The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family [Buy Now]

By Dan Savage
336 pages

Your six-year-old is blasting Black Sabbath on the car stereo while traffic is clogged like a men’s room at halftime. 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: editor of Seattle’s über-progressive weekly The Stranger, sex columnist at large, licker of Republican doorknobs (long story), and self-described “righteous libertine.” In The Commitment, you anguish over predicaments both original (your six-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 boiled 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 this just a good excuse to avoid making a commitment?

Perhaps it’s both. Irrespective of the political struggle, 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 seemed ordered from on high. Meanwhile, his mother posts him newspaper clippings touting the advantages of, yep, marriage.

The Commitment is an intermittent memoir sprinkled 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 doesn’t want to act “like straight people” 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 necessarily interested in the swinging lifestyle, what’s 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 be forgotten soon. 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 is just acting like “straight” people smacks of another great American anxiety: the fear of becoming a cliché. Or more specifically, that an established ritual will make you one. 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 shows us how the anti-gay marriage movement is utterly divorced from the reality of gay family life.

As Savage demonstrates, the rhetorical chirping of Dr. Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Rick Santorum betrays their profound know-nothingness about real gay families. That is, 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 daycare!) than the offspring of so many married, straight families? Given the polarized nature of our political culture, one wonders if the “love the sinner, hate the sin” crowd will ever see be able to consider these ideas. Despite Savage’s best efforts, one wonders if they’ll ever know our names.

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