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K: My Clambake, Elisabeth’s Wedding


by Elisabeth Snell, Contributing Editor

K: My Clambake, Elisabeths Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Writing for APW about wedding planning and our looming wedding (less than a hundred days now, yikes) has made me a more thoughtful and disciplined writer, but I’ve also noticed it’s slightly changed the dialogue between my partner K and me. She’s read every post I’ve written before publishing, and she follows all the comments, and she’s noted that those conversations have been enlightening. (Because, lez be real, we don’t always listen to each other, and we definitely do not always agree.) Originally, I asked her to comment on a few of my posts so she could clarify or further explain her opinions. She said she’d think about it, and a few weeks later we were having a picnic on Bear Mountain when she turned to me and said, “I’ve been thinking. Should I write out MY thoughts on wedding planning?” Heck yeah, my taciturn girlfriend! So this week, K’s here to write about why she’s getting married.

—Elisabeth
K: My Clambake, Elisabeths Wedding | A Practical Wedding

As E and I sat down last week to finally finish off the Paperless Post invite, it was clear we were about to have another one of our ceremony-induced difficult dialogs. You’re supposed to tell your guests that you would be honored to request their presence at your marriage or to celebrate your wedding—but I haven’t been using any of these terms. I’ve just been calling it our legally binding clambake. I know this makes E crazy, and she struggles to see why I’m so hung up on the semantics, but the language really matters to me.

I never once dreamed of getting married as a kid. I grew up in a just-off-the-commune hippie family, and weddings and settling down and living that kind of “normal” life just weren’t on my radar. It’d be easy to think that I wasn’t imagining a wedded future because I was growing up a gay kid in the Midwest in the ’80s. That would certainly be a good guess. I’m one of those gays who’s always kind of known I wasn’t straight, but I don’t think that’s really it; I know plenty of queers, E for one, who imagined weddings for themselves without ever imagining opposite sex partners. But not me. I assumed I’d be on the campaign trail or living in a Catholic Worker house or chaining myself to a redwood; none of those imagined futures involved being paired off or exchanging rings.

At twenty-two, when I graduated college, I worked on a political campaign (based in the “east coast of Iowa” as we liked to call it when we were feeling cosmopolitan), and I regularly met up at the local gay bar in Davenport with some forty-something UPS-driving and factory-working lesbians. These were folks who’d come out in the late ’70s and had endured a lot of shit, but had an incredibly strong community to show for it. The relationship model that most of them seemed to use wasn’t really anything like straight marriage; they partnered off and lived together (usually swiftly: they’re lesbians, after all), but when the relationships didn’t work anymore—be that three months or fifteen years in—they broke up, moved out, moved on, and mostly stayed friends. With bumps in the road, sure, but the process was remarkably civil. The relationships weren’t thought of as failures at all; they were just over and everyone moved on. There were lots of downsides I’m sure; for one, most of them didn’t seem to see having kids as an option, and maybe that was a unspoken sadness for some, but they seemed mostly pretty content to twenty-two-year-old me down the bar. I wasn’t thinking about it too hard, but that seemed like a culture I wanted to be in: date, fall in love, live together, but when it doesn’t work, move on.

But here I am a decade later, getting ready for my final suit fitting for the clambake. I can’t pin down what changed. The Davenport model worked for me pretty well for the ensuing decade—I was happy to date, fall in love, move in, and then civilly move on—and I wish I could better articulate what’s different in this relationship. I met E and soon thereafter (though not the night we met as she likes to believe) I realized that I was imagining a forever future with her, something I hadn’t done with the previous women I’d dated. I totally understand why that Davenport model had worked for me and continues to work for lots of folks (and I think that one of the problems of the gay marriage movement is this variety of relationship patterns is being lost, but that’s another post entirely), but nevertheless, somehow, something changed and I wanted forever. Even if that forever means So Much Processing.

But the packaging and terminology still make me squirm. You’re heard from E about my ambiguity or even hostility towards all the associated terms—engagement, wedding, wife, all of it. I avoid them as much as possible. They don’t feel like they apply to me. I work for a progressive church organization, but I’ve kept the upcoming ceremony quiet from most of my colleagues. I was meeting with the president of the organization a few weeks ago and he was asking about whether we could schedule a day for staff to volunteer on our Sandy response projects on a Saturday in late September. How about the 21st? Well, not really. Why not, he asked. Well, I’m getting married that day. His face lit up: Congratulations! Where? When? Why hadn’t I told him earlier? Where’s my ring? Who’s my fiancé? He gave me a hearty handshake, and I answered as quickly as I could and dashed back to my office. It’s not that kind of engagement and I’m not wearing a ring and I don’t want to or know how to explain that to him.

Where would I even start? Folks often want to look at lesbian relationships and find out “who’s the man”—who’s the butch one, who does the man things. As much as I want to expose the simplicity and fallacy of such binary thinking, weddings make that really hard. I will be the one wearing the suit; E will be wearing a dress. I don’t feel comfortable wearing jewelry, certainly not diamonds, and she’s inching her way toward wearing a giant family rock. I don’t want a shower, I’m happy to leave the flowers to E and her friends, etc. etc. etc. But I’m not the groom (though I don’t want to be called a bride either). It feels like there’s space for a lesbian double bride wedding, where both women wear dresses and their dads walk them down the aisle and both families split the cost for the rehearsal dinner, and they enact the traditions that way. And there’s space for a lesbian bride/groom wedding, where the dress-wearer is walked down the aisle by her father and the suit-wearer waits up front with the celebrant, and you enact the traditions that way. But I’m not sure what to call it or what to do when I don’t want to be either.

