There have been several articles recently accusing Dan Savage of being transphobic, and people have actually started throwing glitter at him at his speaking events, but from what I can tell, a few (common) mistakes are being blown out of proportion to make an ally into an enemy.
After being a reader of Dan’s for years, I was somewhat surprised when he recently started getting glitter bombed at events because he is being accused of being transphobic. I have read some of his advice articles in which trans issues came up, and he never seemed transphobic to me.
Then I went back and read some of the articles that people are referencing. There is one from 2003 in which he suggests that it was selfish for a transgendered woman to begin transitioning while her son is in high school, and he focuses heavily on the whole “cut your dick off” aspect of being transgendered, which ya know, isn’t what it’s really about. He also calls the transitioning parent “dad/mom/whatever”, which seems about equivalent to calling someone “heshe” to me. The column is fairly offensive, but it is from 2003. I don’t at all subscribe to the view expressed at TransAdvocate that saying that you can get over transphobic comments is equivalent to saying you can get over a circumcision. Get fucking real.
Some of the other complaints I’ve been able to track down are more mild. He is accused of “verbally thrashing” a transwoman in this episode (starts at about 25 mins) of his podcast, but I think this makes it sound worse than it was. The “thrashing” had nothing to do with the women being trans, but it was actually a reaction to a caller who was complaining about being “thrashed” by a trans person for using the wrong pronoun. I’ve actually been frustrated with transgender activists for similar things.
Like it or not, we have to accept that many people (perhaps even including Dan Savage) are not going to know what the proper etiquette is when talking to or about transgender people. There’s no mystery here, and there’s often not transphobia either. The fact is that most people in America and the world have never actually met an openly transgender person. I think this is easy to forget for those of us that are surrounded by the queer community in our day to day lives. I even had a straight friend who worked at an LGBT community center who received hostility for asking questions about how to properly address transgender issues during a Q & A session that was focused on transgender sensitivity. People are going to make mistakes, and the only remedy is education. Hostility and glitter bombing makes the news, but it doesn’t actually help anyone become more educated on the issues that are actually important to the transgender community.
Lastly, I’m going to link to Dan’s actual response to the accusations, where he points out that his comments have been paraphrased and distorted, and he was actually about to embark on an explanation of why “shemale” is offensive when he was most recently glitterbombed. It appears that in this week’s column, he allows Kate Bornstein to respond to the question of “Does not wanting to screw trans women make me transphobic?”.
So yes, Dan Savage has made mistakes, and yes, some of his comments have been offensive, but I do believe that they were out of ignorance and not malice. Maybe it would be useful to think about where we all were in 2003. As for me, I was firmly in the closet.
(photo of Dan (on left) via Mashable)