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Dan Savage contemplates commitment

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Your 6-year-old is blasting Black Sabbath on the car stereo, and the street is as clogged as a men's room at halftime. Getting to the church on time will require a feat of derring-do on par with O.J. Simpson's Hertz-induced airport sprint. This is not how you imagined your wedding day, if you imagined one at all.

Your name is Dan Savage: sex columnist-at-large, licker of Republican doorknobs (long story), and self-described "righteous libertine." In The Commitment, you anguish over predicaments both original (your kid opposes "boys marrying boys," while your Catholic mom practically demands it) and not (basic commitmentphobia).

The world is complicated in this day of the 50-50 "death-do-us-part" proposition, and so, too, should be anyone's decision to wed.

For Savage and his boyfriend of 10 years, Terry Miller, the marriage question goes hand in hand with a larger political one, which boils down to this: Why bother?

Sure, the legal benefits of marriage are a no-brainer. But the ritual itself? Why stage it, when the nuptial has less legal clout than a Chuck E. Cheese gift certificate?

And, OK -- is that question legit, or just a disguise for fear of commitment? Maybe it's both.

Savage manages to see any public affirmation of love as a temptation of fate. He's forever reading about seemingly happy couples who are rewarded for their lavish weddings with breakups so swift they seemed ordained. Meanwhile, his mother posts him newspaper clippings touting the advantages of marriage.

The Commitment is a memoir sprinkled with generous lashings of polemic on gay marriage (in the absence of legal recognition) and gay family life (in the absence of established norms). In one memorable scene, Miller says he doesn't want a wedding because he doesn't want to act "like straight people." This, while he's holding his baby, doing the household laundry and cooking.

Savage is no Log Cabin Republican, but neither is he of the waning Queer Nation school that claims it's every gay person's solemn duty to subvert heterosexual society. Curiously enough, the traditional family, complete with one wage earner (Savage) and one full-time domestician/CEO of childcare (Miller), is something that works for them.

Of course, this book is not all gay marriage, all the time. There are lots of diversionary tales. One, involving a birthday cake fetishist (yes, you read that right), will not be forgotten soon.

In some ways, The Commitment is a coming-of-age story for a relationship wherein the personal isn't always political. For instance, Miller's fear that getting married means acting like "straight" people smacks of another great American anxiety: the fear of becoming a clich. Or, more specifically, that subscribing to a tradition will make you one.

But, yes, the political is unbelievably personal. A gay family's road trip through Wyoming and South Dakota probably isn't comfortable under the best of circumstances, and especially not when the news is filled with the gay-marriage backlash.

Shortly after Sept. 11 -- bear with me on this -- the First Lady quoted a young girl who, in answer to the soon to be over-asked "Why do they hate us?" question, remarked that it might be because they (Atta et al.) didn't know our names.

The same concept applies here. As Savage shows, the rhetorical chirping of Dr. Dobson, Tony Perkins and Rick Santorum betrays their profound know-nothingness about real gay families. That is, people with names. How would they deal with the fact that Savage, Miller and DJ live in a more structured, traditional environment (the kid's never been to day care!) than the offspring of so many married, straight families?

Given the polarized nature of our political culture, one wonders if the "hate the sin, love the sinner" crowd ever will be able to consider these ideas. Despite Savage's best efforts, one wonders if they'll ever know our names.

-- John Dicker

capsule

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family

by Dan Savage

Dutton (New York)

$24.95/hardcover

capsule

Dan Savage, at a Denver Press Club Author Luncheon

Tuesday, Oct. 18, noon

1330 Glenarm Place, Denver

$20; call 303/571-5260 for more.

  • Dan Savage contemplates commitment

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