That's how folks first met Dan Savage over 20 years ago. For years, it was the standard salutation for those who sought his advice through his Savage Love column in The Stranger.
Soon the column became nationally syndicated. Savage Love has been running in the Hartford Advocate and its sister papers the New Haven Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly for around five years. So there'll be a ready audience for his candid commentary on contemporary queer society when Savage takes a seat onstage October 5 at the Bushnell for the latest Connecticut Forum event, "Being Gay: The Personal & Political, Struggles & Triumphs."
Savage will joined on the panel by tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who came out as a lesbian in 1981, waaaaaay before most other celebrities and sports figures did so, and by the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian bishop from New Hampshire.
When we called to discuss the Forum, Savage was at his desk in the offices of The Stranger, the Seattle-based alt-weekly that launched his Savage Love column in the early '90s and where he now holds the title of Editorial Director.
A lot of alt-weekly writers can't wait to ditch the daily grind when they become columnists, but in a recent phone interview Savage insists "I love the day-to-day. I love the opportunity to help figure out what's going to be in the paper next week. I'm a bossy cow." Yet this bossy cow ("All the best advice columnists are ballsy Midwestern gals," Savage opines), in his column as well as at the office, enjoys how projects can be greatly improved by the open exchange of opinions, constructive discussions and even disagreements.
"I've done enough theater to know that the worst directors are those who are threatened by other people's ideas. There are a lot of theater fags here at The Stranger."
Savage still drops the word "faggot" freely. He's into reclaiming words, recontextualizing them for contemporary life. His column has also created brand new words for things which dearly needed names. A good example is "pegging."
"It's a thing that needed a name," Savage says. "You can't say woman-fucking-a-man-in-the-ass-with-a-dildo" every time."
One novel linguistic nomenclature Savage had a hand in has proven to be a continuing thorn in the side of politician Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who sought the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Back in 2003, Santorum's virulent anti-gay rhetoric (comparing homosexuality to bestiality, among other things) led Savage to hold a contest to find the best new definition for the word "Santorum." The winner — "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex" — has dogged the senator for a decade now. When you Google "Santorum," the man and the "frothy mixture" both come up at once. "Again," Savage demurs. "That wasn't me. That was the readers. It was something that needed a name."
In recent years, Dan Savage has advanced from words to phrases. Though Savage Love is still a hit in papers coast-to-coast, and a related podcast is just as popular, Savage may be as well known these days for a viral online cause he founded as for anything he's written or podcasted.
"It Gets Better."
That simple phrase has fomented a revolution of concern for young people suffering from bullying, hate speech, intolerance and other abuse. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken the "It Gets Better Pledge" at itgetsbetter.org:
"Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better."
Savage started the It Gets Better movement with his husband Terry Miller due to continued concerns over the high suicide rate for gay teens. The idea of conveying a simple message of hope and support for young people who have trouble seeing their own bright future became an instant phenomenon. Over 50,000 videos of encouraging messages have been posted (including by the Yale School of Drama, Sarah Silverman and Barack Obama); a book has been published; the BETTERLegal Program, which helps LBGT youth in the court system, was founded; T-shirts are available.
"We were overwhelmed by it when it was just us," Savage recalls of the early days of this grassroots movement. "Then we monitored it. As a model, it's open source, easy for anyone to do. It's the kind of activism that's lacking on the left: you identify the doable thing. In this case, that's to sit in front of a computer and talk for 10 minutes."
Current events often find his way into Savage Love and its associated podcast. But Savage also has other outlets: features in The Stranger, books (including the new American Savage), activist causes, even theater. "I tend to go topical. I'm a news junkie. I've never seen a line between my journalism and my activism." In fact, he says, "I'm not a journalist. I'm a writer. I started writing this column as a joke. The readers just trusted my instincts."
Does he still consider his newspaper column to be the center of what he does? "I used to think of it as the main tentpole of all my activities. Now, just as often, I hear about the podcast. The podcast can be more discursive."
Savage is looking forward to discussing the state of homosexuality today at the Connecticut Forum on Saturday. "I go to the East Coast a lot, but not to Connecticut. Gene Robinson is someone I've e-mailed with, and quoted in the column, but never met in person. Martina Navratilova I've never met in person."
Amid all his other activities, Savage remains a focused, well-informed and often hysterically funny dispenser of wisdom and relationship advice. "I'm Irish Catholic. Irish Catholics have the gift of gab," he explains. He is justly proud of the Savage Love column's lasting success. "When it first started, I didn't have designs that it would be syndicated." In fact, when the column was pitched to that supposed flagship of the alt-weekly industry, The Village Voice, Savage was told it was too dirty for The Voice to publish.
He, obviously, saw things differently. "The advice column is a format you can't not read. The idea behind my column was to let people talk about the sex they're actually having. What gay people bring to straight people is certain skills that straight people should emulate. When AIDS happened, penetration suddenly became more risky than bondage or S&M."
Such a fresh and useful perspective has kept Savage Love fresh for decades, long after its initial "Hey Faggot" insouciance became familiar. (Savage retired that greeting in 1999.) While finding new areas of concern, Dan Savage continues to hip his audiences to struggles that may seem over but aren't. "A lot of people have declared the marriage thing over, but there are 37 states left to go. It's going to be a while. Trans issues are huge, an emergent issue, and rightfully so.
"The genie's out of the bottle on all the gay shit. It can't be stuffed back in."
Being Gay: The Personal & Political, Struggles & Triumphs
Featuring Dan Savage, Martina Navratilova and Bishop Gene Robinson. Moderated by Jonathan Capehart. 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. (860) 509-0909, http://www.bushnell.org