Dan Savage, left, and his husband Terry Miller in 2012. (Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP)

Dan Savage on bestiality, politics and how weed made him a better parent

Cannabist: Me too. And on that note, let’s talk about hedonism. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, gay culture had developed a self-applied reputation for a kind of Dionysian over-indulgence; whether it was sex or drugs or music, they took it to 11. Do you think that gay culture has to shed that identity now that being gay has become acceptable in mainstream suburbia?

Savage: Nope. No, we don’t. Because over the last 40 years we’ve achieved acceptance without shedding those identities. There’s still gay bathhouses, there’s still the guy in a jock-strap and leather at the pride parades.

You go to International Mr. Leather in Chicago and there’s a sex-mart with crazy whips and chains, people walking around with butt-plugs in their asses wearing dog-leashes and hoods and shackles. And for years this was a skeezy underground event, and then you see The Chicago Tribune doing a feature about how “Mr. Leather is coming back to town! What a fun way to spend your weekend!” Yet the event isn’t cleaned up. There’s still fisting going on there. But that culture is viewed differently now.

There were some people who were not into the Dionysian gay-sex fast-lane who resented being lumped into that back in the day. That was the only thing that was publicly manifested at that time, and they wanted no part of it. Today we have both. Gay people who want to get married and have kids can do that, and people who want to get fisted can get fisted — and married gay guys can get fisted as well.

Cannabist: I sometimes hear older gay men reminisce about being gay in New York in the ’70s, and it reminds me of people today who reminisce about the time when pot was illegal and you had to know a guy.

Savage: It was all very exciting for the consumers, but not for the people who were dealing and wound up in prison for 40 years. And it’s the same thing with being gay. When it was underground and illegal it had this dangerous, forbidden quality — there’s a sexual charge to that. But there were people who wound up dead or in prison or committed, even lobotomized, for that. I’m not willing to go back to the forbidden time when it was so naughty if in exchange tens of thousands of queer people’s lives are completely destroyed every year.

Cannabist: That’s what fascinates me about your job, where you essentially study the arc of sexuality over thousands of years and can offer context for people’s sexual behavior today. Being so immersed in that vantage point, does it ever make you curious about what generations a century or two into the future will look at back on us today and think, “Why were they so uptight and secretive about …” whatever?

Savage: I don’t know. I don’t think we can fall prey to the myth of constant forward progress. The 18th century was pretty licentious. Restoration England had open prostitution, the theater was coming back — it was a wild, swinging time. And after then the Victorian-era came along and the pendulum swung the other direction. Who knows where we are on the swing of the pendulum right now. Maybe we’re at the point where it’s going to slow and go the other direction, and our grandchildren will look at us and think how naughty we were.

Cannabist: But will we go back to a time where gay people are imprisoned and lobotomized?

Savage: I don’t think we can go back to the closet. I don’t think we can stuff that genie back into the bottle, which is what the religious-right wants. They want to return to a time when your kids never learned that gay people existed, because no one was publicly gay.

Cannabist: We still have sexual conversion therapy. Do you think getting that outlawed is the next fight on the horizon for LGBT rights?

Savage: The Obama administration just came out for it being outlawed for minors all across the country. It’s quackery, and it’s hard to outlaw quackery. Some people go for the self-hating bullshit. But it’s a form of malpractice for everything we know about how dangerous it is. It should be illegal, particularly for minors.

Cannabist: For minors, absolutely, but to play devil’s advocate, in a free society shouldn’t consenting adults be allowed to receive any kind of therapy that they want?

Savage: I’m not going to knock the stupidity out of anyone’s hands. Gay people who … I don’t know. I shouldn’t talk about this when I’m so stoned, or I’ll say something that will get me in trouble.

Cannabist: Alright, let’s talk about a lower stakes issue, like objectophilia, the belief that you have a personal, sexual relationship with inanimate objects. More than just fetish-ing something, they believe they are in a loving relationship with a car or a bridge or a microwave. I’ve heard some doctors explain this as synesthesia, which is a neurological ailment. Knowing history’s mistake of diagnosing homosexuality or being transgender as a disease, should we never qualify any form of sexuality as a mental illness again? Say I want to marry this table, wouldn’t that qualify as a type of psychosis?

Savage: Yeah, but is anyone getting hurt? If it makes you happy. There are people who are happy to think there are such a thing as angels. There are no angels. Some people are in love with a table. The table can’t love you back, but if you love the table and you’re not hurting the table, knock yourself out with that table-love.

Cannabist: So if someone’s sexuality is hurting themselves or others, that’s the point where we should recommend psychiatric help. What about when it comes to bestiality?

