Steven Petrow minds his manners when it comes to LGBT etiquette. Windy City Times discussed the proper way to handle a situation with the gay-life guru.
WCT (Windy City Times): Hi, Steven. Tell our readers about your new Web site.
SP (Steven Petrow): Well, it is a precursor to this book I am working on the Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners. Folks get more information on the Web these days and I thought it would be a great way to provide all the answers to people's questions. I am getting a couple hundred e-mail questions a month now.
WCT: That's great.
SP: I am not able to answer all of them on the site but I can in my column and on my blog posts. With the holidays there have been a slew of questions about visiting family, such as if they are not accepting or are not out, etc. It is definitely tricky. One person told me that he was welcome but his partner wasn't because there would be children present. It's those kind of questions. I try to answer in terms of what to say. I told him to ask his mother exactly what she is worried about. They are perfectly capable of being presentable during the holidays and not making out in front of a niece or nephew.
WCT: It gets me all worked up!
SP: It gets me worked up, too. It makes me sad because I am seeing a lot of pain around all of this. There was a woman that wrote on my Facebook page yesterday who was welcome to come to Thanksgiving as long as she acted straight. Who knows what that means but it is not an accepting comment.
WCT: Sounds like my old life back in Tennessee.
SP: Yes. They say you can do anything you want in the South but you can't say a word about it-which has its upsides and its downsides.
WCT: What is good etiquette [at] a party?
SP: First ask the host what you can bring. With the economy, they may say to bring a bottle or a plate of hors d'oeuvres. I think with everyone combining in, it makes for a really nice party.
Second thing, bring a good attitude. Parties are meant to be fun. People should be conversant and joyful.
The last thing is don't bring extra guests. Don't feel that you can bring along one or two other friends just because you are invited. Your host might not like it and you might like it if someone did the same thing to you.
WCT: I like it when people ask to clean up after.
SP: Yes I do, too. The best part is that you can diss everyone that was there. You can also help with decorations beforehand.
WCT: I have a Halloween party every year and some people still refuse to dress up.
SP: How many parties have I been to that say "festive attire required" and everyone dresses in black? This is not the definition of festive but obviously gay fashion-forward.
You can't win. All you can do is suggest. You are not going to ban people from coming to your party.
WCT: You talk about a wide variety of topics on your Web site such as when to tell someone your HIV status. What do you say about that?
SP: The only time someone should get in a discussion of their personal health is when they are in an intimate situation. So this would not be at work or at a health club, etc. It is a discussion before you go to bed so both partners can know the lay of the land. Someone that is going to have a big reaction to news that someone is positive is probably not a good girl or boyfriend for you, even if they are hot (laughs).
WCT: You have advice for people coming out of the closet?
SP: I do. It's a big part of the book. It is uncharted territory in a certain way. This is usually a younger section of folks maybe fourteen to twenty. At this day and age you don't need to make a grand pronouncement. You can just say that you are hanging out with someone without shouting it out. Labels don't work for a lot of people so that's a way to do it without labeling it.
WCT: So you are saying if you make it casual then it will be not a big deal.
SP: Yes. Also, the more comfortable you are with yourself the easier it is for you to tell someone and the easier it is for a loved one to accept it. I remember when I came out I was a mess, crying to my parents. I imagine that they may have thought, "He is so upset about this, how could it be a good thing?" Do what I say, not what I did.
WCT: Things have changed since you and I came out of the closet.
SP: Things are, but it also varies. I have a friend who is 50 [who] just came out to his kids. That was a difficult situation for him to end the marriage and to tell his two sons. People are coming out all different ways now. There is not one prescription for that to happen and we definitely have to embrace that.
WCT: So this will all be in the book you are writing.
SP: That will be about a year from now. I am working day and night on it. The first part will be about coming out, dating, sex, relationships, same-sex marriage, having kids, so on and so forth. I think the book and Website really indicate is that we as a community have come into our own. People raise an eyebrow as to why I am writing about etiquette and manners. I do not mean to tell people what to do but give someone a backup. What I like to tell heterosexuals is that it is important to invite us for the holidays, recognize our partners and honor the kids they may have. It helps to have a code of conduct to live by.
WCT: How do you reach out to heterosexuals to write in with questions?
SP: I have a monthly column that many people write in to monthly. I just got a letter from a straight couple that wanted to know if they should get a present for their gay son's partner or not. Of course they should! Wouldn't they get a present for their straight son's wife? Some of the rationale I use is about equal treatment. Just apply some of the same common sense and it's easy.
WCT: Makes sense to me.
Steve's site is www.gayandlesbianmanners.com. Look for his new book in 2011.