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Kelsey: What Equality Actually Looks Like


We don't want to be your gay wedding story

by Kelsey Hopson-Shiller, Writing Intern

Kelsey: What Equality Actually Looks Like | A Practical Wedding

When you are a lady about to marry another lady, you are never quite certain of the reaction you are going to get when this fact comes to light. Last spring, when we started talking seriously about getting married and planning a wedding, I prepared myself—and us—for angry, homophobic reactions. I asked every married, queer friend we have for safe vendor recommendations. I called ahead to jewelry stores and made sure to ask them if they would have a problem with my girlfriend and I shopping for our engagement rings. We managed to hire our vendors and commence wedding planning with no vitriolic reactions from strangers. We didn’t even get any mean, sideways glances. Instead, we met with a phenomenon I had neglected to consider: overcompensation. 

Some good friends who also happen to be a double-lady couple got married recently. They tell the story of getting a call from an uninvited acquaintance a few days before the wedding. The acquaintance called to ask for more details about the wedding since she thought that what our friends were doing was “so brave” and she wanted to attend the event in order to show her support. Which, they were sure your heart was in the right place, lady, but no, you will not be attending their seated, plated dinner for two hundred in order to lend your support, when you were not invited in the first place. Thanks anyway.

At the time, Julie and I laughed at this story. We wrote the incident off as a bizarre example of social anxiety and poor boundaries. We’ve stopped laughing now, as similar incidents continue to crop up for us. My part-time job at a paper store involves a lot of talking about weddings, and occasionally my own impending ceremony comes up. At first, when I would mention my female fiancée, I would brace myself for a chilly silence or a dismissal of my not-legally-recognized marriage. Instead, people’s faces light up with the zeal of converts. They ask me where we’ll travel to get “real married.”  They tell me how much they loved Macklemore’s performance at the Grammys. I get some tearful hugs from people whose last name I do not know. “Will your family be there?” they ask somberly, I assume hoping for a story about the brave, glittery, girl at the paper store who will be escorted down the aisle by her one stoic and proud uncle. This response is even more off putting than the angry, homophobic one I had been prepared for. I know how to respond to hate. I don’t know how to respond to these seemingly well-intentioned people.

I’m still being fitted with the same Othered label. I’m not marrying my partner; rather Julie and I will get Gay Married in the fall. We can’t be joyfully celebrating; we must be stoically overcoming. We couldn’t be adapting a historic tradition to best suit our relationship, culture, and families; queer couples have to make do with piecing together a facsimile from the scraps of a custom that shuns us. It turns out, this way is more complicated than just telling me how sinful we are. It feels like as a woman, and especially as a queer woman, I am expected to respond to all support gratefully. “Thank you for taking this heavy burden off of my weakened and oppressed shoulders, hetero stranger!” It feels like I lose my right to respond with strength when I am met with sympathy, even if it is sympathy for a plight that doesn’t match my experience.

There are, however, some unexpected perks to the fervor with which people want to embrace our wedding. It’s a truth most of us learn quickly when we join the ranks of Those Planning A Wedding: strangers love to weigh in on the choices we’re making with regards to the big event. For Julie and me, even the choices that felt unorthodox, like the food truck, or not having bridesmaids or a seating chart, are met with resounding approval. When we are asked a question we don’t know the answer to, we don’t get shamed for being “bad brides.” We get a pass because the lesbians couldn’t possibly have known better. I know that by making our plea to be treated like everyone else, I’m asking for the uncomfortable experience of having strangers judge our colors with grave seriousness or to have people ask about the number of carats in my ring, and judge Julie’s salary and ability to “provide” for us accordingly (and vice versa). We are able to take for granted that people won’t be shocked but are wholly expecting the appearance of at least one bride in pants. Even considering all of that, it is a trade I am willing to make.

I want our wedding, and not the gender of my partner, to be the big news. I want to be met with unbridled joy and hearty congratulations, or even some unsolicited advice about how to be a successful wife. I want people to be angling for an invitation because they’ve heard about the fried chicken and crispy Brussels sprouts we’ll be serving at the reception, not because they need to assuage their guilt, or shame, or sadness by bearing witness. We’d like to talk about the flowers, or the huppah we’ll be making, or how we chose our officiant. We don’t want to be your gay wedding story, but I’ll take the most fun wedding you’ve ever heard of.

I will gladly take your happiness and your good wishes, strangers, but we don’t need your pity. Equal is the same. Less is obviously bad, but it turns out, more is not so great either.

Kelsey Hopson-Shiller

Kelsey is a California native, residing in Denver. She married Julie, a Jewish girl from New Jersey, in September 2014. She works too many jobs, has too many pets, and really likes reading books in the sunshine, especially if there’s bourbon involved.

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  • StevenPortland

    This is very true to what we found as well in getting married. I was prepared for the slight possibility of a homophobic reaction from some stranger but never prepared myself for their overcompensation. I think I actually got more of this with the wedding planning than we ever did when we were having our two sons via the surrogacy route. And to be truthful, plenty of the overcompensation comes from gay men and lesbians. It is a strange thing to experience and I haven’t fully come to terms with it yet.

    • Meg Keene

      Huh. I’m not totally sure how to process that last bit of information. But it’s interesting so I’m going to sit with it for awhile.

    • Aj

      I might be a gay overcompensator. I worked hard for marriage equality in my state (and continue to do so nationally) and when someone shares the news that they are marrying, especially if they have been waiting to do so, I am thrilled on both personal levels but also on a political level. I would be less apt to do so with a stranger than a good friend and maybe because my friends tend to be activist type folks this seems really appropriate – to mix the political celebration with the personal. My wife and I (eep that’s still new!) were very open about how long we had waited so it felt like others were following our lead.

  • Gretchen

    Preach! My fiancée and I are planning a wedding in Atlanta, capitol of the gay South, and we get this not infrequently. I find the supportive parents question particularly intrusive, I mean…really?! What part of you thinks that I am going to tell you about my family life, person-I-do-not-know? PS. My grandma is thrilled, thank you very much.

