All Right, Fine, I’ll Talk about Dan Savage

Several years ago, my mom was out to lunch with some friends, and she started telling a story about a new hairdresser she’d been to. She embellished this story, as even reasonably liberal people of her generation so often did, with the standard lisping and wrist-flopping to indicate he was a male hairdresser, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

One of the friends gave her the stink-eye and said, “Oh, come on, Pattie. He wasn’t really like that, was he?”

Mom, mortified, had to admit he was not. She was just, you know, trying to be funny… and no, now that you mention it, being gay really isn’t intrinsically funny, but… well, people usually laugh when you do the lisping, wrist-flopping thing, so that’s something like funny, isn’t it?

There was no point. She was busted, and she knew it. The friend in question was one of the funniest women she knew — and that’s saying something, because my mom was the funniest woman most of her other friends knew. The joke utterly failed the funny test, which was almost as bad as the fact that it was homophobic. But not quite as bad.

Because the friend in question was Dan Savage’s mom. She wouldn’t stand for that shit.

I’ve never met Dan Savage, but the few times I met his mom, I adored her. So did my mom — I heard Judy’s name constantly while I was growing up, as well as updates on all four of her kids (none of whom I’ve met), which led inevitably to this conversation:

Mom: Danny Savage’s column is all over the place now!

Me: Yeah, Mom, I know. And, um, I’m gonna suggest that you just be happy for him and not go looking to read it, okay? Trust me on this.

Mom: Why don’t you have a nationally syndicated column?

Me: I don’t know, because I just started college?

Mom: You can already write circles around 95% of the writers in the Trib! You could have a Pulitzer by the time you’re 25 if you’d just get off your ass–

Me: Okay, I’m hanging up now.

So for the last 12 years or so, he’s loomed in my mind not as Dan Savage, Well-Known Sex Advice Columnist but as Dan Savage, Judy’s Kid Who’s a Real Writer, and What the Hell Am I Supposed to Tell My Friends Who’ve Been Waiting for You to Publish a Novel Since You Were Six Years Old, when You Never Send a Goddamned Thing out?

Even almost seven years after my mother’s death.

Which means I read everything he writes, and I really sort of want to hate him, but 99% of the time I can’t, ’cause he’s smart and funny and deserves everything he’s achieved.

Then there’s the other 1% of the time, when he talks about fat people.

When I read The Commitment last year, I got to enjoy 17 whole pages of not hating him before I got to this:

Two days later, in a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I came to a couple of realizations: First, anyone who denies the existence of the obesity epidemic in the United States hasn’t been to a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (The owners of water parks in the U.S. must be saving a fortune on water and chlorine bills; floating in the deep end of the wave pool with D.J., Terry observed that there was an awful lot of water being displaced. If the South Dakotans floating around us all got out of the pool at the same time, the water level would most likely have dropped six feet.)

And when I read that, I really wished that I had met him, so maybe we could have lunch and I could give him the stink-eye and say, “Oh, come on, Danny. It wasn’t really like that, was it?”

Not to mention, that quote’s awfully mild, compared to say, this, which came after he wrote some fatphobic comments about “Girl Love Handles” and heard just what an asshole he was from a lot of readers:

Secondly, I’m sick of talking about GLH and obesity. I would dearly love to move on, but the mail–oh, the mail!–keeps pouring in. Some is from folks who’ve got my back (thanks, gang), but most is from ticked-off women like LARDASS. As of this writing, I’ve received exactly 10,547 pieces of e-mail–yes, that’s the actual tally–complaining that my refusal to take the self-esteem-boosting/public-health-shredding position that you can be obese and healthy somehow oppresses women. Interestingly enough, I haven’t received a single piece of e-mail about how, say, the Food and Drug Administration oppresses women.

“LARDASS” was the clever name he assigned to an anonymous woman who wrote in to say she was offended. (That’s why they pay him the big bucks, I guess.) And where he’s going with that last line is that we shouldn’t be concerned about fat hatred, because there are better things to worry about, like legislation surrounding Plan B. Because no one person could possibly have two concerns simultaneously, for starters. And no one ever dismisses people who concern themselves with social justice on the grounds that there are “better things to worry about.” Certainly, I’ve never once heard that there are more pressing issues facing the world than, say, gay marriage. Hey, what are you homos doing about the situation in Darfur? Huh? How about Iraq? Poverty? Animal cruelty?

