Savage Love Live in Anchorage: A photoessay
by Mel Green
Dan Savage’s column today recounts how he “headed north last week to do Savage Love Live — a rapid-fire, slightly tipsy Q&A session — at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It was my third visit to UAA and it was a blast.” It was a blast for his audience, too.
Savage Love Live was presented by UAA Student Services as part of UAA’s Healthy Sexuality Week. As predicted, the show sold out.
Dan Savage is the author of four books and co-editor with his husband Terry Miller of a fifth. Three were on sale at the event. (Didn’t get yours? See our post announcing this event for details on all five.)
It wasn’t only Dan Savage at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium talking about healthy sexuality. Here’s a couple of volunteers with a Health Sexuality Valentine.
I call the next photo “Pushing sexual buttons.” They were a dollar apiece.
The Alliance for Reproductive Justice was there with a table full of information.
One Anchorage volunteers were also on hand with information about Ballot Proposition 5 — the Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative — and were prepared to register voters. Anchorage voters must be registered by March 4 in order to vote in the April 3 municipal election.
I decided to livetweet the event. I soon became aware that KTVA photojournalist Ken Fankhauser (@photogfank), who I’d started following back when he was one of the livetweeters of the Anthony Rollins trial, was also livetweeting, with KTVA Channel 11 (@KTVA) retweeting, so I brought KTVA’s attention to my presence there too. KTVA thoughtfully brought its own followers’ attention to my feed:
open a new window, and follow @yksin for the uncensored livetweeting of the #dansavage show and compare it to #KTVAs @photogfank #
Which isn’t to say I didn’t censor my own language somewhat in my tweets. Dan Savage’s talks are known for their frank and uncensored discussion of sexuality — as a sign posted at the entrance to the building (and shared by @photogfank via yfrog) stated: “This lecture will contain explicit language & sexual content. Patron discretion is advised.”
The place filled up —
— and a representative of UAA Student Services came onstage to introduce Dan Savage.
She told us the ground rules: no flash photography (no problem: I never use flash if I can help it) and no texting. Uh oh. What about livetweeting? The friend I came with, to my right, didn’t mind me tweeting. I asked my neighbor to my left. Nope, she said she wouldn’t be bothered either. And so I tweeted:
Starting. Rules say no texting but my neighbors are ok with me livetweetin #
Ken Fankauser also decided to continue:
Just told no txting . what ever im hanging in there. #
And KTVA reported:
uh-oh, rules about no testing during the #dansavage show? @yksin is rebelling, we’ll see what @photogfank can pull off… #
But enough about our rulebreaking. The real point is: Dan Savage arrived onstage, starting the evening with a little comedy about getting the mic to work, joking that maybe he’d just keep listening to whatever he had on his iPod.
But he got the mic turned on and started for real, telling us, “Thanks for having my tawdry gay ass back” to rousing applause.
The way a Savage Love Live talk starts is for audience members to write questions down on slips of paper before the show begins — here’s one of the question boxes —
— and then all the slips with their questions are collected and given to Dan, who works his way, as best he can, through every question. Works his way: a work full of humor, salty words, and audience laughter, to be sure — but remember: this was for Healthy Sexuality Week at UAA, and healthy sexuality is a work that Savage, whatever humor is involved, has taken seriously for years.
Here he is reading an audience question:
Questions ran the gamut of human sexuality and relationships. Here’s a few examples — but please excuse me if my account of his answers doesn’t match the frank, funny, and frequently R- or X-rated language he used:
Question: A self-defined lesbian wondered if she could still call herself a lesbian when she was having sex (very satisfying sex) with her ex-girlfriend’s brother. Answer: you can call yourself one, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be believed. Though on the spectrum of sexual orientation, statistically speaking it seems that more women than men are bisexual; but many might “round themselves up” to identify as lesbians. In any case, it’s perfectly okay if you want to have sex with a guy — but it’s very bad news indeed, potentially very very hurtful, to have it with the brother of your ex. Especially since your ex-girlfriend is also a parent to your child.
Question: A UAA student who was “unyieldingly lusting” after a male UAA professor, who had backed away from their flirtation as soon as he learned she was a student, asked whether it was still okay to pursue him, since UAA has not non-fraternization policy? Answer: even if there is no non-fraternization policy, that professor has good reasons for being wary of a sexual relationship with a student: respect that, and back off.
Question: A straight person asking whether s/he should refrain from marrying until marriage equality was established for same-sex couples. Answer: Get married to the one you love, but consider following the example of some friends of his by including in your vows a quote from the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision which legalized same-sex marriage there. If there are anti-marriage equality attendees at the wedding, chances are they’ll agree completely with the sentiments in the decision — and will be completely red-faced and, perhaps, consciousness-raised — when you reveal their source.
Savage said the quote he was referring to could be found with a Google search on his blog. I promised in Twitter I’d look it up — and here it is, from his Savage Love column, titled “Hets, Get Married,” of October 8, 2009, in which Savage described his friend’s wedding and the reading from the court decision:
“Marriage is a vital social institution,” the reading began. “The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”
So touching, so true, and so universal—who could argue with those sentiments? Everyone at the wedding was nodding. And the reading continued…
“It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.”
After the reading—which was done by a gay friend of the couple—the officiant identified the source: It was from the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in that state. It was a lovely gesture: The gay couples at the wedding were touched and the hetero couples were reminded of the injustice that gay couples face. It would be wonderful if this passage from the Massachusetts court’s ruling on marriage equality caught on as a wedding reading….
Here’s the question I asked (pardon the scribbles: it’s not because I don’t know how to spell S/santorum, it’s because my Sharpie slipped & I had to make corrections) —
Question: Which is more dangerous to your health — big S Santorum or little s santorum? A reference, of course, to former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s “Google problem” wherein searches on Google (and other search engines) for the past several years have consistently placed a less-than-complimentary redefinition of his surname at or very near the top of search results. This, thanks to a campaign by Savage and his fans following antigay comments in 2003 by Santorum in which Santorum equated same-sex marriage with pedophilia and bestiality.
Answer: For little s santorum, it’s easy enough to take a shower. Big S Santorum is clearly a much greater threat to your health and everybody else’s. To take just a couple of instances why: (1) Santorum’s well-known antigay rhetoric and political positions; (2) Santorum is also against reproductive freedom — he’s not only anti-abortion even in cases of rape, but against contraception, too, on the grounds birth control grants “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum essentially believes that sex is only for procreation — which flies into the face of how healthy human sexuality really works. Meanwhile, over 99% of all U.S. women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, and 62% of the 62 million women in that age group currently use some form of contraception. Big S Santorum is drawing a line that the vast majority of his fellow Catholics don’t draw: only 8% of Catholics consider contraceptive use to be morally wrong.
Rick Santorum wasn’t the only GOP presidential candidate who drew Savage’s fire. A later audience question asked whether Savage or his readers had any redefinitions of Newt Gingrich‘s or Mitt Romney’s surname. Savage pointed out that Gingrich already had a new name: Swingrich, in honor (or dishonor) of Gingrich’s history of serial cheating on his wives. The term was apparently coined on Joe. My. God. on January 19, the same day that Gingrich’s second wife Marianne told ABC’s Nightline that she had declined to accept Gingrich’s suggestion of an open marriage after he had already been having an affair for six years with House of Representatives staffer Callista Bisek. Later the same day the term was defined by one of Savage’s readers, and also that day it entered the lexicon of the Urban Dictionary:
A “swingrich” is a CPOS (Cheating Piece Of Shit) masquerading as a swinger/polyamorous person.
“I thought he was ethically nonmonogamous but he was just a swingrich.”
Savage also had harsh words for Callista, who became Gingrich’s third wife, and who is often described in the press as “devoutly Catholic,” in spite of her 6-year extramarital affair with Gingrich before his divorce from Marianne:
Devoutly Catholic doesn’t mean you’re f***ing with a married man.
