Dan Savage: It’s ‘never been worse’ for LGBT youth

Founder of It Gets Better Project says higher visibility combined with anti-gay forces can make growing up gay as hard as ever

SAVAGE  LOVE | Dan Savage, shown here at an appearance at the Kessler Theater last year, will appear at UNT on Feb. 7. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, known for his It Gets Better Project, will keynote the University of North Texas Equity and Diversity Conference next week.

“I’ll talk about how it’s gotten worse in some ways,” Savage said.

He said that kids can’t fly under the radar anymore like when he came out in 1981.

“Everyone is hyper-aware in a way they weren’t before,” he said.

He called that a result of the Reagan Revolution, when anti-gay rhetoric became organized.

“Mom and Dad beat up on gay people at the ballot box so it became OK for kids to beat up on gay kids at school,” he said.

This week, Savage said he received a letter from a father whose 13-year-old son recently came out.

“How do I know I’m parenting him correctly?” the dad wanted to know.

As a father with a 13-year-old son himself, Savage gets aggressively protective. He tells parents to make sure there’s a Gay Straight Alliance in school. If the school has anti-bullying policies in place, make sure they’re being enforced and let the principal know you’re watching and “you’ll create holy hell.” And make sure the child has gay role models and friends.

GETTING  BETTER AND BETTER | Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller started the It Gets Better Project to help LGBT youth. Their original goal was 100 videos but they have more than 50,000 that have gotten 50 million views. (Photo courtesy of Dan Savage)

He advises that when the young teen’s straight friends start dating and they have no other out friends in school, reassure them that their time will come. And don’t be afraid to give an LGBT child the same advice you’d give a straight child. That’s not homophobia, he said. It’s parenting.

But Savage called this “the best of times and the worst of times” for LGBT youth to grow up.

“If you grow up in a rural area, go to a Christian school, are bullied from the pulpit and there’s no GSA, it’s never been worse,” he said.

Savage said that when he began the It Gets Better Project, he and husband Terry Miller hoped for 100 videos. A day after posting that first one, he had topped that number and within a few days had 100 more. He said that at last count there were more than 50,000 It Gets Better videos that have been viewed more than 50 million times. That includes one of the most popular — the City Council speech made by Joel Burns that has been seen more than 2.7 million times.

Two of Savage’s favorite pieces that were included in the book It Gets Better, which will be released in paperback in March, were contributed by A.Y. Daring and Gabrielle Rivera. Daring, who identifies herself as black and queer, grew up in rural Canada. Her simple story tells of moving to a bigger city and entering a university with the oldest LGBT support group in the country. Rivera, a gay Latina from the Bronx, tells youth that, “It doesn’t get better.” But she says that you get stronger.

It Gets Better has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Savage said as soon as the videos took off, they trademarked and copyrighted the slogan and “people started throwing money at us.”

“We created a brand,” he said.

He said they’ve had to protect that brand and were able to shut down an anti-gay group that tried to co-opt the phrase.

That money raised has been redirected to GLSEN, the Trevor Project and the ACLU LGBT project. And he would like to see It Gets Better merged into another organization rather than continue as a standalone. Talks with other groups are ongoing.

Savage commented on the presidential campaign and the image of one of the candidates he helped create.

In 2003, in response to an interview in which Sen. Rick Santorum’s called gay sex a deviant behavior, Savage wrote, “There’s no better way to memorialize the Santorum scandal than by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.”

As a result, the definition of Santorum that pops up first in an online search of the name has been dubbed the candidate’s “Google problem.”

Savage dismisses Santorum’s campaign, however.

“He’s not running for president,” he said. “He’s running for a Fox News contract just like [Mike] Huckabee.”

On Rick Perry, he wonders how Texans feel about the general impression that Perry’s not smart enough to be president.

“He’s just dumb enough to be governor?” Savage wonders. “I love that Barack Obama is now more popular in Texas than Rick Perry.”

After the George “Rentboy” Rekers scandal, Savage helped popularize the term “lift the luggage” to mean supplying your partner with sexual pleasure. He said studies have shown that homophobic men are turned on by gay pornography.

“Every time a [Ted] Haggard or Rekers comes along, it makes homophobia look gay,” he said. “So we celebrate when they come tumbling out of the closet.”

……………………….

Savage at UNT

The Equity & Diversity Conference at University of North Texas University Union, 1155 Union Circle, Denton. Feb. 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 940-565-2711. Dan Savage will speak at 10 a.m. in the Silver Eagle Suit.

Registration is free for UNT students, $100 for UNT faculty, staff and alumni, $150 for non-UNT students and $275 for others. Onsite registration, available the day of the conference is $350.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Inaugural Oak Cliff Film Festival announced

Aviation Cinemas, the company who purchased the Texas Theatre, just announced their plans for the first Oak Cliff Film Festival, a fest that  celebrates “brave and independent filmmaking of all stripes.” The OCFF is set to happen next summer throughout various venues in the OC. Texas Theatre director Jason Reimer will lead the acquisitions team along with Blake Ethridge, formerly with Fantastic Fest.

