Gay Wedding Planning: You Gotta Have Balls

This morning’s post by Jill about the balls needed to plan a gay wedding is, first of all, hilarious. But secondly, it’s true in this highly-specific-is-always-universal head nodding way. Reading it, I kept being reminded of my own, mixed-gender wedding planning. Because the second you break out of cultural expectations for what a wedding is, you somehow seem to find yourself in a weird dress, in the middle of a generic wedding dress store, lying to a sales lady while feeling super guilty about it, because you suddenly don’t have the guts to tell her the truth. So for pride week, Jill tells us about the much harder, braver, gay version of balling up (or not) during wedding planning.

The story of our engagement has become a sort of funny story: we had both separately planned to propose on the same day, our five year anniversary, but I ended up with the ring because I didn’t have the balls to get her one.

It’s not that I had become any less sure of marrying her; it’s just that I was humiliated at Zales and then couldn’t get over myself.

It went like this: I wandered in to look. Once realizing how much these suckers actually cost, my brain was already exploding with mini-panic-attacks when the super-duper-friendly salespeople targeted me and asked what I was looking for.

“Oh, engagement rings.”

“Ooh, helping him out, huh?” *wink wink*

There’s this funny thing that happens to queer people. We surround ourselves with our community and gain so much strength from them. We feel so happy and proud and wonderful and self-righteous and defiant. We tell ourselves we are going to conquer the world with our fight for equality and visibility! Even Obama and Jay-Z love us!!

But then sometimes, out in the world, when we are all alone, sometimes, we get scared. We wimp out.

In my defense, even though I live in one of the most liberal cities in the country, the Zales I wandered in to was in the suburbs, and who knows what you’ll encounter in the suburbs?! Suburbs are murky, terrifying places. So I fumbled.

“Oh, er, uh, yeah. I’m… looking for a friend.”

She continued to pepper me with questions, full of perky smiles, about This Dude I Was Helping Out, and I kept making up vague answers even though I am the worst liar in the universe, the whole time my brain shouting at me: “What the hell are you doing? Abort mission! Abort! Get the hell out!” Which I did. I got back in my car, felt small and stupid.

My fiancée purchased her ring for me the smart way most of us do things these days: online, where no one asks any questions.

In actuality, I never purchased a ring for her because I really couldn’t afford it, but my Zales experience still haunted me. I can’t, of course, speak for the entire queer community—I know there are many, many righteous babes who would have said, “Actually, Miss, it’s for my girlfriend.” The thing is, though, I always think that’s going to be me. And it is, sometimes. When strangers have asked about “how he proposed,” I have corrected them—“Actually, it’s a she”—and it’s awkward for a second but then we all get over it.

In our wedding planning, we’ve been very open with most of the vendors we’ve worked with. Indeed, almost every reception venue I contacted sent me glossy information packets with two beautiful ladies holding hands on them. The marriage complex wants our gay money as much as they want everyone else’s. But I never seem to be able to know when I am going to wimp out; it’s a split-second anxiety-induced decision that I almost seem to have no control over. It happened again when I tried on wedding dresses with my mom recently.

As the sweet sales lady was throwing mountains of fabric over my head in the dressing room and I was already wondering if, in our sudden and bizarre intimacy, my lack of shaving of any of my body hair was making her uncomfortable:

“So, how did he propose?”

I had two immediate thoughts: 1) My mom is right there. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by shouting my lesbianism all around David’s Bridal. 2) This girl is so sweet. I don’t want to make her feel bad. So I avoided any correction while also avoiding any specific pronouns or details.

“Oh, we stayed at The Nines hotel downtown on our five year anniversary, have you been there? It’s great, isn’t it?”

“So he had it all planned out and everything?”

“Um, yeah, yep.”

My inner monologue: You big stupid wimpy jerk.

In our most recent wedding planning experience, we were shopping for a man’s vest as part of my fiancée’s wedding outfit. A no-nonsense saleslady came over and asked what we were shopping for.

My fiancée: “Oh, for me, for my wedding.”

No-nonsense saleslady looks up, glances quickly between the two of us: “You two? Great, congratulations. Here, this is the size you need.”

I cannot tell you the relief and joy we both felt. We didn’t have to explain anything! She just knew! And it was okay! And so easy!

It helps, of course, that my fiancée has a mohawk and was looking for men’s clothing. Even a salesperson with decent gaydar wouldn’t have a hard time figuring that one out. But society looks at me with my girly dresses and dangly earrings and straight haircut and screams: “HOW DID HE PROPOSE?!” When are we going to get to the point when the world stops assuming that all straight-looking people are straight—or for that matter, that all butch-looking people are gay?

We’re going to get to that point when we all stop wimping out. Listen, gays: we gotta have balls.

