Arielle Pardes | In defense of Dan Savage
The Screwtinizer | Was provocateur Dan Savage the right choice for QPenn Week?
March 21, 2012, 10:43 pm · Updated March 25, 2012, 9:41 pm·
Ah, QPenn Week: a “celebration of being open and comfortable with yourself.” It’s also the only time of year when it’s acceptable to host an event called “sex camp.” QPenn is a week I look forward to all semester, but I nearly peed my pants when I saw who was on the agenda this year: Dan Savage.
My love affair with Savage began freshman year when I landed myself in David Azzolina’s “Folklore and Sexuality” course. At Azzolina’s request, our class read and discussed Savage’s sex advice column, “Savage Love,” each week.
“The column covers contemporary issues in sexuality in a provocative way, which is a good prompt for sparking discussion,” Azzolina explained.
“Provocative” is a mild-mannered adjective for Dan Savage. His column touches upon everything from partner swapping to BDSM, underwear-sniffing to foot fetishes (to which, by the way, I owe my knowledge of the term bastinado). Savage is famous for sparing no detail, leaving no question unanswered and speaking his mind — to the point of vulgarity.
Take, for example, Savage’s response to a slew of anti-gay remarks by Rick Santorum in 2003. Savage held a contest to reclaim the politician’s name, ultimately redefining santorum as “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”
So it’s no surprise that Savage has few fans from the religious right. He was once quoted on HBO’s “Real Time” for saying he wished “all Republicans were fucking dead” and in an interview with the The Daily Pennsylvanian in 2006, he said Green party candidate Carl Romanelli “should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.” (Notably, he later said he regretted both remarks and apologized for each of them.)
But Savage’s critics aren’t just Republicans — in fact, some of Savage’s harshest criticism comes from within the LGBT community.
College senior Alex Niculescu, for example, is not a fan. When he heard that Savage was speaking at QPenn, Niculescu flooded the event’s Facebook wall with links to news stories that alleged Savage to be racist, misogynistic, bi-phobic, transphobic and a poor representative of the LGBT community.
Niculescu’s comments on the Facebook event launched an online debate about Savage’s legitimacy as an LGBT voice and as a speaker at QPenn.
Wharton junior Dan Wolfe and College sophomore Rene Grindel — the co-chairs of QPenn — acknowledged that Savage is controversial, but emphasized the importance of respecting diverse opinions within the LGBT community.
“We welcome a variety of different voices and opinions during QPenn,” Wolfe said, adding that he personally supported Savage because his It Gets Better project is absolutely essential.
It Gets Better — the topic of Monday’s event — highlights a milder side of Savage and demonstrates his dedication to LGBT rights. It’s certainly hard to denounce Savage as an important LGBT ally when considering the success of the project, which came to include 50,000 LGBT-supportive videos, including one from Penn President Amy Gutmann.
When I sat down to chat with Savage on Monday, he readily admitted that he can be quite inflammatory — but said that his strategy doesn’t obscure the bigger picture of fighting for LGBT equality. “I don’t think it alienates people to have a sense of humor and to throw bombs,” Savage remarked, adding a quip that “the redefinition of santorum has created more joy in the world than Rick Santorum ever could.”
College sophomore Warren Jones, who called Savage his hero, agrees that Savage’s offensive humor complements a solid activist agenda. “He’s one of the few people in the LGBT community who doesn’t let political correctness keep him from being funny or upfront about his beliefs,” Jones said.
Of course, if QPenn is really about a “celebration of being open,” then it seems that the whole point is to welcome Savage and all his controversy. This includes embracing the debates about Savage from those who love him and those who love to hate him.
Even those who despise Savage can’t deny that he’s opened a much-needed dialogue about sexuality, the LGBT political agenda, foot fetishes and more — a dialogue that seems to be a perfect embodiment of QPenn.
Azzolina, who still asks his students to read “Savage Love” each week, said that the goal is discourse. “No one will agree with him one hundred percent of the time — in fact, I don’t agree with him one hundred percent of the time. The question is: do we have someone who can spark a lively conversation? And the answer is yes — Dan Savage fits that bill.”
Arielle Pardes is a College sophomore and women, gender and sexuality studies major from San Diego, Calif. Her email address is email@example.com. The Screwtinizer appears every other Thursday.