I had to keep checking the top of this story, so sure was I that I knew the author. The byline says Benjamin J. Dueholm, but I could have sworn it read Mild-Mannered Jeff.
It’s a thoughtful look at the work of Dan Savage, the alt-weekly sex columnist, who in recent years has branched out from refereeing bedroom disagreements to offering broader advice on what constitutes an ethical life. The premise of the story is that Savage has become an ethicist for the modern American age, in which no one is surprised (or should be) by sexual behavior, but is struggling to fit our new understanding into old frameworks. Here’s the nut, to this editor’s eye:
Half my mail at ‘Savage Love’ is from straight men and women who want to be reassured that their kinks—from BDSM to cross-dressing to fucking animals (!)—are normal,” Savage wrote in 2007, echoing a note of exasperation he has sounded a few times over the years. Savage has made clear he is not primarily interested in adjudicating whether people’s bedroom proclivities lie on the safe side of normality. …For him, what’s most important is that abandonment of inhibition should never entail an abandonment of personal responsibility.
That’s what makes him the right man for the job. Leave kinks aside for the moment. (Please.) Just as medical technology gallops ahead of our moral and ethical structures — does the surrogate mother get a card on the first Sunday in May? does the sperm donor owe anything to the children he helped create? — so too has our own behavior. Most adults with a functioning brain have figured out who the real beneficiaries of female virginity-until-marriage were, what’s really behind homophobia, but they’re uncomfortable with throwing all restraint out the window. Savage looks for an underlayment of basic human decency:
In ways that his frequent interlocutors on the Christian right wouldn’t expect, Savage has probably done more to uphold conventional families than many counselors who are unwilling to engage so frankly with modern sexual mores. “A successful marriage is basically an endless cycle of wrongs committed, apologies offered, and forgiveness granted,” he advised one very uptight spouse, “all leavened by the occasional orgasm.”
The reason I mention MMJeff is because it turns out the writer is a Lutheran minister. (Not that I would *ever* confuse Jeff with a Lutheran, perish the thought! It just had a certain clerical tone.) And he gets to my misgivings about Savage lower in the piece:
If there is something to treasure in the old, traumatized ideal of lifelong monogamy, it’s not that it demeans sexual fulfillment. Rather, it’s that monogamy integrates sexual fulfillment with the other good things in life—having someone to pay bills and raise children with, having a refuge both emotional and physical from the rest of the world. It is an ideal that is powerful even when it is not fully realized (as it rarely, if ever, is), not a contract voided by nonperformance. A worldview in which sex is so central to life that it may be detached from everything else and sought apart from every other ingredient of happiness presumes a world in which happiness itself can be redefined—in which people can be retrained in what they expect and accept from one another. To approach the libertarian ideal of human relationships, emotional shock therapy of the sort contemplated by AHND will be required. The promised land of natural, ethical, autonomous sexuality lies across a desert of self-mortifying trade-offs between sexual fulfillment and all the other joys and comforts of life.
Well-said. And that’s enough quoting from the copyright for one day. Worth your time.
What a day yesterday was. I spend a couple hours of Monday morning going around to our police stations, checking the blotters for GrossePointeToday.com’s public-safety report, easily the most popular feature of our site. And may I just say, all it takes is about a month of that to disabuse a person of any fantasies she might have had about living with a better class of people. (For the record, I never had any in the first place.) Most don’t make the roundup, as I define “public safety” as that which affects the safety of the public as a whole, but occasionally I’ll throw a domestic assault in, particularly if a weapon is involved. My favorite of this week was a woman who reported a “belated” assault, i.e., one that happened sometime before she sobered up and realized someone had punched her on the chin. The report described two black eyes, but noted those were from plastic surgery she underwent sometime before she went drinking and ran into an old boyfriend, her presumed assailant, although she wasn’t sure, because she couldn’t really remember anything. Some people live exciting lives, but mostly they lead drunken ones. Take alcohol out of the world, and people would find fewer reasons to beat up on one another. I’m sure we’d find another excuse pronto, however.
My second-favorite: A three-year-old boy found wandering near a major intersection, a full three blocks from his home. He’d been turned out into the yard by one of the adults in his short but unfortunate life, who was allegedly watching him from inside and couldn’t imagine how he’d gotten out, although, said adult noted, this was the fourth time he’d done so. “He’s a runner,” another caretaker reported. Can’t hardly blame the kid. I’d run, too.
Please note that I’m using “favorite” ironically here. Man hands on misery to man, etc.
Yeesh, it’s getting late. Best hop out of here before the day slips away. It’s Fat Tuesday — Paczki Day here in Detroit. I might stop somewhere around here for one later, although it’s decidedly not part of my diet at the moment. Wherever you are, I hope Mardi Gras finds you.