Q: I teach fifth grade, and every fall we study genealogy and create what are called "family trees." I have a new student this year who has two dads, and I think he's adopted. How do I handle this topic appropriately in class?
A: First of all, kudos to you for being sensitive to this subject. The family tree project can be a tough one for adopted children—actually, for anyone whose roots don't match the classic format, whether that means kids with two LGBT parents, single parents of any kind or grandparents and any other adults serving as guardians.
The wisest approach is to discuss the lesson with the child's parents in advance so you can develop a plan as partners. In fact, don't be surprised if the dads approach you directly about the larger topic of how their sexuality may affect their child at school. No doubt, they're worried about potential name-calling or bullying. As for the family tree lesson, this topic has likely come up for them already, so they may have some good ideas on how to handle it smoothly. Let the parents know that you respect their family structure and want to honor it in a way that instills pride in their child—which is, after all, the whole point of the lesson.
Finally, when it comes time to start the project, do your best to explain to the entire class that families come in all different shapes and sizes, even presenting some varied examples that include families with gay members and others. And then see where your new student takes the exercise himself, with your guidance if necessary.
Q: Last week my 17-year-old daughter told me that she's gay and has a girlfriend. I think she's really too young to fully understand her sexuality and want to ask her whether this lesbian relationship is really just a phase. Is that OK?
A: Not really. This question is usually posed as a means to deny or object to someone's true sexual orientation, and it can be perceived as either uninformed or, at worst, hostile. Even those who may be "questioning" their own identity or experimenting have a right to decide whether they want to embrace some particular term or identity (and I'm not suggesting that's the case for your daughter). When someone comes out to you—especially your child—keep in mind that she has given this matter much thought and has also put great trust in you. It's not likely to be a "phase," just as your own sexuality, when it first came into bloom, probably was not. And you probably knew at 17 that you were straight, right?
Q: I moved East about six months ago as a single guy. While I do happen to be looking for a boyfriend, I find it very annoying that every straight person I've met knows one gay man to set me up with. You know the drill—the gay neighbor, the gay hairdresser, the gay mechanic, the gay lawyer. I certainly appreciate all the good intentions, but how do I explain that just because I am gay doesn't mean I want to be matched up with every gay man they know?
A: Hey, be thankful that you have so many friends who care enough to try to set you up. And while another man's sexual orientation is not enough to make him the match of the century, it's also true that meeting someone through a friend gives you a leg up over a chance encounter online or at a club. Definitely don't be snarky with your matchmaker friends. Instead of giving them the "just because I'm gay" line, ask questions about the guy: How old? What line of work? Truly single? Funny? Smart? Redheaded? Why do you think we might be interested in each other? Don't make it into an inquisition, but find out a little about the potential date—besides the fact that he's gay. If you like what you hear, ask for an introduction—on e-mail, through a social media site—or let your friend know it's OK to give out your phone number. And even if you don't end up going out with a particular fellow, thank your friend for trying to help you out. And keep trying.
Q: I had a wonderful evening earlier in the week with this woman I met in the neighborhood wine store. The sex was great, too. I called her a couple of days later and haven't heard back. How many times can I call back before I look like a loser?
A: Give it one more shot. She may have lost your number, been out of town or been otherwise distracted. If she still doesn't respond after a second attempt, it's much more likely that your evening was a one-night stand and she's not interested in a second outing.
Ask Steven Petrow your gay-related question at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit his site: www.gaymanners.com. He's a regular contributor to the Indy and the author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners & Etiquette.