When sex advice guru Dan Savage, of “Savage Love” column/podcast/iPhone-iPod app fame, founded and launched the It Gets Better Project (itgetsbetter.org) in September 2010 with husband Terry Miller via its first YouTube video, he never expected that it would go as far as it has in sheer numbers (10,000+ and counting) and input from across the globe and social strata: President Obama’s video went up just a month later.
Edited by Savage and Miller, the book companion, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, features all-new written essays by the likes of David Sedaris, Kate Clinton, Michael Cunningham, and Alison Bechdel, as well as video transcriptions and expanded essays from high-profile personalities and everyday folks alike. Savage, who serves as editorial director for Seattle’s The Stranger weekly and recently shot a TV series pilot for MTV (he’s awaiting word on whether it’s being picked up), speaks about the book, where he turns for advice, and the next social-sexual mission on his agenda.
Lawrence Ferber: How does this book further the It Gets Better mission and message?
Dan Savage: Well, the book includes pieces from people who haven’t made videos. It also creates another way for kids who need to hear these messages to find them. I’ve written books before, and you never really know where a book is going to wind up. They wind up in school libraries. I’ve gotten notes from people who stumbled across my book The Kid in the Himalayas. The Internet has tremendous reach, of course, and kids are wired and tech savvy, but not all kids have access to the Internet and not all kids want to leave a browser history that might incriminate them. So this gives another way to reach a lot of kids.
Who would you like to see contribute an It Gets Better video or message but hasn’t yet?
I would love the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, to make one. I would like to see—and am not surprised we have not seen—a video from a prominent Republican elected official. There has been not a one. I wish every politician would make one. Look at New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He made a video where he said we welcome everybody—LGBT youth have a home in ? New York if where you’re at is not welcoming you. At the same time that he released that video he slashed funding for the Ali Forney Center, which is a shelter for LGBT teens, and he was called out for his hypocrisy. People were able to use the video to shame him and he reversed and re-funded the center. So calling in these chits, and being able to hold the people to the promises they made in their videos, is valuable.
That said, for me the most important videos are the ones from people no one’s ever heard of. Average, everyday LGBT folks reaching out and sharing their joy with LGBT kids who may be having trouble picturing a future for themselves. Queer kids know there are gay celebrities out there, and straight celebs and politicians who are fine with gay people, but what some of them are having trouble picturing is how they get from being a bullied, miserable 14-year-old gay kid whose family is also tormenting them to a happy, secure, loved, and perhaps reconciled-with-their-family gay adult.
What are the next steps in It Gets Better’s future?
There’s a good body of videos and we want to archive and tag them so they’re more easily searched. There are a lot by trans people, but you can’t always tell just by looking at the thumbnail images, so we would need to make them easier to break out into playlists and search. We’re working on that now. The mission after that is to make sure that 5 to 10 years from now, once this moment of such intense media interest has passed, that kids who are 5 today and going to be 15 then and don’t know about the website can find their way there. We have to make sure that there is enough money raised to host and maintain the website and awareness about it in schools and where kids are at.
As a sex-advice columnist, who do you look to or read for sex advice?
I read a lot of sex columns. I like In & Out, Caroline Hax, Dear Prudence, Margo Howard. If you go to thestranger.com/savage, there’s a blogroll called “Want a Second Opinion?” which links to other columns I approve of and enjoy.
So what is the one issue when it comes to our sex lives that you have made your number-one mission to change through your work?
I just want people to be more realistic about monogamy. People’s expectations about what a long-term relationship is like are so in conflict with what LTRs are actually like that a lot of decent, fine, functional relationships have ended because people had irrational expectations. If we can change expectations we can save a lot of relationships. Life-long sexual monogamy and the expectation an LTR is always going to be this extraordinarily passionate f–kfest sets us all up for disappointment.
And is there one strategy you are taking to go about that?
It’s an issue that constantly comes up. Sexual dissatisfaction, mismatched libidos, unmet sexual needs, people being cut off sexually by their spouses after they have children. I’m often in the position of recommending what I describe as “the least worst option.” I think if the choice is a nasty divorce that upends the lives of four or five people and family, or a little discreet infidelity that makes it possible for that family to remain intact and otherwise completely functional, I’m for infidelity.
It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living is available from Dutton (uspenguin
Lawrence Ferber is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.