Author of “Savage Love” Dan Savage shares how his column began
April 12, 2018
Dan Savage started his sex column, “Savage Love,” in 1991, and since then has become a husband, father, author, co-founder of the It Gets Better Project, avid podcaster all while continuing to help others through his column in Seattle’s The Stranger.
Born in Chicago to a large Irish Catholic family, Savage was a bit of a black sheep. His father was a Chicago cop and Catholic deacon. His mother was a Catholic minister. They had him attend a seminary prep school to prepare him for a life of being a priest. However, Savage took a slightly different direction in life.
“I met somebody when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin briefly with my then-boyfriend who was starting a newspaper,” Savage says. “I told him you should have an advice column because everyone reads them. You see that Q&A format, you can’t not stop and read that.”
He was immediately given the task of running the advice column himself. He had no background in writing for a publication, only a familiarity with it from growing up and reading columns. The column originally began as a joke and was only supposed to last for six months to a year. The joke, Savage says, was the fact that a gay person was giving straight people sex advice.
“I was going to treat straight people with the same contempt that heterosexual columnists traditionally treated gay people with,” Savage says. “This was a new experience for straight people and they kind of loved it. They didn’t take it as the insult that I intended it to be at first. It turned into a real advice column by accident. I started getting real letters from lots of people, straight and queer.”
“Savage Love” was a place where people could talk about sex and ask for advice using the vernacular found in conversations between friends. Sometimes it questions were posed with humor, slang and sometimes profanity. Savage says that was the “juice” that drove the column and continues to drive the column.
“It’s a place for people to talk about the sex they’re having, not the sex that everyone agrees everybody ought to be having,” Savage says.
Nearly three decades later, Savage is married, has a son and has written two books on each of those changes to his life – “The Kid: What Happens After My Boyfriend and I Decided to go Get Pregnant” and “The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family.” Savage says that neither of those things changed who he is as a person, but they introduced new aspects of life he didn’t have before.
The It Gets Better Project, founded by Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, was a response to the suicide of Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old who took his life after being bullied for being queer. Savage developed a strong need to speak with queer kids who were hurting because they were depressed about being bullied and being hopeless about things getting better.
“I struggled with the fact that the kid who most needs to speak to a queer adult about being a queer kid and growing into being a queer adult is the kid whose parents would never let them go to a Gay Straight Alliance or attend a queer youth support group or interact with a queer adult,” Savage says. “The queer kid that we talk about when we talk about being bullied is usually the queer kid being bullied by their peers. The worst bulling that many queer kids encounter is at the hands of their parents.”
It Gets Better bridges the gap between queer adults and queer kids. It goes around the disapproval of parents, teachers and religious leaders. These kids can get direct advice via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms. It Gets Better is a place for queer kids to receive advice from queer adults on how to deal with unhappy families, strategies for coping and ways to make it better for themselves.
“I’m going to keep doing my column,” Savage says. “It will be pried out of my cold, dead hands one day. I’ll keep doing my podcast. It’s a real honor actually that people trust me with their secrets, their problems. They trust my judgement and value my insight. That’s a real honor.”
Savage’s sex advice column can be found in Seattle’s “The Stranger” newspaper or online at thestranger.com/savage-love.