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Photograph by Anne Fishbein

Word for Word

David Sedaris on un-dysfunctional families, true love and why he's simply not gay enough

By Greg Archer

In his latest bestseller, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris once again proves that he is a deliciously shrewd observer of the modern world, a man capable of making the most out of complicated air travel, addiction, hitchhiking and any number of emotional hiccups in his long-term relationship with Hugh Hamrick. Beyond the stories on the page, the NPR titan and bestselling author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is just as you'd imagine him to be: downright funny. But in the following Q&A, Sedaris managed to share a few stories that have never reached the printed page—yet. He appears at the Wells Fargo Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 28.

Bohemian: How is your book tour going?

David Sedaris: Oh, goodness. If public speaking were your worst nightmare, it would feel like the worst thing that ever happened to you. Last night, for instance, in Kansas, it wasn't that big of a store, so they set speakers outside in the parking lot. They had people outside. It was the first time I've ever done something like this before. I was inside the store and everybody else was outside of the store. And I looked at them, and I saw what a puppy would see. I spoke to them through the glass and they came in and I signed books for eight hours.

You write a great deal about your own family. I was wondering what were some of things about your parents' marriage that really influenced you?

Well, that's an interesting question. My parents remained married. They never got a divorce. Divorce wasn't as common then as it is now. My parents weren't very physical people. You didn't see them hug and kiss a lot. You didn't hear them saying, "Oh, I love you." And they didn't do that much together. That didn't seem abnormal to me. I mean, I am not one of those people who got a boyfriend and then thought you were supposed to do everything together, or thought that we were supposed to have our hands all over each other all the time. I don't mean sex. And people often say, "Oh it must be so hard to be away from Hugh for a whole month." And well, it's great. And it's good for him, too.

People need breathing room.

They do. Then again, the idea that I got from my parents was that you don't need all that stuff. You know, all that stuff that I saw on television; I never really bought it. I always thought that television always got families really wrong.

So there's a lot of realness in your family?

Well, yeah. I mean, it all seems real to me. It's really interesting when people say, "Well, I love reading about that dysfunctional family of yours." I think, well, it functions better than any family I can think of. We're all friends and we all truly enjoy each other's company. What's un-functioning about that?

You and Hugh have been together 17 years. What is one of the best things about your relationship?

One of the best things is that I don't have to do anything. He does everything.

Can you clone him?

He drives, he cooks, he fixes things. Like, I don't open what I call icky mail—any kind of bill or statement, anything that isn't personally addressed or is a free sample. I don't have anything to do with it. I'll put it into a pile, and he'll come right home and open it right up as if it's a birthday card. He does all the cooking. I mean, I am happy to go shopping—more than happy to buy toilet paper or light bulbs. I'll go to two stores every day with pleasure.

He's clean. We've never gone to bed with a dirty dish—ever! A coffee cup in the sink? Never. We don't have to argue about that. And it's good, too, because when you get older—I am 51—so if something happened to Hugh . . . I mean, I think it would be different if you were a heterosexual man. Like, heterosexual men can easily find a woman at age 50, but if you're gay and you're 50, it's a lot harder to find somebody, unless you want to buy somebody to be there—like the 25-year-old boyfriend. I can't see myself doing that. So if Hugh and I broke up, I would just be alone for the rest of my life. I am so incredibly grateful. And I think my gratitude shows. And I think that brings a lot to a relationship.

You live in Paris, but do you follow gay rights here in the states?

Yeah. I mean, I don't get any newsletters or anything. But I never understood people's objection to gay marriage. I never understood why people felt like it threatened their marriage, that somehow two lesbians exchanging poetry on a mountaintop—I mean, I want to say, "Not everything is about you!" If two lesbians exchange vows on a mountaintop, that's not saying anything about you and your marriage to your husband. And why would you think that it does? I have a media escort. I get a big kick out of them. I had one recently who was Republican, and she was saying, "The next thing they are going to want is to marry dogs and cats!" I thought, "Thank you so much for linking me to an animal that licks his own asshole!"

Amazing. Well, you are revered in the LGBT community and—

I don't think I am.

You don't?

No, I am not gay enough. Like, last night, I signed books for eight hours. I bet there were eight gay men. I get more lesbians than gay men. I am not gay enough.

What do you mean, you're not gay enough?

I am not hip enough. I don't know. I don't get any more gay people in my audience than there are in the population. You know, I mean—a percentage? I guess there's something about that that is, in a way, kind of progressive. I think it's kind of neat that a 14-year-old straight high school student will show up to hear a 50-year-old talk about his boyfriend lance a boil on his ass. [Laughs] But I think the way I write about my relationship is all about trying to make a life with someone. I don't think I write about in a way that's . . . I mean, the focus isn't necessarily two men. We happen to be two men, but our problems are the same as everybody else's.


We're more than our sexuality—we're human beings first, right?

When I was growing up, there were no books in the library on homosexuals, or any homosexuals on TV. I mean, there were, but you didn't know that they were gay. It was easy to believe that you were the only gay man on earth. Twenty years ago, my books would be in the gay and lesbian section of the bookstore because I was writing about my boyfriend. The manager of the bookstore would see the word "boyfriend" in the book and say, "Oh, we have to put that over there." At this point, when I think of lesbian and gay section of the bookstore, I think I'd find books about the joy of lesbian sex or how to make your own cock-ring crafts, but I would like to think gay-themed books, in general, have been moved into the more general section of the bookstore.

David Sedaris appears at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, Oct. 28. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $45–$65; $10, SRO. 707.546.3600.

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