What Does a Trans Femme Wear to a Southern Wedding?


Being fabulous shouldn’t be this complicated

by Najva Sol, Brand Director

Tux jacket with shoulder seam ruffles and bejeweled broach
Q: My partner invited me to his high school friend’s wedding and, excitedly, it marks my first adult wedding for not-my-family. That being said, I’m running into a wall on what to wear. My partner and I are both black trans people; he passes as male, and while I pass most often as male, I identify as femme and appreciate a pretty androgynous gender presentation. High school friend is white, cisgender, straight, and from the sound of it, down with it. She’s friends enough with my partner to invite him and he wants to drive to another state to go to this wedding. That’s gotta speak to something her being accepting, but who knows about family and other guests. A lot of the “how to dress if you’re queer” wedding guides are for masculine-of-center presentation. I’m not interested in wearing a whole dress or going full femme—again, I don’t know these people, and as two black queer trans kids at a wedding in the South, we aren’t trying to push any boundaries this summer—but if anyone has any good options that come to mind, that’d be very helpful.

Alternatively, if sh*t hits the fan and I don’t feel comfortable staying for the whole reception, what is a way to politely bow out without overly stressing my partner? I know he wouldn’t want to leave me in a position where I felt uncomfortable, but I want to support the fact that this is kind of a reunion for the high school friends, since he doesn’t go back home to see them all that often. Should we make a plan before? What would that look that? I’ve already voiced my general concerns to him, but we’re both not sure how our presence is going to go down.

Any and all help is appreciated!

—Not Gay as in Happy, but Queer as in Fuck This

A:

Phew. It’s clear to me from your question you’ve got a whole rainbow of feelings. You’re all, “Yay adult weddings, but will I survive it? Yay fabulous truth, but can I express it?” There’s a super delicate balance, and you’re on a tightrope. Let’s get the basics out of the way: whatever you wear or don’t wear, whenever you leave or don’t leave, there’s no clear “right” choice. I can give you options and break it down, but this isn’t about me knowing better. I don’t. And who knows? All your worries may be unfounded.

That being said, you can’t attend naked. So what’s a femme black trans androgynous person to wear to a white straight Southern wedding? Well, it depends. On one hand you’ve got full normal boy drag, which is maybe your safest bet since you said you generally pass, but might feel inauthentic. Usually I’m a big fan of flying your freak flag high, but there’s nothing wrong with flying it a little low in certain situations. So I get the desire to nix a dress, while still wanting some flair. So for that lovely dapper genderfuck fashion icon, I’d look to Prince, my personal style hero (here’s some of his best looks for inspiration). You could aim for a touch of femme: a shirt with a ruffled collar or flowing sleeves, a little makeup, an earring (or a Yes Homo ring), platform shoes, silk/satin fabric choices, and/or floral/brightly colored/metallic accessories. To the less gender-spectrum-savvy folks at the wedding you’d probably just read as artsy, but I’d see you loud and queer.

But sometimes no amount of “trying not to make waves” is enough to keep shit from hitting the proverbial fan, and I’m the kind of person who loves a backup plan. A wedding is not a safe space. While many, many marginalized folks attend weddings because they want to be present for people they love, so often that includes lots of accepting microaggressions, casual racism, awkward homophobia, etc. Personally, I can put up with a lot to support and spend time with the people I love, but these aren’t even your friends (yeah I said it)! So, yes, if you need to make an exit, I’d say go for it, so long as nobody’s night is going to be ruined. So really I’d make two plans: one for leaving early, and one for walking it off (depending on how bad things get).

I can’t stress this enough: if you’re leaving early, don’t secretly expect your partner to leave with you, and let them know you aren’t going to judge them or punish them for staying. Make sure you have separate ways of getting home (is a cab an option?) or that you’re willing to leave and go hang somewhere for a bit and pick up your partner afterward. It’s not that hard to leave a party early without ruffling feathers—just slip out with minimal goodbyes. You can always say you need to leave early to lay down, which makes me think of someone languishing over a chaise lounge and not at all like someone triggered who needs to practice self-care stat.

All that being said, there’s something romantic about lingering ’til the end of a party together and going home on the wave of the evening. If you’re a little bit sentimental like me, you could also figure out a way to subtlety motion to your partner (like a safe word or a gesture) that you’ll take a little space so they don’t worry (go for a solo walk? Step away? Call someone?) and then come back when you’re slightly recharged.

