By Liz Massey, August 2017 Issue.
For the last several decades of the 20th century, the wedding industry was a place where out LGBTQ people sometimes worked, but weren’t allowed to be consumers. Although I’ve found some books on queer weddings that date back to the late 1980s, during my first decade in the community, the 1990s, the same-sex weddings I attended were largely DIY and were held expressly for the purpose of declaring the couple’s commitment to each other.
In my own relationship, my partner, Pat, and I brought different perspectives to the marriage question. She had spent 17 years married to her ex-husband, so she had experienced the classic American church wedding before I was out of short pants. Perhaps because of my rejection of girly things as a child, and my embrace of my natural androgyny later on, I had no vision of what an authentic wedding scenario might look like for me.
Throughout our first dozen years as a couple, Pat and I would revisit the wedding question on a regular basis, but never actually act on our conversations. Finally, on Valentine’s Day in 2011, we discovered that we both wanted to talk about having a wedding, and this time, we immediately started acting to make it a reality. We managed to pull together an event for 35 people in less than three months, something I’m convinced was possible because we’d already moved across the country together twice, helped other family members plan their weddings, and collaborated on numerous other large-scale projects together.
We were anything but the typical American wedding couple. We didn’t overplan OR overspend. We didn’t model our ceremony on any specific tradition. Because of all the years we’d already spent together, this ceremony was a vignette in our ongoing life together, and not an epic volume. Because our wedding drew so heavily upon our consciously chosen uniqueness, I think there are lessons about how we approached our wedding that could be useful to any LGBTQ person contemplating exchanging vows with their beloved.
Here are five of most widely applicable things I learned from my not-so-big gay wedding, in no particular order:
- This is one of your best chances to share who you are as a couple with the world.
It would be an understatement to say that Pat and I have blazed our own trail through life. So, when it came to each decision point about the ceremony, we considered what seemed most fitting for us, rather than how it would be received.
We resolved a worry that we would both blubber t hrough singing at the event by prerecording our guitar/vocal duo performance and stocking a healthy playlist on our iPod. Our outfit options took us on a sartorial journey that started with sparkly pantsuits, wound its way through matching tuxes and high-heeled suede boots, and finally ended up with a look that we described as “hippie casual.” Instead of the traditional white wedding cake, we made a lovely huge brownie cake for ourselves and we served our guests individual (obscenely delicious) chocolate or vanilla cupcakes.
- When the going gets tough, the tough employ bricolage.
As mentioned in the point above, we definitely took the planning path of “making it up as we went along,” and frequently that meant practicing bricolage, or the art of creating something amazing using whatever one has at hand. A random trip to our favorite New Age rock shop helped us realize that their attached classroom had the perfect ambiance for our ceremony. We found crafting supplies at home that allowed us to send delicate-looking handwritten invitations using shiny gold ink. Our planning period felt fun and improvisational, but never chaotic.
- If you can’t hire a wedding planner, leverage the power of self-organizing teams.
At our rehearsal, the night before the wedding, we also decorated the space where the ceremony was held. There was no “boss” there to oversee the operation, just us and all of our friends and relatives munching on pizza, hanging paper ornaments, decorating the refreshments table, and generally having a great time.
- Pay attention to scale.
We never aspired to compile a huge guest list, and I strongly believe that kept our adventure on the joyful side.
- The wedding is not just one event, it’s a series of happenings.
Once our wedding week was in progress, we realized everything that happened – greeting our out-of-town guests, pre-ceremony shopping, the rehearsal dinner and the day-after trip to Sedona – were all part of our experience. There were special because of the memories created and laughter was shared every step of the way.
Looking back on it more than six years later, I realize that my wedding was as much about collaboration and creativity as it was about celebrating the love my partner and I felt for each other.
As I remarked to Pat shortly after our ceremony, “You know, if I had realized getting married was this much fun, I would have had us do it sooner! And possibly more often!”