Wednesday, June 12, 2013

American Savage by Dan Savage

Yes, you are seeing right. I'm ACTUALLY writing a book review....if I can remember how to do this, that is. It's been a long time after all. I've finally just admitted defeat on the pile of books that I've yet to review which is kind of sad because a lot of them are really awesome books, but it's the only way I'm going to lay my brain to rest and move on. So clean we go.

American Savage is an AWESOME book. With the exception to chapter two. I seriously want to buy copies of this book for everyone I know, rip chapter two out of the book, and hand them out. Which I know is total censorship and I'm completely against censorship and I really wouldn't do that, but seriously chapter two bothered me. A lot. I'll get to that in a second.

This is a book that needed to be written. It's a voice that needed to be heard. Really, it's a voice that's spoken every day, but it's rarely spoken as eloquently as Dan Savage speaks it. Ok, so maybe his exact words aren't always so eloquent, but his arguments are extremely well informed. Much of the focus of this book at first glance is on obtaining equal rights for lgbt Americans. But read a little deeper, pay closer attention and you'll see that while Dan uses the advocacy of lgbt rights as the medium, he's really making an argument for the equal rights of ALL Americans.

I think this book can be summed up with a few key principles that he focuses on. Number 1: All Americans should have equal rights. No questions asked. If you disagree with another person's lifestyle, that's absolutely fine. You have the right to do that. But you shouldn't have the right to decide what another person can and cannot do with their life. Leading up to principle number 2: People should be allowed to live the life that they choose...which is basically the same as number one but a little bit different. Dan Savage writes chapters in this book that frankly made my skin crawl, talking about BDSM conventions, kinks and fetishes that people may have, etc...and let me just say here that these weren't talked about just to talk about BDSM and kinks. They were talked about in a matter of people using BDSM conventions to define the lgbt community as a sick and perverse community. He talked about kinks when talking about how he thought a healthy relationship should work. That a partner should feel comfortable telling their partner (straight or gay) what their kinks are if they have them and within certain limits, he feels that partners should be open to at least hearing them and discussing them. He makes a much more convincing argument than I did just now and I totally agreed with him :p I made it just sound like if your partner says "put this gag ball in your mouth" you should say "ok" and that's not what he says in the book. And going back to people using BDSM conventions as ways to define the lgbt community as sick and perverse, he points out that it is NOT just lgbt people at these conventions. Nor are these conventions representative of the entire community. In fact, they're representative of a small part of the community who have a certain fetish. But people should have a right to engage in the lifestyle they want to a certain degree, barring it is not causing any kind of harm to that person or any other people. And that example leads to what I think his third principle is.

That principle is education. The reason he decides to use the example of BDSM conventions in the first place is because he believes it's important to HAVE conventions like this because BDSM is not something that one should engage in uneducated. It CAN be dangerous if people are uneducated and people HAVE died because of being uneducated. People want to ban things like this, but the fetish is not going away. There are innate things that some people have that you can't make disappear. Also tied to education is sexual education in schools which he describes as needing a complete makeover and I couldn't agree with him more. Most sex-ed "classes" can be summed up in a sentence. He says something like "the nice man gets and erection and puts his penis in the nice lady's vagina and ejaculates and his sperm swim up towards her eggs where the strongest one fertilizes it and nine months later a baby is born." Yep...that's the sex ed class I had in sixth grade! This is truly sad. This isn't sex education and it doesn't prepare teens for the realities, the complexities, the precautions, the emotions of sex, nor does sex ed even take into account children who don't fit into the heteronormative role that society wants them to fit into.

All of the topics fit into these priniciples in one way or another be they about religion, politics (and there are LOTS of politics and let me warn you now that he is not a fan of Maggie Gallagher lest you are), sexuality or raising families. The way he speaks about these topics is refreshing. It's a current voice and it's a voice that's mine. And it's a voice that's balanced. He never says "I demand this and my view is the only one that's right." No, he makes a valid argument for why ALL humans should be treated equally...male and female, gay and straight, black, white and any other race, culture or heritage, and any political party. We're all allowed to have our own views and our own beliefs, but that shouldn't mean that we can discriminate and tell others how to live their lives.

Now on to chapter two. WHY IS IT IN THIS BOOK????? And oh my god, Dan just why????? It's the only argument that makes no sense to me. The chapter is titled "It's Never Okay To Cheat (Except When It Is)". I knew that it was going to be a doozy for me just when I heard the chapter title (I listened to the audio which is fantastic by the way! But I listened to it anyway. I'm a complete monogamist and I know that. For me, there's never an ok reason to cheat on someone in a relationship. I can't be in a relationship with a poly amorous person because sex means too much to me. And what bothered me so much about this chapter is that Dan Savage agrees with me there. He says himself in this chapter that if you decide to be in a relationship with a monogamous person, you commit yourself to being monogamous and vice versa. You need to know ahead of time what you're signing up for.

He then goes on to talk about how he's a relationship advice columnist and when people call in saying that they feel sexually unfulfilled in a relationship he knows he's supposed to say "you should go to couples counseling." or "you need to make it work for the kids." But there are instances where he thinks it's ok to cheat. He gives the example of if your partner has lost their sex drive completely and you have not. You've talked about it, etc. and nothing is working. At that point he thinks you should have an affair. But you should do it discreetly so that your partner doesn't find out. Because if it's a good marriage aside from the lack of sex, you shouldn't end the marriage just because you're not getting any. But you're still sexual and have a need for sex. But you need to establish rules that the person you're having the affair with is strictly a "fuck buddy" and nothing more..someone you can walk away from...and your partner cannot find out.

