Dan Savage is an American author and activist. Savage has been glitter-bombed many times for anti-transgender views. Some of his views have evolved following criticism.

Savage has written about sex and relationships since the 1990s and has supported the work of many gender critical and transphobic public figures. He has also been involved in a number of important projects that have improved the lives of sex and gender minorities, including trans people.

Background

Daniel Keenan “Dan” Savage (born October 7, 1964) grew up in a Catholic household in Chicago. He graduated with a theater degree from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, then moved to Germany for two years before moving to Madison, Wisconsin.

In 1991 The Onion founder Tim Keck told his friend Savage that he planned to start The Stranger, an alternative newspaper in Seattle. Savage suggested he write a sex and relationship advice column. The title was proposed as Hey Faggot!, but Keck refused to use that title, so they settled on Savage Love. For years, all answered letters started with “Hey Faggot!” as the greeting. The column was syndicated, and Savage dropped the greeting in 1999 when the column started accepting emailed questions.

Savage moved to Seattle for the job. Under the stage name “Keenan Hollahan,” Savage also founded Seattle’s Greek Active Theater, producing reimagined classics in the mid-1990s. He was active in the Seattle theater scene until around 2003.

Savage created the It Gets Better project in 2010 with his husband Terry Miller. They were married in Canada in 2005 and remarried in the US when it was legalized. They have one child. The nonprofit has helped many trans and gender diverse young people through its message. The nonprofit’s President Paul Dien and founding member Seth Levy have noted that Savage is no longer involved in the project day to day:

“I don’t agree with what he has said, and I think it’s important to call out our privileges,” said Dien. “I think in our communities, cisgender white folks do have that privilege, and it’s okay to talk about when people are wrong or offensive to other parts of our community. And I think it’s important to have those discussions.”

“I really can’t comment on whatever Dan’s relationship with the trans community is; that’s been a complicated one for a long time,” added Levy. “All I know is that as a co-founder with them and having done a lot of work with them over the years, he’s done a lot for that community, often through this project. And so I hope at the end of the day, that’s what people start to understand, is that we’ve all really been trying to fight the same fight, even if we don’t always get along along the way.”

Ennis (2021)

Controversies

Savage’s strong opinions and acerbic tone have been criticized by numerous groups.

Biphobia allegations

His support of transphobic psychologist J. Michael Bailey and like-minded sexologists have caused the greatest harm to his reputation. Savage uncritically repeated Bailey’s claims that bisexual men don’t exist, and Savage told gay men “DON’T MESS AROUND WITH BISEXUALS” and likened bisexuality to “incest and dog-fucking.”

It was “the way most gay men were at the time, and it was shitty,” Savage says now. “A lot of my hostility to bi guys early was because I dated bi guys who were gay closet cases who felt superior to the gay men that they were dating, because they weren’t 100 percent polluted by gayness.” Over the years, “pushback from my readers” and some new bi lovers helped change his mind.

Anderson (2021)

Bailey and friends magically confirmed bisexuality exists as soon as they got a payment from The American Institute of Bisexuality. Savage supported Bailey’s claims about that “discovery” as well.

Transphobia allegations

Then there are the transphobic slurs that frequently appeared in Savage Love over the first 20-odd years, along with some gender nonaffirming advice about trans people and cheap jokes about the appearance of trans women. Savage told me that he used those words in the same spirit as he invited readers to call him a “faggot.” He offered a similar explanation when, at a much-covered event at the University of Chicago in 2014, he was challenged by a trans student who objected to his continued use of the slurs while talking about the slurs, and wrote a scorched-earth takedown of the student in the Stranger. (Savage now uses the phrase “t-slur” instead of saying the word out loud.)

Anderson (2021)

Savage says his views have evolved:

“How do you disprove a charge like you’re transphobic? I’m not afraid of trans people. […] I certainly have had a journey in the last 20 years — as have we all — on trans issues. When I started writing Savage Love 20 years ago, and you can yank quotes 15, 18 years ago and flat them up today and say, ‘You know, that’s transphobic,’ I’d probably agree with you. 15 years ago I didn’t know as much as I know now — nor did anybody.”

