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Dan Savage at Midlife: ‘It’s ... “grawful”?’
Dan Savage contends with middle age, the prospect of being an empty-nester married to an underwear model and the death of his mother. And he still can’t stand Sarah Palin.
Seattle Times columnist
It’s a little too early to drink, but I sure could use something. Any minute now, Dan Savage will walk into the Sorrento Hotel lounge, and I need to ready myself.
Not just for the smirk, and the total recall, but for the lightning speed with which Savage speaks. The writer and activist can pin people to the ground while checking his phone, and is an eager and agile opponent for anyone challenging whether we’re free to be you and me.
I’m not sure what I’m going to get: provocateur, angel, bully or comedian.
They all arrive in a T-shirt and jeans. Savage, 48, walked over (he prefers to walk) from his offices at The Stranger, where he has had a desk from the very start.
“I am like the Queen of England of ‘The Stranger,’ ” he began. “Every once in a while, I am consulted, then ignored.”
He’s unlikely to be ignored, however, when his collection of essays and sixth book, “American Savage,” is published Tuesday.
The essays capture the events of the last few years, most notably Savage’s 2010 creation of the “It Gets Better” campaign with his husband, Terry Miller.
The campaign, aimed at young gay kids struggling to manage their sexuality at home, in school and in church, resulted in thousands of people — older gay couples, film and sports stars, even President Obama — uploading videos to YouTube, urging kids to persevere.
“It is a viral campaign that made an end run around parents and teachers and preachers,” Savage said.
The project won big awards, including an Emmy.
But perhaps the best was an email Savage got from a 15-year-old girl who came out to her parents, who then threatened to throw her out unless she went into reparative therapy at their church. She did, told them she was straight — and watched “It Gets Better” videos on her phone, under her covers.
“And the thing she said ...” Savage said, welling up, uncharacteristically. “She said, ‘Every day, I get up and go downstairs and look at my mother and father and love them for who they are going to be in 10 years.’
“She has seen other parents who are in their children’s videos, apologizing to them. The project gave her a picture of herself, but also a picture of her parents when they come around.”
The new book may also serve as an unofficial marker for Dan Savage at Midlife.
For while his mind may be churning with opinions about everything from Sarah Palin to the Seattle mayoral race, turns out there’s a lot Savage isn’t cocksure of: parenting a teenage son, DJ, now 15 and a freshman at Garfield High School; and dealing with the days beyond that.
Asked to describe this time in his life, Savage took a moment, then came up with his own word.
“It’s ... ‘grawful’?” he said. “What’s the combo of great and awful?”
Miller, (whom Savage married in Canada in 2005, and again in Seattle last December), is transitioning from being “a stay-at-home dad and momma lion” to someone trying to figure out what’s next, now that their son is just a few years from college.
Lately, Miller, 42, has been hitting the gym and modeling swimwear for a company called Mr. Turk.
“He used to be Mr. Psycho Privacy Man and now he’s an exhibitionist on Instagram,” Savage said of Miller. And there was that smirk.
“It’s an interesting moment. But if I looked like Terry, I wouldn’t have to write.”
Also part of the “grawful” moment is the loss of his mother five years ago, a memory still near at hand.
He tells a story about the day his mother lay dying; a hospital worker came in and held the next day’s menu out to her.
“You need to pick your meals for tomorrow, Mrs. Savage,” she said.
No one knew what to say. Savage’s stepfather stood up and yelled at the worker, who dropped the menu and ran out of the room. The menu flitted under the bed.
“After my mother was dead and we were leaving, I crawled under her bed and got the menu, and now it’s on my mantle,” Savage said, “with her gloves, her fifth-grade penmanship book and a couple of other things.”
“It’s so morbid and horrible in midlife! Like, people are starting to drop dead!”
It makes him wonder about the nature of adulthood.
“For so much of my adult life, the first time we had dinner parties, the first time we had Christmas as a family, I felt like ‘We’re just faking this, we don’t know what we’re doing! We’re aping.’
“And now I feel like we’ve kinda got it, but we’re done,” he said, noting his son’s age. “DJ is very sentimental and is very into Christmas. He’s very attached to the Christmases we’ve created for him.”
Kind of ironic, he noted, since Christians think he’s the Devil.
Not surprising, considering his rhetoric. Defending a remark about Sarah Palin, he explained, with a smirk, “I didn’t say I wish she got cancer. I said I saw the upside of oral cancer if she was going to take up chewing tobacco.”
And he wonders why some people call him a bully, the gay Bart Simpson, who makes a bit of mayhem and then stands back and says, “What?”
What if Palin said the same thing about him? Would that make her a bully?
“No, absolutely not,” he said. “It would make her an asshole, and I have admitted 100,000 times that I am an asshole.”
He went on, “People like Sarah Palin — glib, social conservatives — I consider my mortal enemies,” he said, because of her discrimination against same-sex couples and their families.
Speaking of his own family, he said, they’re just like everyone else.
He and Miller, together 20 years now, will walk in silence to Seattle bars Liberty or Smith, order a couple of drinks and read in silence. Or play cards or cribbage.
“People look at us and think, ‘They are either really happy, or about to get divorced,’ ” Savage said. “But we call that being alone together, which we’ve always been very good at.”
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper. email@example.com | 206-464-2334