I'm a member of an online group of queer vegetarians -- the group has both male and female members, who have potlucks and occasionally some online discussion. Recently, a lesbian member announced plans for a "woman-only" event. One of the men in the group protested pretty strongly, and I supported him -- feeling that exclusion of some members was against the spirit of a group endeavor. Frankly, on an emotional level, I felt a little rejected. Of course, there were opinions on both sides of the issue.
I'd like to appeal to your expertise in regard to how this looks through the lens of Social Grace. Is it rude to join a group that includes both gay men and gay women and then suggest that the men stay home?
Dear Vegetarian Sir,
Many social clubs do have a tendency to constrict: Before there were queer-vegetarian groups, there were vegetarian groups. (And before that -- well, society was in utter chaos, obviously.) In fact, your peers may further subdivide, from queer vegetarians to lesbian vegetarians to lesbian vegans to the East Bay Vegan Lesbian Saxophone Players.
And as much as that last group sounds like a crowd of people with whom I would have much in common and enjoy spending time, I live on the other side of the Bay Bridge, I don't play the sax, and I love cheese more than words can describe. Of course, a just and fair society monitors public organizations closely for hints of discrimination, but I think it's fair for some private social clubs to limit themselves to like-minded members. People who have historically been marginalized (this would include queer folks, vegetarians, and women) often need such groups or professional support organizations, for many reasons.
So as a member of a club that, by definition, excludes some people -- heterosexual bacon aficionados, for instance -- you might try to be a bit more understanding of the all-too-human desire for safe socialization with groups of individuals similar to oneself.
That said, I think some of your pique is understandable. I might have suggested that the woman in question find a group more suited to her social needs (or start one) instead of joining a group and then excluding some members, which, as you point out, is rather impolite.
Dear Social Grace,
I often wonder how to proceed in a situation like the following: Upon meeting someone for a first or second date, I find that he hasn't put much effort into his outfit for the date. Either he's underdressed and looks too casual, or his outfit is yucky in some way: old clothes or clothes in bad taste.
Is there a polite way to express my dissatisfaction with my date's choice of clothes for our get-together?
Toe the Line
Dear Dissatisfied Madam or Sir,
Here's another example of something that there's no polite way to say -- because polite people keep these sorts of thoughts to themselves, you cheeky thing. They put a smiling face on minor disappointments such as a blind date with someone who has worn, say, a tracksuit to dinner. Now, if you want to forget about good manners in favor of self-expression, you could try a dryly delivered "I'm sorry I didn't make it clear that we'd be going out to dinner," a sarcastic "I see you didn't have time to change after going to the gym," or a straightforwardly instructive "Either denim pants or a denim shirt -- never both, unless you're attending a rodeo."
You see, don't you, how any of these statements would make you the exact opposite of polite? If you have reason to comment on a spouse's or spouse equivalent's clothes, go ahead (but even then, tread carefully). In the meantime, focus on your own attire -- and on keeping your own behavior above reproach.
Dear Social Grace,
Recently my sister-in-law and her partner received news that the rights of the biological parents to a little girl they have had in foster care for four years have been terminated. They are now free to adopt the little girl. We are thrilled for them, and will be traveling to see them in the near future. One of their close friends has told my wife that she would like us to help throw an "adoption party." The question we have is whether there are any special rules that we should follow for this occasion, with regard to the wording of invitations, the name of event, and so on. Any advice will help.
This is unlike the usual sorts of new-child celebrations (which are often thrown for parents by friends or relations) because this child is old enough to be aware of what is happening and will likely be included. For that reason, I suggest asking your sister-in-law and her partner what sort of celebration they'd like. I definitely wouldn't treat the party as a surprise, as many showers are. They may have specific ideas about how this matter should be handled, vis-à-vis their new daughter -- and although this is obviously a happy occasion, there could be some issues that should be handled delicately, perhaps involving the relationship between the girl and her biologicals.
Those details aside, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that there aren't a lot of traditional rules for this sort of party. All the usual good-party-behavior standards apply, of course. I'd add that you shouldn't use the word "shower" (maybe "celebration" would work) and that the event should be relatively low-key and informal. I'd further suggest making this a non-gift-giving occasion.
Finally, the sort of wording for an informal invitation/announcement that comes to my mind starts something like this: "Our beloved Rosie has been a part of our family since the first day she came into our home. At last, we can make it official."