Badash (2014)

Savage is one of the few people to reify “autogynephilia,” writing in 2010: “You might want to google autogynephilia. Not saying that’s where you’re at or headed, don’t know enough about it to endorse it, but . . . it seemed relevant.” Gender critical and anti-trans people Savage has platformed and supported include:

  • Jesse Singal (ex-trans movement, withholding trans youth healthcare)
  • Jon Kay
  • Quillette
  • J. Michael Bailey (bisexual men don’t exist)
  • James Cantor (testifies for legislation to withhold youth healthcare)
  • Debra Soh (author, The End of Gender)
  • Alice Dreger (covering up academic fabrication, criticizing affirmative care for gender diverse youth)
  • Katie Herzog (“detransition”)
  • Carole Hooven (gender critical hormone expert)
  • John McWhorter (free speech grifter)
  • Emily Bazelon (cissexist journalist)
  • Zhana Vrangalova
  • Buck Angel (conservative transmedicalist)

Here he cites Singal’s promotion of conservative clinician Erica Anderson as evidence Singal is not transphobic.

There is a tendency among this collection of people to back each other up and logroll for each other when accused of acting against the best interests of the trans community. Let’s hope that changes in the future, as their monopolization of media opportunities by shutting out trans critics is one of the key ways they perpetuate harm.

References

Rude, Mey (March 24, 2021). Cis Men Like Jesse Singal, Dan Savage Don’t Decide What’s Transphobic. The Advocate https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2021/3/24/cis-men-jesse-singal-dan-savage-dont-decide-whats-transphobic

Badash, David (April 29, 2014). Dan Savage Does Not Hate You. The New Civil Rights Movement. https://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/2014/04/dan_savage_does_not_hate_you/

Anderson, LV (September 23, 2021). Dan Savage Revolutionized Sex. Then the Revolution Came for Him. Slate https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/09/dan-savage-advice-savage-love-criticism-interview.html

Savage, Dan (December 2, 1999). Gay Ol’ Time. Savage Love https://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=2686 [archive]

Abad-Santos, Alexander (November 3, 2011). Dan Savage: Queer-on-Queer Glitter-Bombing Victim. The Wire via The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/dan-savage-queer-queer-glitter-bombing-victim/335921/

Lowder, J. Bryan (November 4, 2011). “Did Dan Savage Deserve to be Glitter-Bombed?”Slate. http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/11/04/did_dan_savage_deserve_to_be_glitter_bombed_.html

“Dan Savage Gets Glitterbombed, Called Transphobic At University Of Oregon”The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/dan-savage-glitterbombed-oregon-transphobia-_n_1071627.html

“Comments at IOP spark controversy”The Chicago Maroon. https://www.chicagomaroon.com/2014/05/30/comments-at-iop-spark-controversy/

Hill-Meyer, Tobi (November 2, 2011). “Dan Savage Gets Glitter Bombed for Being Transphobic”. The Bilerico Project. http://www.bilerico.com/2011/11/dan_savage_gets_glitter_bombed_for_being_transphob.php

Hill-Meyer, Tobi (November 14, 2011). “Dan Savage Glittered Again, Student Arrested”. The Bilerico Project. http://www.bilerico.com/2011/11/dan_savage_glittered_again_student_arrested.php

Oommen, Isaac (January 21, 2012). Dan Savage Glitterbombed. Vancouver Media Co-op. http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/photo/dan-savage-glitterbombed/9681

Schmidt, Christine (May 30, 2014). The Chicago Maroon — Comments at IOP spark controversychicagomaroon.com. http://chicagomaroon.com/2014/05/30/comments-at-iop-spark-controversy/

Institute of Politics | The University of Chicago (May 27, 2014). IOP Statement on Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion |politics.uchicago.edu. http://politics.uchicago.edu/news/entry/iop-statement-on-commitment-to-diversity-inclusion

Johnson, Andrew (June 5, 2014). UChicago Students: Dan Savage’s Use of ‘T-Slur’ Made Us Feel ‘Unsafe’National Review http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/379649/uchicago-students-dan-savages-use-t-slur-made-us-feel-unsafe-andrew-johnson

Soave, Robby (June 9, 2014). Dan Savage Stands Up to the Speech Police, Defends His Use of ‘Tranny’Reason http://reason.com/blog/2014/06/09/dan-savage-stands-up-to-the-speech-polic

Savage, Dan (2014). About That Hate Crime I Committed at University of Chicago | Slog”The Stranger http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/06/07/about-that-hate-crime-i-committed-at-university-of-chicago

Ennis, Dawn (May 3, 2021). ‘It Gets Better’ Gets New Leadership. Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/dawnstaceyennis/2021/05/03/it-gets-better-gets-new-leadership/

Resources

Dan Savage (savage.love)

The Stranger (thestranger.com)

It Gets Better (itgetsbetter.org)

Twitter (twitter.com)

Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)

Instagram (instagram.com)

Facebook (facebook.com)