Jenice Armstrong: He wrote the book on LGBT life

Posted: August 01, 2011

STEVEN PETROW, the author of Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life, goes places that would have given Emily Post the vapors.

He plunges into a diverse range of subjects including what I'll call the etiquette of fellatio. (Stop reading now if you're easily offended.) A polite gay man doesn't just do the "head shove," but instead tells his partner what he likes. And once things get busy below the belt, a mannerly man doesn't just - uh, you know - but instead warns his partner. Politely, of course.


Like I already said, Steven Petrow is no Emily Post.

I can't imagine Post, or even her great-granddaughter Peggy Post, tackling the topic of what to do when one partner is out but the other closeted. Or what's the most tactful way of asking a lesbian partner's married brother to be a sperm donor. And now that New York has legalized gay marriage, the timing couldn't be better for a book with an entire chapter on the "do's" and "don'ts" of gay weddings and commitment ceremonies.

This is certainly no stuffy etiquette book. It's more a guide to life and how to treat people with respect during a time when people still say "that's so gay" and hardly an eyebrow is raised when Republican presidential wannabe Michele Bachmann's husband stands accused of offering gay-to-straight therapy at his Christian-counseling clinic.

I chatted with Petrow last week, and here's what he had to say about gay life in America.

Q: This is a whole new world we're in right now, isn't it?

A: I know. I know. And it's freaking people out. (Laughs) You know what I mean? Literally. I mean, I had a question a couple of weeks ago after Chaz Bono was doing his tour and it was like, "I don't understand. I've never met a transgendered person. I don't know what to call him or her." And it was like, you know, so easy. He's presenting as a man. Chaz is a him. He's Cher's son now. End of discussion. It's new. It's unfamiliar.

Q: Sometimes you need someone to explain it to you, don't you?

A: His question was like, "What about the surgery? What about the hormones?" I was like, "You know, none of that matters to you."

Q: Are there really differences between a gay wedding and straight weddings?

A: There are a lot of important differences. You know you start off with two brides and two grooms, so visually it's going to look very different and usually the wedding parties are a real mix of genders. So that if two lesbians are marrying, their maids of honor are men sometimes and vice versa. So, there's a lot of gender-bending with that sort of in the details. You know, who proposes? Who pays for rings? The wording of the invitation. Who pays? Do parents pay? The role of the mother of the bride? The mother of the brides, I should say now. There are a lot of questions that do come up in all of this that are new and have different answers.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: After a couple gets married, what do you call them now? Generally, the answer is husband and husband and wife and wife. Which is obviously based on tradition . . . but that doesn't have the same roll-off-the tongue element. It's new. It doesn't sound familiar, yet that is what many of these couples want to be referred to now.

Q: Are there any rules for guests who might be attending a gay wedding?

A: The rules for guests are very similar, but I have seen that a lot of gay people do not know the basic rules, which are to show up early. It's not a party where you can be fashionably late. Don't bring your gift. It's too cumbersome for the couple to deal with. Send it ahead or send it later. Um, you know, dress for the occasion. Sometimes it'll say formal attire, it'll say informal. It may say festive. There's a certain amount of invention and creativity that goes on with these weddings. I think if you're unclear, you should call one of the brides or one of the grooms and ask, "What should I be wearing to your wedding?" because they are a little bit more out of the box - not following tradition in the same way. . . . But at its core, a gay marriage is the same as an opposite-sex marriage. It's about the love and commitment between two people.

Q: What else should people know in this new era?

A: Around family, there's a lot of new stuff, too. Like with two moms and two dads, you know, there's been a lot of confusion about that among straight people: "Who's the real mom?" or "Who's the real dad?" which is usually a veiled way to ask, "Is one of you the biological parent?" or "Is one of you the sperm donor?" Those kinds of questions you don't have any business asking. . . . People in general are really good at volunteering information that they want you to know. So, if a parent wants you to know how they came to have their family, they'll tell you. In a similar way, if a person wants to come out and let you know if he or she is gay, they'll tell you.

Steven Petrow, author of "Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life," will discuss his book at Giovanni's Room, 345 S. 12th St., from 5:30-7 p.m. Aug. 16. The event is free.

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