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Monday, August 22, 2011

Dan Savage on the evolution of straight gaydar

Salon has an interview with Dan Savage titled "The evolution of Dan Savage" which is a pretty good read if you're not very familiar with the progression of his career, and includes an interesting (to me) bit about his motivation for starting the It Gets Better Project:
One of the things that was a wake-up call for me last year before the "It Gets Better" campaign -- why we launched it, my husband and I -- was when I was sort of unaware how bad it was getting out there. You know, in the Greensburg, Indianas, and the Topachakees, Californias, where Constance McMillen was. What I didn't realize before those suicides opened my eyes, was that as it was getting better in New York or San Francisco or Seattle, it was getting worse out in the sticks, out in mega-church land. Because those of us who are out and urban and fully integrated into our work lives and families, our existence has made it impossible for queer 14-year-olds to fly under the radar in a Greensburg. 
When I was a kid, and I was odd, the default assumption was that I was odd, not that I was gay. Now when a kid is odd in a Greensburg, gay or straight, the default assumption is gay. Because my job requires me to be in constant communication with people all over the country who are writing in to "Savage Love," calling the podcast, I think I'm a little more conscious of what's going on out there in the boonies -- but even I didn't see that. And that's a bitter pill for those of us my age to swallow. Us out there leading our lives and being successful have actually kind of made it worse for 14-year-old gay kids in Greensburg, Ind. 
Well, made it worse, but that's part of progress, right? 
Absolutely. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't have lived this way, or we shouldn't have come out. And the people who are most responsible for making it worse are of course anti-gay politicians and anti-gay preachers, and parents, teachers and peers who are persecuting these kids. But we've created a kind of hyper-awareness about sexuality and sexual orientation that has let to hyper-scrutiny about those things, in places where people weren't on the lookout for it before. Everybody's on the lookout for it now.
Savage has also referred to this increased awareness of homosexuality on his podcast, to explain why people are not only willing to claim that Marcus Bachmann is a closeted gay but condemn him for not being un-closeted. He (Savage) says that our cultural attitude has changed-- that back when most gays were closeted of necessity, it was so much easier and more likely that straight people would ignore their own gaydar through ignorance or consideration or both. But now that being gay is semi-culturally acceptable, people both notice who seems gay more readily and often and expect that people who are gay should come out. So they feel more comfortable with and entitled to judge closeted gays for not coming out. Basically, that straight people used to prefer to be lied to, but not anymore. For some reason the "permalink" option on the Savage Love podcast does not lead to any such thing, but you can hear him explaining this (much better) at the beginning of episode 249 here.

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