I just finished Dan Savage's latest book American Savage. If you really don't know who he is, you need to get out more. If you insist, the basics are at his Wikipedia page. In this book he lays out his opinions on a variety of topics. I find his views to be well reasoned and to make a lot of sense. I'm glad to see he is being called a moralist for our time. Since Savage is a columnist for sex advice several of the topics in the book are about sex.
I'm going to save chapters 1 and 13 for the end. My summary of the other chapters:
2. It's never okay to cheat (except when it is): Humans are bad at monogamy (why else do we put that in marriage vows?). There are certain situations where it is better to have sex outside of a marriage than to dissolve the marriage. Outside those situations if a spouse strays once or twice over a long marriage that is a sign that the spouse is pretty good at monogamy. That's why Savage coined the term "monogamish."
3. Sex dread. Sex education is taught in schools two ways. There is the abstinence only curriculum, which is very good at raising teenage pregnancy rates. There is a "comprehensive" curriculum, which also teaches about safe sex and birth control and sometimes addresses the needs of sexual minorities. It is better, says Savage, but not nearly enough. Both ways demonize sex, which is not a healthy thing to do to sexual beings. What is missing is such things as how to give and receive pleasure, what one should expect from a partner and what their partner will expect in return, what it means to find a compatible mate, and how to identify an abusive relationship. Only rarely will a teacher delve into these topics.
4. The GGG spot. Savage describes this as good, giving, and game, as in strive to be good in bed, giving pleasure without immediate reciprocation, and game for anything – within reason. That last part refers being willing to explore a partners sexual kinks as long as no harm will result. Those that do satisfy kinks usually have a much better and longer lasting relationship.
5. The choicer challenge. Lots of conservatives claim being a homosexual is a choice. Savage tackles that with a challenge. If you believe that a gay guy can flip a switch and become straight, show it is possible by flipping the switch and becoming gay. Prove it by having sex with Savage. No takers so far.
6. My son comes out. When this book was written in 2013, Savage's son D.J. was 15. The adoption was told in the book The Kid. In this essay Savage talks about what that book did to promote adoption by same-sex couples. He refutes the conservative view that gay parenting is bad. He notes the rate of same-sex couples raising kids is highest in the most conservative Southern states – gays and lesbians felt forced into straight marriages, produced kids, then realized they couldn't continue the charade. As for the chapter's title, D.J. came out – as straight. His parents had suspected for a long time.
7. Crazy, mad, salacious. Savage explores stereotyped portrayals of gay men in movies and television and how some stereotypes crept up on him.
8. Folsom prism blues. The Folsom Street Fair is all about men dressed in (sometimes not much) leather. Savage looks at a few anti-gay leaders who try to "sneak" into such events trying to expose the depravity of gay people.
9. The straight pride parade. Some straights, and even some gays, are turned off by pride parades with scantily clad dancers. Savage is challenged with the comment, "You don't see straight people flaunting our sexuality like that." He replies: "You should." And many straight people do – at Halloween.
10. Four closet cases. Savage sometimes meet older gay men in bars (Savage is now 50) and wonders how much of their lives had to be spent closeted. Savage goes on to discuss four closeted gay men who didn't have to be closeted and who wreaked a lot of damage before being outed. Washington state legislator Jim Webb pushed a great deal of anti-gay legislation before a scandal brought him down. Evangelist Ted Haggard used to preach against homosexuality until a callboy became fed up with Haggard's hypocrisy. Senator Larry Craig did at the national level what West was doing at the state level. He got caught in a raid in an airport men's room. Psychologist George Rekers made a name for himself by publishing studies in conversion therapy in which he used strong (perhaps brutal) reinforcements so that young boys would avoid effeminate behavior. Rekers declared his star subject to be cured – though the subject later committed suicide. Rekers was spotted returning from Europe with a young man hired to "lift his luggage." These men didn't need to be closeted, but choosing the closet caused considerable damage.
11. Mistakes were made. Savage searches for the bisexual male. From his own youth he knew that most men who say they are bisexual are really gay and are trying to come out only halfway. A study or two seemed to back that up. Then came a study that weeded out the liars. That was able to show bisexual males indeed exist.
12. On being different. Savage, his husband Terry, a few gay couples, son D.J. and a couple of the boy's straight friends vacationed in Hawaii. This contradicts the claim that gay men are all pedophiles. All the men in the group were gay. And the fathers of those boys knew their sons would be safe. It was during that vacation that Savage read the book On Being Different by Merle Miller, which was expanded from the article "What it Means to Be a Homosexual" written in 1971. In those 40 years things have gotten better. In this chapter Savage also discusses the start of his It Gets Better Project.
14. Rick and Me. Savage recounts what led to Rick Santorum having a Google problem.
15. Still evil. Less evil. But still evil. Savage delves into why he believes Obamacare is much better than what we had, but is still an evil system. Insurance companies skim billions off the top in profits. We still have insurance companies dictating care. And people are still falling through the cracks. The solution that isn't evil is Medicare for all. Along the way he exposes a few hypocrites. Savage is amazed that many conservative Christians oppose universal health coverage.
16. It's happened again. Savage discusses the frequent mass shootings in America. We need to do something now. Savage ends by noting that many in Congress push to allow guns everywhere, including workplaces. But there is one place where one cannot carry a gun – the Capitol building. Congress claims people have a right to carry a gun into your workplace but not their workplace. Perhaps there is a way to reduce gun violence: sell bullets for $5000 each.
17. Bigot Christmas. Savage invites Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) over for dinner for a debate, which was uploaded to YouTube. The chapter's title comes from the intense cleaning and planning done in August, normally only done at Christmas, so that Savage could host a bigot. The general consensus (except among the anti-gay crowd) is that Savage won the debate. Brown used too much circular reasoning.
Now back to the chapters I had skipped before. I am discussing them last because they hit too close to my current situation.
1. At a loss. Savage grew up Catholic. Though he now says he is atheist he recognizes he is still culturally Catholic. After his mother died he felt the need to sit in Catholic churches. That's where he felt closest to his mother and it gave him some comfort. But even while there he knew he could never be a member of a Catholic church again, couldn't even go through the motions, because their anti-gay stance is so strong.
13. Extended Stay. Savage declares his support for the Death with Dignity movement, which allows terminal patients to choose to die on their own terms. His mother had pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung condition. She thought she was doing well when she lived longer than the original five year prognosis. But then her condition dramatically worsened. At a moment when his stepfather was away from the hospital room the doctor told Savage he needed an answer now – put her on a ventilator where she might last a couple more days but in a coma, leave her with an oxygen mask where she would last maybe six hours (not enough time for his other two siblings to arrive), or remove the mask where she would likely suffocate in less than two hours. Explaining all that to your mother is an awful position for a son to be in. She chose to remove the mask, though before she did frantic calls were made to her other children. He will be haunted by a couple questions: Though she was given lots of pain medication, were her last hours filled with pain? Would it have been better to end her life immediately and not go through the suffocation?
Yes, way too close to my situation with my Dad.