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Dan Savage’s transphobia, back again

March 24, 2010

Dan Savage has a long history of transphobic commentary in the advice column he writes for Seattle’s The Stranger. Yesterday he took his transphobia to a new level, mockingly suggesting that Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna is trans (he’s not). In Savage’s world view being trans is so shameful it is something to slur right-wing politicians with.

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who Savage has decided looks like a trans person and as such should be mocked for that.

Having grown used to “Ann Coulter is a tranny” slurs from the folks on the left for the past decade, this kind of behaviour strikes me as typical of many cissexuals who otherwise would consider themselves progressive. Typical, too, are the responses to trans frustration: the angry tranny trope, trans people need to get a sense of humour, to focus on the “real fight,” and all of those other derails that only aim to avoid responsibility for the privileged and phobic comment.

I am sure Rob McKenna’s policies are worth criticism, but if that’s the case critique policy. Savage’s response weakens any real criticism of McKenna because the right can now point to this stupid diversion. Further, it fractures response to McKenna by alienating a segment of people who might agree but find mocking trans people to make a political point reprehensible. So Savage isn’t just transphobic, he’s a shitty political activist, too.

Past initial outrage what will the response be, I wonder? I’m expecting Savage and his supporters to dig in, that’s nothing new, but this is a hard point to gloss over for those trying to remain ‘impartial.’ I’ve heard a lot of lip service from cis allies over the years, but I’ve rarely seen them give up something they like consuming – I’ve had people flat out tell me they know Savage is transphobic but they’re going to read him anyway. The kind of transphobia Savage engaged in by making those comments about McKenna has real life implications for trans people. I wonder how many more passes he’ll get.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. evmaroon permalink
    March 24, 2010 5:48 am

    Time to turn out the lights on Dan’s writing career. He has no idea what kind of crap he creates with this sort of shit. As if the LGBT community isn’t fractured enough already.

  2. March 24, 2010 9:51 am

    Ugh, I so hate Dan Savage, he’s such an ignorant, arrogant asshole.

  3. Gina permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:19 am

    Dan Savage, Michael Musto (Village Voice), & Daniel Kusner (Dallas Voice)… gay men who repeatedly objectify, ridicule and exploit trans women and their identities… got to go.

  4. ace permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:27 am

    okay, deja vu. this isn’t the first time savage has made remarks about rob mckenna looking trans. so not only is it offensive, it’s not even original!

  5. Megan permalink
    March 24, 2010 10:58 am

    I’m wondering just what it is about these smarmy little douchebags that apparently makes them so “edgy” that the alternative weeklies just can’t seem to publish enough of their drivel.

  6. March 24, 2010 11:14 am

    they’re white, male, and cis. that’s why they’re “edgy.”

  7. piny permalink
    March 24, 2010 7:45 pm

    Sky still blue, ice cream still refreshing….

    Thanks for posting about this. A commenter on the thread noted that Mr. McKenna is already being harassed and questioned about his supposed trans status. Hilarious, amirite? Maybe he’ll get death threats and nasty letters.

  8. Wendy Blackheart permalink
    March 24, 2010 9:18 pm

    Don’t forget biphobic too. Basically, he’s pretty fucking phobic.

  9. sharav permalink
    March 25, 2010 9:13 pm

    He is ‘edgy’ because he started off as a drag queen, became very well known, and has his “Stranger” shtick.

  10. Dawn. permalink
    March 26, 2010 12:41 pm

    God, I hate Dan Savage. I refuse to read anything he writes or click on any link featuring his opinions. He is privilege porn of the worst variety. I can’t stand it when otherwise progressive people support people like him, especially when they openly admit he’s a divisive bigot but continue reading his shit nonetheless. He needs his soapbox taken away. Like now.

  11. alexmac permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:41 pm

    Would anyone have some advice on questions to ask dan savage? He will be coming by my campus this month and I want to call him out then.

  12. March 26, 2010 3:13 pm

    I don’t even understand what he was trying to here. It’s so stupid.

  13. Megan permalink
    March 26, 2010 10:20 pm

    I’d advise just staying home…he’s got his insulated little privileged mindset, and I seriously don’t think that he’s willing to change it no matter what questions you might ask.

  14. March 27, 2010 8:34 am

    I remember that, and yeah, it’s so so tired. Now Savage is being an ass saying he’ll apologize if money is raised for some trans cause. It’s ridiculous.

  15. March 27, 2010 8:35 am

    Unless you can figure out the logic trap that will cause his privilege to explode, like an evil computer on the old Star Trek, then it’s pretty much pointless.

  16. alexmac permalink
    March 27, 2010 3:34 pm

    so I ask him about pie…

    That was my first impulse, but somebody recommended calling him out. I agree I have better things to do with my time, like hit my head against a desk.

  17. piny permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:06 pm


  18. piny permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:07 pm

    I mean, really, is he saying that trans people need to pay to complain about transphobia?

  19. piny permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:19 pm

    Hey, do you have a link for this new update? I can’t find it on Slog. There is a Christopher Frizzelle post that lists all the reasons this is not funny.

  20. piny permalink
    March 27, 2010 7:36 pm

    “Since you aren’t transphobic, why do you feel entitled to trans-bait people, and say nasty things about trans male bodies? You’re really influential, with queer people and straight people.”

    Sometimes the question is more about reaching the audience.

  21. March 28, 2010 6:24 am

    @Piny: Here’s Savage making snark about apologizing.

    “In ’08 Sloggers helped raised more than $5,000 to pay for the funeral of Duanna Johnson, a transwoman and a victim of police brutality who was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. According to Johnson’s family, half of the money raised for Johnson’s funeral came from donors in Seattle after a call for donations appeared on Slog. Let’s see what we can raise for a trans kid who’s still alive, shall we? (Oh, and folks who want me to apologize for this: Okay, I will—after we raise at least 2K for Juin and his family. Otherwise, meh, I’ll just keep hating on trans people like the raging anti-trans beegoat that I am.)

  22. Jess permalink
    March 28, 2010 7:34 pm

    I have a better idea: Why not stop making stupid comments and continue to raise money for trans causes? That way, you won’t sound like a jerk and you’ll be helping trans people, which is of course your highest priority.

  23. March 29, 2010 5:41 am

    It still upsets me that I had to quit reading Bitch PhD (and Unfogged, as Bitch PhD herself kept hanging out there) because I could not stand the transphobia.

    (I did attempt to discuss the issue with Bitch PhD herself by e-mail, but the responses I got from her actually upset me even worse than the initial transphobic joke and refusal to apologize.)

    That cisgendered people do tend to assume that it’s perfectly okay to make transphobic jokes because trans people aren’t real people (Bitch PhD offered to apologize to me, which as I pointed out was kind of pointless – I wasn’t the person she was being offensive to, I wasn’t among the group of people she was being nasty to) – or because trans people just oughta accept that there’s something inherently funny in being transgendered – it’s a whole muddle of crap, because at the root of the conviction that it’s OK to mock people for being (or appearing to be) trans, there is something fundamental about gender/sexual orientation. Sure there are women who “look butch”, there are men who “look girly” – and there are trans people who pass perfectly, imperfectly, or not at all, as cisgendered.

    But where the root of the feeling that BitchPhD expressed – that Dan Savage expresses – comes from, is the certainty that there just is a “right way” for gender to be expressed. The mockery of boys with long hair for being “girlish” – or the mockery of gay men for taking it up the ass – is the same kind of mockery. Dan Savage is effectively joining forces with the homophobes by mocking a man for looking “trans”, just as BitchPhD last year was joining forces with the sexists for mocking Ann Coulter for looking “mannish” or being “a cunt”.

    What I wrote last year:

    But I do find transphobic jokes peculiarly horrible. Because the point of the jokes is not just to police women for not conforming to the patriarchal norms of “how women should look”, though that is clearly one of their functions. Nor is it just to make clear to women that, whatever our politics, it’s what we look like that’s really important, though that too is clearly one of their functions. The kind of person who would make fun of Ann Coulter for “looking mannish” is the same kind of person who would try to erase Sylvia Rae Rivera from the gay liberation movement because a trans woman isn’t the kind of hero you want remembered from the Stonewall Riots. Bigoted jokes are policing jokes – warning people who don’t conform to the norm what can happen to them if they don’t behave.

  24. Sam permalink
    March 29, 2010 6:24 am

    I have no idea why Dan Savage is considered an LGBT icon when he proves time and time again to have nothing but contempt for the L, B, and T communities. One out of four doesn’t count!

  25. estrobutch permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:18 am

    unfortunately 2 or 3 out of four still does tho.

  26. EllieB permalink
    March 30, 2010 10:04 am

    I stopped reading him ages ago because of his seriously gyno- and bi-phobic remarks…. then he had a change of heart and seemed to really try to not be horribly offensive to cis-women, lesbians, and bisexual folks. So I started perusing his column again.

    aaaand then a couple years ago he started really turning on the transphobia and and I checked out again. He doesn’t seem particularly repentant on this issue. I’ll still listen in on his podcast now and again, but I can never get through a whole one… it’s like, everything’s going along swimmingly, he’s giving sound advice, and then something will come out of his mouth that’s just… off. Judgmental, or bigoted, or hurtful. Something fat-phobic, or transmisogynist. Even the way he’s been pushing non-monogamy squicks me out, and I’m poly! He keeps presenting non-monogamy as basically the one true way, and saying that most people in monogamous relationships are either unhappy or deluding themselves. Bullfuckingshit.

    And then this… blog? Whatever it is. It’s just so godawful. It really, really shows that he just Doesn’t Get It when it comes to trans and gender issues. Or he just doesn’t care. Either way, ugh.

    At least the comments section is overwhelmingly full of people calling him out on this shit.

  27. Christine Martins permalink
    October 26, 2010 3:20 pm

    Dan Savage wears his trans-ignorance like a badge of honor, he is officially on my shit-list

  28. phyllis permalink
    December 3, 2010 7:50 pm

    he’s still bi-phobic, trust me. Bi-phobia, like transphobia runs deep in the GL part of the acronym. I’ve seen in more so with bi’s then trans, but that is just my experience.

  29. January 25, 2011 12:55 am

    I also find Savage to be a MAJOR hypocrite.

    Claiming that he wants equality for gay men and GLBT people but then he’s racist, biphobic, and transphobic-misogynistic too.

    People are discussing him here and yes there are gay men there who don’t want to believe or accept that Savage is racist, biphobic, and transphobic.

  30. January 29, 2011 12:04 am

    yes Savage is highly biphobic, transphobic, and he’s said some racist things against blacks too.

    He once said how he thinks that a woman’s vagina (to him) looks like canned ham dropped from the empire state building and I’m not sure how TS or even cis women would find that funny.

    Then you have actual gay men and lesbians taking what Savage says about Bisexuality and how in his opinion it does not exist in men at all seriously and thinking that it’s true.

    See here:

    Savage is NOT a person I’d go to for sex advice.

    I’m into kink and BDSM and he does talk out of his ass about what to do if you have a certain kink/fetish or want to do B&D/S&M/bondage.

    Dan’s totally vanilla and NOT a part of the kink or leather communities at all. So I’m not sure why he’d even answer questions about such things?

  31. Rural Red State Gay permalink
    May 2, 2011 12:24 pm

    Not only is he bi, trans, and gyno-phobic… Considered a “gay hero” he routinely knocks “flyover country”. Only the half dozen largest cities in the US are acceptable for gays to live in according to him… as if concentrating ourselves into only a handful of legislative district is the way to get ahead. Idiot.

    And this is coming from an out 30’s partnered gay guy in the reddest state in the union in a town of less than 1000. We and our gay, lesbian, and open friends (that live here too SHOCKER!) love it here.


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