I have always been overly concerned with how other people are feeling, but I have to reach a point concerning this where it’s okay to make other people uncomfortable. Because the thing is, most of the people that automatically switch to the “he,” that ask these questions and make assumptions, are not bad people, are probably not even homophobic, might in fact be thrilled to know about my gay wedding. Sure, some of them won’t be, but it really doesn’t matter either way, because none of them will ever have the opportunity to be excited or awkward or mad if I never give them the chance. They will never know that I was a little different than they thought. They will never know that they were wrong. And if I correct them, if I let every single person know about my big gay wedding, then maybe, maybe, next time that person asks someone else—they won’t assume. Maybe feeling just a little more uncertain as to what the hell anyone is will make them confused and anxious. Good.

This is easier said than done, of course. Each decision of what to say and how to react depends on the person and the situation. There are people who are still struggling with the huge feat of coming out to those who love them most, let alone complete strangers. There are places where broadcasting your real relationship to everyone you meet could literally threaten your physical (and emotional) safety. But those of us who are able to—we have to jump into the awkward conversations. And it’ll be awkward for a long time. But hopefully, one day, it won’t be.

It’s clear that the gay marriage political train is charging full-steam ahead. But even when it’s legal in all fifty states, there will still be Zales and David’s Bridal salespeople asking, “How did he propose?” You may be thinking: “What were you even doing at a big box bridal store to begin with?!” And yes, I know that there are a number of gay-friendly venues, as well as non-traditional ways, in which to exclusively plan a wedding. But the thing is—it should be okay everywhere. At Zales, at Etsy, at everywhere. Planning a wedding should be a joyous occasion, not one marked by anxiety and defensiveness. More than that, it should be honest, and true. Anything less is a disservice to your love.

So next time someone asks, “How did he propose?” I’ll do my darndest to remember my own advice, jump over that sudden, irrational moment of fear, and say, “Actually, it’s a she. It was on our five year anniversary, and it was wonderful, thank you.” And I’ll smile, and we will all just get the hell over it.

Photo from Jill’s personal collection

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  • Yes. Ah, the “lying”/not truth-telling to random vendors – I had forgotten that I did that, and only reading this 2 years later, I’m remembering because of the familiar knot in my stomach. So much sidestepping. I used to not correct people, because that felt super awkward, but just say, “She asked me when…” etc. Just change the pronouns and move on. Though in retrospect, I think a lot of that came after our wedding. When I was already saying “wife” instead of “fiancee”, things shifted, and it’s hard to just Not Tell the Truth.

    Thanks for writing this and sharing this and YAY you’re getting married!!

  • Shawna

    GREAT post today! I love the “Listen gays. We gotta have balls.” But I would add, “listen gay-friendly, we gotta have balls” (pointing the finger at myself). A very dear friend of mine, who happens to be lesbian, recently got married and I was in her wedding party. And I found that, most of the time, when people asked about the wedding I was in and the guy my friend married, I corrected people that she married her girlfriend, had the same awkward few seconds, then got past it. But occasionally, and unexpectedly, I would wimp out, give a generic answer, and change the subject or bail from the location as quickly as possible. And I’m proud that my grandmother now knows gay people have weddings and live together in ALL states, legal or not (she somehow thought that because it was illegal in some states, it wasn’t happening in those states). But I’m not proud of the few times I bailed on the conversation. I know my friend isn’t displeased with me, but I do feel like I let down the world in some small way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!!!

    • meg

      This is true. I’ve totally found myself in situations where I have that moment where I say, “Wait. Do I correct them to make it clear the couple is gay?” That moment of hesitation… is… ouch.

      • Hell, I am one half of the gay couple and I have that moment of hesitation. Usually it’s ‘do I want to open the door to strange comments/ hear about their gay married friend Steve /debate gay marriage?’ Because honestly? Sometimes you just don’t.

        • meg

          Right. For me it normally happens with really old people. And to be clear, because I’m… me…. I clarify about 100% of the time. (Nothing like screaming fights in your super super conservative high school for your whole teenage years to steel the nerves, I guess?) But sometimes you have that moment where you think, “They are 87. Should we get into it?” And then, usually, the 87 year olds are totally awesome about it.

          • Diane

            And, for better or for worse, often so much more open-minded than the 27 year olds. Old people kind of rock…

          • Hannah

            Oh man, my 80+ year old grandma was so mad when she found out my older sister is gay… not because it bothers her, but because she was the last to find out because everyone was afraid how she would react! She couldn’t have cared less, but MAN was she pissed that no one told her!

          • I just say it really matter of fact-ly. Of course we try to be careful with people, but my brides and grooms mean more to me than some rando (sorry, rando). I had a great APW wedding this weekend when another officiant rolled up (the wedding was in a popular public location), an older white male. One of our brides was there, but we were waiting on the other and he kept saying to his bride “Oh, don’t worry their just waiting for their groom.” The photog. (an APW sponsor- Nikki of de nueva) and I kept looking him right in the eye and saying, “No, a bride, we’re waiting for K***.” It’s not offensive, it’s just true. And if you are offended, I have like no sympathy- sorry.