And how about fat rights, you fucking bigot?

I will not make the argument that being fat is the same as being gay in this society, because fat people are not murdered by strangers for being fat, nor beaten up by cops for being fat, and fat people are free to marry each other in all fifty states. But you know what? That’s about where the dissimilarities end.

Here’s a partial list of fat sterotypes and arguments used to justify fat hatred:

  • It’s a choice. (Never mind that diets have about exactly the same long-term success rates as ex-gay ministries.)
  • It’s a sin. God hates gluttony. It’s right there in the Bible.
  • It’s unnatural.
  • It’s disgusting.
  • You could change if you really wanted to.
  • It will kill you.
  • It’s creating a public health crisis.
  • Being attracted to fat people is not normal.
  • Only perverts could want to have sex with fat people.
  • It’s fine if you don’t make a big deal about it — live and let live — but why do you feel the need to flaunt it? (Girl Love Handles, anyone?)
  • Fat people (especially women) are oversexed, want to fuck every thin person they see, and will not take into account whether those other people express any attraction to them; all they can think about is getting teh sex.
  • Fat people should not be allowed to adopt children.
  • Fat people who already have kids should have their children taken away from them.
  • Fat people make irresponsible “lifestyle choices.”
  • People would stop treating you like shit for being fat if you’d just stop being fat.
  • People get fat because their mothers fucked them up when they were children.
  • We need to make sure our poor, innocent children don’t grow up fat, so they don’t have to endure the suffering that comes from being around bigoted assholes fat.

Do I need to go on, or are you getting the picture?

Fat hatred exists because most people in this culture react with visceral disgust, based on Puritanical values, to who we are because of our genes. Sound familiar?

Yes, some people get fatter than their genes alone would make them, because they eat too much and don’t exercise enough, risking disease. I’m not sure if you know this, Dan, but I hear some gay people have anonymous sex with no protection, risking disease. That’s not the choice I would make in their position, but it doesn’t make them any less deserving of personhood, of civil rights, of respect as human beings. Health is not a moral imperative. And more importantly, wearing condoms and/or getting into a monogamous relationship would not make them any less fundamentally gay. Likewise, if you were born to be fat, you can choose to live as healthfully or unhealthfully as you like — you can even join an ex-fat church (literally) and spend a few years living like a “normal” person — but you are never gonna be permanently unfat. It is just what you fucking are.

So all that’s background to this: Dan Savage recently wrote a column about fat people that wasn’t completely hateful. People are e-mailing me about it left and right. Some people are cheering. Yay, Dan Savage stood up for teh fatties!

Other people are not impressed. And I gotta say, I’m with BStu on this one.

Here’s another quote from The Commitment:

If I weren’t so attracted to tall blond guys who look good in Speedos, I would probably have grown up to be an insufferable, judgmental prude, instead of the insufferable, judgmental libertine that I became — and yes, it is possible to be an insufferable, judgmental libertine. Respecting the rights of others to make their own choices doesn’t mean you can’t make judgments, or form and share opinions. This sometimes makes me insufferable…

No fucking argument there, dude.

27 thoughts on “All Right, Fine, I’ll Talk about Dan Savage

  1. I guess that article that wasn’t completely hateful towards fat people is ok because it describes them as a fetish?

    Also, some one please tell me that I’ve been dreaming all these years when I see skinny people eating at Mcdonalds, Cinnabon etc?

    My head hurts from all the subversive objectification and judgement.

  2. I’ll admit that my first reaction to Dan Savage’s latest column was “woohoo!” but that was because I wasn’t aware of what came before it. Now I’m not liking him so much, not surprisingly.

    Also, Kate, this might be my favorite post you’ve written here :)

  3. Brilliant response.
    I am still mad at Dan Savage for equating pregnancy with creating feces (that is, it’s just a body function, nothing special). He’s got his good points, but they are not always visible through the insufferable judgments they are wrapped in.
    Love you, love your blog!

