In the South, we are congenial folk, quick to offer a hug, a glass of sweet tea, and an inquiry about one’s mother. Our porches are open to passersby and we are always ready to add another plate to the dinner table.

But now, masks are mandated and social distancing is our new reality. Clearly, the rules of engagement have changed. Are social niceties dead? Is professional attire a thing of the past? Are relationships on hold indefinitely?

John Bridges, author of several popular etiquette books, including, How to be a Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners, says coping with COVID-19 is less about rules and political correctness than behaving civilly, having a bit of common sense, and staying the course.

What should you do when you are wearing a mask in public, but someone else isn’t?

Bridges: I just think you get out of their way. You get away from them. What else can you do? Some people think you should confront them, but why would you do that? That just forces a confrontation. No, you don’t want to do that. Just behave yourself. Behave yourself!

So you shouldn’t call people out who aren’t social distancing or wearing masks?

Bridges: Goodness, no! I mean, you can, but do you want them to punch you out? What’s the point of that? I suppose you could glare at them but confront them? No.

What if I’m invited to go out to dinner, and I just don’t feel comfortable?

Bridges: If you’re invited to something and you don’t feel comfortable going, I think you certainly have the reason or excuse that you are concerned about your health. I was invited to a dinner party a couple of weeks ago by some dear friends, and I had to say, “I love you, but no, I can’t.” And they weren’t insulted.

What are the rules for dating during a pandemic?

Bridges: I think it’s dangerous dating online, looking for somebody. If you are trolling then maybe trolls are what you’ll get. And if you are going to set up a date with them, how much of a date is that going to be? I suppose you can set up a video date, but what’s the point of it? Unless, of course, well, we don’t need to get into what might be going on off-screen!

What are the rules for manners in a Zoom (video conference) meeting?

Bridges: If you don’t know how to say hello to people, if you don’t know how to wait for another person to finish, if you don’t know how to follow an agenda, that’s a traditional problem. That’s a real life problem. True, it is difficult to keep people from talking over each other, but you have to learn to be patient and courteous. Courtesy is all that is.

What about attire for a Zoom meeting? Do I need to dress up?

Bridges: You see a lot of people in T-shirts, people who haven’t had a haircut, men who haven’t shaved, that kind of stuff. There’s no reason you shouldn’t dress up a little bit. At least dress neatly. Maybe cleanup the clutter in the room. It makes you feel better when you dress up a little bit. Today, this seersucker suit I’m wearing, I haven’t had it on in five months. Summer’s passing and I want to wear it. It makes me feel better.

John Bridges, author of How To Be A Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners

If a friend has a quick wedding at the courthouse or in their backyard and sends out an announcement, do good manners require me to get them an expensive wedding gift?

Bridges: Only a few people can be invited to these things and if you weren’t invited I don’t think you necessarily have to send a gift. But if you want to send a gift, you can spend what you want. There are no real rules about that. I would say find out if they have a wedding registry, and select something from that. If they don’t, then simply call them up and ask what they need, or send over a bottle of wine. I have been reading about some of these small “COVID weddings” and some of them sound like they are really quite nice. A lovely private time with family.

There are so many people out there who deserve our thanks, especially frontline workers. What’s the best way to show appreciation?

Bridges: The best way to show your thanks is on a person-to-person basis. At the grocery store you should say “thank you,” as often as you can, but that’s what you ought to be doing anyhow if you have nice manners. If you want to give money to fundraisers or put signs in your yard, that’s good too, but I think the only way you can guarantee people are going to know you appreciate them is to tell them yourself. Putting things on social media is fine but really it can make you look like you are trying to pat yourself on the back and the frontline worker may never see it. Person to person is best.

Should we be tipping more during the pandemic, like when you get carryout?

Bridges: I probably am tipping pretty heavily these days because I go out one day a week to a restaurant and buy all my entrees for the next week. So I feel like it’s the right thing to tip pretty well on that. I don’t get food delivered, but if you order a pizza or some other meal delivered, I would say add a decent tip when you place the order and be sure to let the delivery person know you’ve done that. But it’s your decision to make.

What’s the best way to stay in touch with loved ones you are unable to visit due to health concerns?

Bridges: I think nothing beats a telephone call. Nothing. It’s important for them to hear your voice. And it’s important for you to use your voice to connect with them. That’s the best way to do it. If you struggle with knowing what to talk about, my suggestion is make a list of things that have happened recently so you have some good talking points. But you don’t have to talk for hours. I find myself cutting off conversations before I think they’ve gone on too long.

What’s the key to getting through these turbulent times?

Bridges: I know people have kids who aren’t in school but I also see kids out in the yard playing and at least that’s something. Even if we are on the precipice of some awful thing, we’ve got to remain in good spirits through this. Find the good. I compare it to the AIDS generation, going through that, it was such a sad thing, such a bad thing, such a deadly thing. Of course you were going to funerals all the time. But you had to keep upbeat through it. You couldn’t just jump off the cliff. I think it’s about realizing we may be at the edge, but don't jump off. Look, it’s going to be better. It just is. We just have to get through it.

How To Be A Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners, and other books by John Bridges, are available online and at Brooks Brothers Stores.

This article has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project for COVID-19 coverage.

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Mjolnir

Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.


Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.