And to further complicate matters, gender is only a piece of it. I think my family’s distrust for the mainstream actually is probably at least as much of a factor. My parents have been married for forty-two years now; they got married in college in an attempt to improve my dad’s application for conscientious objector status for the draft. They got married and they stayed married, but wedding wasn’t particularly a big deal to them. Their wedding was thrown and attended primarily by my grandfather’s bricklayer friends; it was in February during my parents’ senior year in college so not many of their friends made the three hundred-mile drive to my mom’s hometown. They believe, and to some extent I believe, that how you spend your money is a reflection of your values, and our lives should always be oriented toward creating more justice in the world. That doesn’t always leave much space for frivolity and, thus, weddings. And how you live your life, live your marriage, matters more than how the first day goes. I have toned down these values a little bit and created space for myself to care about how I dress and go to movies on occasion, but I still fundamentally hold those values to be true, and I can’t help looking at every expense through that justice lens. I see how this, perhaps, puts a damper on E’s fun planning her fanciful tree puff decorations.

But here I am, language and ceremony ambiguity and all, about to have this legally binding clambake. A friend once described marriage as a choice to be loyal to a person; that unlike the Davenport dating model, marriage is choosing to be loyal even when things aren’t smooth and easy, choosing to stay when you want to leave. It’s fundamentally different than dating for a long time. I like this idea of choosing to be loyal, even though I don’t like how it’s often practiced by our culture. When we started telling people we were having this legally binding clambake, another friend talked about how these ceremonies create a space for folks to put your relationship in the context of all the other relationships like it that they’ve seen, to enter that stream of cultural stories about lifelong partnership. And I do love that idea: that whatever we’re calling it, E and I are choosing to set out on this path that’s been taken by countless couples before us. I want to promise, in front of our community, to spend my life with E. I recognize that to most folks, that’s called a “wedding” and that the period before it is called an “engagement” and there are supposed to be rings and flowers and cake and then we use the word “wife.” But those terms all feel loaded by so much heteronormative, gendered, consumerist baggage. I’ve never felt welcomed by that world, and I’m not at all clamoring to join. But I do want to promise, in front of our community to spend my life with E, to be unfailingly loyal to her, when things are good and when things are hard, so here we are. It’s a legally binding clambake to me, it’s a wedding to her, and it’s in thirteen weeks. It will be wonderful to celebrate with her, and even more wonderful to spend forever with her.

Photo: From Elisabeth’s personal collection

Elisabeth Snell

Elisabeth is an MPH working in public health in New York City. Her old okcupid profile said she’s really good at: fixing socially awkward situations at parties, return trips to Ikea, whipping up excellent mac and cheese on camping trips, leaping into the ocean, being chronically late, and having Friday night adventures all over Brooklyn. In September 2013, she married her introverted, punctual K.

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  • Kristen

    Hooray for K’s perspective! I can’t believe how much this resonated with me, a straight, married lady. But I also spent a lot of my life believing that marriage wasn’t necessary and that one could have a committed and life long relationship without the paperwork. I still believe that.

    But my husband believes in marriage. To me, getting married made me feel like HE was totally committed. I know now that for him, he is locked in which locks me in too. While the ceremony and rings and paper forms weren’t necessary for me to commit fully, they made him more comfortable and I embrace our marriage for those reasons as well. Maybe since to Elisabeth marriage is how she chooses to commit, K can look at it the same way. It’s not about us pretending to feel more committed after the ceremony, its about us respecting our partners commitment and appreciating it. I don’t know – that’s just one way to look at it all.

    • meg

      This piece super resinated with me too, but for different reasons. That whole “It’s not that kind of engagement and it’s not that kind of wedding and I don’t know how to talk to you about this,” for somewhat different reasons…. phew…. that is the feeling I most remember from our engagement. I was never able to put it into words well either. So, thank you K.

      • Kristen

        Can we come up with a language or responses for those of us who like NEVER feel the way it seems the rest of society does in regards to life events?

        Un-awkward responses for folks like K in regards to wedding talk…

        In-offensive responses for folks like me in regards to whether we’re having kids…

        It occurs to me that perhaps instead of me being weird or awkward in regards to personal questions, that instead society in general is allowing people to live without boundaries and I don’t like it. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty or weird about not wanting to share the intimate decisions regarding procreation I make anymore than K should have to feel like she has to describe or express her feelings about marriage in a particular way to make someone else feel better about it. A part of loving each other and accepting each other in my mind is reestablishing what is and is not anyone else’s business in a way and switching from the mind set of, “I’m just being friendly and curious” to “I won’t ask personal questions unless that’s the type of relationship we have.” I wish we protected each other more when it comes to stuff like weddings and kids – stuff wrought with landmines and layers upon layers of feelings and emotions. I wish more folks thought like I did about how and when or whether to even ask someone about stuff like this.

        I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone else, but its something I struggle continually against – wanting privacy and boundaries and getting push back from way too many people about it.

  • http://www.theadvicist.com/ The Advicist

    What a great piece.

    I am ashamed to admit it, but when you said, “Folks often want to look at lesbian relationships and find out “who’s the man””, I experienced the hideous twinge of recognition that I have indeed looked at relationships that way.

    So, 1) I am sorry 2) What the hell was I thinking and 3) I will change my ways.

    If a seasoned APW reader can have that reaction, imagine what this piece can do to a wider and less liberal audience. This is good work, team.

    This changed my way of thinking. I don’t know what more praise I can give to a piece of writing.

    • Jessica B

      Even though I know better I still fall into this line of thinking as well, mostly because of the way society has trained me, and sometimes just because of the couple. I have two male friends getting married and I don’t think “which one is the bride?”

      I like to think of the Ellen Degeneres quote: “Asking which one is the man is like asking which chopstick is the fork?”

      • Class of 1980

        That’s funny. It never occurred to me to divide them up to correspond with hetero gender roles.

        I don’t even expect male/female relationships to fall neatly into roles. On a few things I do, but on a lot of things I don’t.

      • Class of 1980

        “I like to think of the Ellen Degeneres quote: “Asking which one is the man is like asking which chopstick is the fork?”

        And then there are sporks. ;)

      • meg

        HA! I’d never heard that quote. <3 Ellen <3

  • nikki

    What a great piece. It must feel like such an exciting yet exhausting time for the gay community. In 20 years when the bigotry and ignorance has made a steep decline (calling it!), people won’t be asking these questions or having these uncertainties because people like you and your partner forged ahead, took a risk, and tried to figure it out as best you could. Whether your prepared for this or not, you both are really serving as role models to straight and gay communities about what marriage means, and teaching the up-and-coming generations a whole new way to look at this institution. Bravo!

  • M.E.

    “It’s a legally binding clambake to me, it’s a wedding to her, and it’s in thirteen weeks.” I’m having trouble putting into (succinct) words what I feel about this, but it’s mostly that, YAY! you’re committing forever and I’m so happy to hear K’s side, and I can see the love and work you both put into your relationship, which is the most important thing. And also that: life is hard and complicated and you two are handling they gray areas with a hell of a lot of grace and go you and I hope to learn from your example. !

  • Kelsey

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece, K, and for sharing your perspective! Mazel Tov on your impending clambake

  • Shiri

    This resonated so much with me, also a married straight woman (like the commenter above). I related a lot to seeing this day differently than my partner does and what it means to leave behind the Daveport model. I wanted to get married because I wanted to publicly promise to always try – to try to stay together when it got hard, to try to be the best version of myself. I think putting into words why it’s different with E is amazingly powerful, and beautiful.

    I also think this is, hands down, one of the smartest, most articulate things I’ve ever read on APW.

    • SRN

      This was such an amazing post, K. Thank you for sharing it! Especially this: “somehow, something changed and I wanted forever. Even if that forever means So Much Processing.” My fiancee and I both have divorced parents, and my mom especially, I think, no longer believes in Forever. She is an extremely wise woman and I trust her a lot–and so I see the sense in her way of seeing relationships. Her attitude is a lot like the way you describe the Davenport method, but with children: marriage is a partnership that lasts (hopefully) until your children (if you have them) are old enough. For her that was when we were 14 (we are twins). When I told her that I DO want Forever and that Z and I were going to commit to it publicly (that is, get engaged), I also told her that I was nervous. Am I just being naive and pretending that what is really the Davenport method is going to last Forever? How can I know? What she said to me is interesting: “SRN, I can’t promise that your marriage won’t end. But I can promise that it won’t be because you married the wrong person.” And, oddly, that made me feel better. We can’t control what will happen in our lives, and we can’t know for sure that our marriage won’t end. But we can make sure that it won’t be because we picked the wrong person. And, knowing it’s the right person, we can make a commitment to stay even when things get hard, even when we want to leave sometimes.

      • Anon

        “SRN, I can’t promise that your marriage won’t end. But I can promise that it won’t be because you married the wrong person.”

        Wow, that’s such a thoughtful and helpful way to look at it.

  • Laura C

    This is a great post on its own and especially fascinating in the dialogue with E. In particular the part about your family’s influence on your feelings about the whole thing resonates so hard with me. And it’s so good to hear someone else articulating this.

  • april

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read here in a while, K. I’m straight, but I’ve struggled with a lot of these same issues over the past couple of months. I was raised by my single aunt, who is, let’s say, skeptical (although I could say downright dismissive) of marriages, and getting married was never really a goal for me. While I’m excited to marry my husband-to-be, I’ve had a difficult time embracing a lot of the “stuff” that comes with it. I don’t wear a traditional engagement ring, and I never really announced our engagement to friends or co-workers. I find that when people hear I’m engaged and we’re planning a wedding they automatically assume our relationship fits a certain pattern that I honestly don’t think it does. It almost feels like by choosing to marry, I’ve failed as a feminist– a feeling that APW has been doing a lot to help me overcome.

    As K points out though, “these ceremonies create a space for folks to put your relationship in the context of all the other relationships like it that they’ve seen, to enter that stream of cultural stories about lifelong partnership.” I love that thought, and will try to hold onto that when the husband-to-be’s mother asks me about my wedding dress for the 10,000th time!

    • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

      K definitely hit the nail on the head (or her friend did) with that quote. I like to think as feminists, gay couples, and modern relationships of all shapes and sizes enter that “stream of cultural stories,” we’re skewing the average back toward egalitarian partnerships, and slowly changing the definition of a “normal” marriage, because we introduce so many different ways a marriage can look/feel/be.

      And generations from now, WE will be the context.

      • Elisabeth

        SarahE, I’ve thought about what it will be like to be married in 30 years on a personal level but I’ve never quite thought of how this won’t be revolutionary (god I hope) — I love how you’ve put this, that we will be the context. Chills.

  • Martha

    Great to hear from K! I vote call it a “legally binding clambake” throughout all of your conversations – even with your boss! And to keep it with the seafood theme, why don’t you just quote the great Phoebe Bouffay and call one another your lobster?

  • Emily

    Kudos to you for sticking to the language that feels right for you. Yes, things like engagements and weddings are so ingrained as the “correct” terminology, but they don’t work for everyone.

    I had two best women at my wedding; my husband had a best man. It was so important to me (and still is) that my sister and best friend were not “maids.”

    Semantics are important. Otherwise writing would be a heck of a lot easier!

    • Megan

      Semantics are so important! My fiancé and I both felt strongly that our wedding party members not be gender-stratified, and we also didn’t like the gendered language that came along with it. So we each have a posse. (his Dad keeps joking that he’s going to buy us all spurs)

      • Megan

        D’oh! Edit button doesn’t seem to be working. What I mean is that we did not want our wedding parties to be gender stratified. Gender-stratifying the individual humans involved would be, well, different.

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        OMG, SPURS! I would kill for some kick-ass spurs (I already have the boots! I would make a great posse member!).

    • Caz

      I’m having best ladies too! (And get kinda funny about it when people refer to them as my bridesmaids… they’re not maids, I don’t need waiting on. They’re my best friends, who bring out the best in me.)

      K – thank you. Beautiful writing.

  • Christina

    Thank you for this beautiful piece!

  • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

    yes. this makes more sense than anything i’ve read in a long time.

    and “heteronormative, gendered, consumerist baggage” is so huge in all of this. especially the consumerist baggage, because most folks in my circle understand – to an extent – and expect complications about heteronormativity and gender, but those honestly upset me less.

    p.s. we settled on “bride and broom” for our personal terminology. which also opens up the possibility of being “mom and mop” as parents. obviously. (only, she was the broom, and i’m pretty sure i’m the mop.)

    • Shiri

      These terms/names are so brilliant that every time I try to unpack why they’re so brilliant, I find another layer. Awesome.

  • Rachel

    I loved reading this! It’s great to hear about wedding planning from the other half of a couple, and to get a better idea of what you both love about each other. (I’m going to assume that the fact that you’re both really good writers is part of it!) It just made my heart feel happy.

    Also, this? “These ceremonies create a space for folks to put your relationship in the context of all the other relationships like it that they’ve seen, to enter that stream of cultural stories about lifelong partnership.” That is one of the most well-put things I’ve read on weddings in a long time.

    • Elisabeth

      Rachel, right? I just keep reading this and thinking, “she’s a good egg.”

    • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

      Yes. Yay. This post makes me really happy.

      I love the thought and care that both Elisabeth and K have put into writing about their upcoming wedding/clambake. It is a form of lesbian writing that I’ve not read before, and it gives me hope for all of us.

      Thank you!!!!

  • Molly

    “how you spend your money is a reflection of your values, and our lives should always be oriented toward creating more justice in the world.”

    I couldn’t agree with this way of thinking more, and was also brought up in a family steeped in this value system. My main role models in this are my family members, mainly my mother and grandmother, who are radical progressives and work daily for justice in the world (my mom recently said in one of her dinner table tirades, “if Jesus was alive today, he’d be marching with the trans rights folks in the pride parade”).

    I had similar reservations, therefore, with spending a bunch of money on a wedding. I wanted to say, though, that I think there is room for things like fanciful tree puff decorations in this value system, especially at queer weddings, when you think of those tree puff decorations as a visible declaration that you are availing yourself, publicly and joyfully, of the rights that were just so recently afforded you by the state of NY. My radical mom and my radical grandmother, who fight for the rights of the poor and the least represented of us in society, cried over and delighted in my legal wedding to my wife, and also loved the fact that things like the artful, DIY fabric flags we had sweetly hanging over us while we took the vows of marriage not only signaled to the resistant, mostly conservative folks in that upstate community where they live and we married that this was happening, but also seemed to soften slightly the hearts and minds of those conservative folks with their fluttery and delicate normalcy. Sometimes resistance, progress and justice comes in pretty packages. As my wife says, you catch more flies with honey. :)

    • Kristen

      This portion of K’s piece made me think too. Your comment solidifies what I think I feel about this stuff as a person who also strives to live my life for others and to better the world. I was honestly disappointed when I couldn’t convince my husband instead of registering for gifts to ask folks to donate to a charity. Because I feel lucky and grateful to live the life I have and want to spread that luck as far as possible.

      This like so many other things about spending the money on a wedding made me feel guilty and bad – which raised a red flag for me. Guilt is a feeling that I pay close attention to so I thought about it and acknowledged that as a giving, generous person, its ok for me to not always put others before myself. My wedding day was a day I gave myself permission to be selfish sometimes and make choices that pleased only my husband and I. I also acknowledged that I don’t want life to be super hard and difficult. Which means chilling out about not always doing things the most perfect, right way possible. Yes, there are people suffering all over this world. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t celebrate my life and the luck I had finding my husband.

      I’ll pay tribute to those who suffer the rest of my life, and I’ll work hard to make the world a better place in a multitude of ways – its what brings me happiness and joy. Which means I give myself permission to not view every single decision and every penny spent through the lens of giving rather than receiving. I trust myself to be a good person at the end of my life’s road so I don’t have to micromanage my every step along the way. That’s how I began to relegate my feelings on this stuff.

      • Judith

        This comment struck me, too. I would argue, though, that spending money to bring your community together to celebrate love is not in opposition to the goal of creating more justice in the world — really, it can be in furtherance of it. For people who spend their life in social movements and struggles, it is a gift to spend a night celebrating, dancing, and just being together. That is what your wedding can be for your people.

        This isn’t a free pass to spend recklessly, but maybe instead of thinking “well if I wasn’t spending this money on X wedding thing I could spend it on Y justice thing” you could try and orient yourself towards how your wedding, and the money you spend on it, can be a place of inspiration and activism.

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        I agree with this sentiment. Personally, I can’t see financing such a large event without making my purchases with an eye on sustainability and waste (my biggest question when I buy things is “Where is this going to GO next?”).

        Rather than thinking of it in terms of “permission to celebrate,” which is completely legitimate, I tend to think of it in what I’m demonstrating. Just like dressing up is an indicator that this event is important, spending money on an event is an indicator that the event and the people in attendance are important. To be clear, I don’t mean getting caught up “We must choose the most expensive chairs or everyone will think we’re cheap/don’t love them!” but rather an attitude of trying to create a lovely, comfortable celebration for your guests as a way to honor them, show them they are important to you, and this event is more than just a party. So I think of it as continuing to make thoughtful choices (environmentally, in my case), but allowing for “frivolity” in the context of my guests are worth some beauty.

  • Courtney

    I would have to agree that the “heteronormative, gendered, consumerist baggage” squicks me out (even as one of those hetero gals who always assumed she’d be married…and yes, initially I thought that meant I would marry my beloved teddy bear, which makes total sense at age five). But seeing my friends, of all stripes, have relationships that involve life-long loyalty makes me a lot more of a fan of modern marriage. Every time a couple decides to commit to each other and live it out beautifully, it’s a gift to the rest of us. Clearly Elisabeth and K are doing that and I’m so glad they can. I hope your community rises to the occasion in turn! Best wishes for your legally-binding clambake!

  • http://www.jalondraadavis.com Jalondra

    I love this. Its rare and wonderful to see the other side of a conversation that you have been experiencing, and it just makes so much sense. K gets into all of the discomfort around the institution of marriage if you believe in social and gendered justice without haranguing those of us who dream of flowers and big rocks and being called “wife”. Also gets into the perplexing elements of the marriage equality movement and the misinterpretations of lesbian relationships, particularly butch-femme-appearing in which people try to reassign the partners to heteronormative roles. Hope to hear more from K’s side as this wedding develops, and its been such a fun journey to watch.

  • http://www.lulamaespecialevents.com Meigh McPants

    I love this so hard. Way to carve out your own space by trusting what feels true. I’d quote parts I loved, but then I’d have to copy/paste the whole last paragraph, so I’ll refrain. So many good wishes to you and Elisabeth!

  • Jessica

    What a beautiful piece! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. As a straight, engaged lady who has always been a believer in “the Davenport model,” it’s lovely to hear from someone else who is navigating similar waters.

  • Class of 1980

    “When we started telling people we were having this legally binding clambake, another friend talked about how these ceremonies create a space for folks to put your relationship in the context of all the other relationships like it that they’ve seen, to enter that stream of cultural stories about lifelong partnership. And I do love that idea: that whatever we’re calling it, E and I are choosing to set out on this path that’s been taken by countless couples before us.”

    I love this.

    I know that’s the only way I look at weddings. The details of what that lifelong partnership looks like day-to-day is up to the couple.

  • http://embracerelease.com Aly Windsor

    I only have two minutes to respond but wanted to say that A) I love this. and B) My partner and I walked down the aisle, one by one, unaccompanied. We basically listed out everything we knew usually happened at weddings and nixed or modified anything we didn’t like, plus added a few things like our 5 dogs accompanying our attendants. I call my partner “partner” still and my partner (who is genderqueer which is why I’m avoiding pronouns) very occasionally and usually only jokingly calls me (femme all the way) “wife.” Our wedding, while very fanciful and frivolous and non-legal, really did make us feel more bound together in our eyes and everyone else’s and it really helped us to stick out a lot of super hard times. I hope your clambake does the same for you.

  • Suz

    While we here in CA wait to hear what the SCOTUS has to say about Prop 8 (tomorrow’s the day!) it’s great to be reminded that there isn’t just one way to have a marriage. I’ve read several articles written by gay folks lamenting that we’re jumping feet first into this hetero-normative marriage trap. But we don’t have to do that… we can all carve out our marriages in a way that feels true to us – and yes, that includes the language that we use to talk about our relationships and marriages.

    I love to see this represented more in the blogoshpere (is it still called that?!). I want to *exactly* a zillion times this line from your post – “But I’m not the groom (though I don’t want to be called a bride either). It feels like there’s space for a lesbian double bride wedding, where both women wear dresses and their dads walk them down the aisle and both families split the cost for the rehearsal dinner, and they enact the traditions that way. And there’s space for a lesbian bride/groom wedding, where the dress-wearer is walked down the aisle by her father and the suit-wearer waits up front with the celebrant, and you enact the traditions that way. But I’m not sure what to call it or what to do when I don’t want to be either.”

    Neither my partner nor I want to wear dresses, but we’re not the suit wearing types either. Neither of us is the man in this situation – yes, she plays ice hockey, but I kill the spiders in the household. Yes, I cook most of our dinners, but she tears up at romantic comedies while I remain fairly stoic. I suspect we’re no different than most hetero couples in these sorts of things – except that we’re more often asked to explain those differences to the greater public or random passers by.

    Thanks K (and E and all of APW) for giving us the space to talk about these things during Pride Month – and really, all year long.

    • Class of 1980

      “I’ve read several articles written by gay folks lamenting that we’re jumping feet first into this hetero-normative marriage trap.”

      I keep hearing this, which begs the question … what do they propose in place of marriage to gain all the legal benefits of marriage?

      • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com lady brett

        my vote is to disentangle the legal benefits from the marriages. maybe a “coparenting” agreement that provides standard legal benefits regarding children (something many married couples will never need, and lots of unmarried couples could use) and a “next of kin” document to clarify inheritances, etc. etc. more complicated, but in the end a lot more realistic to how our society and relationships actually work than a reliance on marriage to confer legal benefits (because regardless of sexuality, you shouldn’t have to marry *anyone* to be able to dictate who you want at your side in the hospital).

        • Laurel

          Agreed. Also, some of the benefits of marriage (like sharing health insurance) should be available to everyone, rather than depending on your relationship status.

        • Karen

          You also shouldn’t feel like you have to get married in order to have insurance!

          • Elisabeth

            I’m voting the Lady Brett ticket!

  • Mezza

    This is a fascinating read, partly because I’m struggling with some of the same feelings myself, and partly because I’m struggling with them in others! I’m marrying my girlfriend in October, and while I use the words “wedding” and “marriage,” I am definitely not comfortable with “fiancee” and “wife.” I suspect it’s because a wedding is an event and a marriage is a legal term, but who we are to each other hasn’t changed in 10 years, so why should I use a different word all of a sudden?

    At the same time, though, my conservative midwestern parents are doing everything they can to dodge the words “wedding” and “marriage.” And I don’t know that it’s even because of the gender situation – all my life, my family has been scornful of the concept of marriage (and yet no one has ever divorced), and I know they don’t understand why I would choose to get married when I have a perfectly valid excuse not to. But it’s driving me bananas nonetheless.

    So, congratulations to you on your clambake, and on the strength of your conviction to use the terms you choose. Words are important, and it’s really awesome that you and Elisabeth have each found your own.

  • Hannah K

    i love this piece.

    and i think spouse “spouse” might be a great word for anybody’s who’s creeped out about heteronormative gender assumptions being put on any relationship. it means the whole legally-bound-partnership thing but it doesn’t mean “june or ward cleaver, depending” or “unequal power dynamics” or “complementary and totally different roles.” (also, any word that allows people to ask each other friendly questions without making assumptions is a win in my book. is SO much better to ask a person wearing a wedding ring “is your spouse here with you tonight?” than “what does your [i am assuming the sex/gender of your partner] do?” or etc.)

    • http://partialto.tumblr.com LIZ (SINCE 1982)

      I LOVE “spouse.” I have an ex whose parents refer to each other by it, like an endearment. “Spouse, would you like another drink while I’m up?” It’s adorable.

      • Elisabeth

        spouse! Why have I not considered this?? Thanks Liz and Hannah!

  • mimi

    “A friend once described marriage as a choice to be loyal to a person; that unlike the Davenport dating model, marriage is choosing to be loyal even when things aren’t smooth and easy, choosing to stay when you want to leave. It’s fundamentally different than dating for a long time. I like this idea of choosing to be loyal, even though I don’t like how it’s often practiced by our culture.”

    My fiance and I talked about this same thing during our premarital counseling session last night. I completely agree with the choice to be loyal and to stay, whatever name society calls it.

  • Kate

    Props to Elisabeth, K is the shit.

  • KM

    so much goodness here.

    my wife and i struggled with the “which one is the dude/groom” construct from others too, with many people assuming that she would wear a suit to our wedding because she almost never wears a dress in “real life” and … makes furniture and fixes things and …has a better sense of direction than I do (?) I’m grasping at straws for why anybody would think there needs to be a stereotypical male character in our relatioinship, and how she is designated for that role.

    For what its worth, my wife wore the most romantic lacy dress at our wedding, and looked stunning. More to the point, that felt right for her, on our wedding day.

  • http://theambershow.net Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

    I want to snap at you to relax, and maybe that’s me being defensive. I’m straight, but I’ve built a (wedding photography) career on the concept that same-sex couples getting married are no different than anyone else, and neither are their weddings. I tend to call everyone getting married that presents as female a “bride”. There are many times that an eloping client will call me last minute to come photograph them, and I have no idea what combo of genders “Chris and Sam” are until I get there.

    You are disturbing my worldview with your “this is really different” perspective and it’s making me uncomfortable. Maybe I need to learn?

    • Laurel

      ‘Bride’ and ‘wife’ suggest a specific kind of gendered role. People have different feelings about their own gender. There are people for whom it’s important to reclaim ‘wife’ and ‘bride’ and create feminist versions of femininity. There are people who really really want to be brides. There are other people, like me, who aren’t feminine and don’t want to be feminine and who think feminist femininity is lovely for other people but do. not. want it.

      I don’t take offense to people calling my partner my wife, because what they’re trying to say is that they recognize our relationship as a marriage. That’s lovely. But ‘wife’ doesn’t really fit either of us, and ‘bride’ made us pretty uncomfortable when we were getting married. We’re lucky in that we can take a pretty relaxed approach to what people call us, but I have friends who feel like they’ve been hit when someone uses a word like ladies or girls or women to describe them. That’s not because they’re too serious; it’s because it feels deeply invalidating to them, where to me it just feels a little awkward.

      As far as what that means for your business, it’s easy enough to just ask people what words they want, right?

  • Sabrina

    I really loved this piece and it really brought home the reasons why we are not having the words “untill death do you part” in out ceremony. Instead, it will be “until the gods see fit to part you.” Its because we don’t know what the future holds, but we are promising to always do our level best to choose each other, even when it is hard, and to love each other, even when its hard to love ourselves. I can’t promise forever, but I can promise to work for it.

  • Kirsty

    I am astounded by your eloquence in expressing your thoughts. Not being particularly good with words, I won’t try to describe how your writing has moved me and given me much food for thought, but I will say: Congratulations to you both on your upcoming legally binding clambake!!

    As a “fall back on a practical solution since words fail me” sort of person, here are a couple of ideas that came to mind that may be of help (or may not) as you plan your day:
    1. If you are considering tweaking a traditional model of a western marriage ceremony, maybe consider both walking to meet each other in the middle at the start of the ceremony, rather than walking separately or having one or other walk to meet the other?
    2. If you have flexibility in your ceremony location, you could also consider having a ceremony “in the round”, with your guests seated/standing in arcs around you instead of the traditional audience of guests in a block with the ceremony happening up front.

    I think sometimes just mixing up expectations quietly with your arrangements of the physical structure or order of an occasion can go a long way to setting the stage for more open-minded conversations.

  • Laurel

    I really feel you on all of this. Weddings are pretty much the most gendered thing in the world; we had a hard time figuring out how to navigate ours in a way that didn’t set either of us up as the bride. Add to that the fact that we’re not religious and our families don’t really do weddings. Aside from ours, my family’s only had one wedding with more than 5 guests since 1950. So all the traditions feel like they belong to someone else, which made dealing with the tradition-laden parts like the ceremony and what to wear feel really fraught. Plus we have some of the same anti-consumerist, social justice-oriented feelings you do. We were worried that our wedding — which didn’t even have legal status — would feel like we were pretending to something we didn’t want in the first place. We had a lot of fights about stupid details, because those stupid details brought up deeper concerns about our values.

    In the end our wedding felt like it was ours. It didn’t feel like we were pretending. We spent a lot of money, but we spent it mostly on things we believe in. Neither of us was the bride. The ceremony had ritual, but wasn’t much like a church service. All the work of struggling to understand our relationship to marriage and weddings actually worked. It’s tough but it’s worth it, and I think all of us queers who engage with this help create a different social meaning around weddings and marriage in our community. So thanks.

  • Emily

    That photo of you two is so adorable.

  • Helen S

    I’m a long-time hetero, newly minted lesbian (bisexual? Whatever.), in love and engaged to the awesomest Girl around. We’ve both been spoon fed heteromantic comedies where weddings (even hippy-alty-pagany ones) go a certain way, and look a certain way; there’s always a man a-waiting, and a dress next to pants. Me and Girl got over noticing that we’re-both-ladies-isn’t-that-weird!? feeling years ago but wedding stuff brought it all back – we had no cultural pictures for how a wedding like ours is supposed to go. Not just the wedding either, but marriage – in my head, marriage was a man/lady thing. I grew up with the best dad, who’s gay, and has been living with his partner, and I STILL held that picture in my I head. What a weirdo. It makes me desperate for stories of other people’s relationships and lives. I get it now, that the feeling of ‘otherness’ doesn’t have to be as overt as gay bashing or horrible language. It’s as simple as not having stories that fit. It’s not seeing other people live lives like mine. So anyway, APW is the shiz. Thanks for creating a platform for people to share their awesome live that don’t quite fit the picture.

    • anon

      Aw! Ha, newly minted lesbian – love it! Congrats on being engaged! I just got engaged to my partner and she is the first woman I have been with. It’s refreshing and comforting to see you write about how you were a long time hetero..to see how comfortable you are with saying it! I grew up having crushes on boys, but at the same time always knew I could be attracted to girls too, and then met my partner and we fell in love. I was never surprised by my feelings, it felt normal and right to me, but sometimes I wish I had just been fully gay and known it my whole life – that it would have been easier that way. I’m rambling now, but I just mean I love reading about women who are totally comfortable talking about how they have been/ can be attracted to both.

      Congrats again on everything!

  • Jenny

    Thank you for writing and sharing this piece. The lingo associated with “wed’ing someone” is incredibly frustrating. I don’t have an issue identifying as a bride, but my fiancé (which seems to be the only NON-gendering-heteronormative term associated with marriage) falls in quite a similar boat to you. She will be wearing pants and a dress shirt, doesn’t consider herself a bride, and we both viscerally reacted when her mother referred to herself as “the mother of the groom”. I’ve designed all of our save the dates/invites/etc myself so as to avoid any upsetting lingo (join us as we get hitched) but I still find myself upset when people do things like buy us balloons for our “wedding shower” that have a bride and groom on them, or wrap a gift in “his and hers” paper. I’m sure wedding planning is a trying time for any couple, as it forces into the limelight so many things that may go unsaid or undefined at least, in our relationships. What exactly are those values, what precisely matters about that tradition, what traditions should we bend to match our own style and which can we completely dispose of. But as trying as it is, I think and hope it is strengthening us as a unit as well. It’s made it undeniably clear that we don’t fit whatever cookie cutter boxes are currently available for spouses. And while I’m up for the fight, and ready to throw any and all traditions to the wind in honor of what feels right for us – she’s more traditional and struggling with my modernist idea that we absolutely can do whatever we feel like doing on this day we call our wedding – as long as there’s an “I do” exchanged to make it legally binding.

    To sum up these rambling thoughts – I’m oh so glad to read we’re not alone in this, and I do look forward to joining the ranks of the “legally bound” (while ours is a bbq vs your clambake ;) ) to set a wider example of what wedded bliss could look like for future generations. Thank you for sharing the other side, and so eloquently so at that.

    • http://partialto.tumblr.com LIZ (SINCE 1982)

      Technically, even “fiancé” is gendered: fiancé is male, fiancée is female. But then, it’s one of those languages where every noun is assigned a gender, apparently at random (Book: male. Bicycle: female. Logic!); also, at least the two versions sound exactly alike, so that as you point out, it’s not glaringly heteronormative in conversation the way “bride” and “groom” and so on are. There was a great post on here a while back about what APWers call their partners/spouses/spouses-to-be where so many wonderful terms were offered up as alternatives to the binary our culture tends to assume, which I found so helpful as an engaged person for whom most of the terms that would instantly communicate our soon-to-be-state-sanctioned status felt unnatural when I tried to use them referring to myself or my partner.

  • Liz

    What I love about this is that K has summarised very complex things with such precision and simplicity, definitely one of the best pieces on the site in ages.

    We need a new language, indeed. I get the butch/femme thing a lot too, but dear god, what is with all the scissoring questions? I didn’t even know what that was until I was in my late 20s!

    • Liz

      I forgot to say: I’m keen on the word partner as a catch all, but I also like being other things.

    • http://prettypicturesbydanielle.tumblr.com/ Danielle

      Holy sh*t, scissoring!

      I work with a bunch of gay men, and for some reason, their association of lesbian sex pretty much exclusively involves scissoring. I have no idea where they got that from! At this point I think it’s pretty hilarious, and we mostly joke about it. At least, I think it’s a joke…

  • Christa

    This part is heartening:

    “They believe, and to some extent I believe, that how you spend your money is a reflection of your values, and our lives should always be oriented toward creating more justice in the world. ”

    I mean, not that it’s fun to deal with, but I’m trying to find space in the world that feels like I’m contributing to lessening the problems more than my actions are increasing it, and it’s hard! I’m sorry you’re struggling, but heartened that I’m not the only one. Finding the balance is really hard.

  • Bethany

    This was a wonderful post, but I have a total aside. That photo was taken at The Kaaterskill, right? I got married there last summer!

  • Hope

    As one of those Iowa dykes who came out in the early ’70s and recognizes the descriptions here as if I’m looking in a mirror, and as a lesbian now in my late 50s who married my Frisian girlfriend first in the Netherlands where we live and 6 months later in Iowa because x-pat attorneys told us marrying in both countries was the only way to protect my retirement funds for my partner, so much of this ambiguity about marriage and terminology resonates, K.

    I spent years on the barricades for all kinds of social justice issues but gay marriage was not one of them. “Marriage is an economic relationship,” I used to say, “and I don’t need or want to be economically tied to any one – perhaps if there were children involved, but there aren’t and there won’t be…” Aging has a way of changing a great deal, not least my perspective on being able to provide for a partner ten years younger than I when I can no longer contribute earnings to the relationship, or to make sure than if she outlives me, her aging will be as luxurious as possible in financial terms. So, I’m delighted there were other gay people who dreamed of weddings and who saw these issues in larger ways than I did. And I am relieved that the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling and its repercussions for bi-national partner immigration means we can now move back to The States should we have to for some reason. But I will never be comfortable with the appellation “wife,” and am delighted that that’s true too for my girlfriend who wears the twin of a ring that I leave sitting in a bowl unless we’re going out “dressed up” for something.

    We squirm when people refer to one or the other of us as “your wife,” and balk when friends now correct the fact that we call each other “girlfriend,” and note privately how interesting it is that only our straight friends and family do that. However, we must both admit that though we believed we didn’t need any kind of ceremony to sanction what we already recognized as a lifetime commitment to one another, it turns out there is a power so mysterious I cannot put it into words about knowing we are now legally bound to one another. Each of us walks more at ease in the world these days, and we are humbled to discover it.

    From many miles away though connected by someone who was at our Iowa potluck wedding and I suspect will be at your clambake, I wish you a lifetime happily legally bound to your partner.

  • Amy

    Thanks for this post, and most especially this bit: “to some extent I believe, that how you spend your money is a reflection of your values, and our lives should always be oriented toward creating more justice in the world. That doesn’t always leave much space for frivolity and, thus, weddings.”

    I suddenly feel much less alone, and that’s really reassuring.

    And good luck with the legally binding clambake! x