Steven Petrow, who wrote a regular LBGT-themed column for the Indy called Queeries, has taken his perspective to a more macro scale with his new book, Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners (Workman Publishing). This title offers matter-of-fact advice and insight into the changing perception of gays in society.
Times have changed over the last few decades, to a positive extent—the word "faggot" is openly regarded as hateful speech, and gay characters are allowed to not only exist but thrive in popular culture. In North Carolina, once synonymous with the anti-gay beliefs of Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre has become a major local event. This isn't to say we've entered some sort of utopia of openness—bullying and hate, particularly against gay teens, remains a serious social ill. But these days, what was once an underground subculture has become "mainstream" enough to merit its own Emily Post.
Petrow's book is remarkably thorough. A casual read reveals guides for gay weddings ("What should two grooms wear?"), coming out, family events, committing acts of civil disobedience, starting a family (through such means as surrogates, insemination and adoption) and detailed explanations of why such phrases as "that's gay" are inappropriate and hateful. Everything is presented in short, well-designed two-column pages interspersed with "queeries" from readers on specific personal issues. The effect is less like the overt frankness of Dan Savage and more of a how-to guide for those dipping their toes into the vagueness of gay dating (though let's face it, dating of any orientation ain't easy).
The only disadvantage to Petrow's book is that for some, its existence might further undermine the rebellious nature of the gay lifestyle. When I interviewed filmmaker John Waters for the Indy in 2007, he lamented that "I had more fun when it was illegal to be gay." Well, the culture's grown enough that maybe there's room for both Pink Flamingos and Petrow's advice on how to address a party invitation to a lesbian couple. After all, times have changed. Petrow's event begins at 7 p.m. —Zack Smith