The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family

Dan Savage
(Dutton, New York, 336 pp. $24.95)

Your 6-year-old is blasting Black Sabbath on the car stereo while traffic is clogged like a men's room at half time. Getting to the church on time will require a feat of derring-do on par with O.J. Simpson's Hertz-sponsored airport sprint. You're bound for Canada with all its promise of marital freedom and you have a vicious, Ozzy-induced headache. 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 your new book, The Commitment, you anguish over predicaments both original (your 6-year-old opposes "boys marrying boys," while your Catholic mom demands it) and not (basic commitmentphobia).


The world is a complicated place and so too should be anyone's decision to wed in this day of the 50-50 shot at death doing the parting. For Savage and his boyfriend of 10 years, Terry Miller, the marriage question goes hand in hand with a larger political one, which for some gay Americans boils down to this: Why bother? Sure, the legal benefits of marriage are a no-brainer. After all, who wants to be a second-class citizen? But the ritual itself? Why stage it when the nuptial has less legal clout than a Chuck E. Cheese gift certificate? Or is such reasoning just a good excuse to avoid making a commitment?


Perhaps both perspectives apply. Irrespective of the political struggle, in The Commitment, Savage manages to see any public affirmation of love as a means of tempting fate. He's forever reading about seemingly happy couples who are rewarded for their lavish weddings with breakups so swift they seem ordered from on high. Meanwhile, his mother posts him newspaper clippings touting the advantages of, yep, marriage.


The Commitment is an intermittent memoir with generous lashings of polemic on gay marriage (in the absence of legal recognition) and gay family life (in the absence of a master narrative). In one memorable scene, Terry 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 nor is he of the waning Queer Nation school that claims it's every gay person's solemn duty to subvert heterosexual society.


  Actually, Dan and Terry like the traditional family. Dan's the wage-earner, Terry's the domestician. However much this couple mocks their chosen roles, they actually suit them just fine. On the other hand, traditional marriage hardly offers much guidance to a couple that's not totally monogamous. Fond of the rare, and highly regulated, three-way, but not interested in the swinging lifestyle, what is a responsible gay couple to do? Answer: They're working on that.


The Commitment is not all gay marriage all the time. There's lots of diversionary tales; one, involving a birthday-cake fetishist (yes, you read that right), will not soon be forgotten. In some ways The Commitment is a coming-of-age story for a relationship wherein the political is personal, but the personal isn't always political. For instance, Terry's fear that getting married means just acting like "straight" people smacks of another great American anxiety: the fear of becoming a cliché. Or more specifically, that such is the inevitable consequence of participating in an established ritual. But yes, the political is unbelievably personal. Being a gay family driving through Wyoming and South Dakota isn't the most comfortable road trip, especially when the news is filled with anti-gay marriage backlash. But with wit and tenderness Savage reveals how the anti-gay marriage movement is utterly divorced from the reality of gay family life.


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?", remarked that it might be because they (Atta, et al.) don'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. People with names. How would they deal with the fact that Savage and Terry and DJ live in a more structured, traditional environment (the kid's never been to day care!) than do 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 will ever be able to consider such ideas. Despite Savage's best efforts, one wonders if they'll ever know our names.

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