Gay etiquette Q&A with The Countess de Lesseps of “The Real Housewives of NYC”

Now that RuPaul’s Drag Race has concluded, I’ve been satisfying my craving to watch squabbling divas in killer footwear go at it with each other by watching The Real Housewives of New York City.

Snicker if you must (like you, I was once a RHNYC skeptic), but this show actually has more camp fun — not to mention gay supporting players — than just about anything else on the tube these days. If you’ve been watching the current season (which concludes next week), then you know that housewife royalty, LuAnn de Lesseps a.k.a. “The Countess,” has just published her book on modern etiquette, Class with the Countess: How to Live With Elegance and Flair.

And if you think that has nothing to do with us gays, then consider the fact that one section helpfully offers advice on "what to do if you meet a queen.”
Having seen that the Countess has so much to say about queenly behavior, I took advantage of a chance to interview her and ask some other questions about the complexities of gay etiquette, ranging from gay weddings to how to confront an ex-boyfriend. Based on her illuminating, and sincerely good-natured responses, I’m ready to nominate her for gay icon status.

Here’s what she shared with me: Countess, thank you so much for talking with me. As you know, our site offers a gay perspective on pop culture. I’m wondering if in the social circles in which you move you encounter many gay men these days? And if you do, can you confirm something for us that we’ve all suspected — that we gay men are naturally gifted masters of good etiquette, and straight men are all slovenly neanderthals?

The Countess: Hi, my pleasure. Thanks!!

Gay men love fabulous parties and so do I. I regularly socialize with a gay couple that I just adore. And of course, I see [fellow Real Housewife] Jill Zarin’s ‘gay husband’ Brad quite often.
I don’t think all straight men are slovenly Neanderthals but I agree that the gay men I know have excellent manners.

AE: Now that gay marriage is finally legal in four states, it raises all sorts of interesting questions of etiquette. For example, how should one word the wedding invitation to make it clear one expects major gifts as payback for all the ones purchased for straight friends through the years?

TC: A wedding invitation should never mention gifts, darling. That is what a wedding registry is for … register only for the most expensive items and your friends will get the hint.

AE: While we’re on the subject of gay weddings, if you attend a ceremony and are asked, "groom’s side or groom’s side," what’s the right response?

TC:  “Yes, please” is the right response! Does it really matter what side you sit on as long as you’re seated in the front, allowing the other guests to check out your gorgeous plus-one as you stroll down the aisle?

AE: You talk in your book about how men should always pay for a date with a woman. What about when the date involves two men? What determines who’s paying?

TC: The man who initiates the invitation should pay!

AE: Running into an ex-boyfriend can be so awkward. What’s the most polite way to say, “You look lousy and I’m better off without you”?

TC: Looking great is the best revenge! Mention how fantastic your life is right now and then politely take your leave.

AE: Let’s say you’re seated at a formal dinner party and someone makes a homophobic remark. What’s the proper way to say, “You’re an ignorant #$%@”?

TC: My rule is if someone commits a faux pas, stay cool and pleasant. Fill the person in quietly, and say, after the person apologizes, “I’m surprised to hear you say that,” or, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to offend me.” Accept any apology as a sincere gesture on their part and move on.

AE: Finger bowls: pro or con?

TC: I’m pro finger bowls, especially at meals involving foods eaten with the hands, such as corn on the cob, steamers, and ribs. After dipping your fingers and drying them on your napkin, simply lift the bowl off the plate and put it to the left upper side of your plate setting.

AE: In your book, you offer some excellent advice for what to do upon meeting a queen. What if the queen in question pulls out one’s hair extensions, scratches one’s face, and insults one’s lipsyncing? Um, not that that’s every happened to me personally, of course.

TC: I have a section in my book entitled “Ending a Conversation.” I write that if you’re stuck with someone who is boring, pompous, or competitive in nature, you want to escape as cleanly as possible, smile and extend your hand and say, “I’m so glad we had this chance to talk. Enjoy the rest of the party.” Or “I don’t want to monopolize you, I’m sure you’d like to mingle.”

AE: On the TV show, you mentioned hoping to promote your book on Oprah. What’s the most refined way for you to acknowledge that getting this interview on our site is much more impressive without actually offending Oprah?

TC: There is room for gay men and Oprah!  You asked me for an interview first, making you stellar, and she has yet to contact my people.

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