Gay manners for every occasion

Do you propose with a ring? Is it okay to share clothes? A new etiquette book answers all.

Julia McKinnell

Traditional etiquette books are full of wedding advice, but what if the couple is gay and neither would-be groom knows for sure who should propose? “You won’t get much help on the particular manners predicaments of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] people from mainstream etiquette books. We’re invisible there,” writes 54-year-old Steven Petrow, founder of and author of the new Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners for Every Occasion.

Petrow’s book answers “queeries” from gays and lesbians as well as from straight people, like the one who wonders, “I’m not sure if my new neighbours are a gay couple, may I ask?” Not a good idea, says Petrow. “Feel free to invite them over for a drink but don’t just come out and ask them about their sexual orientation. Once you’ve started to get to know one another, it’s fine to ask them some personal questions. Their answer to your query, ‘Where did you meet?’ will usually do the trick. My guess is, they’ll come out to you then—unless they’re straight roommates.”

A gay man writes, “I find it annoying that every straight person I’ve met knows one gay man to set me up with. You know the drill—the gay neighbour, the gay mechanic, the gay lawyer. I appreciate the good intentions but how do I explain that being gay doesn’t mean I would go out with just any gay guy?”

“Definitely don’t be snarky with your matchmaker friends,” advises Petrow, who suggests instead to “ask questions about the guy: how old? What line of work? Truly single? Smart? Funny? Why do you think we might be interested in each other?” As for who pays on a date, this is one of the most confusing aspects of modern gay and lesbian romance, he writes. “The basic rule for any duo on a first date is the person who invites pays.”

When it comes to proposing marriage, Petrow jokes, “Here’s the good news: either of you can. Here’s the bad news: either of you can.” Ellen DeGeneres reportedly popped the question one day when she and Portia de Rossi (now Portia DeGeneres) were taking care of some goldfish, then DeGeneres produced “a marquis-cut diamond.”

“I’m ready to propose to my boyfriend,” a gay man writes, “and I’m pretty darn sure he’s ready to say yes, but I can’t figure out if I should do it with an engagement ring. What do LGBT people do about rings?”

Some gay couples, Petrow answers, “exchange engagement rings, and then during the ceremony, wedding bands. Sometimes only one partner wears the ring in the family. You certainly don’t need an engagement ring to show your commitment. One economical solution is to purchase rings for your engagement and then use those same rings again during your wedding ceremony.”

Most gay and lesbian couples split the cost of rings, he writes. To avoid “icy” sales clerks when shopping for wedding bands, call the jewellery store ahead of time and ask if they can provide advice for a same-sex couple. “You’ll be able to tell a lot by the way they answer your questions.”

Another common question: should I wear my wedding ring on my left or right hand? “The ring finger of the left hand is still the most traditional option, yet some LGBT people who don’t want to mime straight marriage will wear it on the right hand or on a different finger on their left hand. The bottom line is that as long as your lover slips that ring on one finger or another, you’re good.”

In a chapter on committed relationships, Petrow cautions against simply assuming that everything will be shared. “For instance, your favourite slim-fit evening shirt is at the cleaners: you can just borrow hers. Not so fast,” he writes. “Many couples go through a ‘we are one’ stage, especially in the early infatuation period, but not everyone wants to share his or her clothes. The proper etiquette is to ask first, don’t assume, then return the clothing clean and promptly.” One gay man reported, “Even though my boyfriend and I are exactly the same size, he’s been really clear with me that his identity is in his clothes and he doesn’t want me borrowing that.”