Photo Credit: Ernest Dollar
Photo Credit: Ernest Dollar

Chapel Hill resident Steven Petrow knows a thing or two about manners. The only male manners writer on the national scene, he dishes on the do’s, don’t’s, why’s and how’s of etiquette and polite society offering a perspective rarely seen in the columns of the iconic Miss Manners or Emily Post.

What makes him different, you ask? Petrow says it has nothing to do with his gender.

“I think most of the other manners columns are judgmental,” he says. “There’s a lot of the use of the words ‘should’ and ‘must.’ I try to come at the questions and answers from a different perspective that is without judgment and supportive of people. It’s not so much that manners tells you what you should do, but that manners is something you can rely on to help you through circumstances you’re unsure of.”

In 1995, Petrow published a small handbook on manners for gay men, “The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette.” Now, he’s working on a greatly expanded tome addressing all sorts of LGBT issues, shedding insight on relationships, sex, fashion, social situations, family, work environments, coming out and more.

“This new book is going to be an encyclopedia from A to Z — from coming out to funerals and memorial services for LGBT people,” he says.

Meet Steven

The former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, Steven Petrow has held senior editorial positions with Wired, Life, Fitness, Time Inc., and Waterfront Media—and has written for the Los Angeles Times, Salon, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, the Washington Post Writers’ Syndicate, and The Advocate. His previous books include “Dancing Against the Darkness” (Macmillan, 1990); “When Someone You Know has AIDS” (Crown, 1993); “The HIV Drug Book” (Pocket, 1995); “The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette” (HarperCollins, 1995) and “The Lost Hamptons” (Arcadia, 2004).

Petrow is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including those from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Smithsonian Institution, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Weymouth Center for the Humanities and the Arts. Petrow appeared for more than a decade as a “talking head” on San Francisco’s popular PBS-TV station, KQED, and has gone on several multi-city tours, appearing on NBC’s “Today, CNN, Fox News and National Public Radio.

He lives in Chapel Hill with his partner Jim Bean and their two dogs.

— Courtesy

His “Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners” is expected on bookshelves in early 2011 and he hopes it will speak to everyone — gay or straight.

“In each chapter there are sections for straight folks who have questions about the gay people in their lives,” he says.

While he and his research assistants are working on the book, Petrow has taken his advice-giving online. At his website,, Petrow is taking questions and providing answers on a variety of topics.

“I’ve had the site up for about two months, and I’m getting about 100 questions each month already,” he says. “Right now, a lot of questions are focused on holiday issues — my parents won’t invite my partner, my family won’t allow me to touch my parter when we do come — a lot of concerns about that.”

Petrow says the holiday season tends to put concerns and questions over family relations on the center stage.

“The holidays spotlight these issues because that’s when we’re more likely to be with our blood families, our families of origin,” Petrow says. “These are all really hard questions, because we all want to be loved by our families.”

The biggest concern Petrow sees time and time again is how LGBT people should deal with less-than-accepting families as they visit home for the holidays. He has advice for both parents and LGBT people.

“Even if a parent doesn’t love the idea of their kid being gay or lesbian, the right thing to do is include them and to embrace them,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything. It’s the same for people in our community: It is about being true to yourself and continuing to embrace those who might not accept you as a bridge to take the discussion further down the road.”

Above all, Petrow says open communication is key to a successful holiday. “Make sure you’re on the same page or close to the same page,” he says.

“I had an email last month from a young woman who said she and her partner were welcome to come to her family’s home, but they couldn’t touch each other,” Petrow recalls. “So, I went back and forth with this reader and she wrote back telling me that she’d told her family they need to apply the same rule to everybody. They worked it out before they got there. It would have been much harder to work out with the whole family there. I’m a big proponent of planning ahead and talking with family. The holidays are good time to put that into practice.”

On his website, Petrow says he’s also noticed a significant number of teenagers and young desperate for answers on coming out issues and identity concerns.

“It is a real gamut really,” Petrow says. “It is helping me to understand what some of the issues are out there and it’ll definitely help me write a better book.”

In the final stretch of completing his book, Petrow says he and his team are “solving the problems of the LGBT world day-by-day.” He plans on turning in his manuscript in March. “Then the publisher will be doing their magic,” he says. w


Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.