Savage: We draw a very hypocritical line when it comes to bestiality. And I say this as someone who is completely, 100 percent in favor of that taboo. We say animals can’t consent (with bestiality), but then we eat them. They didn’t consent to that. We’re very, very fussy when it comes to animals and sex, but not when it comes to breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A budtender at 3-D Denver Discreet Dispensary picks up a nugget of Sour Diesel in December 2013. (Denver Post file)
A budtender at 3-D Denver Discreet Dispensary picks up a nugget of Sour Diesel in December 2013. (Denver Post file)

Cannabist: I think I’m too high for the bestiality conversation. Tell me about your experiences with pot. When did you get high for the first time?

Savage: I didn’t smoke pot until I was 34-years-old. It was around when I was younger, but it was a cultural thing. I wasn’t with the stoner crowd or the athlete crowd, which are the people who get high. I was with the musical theater kids, and the newspaper, and those kids didn’t smoke pot.

Cannabist: That’s pretty unusual. Most people who wait until their 30s to get high typically don’t like it. What was it like the first time you tried it?

Savage: I passed out. I got high in my friend Dave’s kitchen and blacked out for a moment — which, thankfully, has never happened since. I guess I got too high? All I remember is we watched ‘Nixon,’ and I passed out. Those first few times were just getting Gonzo super-high, and then I didn’t do it very much after that for around a decade.

After that (getting high) became tied to parenting. When you have an only child one or the other of you has to be the playmate of last resort, and I couldn’t sit and play cars for two hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon — unless I was high. Marijuana never gets the credit for making people better parents, but it kind of made me a better parent. More patient, able to turn my adult-shit off and get into a kid’s head space.

Cannabist: How often do you use it now?

Savage: About once a week. I haven’t yet been to any of the legal dispensaries in Seattle. I went to my first legal store here (in Denver). My husband is the one who shops.

I like edibles. I have insomnia, and I have writer’s-brain, where you can’t turn it off, you keep thinking about what you’re working on. And then you can’t sleep or do other stuff. And at those times I like to get stoned, because then I can concentrate on … ‘South Park,’ or whatever. I never get anything done while I’m stoned. It’s an off-switch.

Cannabist: But here you are getting high with me right before going on stage. I do a lot of things high, but public speaking is not one of them.

Savage: Yeah, but I’m going on stage at Hump. I’m not going on television. At Hump I can announce that I’m in Colorado and I’m high and nobody cares, and it’s part of the fun.

Cannabist: What’s fascinating about Hump is it’s an opportunity to watch pornography in a public space with strangers. Today porn is almost always a solitary experience, but for most of the 20th century porn was only watched in theaters.

Savage: We’re bringing it back. Today porn is such a minutely self-curated experience. There’s this endless source for whatever turns you on specifically. It’s like a vein of coal that never ends.

With Hump some people think there’s going to be people masturbating in the audience, and we have to reassure them that there isn’t. We’ve had one blowjob in 12 years. It’s not that kind of a festival. It’s witty, dirty, funny short movies. There’s hardcore porn, but there’s also animations and musicals.

We’ve been watching the audiences for years at Hump — partly to make sure no one is pulling out a phone to take picture. What happens at Hump … I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say this coherently, because I’m really stoned … What happens at Hump is you have straight people watching gay porn, and gay boys watching giant cunnilingus on the big screen. You have vanilla people watching kinky porn, and cis people watching trans porn. And at first you can see people thrown back in their seats, you can see people gasping when they’re being forced to watch something different than the people they’re attracted to, it’s not their plumbing, things that they would never want to do in bed themselves.

It throws them back, because all they can see is what’s not their thing, what’s different. And about halfway through everyone is cheering and laughing. I think what happens, and what is the lasting and lingering benefit of it, is these people who can only see what’s different at first, by the end of it are seeing how everything is exactly the same: Passion, lust, desire, romantic feelings, vulnerability. All those things that are the same are much more important than the veneer on the top of plumbing, sex-acts, gender and whatever else.

Cannabist: Do you think there’s such a thing as overdoing it with sexual partners? I’ve heard you be critical of bath-houses — but you’re the sex-positive guy. Where do you draw the line?

Savage: I am the sex-positive guy, but everyone draws the line somewhere. I’m allowed to have tastes and preferences of my own. I’m not gonna suck a dick that’s been in twelve other mouths and three other asses in the last few hours at some sex club. I’m squeamish. I won’t share a can of Coke with my sister. I’m not going to share a can of dick with a bunch of strangers.

I’ve always said that straight-people need to have more sex and more sex partners, but gay guys need to have less sex and fewer sex partner than we can. Women, whether it’s biological or cultural, act as a check on heterosexual male pigish-ness. You have to be Wilt Chamberlain to sleep with 10,000 women. Gay men don’t have that check, externally. So we have to find that check outside of ourselves. We need to learn to say ‘enough.’ Because you can have too much sex, just like you can have too many Twinkies.

I like to quote Mary Poppins on this: ‘Enough is as good as a feast.’ So if you’ve had six dicks, you’ve probably had enough dick tonight.