  4. Yeah, it’s true that we can get married in all 50 states if we’re fat. It’s true that no one has been murdered or beaten up by a cop for being fat (yet). However:

    You (gay man) can get a hardback book published by a major publisher. I (straight female fatass) can’t.

    You (gay man) can be on television and not be the butt of everyone’s joke or the target of everyone’s resentment. I (straight female fatass) can’t.

    You (gay man) can get a professional recording contract. I (straight female fatass) can’t. (Beth Ditto’s band, The Gossip, was signed to a special LGBT subsidiary of Sony, no kidding.)

    You (gay man) can go see a doctor without being railroaded into dangerous drugs or surgery to try to make you conform (although that certainly happened to gays in the past). I (straight female fatass) have a pretty excellent chance of having that happened to me at some point — the fact that it hasn’t yet is pretty much sheer dumb luck, as it has happened to fat sisters of mine who don’t weigh any more than I do.

    Would I trade all that for some of “my people” being beaten up by the cops or being hate crime victims, or being disallowed to marry? I’d have to be a flaming asshole to say “yes,” especially if it’s not me being beaten up. It’s not up to me to sacrifice others to my cause. However, it’s hard for me to think of a precedent for the majority of any society’s members voluntarily resigning itself to second-class citizenship based solely on their appearance. That’s special shit, and not in a good way.

  5. Without knowing the context of Savage’s past remarks on teh fatness, it would seem really positive. I would probably say the same thing to the guy writing in all self-pitying about liking fat women. Knowing his track record, though, I know the acceptance he exhibits is very conditional. He’ll accept me for liking fat women, but for being fat he’ll be patronizing at best.

  6. You (gay man) can get a hardback book published by a major publisher. I (straight female fatass) can’t.

    Meowser, as an ex-publishing professional, I’d have to take issue with that one. All depends on the subject of the book and the writing. (And many excellent writers with excellent manuscripts can’t get published, because of the vagaries of the industry.)

    But would you get the marketing budget he gets? Would people want to interview you on TV? Not so much.

    And other than that, uh-huh.

  7. I suddenly feel inspired to write a lengthy piece about fat and the queer community (both gay and lesbian), but I don’t think I have the energy for that on a Monday morning.

  8. I think there’s this whole awful thing that’s not being talked about regarding the feeding fetish. I mean I know that my reaction is to look away so quickly from what I read so that maybe I can act like I didn’t read it at all (this is like, the most I’ve ever read about it, because I wanted to finish the column… I have always shut it down more quickly in the past, accepting less input.)
    I don’t think I have this wrong when I assert that these fantasies are designed to be filthy and demoralizing. My guess is that the girl who didn’t want the trough still wanted the faces to be actively stuffed. It has to do with filth, the degradation of humans, all of that equated with fat people eating.
    If a bunch of ‘real’ fat people got together to share a meal the way that we actually eat, I don’t believe there would be turn-on.
    I know, I know, that, according to Dan, (and so many others) it doesn’t what the root of a fantasy is. But that the fat fetishists and specifically the feeder fetishes seem somehow to be about fat hatred is just… well it’s just fucking upsetting.
    And THAT, I suspect, is titillating enough to want to put it into your column and pretend you are not a hater.
    Damn, Dan, and we fat girls have always been such a friend to the gays!

  9. OK Kate, fair enough. I’ll amend:

    You (gay man) can get a hardback book published by a major publisher that treats your “otherness” as no big deal and actually deserving of respect. I (straight female fatass) can’t.

    Better?

  10. Kate, this is a good column and I think the background is totally important. I guess I’m just wondering about the possibility that Savage might be in the process of unlearning fatphobia. You’re totally right that one fat-pos (or non-fatphobic) column does not excuse the crap he’s written on fat in the past. But at the same time, maybe it’s dawning on him that fatphobia is bigotry–maybe he had a moment like your mom’s. I think it remains to be seen based on what he writes in the future, you know?

  11. This is a great post. WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A SYNDICATED COLUMN YET??

    :)

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between ex-fatties and ex-gays… they really drive home the idea that fat is considered to be a moral issue.

  12. Laura, I’m wondering about that, too — his response to the first question, especially, suggests a possible change of heart. I would love for it to be true.