    On the flip side, I was at a party with a whole bunch of millenials who had recently gotten married in massive weddings. They descended upon me with much discussion of how you simply HAD to have a wedding videographer because you wouldn’t remember anything while completely ignoring my slightly more MoC appearing lady love as they would anyone they coded as “groom”. I was gobsmacked, she slunk away to eat all the celery and gay marriage was normalized through the land.

    • Annie

      Yes! I love when people assume that since I have the spreadsheets or send the emails to the vendor, I am the “bride AKA decision-maker” and my fiancee is to be ignored, because she must be like the groom and not care. It does feel weird that “normalizing”, at least in the gay South, means fitting into sexist, anti-feminist frameworks. WTF intersectionality?

    • laddibugg

      It totally sucks that people assume one of the two people involved HAS to be uninterested in the affair.

      On the other hand, I guess that *is* a sign of equality in some weird twisted way

    • Meg

      haha unrelated but I got the “you HAVE to have a videographer” speech from someone I hardly know and I found it really strange.

  • Annie

    THIS. So much, everything. The vendor rejections were easier for me than the overcompensation, because I was prepared for the rejections.

    I agree with everything you said here, and also have to admit that I have a complicated relationship with this overcompensation. At first, it was really helpful and comforting and reminded me that it’s okay to be happy. I had to work through some major internalized homophobia, and was so prepped for defensiveness that joy had a hard time taking root. The overcompensation helped clear the way for joy.

    And it was immensely important for my very traditional mom. When she told her book club we were getting married, those lovely southern ladies flew into a shower-planning tizzy – just like they did for all the other mommas with straight daughters. I have never been more proud of my mom’s friends, and I don’t know that they’ll ever know what a gift they gave to my mom by showing such overwhelming excitement.

  • Anne Schwartz

    Can I come? I really like food trucks. Also, I really hate seating charts. Sounds like exactly my jam.

    • jashshea

      I’m pretty sure we’re all invited, right? You can’t just drop “crispy Brussel sprouts” on me and not expect me to show up.

      • Heather

        AMEN.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

        I know, the “crispy brussel sprouts” got me really curious…

  • Mrs. M.

    This! We were prepared for how our families reacted – they had over 8 years to accept us as a couple prior to our engagement, and yes there were a few that weren’t the most pleased. I could no longer be termed the “friend”, but my wife’s devout Catholic, 100% Polish grandmother has settled on calling me her granddaughter’s “other half” (which i happen to think is kind of awesome). These things I’m totally fine with, yes we had our miniscule amount of unaccepting distant relatives – and guess what, everyone else cared about this more than I do.

    Throughout the planning though, my now-wife made it perfectly clear we were not throwing a “gay wedding”. We purposefully chose NOT to go with the photographer who offered same-sex couples a discount, I didn’t “warn” any of our vendors or call ahead to see if they would be accepting when two women arrived. But once they realized they were dealing with two women, we did get excited squeels “you’re my first lesbian wedding!”, “good for you guys” (in a ‘way to take one for the team’ way), “how are your families with it?” (thanks obtrusive stranger for assuming my family are a bunch of homophobic jerks).

    Flipside – We did get a few comments from our gay officiant about our song selections being “too straight” and disappointment from a very supportive bridesmaid that there indeed would be NO rainbows.

    The whole process really did serve to make my wife and I closer though, as we rolled our eyes a lot and laughed our asses off even more. I’m pretty sure at the end of the day people got it, that our wedding was about love – not gay love, not lesbian love, just plain ole love. After the initial “omg, this is a wedding like any other wedding” wore off – people talked about how touching our personalized vows were, the great venue we picked, the stellar live band, and the AMAZING BARBEQUE. Which is everything we wanted.

    • laddibugg

      what is a too straight playlist? What does that even mean?

      • guest

        Seriously. This has stumped me for hours.

    • Gina

      I think your humor in dealing with the “no rainbows” and other issues is a fantastic and amazing way to deal with it. In wedding planning in general, if you can approach people’s unsolicited advice and awkward over-compensation with a “I’m-just-not-taking-you-seriously” approach, that makes a big difference to how much space those peoples’ opinions take up in your brain. And “at the end of the day people got it.” Hurray!

    • vegankitchendiaries

      WHAT!?! NO RAINBOWS?!?!?

  • Ana

    Mmm yes. I will take your “Is your family coming?” and raise you a “Totally unrelated story about a gay couple I know who did/not get married”. It’s kind of the committed equivalent to “Oh, you’re gay? I know another gay person! You guys should totally date b/c you…have that in common?” I also realize it comes from a good place and I feel guilty for cringing at that kind of support – but it keeps me hungry for the day when my kids having two moms is regarded the same as having a single parent or divorced parents or grandma raising you. C’mon progress!

    • Mrs. M.

      oh yes – when we told our parents we wanted to have a close friend officiate (because we didn’t care for the local justice of the peace having just been in a wedding he conducted, and because we’re not religious, and oh wait – because we WANTED this particular friend to officiate) it was almost INSISTED upon that “i know this one person who got ordained, and she’s a well-you-know, like you, and that would be perfect” – yes, thanks – i’d love a perfect stranger to marry me because she’s a LESBIAN as well.

    • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

      We totally got this. Several people have made a point of telling me about their gay relatives or friends to show how supportive they are. Truthfully I don’t care. Just rsvp already!

  • Jules

    I was trying to understand this point of view, so I flipped mine around.

    We’re an interracial couple. I don’t want to say I totally get what it’s like because I know it’s not the same thing and has been legal in all states since 1967, but I’d be annoyed (and confused?) as f*ck if people make a big deal out of that when the time comes, or they ask if our families are upset we’re not marrying within our race, or if we get some sort of award for social progress.

    I just want to be treated as a couple who’s in love and committing the rest of their lives to each other.