          • I still deal with this now that I am married, perhaps even more! Ex: I share an office with an 80+ yr old doctor who sees pics of us on my desk, who sent a wedding gift for me and my partner (a lovely gesture), and yet still asks me if I cook for my husband, what HIS family is like, etc. Not sure if it’s an issue of her memory or just assumptions. Whatever it is, my issue is that I STILL chicken out of correcting her for fear of conflict/judgment at work. So more power to you, writer, for realizing where you are on that journey and committing to honesty moving forward! I hope to be right there with you!

  • Hooray for bravery in everyday situations! One thing that struck me while I was reading this is how important it can be to rely on the communities we’ve developed when we have moments like this. The strongest supporter of combating straightness-assuming folks before our wedding was actually my mom. She was all about gracefully but firmly correcting people without it being awkward. (She is magic. I did not get this gift.) In fact, it was way more important to her than it was to me. So, with this at my back, every time I had an alone-in-a-Zales moment (and continue to have each time I choose to say “my wife” rather than some genderless term) I think about how adamant my mother was that our relationship be recognized, and I woman up and go for visibility. I wish you both the very very happiest wedding, and here’s to everybody “getting the hell over it.”

    • Class of 1980

      Us middle-aged people are braver because we know we’re gonna die sooner.


      Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But the time factor does tend to change how we go through life. Our mantra is “If not now, then when?”

    • meg

      OH MY GOD MOMS. It’s true. You just have to channel a forceful protective mom. People call me Megan all the time, and I’ll let it slide, and my mom will jump in and almost yell, “That’s not her NAME! She HATES that!” Different, less loaded example, but same mom instinct. I think we need to learn to protect ourselves like mothers, sometimes. (But maybe yell less loudly than they do ;)

      • MDBethann

        A completely unrelated aside due to Meg’s post – when I was a kid, I used to get called “Beth” all the time. I don’t remember my mom saying anything, but there was this one lady at church who was particularly bad about it and I finally got tired of it one Sunday and told her “My name is NOT Beth, it is Bethann.” I think I was around five.

        Not that I’ve always been that good at sticking up for myself, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. And it depends on what the trigger is and whether you want to pick that battle at that moment.

      • Wait, what is Meg short for, then? Inquiring minds want to know!

        • meg

          Margaret. What it’s *classically* short for, silly. Meg is just a shortened version of Megan, but it’s an official (and thousands of years old) nickname for Margaret.

          • I looove the name Margaret (it’s #1 on my list of potential girl baby names), but I don’t think I ever knew that Meg was short for Margaret. Thanks for the history lesson, Ms. Margaret Keene! :-)

          • meg

            Also Maggie and Marge, Peg and Peggy, and… wait for it… Molly. Among other classic nicknames for it. It’s a versatile name. Maggie and Meg (and sometimes Peggy though not in this generation) are the classics, however.

          • Another Meg

            Like Meg March in Little Women!

          • Liz

            Peg is the Irish version of Meg.

            See: Peggy Olson.

          • Your comment just gave me a flashback to ‘A Chorus Line.’

          • Emma

            A client’s name was Margaret, but someone sent an email about Molly, and I had to find my boss to see if there was someone new working there (not realizing that it was a way to shorten Margaret.).

            I sometimes wonder how these short forms are actually created. I can’t imagine thinking if shortening the name to Peggy, for example. Kind of like Bob as short for Robert.

  • Its hard. Sometimes you just don’t feel like coming out over and over again. On the one hand it isn’t a big deal, but on the other hand, it can be tiring to deal with questions, awkward pauses, or over zealous “that’s terrific blah blah my mother’s cousin’s best friend’s neighbor had a gay wedding and i thought it was so excellent”.

  • Julia

    Great post. Thanks for sharing! So can I respectfully ask what you would recommend saying instead of “So how did he propose?” If I met a girl who was recently engaged, I would totally ask that question, despite being massively supportive of gay people and their nuptials. I’d ask it because 1) there is no gender-neutral pronoun in the English language, and 2) there are more straight people than gay people, so if I say “he” I have a higher probability of being right than if I say “she”.

    I guess you could say something like “Congratulations! How did the proposal happen?” and just let the person tell you the story the way they want?

    • Taylor

      As another straight ally who totally-didnt-realize-what-she-was-doing when she asks about the “he” in people’s weddings, I am going to make a point to ask about “so how did your fiance propose” I think there is something about spelling that differentiates male/female but spoken aloud it is a gender neutral term.

      Better yet, I won’t ask at all, because the question assumes you have to have “a story” and I always hated that, because people kind of frown when they hear my proposal involved no roses or parachutes or the like.

      But, nitpicking aside, I will be more conscious of asking “so what does your fiance do?” or “when did you and your fiance meet?”And allow that person to fill in the blanks.

      • Yup – fiancé is masculine, fiancée is feminine – but I often see it spelt with one e, no accent for both genders (especially in American publications). They sound the same though, so it’s a good option!


      • ElisabethJoanne

        I’m reading these stories and thinking, “Anyone who doesn’t know you’re gay doesn’t deserve the answers to these questions.”

        I watched a bunch of “Say Yes to the Dress” over the weekend, and learned the consultants’ script: date, location, “tell me about your fiance,” style, budget. The “tell me about your fiance” bit bugs me, not so much in this context, but because I see it as an irrelevant play on the customer’s emotions. I think of it as just a much milder form of the same issue raised when our venue director grabbed my left hand to look at my engagement ring – demanding knowledge (the details of your relationship, an up-close view of a body part) a stranger has not right to.

        I try not to mix business and friendships. If I’m buying goods or services from you, you don’t need to know about my personal life.

        • jd

          That’s a wonderful principle to have… until you realize that some of these people that you are dealing with on a business level will eventually find out anyway. Say I call up my venue and book without correcting them about genders, and then show up with my fiancé. What if they’re gonna make trouble about it? What if they have some kind of no same-sex marriages policy (perfectly legal in a lot of states), and I, by refraining from performing the simple act of coming out, have now signed my partner and myself up for a disheartening load of bigoted crap to deal with. This could be true of basically any vendor (barring, obviously, the people at the craft store).

          In real life it’s okay to hold back details about your personal life from strangers. A wedding, however, is an event that exists basically entirely as a method of sharing your personal life with other people. If you are going to involve strangers in the staging of this event, you’re going to have to share some details with most of them. Besides, coming out is a fantastic litmus test to determine if someone is worth your money or if you should keep looking.

    • Amy

      Yes, I think “Congratulations! Tell me about the proposal!” is great (and seriously, in 2012? Wedding store employees should be trained to say this rather than assuming gender). Personally I tend to reword a lot of things to avoid gender assumptions, either by avoiding a pronoun altogether or by using “they” in situations where that doesn’t sound clunky. (I feel like “they” is on its way to being considered acceptable as a gender neutral pronoun even though it’s technically grammatically incorrect. At least in spoken or informal written English.) My best friend recently told me excitedly that she’s “seeing someone”, and although I know she’s straight it still felt wrong to use any male pronouns until she had used one herself first. So I responded with “where did you meet? How did you get together?”

      Keeping language neutral until you know the gender of the person you’re talking about is good in all sorts of situations, not just surrounding weddings. You may have a higher chance of being right if you assume one way, but you also have a 5-10 percent chance of hurting someone or making them feel awkward or invisible. Inclusive language never hurt anyone, and although it may seem clunky at first, the more people use it the less so it will become.

      • Ahhh, this.

        When speaking, I typically try to use ‘they’ as a gender neutral pronoun if I have no other way of rewording a sentence. In writing I’ve alternated between using they and using Spivak pronouns. It can be clunky, but currently I have no better alternative. I also have a friend who exists outside of the gender binary and dislikes being called either pronoun. While we live miles and miles apart, I try to keep my language neutral when talking about them as a measure of respect.

        Interesting thing: the absence of a word in a particular language is called a lacuna, or a lexical gap. Beyond not having a gender neutral singular pronoun, each language has a bunch of these. For instance, there’s no English word for a non-virgin, or a male mistress. There’s no Romanian word for shallow, and in Hebrew there’s no word for frown.

        The point here being that while language is constantly evolving, for a new pronoun to become standard there needs to be a significant upswing in the use of a “new” word for it to be included in the language. Which is why things like email, website, etc are now included in dictionaries, of course.

        • meg

          Yup! Use they. We use it editorially on APW all the time, it’s in our style sheet even. I couldn’t use it in the book, since it’s not officially proper yet (which means elventy billion sentences got re-worded in tortuous ways), but you can totally use it in everyday speech! And language is evolving. It will eventually be proper, I’m sure.

          • “They” is actually a much older gender-neutral singular pronoun than people tend to think. It’s used that way in Chaucer for fuck’s sake. And the King James Bible. For grammar nerds interested in more information, I recommend this post from a doctoral student in linguistics.

          • Laurel, exactly!!

            It didn’t seem relevant to this discussion, but it’s very similar to how we now teach “you” as a singular pronoun, even though it’s originally the plural form of thou. (Think about it – we don’t say, “you is going to the store,” we say, “you are going to the store.”)

          • Actually, singular they has been proper for centuries, people just started to get attitude about it in certain circles mostly in the early 20th century. So really you are just bringing back a traditional use of language, which seems terribly appropriate. :)

          • Jeliza, that does seem like exactly the kind of thing APW/Meg would be doing. Love the progressive neo-traditionalism.