You got this, NGAIHBQAIFT! Think of this wedding as a fun exercise in boundaries and compromise, with bonus fancy outfits. Fingers crossed that all the fretting is really overkill, everyone is absurdly welcoming, and you forget all about everything, cry over the vows, and generally have a ball. But if not, you’ve got a plan and a supportive partner who is willing to work with you, which is more than a lot of people. Good luck!

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY!

Najva Sol

Najva Sol is a queer Iranian-American writer, photographer, branding consultant, artist, and ex-poet.  She’s the token staff Slytherin and—while formally based in Brooklyn—tends to travel as much as possible. Storytelling is her life, but making chicken broth is a close second.

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  • sofar

    One of our wedding guests was a straight male who prefers feminine attire. Like LW, he was worried about causing a ruckus on our wedding day (although we’d assured him we’d have his back).

    He wore:

    -Skinny pants
    -Flowy silk shirt with a blazer

    -Ankle boots with heels that were higher than mine

    -Make-up and jewelry
    -Glossy hair

    So, a very Prince aesthetic.

    Our conservative relatives didn’t really notice/care. They know that we have “friends who are different and interesting” (as our mothers put it) and had honestly probably made a conscious decision to ignore everyone they weren’t related to.

    • <3 "friends who are different and interesting" <3 <3

    • Jess

      I am so here for the Prince aesthetic. The end.

    • savannnah

      When my mom got grilled by her relatives from long island about who all these androgynous looking guests were at my sister and her wife’s wedding she just said ‘oh they live in the city’ and her relatives were like ‘oh’ and then we moved onto cake and that was it.

      • sofar

        Your family = my family.

      • Kat

        I suspect this is how my grandmother describes me when she lists all the grandkids. “So and so has two kids, so and so is getting married this fall…Kat lives in the city.”

    • NotMotherTheresa

      True story: Had it not been for an unexpected financial setback, my extremely heterosexual high school boyfriend would have shown up for our southern church wedding wearing a sundress and pearls. With a beard and short hair.
      There is no moral to this story, nor any practical advice. But I still hate that his car picked such a poor time to need a new engine, because I really think a grizzled oil rig worker in pearls and a sundress would have been a lovely addition to our whitebread wedding.

      • sofar

        I agree! I find myself wishing for your sake he’d made it.

        I’ve always felt weddings are the perfect opportunity to force folks to play nicely with people they’d normally avoid.

  • Jenny

    I am trying to understand better the LGBT+ language, because I never had much contact with anyone who identifies themselves as LGBT+. But I couldn’t really understand how NGAIHBQAIFT identifies him/herself in this sentence: “My partner and I are both black trans people; he passes as male, and while I pass most often as male, I identify as femme and appreciate a pretty androgynous gender presentation.” Could someone please explain so I can become less ignorant?

    • lirr

      I’m not trans, so if I get anything wrong, somebody please correct me! (especially the letter writer if you’re around!!) That said, here’s what I took from that sentence:

      – “My partner and I are both black trans people” –> the letter writer and partner both identify as a different gender than the one assigned at birth

      – “he passes as male” –> most people assume LW’s partner is male, and he prefers male pronouns.

      – “I pass most often as male” –> most people assume LW is male

      – “I identify as femme and appreciate a pretty androgynous gender presentation” –> LW doesn’t consider themselves a man or a woman, but it’s not like they’re perfectly in the middle of the gender spectrum either – they feel feminine and like to express that in their appearance.

    • Jessica

      Are you looking for definitions or how the LW identifies themselves, as in Transman/woman, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, etc?

      • Jenny

        Both, I guess. I am a bit confused (specially because English is not my native language). What does it mean “pass as” and how they identify themselves?

        • Abby

          For definitions, this pretty comprehensive list of definitions might help: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/#sthash.CmpA2FXC.dpbs (https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/gender-identity-101-the-definitive-guide-to-discussing-gender-in-the-21st-centu/2/ is a shorter term list and also has some basic explanations on the first page of the article).

