This week we discuss noted gay rights activist and sex advice columnist Dan Savage. I want to begin by stating emphatically that Dan has done tremendous good for the gay and lesbian community. As an educated, articulate and passionate voice for honesty and equality, Dan has dared to take on some of our most ardent critics in profound and powerful ways. But even more than that, with his “It Gets Better” campaign, Dan gave hope to some of those who need it most — closeted gay teens living in homophobic states, towns and homes.
But you probably noticed that in the above statement I said the “gay and lesbian community,” pointedly leaving out the word “bisexual.” Why the omission?
Because in my opinion Dan Savage is a biphobe.
Wikipedia defines biphobia thus: “Biphobia is a term used to describe aversion felt toward bisexuality and bisexuals as a social group or as individuals.”
For over a decade now, Dan Savage has been saying blatantly hurtful, cruel and insulting things about bisexuals. For this champion of the gay community and the face of the “It Gets Better” campaign to treat bisexuals with the level of disrespect he exhibits is shameful.
AfterElton.com contacted Dan, asking if he’d like to clarify his position on bisexuality. He declined to respond to the questions I sent, which I take to mean he stands by his record. So let’s examine that record, shall we?
In 1999, Dan printed this response after being challenged about his biphobia:
“Sorry, but avoiding bi guys is a good rule of thumb for gay men looking
for long-term relationships. Outside of San Francisco’s
alternate-universe bisexual community, there aren’t many bi guys who
want or wind up in long-term, same-sex relationships — monogamous or
His cruelty in suggesting bisexuals should be shunned by any gay person seeking a long term relationship is exceeded only by his hubris in thinking he can judge an entire community based on whatever limited sampling he happens to have to work with.
Also from 1999, Dan offered this solution for bisexuals seeking love:
“No, there are definitely some people who should fool around with
bisexual men: OTHER BISEXUAL MEN! Jesus Christ, bisexuals — if
straights and gays treat you unfairly, then why not turn to each other
for love and comfort? Judging from my mail of late, there’s an unlimited
supply of easily offended, extremely verbose, highly ethical bisexuals
out there looking for love. F**k each other!”
Apparently, we are not only people who cannot be trusted enough to get into a relationship with, we are also SO high-strung and easily offended that we should stick to our own kind. That, at least, is what my bisexual ears are hearing from Dan.
It sounds like to me that in Dan Savage’s utopia, bisexuals really should be branded with a Scarlet B (h/t Jamie) so gays and lesbians can avoid us like lepers. Take a look at the advice he gives this person with a bisexual girlfriend in February 2009.
Questioner: I’m a lesbian, and my girlfriend is
bisexual and wants to have a three-way with a man. This makes me
nervous. What should I do?
DAN: Get yourself a refillable Xanax prescription, or get yourself an actual lesbian girlfriend.
So, apparently, Dan doesn’t think this relationship is even
worth trying to save. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but all he gives it is a
flip one sentence response when his usual advice to straight or gay people in similar situations is that you need to be willing to at least listen to the needs and desires of your significant other. But his “advice” here is to just dump the
bisexual without discussion or debate.
Dan seems to believe in bisexuals in the same way an 8-year-old believes in Santa Claus. That is, he doesn’t really believe in them but it makes people happy to think he believes, so he says the words.
Case in point, he has said that he identified as bisexual when he was sixteen and it is his belief that many gays and lesbians do the same only because they are not ready to come out. He uses this fact as further reasoning that most anyone else claiming to be bisexual before they are 30 is probably either confused or just a closet case.
In the 2008 documentary, Bi the Way, Dan
said “I meet someone who’s 19-years-old who tells me he’s bisexual and
I’m like, ’Yeah, right, I doubt it. I tell them come back when you’re
like 29 and we’ll see.'”
That’s a very troubling thing to hear from a champion of equality.
Doesn’t a person have the right to say for themselves who and what they
are, regardless of age? And even if some percentage of young
people who do identify as bi only to later realize they are gay, what
of the actual bisexuals who read his dismissive words? As an elder
statesman of the GLBT community does he not owe them at the very least
some respect when discussing them, if not some actual helpful advice
when they ask for it?
For a clearer picture of how Dan thinks about and discusses bisexuality, watch this YouTube clip of Dan speaking to college students in 2009. Be advised that around the two minute mark he wanders off on a VERY NSFW tangent. But it is good as an example of his dismissal of bisexuality and his complete comfort with making blanket statements about an orientation he does not share.
