Q: How does one become a successful advice columnist? I believe that I have something to offer. I give advice to friends and family, and I’m sure that there are many other people out there who would benefit from my advice. I am not interested in simply spouting my opinions, I am interested in helping people. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. —Wannabe Advice Columnist
A: I’ll get to your question in a moment, WAC, but first some thoughts about a man who spouts opinions for a living. Some of you probably caught me on Bill O’Reilly’s show, “The No Spin Zone,” on Fox News last week. Those of you who didn’t missed seeing O’Reilly hand me my kidneys. I was on his show to promote my new book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America, and O’Reilly began our segment by barking at me about owing royalties to Robert Bork, the conservative author and social critic who wrote Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Of course, if I owe Bork money then Bork owes money to Joan Didion, author of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and all three of us owe money to the estate of W.B. Yeats, the poet who got this “(blanking) towards (someplace)” business rolling. Anyway, I was having a nice enough chat with the combative Mr. O’Reilly, doing my damnedest to defend pot smokers and sex educators and other sinners. And then, oh my God, it pains me to relive this ... O’Reilly asked me what I thought about gay bathhouses. I told him the truth: I hate gay bathhouses and I think they should be closed. This is not a new position: I’ve been an on-the-record gay bathhouse basher for 10 years now. (And, guys, are gay bathhouses even necessary these days? Web sites like gay.com have basically turned every gay man’s apartment into a virtual/potential gay bathhouse, so do we really need to go to the real thing anymore? Why eat out when you can order in?) O’Reilly pounced: “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” he barked at me. “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” I was stunned. There I was sitting across the table from the darling of the American right — and he was shouting at me about wanting to go to a gay bathhouse. “If I want to pursue happiness in a gay bathhouse, shouldn’t I be free to do that, Mr. Savage?” I stalled for time; he kept hammering me. “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” Then I caved. I told O’Reilly that he was right, that my urge to close gay bathhouses was inconsistent with my do-whatever-feels-good positions on drugs and other sexual acts. “You win,” I said, but really I was thinking, “Get me the hell away from this guy before he shouts ‘I want to go to a gay bathhouse’ again!” (I mean, picturing real gay men in a gay bathhouse is revolting enough; picturing Bill O’Reilly in a gay bathhouse? That could put a gay guy off gay sex for the rest of his unnatural life.) I’m not defending my performance on O’Reilly — I blew it. Still, I want my revenge. It occurred to me as I was leaving Fox News that there had to be a talented DJ or two out there who can’t stand O’Reilly. So, Mr. DJ, why not sample Bill O’Reilly barking “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!,” put a catchy beat under it, and release it as an underground dance single? An ambitious DJ might make a video to go along with the single — a video that showed Bill O’Reilly barking “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” over and over again. I did a shit job on “The No Spin Zone,” but somehow the thought of Bill O’Reilly’s “I Want to Go to a Gay Bathhouse!” being the surprise dance hit this winter in Ibiza, well, that would make it all worthwhile. In other news, I wasn’t invited to appear on “Today” with Katie Couric, which came as a shock. Katie Couric is a liberal, after all — and not just any ol’ liberal. In Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, Ann Coulter bashes Couric, calling her the “affable Eva Braun” of American liberalism. Seeing as Couric is one of those biased media liberals, I naturally assumed that Couric would want me to come on her show and bash Coulter, Bork, Bennett, and the rest of the conservatives I take on in my book. Guess not. Authors, be warned! If you want to get on “Today” (and who doesn’t?), don’t bash Ann Coulter and the rest of the social conservatives! Bash Katie Couric and that darned liberal media elite! OK, back to your letter, WAC. As you know, I’m on a book tour, and I’m writing this week’s column just like I wrote last week’s column: on an airplane, scared to death. I’m writing this week’s column under the influence of two anti-anxiety medications (washed down with two anti-anxiety vodka and tonics), which means that for the second week in a row, I’m in no condition to give advice to anyone. And that’s why I selected your letter, WAC. I long ago swore that under no condition would I give advice to the many wannabe advice columnists who write me seeking career advice. I don’t need any more competition than I already have, thanks. Which is why running your letter makes such perfect sense! When I’m in no condition to give advice, why not run a letter from someone that I wouldn’t give advice to under any conditions?
Q: I know you give advice about sex, but I was wondering if maybe you could also give some career advice. I’m a wannabe sex columnist. I’m in college and I write a sex/relationship column for the campus newspaper. Now I”m looking for some advice myself. Sound career advice in this line of work is hard to come by. —CJ
A: You want some sound career advice, CJ? You should definitely think about having a career — a real career, I mean, in some other field. Your experience writing a sex column for a college paper may have given you a false impression about the availability of jobs at newspapers in general — even if that isn’t the case, you are clearly deluded about the availability of advice-column gigs. At college papers, editors, reporters, arts writers, op-ed columnists, and sex- and relationship-advice columnists are always up and graduating. This frees up jobs at college papers at a pretty regular clip. In real life, however, people don’t graduate — they retire or they die, both of which can take decades, and as a consequence jobs don’t open up as regularly. Since writing an advice column is a job that you can pretty much do in your sleep (or on your deathbed), advice column gigs hardly ever open up. Look at Ann Landers: Her column had to be pried from her cold, dead hands. And that’s as it should be. So here’s my advice for you, CJ, and everyone else who keeps asking me for advice about getting competing sex columns off the ground: You may have had a nice little run at your campus paper, but now it’s time to find a real job.
Dan Savage’s new book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah (Dutton), is on sale now. For more info, or to find out about Dan’s tour dates and signings, go to skippingtowardsgomorrah.com.Contact Dan Savage at firstname.lastname@example.org