Q: I'm looking forward to my city's pride celebration later this month but wondering if you have some suggestions on a "dress code" for those in attendance. On a day that our community gets so much attention from the news media and from straight people, I think it's a shame that so many of my brothers and sisters don't clean up their act so that we can present a more wholesome face to the country. I mean, why do so many gay men and lesbians need to show up in full drag or leather?
A: I hope you're not suggesting I ask Dykes on Bikes to refrain from kicking off pride parades in cities across the country. While they're certainly front and center for logistical reasons (you wouldn't want to march in front of them, after all), there's also another more important explanation: They are symbolic of the defiance, freedom and, yes, gay pride that was birthed during the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. Ever since, groups dressing in the particular styles you mention have been criticized for presenting a "face" of LGBT people to the world that's too provocative. In the '90s, two gay Harvard intellectuals advocated what you are proposing: that gays must portray themselves in a positive way to straight America if they are to win the battle for legal and social rights.
I'd suggest that there is a time and place for everything. Pride festivities provide a brief moment every year to recall the birth of the modern LGBT civil rights movement, which we do happen to owe to a group of drag queens and trans people, among others. Even the marriage-equality movement is about inclusion and diversity. If the more mainstream parts of our community push the leather and drag communities to the side, literally and metaphorically, we'll have erased the essence of gay pride.
I think the reason we have groups like Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign, is, indeed, to present a more "wholesome" front—complete with suit and tie—that is no doubt more effective in congressional hearings and in state legislatures across the country.
Not that I wouldn't also like to see more variety of images in the media during our pride celebrations. I think it's a shame—perhaps laziness, if not homophobia—that most cameras settle on the louder and racier scenes and miss out on great stories about lower-profile groups like the Trevor Project (a suicide prevention group for LGBT people), as well as gay athletes, seniors, activists, teen groups and so on.
Q: I've wanted to come out for years, but I'm a senior in college now and haven't found the courage to tell anyone. Recently I've been thinking about just updating my Facebook profile before I tell my friends or family. What do you think about that?
A: Coming out online has its benefits. Making your announcement to so many people at once can be liberating, and you don't have to go through the hassle of having the same conversation a dozen times. But using social networking sites this way is no replacement for direct, in-person conversations. In your case, I think it's especially unwise because you say you're having trouble speaking up offline about your sexuality. The first step in any successful coming out is getting comfortable enough to talk about it. Then, tell your closest friends, parents, siblings and others you care about—in person. After that, it's fine to note on your profile that you're interested "in men" or "in women" and see where that leads you.
One final note: Remember that anything you post on a social networking site is forever. So it's in your interest to think carefully about who may have access to information you post—today and down the road.
Q: My girlfriend and I are planning what we jokingly call a "lesbian couples shower" in anticipation of our commitment ceremony later this year. Right now, we're up to about 40 friends and family on our guest list and we can't really afford to throw such a big event. A couple of friends suggested we ask our guests to help us cover the costs. Would that be bad lesbian manners?
A: It would be bad manners, period. The problem is not that you are short on cash but that your guest list is too long. Besides, showers need to be small enough for guests to get to know one other. I suggest that, instead of thinking of your shower as one big meet-and-greet, you try and consider it a cozy, intimate gathering of your nearest and dearest.
As soon you get over the crazy idea of charging people admission, cut your list way down and sketch out a reasonable budget. Or consider asking those friends who made the original suggestion to host your little party themselves.
Steven Petrow is a regular contributor to the Indy and the author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette.