Civilities: Steven Petrow answers all your LGBT and straight social dilemmas for the hour

Sep 13, 2016

Steven Petrow (the author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners") addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat about everything that's on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Welcome everyone to today's live chat. I'm glad to be back with you after a short break. The big news from North Carolina (where I live) is yesterday's announcement by the NCAA that it will be moving seven additional tournaments out of the Tar Heel state because of the inherent discrimination against LGBT people in what's referred to as HB2 (or "the bathroom law"). I'd like to know what you think about the NCAA decision.


And, I promised a "special announcement" in my promo for this chat. Well, I'm really pleased to let you all know *first* that I'm launching a new podcast called The Civilist -- with partners PRI and NC Public Radio WUNC. Here's a link to the "teaser" episode.


If you like it, I hope you'll share it, subscribe and say some nice things in iTunes. Now, on with this chat!

What is your advice on a recently coming out lesbian to her parents who did not accept her at all. Her parents and her have a great relationship up till this point. Last night when she told her mother she couldn't even tell her she loved her back, and kept blaming herself for her daughter being gay. The daughter is having a tough time, considering she has a girlfriend of 2 years. Any advice on how to make the situation a little less sucky, and a lot more hopeful?

Despite so many positive headlines these days, this kind of family occurrence remains all too commonplace. It actually breaks my heart to hear these stories. To parents who find a child's disclosure about sexual or gender identity challenging, I always urge what I'd call "moderated" honesty. If you can't say "I love you," then say something like, "I'm going to need some time to digest this news." Buy time this way. And then think. Talk with friends. Attend a PFLAG meeting. Or take a look at the questions here. Often, a hug is all that's needed. Don't say anything that will come back to haunt you, which is to say: When in doubt, don't.


Yes, I can see why the daughter is having a rough time. It's always smart -- if you can -- to have a solid support system before you come out to family or close friends. I'm glad to hear that she has a girlfriend. I'm not exactly sure how you fit into this family dynamic but it seems that your poised to give a helping and loving hand. Don't be a bystander. Everyone needs you now. Thanks for writing.

Please suggest a way to call to order a very mixed group including LGBTQX and straight . 'Gentlemen' or 'Ladies and Gentlemen' is no longer sufficiently inclusive. Thank you!!

Living here in North Carolina does have its benefits (despite the political darkness hovering over the state) -- and that's a very regional contraction. "Y'all." As in "Hello, y'all, please take your seats. If you're not in the South, "Hi Everyone ..." will do fine, too. Your instincts are correct about "ladies" and "gentlemen," way too freighted these days-- for so many reasons -- to use in a big public group.

A good friend of mine just lost his partner - a sudden, completely unexpected death, and there is no will. It's a bit of a complicated situation, with an ex-wife and two adult sons, but all the property had been divided long ago, and anything the partner had was in the home he shared with my friend. Now the ex-wife is demanding many of the personal items in their home, and my friend is devastated. Not only has he just lost the man he loved, he'll probably lose his home (which he can't afford on his own), and now he's even at risk of losing furniture, memorabilia, and everything he and his partner had in their home. He doesn't want to cause a rift in the family, but he is beside himself. Do you have any advice for him?

First a necessary disclosure: I'm not a lawyer. That being said it's hard for me to see, at least on legal grounds, how the ex-wife has any standing to claim any of the personal items. If anything, my understanding of the law is that the adult children would be the beneficiaries of their father's estate in the absence of a legal will or trust.


Sometimes, as we all know, personalities can trump the law and it sounds as though that's happening here. The widowed partner shouldn't be afraid of "causing a rift" in the family, especially when that's happening anyway. Too many people think that "good manners" are about subjugating yourself to others. Not true. Respect, and just as important, self-respect are two key elements in this equation. The partner should advocate for himself. If he's not really able to do that now because of his grief, it's also up to his friends (hello, that would be you) to get involved.


