I was introduced to the work of Dan Savage only two and a half years ago, once I came out publicly as bisexual and became a writer who focuses on LGBTQ issues. That’s when I started listening to Dan’s podcast, Savage Love. In nearly every episode he discusses the bisexual identity in some form, and he always does so in a manner that validates bisexuality while showcasing how diverse members of our community are.
A year ago, when I openly discussed my adoration for Dan Savage with another bi activist, my friend was dumbstruck. “Do you know what he used to say about bi folks, particularly bi men?” he asked.
The truth? No, I did not. So I went through the archives, and saw that Savage was on-record saying some ignorant and offensive things about bisexuals. He didn’t believe we exist and often quoted a 2005 study out of Northwestern University that couldn’t document a bisexual arousal pattern. (That study has since been disproven.)
Savage also said the majority of younger bi men use the label on their way to gaytown, just as he and many other gay men have done for decades. Because of this, it follows that one should be skeptical of a young bi man who comes out.
Also, being Dan Savage, he would say these disparaging things about bisexuals in a matter-of-fact and condescending manner. It’s his tone and the fact that he sometimes has a tendency to overstate claims that still infuriate bisexuals and make Savage such a polarizing figure.
But Savage has since apologized to the bisexual community, stating that bisexuality does indeed exist. And weekly, in his podcast, he helps bisexual individuals embrace their bi identity, encouraging them to come out to folks when it’s safe to do so. Nevertheless, many bi activists and members of the community consider him the devil.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed a hypocrisy in those who hate him. The same people who don’t fault Hillary Clinton for being opposed to same-sex marriage — who in fact praise her for her growth on the issue — don’t extend the same courtesy to Dan Savage. Truthfully, I’m not sure why this is the case. Savage was wrong. He has admitted he was wrong and that his view of bisexuality was egocentric. He has since changed his perspective and has been doing great work for the bisexual community, among others.
I myself have consistently said that a number of gay people, particularly men, use ‘bi’ as a stepping stone label. I’ve discussed how much this confused the living hell out of me. I thought I must be gay, too, because my four or five male friends in college who claimed the bi label revealed they were actually gay within three months.
No one has ever clocked me for saying these things. One, because I’m bisexual. But also because I discuss it on a more personal level. Those people who used the bi label as a stepping stone actually hindered my ability to embrace being bisexual.
If we claim this doesn’t happen often when it so clearly does, that hurts our credibility as bisexual people. It’s fine to make the claim that many men use a bisexuality label as a pitstop to gay, but many don’t. And there’s no benefit in telling someone he must actually be gay when he claims to be bisexual in his teens or early 20s. Just shut your mouth and be supportive. If he comes out as gay later in life, so what? And if he continues embracing the bi label, you did him a huge service by respecting him and not denying him his sexual identity.
Dan Savage has also received flack for saying that bi people have a “moral obligation” to come out as bisexual.
During a recent talk with George Stroumboulopoulos, Savage describes it as a moral imperative:
“You have a responsibility to be out,” he says. “You have a moral responsibility to be out. It means not being out is a moral failing, but no one can compel you. If you don’t want to be out, you should own that as a moral failing. All of us in our life are guilty of moral failings. It’s not like because you have the moral failing you should be dragged out behind the barn and shot. But you have to own it. You have to eat it.”
I don’t agree that coming out is a “moral responsibility,” but I do see the reasoning behind his sentiment. Also, because he’s not insane, he makes crystal clear this moral responsibility does not extend to individuals who would be in emotional or physical danger upon coming out. He only believes those who are in a safe position to do so possess this moral obligation.
I do agree that it behooves the bisexual community for all bi people to come out. Visibility is necessary. I also think it’s crucial to illustrate how diverse the bisexual community is. I agree with Savage that it’s especially important to come out when you’re bisexual and in a monogamous relationship. That’s why I appreciate the Still Bisexual campaign, which does great work in dispelling the notion that one’s (bi)sexual identity disappears because you’ve chosen to commit yourself to one person.
I agree it’s upsetting the data collected from Pew Research in 2013 indicated a mere 28% of bisexuals said most or all of the important people in their lives knew about their sexual orientation, compared to 71% of lesbians and 77% of gay men. Numbers were especially small among bisexual men: Only 12% said they were out to that degree, compared to one-third of bisexual women who said the same.
I think what rubs bi people the wrong way about Savage’s statement is that he seems to be trivializing the effort, strength and courage required to come out as bisexual. He makes it appear, through his tone and language, that it’s as simple as snapping your fingers. In reality, bisexual people can tell you that’s far from the case.
At the end of the day, Dan Savage may not be perfect. But I’ve been listening to his podcast consistently for a year now, and I can safely say that he is doing a lot more that benefits the bisexual community than most gay men. So while it’s still necessary to still challenge if he missteps or overstates a claim, I think it’s high time we forgive him.
Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships and culture. He’s written for a number of publications, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Slate and more. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @
Featured image of Dan Savage courtesy AP Photo/Elaine Thompson