You know him as Savage Love. You know him as the gay guy who gives No Shit sex advice to straight folk. Dan Savage, America’s straight-up LGBT activist, sex columnist and podcaster talks about what it’s like to grow up gay in a sexually misaligned society and then face shaming again among the supposedly like-minded.
Dan’s interview takes some surprising and self-disclosing turns as you find yourself saying, “Dang! That’s it! I know what you’re talking about!”
In American culture it’s tough to sidestep any kind of shaming for who we sexually are. Though we don’t like to admit it, ours is a culture which demands conformity, and sexuality is anything but conforming. A demand for conformity and sexuality’s demand for uniqueness is a recipe for pain.
Shame here, is inevitable.
Dr. David Ley, a clinical psychologist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is conducting a video project exploring the issues surrounding social sexual shaming. Ley is making few assumptions and leaves the conversation wide open asking at the outset, “Do you see sexual shaming as continuing to be an issue?”
Dan Savage can go a lot of directions with this one and thankfully he follows the path of his own experience professionally as a sexuality writer but also as a gay man who came out as a teen. Shame is no stranger to Savage.
Ley does make one exclusion from the outset of his discussion though. He doesn’t include any kind of definition or framing of shame for his viewers.
It does seem to follow that people should intuitively know what shame is. We all experience it after all. But it would be a mistake here neglect at least a few lines of discussion about shame.
The first mistake most people make about shame is to assume that shame is inherently deserved. Not so. Shame is nothing less than pain. It’s the pain you feel when someone points out either real or perceived departure from their expectation of you. Shame is how you feel, but it’s based on what you believe others think about you.
Shame is also a curse. Picture the grade school teacher wagging their ugly accusing finger at some unwary child saying, “Shame on you! Look what you’ve done!” The pain is devastating and lives with the child and shapes their perception of self. The pain is carried forever. People, often without knowing it, curse others by shaming them.
It’s a curse that almost always works.
A child is found kissing another child. Shame. A child is found fondling their genitals. Shame. A teen is found with a hard on in math class. Shame. A young man in church is discovered loving another guy. Shame. A husband is discovered browsing porn on is laptop. Shame. A mature man is found basking in the sun nude in his private back yard. Shame.
Shame is pain however you cut it. Shame is inevitable through a lifetime.
Dan Savage actually started his career intending a joke by giving sex advice as a gay guy to straight folk. It was really intended to shame straight readers by treating them with the same contempt that straight columnists treated gay readers.
Shame is a tool for everyone. We use it without knowing it.
Fortunately, Savage saw the power of his pen and writes knowing that the majority of his readers are writing him questions and comments because they feel shame. Not because they are above it.
And that brings to the surface the real issue of sexual shame. None among us escape shame as it’s the social tool we use to bring one another into conformity. With the impossibility of sexual conformity, one must find their ability to escape the grip of shame. Any gay man who is out; any kinkster who has found a community; any porn viewer who has disclosed his preference; any masturbator who leaves his lube on the table, has escaped the grip.
Lest you think that shame is conquered by joining a community, Savage has news. Even once out, the community will insist you conform and use shame to enforce it. His experience as a young gay teen was that his friends shamed him for not doing the things that they liked to do. Savage’s preference didn’t conform and his friends used shame to move him to be like them.
The most interesting side trail of Dan Savage’s discussion was the question, “Is all sexual shame bad?” Some of our most erotic, sexy and exciting experiences came from shame that we had experienced and overcome or despised. One of the powers of our sexuality is the ability to find a place where our pain becomes pleasure. Even in our shame we can find our sexual selves. In doing so, we’ve escaped shame’s grip.
Dan Savage’s discussion is compelling to explore your own experience with shame and see it for what it is. While sexual shame is inevitable, you can at least escape it’s grip.
See all of David Ley’s No More Sex Shame videos here.