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Editorials

Wrong Reasons to do SM
by Midori

The Commitment:
Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

by Dan Savage


Book Review by Rob Hardy



The book has a wholesome cover, with a resounding title, The Commitment, the letters of which happen to go through a gold wedding band.  The subtitle is almost as thoroughly decent: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family.  It's that sex part that is going to bother people.  Of course Americans are all over the map about sex, but surely no one really objects to sex when connected to marriage.  But that's the problem.  The Commitment (Dutton) is written by Dan Savage, who can't marry, or at least, in America, in most places, can't marry.  The book is built upon the preparations Dan made to celebrate ten years of a stable relationship with his boyfriend (he hates the word "partner") Terry, and the varying degrees of cold feet they got about making it a marriage.  The relationship between them never seems in doubt; Savage writes convincingly and sweetly about his love and reliance on Terry, and especially about their six-year-old adopted son D.J.  If those who insist that marriage can only be between one man and one woman pick up this book (not much chance of that), they will find an otherwise rock-solid, traditional family: Dan goes out and works, Terry takes care of the home front, and D.J. plays Iron Maiden too loud.  And they have a deaf, half-blind, brain-damaged poodle.  "With the exception of all the homosexual sodomy, most of what goes down under our roof is a social conservative's wet dream."

So, if it has all worked so well so long, why fret about making it a marriage?  There are many wonderful reasons given here, which from time to time almost convince Dan and Terry.  I think the most preposterous one is one of the most convincing.  The poodle, named Stinker, was badly injured when it jumped out of Terry's car; eventually it got to a vet's, and Terry was taken home by sympathetic bystanders.  He called Dan in hysterics, and Dan decided to take over, calling the vet to find out how the dog was.  He got a curt response that that the veterinary clinic could not release a patient's confidential medical information unless it was to a family member. "There was a long pause," Dan writes, "as I picked the pieces of my brain up off the sidewalk."  Dan was not a husband or wife, and so could not be told anything about Stinker's condition.  In exasperation, he exclaimed, "Lady, it's a dog—and the hysterical fag who brought the dog in?  That's my boyfriend.  And the dog isn't even technically his dog.  It's my son's dog. And I paid for that dog.  And you know what?  You have my permission to release my dog's confidential medical information to anyone on earth who expresses the least bit of interest in it."  The receptionist does not budge.  Dan had worried for years that he might be unable to make medical decisions for Terry if there were an emergency, but it ".never occurred to me that, as a gay couple, we would face discrimination during our poodle's medical emergency."

Until gay marriage is completely legal, they will face such problems, but they might spring up to Canada and get a real marriage just for the sake of doing so, although such a marriage will not be recognized when they return. It might put a jinx on the relationship, they reason; so might the his-and-his matching tattoos, which Terry suggests.   With their 10th anniversary fast approaching, they want some way of celebrating, and they start all the plans, hiring Caroline, a professional "Non-wedding Planner", with whom they hammer out such niceties as cake.  "We decided against cake," says Terry, the "we" being he and Caroline; "A cake says 'wedding'."  But Dan gives a delightful history of cake in his life and insists on it, and gets his way.  (Elsewhere in the book, he sagely cautions, "If I'd learned anything after being in a relationship for nearly ten years, it's the importance of letting your boyfriend win one every once in a while.") Confronted with the rising cost of the party, Caroline cheerfully admonishes, "Look on the bright side.  You don't have to buy a dress. That's going to save you five grand right off the bat."  Dan writes a hilarious invitation:

Mr. Daniel K. Savage and Mr. Terrence A. Miller Request the honor of your presence at, Well, not at the marriage of Mr. Daniel K. Savage To Mr. Terrence A. Miller Since they can't get married. Gay marriage is illegal where they live. Even if they could, they're not sure they would. So while this may look like a wedding invitation, It's actually an invitation to a party—are parties still legal?—To celebrate Mr. Savage and Mr. Miller's Tenth Anniversary.

They were eventually sure about the party, but remained iffy about marrying. Terry's objection was always, "I don't want to act like straight people." But as Dan writes, "I believe the first time he made this comment he was folding my laundry, balancing our baby on his hip, and stirring a pot of grits on the stove."  The strongest advocate for marriage was Dan's mother, who insists, "You should stop worrying about acting like straight people, Terry, and start acting like the person I know that you are—a serious, grown-up, responsible person who should be mature enough to make a serious commitment to the person he chose to start a family with, just like his parents did."  The strongest advocate against the marriage proved to be D.J., who expresses the opinion, "It would be dumb and stupid and retarded and gross and dumb and stupid and retarded and gross and dumb."  (Religious conservatives take note: Terry and Dan are raising a son, not raising a homosexual.)  His objection: "Boys don't marry boys."  But when Terry asks, "So, should we marry some girls?" D.J. exclaims, "No!"  Dan writes, "It just felt so weird to be a gay couple with a six-year-old kid who opposed same sex marriage."

But D.J. comes around when he thinks about his friend's parents who are divorcing, and that they didn't keep their promise they made when they got married.  Dan assures him that he and Terry will stay together, that they love each other and always will, but D.J. likes the promise idea: "I want you and Daddy to promise, to pinky promise, to seriously and forever promise, and no breaking your promise."  He thus consents to a marriage as a promise, but insists that it if it consists of a minister saying "You may now kiss blah blah blah" he isn't going to watch.  But he has to make the trip to Canada, since the friend who was to keep him got the flu, and on the trip, to get him in the mood, Dan tells him he can pick out the rings.  He picks out skull rings, which makes Terry laugh but makes Dan try to direct D.J.'s attention to plain silver bands.  "Skulls are cool," said the Iron Maiden fan, and was exasperated to have to explain: "You're going to promise to stay with Terry until you die.  So when you look at your ring, you'll see a skull and you'll remember that you and Dad will be together until you're both dead and you're both skeletons and both your skulls are showing." Skulls it is.

This is a wonderfully funny memoir with mild polemic running throughout. It's a family story; if you want Americana in humor, there are plenty of episodes, like the time Dan played tooth fairy and mistakenly placed a five dollar bill under D.J.'s pillow instead of a one, thereby setting an expensive precedent and earning the ire of D.J.'s friends' parents.  It's the sort of wholesomeness that makes one wonder just what those who object to homosexual marriage are so upset about.  As Dan reflects on the Canadian marriage they had entered, "If marriage was a promise to care for another person, Terry and I had been married for a long time.  When he calls, I drop everything.  When I'm sick, he takes care of me.  I don't see how our commitment to each other threatens traditional marriage, but if it does, well, then traditional marriage will have to tough it out."

 

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family
(Dutton Adult; September 22, 2005; ISBN: 0525949070)
 Available at: Amazon.com / Amazon UK / Amazon CA

 

_______
© 2006 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.



About the Reviewer
Rob Hardy is a psychiatrist who lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife, two terriers, five cats, and goldfish.

He reviews nonfiction for The Times of Acadiana, but has been reviewing books as a hobby for years before that.
Email: Rob Hardy



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