          • Putting “I <3 progressive neo-traditionalism" on a shirt is now on my to do list.

        • Elizabeth

          Thanks so much for the linguistics lessons today, Youlovelucy! I learned so much!

        • Taylor

          YOULOVELUCY: are you, perchance, a nerdfighter?

          For everyone: If you’d like to see an interesting video about lexical gaps:

          • I am indeed! I’m pretty sure about 60% of my random knowledge has come from John and Hank Green’s videos.

          • Dianne DeSha

            This Grammar!Geek loves you all! *follows links with glee*

        • MadGastronomer

          Latin and Gaelic (both Scots and Irish) have no words for “yes” or “no”. I always found this interesting. And that lacuna in Gaelic has produced workarounds that persist in English in those areas.

    • Corrie

      Yep! I think you answered the question for yourself. Or even, “What are you and your partner planning for your wedding?”, which keeps it gender neutral. (I like to use ‘partner’ because it also applies to straight couples who are committed but don’t plan to get married, and therefore avoids husband/wife, which isn’t accurate, or boyfriend/girlfriend, which sounds less serious.) Granted, I am straight, so maybe someone who is gay would have a different suggestion, but this is how I’ve learned to approach these types of questions with people who I don’t know.

      And I soooo need to ‘exactly’ this:
      “And if I correct them, if I let every single person know about my big gay wedding, then maybe, maybe, next time that person asks someone else—they won’t assume. Maybe feeling just a little more uncertain as to what the hell anyone is will make them confused and anxious.”

      Until I moved to another city where I became close friends with a few gay women, I was totally that person who would’ve automatically assumed ‘he’ as the subject in that type of question. Now that I’ve become close with these friends and am assisting a couple of them with their wedding, I’ve learned not to make assumptions and to keep my relationship questions gender neutral when I’m talking to someone who I don’t know well. Not that I ever felt anxious about what to say to people, but I fully support the idea of talking about gay relationships because it breaks down the assumptions that people tend to make. Not only am I happy to help my gay friends by talking about their gay wedding to other people, but also happy that I don’t have to make a ‘stranger’ feel awkward if this type of subject comes up in conversation.

      • Newtie

        I second the “partner” vote. Although I wanted to add, I have a good friend who is very… gushy. And exuberant. Especially about relationships, and *especially* about weddings and marriages. She doesn’t like the sound of partner because she doesn’t think “Omg Omg tell me all about how you and your partner met!” conveys her (admittedly syrupy) emotion. So she uses the word “sweetie.” She says things like “How did you and your sweetie decide to tie the knot???” all the time. Her enthusiasm and style might not be for everyone, but “sweetie” does allow for all types of relationships.

        • I could never ever pull that off but it’s effing adorable. I also love that her phrasing doesn’t make assumptions about who proposed, whether there was a proposal, etc.

    • Louise

      “how did the proposal happen?” seems like the best way to go for any newly engaged person! Who knows who proposed until you ask! I am engaged to a man but when people ask me how he proposed I get a bit awkward because WE decided, he did not propose. To the original poster: thank you for the perspective!. I can only imagine how tricky all these annoying wedding questions are when your relationship is not what strangers assume. I am sure I would wimp out too (like you, i dont like to make people feel uncomfortable) but I also agree the only way to get people to stop assuming is to start correcting! And you’re so right that most people will be happy for you! (and hopefully not make the same assumption about another woman again!)

    • On a totally not-wedding-related parallel, I was a stage carpenter for a few years, and I spell my name Jesse the same way many men spell it (not intentionally chosen when I was 5 and learning to spell my name, but it’s lovely now how that worked out). When sending emails and resumes places, people assumed that I was male, and based on the job I was applying for, there was a high probability of me being a guy…except I’m not, and it resulted in some very awkward moments.
      Even outside of relationships in the business world, it’s best to keep the conversation gender-neutral until you know.

      • Jamie

        I am in the same boat at my full-time job with my name. I think that most people in the U.S. think female when they hear Jamie, but a lot of the foreign people I send e-mails to from work assume that I’m male. It used to irk me, but I realize that they are only answering from their experience and I let it go. Sometimes I think if more people had this kind of thought process, the world would be a better place. I also think if more people took a step back and thought “I don’t know what this person is going through in their life”there would be a lot less conflict.

        I try not to assume gender when I’m talking to someone I don’t know, but I’m not perfect. I am perfectly fine with people loving whomever they choose to, because love is beautiful.

        To the original poster – Good luck with your planning, and I wish you a beautiful wedding and marriage.

