There are two reasons you shouldn't drop your "Hey, Faggot" salutation.
First, "Hey, Faggot" is much more your brand identity than "Savage Love." It's certainly snappier, and definitely easier to remember. An ex-girlfriend of mine (bisexual, for the record) captured it perfectly one day. I asked her if she'd read some column of yours, referring to it by title. She didn't immediately recognize it, but then said, "Oh, I read 'Hey, Faggot' all the time. I love that column." For her, the salutation was the title.
Which brings me to the second reason. I have no particular idea what your stance is with respect to the hate words issue. But allow me to air mine: Hate words, like any other words, can be semanticized, de-semanticized, and re-semanticized by popular usage. This is no mystery. The question is not whether it is possible to change the meaning of a word, but to change it to what? And is any change even desirable?
So, it is desirable to change existing hate words, because it communicates to bigots that other people's attitudes are changing--a sort of linguistic peer pressure?
So far as hate words are concerned, I've always been of the opinion that intent makes a word hateful, not a particular arrangement of letters. "Faggot" can be said with hateful intent, but so can "homosexual" or "gay" (have you ever heard Jesse Helms drawl out "homahsectshul"?). "Bitch" can be a term of endearment or a slur, and neither rap artists nor Chris Rock are niggardly about their use of the word "nigger."
As I see it, the alphabet isn't magic. Nothing is created by arranging or rearranging letters, much less something so powerful as hate. Words can be used to express hate, but they are not hate in and of themselves. How someone uses words, what they choose to express, reveals much about their beliefs but nothing about the words. The meaning of a word is created solely by the intent of the speaker, so it's not only possible to change a word's meaning, but to change it instantly.
Dear Dan, Love your column, but disappointed to know that you've dropped the salutation. While I'm a breeder male and, as a result, don't have the sensitivity to "hate words," I must say that I found your welcoming of "faggot" refreshing.
Hey, Whatever: I'm glad you finally explained the "Hey, Faggot" greeting. I wasn't in on the joke, so pardon me for thinking you had some self-loathing issues.
Are you feeling pressure now to invent an even more arresting salutation? I think a gentler, less aggressive greeting would make your column more approachable and perhaps broaden your appeal. This, naturally, would lead to you earning more money. Money, I might remind you, is useful. Here are a few suggestions: "Dear Ann Landers," "Dear Mom," "Dear Monsignor O'Hanrahan," "Dear Ira Glass," "Dear Billy Graham," etc.
Hey, Savage: I'm glad you decided to drop the "Hey, Faggot" salutation, which I've always hated. How about "What the Fuck?" since there are a great deal of sex questions in your mix? And I'm glad you decided to accept e-mail too--more convenient. You can tell I'm long-winded, so feel free to edit this letter for space. Thanks.
William Jefferson Clinton
I like "What the Fuck?" but I'm not sure my editor would go for it. By the way, I caught Barbara Walters' interview with Monica Lewinsky on 20/20--and that girl sure has a pretty mouth. If Barbara got that camera any closer to it, the lens would have fogged right up. I've always been attracted to big-mouthed boys with large teeth, so you and I share a special bond, Mr. President. But, hey, if you did rape that woman in Arkansas in the '70s, I hope the devil boils you in oil for all eternity.
Dear Mr. Savage,
If you get enough new salutation suggestions, maybe you could use a different salutation each week. Here are my contributions:
Hey, Martian Queen:
Hey, Sex Columnist Guy:
and Hey, Unabashed Sodomite.
Thank you for the many suggestions. We will keep them on file, and if we use any of your proposed salutations, we will mail you $5 U.S.
First off, let me say that I think your chosen salutation, "Hey, Faggot," is a keeper! It may not be as cutting-edge as it once was, but it's an attention-getter, and goddamn funny to boot.
It was an attention-getter (it got the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's attention in San Francisco), and it was funny, but after eight years, I don't think folks even see it on the page anymore. So it was time to put the ol' girl down.
For a new salutation, how about "Hey, 'Mo"?
Hey, E-mail Virgin,
Oh you sweet naive young thing. So you've decided to open an e-mail account for your readers. You have no idea how popular you are, do you? You are going to be flooded with e-mail! How will you ever wade through it all? Are you gonna hire more help? And just where is THAT money supposed to come from?
Don't get me wrong. I am delighted to have the chance to e-mail my heartaches. But I sure don't want the column getting less entertaining as a result of our Danny suffering from eyestrain.
Johnnie of the Sunset
I'm already getting "e-mail postcard" pictures of kittens and chain e-mail lists of JAP jokes that were stale in the mid-'80s. I delete these e-mails, of course. And I have a simple plan to deal with my in-box filling with bullshit: every once in a while, I'll change my e-mail address. We have the technology, so why not? And if it spares me the sight of kittens clinging to tree branches ("Hang In There!"), it'll be worth the trouble.
Oh, and anyone tempted to mail me bullshit, please be advised: send kittens or lists of JAP jokes, and I will publish your e-mail address and encourage all of my readers to send you lots of bullshit, clogging your box and crashing your computer. Send another picture of a kitten, and I will send Kevin, my research assistant, to your house to personally kill your cats. There's nothing Kevin enjoys more than stomping cats, so consider yourselves warned.