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On the heels of his Emmy-winning It Gets Better campaign, columnist and provocateur Dan Savage weighs in on such diverse issues as healthcare, gun control, and marriage equality with characteristic straight talk and humor.
Dan Savage has always had a loyal audience, thanks to his syndicated sex-advice column “Savage Love,” but since the incredible global success of his It Gets Better project—his book of the same name was a New York Times bestseller—his profile has skyrocketed. In addition, he’s written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Onion, GQ, The Guardian, Salon.com, and countless other widely read publications. Savage is recognized as someone whose opinions about our culture, politics, and society should not only be listened to but taken seriously.
Now, in American Savage, he writes on topics ranging from marriage, parenting, and the gay agenda to the Catholic Church and sex education.
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DAN SAVAGE is the author of the internationally syndicated sex-advice column, “Savage Love." His books include the New York Times bestseller It Gets Better, Skipping Towards Gomorrah, and The Kid, his award-winning memoir about adoption. He lives in Seattle, Washington.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
6. My Son Comes Out
A lot has changed since The Kid, my memoir about adopting our son, D.J., was published a dozen years ago. For starters, D.J. isn’t an infant anymore. And no one sits at home by the phone waiting for a call from a hot guy he met at a dance club or a prospective employer or an adoption agency. Now our phones go wherever we do, in our pockets or (more likely) in our hands, practically a part of our bodies. But it wasn’t that long ago that someone waiting for an important, potentially life-changing phone call would be afraid to leave the house.
What else has changed?
Our country, of course, and by extension the world—whether the world liked it or not—on 9/11. Two wars came but just one—as of this writing—has gone. Americans put an African-American in the White House. Twice. Republicans put an idiot Alaskan on the national stage. We saw advances on gay rights all over the world. Marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples in nine US states and the District of Columbia, as well as Spain, Argentina, the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, and five other nations and counting. And now at least fifteen countries—including most recently, France, under Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault—have extended adoption rights to same-sex couples. When I wrote The Kid, Americans opposed full civil equality for gays and lesbians by wide margins. Today poll after poll shows that an ever-growing majority of Americans now support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
My boyfriend became my husband—in Canada, first, where Terry and I got married on our tenth anniversary, and then in our home state of Washington, where voters passed marriage equality in 2012.
Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Kim Kardashian, Sinead O’Connor, and Britney Spears got married.
Everyone I know got iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
Kim Kardashian, Sinead O’Connor, and Britney Spears got divorced after seventy-two, sixteen, and two days of marriage, respectively.
My mother passed away.
Myspace passed away.
Steve Jobs passed away.
D.J.’s mom, Melissa, is no longer living on the streets.
I wrote a couple of books, became the go-to guy for straight people in need of sex advice, and Terry and I founded the It Gets Better Project.
Nabisco introduced candy-corn-flavored Oreos.
Another big change: the number of gay couples adopting children in the United States exploded. In 2000, the same year The Kid was published, there were sixty-five hundred adoptions by gay American couples, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2009, nearly twenty-two thousand gay couples in the United States adopted children. This increase in the number of gay adoptive parents has been described as “stratospheric.”
The Kid played a role in the gay-parenting boom. I get letters daily from gay men who were inspired to adopt after reading about how Terry and I became dads. Many of these men tell me that they had always wanted to be parents but that they had concluded fatherhood wasn’t possible for them after they came out. Reading about our “journey to parenthood,” as social workers everywhere describe adoption, demystified the adoption process and helped them realize that they, too, could be parents. Because, hey, if they gave a kid to those guys— that sex-advice columnist and his disc jockey boyfriend?—who won’t they give a kid to?
Anti-gay “Christian” activists oppose gay marriage, gay workplace protections, gay military service, and, as they’ve made clear through their support of the fraudulent “ex-gay” movement, gay existence. So it comes as no surprise that they also oppose gay adoptions.
