Dan Savage interview

Published in Time Out Sydney, 20 September 2013

The acclaimed US advice columnist tells us how to be “monogamish” 

If you’re not familiar with Dan Savage, then… actually, just get your hands on his column and/or podcast, both of which are called Savage Love. It’s the smartest, sharpest, funniest and least-bullshit sex and advice source on the planet and if you’ve had anything to do with humans before, or any plans to in the future, you should acquaint yourself with it right now. Off you go. We’ll wait.

OK: since you’re now a fan of Dan Savage’s work, you’ll feel very sympathetic toward his insane globe-trotting schedule of late.

“I’m in Seattle, and I’m struggling with jetlag,” he sighs. “I went to Berlin and back, then London and back, and now Sydney. I expect to be dead by November.”

The reason he’s coming to Sydney is to appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, where he’ll be holding forth on the concept of “monogamish relationships”: the idea that being in a committed relationship can involved outside sexual contact, and that infidelity per se is not something worth destroying a relationship over.

“I’m not against monogamy,” he insists. “I don’t go to monogamous couples and say ‘oh my god, you’re doing it wrong!’ Yet those of us who are not monogamous hear that every day from people: you don’t really love each other, it’s not really a commitment unless you’re strictly monogamous.”

Savage married his long-time boyfriend Terry Miller in Canada in 2005 (until Washington ratified same-sex marriage last year he referred to him as “my husband in Canada, my boyfriend in America”) and the pair have an adopted son, DJ. For someone so often accused of being anti-marriage, he insists he’s a huge supporter of the institution.

“It’s a shame when marriage is constantly framed as this fucking nightmare, like it’s this scorched-earth long slog to the grave. Marriage, when it works, should mean it’s more pleasure to be together than not.”

In fact, Savage argues, if you want to have a successful, long-term monogamous relationship, you first need to acknowledge that it’s genuinely difficult.

“The culture says that if you’re in love, then monogamy is easy and that if you’re in love you won’t want to fuck anybody else. And what’s absolutely and blatantly and blaringly true is that you can be crazy in love with someone, and you’re still going to want to fuck other people – and so is the person who’s in love with you. And if you can just be honest about that, it might be easier not to fuck other people.”

Savage fears that confusing love and desire leads people to throw away a great relationship because they figure that if they find someone else attractive, they mustn’t be in love.

“They’ll interpret the desire to fuck someone else as proof that they’re not in love with their partner anymore, that it’s mutually exclusive: feelings for someone else and for my partner cannot occur concurrently in the same universe. So you’ll see people end relationships, when all they are is horny for something new, or a sexual adventure.”

And that, in essence, is what Savage means by “monogamish”. “If we could define our marriages in such a way that we could still have that adventure – hopefully and preferably together and consensually – without having to drag the marriage out behind the barn and shoot it first, more marriages would survive.”

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Can men be as funny as women?

Originally published at Daily Life, 13 September 2013

Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, yesterday

Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, yesterday

Comedy. It’s an art form that people have strong feelings about, and there is one subject that comes up with tireless regularity. You see it debated in magazine columns and on chat shows, in comment threads and Twitter wars, and it becomes especially prevalent whenever news comes through about a high-profile gig. Like the Golden Globes, for example: rumour has is that last year’s hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are returning to host again, and the predictable “are men funnier than women?” debates have ignited in turn.

And look, I know comedy is a subjective thing and that it seems kind of sexist to argue that one gender is just naturally better than another at comedy – but let’s face it, the data’s pretty unambiguous. I don’t want to be controversial, but seriously? Men vs women? Look, we all know who wears the comedy trousers here.

Fey and Pohler are good examples, in fact: both are writer-performers known for their starring roles in US sitcoms (Fey as 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation). Much is made of the fact that both come from distinguished comedy backgrounds – Fey as the former head writer of Saturday Night Live, Poehler as co-founder of the groundbreaking improv and sketch troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade.

It’s even more clear when you look at the tightly-contested world of TV, where writer/actors like Lena Dunham (Girls) , Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Kirsty Fisher & Marieke Hardy (Laid) have brought their own female-centric worldview to the small screen – or, in Hollywood, the likes of Kirstin Wiig, Casey Wilson, June Diane Rapheal and our own Rebel Wilson are creating and starring in their own comedy projects (and don’t even get started on the crop of TV and web series writers like Office staffer Amelie Gillette, or Burning Love creator Erica Oyama.

Stand up comedy’s equally full up: never mind the Margaret Chos or the Katy Griffins, you’ve got the likes of Tig Notaro (who Louis CK has hailed as having given “one of the the greatest standup performances I ever saw” when she walked out on a stage 24 hours after being diagnosed with cancer – the set is on her album Live, which is a verb, not an adjective ), killer Canadian lesbian firebrand DeAnne Smith , or the extraordinary messing-with-form-and-content genius of Maria Bamford. Her line “I never thought of myself as ‘depressed’ so much as ‘paralysed by hope’” is something I want on my gravestone.

Closer to home, Hannah Gadsby and Felicity Ward were getting sell-out audiences in Edinburgh this year, while Kitty Flanagan’s doing theatres on her upcoming run. And there’s no shortage of idiosyncratic Australian performers starting to really hit their stride – arch monologist Lou Sanz , absurdist performance artist Claudia O’Doherty, acerbic singer-songwriter Genevieve Fricker…

And sure, there are also loads of male comics – but seriously, has there ever been a male Joan Rivers? A male French & Saunders? A comic character as perfectly pitched as Ruth Cracknell’s Maggie Beare in Mother & Son? A sitcom as consistently bang-it-out punchline-heavy as The Golden Girls? A more seamless (or successful) transition from stand up to sitcom star to chat show host than Ellen DeGeneres? Hell, what’s the most popular comedy series in this country? A little number called Kath & Kim. What’s a guy got to do in order to break into this total taco fest?

It’s hard to admit, but the facts speak for themselves: there are exceptions, of course, but maybe men just can’t do comedy.

It’s probably because of their hormones or something.

Why An Abbott Election Victory Would Be Good

Originally published at TheVine, 5 Sept 2013

Look, we can’t all move to New Zealand – but this election might actually be a positive thing…

The nation, September 2013

The nation, September 2013

Dear Fellow Left Wing People,

First up: yes, I know. I feel it too. That desperate confusion, that disappointment, that anger. We’re not a small-minded, petty, terrified people… are we? Really?  At a time when we have the planet’s most robust economy we’re going to ignore the fact and sniffily proclaim that we want more, all the while refusing to help desperate people – in comparatively tiny amounts, by international standards – who are so in love with the idea of Australia/not being persecuted that they risk their lives in the hope of enjoying freedoms that most of us take for granted, and some of us actively resent. Voting? That’s a Saturday morning pissed away. Thank you very much, democracy.

But when I think of an Abbott victory, I think the following:

Good.

Not good because he’ll be a great leader – we’re about to get our own George W Bush, a man who can’t open his mouth without providing the world with a new malapropism and who is prepared to destroy his country rather than entertain the possibility that his political and economic philosophy is flawed, not to say straight-up mistaken.

Not good because it will be a positive time for anyone who’s not a mining magnate or a media baron. If you’re not wealthy, you’re in for a difficult few years – and if you like things like education, healthcare, environmental protection, workers rights, refugee rights, gender equality or any of that kind of thing, you’re going be getting angrier and angrier.

And that’s what’s good. That’s what we need.

Think about it. Even if Rudd sneaks in on Saturday via some mathematically-improbable fluke, what’s the likely scenario?

We’ll get three years of Labor desperately trying to keep the middle ground – no shift on asylum policy, probably some destructive efforts to get an entirely-symbolic budget surplus – with a probably uncooperative Senate and a stronger opposition leader – my money’s on Joe Hockey – with the weight of the Murdoch press behind them hammering home the message that everything would have been better if you’d just voted a Coalition government in. Rudd will be an ineffectual leader in an even weaker position than Gillard was in, there’ll be another election, a Libslide, and we will welcome another Howard-esque conservative dynasty.

But if Abbott wins?

We already know he can’t open his mouth without saying the exact wrong thing. We already know that he’s terrible on policy, can’t think on his feet and dodges responsibility. At the moment he can largely get away with blaming the government; once he’s Prime Minister, that’s not an option anymore. He will look like what he is: a man of narrow views and narrower knowledge woefully out of his depth.

And look at the Abbott front bench: it’s a viper’s nest. They’re not supporting Abbott because they think he’s an inspiring leader, since he’s demonstrated comprehensively that he’s not: they’ve backed him because the greatest strength they have had against Labor over the last 18 months has been in presenting a united front.

Once they’re in power this bunch of smart, ambitious and shrewd politicians are going to be a lot less forgiving of a leader who’s an obvious and embarrassing liability. Hockey isn’t going to fade back into the benches. Neither is Turnbull. Neither is Bishop. Neither is Morrison. Those squabbles have been sublimated for the time being because they had a common enemy: Labor. Once in power, they’ll have a different common enemy: each other.

Abbott will also almost certainly face a hostile Senate, with Greens and most of the sitting independents already indicating an unwillingness to pass many of his tentpole promises. He’s already implied that he’ll ask for a double dissolution if his agenda is not passed, which means that Labor, the Greens and the minor parties now have a chance to buy themselves another year of campaigning ahead of another election. Don’t worry about winning on Saturday, hopefuls: worry about winning after the Libs implode a bit down the track.

If there’s a double dissolution we will see an ineffective leader throwing a tantrum, and the Australian public are not going to thank him for calling us all back to another Saturday at the polls before we absolutely have to (and incidentally, it’s easier for a Senator to get up in a DD scenario as the quotas are halved. Want to get more independents and small parties clogging up your upper house? Call a double dissolution).

Meanwhile Labor in opposition will be stripped back to the MPs and Senators who’ve kept the faith of their electorates. The embarrassments and the dead wood that have made the last two years so difficult for the party will be gone. And those that are likely to survive – Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong et al – are no fools.

So what do we do for the next three years? We fight. We hold on to every asinine headline in the Murdoch press this week, and we use it as a stick to beat them with when the Coalition fail to deliver. We stop bitching on Twitter and start campaigning for the progressive causes we support (hell, it’s an early summer, the weather’s lovely for marching). We give Labor an incentive to move back to the left, because there are enough of us to be worth listening to.

But most importantly, as those depressing numbers come in on Saturday night, we remember that there is one great final secret about the Left, and it is this: in the long run, we always win.

Change never comes as quickly as we want it to, and it’s often in a frustrating two-steps-forward-one-step-back waltz rather than a decisive sprint, but look at the Australia of 2013 compared with ten years back. Or twenty years back. Or forty. There are always new battles to fight, and specific issues like asylum seeker policy or workplace rights or interventions in remote indigenous communities have seen some humiliating retreats in recent times, but eventually things progress.

The Coalition wasn’t at all interested in carbon schemes or marriage equality under Howard; now they know that they have to at least acknowledge these issues, if only to stall movement on them – and stalling only works for so long. These changes are often slow and incremental so we can be forgiven for not noticing at the time, but when you look at the bigger picture it’s clear: Australia progresses. Consensus takes time but ultimately we’re going to win. We always do.

But in the short term we need to stop being lazy, we need to stop being complacent, and we need to start working together. Hell, I’m more guilty than most in thinking a snarky Facebook status or a punchy tweet has fulfilled my community obligations: I need to lift my game, and so do you. It’ll be easier if we all do it together, and then we can totally get a drink afterwards. I’ll get the first round in.

And that is why I look at the forthcoming Abbott government as an emetic: it will make us feel incredibly sick, absolutely, but that’s how we vomit the poison out.

Your comrade,

Andrew P Street

Unfiending: the gentle art of losing jerks on Facebook

Published in Time Out Sydney on Sept 4 2013. Art by Robert Polmear

When you can no longer be friends with someone on Facebook, but don’t want to be one who cuts ties, there can be a third, wonderful way…

Dear The Internet,

Do you like this person outside Facebook (no/no)?

Do you like this person outside Facebook (no/no)?

The English language is the largest of all of the human word-things – partially because of its playful versatility, partially because we just gank words from other languages whenever we fancy it, and partially because of the Oxford English Dictionary’s new policy of getting headlines by officially adding any word that gets used more than twice in The New York Times.

And yet there are still vast tundras of human experience as yet unmapped by intrepid lexicographers, which is why I so often find myself forced into creating my own words. Like an infant trying to build a cathedral by bashing bits of Lego together, I struggle, cry and often end up wetting myself – but dammit, I shall never waver in my passionate commitment to making our rich and supple language be heaps more awesomer.

With that in mind, English Language, I present the following:

UNFIENDING (verb): Passive social media exorcism; the liberating experience of discovering you’ve been unfriended by someone about whom you were feeling ambiguous.

See, we’ve all got people embedded within our social media networks that we would never put up with if we were sitting at a bar.

Maybe they seemed nice enough at work and you realised too late that they’re a conspiracy theorist. Maybe the subject of whether or not they felt vaccinations were a brilliant and effective population health measure or a way of putting curses and ghosts into babies didn’t come up at that perfectly pleasant dinner party. Or maybe it’s someone who can’t get enough of trolling everyone else you know as part of their ongoing public descent into madness

Either way, the crazy content of their brain is now leaking out into your Facebook feed. Perhaps you’ve already gently suggested that they be a bit more circumspect, or perhaps you’ve just blocked them for your own happiness. Even so, it feels weirdly aggressive to actively de-friend them yourself – why, you’re a Hail Fellow Well Met sort who understands how these social niceties work in 2013 – but you’re thinking that maybe theirs was a friend request you should have left quietly unaccepted.

And then a mutual friend will post on their wall and you will discover – to your surprise and genuine, unfettered delight – that even if you wanted to add a comment of your own, you can’t. They’ve unfriended you! You’re free!

That is the act of being unfiended. You did nothing, but now you never have to bother with them again

Even better, you now have TOTAL MORAL SUPERIORITY. They can’t even get all sulky about what a jerk you are, because they’re the one who dropped the bomb. It’s like coming home and discovering your shittiest housemate has moved their stuff out and left a note on the fridge saying they’ve gone back to their mum’s house: any possible inconvenience is outweighed by the sense that this person’s vast, poisonous tangle of problems is now no longer yours. And you didn’t have to lift a finger.

Unfiending. The greatest gift a jerk can give.

And hopefully, they’ve given it ahead of the election…

Yours ever,

APS