    But as others have pointed out, he’s always said it’s fine to be attracted to fat people, because he thinks it’s fine to be attracted to pretty much anyone but children and dogs. (Which it is.) Yet, when it comes to whether fat people should be allowed to be fat in their daily lives — as opposed to while acting as the fetish objects of a few pervs — he doesn’t have such a good track record.

    And hell, I’m not exactly loving the last line of this column, either. First, ha ha, yeah, fat people sit in fast food restaurants and stuff their faces! Shit, that’s almost as hilarious an observation as the water-displacement thing! Second, he’s a pro-fetish sex advice columnist. Saying, “Why get feeder porn when you could go to McDonald’s?” is like saying, “Why get shoe fetish porn when you could hang out at Aldo?” Not exactly the point, from the reader’s perspective. The only point of that remark, in fact, seems to be taking one more cheap shot at fatties.

  13. Several of my fat-positive friends blogged about Savage’s fat fetish column and were glad that he wrote something non-negative for once. But as for me, the fact that he followed his first, non-negative, advice with two letters about feederism made it sound too much like he was implying that most people attracted to fat people were really into feederism. Um, no.

    Also, I think fat people are killed by strangers all the time. The strangers are health professionals and scam artists, and aren’t actually physically beating us to death, but still, lots of us have died in the desperate pursuit of thinness, egged on by people who want to sell us weight loss surgery or pills or extreme diets and by a culture that considers us worthless pariahs.

  14. Also, I think fat people are killed by strangers all the time. The strangers are health professionals and scam artists, and aren’t actually physically beating us to death, but still, lots of us have died in the desperate pursuit of thinness, egged on by people who want to sell us weight loss surgery or pills or extreme diets and by a culture that considers us worthless pariahs.

    Excellent point, Stef. One I considered making, in fact. But since my point there was to say I don’t want to play “Who has it worse?” (which Dan apparently completely missed anyway), I decided not to go down that path.

  15. Kate, you are unbelievable!!! Seriously, you are one of my heroes now. I loved your response to Dan. I am proud that you’re a fellow Chicago girl. YOU ROCK!!!

  16. Also, I think fat people are killed by strangers all the time. The strangers are health professionals and scam artists, and aren’t actually physically beating us to death, but still, lots of us have died in the desperate pursuit of thinness, egged on by people who want to sell us weight loss surgery or pills or extreme diets and by a culture that considers us worthless pariahs.

    Stef, this was beautifully said. I just wanted to also mention the fat people who are killed because they are fat-shamed out of their doctor’s offices and admonished not to return until they’re thin, leaving them reluctant to seek health care when they need it.

  17. I just wanted to also mention the fat people who are killed because they are fat-shamed out of their doctor’s offices and admonished not to return until they’re thin, leaving them reluctant to seek health care when they need it.

    And you can all look forward to some terrific guest posts by Thorn on that very topic.

  18. You (gay man) can get a hardback book published by a major publisher that treats your “otherness” as no big deal and actually deserving of respect. I (straight female fatass) can’t.

    Better?

    Meowser, b/c I forgot to say it before, yes. Better. :)

  19. OOHHH!!! You totally have to read my myspace blog on Fat Hatred!! Check it out:
    I missed the religious sense which I believe is where this whole insistence on weight began. “FAT IS GLUTTONY! THEY ARE SYNONYMS! OMGZZZZZZ!!! UR FAT LOLLOLOOLZZ!!”
    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=11819971&blogID=254778062&Mytoken=73610A66-BEF5-48D9-B399266BC992A66914488837
    My equality sense is a little off here too, however. I still defend the unhealthy people on both sides, but I’ve only just recently thought about touching on that subject as well.

  20. Gee Jon… Maybe you should comment on the blog? :P
    I can see that degree coming in handy. You have a way with words. ^_^
    This strikes me as odd, however. We were on Dimensions expressing how we were happy when Dan insulted some of the bigots. I’m surprised he decided to speak like this.

  21. Amazing. Thank you for this.
    …you know, I don’t know if it makes you feel better, but he’s no great shakes on bisexuals and transfolk, neither. We’re like a little contemptible trifecta!

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