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Introducing The New Gay & Lesbian Manners

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Q: Dear Manners:

I don't mean to be rude, but who are you? What makes you qualified to write about gay and lesbian manners? And, by the way, how are "gay" manners different than "straight" manners? Samuel T., Los Angeles, CA

A: To start off with, I spent more than two years researching and writing my book The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette (HarperCollins), which definitely struck a good nerve, as did my long-standing gay manners column in Genre magazine. I'm currently working on a completely new edition of the book, now called The New Gay & Lesbian Manners: Advice for LGBT Folks* (*and their families and friends).

Here's how I described the original mission of The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette: "Gay men are out in the world today as they have never been before. They are faced with many new situations -- difficult, uncomfortable, and frequently painful -- that require guidance. The book covers all aspects of gay life, both joyous and devastating, from coming out and the rules of courtship to planning a commitment ceremony, confronting homophobia, and saying good-bye to a dying friend."

Well, now more than ever, gays and lesbians (and their friends and families) need a new guide for the new century. Consider this: Gay Manners came out in 1995. Barely a decade ago, but it feels like a century. This was before online dating and personals, chat rooms, instant messaging, or even widespread cell phone use; this was before Ellen, Will & Grace, and Queer Eye; this was before the New York Times and more than 200 major dailies began publishing gay and lesbian wedding announcements; this was before Massachusetts and California voted thumbs-up on same-sex marriage; before the Supreme Court legitimized gay sex and relationships in its 2004 landmark decision; before the "pregnant man" graced the cover of People magazine and set off a firestorm about transgender folks (and what pronoun to use); and before Hallmark decided this past summer to launch a line of same-sex wedding cards.

Let me say for the record that I'm not obsessed or obsessive about place settings or being a good guest. (If you care about where the fish fork goes, or whether it's a pot of jam or a gift from Tiffany's that does the trick, please go elsewhere.)

Gay and lesbian life is different from the lives of our straight brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. So are the challenges and so are the rules. We live today in an Age Without Rules. The new gay and lesbian manners are confusing. (What do you call little Heather's two mommies?) They're brand new. (How do you word a same-sex wedding invitation?) They're upsetting. (How do you deal with gay bullying or a potential hate crime?) And they can be lifesaving. (What do you do when a condom breaks?)

Visit Steven Petrow on the Web at www.gayandlesbianmanners.com