Dan Savage: All-American
Longtime sex columnist on fatherhood, ethics, politics and freedom
Published: November 28, 2012
mt: But not with Petraeus. I was surprised that it is on the books in his home state of Virginia, that it is in fact a crime.
Savage: Mm-hmm. I guess it's one of the upsides of gay marriage being illegal in Virginia: You can't be convicted of adultery if you're never allowed to marry in the first place. So gay people in Virginia are immune to adultery prosecutions.
mt: Always looking on the upside, huh?
Savage: [laughs] Yeah, you've gotta take those silver linings where you can find them in a place like Virginia.
mt: I thought it was sort of funny how Petreaus, for instance, oversaw the CIA while it killed hundreds of people by drone strikes, but for having an affair with his biographer, you know ... it seems like a double standard, doesn't it?
Savage: Yeah, it does. Um, the real scandal is not that David Petraeus put his penis in someone that he shouldn't have put his penis in, the real scandal is here you have the quagmire that is Afghanistan; the real scandal is the refusal of the American public to pay attention to what's going on in Afghanistan. You know, we don't want to hear about it. But we want to hear about this. If only drones looked like dicks, actually dildos, flying over Afghanistan, maybe the American media and public would be more interested in what the hell we're doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
mt: Now that you've said it, I'm sure now we can tune into YouTube in two or three weeks and it'll probably be there. [laughter] Did you always have kind of a keen interest in morality?
Savage: Well I was raised Catholic, my dad was a preacher and a Catholic deacon and my mom was a Catholic lay minister and ... I'm in my 40s, and there were a lot of adults around my house when I was a kid, in the late '60s and early '70s, when I was first becoming conscious, arguing about the civil rights movement, arguing about the women's rights movement — social justice movements, for lack of a better phrase. Debates about politics were always really present. One of my earliest memories is my mother and father having a knock-down, drag-out argument about Watergate and Richard Nixon. That's part of what passed for entertainment in my family. We argued about politics over the dinner table and everybody debated everything and my grandfather, with whom we lived, was a newspaperman, so the house was full of newspapers and it was how you passed the time between high school and death, arguing about politics and stuff. Basically, yeah, my parents kind of instilled an interest in morality. And the intersection of morality and politics I find kind of fascinating. Being gay, sex is inherently interesting because sex is the central mystery of your existence, sex is what sets you off and it's the problem you have to solve: "Why am I this when most people are that?" Sexuality can lead to a sort of estrangement from your family, it can bring you into conflict with the faith in which you were raised, and you do a lot of thinking about it. You can't avoid it. Every gay person, no matter how poorly educated they are, is in their soul a philosopher because they stand there going, "Why me? How'd this happen?"
mt: I think you've taken that tension between what today's standard of morality would tell you and what you feel and I get the sense that you've noted in your writing how morality changes over time and what you've managed to do is find that integrity or ethics are in fact, a great constant.
Savage: The great constant for me has always been the Golden Rule, you know, just to go back to my religious upbringing and education as a child. Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. And that can have a more expansive meaning than some Sunday school teachers seem to realize. Uh, 'cause it applies to sex too. Do unto somebody what you'd like done unto you and only do unto others what they want done unto them. And just that very basic tenet applies to sexual conduct and to relationships. And ... everything I've written, every column I've written, every piece of advice I've ever given down you're left with that.
mt: Yeah, although you do have some boundaries. As far as I can tell, the only things that are beyond-the-pale gross-outs for you are sex involving feces, the dead, animals, children, anything nonconsensual, hard-drugs, cigarette smoking. Did I miss anything?
Savage: [chuckles] Uh, gay Republicans. You should never sleep with a gay Republican. A dead gay Republican puppy would be the worst thing you could possibly do, covered in feces.
mt: With a cigarette somehow in there.
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