While the plan is to give emphasis to Texas filmmakers, the goal is to become a viable international festival. Makes sense and Oak Cliff is an easy sell. With such host venues like The Kessler, Texas Theatre, The Belmont and Bishop Arts Theater, the festival will play in all renovated spots in the area. Already, this isn’t your typical festival.

The projected dates for the OCFF is June 14–17, 2012. Want your film to be a part of it? Submissions open here Nov. 7.

—  Rich Lopez

D.I.V.E. drive to benefit Genesis Women’s Shelter

Genesis Women’s Shelter on Lemmon Avenue has long been a staple to the LGBT community for some nifty shopping and easy drop-off of items that can be resold to help provide and maintain a safe haven for women who are victims of domestic abuse. A couple of colleagues  always tell me about the finds they get for cheap. Well, a coalition of businesses have come together to create Dallas Independent Venue Exchange, or D.I.V.E., to begin a coat drive as winter nears and temperatures start to drop. D.I.V.E. selected Genesis and the Austin Street Centre homeless shelter as recipients of the drive with which they hope you’ll drop off some of that outerwear that you don’t wear so much anymore.

Queer-friendly spots such as the Granada Theater, Good Records and The Kessler are among the drop-off sites for the drive that runs until Nov. 23. You can see the other locations in the poster above. Click here for more information or email this guy if you want to do just a little more.

—  Rich Lopez

Hotter than Hell at The Kessler featuring lesbian legend Satan’s Angel

Queen of burlesque

Satan’s Angel — a stage name, of course — is a legend who has a few healthy decades under her belt and she doesn’t want today’s generation to forget what burlesque should really mean to performers and audiences.

“Burlesque is about sexuality, being sensual and teasing,” she says by phone in a gravelly voice. “It’s getting the audience worked up and then letting them go home all fired up. It really is about the journey of titillation, not the destination.”

As part of Saturday’s Hotter Than Hell show at The Kessler, Ms. Angel doesn’t perform like she used to, but she still headlines this show that will include “boylesque” artist Jett Adore. Now 67, Ms. Angel has seen it all and welcomes the diversity in burlesque now, but she was in a class all her own back in the day.

—  Rich Lopez

Strip tease

burlesque-1
THE FACE, AND BODY, OF BURLESQUE Satan’s Angel, center, continues in a profession that has welcomed such newcomers as Dita von Teese, left, and Jett Adore, right.

Out burlesque legend Satan’s Angel last performed in Dallas at Jack Ruby’s club in late 1963. And that’s not the only thing that has changed in the last 50 years

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Although she liked the film, Satan’s Angel thought the movie Burlesque was more about a lounge act than the actual art of the tease.

She should know. Satan’s Angel — a stage name, of course — is a legend who has a few healthy decades under her belt and she doesn’t want today’s generation to forget what burlesque should really mean to performers and audiences.

“Burlesque is about sexuality, being sensual and teasing,” she says by phone in a gravelly voice. “It’s getting the audience worked up and then letting them go home all fired up. It really is about the journey of titillation, not the destination.”

As part of Saturday’s Hotter Than Hell show at The Kessler, Ms. Angel doesn’t perform like she used to, but she still headlines this show that will include “boylesque” artist Jett Adore. Now 67, Ms. Angel has seen it all and welcomes the diversity in burlesque now, but she was in a class all her own back in the day.

“Well, I am the big lesbian legend of burlesque that probably paved the way for every queer there,” she laughs. “It was a terrible time. No one could really be open and lots of places were owned by the mob. If they found out, they’d throw you out the door.”

But she was defiantly queer in a pre-Stonewall era — even when she traveled in the South. She always “had a woman” and when a fellow dancer outed her to a club owner, she didn’t back down.

“Oh, he grabbed me by the hair and was hitting me in the face asking if I was gay,” she recalls. “Other dancers were telling me to just say I wasn’t, but I just told him to piss off. It was really hard then.”

Ironically, burlesque now is very fluid in its sexuality. Lesbianism could almost be looked at as a selling point. But Ms. Angel says many of today’s performers have replaced the tradition with shock art. She intends to keep the classical nature of it alive.

“People do this variety, bizarre stuff and it’s very offensive to me,” she says. “They need to put the truth of this out there. Don’t try to shock. That’s not burlesque; that’s bullshit. This Latina dancer had these donkey piñatas in her act and she’s fist-fucking the donkey’s ass. I mean, what the shit is that?”