Opponents of gay marriage/employees/soldiers/adoptions/existence push one “big lie” to justify each item on their anti-gay agenda— gay marriage will harm society, openly gay soldiers will destroy military readiness, gay people can choose to be straight, and so forth. (In fact, gay people have been marrying in Canada for more than a decade and Canada is doing just fine; a study by the Palm Center, formerly at the University of California and now independent, found that the repeal of the ban on openly gay soldiers has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment, or morale”; in 2012 the head of the largest “ex-gay” group in the country, Alan Chambers of Exodus International, admitted that his organization cannot “cure” homosexuality.)
The “big lie” advanced by opponents of gay adoption is this: When a selfish gay couple adopts, a loving heterosexual couple is deprived of a child. Children who could have been adopted by straight couples are being given to gay couples, they argue, and they claim that it’s not just childless heterosexual couples who are being harmed. Children are being harmed.
In August of 2012 Bryan Fischer, a prominent anti-gay voice on the Christian right and the host of a widely listened to talk radio program, called for the creation of a new “Underground Railroad” that would “deliver innocent children from same-sex households.” Fischer is the director for issues analyses for the American Family Association and he exerts a powerful influence on Republican politics. And Fischer believes that children with gay parents should be kidnapped because getting your kids to school in the morning, making sure their homework is done, their teeth are brushed, that they have enough decent food to eat—basic parenting responsibilities—become “a form of sexual abuse” when same-sex couples perform them.
Children, according to Fischer and others on the right, need a mother and a father, and denying children two opposite-sex parents isn’t just tantamount to child abuse. It is child abuse. For many years opponents of gay adoption have dishonestly cited studies that demonstrated the advantages of having two parents, not two parents of the opposite sex, to justify their opposition to adoptions by same-sex couples.
In 2012, a new study that seemed to support the anti-gay-parenting position was released. The study, authored by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, was funded by two anti-gay think tanks. Regnerus claimed that he was comparing outcomes for children raised by gay parents with children raised by straight couples. He wasn’t. He was comparing children with married straight parents— children from stable, intact homes—to children from broken homes. The study has been widely debunked. (“Among the problems with the study was the definition of ‘lesbian mothers’ and ‘gay fathers,’ ” reads a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “A woman could be identified as a ‘lesbian mother’ in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple. . . . That fact alone in the paper should have ‘disqualified it immediately’ from being considered for publication.”) Only two young adults out of the 248 interviewed in the Regnerus study were raised from birth by same-sex couples.
Dozens of legitimate, sound studies of children with same-sex parents have demonstrated again and again that our kids on average are just as likely to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as children with opposite-sex parents. Case in point: UCLA released a study, published in October of 2012 in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, comparing (and tracking over time) children who were adopted out of foster care by gay men, lesbian women, and heterosexual couples. The study followed eighty-two Los Angeles County children, a quarter of whom were adopted by homosexual parents, and then followed up with them for two years after being placed. Researchers found that “children in all three types of households benefited from adoption: on average, they made significant gains in cognitive development—their IQ scores increased by an average of 10 points—and they maintained stable levels of behavior problems. What’s more, the kids adopted by gay and lesbian parents actually started out with more risk factors, and were more likely to be of a different ethnicity than their adoptive parents, but after two years were on equal footing with their heterosexually-adopted peers.” Coauthor Letitia Anne Peplau concluded, “There is no scientific basis to discriminate against gay and lesbian parents.”
This study and the many others like it are supported by the reality that social workers, pediatricians, and family counselors nationwide see every day. Which is why mainstream child health and social services organizations unanimously support adoption by qualified gay parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this endorsement of same-sex adoption: “The Academy supports the legal adoption of children by [same-sex] coparents or second parents. Denying legal parent status through adoption to coparents or second parents prevents these children from enjoying the psychologic and legal security that comes from having two willing, capable, and loving parents.”
Fischer’s bigoted rants stoke the vilest form of anti-gay bigotry: The belief that gay people, and gay men in particular, prey on children. The religious right continues to promote the myth of the gay sexual predator—gay people “recruit” by sexually abusing children—but that lie is fast losing its toxic cultural currency. It simply isn’t borne out by crime statistics (pedophiles are almost always straight-identified men, as Jerry Sandusky was, and they are attracted to children of both sexes, but they have easier access—as coaches, for instance—to same-sex victims) or by personal experience (most straight Americans know openly gay people now and the openly gay people they know aren’t sexually abusing children). Anti-gay voices on the right are attempting to stuff the same old fears (gay people prey on children) into a brand-new bag (gay couples steal children from straight couples).
Gay couples aren’t stealing children from straight couples. Even with more same-sex couples adopting children than ever before, there are still more children who need to be adopted than there are couples (or singles) who are willing to adopt them. The choice for children waiting to be adopted isn’t between gay parents and straight parents. It’s between parents and no parents. And as nearly half a million children languish in foster care across the United States, political organizations with the word family in their names spend millions of dollars every year lobbying for restrictions that would block many of those children from ever having families of their own.
Whenever someone asks me why the United States is such a mess about sex and everything that touches on sex—why the United States, out of all Western industrialized nations, will never stop fighting about abortion, sex education, birth control, the sex lives of politicians, the existence of gay people—I shrug and say, “Canada got the French, Australia got the convicts, the United States got the Puritans.” But, in one area, the United States isn’t doing too badly when compared to lands that are braver, freer, and that have, every now and then, elected actual socialist heads of state. And that’s in adoptions by same-sex couples. On this issue, and pretty much this issue alone, the United States leads. It is legal for same-sex couples to adopt jointly in eleven states; adoptions by single gay people are legal in forty-five states; and second-parent adoptions are legal in thirteen states. Same-sex couples who live in states where they can’t adopt are free to do out-of-state adoptions in states where they can. Our relatively liberal adoptions laws weren’t the result of an orgy of progressive, pro-gay legislation. In most states “liberal” adoption laws are something of a legislative oversight. Adoptions by same-sex couples and single gay people were never specifically banned, which allowed judges and social workers, their sights set on the best interests of children, to quietly approve adoptions by single gay people and same-sex couples.
Belgium, by way of comparison, created a “statutory cohabitation” law in 1998 that granted limited rights to same-sex couples. The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, but it wouldn’t allow for adoptions by same-sex couples until 2006. Portugal granted same-sex couples limited rights in 2001 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. But same-sex couples in Portugal are still barred from adopting children. The same pattern has repeated itself in other European nations where gay people have secured their civil equality: First comes marriage—or some form of marriage-lite (civil unions, domestic partnerships)—then come gays pushing baby carriages.
Here in the United States we’re doing it in reverse. Same-sex couples have been adopting—and having children through surrogacy and artificial insemination, and raising children born to us in previous heterosexual relationships—long before the marriage equality movement in the United States got off the ground. Same-sex couples that wanted to start families didn’t wait for permission or marriage licenses. We created our families and trusted that the culture would catch up. And that’s just what seems to be happening.
When President Obama announced his support for marriage equality in an interview on ABC News in May of 2012, he emphasized the gay parents he personally knew. (“When I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly [committed] same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together . . . I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”) If the gay men and lesbians who work for Barack Obama had waited for the president to endorse marriage equality before starting their families they never would’ve started their families. Instead they met, fell in love, started families, and trusted that the culture—to say nothing of the president they served—would eventually recognize their humanity and affirm their basic human rights. The effort to bring gay families into the established social order—the movement to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples—isn’t about upending the traditional understanding of marriage. It’s about recognizing new realities, and new kinds of families, and bringing these families inside our shared marriage tradition.
“I suppose marriage equality is socially liberal in as much as it tries to defend and integrate a previously despised minority,” Andrew Sullivan writes. “But it is socially conservative in its attempt to envelop that minority in the traditions and responsibilities of family life.”
Louise Pratt, a member of the Australian Senate, may have said it best, though. During a debate over a marriage amendment bill in September of 2012—a bill that, had it not failed 26–41, would have legalized same-sex marriage in that country—Pratt, whose partner is transgendered, said this: “We exist. We already exist. Our relationships exist, our children exist, our families exist, our marriages exist, and our love exists. All we as...
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