When I was a baby sex-positive feminist with polyamorous inklings, Dan Savage was the breath of fresh air I was looking for. I had spent much of my adolescence reading advice columns and self-help. In contrast to the heteronormativity and primness that most advice columnists both believed in and promoted, he was brash and frank in a way that made his occasional tenderness and compassion seem far more meaningful. After listening to many years’ worth of his podcast and reading his column regularly for a long while, however, I found I could no longer in good conscience promote or endorse him or much of his work.
Where do we even start with Dan Savage? How about multiple instances of transphobic remarks, erasure of bisexuals and asexuals, fat-hatred, and probably lots of other things I’m not mentioning? Oh, and if you feel tempted to nitpick the examples from the Your Fave Is Problematic link, remember that just because a few could be explained away doesn’t mean that the more clear-cut ones become invalid.
He has yet to apologize for any of that but he has apologized for his endorsement of the war in Iraq and half-assedly acknowledged that his race-baiting on the passing of Prop 8 was ill-conceived, so we know he is capable of genuine regret. This is not a case of him ignoring all things from the past in favor of the present or being unable to show remorse or admit he is wrong.
Some might point out that the most egregious examples of his awfulness are from a while back. Though he may have stopped saying the very worst things that could be said, I find it hard to believe that is because he has become a better and more enlightened person. It is because people have been doggedly and patiently trying to get through to him, and, when he resisted their efforts, continued to bring attention to his problematic statements in louder and brasher fashion until he was forced to listen.
That he makes a frankly whiny show of not saying those things anymore is evidence in favor of that view. I stopped listening to the Savage Lovecast because I grew exhausted of hearing his cries of “Oh, I want to say a thing but then the *gasp* dreaded biseckshualz and trans advocates will be mad at me. Oh noes, I cannot say the [cruel] thing I was thinking of saying!” Not “I have learned that this is problematic/harmful/hurtful/non-inclusive”, but a tantrum about how he’s “not allowed” to be as nakedly horrible as he used to be.
It is childish and tiresome, not to mention disingenuous, that he goes on and on about how he really wants to say bigoted things but stops short of actually saying them. More important, doing so negates any possibility that he has sincerely and genuinely grown. To me, that says that is like any other person with bigoted opinions: He has realized that he will lose out on potential profit and hurt his reputation by saying awful things, so he has stopped being as open about his unsavory feelings. Accordingly, it is incredibly likely that he would still say those things if it weren’t for the people he knows will tirelessly call him on it.
This all would be less disturbing had he not become the de facto advocate for queer folks in America. Queer folks are allowed to be as flawed as non-queer folks can be, but it becomes a problem if the queer person in question becomes a voice for others. While the headlines and his bylines and bios might say otherwise, he is not an “LGBT” advocate. He seems to advocate unequivocally for gay cis male (and possibly cis lesbian) rights. Everyone else he seems to regard as not-actually-oppressed annoyances in his quest for acceptance of the specific type of person that he is and achievement of exclusively the rights he personally finds to be important.
As a fat genderqueer DFAB bisexual person of color, I cannot abide a voice like his being taken as the authority on all things queer. He has made his hatred for various aspects of my identity as well as those of other queers abundantly clear. Why should I be happy that he is getting a sitcom? Why should I excuse his bile because having a gay male advocate is presumably better than having nothing? Scraps may seem like a feast during a famine, but I prefer a longer-term mentality, one where visible advocates own up to their power and influence as well as listen to those they purportedly represent.