All that being said, it is so important for committed couples (regardless of sexual orientation) to get wills and make sure their loved ones are taken care of the way they'd like. I know how "easy" it is to put off such a task -- but don't let that get in your way. It doesn't mean you're going to die any sooner; it just means your house will be in order and that your house will go to your spouse. I'm sorry to hear about these circumstances.

How about, "Everyone, please come to order"?

Yes. that's perfect.

Very frightening article in terms of access to guns and the stigma attached to mental illness. We should all be worried about friends and loved ones who may be afraid to get help if they'll wind up on some "list." I don't know what the answer is, except for articles such as yours, and books such as Mrs. Klebold's on her son, one of the Columbine shooters.

Thank you very much for this note. To everyone else, here's  a link to my column in today's Post titled,


"It’s true: More people use guns to kill themselves than to kill others."


After a good friend killed himself with a gun last year I made it my business to learn more. What really surprised me was that more than half of all deaths by gunshot are suicides, more than 20,000 a year, about 58 a day. Please read the piece and let me know what you think. Thanks.

I don't think "Ladies and gentlemen" is fraught at all, but that's me.

It's generational for sure. And I know many of my female friends do not like being referred to as "ladies." I actually used the term on my podcast recently -- deliberately--to see what kind of reaction I'd get from my two female guests. They told me firmly, No. Although they were happy with "sisters."

I applaud their decision. (Even though I'm opposed to the NCAA and "college" athletics in general. Note to sportswriters: publish the athletes point totals, shot percentages AND their grade point average...") To anyone "afraid" of a public restroom being open to transgender people I have just one word to say: stalls. Open door, close door, lock door, take care of business, unlock door, wash your hands, leave restroom. And guess what? You're using public restrooms alongside transgender people now! and yesterday! Stalls.

Thanks for your response to the question of the day.

He is not the one causing the rift; the ex-wife is. I hope a lawyer can help the poor widower stand his ground.

Agreed. I would certainly argue that he should speak with an attorney and if possible one knowledgeable about LGBT rights and issues.

For a more formal session, how about hammering the gavel a few times and saying, 'Would the meeting please come to order?"

Another good suggestion.

though this isn't legal advice because there could be a twist (like everyone thinking and behaving like the divorce is final when it wasn't because someone forgot to file a particular paper), but you are correct. The ex-wife isn't considered legally related to the deceased. The adult sons inherit everything after any creditors are satisfied. But you also have to go to court for an intestate decedent. Your friend, unfortunately, needs a lawyer. And to talk to the sons. Ask the sons to ask their mother to back off because NOTHING can be done without the court's approval in the case of a person who has died without a will. If that doesn't work, get the lawyer to write to the ex-wife to tell her that she has no interest in the estate and her demands will not be met. Make sure this lawyer keeps the sons informed because they probably will be grateful to have someone who actually know where stuff is taking care of things. This is a mess. And it might be an expensive mess.

Thank you for your advice. Well said.

"Brethren and sistren."

Charming, perhaps. But obsolete!

Hello! I appreciate these chats. I worked as a counselor at a summer camp this year, and as a pilot program we introduced a LGBTQ awareness night during our final session. It was great. We had fantastic speakers, intriguing breakout sessions, we even had a band who helped by changing lyrics like "I'm trans blooded check it and see. Come on baby are you really a trans?". Our satisfaction turned to sadness the next week when we received some emails from angry parents which just shocked us. Our camp is focused on helping youth grow in this world and we are only trying to help. Everything was purely educational. I just could not believe how closed-minded some of that generation is acting! So now we are considering dropping the idea for next year but some of us still want to give it a try. Should we include some educational information for the parents in next year's packets? Or maybe just be more clear about all of our curriculum going into the summer? Thank you for your ideas.

Thanks for your nice words about these chats and I appreciate you re-sending your question. I saw it in the queue last time but we had to cancel.


What a great idea, LGBTQ Awareness night. Please don't forego it next year. It is so important both for those who might identify as trans, genderqueer as well as those who don't. Acceptance comes through understanding.


