This morning Dan Savage put out his own statement regarding the recent glitterings he has been the target of. To begin with, he shares the transcript and some of the details that my source apparently got wrong.
DAN: [READING FROM CARD] My boyfriend is straight but he enjoys anal sex and he asks me to make love to him in his butt all the time. [ASIDE:] You have no one to blame but yourself. [READING FROM CARD] Also, he likes watching she-male porn. Could you tell me why he is acting like this? [ANSWER:] Um, I'm gunna go out on a limb here and say it's because he likes shemale porn and he enjoys anal stimulation. He's acting like this because he's a very freaky boy. If you're into him, and you're willing to go there for him, there are a lot of straight guys who are into transexual sex-workers, transexual porn, she-males for lack of a better term, although some people think that's very offensive--
He does claim that he was about to address the problem with the term before being glittered, and I certainly want to give him props for using the terms "transexual sex-workers" and "transexual porn," all of which is much better than the last time I heard him discuss the subject. He spends the rest of the article parsing through the events of the evening without mentioning any of the other concerns that have been raised about him.
But here's the thing, I am pretty certain those individuals had planned this in advance. They weren't fans who just happened to have glitter on them and were so shocked by his words that evening that they jumped into action. I could point out that he wasn't simply reading from the card and used the term "she-male" twice after finishing the question, or that his phrasing "transsexual sex workers... she-males for lack of a better term," implies that he believes it is the better term, and that that's not a bad assumption to make given that previously he has preferred to use that term rather than "transsexual sex workers."
However, I've repeatedly been saying that while his use of derogatory slurs is one of the most visible issues, it is also one of the most minor. For some reason, it's the issue that everyone has been focusing on. Perhaps people are more used to discussing slurs. Perhaps it's easier to understand. Perhaps it's easier to claim people are being over sensitive. But the other transphobic assumptions and teachings are the more impactful ones. And these assumptions are still present, at least to a minor degree, in his statement today.
In my post on the subject earlier this month, I anticipated that many people would not be familiar with what those issues and assumptions are, and gave a fairly solid run down of the issues, primary in my mind among them, being the double standard upon which Dan makes it clear that trans women don't count as women in his mind. I also cited many other sources that similarly draw out the issues, which I'll list again here.
...his behavior has already been well documented by other bloggers, such as Masculine Toast, Bi Furious, Greta Christina, and FuckNoDanSavage...
While he corrects my source and points out that he never used the phrase "freaky tranny porn," he does point to where that perception came from: he said that a straight guy attracted to trans women was a "freaky boy." He also discusses how he is freak-positive and encourages people to embrace their freakiness. I can certainly agree with the sentiment, but again, this is a double standard. I don't believe I've ever heard him call someone a freak solely for being gay, and he certainly never called a straight guy a freak for watching lesbian porn. He may have been about to explain it how watching porn or anal sex is what makes him freaky, but we are left with impression that trans people are freaks, and anyone attracted to them are freaks too. It's a sentiment that is not hard to pick up from his other statements on the subject, and freak positive or not, that's a double standard.
Dan also gives the impression that he believes that trans people are so different or freaky that he will always be able to identify them as trans just by looking. He states definitively and without question that none of the glitterers were trans. Yet despite his certainty, he is quite wrong. My source at UC Invine recognized one of the two glitterers as a local trans-identified activist. Also, the Dan Savage Welcoming Committee from Oregon has posted their own response:
This is a bald-faced lie. Every member of DSWC Eugene is trans, including the woman who glittered Dan on November 1st. If we were to hazard a guess, we'd say that Dan probably harbors a lot of cissexist assumptions about what a trans person looks and sounds like (protip: there's as much variance among trans people as among cis people).
In response to the media about Dan, and as comments to his response, several of his fans have been slamming both trans activists and trans people in general. In an update he asks them not to -- again a great step in the right direction. But he needs to be acknowledge and be accountable for the fact that he has encouraged this type of response and many of them have learned it from him. In episode 207 of his podcast, he takes a call from someone who is exploring her attraction to trans and genderqueer people. She encounters someone who sounds like either a femme trans man or a non-binary genderqueer femme who only uses gender neutral pronouns. The caller accidentally uses the wrong gender term for them and after getting mad they avoided the caller. Dan then explains the "appropriate response" to being called out by trans activists.
He apparently didn't understand the situation here, because he seems to assume the individual involved is a trans woman. You would think Dan would know the difference between femme and female, and perhaps be aware that there are femme men out there who would prefer to spend their time with people who understand that they are indeed men (same thing for non-binary genderqueers having their gender understood). Yet he is so blinded by his preconceived notions of trans women who are hypersensitive and overreacting that he makes this response all about these hypothetical trans women rather than the actual people involved.
In his response he sites a lot of columns where he offers some pretty good advice around trans issues and trans people, but that doesn't change that his negative statements are still having an impact, such as all his fans who still believe this is the appropriate response to being called transphobic. In the discussions I've had in the past weeks, several people have tried to defend some of Dan's old work -- work that I'm pretty sure is what he was talking about when he says that he used to be transphobic. Yet his fans are still taking it as gospel and arguing that it is the right way approach trans people.
This is why Dan needs to be a part of a larger discussion. If he's grown as an ally in the past year, he needs to show it. He needs to spell out, for his fans and for his critics (and those of us who are both), which pieces of advice he gave that he now see as transphobic. He needs to spell out that people shouldn't take that advice anymore. He needs to make at least one actual apology - and I'm not counting the time he apologized to a non-trans person for calling them trans, he needs to apologize to actual trans people. He needs to do the hard ally work, be humble, sit down and listen to what people have to say. I went into detail about one instance here, and even now I'm cutting it short for space limitations. He needs to have conversations that can go as deep as necessary and cover as much as possible and so far he has cut off those conversations with his critics.
In closing, I want to give one piece of advice to the famed advice giver. Admitting your wrong is not the end of the world. Being criticized doesn't mean you are a horrible person. The best allies I know often gain more respect for how they handle themselves in situations where they are wrong than they do for how they handle themselves in situations where they are right. When it comes to steadfastly refusing to admit wrong doing and trying to discredit and dismiss your critics, sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime. Sometimes the coverup is the crime itself.