Dear Dan Savage
When two opinion columnists have different audiences and considerably different payscales
by Corey Saucier
I was going to write a rant against Dan Savage. Dan Savage has a popular advice column that is progressive and sex-positive and funny. It is something I would recommend to anyone that is trying to broaden their sexual vocabulary. He is gay and White and left-wing and smart; and extremely problematic. He was the guy who started the “It Gets Better” campaign and recently had a brilliant and delightful network TV show that was “pro-homo,” subversive and adorable enough to make me cry ugly-tears on more than one occasion. So he does good work.
I am a fan.
But the other day on his podcast, he went on a tirade about crystal-meth users and guys who have condomless sex with strangers; and his language was condescending and judgmental and stigmatizing; and this is not his first time…. And as an undying defender of my wild-eyed “bareback” drug boys, I was livid! I said a prayer to the patron saint of beautiful broken boys; covered myself in war paint; and taped my fingers, wrapped my wrists, and flicked my nose like Bruce Lee before a fight.
“I’m calling you out, Dan Savage.” Sex columnist to sex columnist….
But while I was mulling over what I would craft to destroy, embarrass (and subtlety compliment) this bright pink beacon for our community, I was sent a message by a gorgeous little twenty-four year old Black boy with pierced nipples and gangly arms that read, “Hey, can I ask you a question?” This I have seen pass across my screen more than a hundred times, and nine times out of ten it has something to do with HIV.
Beta Boy: Hey, can I ask you a question?
BottomBud: Sure, what’s going on cutie?
Beta Boy: How long have you been positive?
BottomBud: About 20 years.
Beta Boy: Do you like it?
Notice the phrasing of that question? “Do you like it?” As if it’s something to enjoy—something to choose, something to do for fun. So I began to poke at the edges of his mental health the way you would poke at a glistening jellyfish that had washed itself onto shore, making sure he was not full of poison and pain, before carefully putting him back in the ocean to swim free.
What I found is that he was wondering if he should just actively “become positive” so that he “can have the kind of sex” that he wants. He did not want to use condoms, and he did not know that you could use PrEP (Truvada) WITHOUT condoms, and still be protected. He was young and beautiful and stupid, and probably living with more mental issues than anyone could assuage over the Internet, but he had never met another Black man who was HIV-positive and honest about their sexual behavior. And in his mind, that meant that I was probably into doing harm. But I made a promise to myself (many years ago) to do no harm: I am undetectable, I see my doctor every three months, and (as much as is in my power) I make sure that my sexual partners are informed and cognizant of all risk. Which, when it comes to HIV, is ZERO.
I’m a safe slut!
So I can dress in the grungiest outfits, take as many drugs as I need, and have as many partners as I can count. But guess what, Mr. Savage? It’s still safe! And it still DOES NO HARM. But I’m sure you know this. You are smarter than that. Something has made you critical of our most beautiful, lost, and fragile…. And I am sorry for that. Because some of us are still here “in these trenches” dealing with HIV stigma, PrEP shame, and balancing our Bacchanal needs with our inner moral compass…. And I may not have a podcast with the potential to reach millions, but I can reach this ONE.
“Hello my beautiful gangly Black boy on the Internet. I know the information is contradictory. And I know they keep telling you to use a condom. And I know that you won’t. And I know you think that means you have to be careless, and deviant, and eager to do self-harm. (Because that’s the purple “poplar” brush they paint you with.) BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE! Take your pill. (And then do whatever the hell you want! Depending on the laws in your state.) Or here’s a tip: Something we did in the nineties—make the guy PROVE he is “undetectable” by showing his recent lab results. I keep mine on my bedside table (in case any of my partners ask.) No one ever asks. But you, my dear beautiful nipple-pierced Black boy with lips like cherry trees, you can ask…. And I will never EVER judge you.”
Love and Light.
Corey Saucier is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and Non-Fiction and is currently penning his first novel. His musings and wanderings on Love, Life, and Nonsense can be found at www.justwords.tumblr.com.