A GoPride Interview

Steven Petrow

Steven Petrow: ...some young people say gay is on the way out and homosexual is coming back so stay tuned.

Wed. June 22, 2011  by Jerry Nunn

...some young people say gay is on the way out and homosexual is coming back so stay tuned.
Steven Petrow

Steven Petrow's new book of manners navigates the milestones of gay and lesbian life

Steven Petrow really minds his manners and can help you in that department too. His writing is nationally syndicated with his column Queeries in a variety of outlets. With his book Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners he gives advice on a variety of topics that are essential to everyday life in our community.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hello, Steven. Last time we talked you were in the process of making this book.

SP: (Steven Petrow) I was "in the weeds" and now I am out of the "weeds!"

JN: How does it feel to have it out there in the world?

SP: I'm ecstatic.

JN: Do you do book signings now?

SP: I am going on a 25-city tour. I was in Miami and For Lauderdale over the weekend. I head to Atlanta, New York and then Chicago.

JN: Great, I will find you! I know you mention this in the book. How are LGBT manners different than straight manners?

SP: I love that question. Guess what? I get it a lot. It is not like we set tables differently or treat houseguests differently but here are some of the situations that we find ourselves in, planning a same sex wedding or coming out to our parents. All of these are new situations that are uncharted. We can't go to any of the traditional etiquette books because we are invisible there. It is really meant to be a womb to tomb guide for living your best LGBT life. It starts with coming out, hits dating, sex, marriage then ends up with illness and death. There are so many situations that are new here. The other focus of the book is for straight people that are interacting with us. They are confused when they are invited to a wedding with two brides. They don't know what pronoun to use with someone who is transgender, in fact many people in our own community don't know that either. All that is in here and the book is meant to help everybody.

JN: You write about bathroom etiquette also. Now some of our LGBT centers have a bathroom that is gender nonspecific.

SP: I had a funny situation when I was going to a bathroom in New York where someone was telling people which bathroom to go to. My gender is seemingly male and he said, "This is your bathroom." I said, "This is not really for you to choose for me." It was not his business and people will end up where they belong.

JN: Many things come out of ignorance where people don't know what they are saying or doing.

SP: Absolutely. Most things come out of lack of knowledge rather than intent. I think the bulk of situations in my book deal with mistakes and how not to do them. Unfortunately there are too many problems that are the result of homophobia or ill intent. The phrase "that is so gay" is used so negatively. So many young people don't even understand what they are saying. That is what is so insidious about language like that.

JN: I was at a Linda Perry concert where she didn't want to wear a guitar strap and said, "wearing it is so gay" and I thought you are a lesbian and using that phrase.

SP: Sometimes within our own community we use negative language such as calling each other fag, dyke or whatever. Sometimes straight people do too and I know it is confusing to them. They hear us using theses words and is it okay for them to use them? We have a responsibility within our own community to think about the language that we are using. It works both ways.

JN: You talk about Facebook etiquette. That is huge.

SP: All of this social media is huge for everybody not only LGBT people. One of the questions I often got on my site was "Can I come out on Facebook?" Sometimes they wanted to do a status update that they are gay. I don't think that is such a good idea. Having these early conversations can be helpful for getting the support they need and want. They can get closer to someone by sharing that kind of information to the important people in their life face to face. Young people need to know what they put on Facebook will be there forever and they have little control over it. Think about the job down the road. The world isn't perfect and you have to be careful. Be wise even when you are young!

JN: Yes and you give dating advice in the book.

SP: I do and one of the things that I am proudest of is the dating and sex etiquette chapters go beyond any other manners book has gone before, they always stopped at the bedroom door. In this book I really looked at dating relationships and how they evolve into sexual relationships as well as just hookups. It is about how to be respectful to people you partner with and talk about sexual history. I have been very careful not to have judgements other than the real importance to have respect.

JN: Is it hard to put yourself out there as an advice person?

SP: That has not been one of my worries. An important reason that I wrote this book is to bridge stereotypes and these divisions. Despite all the progress we see there are still a lot of challenges.

JN: What do you think about all of the letters LGBTQ?

SP: I will use a little humor here. I remember when Cloris Leachman said once,

"Why can't you guys just call yourselves the BLT's?" Seriously, inclusion is such an important part of our community. All of those letters can be a mouthful but I think that is the way it should be.

JN: What do you think of the word gay?

SP: Gay as a noun does include lesbians but doesn't include trans people. In my writing I try to bury it.

JN: But just for men to use the word gay is okay as opposed to homosexual.

SP: From what I understand, but some young people say gay is on the way out and homosexual is coming back so stay tuned. Language is ever evolving.

JN: That can be in the part two of your book.

SP: Yes, in the revised edition. That is why people need to visit my website from time to time.

JN: We just passed the Civil Union bill.

SP: Yes I know, congratulations.

JN: It is good timing for you to talk about that in your book.

SP: In fact the Ceremonies chapter is the biggest chapter in the book if only there has been so much etiquette in planning weddings or civil union ceremonies. For people planning a ceremony the book tells them what do two brides wear or do they invite a homophobic relative to the wording of invitations. It is a very useful chapter for people planning a ceremony as well as their straight guests. I was surprised I got so many questions from straight guests not knowing what to expect from these weddings. A mom wrote me and didn't know if her sons civil union in Connecticut would be like a pride festival. I told her they run the gamut from formal to informal at the beach. There may be politics because of the fight for marriage equality. It will be a formal ceremony despite the overt differences of two men or two women.

JN: It was hard for me to find a card for my friends civil union at the store.

SP: Hallmark has wonderful cards. A very conservative company but they do have cards. It is a testament to the money that is involved in these weddings.

JN: Are you single?

SP: No I am partnered. That raises a question that I get. "What do you call the significant other of a gay person?" From us it can run the gamut from lover, partner, husband or wife. It is because everything is still evolving for us when it comes to these lasting legal relationships. The best advice is listen to the way someone introduces his or her person then use that term. If you are not sure, ask.

To purchase the book, visit gayandlesbianmanners.com. A tale of two Steve's hits Women & Children First, 5233 N Clark St, at 7:30 for a book signing and Q&A on June 23 with a conversation by Steve Kmetko.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.