    • Laura C

      Mostly it’s not going to compare, but we’re an interracial couple and I think we got a touch of overcompensation in the south, in a community I’ve been a part of for a while that includes a lot of elderly rural people. And I mean, they’re fond of me and would have welcomed anyone I brought, so the overcompensation didn’t clash against the welcome I’d have expected anyway. And since A was nervous about traveling in the south as an interracial couple, it was probably helpful for him.

      It’s sometimes hard for me to separate, since A is one of those people who sails through life with things tending to work out for him and sometimes I’m the beneficiary of that, but I think people are eager to be charmed by us. He’s Indian-American, I’m white, we’re extremely upper middle class, we’re a safe, convenient vehicle for Showing You’re Down, not in the the way over the top way Kelsey describes — people don’t overtly comment on race to us in the way they apparently comment on Kelsey’s wedding being A Gay Wedding — but by going out of their way to tell us we’re a cute couple, stuff like that. And I guess I hope we are a cute couple, but I’m pretty sure we’re not approach-on-the-street-and-say-it-out-of-the-blue cute.

      • Dawn

        I’m white and my husband is Asian, and although it’s not the same, the dynamic Kelsey talks about is not unfamiliar to me. It’s awkward to realize that we’re serving as a way for other people to feel better about themselves, but I try to reframe this as ” we’re giving people a chance to demonstrate the good in themselves.” We definitely get the “cute couple” thing you mention, Laura C. But hey- there’s no way to escape the awkward wedding interactions, and I much prefer to be told by random people that we’re cute (reasonably common) than to be insulted (blessedly rare).

  • AG

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and count me in as one of the people angling for an invite to get some fried chicken and Brussels sprouts!

  • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

    I totally get this. The choir will be a big part of our wedding. Last night they asked what they should wear. I said “bright happy colors” i.e, no black or formal wear. Then someone said “Rainbows!” Uh. No. This is not a gay pride parade. Then other comments about how it is bad to “outshine the bride.” I said that I am uncomfortable with being called the bride when M is clearly not a bride in the cultural sense we mean and she’s clearly not the groom because she’s not a man so I prefer to use our names, not labels. They did not like this. Even the most well meaning people try to put us in either the restrictive gender box or the “gay wedding” box. This is neither. I also know that for some couples who I only know one of the members of the couple (through work, etc), the invitation puts them in a position where they have to explain and ask their spouse/partner about going to a same sex wedding. I’m silently rooting for them!

  • EF

    Ugh, I worry that I’m that person overcompensating. But please be nice to those of us that do!

    Many, many of my college-era friends are gay, mostly because they were the ones around over campus holidays or avoided family, like me. Due to my super-conservative-religious birth family, I wasn’t really welcome at home, and so I found a home with those friends at school. After a couple years I started volunteering with an equality nonprofit, that eventually turned into paid work. In law school I focused on human rights and discrimination, with a large research project undertaken on trans prisoners and how they should be treated. I worked for another gay rights non-profit. Now the part-time lawyer me, as I work on my LLM/masters degree, still does work with ‘the gays’…though these days it’s mostly making sure that trans people realise that things like getting the name on your birth certificate changed is doable and pretty important.

    Oh, I also had two dads from my early teens onwards, after leaving my birth family.

    So when you announce you’re getting married to a lady and I react with an overabundance of excitement, it isn’t tokenism, I promise. It’s legitimate excitement that some hard work over the past decade from a lot of people I’ve worked with has paid off, and now it’s legal in loads of places, and yay equality. And it’s me being excited that you can get married and not have to worry about legal issues like my dads had to. And it’s me being excited that you can mention it to me without having to worry about a homophobic reaction.

    I guess that can often come across as too excited, or overcompensating. Forgive me (those of us) for that. And maybe remind everyone that there’s still work to be done, if it’s really true equality that one cares about.

    • lady brett

      also, as a caveat to my jaded post above, this sentiment is lovely and important:

      “it isn’t tokenism, I promise. It’s legitimate excitement that some hard work over the past decade from a lot of people I’ve worked with has paid off”

      but also complicated. the part of receiving that excitement that is difficult is that my wedding was not a political statement (some people’s wedding are, so there’s that), it was a personal celebration, so it’s awkward to have that placed on it. the part of that that is lovely is that i think the people who have been doing justice work for so long (or who have simply lived through the hard parts) deserve to celebrate the good stuff.

      so i noticed that the type of excitement people had was often generational – we have a number of older lesbian couple friends with who, i think, never thought they would see a gay wedding – at least not here in the south. i suspect the two stranger couples who “came to” our wedding (stopped in a public park to watch) felt the same way. as did my mother – she was overjoyed about the wedding for all the motherly reasons, but she also obsessively shares the photos with everyone she knows because the fact that a gay couple had a (fairly) normal wedding (with our families there) is a *big fucking deal* to her generation.

      then there’s the other side of generational – the queer teenagers we know, who are dealing with all the bizarre trauma of coming out at 13 or 16, were really invested in it as well. i think because they are politically aware of the progress being made in civil rights, but the personal examples of queers who are *not having a hard time* are hard to come by (and so it’s hard to believe) when you’re dealing with shitty parents or shitty schools.

      which is the really long way to say: i totally get what you’re saying, and i definitely agree that it’s important – exciting, even. but if i’m excited about that, i’m excited for *you* not for me. and it is difficult to hold the weight of all of that when your personal feelings about your wedding are as simple as “yay! i’m getting married!”

      • Alison O

        I totally agree along the lines of your last paragraph. I think the overcompensation is not about you (“you” being the non-hetero person getting married). It’s about the person expressing it and their elation that this can happen in the world we live in now. But of course, around one’s wedding, you might want things to feel like they’re about you, and the way you see them.

        (And, flip side: a lot of hate is not *really* about the people it’s directed at, either. It’s about the speaker’s fear, past trauma, anger management issues, etc.)

        As far as political statements, I think that’s also often not about you and your intentions. Sometimes when I ask a waiter if the split pea soup is vegetarian, I feel like it’s taking on resonance as a political statement. As far as I’m concerned, being a veggie head is a very personal choice and I’m not interested in evangelizing. I can take strides not to come off that way, but ultimately it’s not up to me how I’m perceived by others.

        • lady brett

          i’m stealing this: “a lot of hate is not *really* about the people it’s directed at, either. It’s about the speaker’s fear, past trauma, anger management issues, etc.” such a concise way to express my lack of (personal) concern for that sort of thing.

      • EF

        Totally agree with your viewpoint too, as usually, lady brett. It’s more of a general mea culpa I wanted to post, but I definitely understand that there are a lot of views here.

      • i look different

        I find it so difficult to find a balanced reaction to the Generalization piece, especially if it’s an attempt at a positive interaction (if it’s negative, it’s a lot easier to say eff off and be done). Because regardless of whether or not you want to be representing anything, you (read: everyone, and especially non-white-straight-able-bodied individuals in the US) most likely are when you are out in public. And even though the enthusiastic Generalized interaction may be coming from a good place, it can be really offensive or even hurtful in the fact that it completely fails to recognize you as your own individual person. How is one supposed to react to that? With anger? Aggressive aloofness? Gratitude?

  • lady brett

    this! oh my goodness, this.

    the wedding exacerbated it, but it feels like part of a whole underlying assumption that being queer is *really hard* that is just…not my experience (and, to be fair, is really real for a lot of folks).

    somehow the “where are y’all going?” was the one that always raised my hackles the most (actually, still does, because that is the one wedding thing we still get: “oh, you’re married? where did y’all go?”). as someone who has negative interest in getting legally married, the accompanying assumptions that my marriage is “not real” drives me crazy (interestingly, i get that *way more* from gay folks than straight folks).

  • joanna b.n.

    So, here’s another way to look at this. People are jaded SOBs. We all are, and it’s depressing. We are so used to the whole yah yah you love each other enough to legally commit for the rest of our lives in public THING that hetero couples do that we have forgotten how tender, how precious, how exquisite it is. And thus, the WIC lives and breathes in all its ickiness. BUT. But. Maybe what’s happening with you is also this – Somehow your twist on what people are so “over” makes them put fresh perspective on what you’re doing. It IS brave to commit to someone publicly for a lifetime out of feelings in your heart and thoughts in your head, regardless of sexual orientation. And maybe somehow you are reminding people of that. I mean, I get that they are treating you differently, and that is wrong, and probably is coming from some weird wrong places of their discomfort and surprise. But also, perhaps the surprise is a good thing – maybe it helps us all look at marriage anew, and we need that.

    Feel free to correct me and tell me I’m being heteronormative. It’s entirely possible. But there’s something more genuine and more desirable (to me!) about how you’re being treated, that it’d be nice if we could apply more nondiscriminatively: honoring whatever choices brides and grooms make, not expecting them to be wedding-obsessed, and wanting to show support even beyond the bounds of normal politeness. It warms my heart that people are viewing marriage in that light, if even for the wrong reasons. And it sucks that it makes you feel uncomfortable, so I don’t know how to jive the two pieces in my mind. Because why should you have to carry that? But, I guess since you do have to carry that, thank you? For helping us get back to basics. Since I can’t change how people are, I want to at least take the moment to show my appreciation for your patience while the rest of us have a moment.

    I hope that makes a semblance of sense… and on the off chance actually helps you feel some good about their reactions. And sorry if I’m totally off base. Just speaking from my (possibly ignorant) heart.

    • Sarah

      I agree with you here. Two of my male co-workers just got engaged and the excitement and general *squeeing* have been way more than I saw for myself or any of the other hetero couples who have gotten engaged or married recently. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, but they seem really happy and I think people are genuinely happy for them. Are people excited because it’s still a bit of a novelty and they’re looking forward to hearing about a glamorous “gay wedding”? Maybe that too. Do I wish everyone had people genuinely excited for their commitment to their partners? Sure of course. Who couldn’t use some more support and happiness when you’re making such a huge decision. I guess I’d rather people be more over the top than be afraid to say anything at all, but I understand why that’s a burden to some.

  • http://lwdress.com Allie

    Ummm….can I come for the fried chicken though?!

  • Lisa

    At 57, I overcompensate, and I enjoy the overcompensation from others about those “different” paths I take – accepted now after decades of “othering.” I overcompensate to celebrate my growth as the mother of a gay son, I celebrate other people’s overcompensating in reaction to me and mine as a marker that our society has the humanity to change.

    But I’m old. I wholly understand why you feel as you do.

    • Annie

      “I overcompensate to celebrate my growth.” Yes! When we got engaged, I was nervous about how one coworker in particular would respond. I had overheard her saying not very nice things about gay people (not knowing yet that I was queer). Well, she proceeded to follow me into my office after staff meeting, give me a huge bear hug, and tell me how much she loved weddings and have I decided what I wanted to wear yet?

      After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I was so tickled for her and her joy. Her overcompensation was such a beautiful gift to me, and I accepted it for what it was – a sign of her growth. She was uncomfortable with queer folk in the abstract, but once she realized she had worked with one for 2+ years, she put away her old story and embraced a new one.

      It was beautiful and heartwarming, and meant so much more to me that if she had told herself, “I don’t want to overcompensate and possibly offend so I’m not going to say anything at all.”

      (I’m also the person who, when people came out to me, used to act like it was NBD.”Let’s go about our business, I’m down with the cause.” Then I came out and I was so appreciative of the 1-2 close friends who responded with excessive? enthusiasm and honored my story in a big way. So maybe I just have a flair for the dramatic.)

      • ML

        Her reaction sounds authentic and normal, not overcompensation. I think it’s expected for people who know you to be very happy for your engagement, but it seems what Kelsey is talking about is something way beyond that, where people construct their own story of what it’s like to get gay married and erupt in virtual applause for the battle they have painted in their mind. This latter approach disregards a person’s actual life experience, and I think that’s the problem.

        • Annie

          Totally get that distinction, and I agree with what Kelsey’s saying in her post. I think it’s so important to let people craft their own narrative.

          I think your comment is a great example of that, actually. What seems like overcompensation to one person (my experience of my distant coworker’s sudden over-the-top enthusiasm for me) may seem totally normal to someone else, because we have different life experiences.

          What I was trying to say re: Lisa’s idea of overcompensating as a way to celebrate growth was this: a lot is going on when people are overcompensating, for both people.

          And, people generally overcompensate because they want to connect and be supportive. Sometimes I can handle their desire to connect and acknowledge the spirit behind their intentions. Sometimes I can’t, for many of the reasons Kelsey describes above.

          I get tired and distrustful of being someone’s Tolerance Merit Badge. But I don’t want people to stop trying to connect or be more accepting. They just might need to adjust their thoughts, words and actions to be less othering, like Kelsey suggests.

  • Aly

    I totally get this and I agree with so many comments, but I have to also say, as someone who lived in Atlanta for most of my gay adult life but now lives in a much smaller, more conservative town–this is a liberal-city-dwelling problem.

    When my family moved to this smaller, Southern city, I slipped into a super defensive mode wherein I expected everyone from the preschool director to the grocery checkout person to be disgusted by us. What I found was mostly the opposite. People, strangers even, often go out of their ways to connect with us–even if it is through the gay roommate they had in college one time or that Macklemore song. These small acts of compassion have basically saved my soul and restored my hope in humanity.

    It would be awesome if I didn’t fear rejection by strangers just for who I’m married to, but that’s not the world (or the city) we live in, so I’ll take whatever goodness, however awkward it can sometimes be, that people offer.

    • Meigh McPants

      ” I’ll take whatever goodness, however awkward it can sometimes be, that people offer.”
      This. Exactly.

  • Jessica

    I’ve been trying to put into words the experience of planning a Gay Wedding since I started a few months ago, and this is so so so much of it. The first thing people usually say is not Congratulations!! it’s: how does your family feel?! Are they happy? Are they supportive? It’s a constant othering. Thank you. <3

  • Mezza

    You know what, I was prepared for both overcompensation and rejection surrounding my wedding last fall, but I got NEITHER. It was so weird! I mean, yes, half my family didn’t come and has basically disowned me now, but I saw that coming. And yes, our photographer did our photos for free, but it was in exchange for permission to use them in a book she’s making. I didn’t give any vendors a heads-up that we were both women, aside from crossing out “groom” and writing two female names on information forms, and the DJ was the only one who said anything about it (assuring us that his brother was gay and he’d done gay weddings before and it would all be great). I have no idea if the florist even knew we were both women, because my mom dealt with the flowers and she very well might not have said anything. I think the most hilarious experience was going into Ulta to investigate fancy makeup and trying to explain to the consultant that yes, we were BOTH getting married, and yes it was on the same day, and actually it was to each other… And then a lightbulb went on and she was clearly surprised but said nothing further about it. And then we bought a lot of makeup.

    I don’t know, maybe it helped that we were very low-key about the whole thing, or that this was a liberal-ish city in a non-equality red state. Or maybe I just didn’t notice any weird reactions because I was so uncomfortable being the center of attention!

  • MisterEHolmes

    I completely understand why that would be awkward and difficult…

    But at the same time, as a gay marriage ally in a religious Southern area –and who doesn’t actually personally know more than one gay couple– I’m sort of at a loss. Because of this very very red state, it’s *assumed* that I oppose gay marriage. I can’t do things like put the flair in my FB because that would make my work situation uncomfortable, but sometimes I really do just want to wave a little victory flag and say “yay!” because …I don’t know what else I can do. How, as an ally, can I be supportive — besides putting my puny little vote against the jerkwad political candidates?

    • Meg

      It’s not about you and your ally feelings, it’s about the feelings of the actual people in this situation. Be kind and respectful and don’t treat your gay friends any different from your straight friends.

      • Jenny

        But isn’t she treating her wedding differently, by calling ahead to the vendors and such to make sure they were okay with a lesbian wedding? Isn’t that overcompensating? But then to get upset or annoyed when other people overcompensate? I really am not understanding the point.
        In general I think America is just overcorrecting. They tipped too far one way, and now they are tipping too far the other way. It will eventually even out. In the meantime, I agree with AJ. If someone meets you with kindness and joy and excitement for you, accept it with kindness and appreciation. The world can be a cold, harsh place. Find joy and accept joy when and where you can.

    • Aj

      Follow your friends’ lead. If they express excitement around political events, share their excitement. If they don’t, don’t. The best ally is the one who treats others how they want to be treated.

    • Anon

      Don’t discount voting. Voting is important! The right is way too good at getting their people out to vote, especially on “culture war” issues. Too many people sit it out, either thinking “well, it doesn’t really apply to me” or “my vote really won’t make a difference”, and then we wonder why we’ve got this system that doesn’t reflect us.

  • SarahG

    Weddings have so much history and tradition, and so much of that is straight. As a queer person who’s been to a lot of queer and straight weddings, what I generally love more about queer weddings I’ve attended is that folks have really REALLY really thought about it and that fact shines through in the whole event (this sometimes happens with opposite sex weddings, but not always). A lot of the queer weddings I’ve attended were not legally binding, and people did not necessarily have the expectation that legal recognition was a-comin’. They felt to me, at the time, like really pure expressions of love and joy by people who had often been together for many many years. Kind of amazing. I imagine that this will shift more and more now as queer weddings become more common, and I’m glad about that, but I definitely have extra emotion associated with queer weddings that isn’t to do with “yay for our gay equality!” but just the history and tradition of what weddings mean, and the history and tradition of queer communities. I think a lot of people “map” their own feelings onto these types of milestone events. I can totally see how that gets tiresome; just sharing my thoughts about what I bring to them.

    • Aj

      yes! “what I generally love more about queer weddings I’ve attended is that folks have really REALLY really thought about it and that fact shines through in the whole event” – for me and the weddings I’ve attended it seems like a triumphant celebration in addition to the already wonderful celebration that comes with a wedding…and as you say, maybe that’s my own feelings and experience as a queer person being projected but at least within my friends I don’t think it’s not a shared sentiment. every same sex wedding I’ve attended has at least addressed history, tradition, and marriage equality at some point in the ceremony or reception.

  • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

    I’m so grateful for APW. This is a safe place for me to talk sometimes. I want to say out loud to the universe (and APW counts as that for me) that I’m disappointed that although our wedding is NINE days away, not one person either at my work or at church has offered to throw a wedding shower. I don’t know how I would actually respond if someone did offer but not having someone offer to do this for us feels like our marriage isn’t taken seriously. Yes, I know, that’s my projection but at the same time that’s how I feel. My office has done something for every person before me who’s gotten married. And yet, no one has brought this up. Not even a lunch. Nothing. So at my church our (female) minister’s wife is pregnant and people are falling all over themselves to host a baby shower, even with the expectation that I would organize it, but I have declined. The day they have picked was a day that I already had scheduled as a “no plan day” for me and M but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be involved because to be honest, I’m hurt. But it doesn’t make sense to be hurt because there are so many supportive people. Feelings are complicated and they’re not always mature, but they are what they are. Man, weddings are complicated stuff.

    • StevenPortland

      Sorry to hear about that. I want to say that people aren’t purposefully acting that way by not offering to host a shower for you, but really people in this day and age should know better. If someone in the office has thrown a shower for everyone else who was engaged, then by not offering one to you is in very poor taste. And then to have the church assume you should be hosting the baby shower just makes it worse! I would have a lot of trouble processing through that. I’d also be looking for other signs. If those people at the office buy you a really nice wedding gift then obviously their hearts are on your side.

      • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

        Thank you, Meg and Steven. Having a community like this makes a huge difference for me. Well, I will be in the office for four more work days before our wedding. We’ll see what happens. In reality there is no way to say, “Why is no one throwing us a wedding shower?” without sounding like a pouty three year old. It is what it is. I do know that individually they are supportive and that in and itself is very important. Thank you for listening and responding. It makes me feel less crazy; less like there’s something wrong with me.

        • ART

          i’m glad you honored your no-plan day – those are really important. so, *not* the same, but at my old company a group of ladies always would take each other out to lunch for their birthdays. i got invited along, and we would all chip in to buy the birthday gal lunch. my birthday is the same week as Christmas, and there was not even a whisper of doing a birthday lunch for me the week before or after. like i said, not remotely the same, but i totally get that feeling of…but, what about me? why can’t you guys get it together for me – i chipped in for all YOUR celebrations! and not being able to say anything because then you’re saying THROW ME A PARTY DAMMIT, and when you get invited to the next person’s shower, you can’t say “well, i felt really left out that you guys didn’t do one for me, so i’m gonna sit these out from now on.” it sucks, and you’re not crazy for feeling down about it, they SHOULD know better. virtual shower: http://images2.fanpop.com/image/photos/9400000/Aaaaaawwwwwwwwww-Sweet-puppies-9415255-1600-1200.jpg
          http://www.runffm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/vintage_cupcakes-2560×1600.jpg

          • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

            You have made my day! These pics are absolutely fantastic. My APW community has really come through. Thank you for understanding.

        • Jess

          I was going to say that maybe they just kind of didn’t think of it or weren’t purposefully acting that way (like Steven)… because I wouldn’t think of doing that for anybody I work with getting married. And then…

          I got to the part where they had done it for everyone else at your work site/your church was super eager to throw a baby shower for someone else, and my heart broke for you.

          I’m glad that they are individually being supportive/happy for you, even if the group as a whole doesn’t have their thing together.

          • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

            I’ve had to remind myself that while my colleagues are great caring people, they are also very work oriented (as they should be) and sometimes aren’t always the best at noticing what’s missing. It might occur to someone next Thursday when I’m not at work. It might occur to someone in choir after next Wednesday’s rehearsal. Who knows. In any case, I know that they do care even if they don’t have the wherewithal to see beyond their current work/church projects. I also think in some ways my efforts to not appear like a bridezilla (and around here we know we hate that word) might have also backfired. In our culture there is so much pressure to not be a bridezilla that in response we can come off seeming like we don’t care. We do. I’m just trying not to be obnoxious about it. It’s a fine line to walk sometimes. I’m so glad I have a few friends that I can talk in private about this. APW is definitely one of those “friends.”

    • Meg Keene

      Well. I don’t even think I’m hormonal today and I just had to stop myself from crying.

      I wish I could throw you a shower :/

  • Mary

    While prepping for my own gay wedding, the one sentiment that caught me off guard was “Omg YAY this is going to be my First Gay Wedding!!” I felt a lot of pressure to make it a totally exciting, life-transforming and deeply meaningful ceremony & reception to fulfill expectations of our guests’ First Gay Wedding. Obviously my wedding had to set the example and tone for every other gay wedding out there! (Right??) But on the inside, I just wanted a silly and nerdy tiny wedding. Which we did have, in the end, but not without wrist-wringing and an extra dash of anxiety.

    • Meg Keene

      I just realized I’ve never been to a gay wedding! Whut? But then I also realized that our friends get married basically never, so I’ve also been to shockingly few weddings period. And our closest gay friends are already married or single.

      Interesting that I never thought about it though. Huh.

      • joanna b.n.

        Um, Meg, didn’t you THROW a gay wedding in New York a while back? Not to quibble…

        • Meg Keene

          Oh right! Two of them! Good point. Good point.

      • Jules

        Wait. Meg Keene has been to shockingly few weddings ever? The irony.

        • Meg Keene

          No irony. If I went to weddings all the time, there is no way I could do this job (or have any perspective). I don’t want to work for a month after any big wedding I… end up running. One of the reasons I started the site is we were one of the first of our friends to get married. Our friends were not the marrying type, so we were stuck between a crazy cultural narrative and a lot of people who really didn’t get it.