Today’s performers haven’t all strayed from the traditional values. She cites Dita von Teese (who was in Dallas last week) and Ginger Valentine as staying true to the form, and commends the work of Jett Adore, who also performs Saturday.

Boylesque isn’t new to Angel — as she saw it decades ago in Canada and Europe. It’s just new to America.

“They were way ahead of us. Everyone was doing nudity outside of America and we were just trying to go topless,” she says. “What I like about Jett is he’s extremely masculine on stage and his Zorro makes Antonio Banderas’ a zero.”

Her appearance this weekend is something of a homecoming for Ms. Angel. She worked the Texas circuit back in the day, landing a gig in the fall of 1963 at Abe Weinstein’s Colony Club on Commerce Street. But then her agent found an offer for more money at a place called Carousel Club owned by some guy named Jack Ruby. Ruby wasn’t thrilled with the lesbian idea, either, but she was the featured performer.

Of course, a few weeks later, Ruby became more infamous than she could ever hope to be.

“He was a weird dude, very Jekyll and Hyde and a big talker but not much else,” she says. “He treated me well but I worked my week and was out of there and on to Kansas City. Next thing I knew, he’s on TV for shooting Oswald. He was strange, but I really never thought he was a killer.”

Life is a calmer these days. She does the occasional performance, live readings and burlesque classes, but finds her haven in Palm Springs. She calls her life partner of 14 years her “poor little butch” who has to sell merch, be her dresser, drive her to the airport and act generally as an assistant.

“If I didn’t just bring her along, I’d have to hire somebody,” she jokes. “She’s got bad knees. What is she going to do for a job?”

Of course, she’s just teasing.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Sex in the city

bedpostladies
TALK DIRTY TO ME | Three of the four creators of ‘Bedpost Confessions,’ including Sadie Smythe, far left, are bisexual, giving a ‘pansexual’ bent to many of the sexy admissions.

‘Bedpost Confessions’ moves sex talk from the closet into Oak Cliff

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

What would you do if your friend admitted to  being a prostitute? Or if your sister talked about having sex outside of her marriage with a 21-year-old virgin? Sexual talk outside of the bedroom can still be taboo, even in today’s desensitized world of fast hookups and Showtime melodramas. Bring up intercourse (or something far more intense), and most people will cringe or shy away.

Not Sadie Smythe. She says that such fear stems from shame, and she’s on a quest to change that.

“We do it because there’s this puritanical mindset pervading our culture,” Smythe says. “We want to start a conversation about sex and sexuality. It’s a pleasurable experience for people and that’s part of why we do it.”

Smythe is co-creator of the Austin-based show Bedpost Confessions, a sort of Vagina Monologues series of admissions and detailed sexual experiences featuring a roster of participants. Bedposts’ first- ever performance outside of Austin comes to Oak Cliff July 21.

“I thought Dallas should be our first stop as a good jumping off point,” says Smythe, a Dallas native. “Depending on how many people show up, we’ll be in the upstairs room at the Kessler. That’s such a great place and right in the middle of all that cool stuff.”

She could be surprised. Although current RSVPs are modest, if it plays out like her first show, that could change dramatically. Smythe expected about 20 people to Confessions’ debut and 60 showed up, crammed into a small space. Now the monthly event brings in close to 400 people — all there to talk about (and listen to others talk about) sex. With such a growth, the show plans for events in San Francisco and Boston.

Does that mean America is ready to shout out their sexcapades to the masses? Smythe hopes so.

“The more sex is taboo the more shame that surrounds it. I see that as a problem,” she says. “My feeling is that kids have a hard time understanding what sex and sexuality is about. Parents don’t feel comfortable because of the shame so kids go into their formative sexual years inadvertently hurting each other. Shame creates harm and we aim to take that harm out of the picture. So we just talk about it.”

She describes Confessions as pansexual because all perspectives are reflected and embraced. Local performer Roy G. Bivs is a gay man who talks about a time in Japan when he partook in prostitution to pay the bills. Smythe, who is bisexual, has publicly discussed her open marriage in her book Open All the Way. She’ll “confess” to her 21-year- old virginal conquest.

“My mother will be at this show so she’s gonna get an earful,“ Smythe laughs. “But it’s educational. That’s part of the beauty of it. Confessions takes you out of your own experience and other people can encourage flight.”
The audience can even confess their own sins, er … “experiences.”

“The hallmark of the show is the confessions,” she says. “Although we highly curate these shows and make sure they are smart, funny and entertaining we add an element of interaction that’s unpredictable.”

Those that go to a Confessions show are given a card to come clean about that which gets them off. Without names, the cards are read aloud during the show. (A sampling are on the show’s website.) Smythe says there’s a cathartic element to opening up.