No matter how many different angles I tried to look at this from, I couldn't wrap my brain around this. And I'm not misrepresenting his words here either. Really, read the book. In fact, I wish everyone would read this book because it's an AMAZING book aside from this chapter that I just wanted to rip to shreds. I know that since sex is such an intimate and meaningful thing to me (sorry for the TMI guys) that this bothered me more than it might some? But still...I don't buy into the "what you don't know doesn't hurt you" rule. But I'll leave it at that otherwise this will become a novella length review.

Don't let this chapter dissuade you from reading this book though. If chapter two sounds like something that will really upset you, skip it. Because the rest of the book is something that's really needed in today's world and it's such a truly refreshing voice and I can't wait to continue to hear more and more from Mr. Savage. I'll be finding more of his books to read for sure! I think the next book of his I'll read is The Kid, which his book about him and his husband adopting their son. This book is crass at times, it's very heavily weighted on the liberal side of things politically, but you don't have to have a strong set of liberal beliefs to get something out of it. All you need is a desire for change, some  hope for the future, and a sense of humor doesn't hurt.


Amy said...

Yay for book reviews!

this definitely sounds like an interesting book.

he points out that it is NOT just lgbt people at these conventions

wow I never thought it was! Is that a common belief? Anyway, I totally agree that education is the most important thing when it comes to these matters...and well all matters come to think of it!

I...can't conceive of a situation where cheating would ever be okay. And this...

But you need to establish rules that the person you're having the affair with is strictly a "fuck buddy" and nothing more..someone you can walk away from...and your partner cannot find out. he's advocating lying to your partner?? And you can never ever control these things once you bring another person into it, so you'd have to be prepared for that very strong possibility your partner would find out. Wow. I mean I really sympathize with the situations he describes, but it's hard for me to think that's the answer!

Anonymous said...

Hahaha, he always says that! I'm such a Dan Savage fan -- I listen to his podcasts every Tuesday and read his column every Wednesday. And I also much do not tire of hearing him talk about how terrible Maggie Gallagher is. She IS terrible. said...

"But you should do it discreetly so that your partner doesn't find out."

That, to me, seems like utter hogwash. If a couple has talked it all out and partner A has fully admitted and is open about their lack of drive and all avenues have been tried.....why in the world wouldn't you talk about the option of partner B getting some on the side?

If it was a truly great, loving and communicating relationship, you don't then just send it to the depths by doing that on the sly.

Now, I'm not saying that partner A absolutely has to take one for the team on this, but I hope that they would be informed well about their condition and understanding of their partner's needs to talk about and consider it.

Deceit like that has no part in a happy and healthy relationship.

So your review makes me want to read it and rip out chapter 2 as well.

I also agree, it isn't just a one group issues and people need to see that. If only they could, I think that it would help get over that knee jerk negative reaction that happens to so many when the subject is brought up. This isn't about men sleeping with men, or women that want to be is about the fundamental right of everyone in this country to live their lives as they see fit.

Yowzah, I wrote a dang book and am now off to buy this one.

Chris Howard said...

Amy, I don't think it's a common belief for everyone, but he used it as an example for people who infiltrate these conventions and then USE them as an example in the media as gay people doing "disgusting and horrendous things". AKA...the media will filter things like they want and then put their own spin on things to attempt to put whatever view they want out there. And I'm so with you on cheating...I can't ever conceive of a situation where it's ok to do. To me (at least in any relationship that I'm committing myself to...I realize that's not everyone's choice) when I'm with someone, I've committed myself to that person and that person has committed themselves to me. And yes...he's advocating lying to your partner. AND saying that the people that you see where the relationship is ruined by an affair are the relationsihps where the people get caught so don't get caught :/ I can't tell you how bad I wanted to rip this chapter out of the book. The rest of the book was so good!

Jenny, Oh god, I agree with you so much. She's the complete devil. She's just evil really. And I love Savage too :) He's much needed these days!

Gwen, Dan does actually talk about talking it out with your partner about allowing the other side to have a sexual relationship on the side openly to save the relationship. He advocates having a secretive affair IF that's not an option. To me personally, neither of those things would be an option in a relationship of mine. But I do realize that my views on monogamy are my views and others will have other views. It just seemed like he went TOO far for me in any situation when he said that in some cases, you just have to have an affair without your partner knowing and not get caught :/ I can't justify any way of getting behind that no matter how I look at it. That doesn't solve anything. But yes...aside from this chapter, it's an absolutely amazing and much needed book...and really, even this chapter is really thought provoking if anything and gets you talking!

Anonymous said...

Good morning, it's 5 am and it's not the best time to attempt to read posts. Plus, I don't have my glasses on so I am squinting... I love your enthusiasm and frustration in your posts. I hadn't heard of Dan Savage but it looks like he wrote more than a few things that are important and give tons to think about.

Anonymous said...

Uhoh, just realized that I admitted not knowing someone after I just expressed amazement that people don't know the author of the book I just reviewed. Just goes to show, ya don't know what you don't know.

Ali said...

Wow, Chapter 2 has got to go, in my opinion! Partnered sex is not like food or water, it is not a "need." Plenty of people live without it for periods of time or for always. I'm not saying that's ideal, but the idea that a partner who isn't interested justifies cheating is so abhorrent to me, it makes me want to punch Dan Savage in the nose. I have no problem with polyamorous relationships if that's an agreement between both partners (though it's not my bag, personally) but cheating is just not okay. No. Never.

Other than that, sounds like a good book.