Savage never got to Romney, though apparently Romney has also developed a Google problem (not, however, attributable to Savage).
But most of the evening was devoted not to hypocritical politicians, but to sex and sexuality. Q: If someone finds out they are gay, do they need to come out publicly? A: “Yes.” Being out is about self respect and integrity. Q: Have you noticed any patterns with people with choking fetishes? A: “You don’t have to do anal. Anal is an elective.” (But here’s some suggestions on how to do it safely and happily, if you do want to try it.) A: Yes, They die young. Don’t do it. Q: My partner wants to experiment with anal sex, but I’m nervous about it. Q: How to I explain same-sex couples to kids? A: “Kids aren’t confused. Well-taken-care-of kids live in a love bubble, and see everything that way.”
And especially (as tweeted by @photogfank), “Use your words”and “embrace the awkwardness. It will help when it gets weird.” That advice, recurrent throughout, really struck me: frank sexual R- and X-rated language, whatever: he’s talking here about the private stuff between people that can be so scary, but that can on the other hand be so joyful and so sharing and intimate and loving; and I tweeted: “There is more compassion in this talk, about people’s fears and love, than I’ve ever seen from antisex puritans.”
And I stand by that.
As enjoyable as the Q&A itself was watching two skilled ASL interpreters at work.
Savage answered many of other questions, more than I can get to — but see his February 15 Savage Love column for a wide assortment from the audience of UAA students, staff, faculty, and members of the public.
But there is one more question he was asked, that needs some coverage here. Just the night before his talk, Savage had been at a One Anchorage fundraiser, and he’d written on on his blog that morning about the long fight we’ve had here in Anchorage to achieve basic civil rights protections against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations. (See Bent Alaska’s followup on his post, too.) In his blog post, he called upon his readers to donate to One Anchorage:
We scored major victories in California and Washington state this week. But the LGBT community in Anchorage is still struggling to achieve the most basic civil rights protections. The LGBT community in Alaska needs this victory—Alaska is the only state on the nation that has never had an openly gay elected official, there are no state-wide laws that protect LGBT people, there is no anti-LGBT hate-crimes legislation up here, there are no domestic-partnership registries of any kind anywhere in the state. The LGBT community up here needs this victory and they need our support.
At his talk he announced that his call for support had already resulted in $3,000 more raised for One Anchorage.
He also had some advice for us:
If you lose April 3, don’t despair. Equality is what this country means. Fight till you win.
If the antigay/antitrans crowd is sick of hearing from us, he said, we’d be much more quiet if we just had our equal rights. Until then — make noise.
That’s how Washington got marriage equality. It’s not over until it’s over, it’s not over until we win.
His last task of the evening was to set a task for us: “Get out your cell phone,” he instructed us, “and open up your email, and email Steve.firstname.lastname@example.org that we want Savage Love back in the Anchorage Press.”
(Audience members helpfully added: write or call Anchorage Press advertisers, too.)
The talk ended with a standing ovation.
Afterwards, I found my friend Heather Aronno, one half of the team behind the blog Alaska Commons, wearing a nicely designed Alaska Common Wear t-shirt dating back from 2009, when Anchorage was caught up in the fight over AO-64, the Anchorage Equal Right Initiative.
Dan Savage wrote about that guy in his blog post. Don’t you think he needs one of these t-shirts too?
But whether or not he gets on, take One Anchorage volunteer Gayle Schuh’s advice: If you’re a resident of the Municipality of Anchorage and aren’t already registered to vote, then get registered. The deadline is March 4.
Absentee by-mail applications are available at the One Anchorage website. Applications must be received in the Municipal Clerk’s office at least 7 days prior to the election (March 27). Apply early to receive your ballot in time. Voted ballots must be postmarked no later than election day (April 3).
Vote on April 3.
My livetweets from Savage Love Live
All my tweets included the hashtag #dansavage, but I’ve removed it here in most cases for readability. KTVA photojournalist Ken Fankhauser (@photogfank) was also livetweeting, and KTVA Channel 11 (@KTVA) was retweeting most of his, & some of mine.