        • Abby

          And one more thing I will note here–to the extent part of the confusion is caused by cisnormative brainwaves saying you need to know what gender someone was assigned at birth in order to figure out what they look like/who they are now, try to turn that off. Because the point is that the gender they were assigned at birth was wrong, so it’s irrelevant to the whole inquiry.

          • Lisa

            I agree 100% in turning of the cisnormative brainwaves as a goal of life. However, in this case we are trying to help this person sort out clothing for a wedding. Most likely, sounds like the people at the wedding will in fact be trying to sort out what gender this person was assigned at birth, because they haven’t yet moved to this new world. (I’m 60, heterosexual cisgender female, so probably a reasonable proxy for people who grew up without knowing any of how this all worked.) As a result, we can maybe give better advice here on what alerts might be set off by clothing, if we know what gender the guests will assume, if, of course, that’s what the person wants to know. xoxoxox.

          • Jessica

            But I think the letter as written seemed to make it relevant (or at least, I’m with Jenny in finding it a bit confusing). Navja seemed to know exactly how to respond, but I wasn’t sure if the answer would have been different if the LW had said, “I’m a person who sometimes presents as male but prefers an androgynous/femme identity, how can my wedding attire reflect this?” vs “I’m a transperson who…[same as above]” It’s hard to tell from the letter if their biggest concern is pushing social boundaries too much, or having their gender identity be misinterpreted (like maybe being seen as a woman rather than as a femme transperson?)

          • Jenny

            Thank you :) I completely understand what you mean, Abby. :) ingenually didn’t understand the sentence and was trying hard to ignore the “gender assigned at birth”. I just think that for the specific letter we should understand LW’s identity or else we can’t give the advice LW wants. Of course we can say something like “wear whatever makes you comfortable” which is the most important but I think LW is looking for something more than that.

    • K.K.

      I’ll give it a try. :) “Pass as” just means that someone who doesn’t know that person would assume he was male without thinking too hard about it. So LW is saying their partner uses male pronouns and most people will think he is male when they see him, which probably means he will also wear typical male wedding attire. For themselves, it’s more complicated. They don’t give their preferred pronouns (which is why I’m using ‘they’), and while they often are thought to be male, prefer to be towards the femme side of things and present themselves pretty androgynously. The hangup is that wedding-level fancy clothes don’t easily come in androgynous. Hence the letter.

      Once potentially-relevant piece of information we don’t have is what LW’s partner’s gender identity and presentation were in HS. If he presented differently than male in high school and the old high school crowd is aware of and cool with the change, we have a lot more information about how cool they’re likely to be with LW showing up dressed way off the gender binary.

      • Jessica

        Thanks, this is helpful. I had only heard of “passing” used when talking about race, and from the link of definitions that Abby provided, it sounds like it’s controversial in some circles.

        • Jenny

          Thank you for your reply. :) Makes more sense to me now

  • Capybara

    First of all, I love your signoff. Second of all, have you been to qwear dot com? I think there’s a lot in there to inspire a trans femme attending a Southern wedding, while still keeping it bifurcated enough to not “push any boundaries.”

    Lastly, how to handle events when one of you wants to leave early is just one of those things every couple deals with. Here’s an option: what if you made you leaving early and him staying your Plan A? If you’re enjoying yourself, it won’t be hard to switch to Plan B and stay, but depending on your style, setting “LW leaves early” as the default might take some of the pressure off.

    I’ll admit we don’t have it 100% figured out in our relationship. Usually the one who is tired/not feeling the event goes off into another room to nap until the other’s done. (If it’s a hotel wedding this would be easy!) Sometimes if it’s really important, one of us will tough it out — but that’s only for exceptional circumstances, not normal things.

    • Sarah E

      That’s a really good way to plan. And totally true that it’s relevant to many couples, many situations. The “what time do you want to leave” conversation happens most times we go out, and saves me the fruitless eyebrow-waggling when I’m tired or bored.

      • Amandalikeshummus

        That means your partner will leave at the agreed upon time and not keep chatting. We have a difference of upbringing that sometimes drives me bonkers. He and his family says, “Okay, we should go soon,” then does not go soon. My family says the same and gets packed up to go.