“The audience notes are usually funny, but it also unifies the group as they all engage in it,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll even inspire discussion and ultimately, it’s a really fun and sexy show.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Dan Savage last night at The Kessler

Dan Savage spoke for nearly two hours at The Kessler last night to a standing-room-only crowd (OK, there were some chairs open) and the audience was putty in his beefy hands. The applause roared as he came out and instead of going with any kind of speaking agenda, he answered audience questions collected on notecards earlier in the night. Of course, most were sex-based questions and the show turned mostly into the live version of his Savage Love podcast where he doles out sex advice in hilarious, clever and poignant fashion. As you can see from the video after the jump, he even took on a question about sex robots.

—  Rich Lopez

Dan Savage comes to the Kessler tonight

The guy behind Savage Love and the “It Gets Better” campaign is coming to Dallas. Just like the poster says.

We wonder how he’ll approach this speaking engagement. Can he balance the sex talk from his podcast and syndicated column with the supportive message against bullying? Or is it one over the other? Personally, I’m just kinda hoping for anecdotes about his work for This American Life. Especially this piece.

 

 

—  Rich Lopez

Art in the Cliff

Oak Cliff’s arts community thrives by making the old new again

DAVID TAFFET  | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

THEY AUTRY BE PROUD  |  The Kessler opened as a movie palace owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry, but Edwin Cabaniss and Jeff Liles, pictured, have renovated it into a performing and visual arts venue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
THEY AUTRY BE PROUD | The Kessler opened as a movie palace owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry, but Edwin Cabaniss and Jeff Liles, pictured, have renovated it into a performing and visual arts venue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

First the Bishop Arts District brought gay-owned restaurants to Oak Cliff. Art galleries and stores followed closely. But not since the Bronco Bowl was torn down to make way for a Home Depot a decade ago have performing arts been so evident in the Cliff.

The Kessler Theater on Davis Street in Winnetka Heights has been around for decades, but although it’s in the process of renovating its art deco design, it’s also hopping with activity.

Originally owned by Gene Autry and opened as movie theater, it fell on hard times with the advent of television. The building cycled through many uses — it was a church at one time, and later still, a bowling shirt factory.

In 1957, the Kessler took a direct hit from the great Oak Cliff tornado, a disaster most familiar to Oak Cliff residents today from a large photograph hanging in Norma’s Café across the street. (The twister ripped right through the theater but left the structure standing.) A few years later, the building was further devastated by fire. For most of the past 25 years, it has stood empty.

Then Edwin Cabaniss, who lives in the neighborhood, bought the theater for his wife, a dancer who teaches tap and ballet. The couple’s love of the arts translated into turning the space into a clearing house for live performance. Work continues on updating the building, and when dance, guitar, piano and voice lessons aren’t taking place there, Jeff Liles books live music. Cliff native Edie Brickell will appear there Nov. 16; acts are booked four nights a week.

Visual arts are part of the ethos as well. In the gallery upstairs, an exhibit of black-light 1960s posters ran this summer. The theater, opened in March, looks better than it has since Autry owned it — and is more active.

The Kessler isn’t the only venue bringing life back into this gayborhood. Down the road, the Texas Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard has also reopened with a classic movie series. Best known as the place Lee Harvey Oswald was cornered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it’s worth a visit, if only for its historic significance. After several failed attempts to save the building through the years, it is now owned by the non-profit Oak Cliff Foundation that is working on renovations.

Next door is the newly opened Oak Cliff Cultural Center with 5,000 feet of space, which the city of Dallas used to replace the Ice House Cultural Center. The Ice House was the original early 1900s building where 7-Eleven got its start: They froze water in this building on Polk Street and sold ice in their first store just a few blocks away on Edgefield Avenue.

Dallas converted the Ice House into one of its small neighborhood cultural centers years later, where artists and playwrights were often featured, including Martice Productions, which specialized in gay/Latino comedies.
Gerardo Sanchez of the center said the new space features an art gallery that will house eight shows per year as well as a dance studio that’s already being used by arts groups, dance groups and classes. With the Texas Theatre next door, Sanchez said there are a lot of possibilities.

“We’re hoping to partner with them,” he says.

TeCo Productions is an ambitious theater company that operates out of the newly renovated Bishop Arts Theater on Tyler. The company started in Atlanta in 1993 and moved to Dallas where they performed at the Hall of State in Fair Park until a patron donated the dilapidated Blue Bird Theater just off Jefferson Boulevard.

The Blue Bird was a silent movie theater built in 1917 — talkies never made it in this part of Oak Cliff. Outside, the drab brown cement building is easy to miss. The surprise is the 170-seat proscenium-stage, state-of-the-art theater inside.

This year’s schedule includes gay writer Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity starring New Arts Six; the show opens in December. The season also includes a world premiere of a mystery in October, and in February, their annual new play competition. Last year’s Southwest Airlines Jazz Series regularly sold out.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas