Book Review: Readings
A memoir of lament, meditation, anxiety, and hope
Reviewed by John Dicker, Fri., Nov. 18, 2005
The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family
by Dan Savage
Dutton, 336 pp., $24.95Your 6-year-old is blasting Black Sabbath while traffic is clogged like a men's room at halftime. Getting to the church on time will require a feat on par with O.J. Simpson's Hertz-induced airport sprint. This is not how you imagined your wedding day, if you imagined it at all.
Your name is Dan Savage: 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 6-year-old opposes "boys marrying boys," while your Catholic mom demands it) and not (basic commitment phobia).
The world is a complicated place, and so, too, should be anyone's decision to wed in this day of only a 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 the larger political one, which is this: Why bother? Sure, the legal protections of marriage are a no-brainer. But the ritual? Why stage it when it has less legal clout than a Chuck E. Cheese's gift certificate?
Or is this merely a convenient way to avoid commitment? Probably both. Savage sees any public affirmation of love as a great way to tempt fate. He's forever reading about seemingly happy couples who are rewarded for their lavish weddings with breakups so swift they seemed ordained. Meanwhile, his mother posts him newspaper clippings touting the advantages of all things married.
The Commitment is a memoir sprinkled with polemic on gay marriage (in the absence of legal recognition) and gay family life (in the absence of established norms). In some ways it's 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 tantamount to acting like straight people speaks to a classically American anxiety: the fear of becoming cliché. Or, more specifically, that tradition hastens this process. Still, as Savage shows, the venom of so many "defenders of marriage" betrays their profound know-nothingness about gay families. Given our polarized culture one wonders if the "hate the sin, love the sinner" crowd will ever consider these ideas.