          We’re never going to go to very many weddings, and very few traditional ones. We go to about two a year. Usually one super non traditional (next week’s Thursday afternoon reception in a bar after they go to the courthouse), one maybe kinda traditional (with the couples two year old child kind of thing) and that’s a big year. That’s what happens when you grow up poor and then have bohemian friends.

          • Jules

            That…makes total sense and is very refreshing. One of the reasons I lurk around APW is because my circle of family and friends IS very traditional. I don’t mean that in a judgy way – it’s more that I didn’t quite know what’s possible outside the realm of What I Already Know, other than I’m not 100% comfortable with the way things have always been done. I’ve been to upwards of 20 weddings (I’m 23), all but two of them uber-traditional (one courthouse wedding for visa purposes, one SUPER Quaker wedding). Not one of the others lived with their partner beforehand, never a single gay wedding, and only one was for a couple over 30. So…it’s neat to be able to come and poke around and see what else is out there. It’d be a lie to say I don’t feel like I face enormous [well-intentioned?] social pressures from people in my circle. I also heard a lot of stuff when I was younger that stuck with me, and I wonder if people will say the same thing about me when the time comes.

    • Ashlee

      My own wedding is going to be my First Gay Wedding. So I totally don’t know what I’m doing, but I definitely feel that pressure to Do It Right and Represent The Community, because it will be the same for many of our guests. But I/we are still figuring out my/our place in The Community, which is a whole blog post in and of itself, and I feel like I don’t have the street cred to be throwing a First Gay Wedding. Even though marrying another woman should be enough street cred? If that makes any sense.

      Our venue coordinator was super cute and upfront about how this is their first gay wedding, but it was said in a very low-pressure, somewhat apologetic, but super-excited-to-jump right-in kind of way, which is what made me like her so much (they list themselves as LGBT-friendly, which is why we even considered them, but it’s a small-potatoes place and it’s only been legal in Maryland for a little over a year).

  • Ariel

    Fried chicken and crispy Brussels sprouts?! Count me in!

  • Heather

    Very cool, Kelsey! It’s funny–we had someone do the same thing two weeks before our wedding–she only wanted to attend the ceremony since she didn’t want us to have to pay for her dinner. Same answer…especially since we had to pay for anyone attending the ceremony as well. Totally weird.

  • Meigh McPants

    “I don’t know how to respond to these seemingly well-intentioned people.”
    The way I did it was gently and politely correcting them on whatever misconception they were spouting (and then laughed about it with my friends/fiancee later.) I know we all get tired of educating others sometimes (like, “who elected me spokesperson for THE GAYS today?”), but hey, maybe think of it like you’re saving the next homo couple from the awkward? Also, one of the things I’ve learned as a wedding planner is that all weddings have at least a few awkward, uncomfortable interactions somewhere in the planning. It’s a thing. When this stuff happens (the awkward rather than directly hateful) I figure I can either get upset or laugh about it, and one of those options makes me feel crappy and one of those options makes me feel joy. I do my best most of the time to pick joy.

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    Awesome post. I am a dudette marrying a dude, so this is not something I experience. All the more reason to have posts like this. Positive Othering is still Othering.

  • Cee

    THANK YOU. This is so, so good. I wish people would realize that their hyped-up excitement often feels forced and does exactly what you say, puts us into neat little gender-proscribed boxes. Even my partner’s dad fell prey to this— “this will be the first gay wedding I’ve ever attended!” and my partner had to sit him down and gently explain that we were just having a *wedding,* and that the only difference from the usual would be that there would be two women wearing dresses.

    There’s also that weird heteonormativity that floats throughout, too, the reinforcement of the masculine / feminine partner (which obviously is not a problem, but not all of us are like that! and I’ve seen more than one relationship troubled by the idea that one of them has to be masculine of center and the other feminine). One thing that I’m so, so grateful for, is my mom (who didn’t start out this way, but has come to speak really wonderfully about it). I don’t identify as a lesbian, which she knows (out and proud bi lady!). So when people call me such, she says she doesn’t think about us in terms of labels, but in terms of “Cee Loves Partner, and they’ve been together for seven years, and Cee’s Partner is like a daughter to me.”

    Which is all that I could ever want.

    • YOQ

      Your mom sounds AWESOME!

      My (female) partner and I have not hit much overcompensation or rejection, thankfully, but there have been some moments…like when one of my longtime (also bi, female) friends asked “so who’s the bride, or are you both going to wear tuxes?” Um, both of us are brides (if by “bride” you mean “woman getting married,”) and although neither of us is very femmey, we’ll both be wearing dresses. ‘Cuz we do that sometimes. (Nothing against pants! But we don’t want to attempt to conform to some heteronormative standard for what a wedding should look like–one person in tux, one in white dress–and dresses feel right to us for our wedding day.)

    • lady brett

      that’s funny – i think the weird gender comments we got came right out of overcompensation for these same gender role assumptions. except for us it was like people who know us really well were trying so hard to not make assumptions that they came off sounding like they had never met us – we both got asked by *everybody* whether or not we would be wearing a dress…which, um, i wear a dress every day, and on the other hand my spouse hasn’t worn a dress in their adult life. so…that’s just awkward, not accepting.

      • EF

        heehee don’t worry, people ask me, gender non-comforming and engaged to a guy, if I’m going to wear a dress or a tux. gender, and non-conforming roles, have stereotypes no matter what.

  • Sarah

    Please accept my happiness and my best of the best wishes for you and Julie. Marriage is awesome. You’ll love it!

  • Maggie H.

