Dan Savage’s Family Values

I”m sure plenty have already seen Mark Oppenheimer’s NYT column about infidelity; in it, he talks a lot about Dan Savage, who I love (and whose show I was on back in January). Despite how angry people are about the transphobic way he talked about the dilemma’s of a trans person’s relationship with her wife & son, I can’t really disagree with it, either. (Although I’d add, too, that sometimes children and wives are transphobic; still, giving loved ones a little while to get used to the idea would be great, and may preserve some familiar relationships that will not sustain a very speedy transition.)

Still, that’s hardly what’s interesting to me about this column. First off, he said it a few years ago, & Savage has been sucking a  little less on trans issues. He is, in my opinion, someone who could have been an amazing ally if he weren’t shouted at every second he said something stupid (but not necessarily hateful). He is, in my opinion, one of the people we lost with the overuse of the word transphobic, a la Christine Burns.

But what’s more interesting to me is the way this article paints him as something like a conservative. Really… Dan Savage? But yes: he’s always been pro nuclear family, that’s for sure. He’s opinionated in ways only ex-Catholics can be (she says, securely seated in her glass house). But that idea that someone could be considered conservative even as they suggest that perhaps nonmonogamy should be on the table for heterosexual marriage kind of blows my mind. I don’t disagree. I think in plenty of cases, nonmonogamy makes perfect sense. I’ve been learning a lot more about it – not just from friends who practice it, but from Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up as well, and I was in a relationship during my 20s that wasn’t monogamous. But still: I sorta kinda love the idea of Savage being seen as conservative because he is advocating nonmonogamy in order to preserve marriages, because being married/partnered for life is a conservative value whether you’re gay or kinky or not.

And that’s the kind of thing that makes my feminist hackles rise.

Because Coontz – who Oppenheimer mentions and quotes – has said elsewhere that in happy marriages, both people benefit. But in unhappy marriages, men continue to benefit, but women do much, much worse in terms of their health. Even a miserable wife feeds her husband vegetables, she once cleverly concluded in her Marriage, A History. (It’s a great book, absolutely 100% worth reading.)

So the idea of preserving a marriage simply because preserving marriage is what you’re supposed to do strikes me as kind of wrong-headed and — well, sexist. It’s not like Savage will have been the first gay man to give out sexist advice unthinkingly, but it’s still a surprise.