- My question for Dan Savage @ Wendy Williamson Auditorium http://t.co/70t3VMbF#
- Wendy Williamson Auditorium at UAA is filling up – #DanSavage talk is sold out. #
- Looks like I’m not the only one livetweeting #dansavage – so is the crew from @ktva #
- @brendanjkelley & @photogfank also here at #dansavage for @KTVA . I’m here tweeting as me, but it’s also for @bentalaska #
- Place is almost full for #dansavage @ Wendy Williamson Auditorium http://t.co/VNmYaUAd #
- @KTVA @brendanjkelley @photogfank @bentalaska Ah poor Brendan. So much for having ‘droids heh in reply to KTVA #
- Starting. Rules say no texting but my neighbors are ok with me livetweetin #
- #dansavage “Thanks for having my tawdry gay ass back.” #
- Dan Savage at UAA http://t.co/KkI0UXIn #
- He just asked me question! He says big S Santorum is more dangerous to your health than little s santorum #
- That special upside down hug between man/woman called a 69 is sodomy according to many old state laws #
- Big S Santorum wants to illegalize any non procreative sex #
- Dan Savage at UAA @ Wendy Williamson Auditorium http://t.co/vMDBuItV #
- Stick up for your foreskin, but male circumcision is not the equivalent of female circumcision #
- Straight folks can marry & still support marriage equality by reading portion of 2003 MA court decision as part of your vows #
- Suggested quote can be googled on Dan’s blog. I’ll try to remember for a @bentalaska blog post #
- RT @photogfank: So hard to tweet with pg rating at #dansavage trying my best. >> No kidding! #
- To masturbate or not to masturbate: Don’t fail your vagina! #
- “If someone finds out they are gay, do they need to come out publicly?” “Yes.” #
- Being out is about self respect and integrity. #
- Very funny to watch ASL interpretation of “shoving your prolapsed anus back into your butt.” #dansavage (I bet @KTVA won’t retweet this #
- “give your money to One Anchorage. Vote on April 3.” #
- Uncomplimentary words for Prevo. #
- Dan’s blog this morning already raised $3000 for One Anchorage. #
- There is more compassion in this talk, about people’s fears and love, than I’ve ever seen from antisex puritans. My opinion. #
- “Have you noticed any patterns with people with choking fetishes?” “Yes, They die young.” #
- Gingrich’s 3rd wife: “Devoutly Catholic doesn’t mean you’re [having sex] with a married man” (who’s not your husband) #
- Gingrich –> Swingrich #
- Why is Santorum such a homphobe? Because he wants to [have gay sex] (Dan actually used more gayforward words) #
- Jill, happy Valentine’s Day, from Ken. #
- Explaining same sex couples to kids: kids aren’t confused. Well taken care of kids live in a love bubble, see everything that way #
- “You don’t have to do anal. Anal is an elective.” #
- Ooh someone is unyieldingly lusting after a UAA professor! #
- Why doesn’t UAA have a non fraternizing policy? Anyway, Dan’s advice: back off. #
- Eddie Burke is retweeting Brendan &, predictably, making with the ignorant. #
- Dan spent last Christmas in Whitefish, MT — that’s where I was born #
- Dan tells us all to get out our cellphones & email Steve.email@example.com “we want Savage Love back in the Press” #
- “if you lose April 3, don’t despair. Equality is what this country means.” fight till we win. Yeah. #
- That’s how Washington got marriage equality. It’s not over until it’s over, it’s not over until we win. #
- RT @cutthroatcoco: Theme of the night: Strap-ons & Mashed Potatoes. #
- Great talk! Thanks Dan! #
- @photogfank I would never think you were so stupid as Eddie Burke’s tweet. (which I wont dignify w/ a retweet myself) in reply to photogfank #
- My tweets should automatically compile on my blog, & I’ll repost w/ story & more pics at http://t.co/Epr3LaFg tomorrow #