Dan has talked about his experiences as a gay teen for the “It Gets Better” campaign. In doing so, he makes it clear that while he might have used bisexual as a stopping point on his way out of the closet, he knew he was actually gay. In fact, it seems to me he is confusing his own experience of using bisexuality as a pitstop on the road to coming out with the reality that some teens really are bisexual. He appears to refuse to accept another person’s truth because it conflicts with his experience — much the same way right wing conservatives refuse to accept that homosexuality is not a choice because that just doesn’t make sense in their world.
Let’s look past his mixed message of who knows what they are and when, and look at something else Dan says in the above video about us bisexuals:
“The other problems and truths that upset the bisexual community when we talk about them are that most — the overwhelming majority of bisexuals wind up in opposite sex relationships.”
I have no idea what statistic he is using to come up with this “overwhelming majority.” It feels just like the amorphous and unsupportable statistics cited by religious fanatics who are trying to prove why homosexuality is wrong, destructive or just icky. When a speaker uses such a hyperbolic phrase as “overwhelming majority,” it feels like an opinion wearing a fact suit.
But taking these two statements of Dan’s together, what I come up with is the realization that Dan’s skepticism about bisexuality seems to be rooted at least partially in the idea that some of the bisexuals he has known have wound up in same sex relationships and some have wound up in opposite sex relationships.
And that is a problem why?
What does Dan expect from bisexuals? If we can’t commit to either gender without being dismissed as actually being gay or straight rather than simply being bi, then what are we supposed to do? Dedicate six months out of each year to each gender? Just because we wind up with a guy or a girl does not mean we lose the attraction we have to both genders — just as Dan talks about how men in monogamous gay or straight relationships are still drawn to people other than their partner.
Yes, Dan utters his occasional platitudes about believing in bisexuality, but against everything else he’s said, they seem like empty words. After all, when he repeatedly states that bisexuals should be avoided, that we are confused, and that we cannot commit, he sounds a lot like the people who say they accept homosexuality but still think gays should be denied equality.
In this video, bi activist Kyle Shickner speaks eloquently and honestly about Dan’s biphobia, and the very real consequences it can have. I particularly like his point about a young bisexual person seeing the “It Gets Better” campaign and thinking they have found someone who really accepts them, only to then read Dan’s negative comments regarding bisexuality, and how devastating that would be. (Note, the very last second of the video has an F bomb.)
Why is Dan so dismissive of bisexuals and bisexual issues? Is this a personal grudge he has? No one but Dan knows the answer, however the following 2009 quote from his Savage Love column offers us some insight into a dreadful experience he had with someone who said they were bisexual.
“I’m going to take a little stroll down Suppressed Memory Lane: I once had a bisexual” boyfriend. (I place bisexual in quotes, Angry Bisexual Community, only because this guy wasn’t bisexual. That doesn’t mean other guys aren’t bisexual.) My “bisexual” boyfriend liked to claim that he really wasn’t that into men until I came along—I was the magical exception, the one guy who did it for him—but even then, he told people loudly at parties, he was mostly turned on by how into him I was, he wasn’t that into me or my junk. (He could barely stand to look at my cock—which is why he stuffed it in his mouth or ass whenever we got naked.)
He made disparaging comments constantly about gay men he saw on the street or on TV—gay men like the one he was with—and put me down constantly for having a much more serious case of the gay than he did. He was going to marry a woman one day, a woman with lady parts, and have a family; I was going to remain hopelessly gay all my life. He was, of course, gayer than a college wrestling team, and eventually came out as gay—much to the consternation of all his friends who believed him when he said that he wasn’t really that into men.”
It seems likely that this ugly encounter left Dan with a tainted perspective on bisexuals. That doesn’t excuse his attitude toward us, though, or make it okay for him to use his pulpit to make statements indicating we are some peculiar fringe group. After all, according to a 2002 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, a total of 4.6% of men and women between 18 and 44 identified as bisexual, compared to 3.6% of the same group who identified as gay.
I am not angry with Dan but I am hurt. It’s like being in school where there was that one popular guy (or girl) who seemed really nice, and while you knew you’d never be friends, you at least had the idea that he thinks you’re kind of okay too because he’s so cool with everyone else. And then one day he throws you in a dumpster.
Dan, when it comes to bisexuality, you are wrong. You are wrong about bisexuals, you are wrong to treat us the way you do and you are certainly wrong to treat our outrage as some sort of childish tantrum. We have just as much reason to be angry with you for saying we should be avoided, that we can’t be trusted and that we should stick to our own kind as the gay community has to be furious with the religious right for their campaign of oppression.
We can commit. We do commit. You even admit you know bisexuals who have committed, either to the same sex or the opposite. Your own words show your hypocrisy and the broken, twisted logic you use to back up your biphobic beliefs.
If it really is going to get better, Dan , then you are going to have to give up this cherished grudge of yours. Because if we’re going to win this fight, we have to all stand together.