The Worst Advice Dan Savage Has Ever Given

Question: What is the worst advice you’ve ever given?

Dan Savage:  God.  That is a hard question to answer.  I once...  God, I can’t even remember.  You know, early on when I started writing the column it was a joke.  I was going to be the gay advice columnist who was as rude to straight people as straight advice columnists always had been to gay people and it was just a gag. And straight people really responded to that kind of contemptuous treatment and started sending me real letters, and suddenly I had to answer real questions from real people. And I didn’t know jack shit about particularly women’s bodies because I stopped paying attention once I realized I wouldn’t... that was a country I was never going to visit.  I didn’t need the Baedekers, you know? And so yeah, I didn’t know how the clit worked and I gave lousy advice about getting women off that got me yelled at. 

I think the worst and perhaps most damaging advice I ever gave was to Jake Shears who I met when he was 15 years old and he asked if he should come out to his parents and he described what was going on and who they were and what you know what he thought they might know. And after he told me everything I was like: "Oh, they know.  They’re just waiting for you to tell them.  You should tell them.  Just come out to them.  They’re waiting.  They’re ready." And he came out to them and they didn’t know and it was a big disaster and they threatened to pull him out of school and they were really angry and so he called me.  I had a radio show and he called me and I got him off the air and got his mother’s phone number and called my mother and gave my mother Jake’s mother’s phone number and had my mom call him mom and yell at her. And it helped, but yeah, I gave him so really shitty advice. And that is really shitty advice.  There is a lot of bad advice for gay middle schoolers and high schoolers out there telling them that they should just come out and not everybody is in a position where that is wise or safe and we have to tell these gay teenagers to take a cold, hard look at who their families are and where they live before they take that step.  Most of the bullied gay kids are kids who can’t hide and can’t pass for straight and gay adults need to be careful about telling, as I was not at that moment, telling 15 year-olds to come out.  Something like 40% of homeless teenagers are gay and lesbian teenagers who have been thrown out of the house when they were outed or came out and unless we’re willing to take, as a community, financial responsibility for these kids who get thrown out we just can’t glibly tell middle schoolers that they have a responsibility to come out in middle school and make it better for themselves if it really is going to imperil their lives and their futures to do that.

You have to come out from a position of strength and you have... and some security and I get grief because I tell kids who are in college whose parents are paying for college who would cut them off to wait.  Wait until the last check clears in your senior year and then come out.

That said, you can... Sometimes gay people underestimate their families because they want to justify their own cowardice.  Some people don’t come out to their families when they could and their families would be supportive and the gay person is just afraid and they inflate... they exaggerate their family’s homophobia in a self-serving way as an excuse never to come out.  When I meet a 30 year-old who is not out to their family, it’s always that their family is so homophobic. And really what is going on there is that that gay person is a chickenshit and a coward and so they make their families out to be these monsters that they’re not, necessarily. And so they don’t ever have to like live some integrity and honesty and ethics and I have no sympathy for those people.

Recorded on October 18, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

There’s a lot of bad advice that tells teens to come out regardless of their family situation. "Not everyone is in a position where that it wise or safe," he says. On the other hand, "some gay people underestimate their families because they want to justify their own cowardliness."

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