    Over-the-top solicitousness is never pleasant. I always want to say, “Act normal, person. Your are not making me feel extra-good-about-my-situation with your superlatives or your clearly feigned giddy enthusiasm. In fact, your response is having quite the opposite effect. It’s making me uncomfortable, it feels like you’re lying, and I’m going to come away from this feeling extra bad, not extra good.” It’s especially trying when people offer you comfort when you were not feeling uncomfortable to begin with. It’s like, “Wait, are you actually trying to make me feel uncomfortable about this? Because, before you mentioned _____, I didn’t realize it was even a problem.” But I suppose most people have good intentions and simply don’t know that they’re actually being hurtful with their awkward, solicitous ways. And when someone feels even slightly uncomfortable or on the spot, this awkwardness is just magnified exponentially. I guess the bottom line is that, like so many other horrible cultural phenomena, homophobia is tragically part of our collective conscious. It’s at the back of even the least homophobic person’s mind, manipulating their thoughts and actions. *Panics* “Oh, god, I’m not homophobic, but I know they’ve had to deal with so many people who are, so I’d better singlehandely make up for this misbehavior. I better not say the wrong thing as to not look like an a-hole.” *Says something stupid and solicitous* *Looks like an a-hole* So, as you clearly know, it’s not that all or even most the people you’re dealing with are
    homophobic, but they know homophobia is a big-ass problem that you have
    to deal with, and as long as you keep getting overcompensating responses, you’re sadly reminded of this little thought at the back of people’s minds. It’s kinda like how if we let the terrorists change our behavior, the terrorists won — if we think of the homophobes, the racists, the sexists, the fatists, etc. of this world and let them have any control over our genuine responses to people, they’ve all freakin’ won. I’m gonna work on this, Kelsey, and I hope others do, too, until the awareness of the jerks of the world doesn’t have any bearing on what comes out of our mouths. If we forget about them, they lose their power. And, overall, the just lose.

  • Aj

    as a lady who just married a lady, I didn’t meet with overcompensation. maybe because we live in liberal LA where same sex marriage is not. a. big. deal. additionally all our vendors were friends who are in the business or were queer themselves.

    we did make a big deal out of social justice concerns and being able to finally legally marry (we’ve been together forever) in our ceremony. and we had our mentors (a married pair of ladies) officiate and they really focused on this in their parts of the ceremony. the result was that even our closest friends (the straight ones) who knew about marriage equality and were obviously pro, shared that they learned something about what it was we had experienced since we were first engaged 5+ years ago. for most it was the first same sex marriage they had attended (legal or not, this was true for both our gay and straight friends). and for the staff at the venue where we had both the ceremony and reception this was the first same sex wedding they had hosted – one of the bartenders told us he was gay and had never attended a same sex wedding but witnessing our had given him hope and an image of what could be possible for him.

    TL;DR in our planning our same sexness rarely came up at all – but we worked mostly with friends and with other queer folks – and in our ceremony and reception it did but by choice and design and it served to make the ceremony all the sweeter and the reception all the more joyous.

  • Taoshka

    THANK YOU. I’m a woman, about to marry a woman, and you’ve put into words the feelings I could not

  • 1/2aMrsandMrs

    As someone who is half of a “lady lady couple” that is currently planning a wedding, I have to say, I would love to have this problem.
    I think a lot of Hetero couples actually probably face the same problem. People not reacting with pure joy and love, but instead getting caught up in details that seem relatively unimportant in your mind. Hopefully you have a few core friends/loved ones who get it and truly share in your joy.

    But as someone who went through multiple vendors who refused to rent to a gay couple, has two relatives attending the wedding, neither of which are thrilled that my partner will be wearing a dress and I will be wearing pants, and dealing with those awkward uncomfortable silences of people who don’t know what to say….

    Someone being overly sympathetic, or trying too hard or being too excited doesn’t sound like something to be unhappy about. The truth is, this gay thing is old hat to us gays, but new and scary and exciting to a large part of the population. I say, if they don’t respond with just the right reactions, we still cut them some slack, and are grateful that they’re trying.

    I can’t tell you the number of older lesbians I know who have spent their whole lives hiding, and not knowing the level of acceptance we are lucky enough to experience. I guess that’s my overarching theme. Someday, our weddings will be commonplace, and treated just as casually as Hetero weddings. But for now, they’re not commonplace yet. And any positive reaction should be considered just that…a positive.

  • J.J.

    I had a strong reaction when my fiancee read this essay to me this morning. I live in LA now (easy place to plan, at least when it comes to acceptance) but I’m from a tiny, tiny town in Central Illinois where I was ostracized and taunted for being gay before (and after) I was even out to myself. It was pretty awful back then, and I would imagine if we were planning there, we would be facing a GREAT deal of this overcompensation business (and some good old-fashioned outright discrimination). My mom is kind of the queen of it, actually. And while it can be pretty gross (I am fairly allergic to phoniness in pretty much any situation), I have to see it as a sign of movement in the right direction. People can’t be expected to react the exact same way to our weddings as they would to those to which their personal experience and societal conditioning has exposed them for years and years. They have not been exposed to years and years of images of and actual weddings with two brides and two grooms. Or two wives, for that matter, just living life, weddings aside.

    They’ve got to figure it out. An individual doesn’t go to sleep a bigot and wake up accepting and open. Neither does a collective society. So folks are uncomfortable. So they get excited and nervous and mess up. They’re human. They are figuring it out. Let’s let them. Let’s figure it out with them? We also don’t know where the tears came from in the eyes of that stranger whose last name you don’t know. Maybe her son just came out to her yesterday and she is thrilled to see someone thriving as an out gay person in the world. Maybe the somber woman who asks about your family has a husband who will never accept their gay daughter and while she’s hoping you’ll say “Yes! They’re coming!” she could also share a human moment of understanding if you say someone important will be missing. Everyone has their own story. If we go into our interaction with others looking for the good, for the compassion, for the common ground, many (if not all) times we will find it. The opposite is also true.

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    Okay, as a female with a female fiance, this made my chuckle out loud at some points…because it’s so true. I mean, yes to everything.

  • Adelaidey

    YUP. I live in a state with marriage equality and I’ve been out since I was fifteen. When I first got engaged, a man who I’ve been close friends with for thirteen years presented the weirdest reaction ever. He said “I just want you know know, even if we weren’t friends, I’d be at your wedding, front and center, because people need to stand up and say ‘Hey, this is right. This is okay!’, you know?” I was not at all prepared for that completely bonkers response.