Q: My younger brother is gay, and I've overheard him talk about sexting on his cell phone. What exactly is this? Any harm? — Worried Older Bro
A: It's simple enough: Sexting is the sending of nude (or semi-nude) photos with your cell. Not long ago I was at a party and walked over to a small group gathered around a cell phone. Lo and behold, I found myself staring at a rather large penis on the screen. In hushed tones, the cell phone owner pointed out the penis owner across the room, who was completely unaware of the party favor he had supplied to the rest of us.
"Yikes," you say. Indeed. A recent study reported that 20 percent of teens have sent sexually explicit photos of themselves—although the phenomenon is hardly limited to those underage and is quite common in the LGBT community, too. Like e-mail gone wild, once "sexted," your little bro's photos are out of his control—now and forever. So, give him some of your older brother perspective: What seems fun and harmless today might not seem so another day. And while you don't mention where you're from, in some states like Pennsylvania and Florida, sexting is a crime. Earlier this year, three teens who e-mailed nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to friends were charged with "creating, distributing and possessing child pornography." Bottom line, don't let your brother get caught with his pants down—so to speak—at least not on camera.
Note to straights: All the high-profile sexting cases have been among heterosexual teens, including the suicide of one young girl who sexted a photo of herself and could not live with the severe embarrassment.
Q: Alexandra and I have been together for about a year and I get tripped up on how to introduce her to my friends. We moved in together three months ago. So, is she my girlfriend, my lover or my partner—or something else? No one seems to know—especially me. —Tongue Tied
A: Actually, if there's any single question people want an answer to, this is it. And the bad news is that there's no right answer—and no one right phrase. Let's start with the universe of choices: Boyfriend/ girlfriend, lover, partner, companion, longtime companion, significant other, spouse, wife/ husband ...
Then, there's the issue of how these words are actually used. For instance, I know a couple (and by that I simply mean two people who see each other regularly) who have been dating for six months. One of them refers to the other, behind his back, as his "boyfriend candidate." Ouch! Not only do we need better definitions, but tone and context are equally as important in deciphering the true relationship.
So, here's how to solve the issue:
Talk to your girl (or guy) about what she would like to be called and how you'd like her to refer to you.
Ask yourself (and her) whether that choice is different in different venues: For instance, out with your friends, at a workplace function or with your parents.
If you have had a civil union, domestic partnership ceremony or a marriage, by all means use the language that the law allows: domestic partner, spouse or husband/ wife.
Finally, don't let this question consume endless hours of your time. There are many more important topics, such as how you feel about one another, than what you call each other.
Note to straights: Listen to how your gay and lesbian friends refer to their beloveds. If Mary calls Robyn her "girlfriend," then you should, too.
Q: My lesbian sister is an alcoholic and has been in AA for six months. While I'm happy for her, she's asked me not to serve alcohol to others when she is present nor for me to have a drink when she's visiting. But I'm not an alcoholic. Is she right to ask for this? —No Teetotaler Here
A: Aren't sisters always right, even if they're not? This one is tricky, as you've noticed already. I can tell that part of you wants to support her decision to stop drinking, which is a good thing, while another part of you doesn't want her decision to affect how you live. Fair enough.
Since your sister is only recently sober, she no doubt feels especially vulnerable to relapse. In this light, you may want to abide by her request until more time has passed or until she feels more secure in her sobriety. On the other hand, her decision is hers, as is her disease. How she handles her ultimate battle with alcohol is up to her—and not you or anyone else.
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Steven Petrow is a contributor to the Indy and the author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette.