Q: I've heard a good bit about the controversial new film Outrage recently, especially the filmmakers' outing of closeted gays in Republican circles. What's the deal on outing? I always thought that members of our community agreed that coming out was a highly personal decision. Is this good manners or bad manners?—Confused About Outing
A: Well, it's a good and timely question. More than a decade ago, I wrote on this topic in The Essential Book of Gay Manners & Etiquette: "Outing a colleague—intentionally or unintentionally—is a violation of that person's privacy. Don't do it!"
So, what do we see in this new film by director Kirby Dick, but a hard-hitting documentary that squarely takes aim at Republican lawmakers who are believed to be closeted gays. The film's trailer notes that these deep in the closet politicians lead "secret double lives" because as they have sex with men they also fight against same-sex marriage, vote against AIDS research and denounce adoptions by LGBT parents. And, indeed, names are named.
To cut to the chase, we have two conflicting values at war here: privacy versus hypocrisy. At the time I wrote Gay Manners, back in the '90s, I often said in interviews that were I to have known that Sen. Jesse Helms had gay sex, I would have outed him despite my earlier reservations. The harm his policies caused LGBT people in this country—for instance, discrimination against gays and his refusal to support AIDS funding initiatives—would have been more than sufficient, in my mind, to outweigh any right to privacy.
Today we have a new cadre of elected leaders who vote against LGBT rights and under cover of dark—or away on vacation—maintain liaisons with same-sex companions. That is the definition of hypocrisy, and as gay Congressman Barney Frank says in the film: "People who make the law ought to be subject to the law."
Yes, manners usually takes up on the side of privacy, but when hypocrisy is at play, truthfulness and honesty are our more important companions—and values—in the struggle for fairness and equality (and proper manners).
Note for straights: In general, outing your gay and lesbian friends is not advised. For most it remains a personal matter and often a difficult process. Don't ask and don't tell.
Q: Even though my partner and I don't live in Iowa, can we get married there? Will it be recognized in North Carolina? And while I'm asking, who does the proposing in a same-sex couple? —Two Dudes in Raleigh
A: Starting last month, yes, it's true: Same-sex couples can wed in Iowa, which is the third state in the union after Massachusetts and Connecticut to allow same-sex marriage. In fact, couples who want to marry in Iowa do not need to be residents of the Hawkeye State. So, if you decide to marry there, remember to bring photo IDs as well as your Social Security cards in order to obtain an Iowa marriage certificate. As for your second question, neither your wedding nor your marriage will be recognized here in N.C. This is true in nearly all the states that do not recognize Iowa's same-sex marriages or any other state where same-sex marriage is legal.
Finally, who pops the question? Among straights, traditionally it's been the guy who asks the girl, but even that's evolved in recent years. For same-sex couples, we're not burdened by any such traditions. You don't need to get on bended knee or ask his dad (but you can). And, either of you is free to ask the other.
Note for straights: It's easy to forget that no gay or lesbian couple is entitled to any of the thousand-plus federal benefits (tax, immigration and Social Security benefits to name a few) that married heterosexuals may enjoy.
Q: We live in a fairly small city and I live in fear of bumping into my ex-lover, Linda, when I'm with my new girlfriend, Marya. As you can imagine, we didn't end it on friendly terms, and I think I'd be tongue-tied (at best) if all three of us were suddenly together. —Losing It at Hello
A: This is where manners really help out. Unless you're best friends with your ex (which apparently you're not), this kind of introduction can be a nail-biter. But if you live in a small town, it's bound to happen at some point. So be prepared. When the occasion arises, take your current girlfriend's hand and introduce your ex to her: "Linda, I'd like you to meet Marya. Marya, this is Linda." By constructing the introduction this way, you're putting your new girlfriend in the more honored position because you always introduce those with less "status" to those with more.
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Steven Petrow is the author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners & Etiquette.