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Sin in Moderation

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For 11 years, Dan Savage has written "Savage Love," a highly entertaining, wildly raunchy syndicated sex advice column. But it was his satirical claim that he tried to infect 2000 Republican presidential hopeful Gary Bauer with the flu—by secretly licking doorknobs, staplers, and other assorted supplies in the candidate's office—that put him on the national radar. (Savage's lawyer says the incident, described by Savage in Salon, never occurred. "That's my story," confirms Savage, "at least until the statute of limitations on doorknob licking runs out.")

These days Savage is haranguing social conservatives in a more traditional—but not necessarily more serious—fashion. His new book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America (Dutton), is a popular antidote to the dour doomsday genre epitomized by Robert Bork's 1997 jeremiad on moral decay, Slouching Towards Gomorrah. In Skipping, Savage journalistically sets out to join his countrymen in committing the seven deadly sins—for example, exploring lust by attending a national swingers convention. The editor of Seattle's alternative weekly The Stranger, Savage has published two other books: Savage Love, a collection of advice columns, and The Kid, a memoir about adopting his son.

Assistant Editor Sara Rimensnyder talked with Savage in November.

Q: You call yourself a "pro-sin American." What do you mean?

A: I don't mean that I'm pro-stupidity; I come out strongly for moderation and restraint. Pro-sin means I think we should have the freedom to explore vice.

Q: You don't seem very sinful in your book.

A: Hey, I'm sinful enough. In Bill Bennett's estimation I'm the worst of the worst: an occasionally dope-smoking fag.

Q: And how do you think you rate on the sin scale?

A: My life is emblematic of most people in America: I indulge in behavior Bork or Bennett wouldn't approve of. But I'm also an upstanding, taxpaying citizen, with a boyfriend and a baby.

Q: You write that even at Los Angeles' gay pride parade some of the participants justified their good time by saying it's "for the children." Why are Americans so afraid to admit to having fun?

A: Because Canada got the French and we got the Puritans.

Q: Whose doorknob is next on your list?

A: Actually, I think my next target will be the left and its reaction to the war on terrorism. I don't understand being more afraid of John Ashcroft than Osama bin Laden. Personally, I prefer Christian fundamentalists to Islamic fundamentalists.