3 min

Dan Savage talks teens, straight people and It Gets Better

'I just love watching their little heads explode'

Since Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better project five months ago, 10,000 videos have been uploaded. The people are different but the stories are the same — it is okay to be gay and life will get better.

On Feb 2, as part of Carleton University’s Pride Week, Savage was invited by the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) and the GLBTQ Centre to talk to students about the project.

Xtra chatted with Savage after the talk.

Xtra: Do you think there will be a time when there are too many It Gets Better videos and you will have to move on to a different stage?

Savage: We are paring it back a little bit. Right now we have some volunteers in [Washington, DC] who are watching every video, and they are creating playlists and tagging them. The database is not searchable right now — the trans kids can’t find the trans videos, so we are tagging them, and we are going to use playlists so we can have a little more editorial control… so it is a more navigable site.

Xtra: Would you do another video?

Savage: We talked about it because ours is so clunky. It was the first, and the people who came after it refined the concept and approach. But we kind of like our chunkiness, and we never wanted it [the project] to be about us. You know, one of the earlier criticisms was “white male, rich, privileged, elite, went to Paris to adopt a kid,” but the goal was always for it to be representative of everybody in the queer community, and we represented a chunk of it. We thought that if we started making more videos that it might read wrong — trying to reassert our presence — when really, we kind of want to fade away from the site, which in a way we have. I like that ours isn’t the best video. We founded it, we got it rolling, and we are involved organizationally, but if you want to watch the most moving video, it’s not ours.

Xtra: What is the best thing you take away from speaking to college students?

Savage: I just love watching their little heads explode. It’s a real thrill to get to break some news to them about the way monogamy works, but this wasn’t a sex talk. I usually do a sex talk about the evolution of sex. You talk about the fact that sex existed a hundred millions years ago before human beings came along, and it seems at once obvious but no one ever says it, especially to young kids who are just becoming sexually active. They think they invented sex and also that humans invented sex, but no. Sex invented humans. To be able to say those things, to be able to undo abstinence education in two hours is fun; it’s rewarding. As a gay person, always when I do these things, the crowd is mostly straight.

I don’t know how I lucked into this gig where I mostly write about straight sex and straight people read me. When I write about gay issues, they will read that because they are in the habit of reading me. So I have this sort of activist agenda underneath the column, just folding in enough gay rights boilerplate that I flip them. The ones who aren’t on our side when they start reading me — because I am funny and it is mostly about them — are, after a couple of years. And to see those straight kids out in the crowd, straight kids who wouldn’t go to any other gay event, who wouldn’t ever go someplace to listen to a gay person talk, will come here and listen to me, and that’s really great. Usually we go to colleges and because gay issues abound — military service in the States, marriage and adoption dominate the headlines, in the debate we end up having an hour on sex and a half hour on gay rights.

Xtra: Do you ever get any negative feedback from your talks?

Savage: Again, I get “white male, cisgender” — which is a phrase that makes me want to blow my brains out — it’s like “monosexual” from 10 years ago. It rankles me because my dad was a cop, my mom was a waitress, and my husband’s father was a math teacher on an Indian reservation. We’re not the fucking Kennedys. In some ways it makes me feel that I am being judged based on my gender and the colour of my skin and assumptions are being made, which pisses me the fuck off.

Occasionally, the Christian kids will show up and want to have a little push-back, which is always a disaster for them because I grew up in a very religious family. And it’s not like I never heard of Jesus Christ or it’s not like I haven’t read the Bible — I actually have. I have actually had moments when a kid has held up a Bible and I have asked him to bring it to me, and I have flipped around reading things. If you read Genesis, there are two creation myths right after the other, and they are mutually exclusive — the chronology of creationism is mutually exclusive. They both can’t be true. It’s the first two goddamn pages of the Bible, so even if God did write this, he is letting us know in the first two pages not to take it literally.