        • Ashlah

          Oh god, my husband literally doesn’t know how to leave social situations. We were at his company picnic over the weekend, and we were chatting with a couple friends who were about to take off, and he goes, “How do we even leave?!” And we all cracked up because…you just leave? Tell people you’re leaving, give them a hug or a handshake and leave! But when he walks up to people to supposedly say goodbye, he instead starts a whole, long conversation about some random thing. I think he feels like he’s being rude by telling people he’s leaving, instead of chatting? I’m not sure, but it takes ages to actually get away!

        • Kat

          Oh my goshhhh we refer to this as a “Jewish goodbye,” especially when referring to his mother and aunts. “We should get going” means “We’ll start putting our coats on in another hour then spend 40 minutes chatting in the doorway and the driveway after that.”

          • CB

            In my family, we call this CSG – Can’t Say Goodbye! Can last forever!

  • Oof

    A schmancy jumpsuit? Culottes?
    A slightly more masculine-presenting outfit with an opulent purse (I’m picturing beading?) and other accessories (huge colorful earrings?) could look hella festive but allow for adjustment if you decide you’d like to fly a little more under the radar.

  • Amy March

    Just fashion wise, there is nothing whatsoever that screams masculine to me about a seersucker suit and a pastel shirt and a pretty floral boutonnière (no reason why a guest can’t wear one), and yet it’s also classic southern attire. If you’re looking to push boundaries without really pushing them of course.

    • Angela’s Back

      +100000

    • GotMarried!

      YES!!! I am still saddened no-one showed up to my southern summer wedding in seersucker!

  • Lu

    I think it’s fine and good to have a talk with your partner ahead of time about maybe needing to take a break or leave early! As long as, like Najva said, you really do mean it that you don’t need him to leave with you. So as long as you can be chill ahead of time and assure your partner that you’ll take care of your own needs or speak to him explicitly if you need his help with something, it’s totally fine to just head outside and get an uber and tell your partner to pass on your congratulations and apologies for leaving early, but you have explosive diarrhea!! Or a headache, if you want to go more classic.

    Don’t worry too much about an exit, just leave and it will naturally be a graceful exit. As long as you’ve talked with your partner ahead of time he’ll be able to roll with it and no one else will think about it much in all likelihood.

    Good luck!!! All for a fitted pant and a flowy blouse, (My partner is transfeminine/androgynous and we’re getting married and they’re going through similar quandaries about what to wear. I think they’re going to wear something suit-ish, but more in the vein of a a nice lesbian wedding with a silk crepe suit and lace blouse, than a super butch suit. Which is what I’m wearing.)

    Go get it, eat that joy up. I hope it’s a fun night that memorable only for the great roadtrip and fun night you have with your partner, and getting to see the light of old friendships in your partner’s eyes <3 <3. I'm so happy you wrote in and so happy to see this posted. PLZ UPDATE WITH WHAT YOU ENDED UP WEARING AND HOW IT WENT!!!!

  • april

    I don’t have anything to add to Najva’s excellent advice on taking care of yourself at the wedding, I do have a couple of thoughts on wedding attire. First, Southern men (particularly preppy Southern men) are not afraid of a loud patterns and a little color (case in point: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/76/17/d0/7617d09da2897b85a718b1ab03b70c65.png ) So if that’s your thing, grab yourself a pastel blazer and some pants in a fun print and have fun with it! Here’s a more feminine version of that look, BTW: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/40/a4/de/40a4debd91327db51922d180629a545d.jpg (you could skip the bow tie, if you wanted this to look a bit more androgynous).

  • notlob1986

    Beyond what you end up wearing, I think that part of the problem is that you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re uncomfortable, but you don’t want to pull your partner away from friends that they have not seen in a long time.
    I suggest that your partner try to organize other get togethers with these people either Friday night or Saturday/Sunday afternoon (assuming it’s a Saturday night wedding) so that the wedding itself isn’t so loaded. That way, if something goes sideways during the ceremony or reception, leaving isn’t an all or nothing decision. Your partner will still see the people important to them.

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  • TaraThePhoenix

    Just a second suggestion of Janelle Monae as potential style inspo! She does a lot of blending of masculine and femme styles so if you are looking for something that will fly under the radar but still show off a more femme presentation she might be a person to look to as well. Good luck!

    • TaraThePhoenix

      Also I’ve been seeing a trend of floral print blazers and button downs that are the bomb if you are into that.