Dan Savage, the gay sex-ed columnist, has become famous for creating a neologism based on the name of Rick Santorum. Here’s Savage’s definition of “santorum”: “The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” For the past few years, the definition of “santorum” has popped up when people have googled former Senator Rick Santorum’s name. When Santorum almost won the Iowa primary, Savage’s “Google bomb” got a second life.
But is it based on a lie? I recently wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion about Savage’s prank and how it hurts the cause of gay rights. I believe that Savage’s antipathy is based on his hostility for pro-lifers and people who oppose gay marriage. Savage then replied to me on a blog:
It was [a] 2003 AP interview that led to the redefinition of Santorum’s last name. It wasn’t his opposition to gay marriage, which Barack Obama also opposes (or pretends to oppose on teevee), or his anti-abortion stance, which Bob Casey shares. It was Santorum equating loving, committed same-sex relationships with dog fucking and child rape, Mr. Judge, in an interview in which Santorum argued in favor of states being allowed to arrest, prosecute, and imprison Americans — gay and straight — for private, consensual, adult sexual conduct.
Savage then quotes a recent New York Times story:
Mr. Santorum is particularly fond of canine imagery. His most famous pooch-evoking turn came during a 2003 interview with The Associated Press in which he was discussing marriage and mentioned homosexuality, saying [marriage] is not “man on boy, man on dog.”
Yet is that what Santorum said? Here’s Santorum’s full quote, from a 2003 AP interview:
In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality.
Read in its full context, is it not possible that Rick Santorum was not comparing homosexuality to man-on-dog sex, but was in fact doing quite the opposite? Read it again: “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.” Doesn’t that seem like Santorum is actually going out of his way to differentiate homosexuality from those other things?
Yes, it does. I believe that Dan Savage misread Santorum’s quote, perhaps even intentionally. Because Dan Savage is a person who is full of resentment. As John Paul the Great once noted, resentment is quite different and more toxic than anger, and more dangerous and self-hating than rebellion. In fact, rebellion can be quite healthy if it attempts to address an injustice in the world. Savage started a movement, “It Gets Better,” that strives to prevent bullied young gay people from committing suicide. It is a noble thing and the best kind of rebellion. Savage’s hatred of Rick Santorum and anyone who might disagree with homosexual marriage and the kind of sex that dehumanizes another is the rankest kind of resentment, which is not hatred of injustice but hatred of the good itself.
A few years ago, a young reader wrote to Savage telling him that she had given up her chastity pledge (I suspect the letter was fake, as I think a lot of them are). Savage’s reply: “Take that fucking silver [chastity] ring thing off your damn finger. You’re in college now, cupcake, not high school, and virginity pledges — whether they’ve been honored or not — will impress precisely none of your new peers.” He told the girl to “get a clue,” reminding her that “if you’re having sex when you’re drunk or high, odds are good that you’re having sex with other drunk or high people — which means that neither of you consented to the sex, so you raped each other, so you’re even.”
Yeah, Savage has no problem with chastity or Christians — it’s all about the Santorum quote. Nonsense. Savage exhibits the liberal desire to convert, which is as intense as any sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary’s. His columns often combine the red-hot rage of post-1960s liberalism with the cold, impersonal dehumanization, and aggressive proselytizing, of fascism.
In my Real Clear Religion piece, I argue that Savage’s “santorum” prank is actually hurting the cause of gay rights. Once, and not so long ago, gay people, particularly gay men, were thought of as mental patients, fiends who constantly, obsessively reduced everything in life to sex. The bath houses of the 1970s and ’80s didn’t help. But AIDs forced gay people to take responsibility for themselves, much the same way that violence, disease and pathology forced the late-nineteenth-century Irish, my ancestors, to do the same.
Gay culture and society at large has come a long way in the last 30 years; it’s figured out that gay people are just like everyone else. As Gore Vidal noted, gay men love opera, shaved bodies and neat apartments — except, of course, when they don’t. We’re individuals. Vidal also said that most people weren’t bothered by who gay men are, “but what they do.” It was the sodomy that freaked people out — at least in the ’60s, when Vidal was in his prime. Vidal argued that the fight was for straights to see gays as more than just gay sex. He argued that uptight conservatives needed to see them as full human beings.
And here comes Dan Savage, talking about sex, writing about sex, thinking about sex and calling a presidential candidate “a mix of lube and fecal matter.” Savage’s response to my argument:
As for setting back the gay rights movement: well, gee. I’ve heard that charge before, Mr. Judge. But I’ve been running my mouth about gay rights pretty much since the moment I came out nearly 30 years ago, I’ve been writing my demented and dehumanizing sex-advice column for twenty years, and I’ve been waging jihad against Rick Santorum for close to ten. And the LGBT rights movement has made enormous strides over the past 30 years despite my mouth and my column and my efforts to make “frothy mix” the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the word “santorum.” So either I’m helping, Mr. Judge, or I’m not hurting.
Oh, it was despite you, Dan. And you are hurting. Because when some people hear “santorum,” they will indeed think frothy mix. It will be funny, sure. But it will also sound unhygienic, indeed dangerous, not just disgusting. It will remind people of STDs and AIDS. And they will know “santorum” came from a gay man whose mind is so enslaved by sex — a man who has not changed a single opinion in 30 years — that he is willing to butcher a quote to drown his critics in his fecal bomb. If that’s a step forward, then Ted Kennedy was a pioneer for Irish temperance.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.