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.