Q&A with Dan Savage

A&E spoke to the outspoken sex columnist about doling out constant advice he gives via “Savage Love.”

by Joseph Kleinschmidt

Since 1991, Dan Savage’s syndicated advice column has served up frank sex talk to worrisome virgin teenagers, bi-curious feminists and everyone in between. “Savage Love” only represents one strand of the Savage media personality. He’s also branched out to an MTV show, written several books and co-founded the “It Gets Better Project,” a website devoted to providing role models to LGBT youth.

His latest book, “American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics,” definitely has one hell of a bulky title, but Savage’s longwinded label illustrates the broad range to his rants. Now that he’s not confined to 1,000 words, Savage tries to extend his opinion on everything from the Catholic Church to gun rights. A&E picked the brain of the man who made “Santorum” a word you don’t want to Google.   


I saw your recent interview on the Colbert Report. In those interviews, where you have to be on the defense all the time, do you ever get exhausted?

No, I love those types of conversations — whether I choke or not. I feel like my childhood was the perfect path — it was like group therapy. We had family meals where everyone would scream and yell and shout. Going on Colbert, and duking it out with Stephen’s character, for me that’s like a really good Thanksgiving.


How do you view the “It Gets Better Project” at this point?

It’s going really well. The project had a really limited goal without an achievable end — just to create this resource, and this sort of online LGBT footnote for kids who are maybe trapped in families or parts of the country where there are no adult role models. It’s a different interview — we speak to LGBT kids every day. It helps in getting the perspective they need, constructive advice they need and the image in their heads they need to get through. A lot of LGBT kids just have a terrible time in their lives and struggle. A lot of LGBT kids out there know now how to be successful through adults. It’s possible to show that they are not the only gay or lesbian person on the planet. Nobody thinks that anymore. A thirteen-year-old gay kid in the shittiest backwater town knows that there are gay people out there.


What’s the best part of your job?

It’s writing my column — I’m just sitting down to write that now. It’s wonderful. Here I am digging through my email and coaching people about their sex lives. Sometimes people include photographs.


How many people do you answer every day?

I can’t answer every letter I get — I just get way too many. I answer three or four a week in the column and one a day on the blog. Every once in a while, I write someone personally. The deal with advice columnists is that you can’t write to everyone.


Do people ever follow up after you’ve given advice?

Yeah, I do hear from people. Email’s so intimate — that’s how I get the mail now. I held out for a long time writing actual letters. But when people read the column and write back, I don’t tend to run those letters. I feel like people won’t share specifics if they don’t want to. Most will go on the comment board and go, “Hey, that’s my letter. Here’s some more details.” What’s interesting about that is you see readers chiming in and giving good advice — sometimes it’s better than mine.


Do people approach you in public asking advice?

Absolutely. And it can be unnerving for my husband and child. I don’t mind it when people ask me questions in public. I do appreciate it when people see me with my child and they keep it to themselves.


Are you still shocked at what people write to you?

No. I get crazy letters. Asking me which one is the craziest or most shocking is like asking a New Yorker about the dirtiest pigeon he ever saw — there’s just so many. Crazy questions and troubled people telling me about whatever sexual incidents they’ve had — and they’re all interesting. I can’t pick one.


What did you learn on your MTV show “Savage U?”

I think it was a really fun show. All the people on MTV were really awesome, but I think I learned something I kind of knew with the questions in advice column and on the “Savage Lovecast.” You don’t have to look at the people asking the questions. When you have to look at the person asking the question, you have to picture that person doing whatever’s being described. That’s never … that’s not fun. You want to picture people you think are hot — that hot is so subjective that even someone who is hot to someone else is not very hot to another person.