When it comes to the parents, a couple of thoughts. Yes, letting them know ahead of time that this is coming down the pike is a smart strategy. Perhaps you can preview the goals of the evening with them -- in a webinar -- and take questions so that there's greater understanding from the get-go. This way they can also help to answer their kids questions and be supportive.


I'd also remember that those who write angry emails may be the most passionate but are not necessarily representative of the group. I know that from personal experience reading the emails to me here at the Post. I do my best to respond to specific criticisms and questions and I'd suggest you do the same, too. But as the cliche goes, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. This is important work you all are doing.

I wonder if the new widower can establish evidence of a common-law same-sex marriage through documented references to him as the deceased's spouse, and implied spousehood through such things as mail addressed to them both, etc. Definitely he needs to consult a family law attorney, preferably one with experience representing same-sex couples.

Another good thought ... and a question for an attorney.

I go to theater and concerts a lot. I always turn off my cell phone (not airplane mode, not silent, off) and make sure that I am not twisting my program, squeaking a plastic bottle or cup, or otherwise making noise that might disturb other patrons. I certainly don't talk. And I pre-open any cellophane wrapped candy I might feel compelled to consume and keep them wrapped in something that doesn't make noise when moved. But there are a lot of people who also go o these events and don't take these precautions. I try to ignore them. But if the activity goes on for long enough that it seems likely they aren't going to stop at all, I will send a nasty glance or say "stop it" in as low a voice as possible. This doesn't work well all the time. Recently I had someone try to start a conversation about how I should have taken more time to make my request in a more polite manner WHILE the performance was going on right on the stage. I ignored the request for further conversation and the person did stop making noise. But I have no idea how to handle these situations better. I am not great at filtering out background noise, but these people are threating a live performance like it is happening on a television in their own living room with no one but their most intimate family in attendance. And a fair number of them are well past middle age so they grew up in a time when they likely learned how to behave in public spaces That includes the ones that don't turn their phones off. At least young people know how to turn off the phone once it rings. The ladies in their 70's can't even find the phone in their purse to try to turn it off.

You did the best you could do. I'd speak to an usher the next time -- that is, at intermission.

I think it might be situational, too. I wouldn't object to a mixed group being addressed in the case you originally were asked about ("Please come to order") but if a male addressed only females as "Ladies," that would come across as patronizing. Food for thought.

True. I was trying to see how my two colleagues, one a boomer and the other a millennial, would respond to the word. Just in case I was asked such a question here!

When someone transitions, should we refer to that person when discussing pre-transition events in the person's life by the destination gender, or the by the gender they were called at the time? E.g., when Sonny and Cher would bring their toddler (dressed as a girl, and referred to as a girl) on-stage at the end of episodes of their TV variety show, should we NOW call that toddler Chaz, even though the child was then called Chastity? Or should we only use Chaz after he began transitioning? (Ditto for what to call Caitlyn Jenner back when an Olympic decathlete in 1976).

When someone transitions you should refer to them by their new name both in the present and with references back in time. Calling a trans person by their former name is referred to as "deadnaming" and is considered highly offensive to most trans people I know.


Here's a story I read recently about all this, which I found quite helpful to my own understanding.


I'm going to be taking this up in a future column myself because there's much more to be said. But the bottom line is, as Ms. Jenner said a year or so ago: "Call me Caitlyn." Ditto for Chaz. And Laverne Cox. Thanks for asking this question.

Thanks for all your questions and suggested answers. Much appreciated. I'll be here in two weeks and look forward to chatting with you then.


And again, my announcement:

And, I promised a "special announcement" in my promo for this chat. Well, I'm really pleased to let you all know *first* that I'm launching a new podcast called The Civilist -- with partners PRI and NC Public Radio WUNC. Here's a link to the "teaser" episode.


If you like it, I hope you'll share it, subscribe and say some nice things in iTunes.


Want to send a question to the podcast? Email a VOICE memo to Thanks.

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
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