Speaking Engagement Review: Dan Savage Jewish Literary Festival

author, Dan Savage and myself

Dan Savage and myself

I went to see columnist, author and activist Dan Savage at the 2013 Jewish Literary Festival in Washington, D.C. Though I am not a fan of Dan’s foul-mouthed Julia Sugarbaker style of take-down and commentary, I was excited to see him because it’s Dan Savage. How often might you get to meet someone so involved in gay rights. I was also excited to hear him speak in person because I thought hearing him speak may move my opinion on him. My perception of Dan as the foul-mouthed Julia Sugarbaker has been formed by what I’ve seen and read about him in various media. That give me a very limited view. I had hoped hearing him speak would give me new insight on gay rights and our advances; broaden my perspective about him; wow and inspire me, but the speech wasn’t wow and was pretty much what what I have heard from him before.

author Dan Savage speakingDan spent a little bit of time talking about religion; the setting for the speech was a church. He talked about his own religious upbringing and reconciling within himself growing up Catholic; the anti-gay view and focus of some Christians; the not-all-like-that (NALT) Christians who are for gay people and gay rights; and Tony Perkins from the Family Research council. He talked about all of this with his usual humor and casual, conversational swearing, but he didn’t say anything new. Most of what Dan talked about in the 30-40 minutes that he was speaking was things you can find on YouTube or in newspaper interviews or hear very conservative, very right-wing people quote about him.

I had wanted to hear from him why he wrote his book, American Savage. I wanted to hear some insight from him on the recent gains for gay rights in the United States and how he thinks we got to this point; how he may have even helped get us here or how we helped to get ourselves here. I wanted to hear something personal about Dan Savage the man; get to know him as more than just the funny, crass, monogomish columnist and father. Instead what we got was an attitude of ‘your my choir, so, I’m gonna stick with the well-worn stuff that gets laughs and keeps getting me invited on talk shows.’ I hoped for something a little bit more dimensional. We did get some brief bits of insight and impact, but they were fewer than I had hoped.

The most powerful moment was when Dan briefly touched on his own thoughts of suicide as gay youth. When Dan Savage told us that as a teen he thought about throwing himself in front of an ‘L’ train, you could feel the air in the sanctuary change and settle. You could sense people taking that in with some thoughtfulness and some shock because this is something that we don’t think of when we think of happy-get-lucky Dan. It provide us with a real connection moment because a good portion of us have been there; can identify with something like that.

There were other moments that had an impact as well. When Dan talked about gay as a choice and tied it to suicide. Dan brought up how some opponents of equality will say that being gay is a choice and that gays can change. When a gay youth commits suicide, the people who believe it is a choice will point to that suicide to say how dangerous it is to chose to be gay. Dan noted how nonsensical that was because what it communicates underneath the statement is that it is easier to blow your head off than it is to chose to be straight.

Dan told the story of how a woman and her son were listening to him on the radio talk about the It Gets Better project. How the woman could tell that this was having some kind of an impact on her son, but she wasn’t sure what to say. Finally, she states that ‘I hope that any of my children would know that if they were gay, I would love them just the same.’ This opened the door for her son to tell her that we was gay; that he feared telling anyone; that he was being bullied about it and that he was in real danger.

These moments came from the Question and Answer portion of the program. This was the real highlight of the whole presentation. These moments were the ones that I was hoping to hear, but I didn’t feel like I got enough of them.

Dan stated that he was much better as a conversationalist than he was as a speaker and it was true. As people came up and asked questions, Dan because more alive; the room became more alive because we started to be actively engaged in conversation with him. This raised my enjoyment of the presentation and of Dan Savage himself. So my advice for Dan Savage for the future would be less talking head; more Q & A.

author Dan Savage signing his book American SavageI will say that Dan Savage is a book signing machine. This was probably the second most pleasant signing I have attended. We all lined up to have our American Savage books signed and I figured it would take; from where I was near the start of the line, about an hour to get through. But he managed to get through the whole line in about an hour. This was including personalized signatures and taking photos with folks. That was impressive.

Also impressive, was the Wasington, DC Jewish Community Center (JDCCC) and GLbt Outreach & Engagement (GLOE) organization of the event. They were friendly and engaging. They kept the crowd moving, and kept us informed about timelines for Dan’s appearance; tried to get as many people into the space as possible. Their masters of ceremony were bright, bubbly and enthusiastic about the program and presenters without being too long winded. Applause for JDCCC and GLOE for their organization and pleasant demeanor.

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