A Modern Guide To LGBT Manners

Navigating the social graces of our ever-changing society can be tricky, and perhaps trickier for gays and lesbians. Many wonder how to respond to offensive jokes or how to address a letter to a married gay couple. Steven Petrow gives answers in his new book Steven Petrow's Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners. He speaks with guest host Jacki Lyden.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we get to sample some Latin and African rhythms. We'll speak to Putumayo World Music's founder and CEO about delivering some of the best beats in the business. But first, getting the answers to some difficult questions, like do I let my daughter and her lesbian lover sleep in the same bedroom when visiting? How do I address a salutation to a gay couple? Or, must I buy a present for a civil union?

Steven Petrow has the answers and he's the go-to authority on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. He writes the nationally syndicated advice column Queeries, and his latest book is called "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners." He helps people navigate that community.

Welcome to the program, Steven Petrow.

STEVEN PETROW: Thank you for having me, Jacki.

LYDEN: You know, this book is really useful for everyone, but first of all, Steven, you know, it is 2011. Why is there a need for a marriage book, specifically for the gay and lesbian population?

PETROW: Part of the answer is that I've been doing an advice columns for many years now, and three years ago I started getting just a ton of questions, both from gay people and from straight people about all these dilemmas in sort of our social interactions and, you know, they're also all of the same sex wedding questions. You know, what's your role? If you're a parent, are you supposed to pay? If you're the dad, are you going to be dancing with one of the grooms?

And you know, there are just a ton of questions for people who are coming out. What's the respectful way to do that? And if someone does come out to you, how do you respond?

So this book is a - it's a big book of manners for everyone about all of these interactions that we have and it really seemed like the time had come.

LYDEN: So a lot of it is about basically common decency, and then you're saying there are these other things that do specifically apply to the gay community.

PETROW: Yes. I mean, a lot of it is common sense, but then some of the specific questions, you know, take a little bit of noodling and that's, you know, that's what I've been doing over the past several years.

You know, for instance, how do you introduce the significant other of your best gay friend? You know, if you're opposite sex married, you'd be, well, that's his wife or that's her husband. But we don't have a standard in our community, so you need to listen to how people introduce themselves and if they don't, it's actually really just fine to ask, how would you like me to introduce the two of you?

LYDEN: Steven, you wrote a similar book called "The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette" in 1995. I'd like to ask what's different about this book? How have things changed?

PETROW: You know, it actually shocked me when I started to think back that, really, 16 years here is like 1,600 in gay years or something like that, because think back, 1995, 1996, that was before online dating. That was before Ellen DeGeneres even came out of the closet, much less, you know, became sort of this lesbian icon. It was before Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so it's a world of difference.

LYDEN: Your book contains a lot of questions from your nationally syndicated Queeries column. And let's take a few of these questions, Steven.

A fifth grade teacher wants to know how to help a student who has two moms and that student wants to create a family tree. Is it all right for the teacher to inquire about the parents' sexuality?

PETROW: You know, the best thing is for parents to approach the teacher or the school at the beginning of the school year and talk to them about how their family is constructed, that there are two moms or two dads and so that the teacher and the school are kind of plugged in to that fact when you get to assignments like that.

But also, to pay attention for, you know, some antigay slurs and language that happens. You know, that phrase, that's so gay, is used, you know, so often in the schools and it's a very negative, hurtful phrase, and parents...

LYDEN: You mean kids to other kids? You mean...

PETROW: Yes. And teachers and administrators just need to have an ear for that so that they can stop that, you know, early on.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden and I'm talking with Steven Petrow. He writes the nationally syndicated advice column, Queeries, and he's the author of the recently released book "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners."

And here's a timely query from one of your recent columns, and I'm going to start to read.

We're going out of our minds. Ever since New York passed the law allowing same sex couples to get married there, every straight person wants to know when we're getting hitched. A lot of our gay friends are asking us as well. It's become oppressive. Is there a new gay wedding etiquette about this?

Well, I don't know, Steven. What's your rejoinder?

PETROW: Oh, my God. You know, after that law was passed at the end of June, in the month of July and early August, I was just inundated with that same question in so many different forms. And you know, I think one of the important things to note is that winning the right to marry doesn't necessarily mean that it's always the right thing for every couple, and it's - it's a choice.

And that kind of highlights, you know, a theme in the book, which is there are a lot of well-intentioned questions that come from straight folks to their gay friends and family members, and we in the gay community shouldn't... xxx questions that comes straight folks to their gay friends and family members. And we in the gay community shouldn't take offense. We should try to have a sense of humor. And, you know, we should also feel free to say, you know, that's private, you know, and to push back a little bit.

LYDEN: Steven, do you have any one piece of advice that you wish everyone would practice?

PETROW: Well, I think one of the beautiful things about manners is that it doesn't tell everyone how they should think. It's a tool to help us interact with each other, and especially on issues around gay and lesbian stuff and people. Those who are listening who are not so open-minded in a way about gays, it's not as though you need to make a donation, it's not as though you need to raise a pride flag, but you do need to do your best to be respectful of your gay friends and to be civil at all times.

LYDEN: Well, thanks for writing such a complete primer.

PETROW: Thank you so much for having me, Jacki.

LYDEN: Steven Petrow writes the nationally syndicated advice column "Queeries." He's also the author of numerous books for the LGBT community, and his most recent book is called "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners." He joined us from member station WNCU in Durham, North Carolina. Thanks for your time today.

PETROW: Thank you so much again.

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