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A Gay Old Time 

Dinner parties, wedding invitations, and casual introductions

Wednesday, Mar 2 2005
Dear Social Grace,

My husband and I are attending our first gay dinner party. I know that the host was a bit unsure how we would take the purpose of the party -- an engagement party for two male friends. And he hesitated to invite us. Now we are on the list, and we wouldn't miss it for the world ... however, my concern is this: If they felt we might be uncomfortable coming to the party, how can we make them most comfortable (and all of the guests) when we attend? We will most likely be the only hetero couple attending. Should we split up for the night and just mingle with those around us, to not be so obvious? What do you think would make the best of this possibly awkward situation? This is their night, and I don't want them to feel confined because we will be there, but I do feel that they really do want us to be there to celebrate with them.


Dear Heather,

I'll assume that you already know the fundamentals of good dinner-party behavior -- that you and your husband don't need my instruction on tidy table manners, friendly socializing, and the importance of expressing post-party gratitude. So with that as our starting point, I can't see how your behavior at this party will have to be different from your behavior at the last dinner party you went to.

There's certainly no need for you to try to obscure the fact that you are involved in a heterosexual marriage. As I understand the arguments for same-sex marriage rights and gay and lesbian civil rights in general (and I should acknowledge that I'm in a position to understand them very well), the goal is not to squash or deny male-female unions. The goal is to put those unions and same-sex unions on equal footing.

Let that knowledge inform your behavior at this event. Be respectful, be congratulatory, and treat this engagement party the way you'd treat any engagement party: as a happy occasion at which a community of friends and relations celebrates the loving partnership of two of its members. In fact, it'll probably be more like your own engagement party than not. Please fret no further.

Dear Social Grace,

I need your advice on whether I am being a bad friend for not attending a friend's wedding: He announced about five months ago that he and his partner had decided to get "married" while on a cruise. He sent out an e-mail with a cruise brochure with a cabin price sheet and asked that their guests purchase their cabins through them. Then they e-mailed everyone announcing they had decided against a cruise wedding. Then they sent out invitations announcing they were having a "Wedding/Holy Union/Civil Disobedience/Bachelor Shower Bash."

The invitation included a reply note with many check-boxes for the shower portion: "Yes," "No, I have a hot sexy date," and so on. For the wedding portion, they had "Yes" and "I can't make it but I love you guys and wish you the best. Consolation gift to follow."

Then they have a checklist for whether you will be bringing a gift or sending one. And then they ask that their guests bring food. (They will provide beverages and wedding cake.) The event will be held at the small motel they own (in Florida), which guests can stay in (for a standard rate).

I just don't get what this is about. I think it's so tacky. I don't want to go. Am I wrong to tell them I just don't understand what they are doing and will not attend? How do I handle it without insulting them or being judgmental?


Dear JWK,

Well, your letter is one of the best arguments against same-sex unions that I've heard yet. But I guess that if we're going to have equality, we're going to have to let some gay people be as tacky as some straight people have shown themselves to be.

So I'm going to allow you to be judgmental for just a moment. Here, let's be judgmental together: These people have displayed some wretchedly horrible manners. How crass! How disrespectful! How positively putrid.

I feel better, and I hope you do, too -- because this is where the judgment ends. From now on, you must neither insult this couple nor discuss this invitation disparagingly with mutual acquaintances (that would make you as impolite as these Floridian friends). Here's your dignified course of action: Demolish the aforementioned reply card and gift checklist in the nearest paper shredder. Find a pretty card (or a piece of your own notepaper); on it, write a brief congratulatory letter, with regrets that you will be unable to attend the ceremony. Send it to your friends, who (bless their hearts) surely thought their invitations were an adorable way to acquire household items. Finally, put this bizarre event out of your mind forever.

Dear Social Grace,

I understand that it can be hard for most gay people to "inform" a new friend that he or she is gay. I'm sure that it's not always easy to be immediately open if you're gay and not out.

I have a new friend I absolutely adore. We haven't known each other that long (it's a connection through business), but we talk a lot. Recently, he hinted, very subtly, about his sexuality. He presented it very casually, and I responded very casually. So, he told me, but not in so many words. I just kept the conversation going in an effort to express that it was a very natural thing.

I worry now that I was too casual about it. Our friendship is still very new and I would never want to hurt his feelings. I try to show him the utmost respect. I'm very openly affectionate to him. Hopefully, he sees that as my acceptance of him. Even though I can't go back and do this conversation over, I wonder if I should have done it differently.

And at the risk of always being too casual, should I just leave the situation as it is so that if he wants to tell me more he can?

What is the polite course of action?


Dear MJ,

I think you did the right thing -- responding to the hint as it was presented. (Many people look forward to the day when such things are more widely considered to be of little importance.) And I suggest continuing in the same vein: Any discussion of a new friend's love life should be initiated by that friend. However, if you feel it necessary, you should be able to find a way to express your feeling that being gay is A-OK, without getting too personal. A chat about certain popular TV shows, for instance, could lead you there, as might a conversation about local politics or this very column.

About The Author

Social Grace


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