Q&A: Dan Savage

Notorious sex columnist and frequent target of conservative wrath shares a few of his favorite things about Portland.

By John Chandler May 30, 2013

Writer, columnist, and marriage equality firebrand Dan Savage is a busy, busy man, appearing twice this weekend in Portland. He'll be a guest on Live Wire! Saturday night and on Sunday he'll be reading from his latest collection of essays called American Savage at Powell's City of Books. In a very quick phone conversation, we tried to find out more about his relationship with the Rose City. Warning! Savage spends part of the interview discussing his use of extreme profanity, and things get a little salty on the language front. Do not share this article with children or easily agitated adults.

Culturephile: You’ve mentioned that Portland has hotter people than Seattle. Do you still feel that way?
Dan Savage: Yes, that’s true. Yeah, I do. Or maybe, I have to revisit that, because the beard thing has totally taken over Portland and I’m not into beards. Everytime I’m there, I see guys who would look so good without the beards covering their faces.

Yeah, it’s like living in a town full of Civil War generals. When you go to Portland and have the time, what are five places you definitely have to visit?
Always Powell’s, and I know that’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for many good reasons. My husband and I are big readers and love books. Sometimes, our favorite little trip is to stay at the Ace Hotel, go to Powell’s, buy a bunch of books, go back to the Ace, eat, ignore each other, read, drink, then we go up to our room at the Ace and f**k. And for us, that’s just the ideal weekend getaway.

We also really love ¿Por Qué No? and all the junk stores on Hawthorne—we’re junk-store maniacs. We re-did our kitchen and our dining room, and the light fixture in our kitchen we found in a junk store on Hawthorne. The light fixture in our dining room is from the same company and the same design as the light fixtures at the Bluehour in the Pearl District, where we also like to go and drink, and have been going to for years.

That’s four places—I guess our fifth favorite is the old Mallory Hotel, now the deLuxe. That’s where we stayed the weekend we adopted our son DJ. The Mallory was actually the first place the three of us were together as a family. So if we can’t get into the Ace, or if the Ace is too loud and crazy and busy—they’ll let us know if it’s going to be a party weekend—we’ll go stay at the Mallory, or the deLuxe, for old time’s sake. I’m really glad they didn’t change the Driftwood Room. I really like that place.

Since you’re now a family man, do you have any nagging feelings about domesticity causing you to lose your edge?
No, I still get in trouble pretty regularly. I’m in trouble today with conservatives online. When I heard of Michelle Bachman’s retirement from Congress, my response was, “Good riddance to batshit rubbish.” Now the twittersphere is blowing up with me because, how dare I describe Michele Bachmann as crazy, when she never did anything to me but describe gay people as tools of the devil? How dare I be rude to poor, defenseless three- or four-term congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

The theory going around was that she didn’t want to run after she and Marcus watched [Liberace biopic] Behind the Candelabra.
(Laughs) Yeah, I imagine that Marcus was feeling pretty jealous that Liberace could land Matt Damon and here he was with Michele Bachmann!

Is your notoriously strong language something that you’ll ever try to corral? Maybe use less-harsh profanity as you mellow with age?
You know, when I started my sex advice column, one of my goals was to allow people to use the language that they actually use when they talk about their sex lives with their friends. People tend to be pretty profane and pretty humorous. Sex is something that we all feel ridiculous in pursuit of, look ridiculous doing, and regret almost invariably immediately after we’re done. And, you have to have a sense of humor about that. I find rough language to be more distancing. Actually, euphemisms allow us to be, I think, less profane. An example I frequently cite: there was this rival sex column in Seattle for a while that was terrible. I would say, “sucking c**k” or “c**k sucking,” and this columnist would say “I licked his penis.” I was using dirty words and profanity, and she was being explicit and avoiding dirty words. But, “I licked his penis” is so much dirtier, and more provocative of a mental image, you know? So, I will stick with profanity, thanks.

You’re in town for a Powell's book reading on Sunday, and you’re going to do Live Wire the night before?
Yeah, Live Wire on Saturday night.

You’ve been on the show before. What are you usually asked to do? Or, do they just ask you some questions and you be your usual funny, charming self?
They usually ask me a few questions and I usually just run my mouth and say ridiculous, crazy things. I have a really good time everytime I do the show. I think it’s the third or fourth time I’ve done it and it’s always a blast. It’s such a great program.

When people want you to come and do an event, do they assume you’re just going to be you? Or are they under the impression you perform comedy?
I don’t know. Often, when I do my “Savage Love Live,” it kind of turns into a bit of a standup, although I’m not a comedian. It’s just a topic that lends itself to humor, you know. Sex makes people tense—talking about it, hearing about it, wanting it, not wanting it, having it, the prospect of performance anxiety—it’s just tense. We need that release. It’s funny, it (sex) is actually the release that we need, but we also need to laugh about it, which is the other release we need connected to sex.

Whether they are gay, straight, kinky, not kinky, monogamous, not monogamous—if everybody is laughing and having a good time, it makes people lower their guard and chill. And there’s a certain way we laugh about sex: in the Savage Love Live and the Savage Love webcast and the column, we are all laughing at and with each other. Nobody is the butt of the joke. Everybody’s got their own little quirks and weirdnesses and hangups, and everyone will get laughed at in turn, and we’re all kind of in this together. You can see the humanity of the humor in everything. I hope people don’t think that we’re mocking people in the column or on the show because we’re not, we’re laughing along with them.

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