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Dan Savage, purveyor of advice to America’s sexually kinked and erotically troubled, is justly famous for his no-holds-barred approach to sex. He’s also a frequent contributor to the expansion of the English language, whether providing a new name for a sexual act (”pegging,” just go Google it), or expanding the meaning of a certain right-wing senator’s last name (”santorum,” and you may want to think twice before Googling that at work).
My favorite Dan Savage, though, is Dan Savage the Family Man.
In his earlier book, The Kid, Savage recounted how he and his boyfriend, Terry, became the adopted parents to a little boy named D.J. It’s not often I’ll say that a book changed my outlook, but The Kid did. Before that, the idea of having a kid a kid of my own seemed like a distant and foreign fantasy, reserved for lesbians and saintly gay couples who save unwanted foster children. But Savage made having a family with children a real possibility, whether I choose to follow it or not.
Family man: Savage
(Photo by Curt Doughty)
That’s not to say Savage made adoption and child-rearing seem easy. If anything, he made it seem incredibly hard and fraught with emotional minefields. But he made it seem real, and expanding the realm of possibilities for gay men and their relationships was no small matter.
With The Commitment, Savage tells the story of how his mother decided that he and Terry should get married. That desire of his mother’s drives Savage’s look at marriage as an institution, how the rules seem to change when it comes to gays and lesbians, and how marriage planning can strain even the strongest of relationships.
Going over his own family’s history, Savage hits upon some of the uncomfortable truths about marriage.
”Death parted my grandparents, not divorce, and death is the sole measure of a successful marriage,” says Savage. ”When a marriage ends in divorce, we say that it’s failed…. Why? Because both parties got out alive…. Only a marriage that ends with someone in the cooler down at Maloney’s [funeral parlor] is a success.
”It’s a rather perverse measure of success.”
Savage has a knack for telling stories about his family and his childhood. As a young gay boy, he dealt with his increasing loneliness by becoming a proficient cake baker. One day he gets it into his head to bake a wedding cake for his next door neighbor, a single mother about to enter her second marriage. He ends up learning a hard and sad lesson about grown-ups.
While some of his personal history may be maudlin, much of The Commitment is filled with Savage’s sharp-edged humor, as he goes after everyone from right-wing anti-gay activists to gay male ballroom dancers to straight wedding expos with unadulterated gusto. Savage has an enviable talent for dissecting both the anti-gay movement and gay culture itself, and make you laugh the whole time.
Well, unless you’re a gay male ballroom dancer, in which case you may be getting ready to write him a letter.
But the greater point of The Commitment isn’t the cultural criticism or the jokes. What’s important is the family love story at the center, and how marriage may or may not strengthen that family.
Do Savage and his boyfriend Terry get married in the end, or do they opt instead for the tattoos that drive his mother crazy? You’ll have to read for yourself to find out. But rest assured that The Commitment is entertaining, hilarious, moving and thought-provoking every step of the way.