’t think he was doing anything, I didn’t want him doing anything, and that he was way too young to be doing anything. But plenty of thirteen-year-old boys have gotten their thirteen-yearold girlfriends pregnant. At this point I showed him teen pregnancy statistics from the CDC. (Being confronted with such statistics is one of the chief terrors of having a sex writer for a parent.) Without a doubt the parents of all these pregnant thirteen-year-olds assumed their kids weren’t doing anything either, I said. And they were wrong.
“Sorry, D.J.,” I said, “but if you’re old enough to have a girlfriend, you’re old enough to listen to your dad talk about condoms.”
Same kitchen table, same laughter, same high.
There’s one more high I’d like to share—a more recent one—but there’s something I need to come clean about first.
At the start of this chapter I claimed a small measure of credit for the boom in families headed by same-sex couples. And while it’s true that there are a lot more same-sex couples adopting today than there were a decade and a half ago, and while it’s also true that a lot of gay male couples have been inspired to adopt by The Kid (an e-mail arrived from a gay man thanking me and Terry for inspiring him and his partner to adopt while I was working on this chapter), those facts need to be placed in context.
The truth is that my contribution to the gay parenting movement pales in comparison to the contributions made by others. These men— and they’re almost always men—are the true heroes of the gay parenting movement. I speak of Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Marcus Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Gary Bauer, Peter LaBarbera, Pope Benedict XVI, and Rick Santorum, as well as homophobic preachers and parents everywhere.
In January of 2011, The New York Times reported data that the Census Bureau had gathered on gay families. As it turns out, the states with the highest percentages of families headed by same-sex couples aren’t the ones you would expect. Same-sex couples in the Bible Belt (i.e., Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi) are actually much more likely to be raising children than same-sex couples in the Sanity Belt (i.e., the West Coast, New England, the Great Lake states).
“A large number of gay couples . . . entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships,” Sabrina Tavernise reports. And why are gay people entering into heterosexual relationships? Tavernise quotes a representative gay parent: “People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” said Darlene Maffett, a lesbian woman who was married for eight years and had two children before finally coming out in 2002.
There would be far fewer families headed by same-sex couples if not for the efforts of Christian conservatives. The homophobia that Perkins and the rest of his hateful crew work so hard to promote convinces many young gays and lesbians—who fear being rejected by their families—to attempt to live a straight life. And what better way to nail the closet door shut than to marry an opposite-sex partner and quickly have some children? (The study also found that same-sex parents in the Bible Belt tended to have their children at considerably younger ages than same-sex parents in the Sanity Belt.)
Anti-gay Christian conservatives like Tony Perkins and Bryan Fischer have put more gay men and lesbians on their “journey to parenthood” than I ever have. The homophobia they promote, and the fear and self-loathing it instills in gay teenagers, creates more families headed by same-sex couples in the end than all the gay adoption memoirs and gay adoption agencies and gay surrogacy programs in the country combined.
Now, if you’ll indulge me, there’s one last high I’d like to recount.
We had taken D.J. and two of his friends on a snowboarding trip. The adults were in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, while the three teenage boys sat around the dining room table taking the piss out of each other. It was good-natured stuff—crude but not cruel— until one of the boys turned to D.J. and said, “So you have gay parents. Guess that means you’re going to be gay too.”
There was a long silence. D.J. was fourteen then, straight and out and proud, with one girlfriend down (that relationship was short-lived) and God only knows how many to go. Terry and I looked at each other, not sure what to do. D.J.’s friend was baiting him—and baiting him with an unsubtle homophobic jab within earshot of D.J.’s gay parents!—but we hesitated to come to D.J.’s defense. He had long ago made it clear that he didn’t need or want us to fight his battles for him.
“My parents are gay,” D.J. finally said, breaking the silence. “But their parents were straight. Like your parents. So if anyone else is going to be gay around here, it’s you.”
Terry and I looked at each other, our jaws hanging open, not sure how to respond. What D.J.’s friend said to him was homophobic. And D.J.’s response to his friend was homophobic. But it was also genius.
Should we say something? Do something? Terry shook his head and stifled a laugh.
Another high disguised as a low. We let it go.
What People are saying about this
“An off-shoot of Savage’s online movement to reach out to bullied gay teens, this collection gathers inspiring essays from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Gunn, and Barack Obama.”
—Entertainment Weekly’s ‘Must List’
“Handpicked and heartfelt essays from contributors famous and obscure, gay and straight.”
“If a copy of It Gets Better could find a home in every school library in America, think how many teachers, administrators, and parents would have the tools they need to improve their school’s climate.”
—The Huffington Post
“Brand-new and expanded essays, a section devoted to resources for LGBT teens, and an introduction from Savage that looks back at the project’s meteoric rise to viral fame. It’s chicken soup for the gay teenage soul.”
Meet the Author
Dan Savage lives in Seattle.
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