In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, penned an essay for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the difficulties, bordering on regrets, that he and his partner experienced after choosing to pursue an open adoption of their son DJ.
“As the weeks ticked away," Savage wrote, “we admitted that those closed adoptions we'd frowned upon were starting to look pretty good. Instead of being a mystery his mother was a mass of distressing specifics."
DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a “slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.
The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. “I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."
At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But more recently, on the newly launched Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention:
“I would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. “I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."
Today, 11 years after writing this essay, Savage also reveals that his now 18-year-old son, DJ, is doing well, working at a coffee shop in Seattle. And for his birth mother? It looks like Savage got his resolution after all:
“DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. “She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday. Things leveled out."