  • I love this post! While this does not at all the same depth as your story, I just wanted to add that I found myself biting my tongue to vendors/inquirers even about some heterosexual wedding traditions. I sometimes wish I had, as you so eloquently put it, jumped over my moment of fear to correct people when they assumed I had wanted a diamond ring (and had gotten the beautiful teakwood and silver one “instead”), or when they assumed that my fiance was “no help at all” with wedding planning, etc. I think it’s always hard to know when to rant on people and when to let it slide. I tried my best to defend myself or my fiance (and men in the process) when I felt insulted, but also tried to maintain good relationships with family, friends, acquaintances and vendors. Sometimes I let it slide.

    But I think that as all APWers start to slowly fight those little (and big) battles on the fly, there might not be so many of them eventually :)

    • 39bride

      Well said! As another hetero sensitive to the issues gay/queer partners face, I know I can’t really understand what it’s like, but this resonated with me. I hate how people assume (usually negative ideas) what my groom is or isn’t doing with the wedding. Sometimes I don’t want to contradict them because I know they mean well and I don’t want to embarrass them, but I feel guilty for being false even in this small way.

      The one that has upset me the most so far was when we were discussing the vows with our pastor. We’re basing them on traditional vows with a few tweaks. As we were discussing possibilities, the pastor said something to me like, “Well, you’ve probably thought about this the most of the two of you.”

      Umm, not really. And I really resent the idea that I care more about the vows we make than my groom does!

      I think the moral here is that old cliche about ASSumptions making an ass out of the person assuming. I don’t think we have to be militant about correcting people, but maybe a smile and a gracious correction is a huge part of educating them. It does get tiring, though. (and I am grateful that in my case the odds of me being physically or emotionally attacked are ridiculously slim; it’s just my ego and sense of justice that are in any jeopardy).

      • Why is it (in a hetero couple) the woman’s job to plan/care about the wedding? And where is this assumption coming from anyway, because in a lot of the engaged/recently married couples I know the guy has cared more about most things than the gal.

        This does not add up.

        • Dianne DeSha

          Just Google “drag cake topper” to get multiple versions of the one I have *always* hated (even back when I assumed I’d be marrying a guy). “Traditional” (read some combination of “mid-20th century”/”very patriarchal”/”WIC boosted”) wisdom has it that women spend their time trying to “catch” a husband out of need/desire for security, while the guys “naturally” resist losing their freedom.

          By that logic, the groom is presumed to be reluctant by default, while the bride has spent hours and hours over the past decade or so of her life planning and fantasizing about this event.

          Frighteningly, in such a Bizzaro!World, the math actually makes sense. (*ugh*!)

          • Rachel

            Oh, how heartbreaking! I googled it, kind of pumped for a genderqueer cake topper, and then it was awful!

    • meg

      Totally. This post is so beautifully universal that I kept nodding my head the whole time, flashing back to awful moments with sales people.

      • 39bride

        You know, I think this is so universal because we’re all unique people (whether gay or straight) and have a tendency toward the offbeat/unusual, so we have to remind ourselves that what others who don’t know us well think about us is ultimately irrelevant. We define our value and values, not them.

        If we are true to ourselves in this process, that’s what matters… not what some limited-minded person thinks about our life/wedding choices. Someone else’s ignorance does NOT define US, it defines THEM. That’s a hard life lesson that most of us have to take occasional refreshers on…

    • Edelweiss

      On the positive side, I work with Middle Schoolers and the most wonderful thing about my engagement so far has been the teachable moments that come from their assumptions. “This is why I preferred a pearl ring”, “We actually discussed getting engaged for a year to strengthen our relationship first”, “Our Outward Bound trip will be my bachelorette party because it’s a great time to remind yourself of your independence and strength”….

      Confronting assumptions in adults has been tougher – but we can definitely make progress with the young ones.

      • Love this, thank you for sharing.

  • Lethe

    This is brilliant. As another more-gender-conforming queer lady I totally get it. It’s particularly difficult if you are the type of over-empathetic person (like me) who wants to “manage” other people’s feelings and forestall any awkwardness. But like you say – you gotta let it be awkward sometimes because the alternative is being invisible.

    For what it’s worth, I thought wedding planning was an awesome crash course in this. When else do so many strangers regularly ask you directly about your relationship? By the end I felt a lot more competent at dealing with those situations, which can only be good preparation for when kids come along and there’s a whole new set of assumptions to challenge.

    • meg

      “For what it’s worth, I thought wedding planning was an awesome crash course in this. When else do so many strangers regularly ask you directly about your relationship?”

      YES. I think this is true for all of us. Wedding plannings are sort of a powerful crash course in learning to live your truth, which becomes increasingly important as you become a family, get older, make more life choices, etc. Learning to gracefully and forcefully correct people as needed is such a effing life skill, as is learning to not be invisible.

    • This line in your comment really struck me:
      “But like you say – you gotta let it be awkward sometimes because the alternative is being invisible.”

      Wow, I’m really gonna think about this. So relevant to this post, in particular, but also to how we all go about living every day. This weekend, I let a comment (related to me being an immigrant where I live) slide because I knew the speaker was not bad-intentioned. However, the way he worded what he said offended me. But I didn’t say anything, and I was mad about it for hours after. Mostly mad at myself for not having spoken up. I should have told him that his wording was insulting and should have suggested a better, less offensive way. But how? I felt like I saw it in his eye, right after he made his comment, that he realized it was perhaps badly worded. But there was never acknowledgement of it from me or him, and it made me feel minimized (sadly, at the end of a weekend where I had been feeling particularly empowered in the very area he minimized).

      Maybe next time I will graciously but firmly correct, as Meigh McPants says above, and not worry about the awkward moment or offending someone. Because the alternative is feeling invisible and minimized.

      And Meg (and APW staff), thank you for running so many posts that give us all courage to speak up for ourselves and for others, to make ourselves heard, and to refuse to be minimized. It is empowering and inspiring.

      • “But like you say – you gotta let it be awkward sometimes because the alternative is being invisible.”

        This is a good reminder for me too. I dreaded the coming out part of the wedding planning process. Not because I want to be in the closet, but because I felt like I had “done” all my coming out a decade earlier and I didn’t want to have to do it again. But I did and it was fine – sometimes awkward and sometimes awesome. (I still remember with a smile the venue coordinator who said his thinking was “so two weeks ago” when I correct his mention of my husband-to-be. (Gay marriage had just become legal in DC. Literally 2 weeks before).

        Now I have to remind myself to let it be awkward when in situations with my daughter, where people mention “Daddy”. (So far this has only happened with the nurses at the pediatrician’s office. Living in such a gay-friend place has its benefits). But I need to speak up because otherwise I am letting people invalidate our family. Even if that’s not the intention.

        • Elizabeth

          Such a great reminder of the importance of courageously speaking up to make the invisible visible.

        • Dianne DeSha

          (I still remember with a smile the venue coordinator who said his thinking was “so two weeks ago” when I correct his mention of my husband-to-be.

          I love this so much. Yay for people who accept correction with grace and humor.

  • Karen

    When my fiance and I bought each other rings, we deliberately went to a gay owned jewelery store. Despite this, when we both picked out the ones we wanted for each other, the sales clerk said “The woman always gets off easy” (because hers was about $100 less than mine). I just looked at her and said, “You know we’re both women, right?” She blushed and apologized but it was awkward.

    Many years ago in a previous relationship my then partner and I were shopping for a wedding dress for me for our wedding. We went to a specialty boutique. We didn’t explain anything upfront but when the sales clerk finally asked my ex what her role was in the wedding, and she said “I’m bride number two,” you could see the dollar signs rolling in her eyes when she asked “And will you be needing a dress?” (although she would have looked like she was in drag!) It was definitely not an issue.

    Yes, it takes courage to have these conversations. The world is having a hard time getting used to gender neutral terms or having no assumptions. I agree that each time a conversation is had people become a bit more aware. Coming out is an ongoing conversation and it is difficult to decide who is safe and who isn’t. I applaud your courage to face this head on, even when it’s hard.

  • Ohh, yes. My wife and I call this ‘the curse of the girly lesbians.’ I love the way I look, and I adore the clothes I wear (and ditto for her), but sometimes it is hard to come out over and over and over to people. Because you’re right– people assume all the time that the wedding set on my ring finger was put there by a man. I get lots of questions about ‘what my husband does’ or ‘how my husband and I met’ or ‘where my husband went to school.’ It was even more intense while we were wedding planning several years ago. It has gotten easier, but I don’t know that it will ever be easy, at least not in the immediate future while our marriage isn’t even legal yet where we live.

    When we were wedding dress shopping (for both of us), we went to a David’s Bridal too. We have a rather limited selection of bridal clothing venues- our city isn’t that big. But the woman who helped us first was filling out our information sheets, and when we said we were getting married on the same day, she said, ‘Oh, so you’re having a double wedding?’ and my then-fiancee squeezed my hand under the table and I said, ‘No…. we’re marrying each other.’ And that woman got all frosty and not very friendly, and we almost left- but then the woman who actually helped us try on dresses was so sweet, and so wonderful. She walked away to get us a few more things to try on at one point and when she came back we were silent-slow dancing in our clipped-shut sample dresses and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you two are so cute!’

    And so, yes, it’s hard sometimes. And sometimes when I correct someone’s pronoun or say, ‘Actually, I have a wife!’ they get a lot less friendly. My wife was let go from a previous job when they found out she had a fiancee instead of a fiance (although of course they listed other reasons). But then, most of the people I tell react just fine. Most people, no matter what their personal opinion, won’t be rude to your face– and many people are just as happy for me or don’t care one bit.

    So it’s hard. And sometimes it’s scary. But you’re right— we’ve got to have balls. I think that’s the only thing that will change the world we live in for the better.

    • OH MY GOD THE DOUBLE WEDDING COMMENTS. I got capslock of rage about those. Including during our (joint) bachelorette party. And yes, it is so deal with the constant assumptions. I struggled for a long time about whether or not to put up wedding pictures in my office, before I finally decided ‘screw it, this is me.’

      • meg

        Also, who the f*ck has a double wedding anymore????? Is it just people being outright homophobic and not willing to guess lesbian wedding, or is it people being total morons? Perhaps the proper response is a cold stare, and, “Really? A double wedding?” With another cold stare followed by a kiss.

        Sometimes I hate people.

        • MDBethann

          Meg, some place people must still have them. There’s a commercial (Geico I think) on the radio in the DC area that is all about a dad who makes his 5 daughters wait to marry until they can all marry at the same time in order to save money (2 sisters snipe at each other because one of them took 10 years longer to find her guy than the other sister did). The tag of course, is that if the dad had Geico, he could have saved money that way and been able to pay for 5 weddings.

          There are SOOOO many stereotypes in this commercial it is laughable, but I swear I heard it at least once a day on my commute for the last few months (I guess it stuck because I was planning a wedding at the time).

          • meg

            I seriously think double weddings only happen in musicals from the 1940’s, but I’m up for someone to prove me wrong. Maybe we should bring them back as quirky cost savers (with singing?).

            Hands DOWN though gay weddings are a billion times more common though, BRIDAL WEDDING SALESPEOPLE.

          • Edelweiss

            People do still have them. My co-worker and her sister got engaged around the same time, they don’t have much money and many of their mutual guests would have to travel to attend (and also don’t have much money). So for them it was a very sensible solution.

        • I have a friend who had a double wedding with her sister. Their mother was very, very ill and they both wanted her to be able to attend their weddings before she died. But it’s pretty rare, I agree.

        • Jashshea

          I’m desperate for a double wedding. My parents had one w/my mom’s sister. I think it looks awesome.

          My brother is also engaged and wants no part of it. Perhaps if I added musical numbers and 40s outfits…?

          • meg

            Well, I’m game for Double Wedding week on APW, if you guys just send us the posts :)

          • Jashshea

            I’ll check w/Moms and see if she’s amenable to a grads post with a double wedding spin. They’re celebrating their dual-40ths this year, so perhaps.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I haven’t seen it, but flipping through Netflix, there’s a “Say Yes to the Dress” double-wedding episode.

    • Gah, that sucks that your wife actually got fired for being queer. (You know what else sucks? It was probably totally legal.)

      My partner and I are both look really really gay (by which I actually mean we have non-normative gender presentations) and in some ways it’s such a blessing: unfriendly people are unfriendly upfront, and so we rarely have to see people’s reactions when they find out. I feel tremendously grateful for the hard work that more gender-conforming queer people have to do to come out, because it does so much to normalize queer relationships for the more clueless straight people out there.

  • Class of 1980

    “The marriage complex wants our gay money as much as they want everyone else’s.”

    “The marriage complex wants our gay money as much as they want everyone else’s.”

    “The marriage complex wants our gay money as much as they want everyone else’s.”

    Repeat, repeat, repeat. ;)

  • Not much to add but YAY JILL!

  • Megan2

    “Maybe feeling just a little more uncertain as to what the hell anyone is will make them confused and anxious. Good.” – I laughed

    “More than that, it should be honest, and true. Anything less is a disservice to your love.” – & I cried

    Congratulations! & thank you for sharing your story. These conversations are so important.

    (I didn’t even get those questions & the jewelry store made me tense. The sales lady kept talking about anniversary rings, & I couldn’t even get thru a wedding band choice.)

  • MM

    This was great. And yay Portland! That is all.

  • Hear, hear! My husband and I are both straight (obvs), but very liberal and have a lot of friends on all ends of the spectrum. Even with that, though, it’s possible that I might default to heteronorms if I didn’t know someone really well. And shame on me for that. So, please, call me/us/everyone out on it and we will be overjoyed to hear your wedding details (if you feel like sharing). :)

    • DanEllie

      Actually, I’ve known a few men named Stacy, so “me and my husband” could have been written by a man too! :)

  • Parsley

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. This is so much a part of my life, and you have captured so much of the experience. So thank you for your courage and let’s forgive ourselves for the moments when we can’t summon it.

  • “The marriage complex wants our gay money as much as they want everyone else’s.”

    SO true. Rebecca Mead talks about this smartly in the final section of her book “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding,” which should be required reading before any engaged (or pre-engaged) person starts looking for vendors. She suggests that wedding vendors have a vested interest in being gay-friendly whether your state is or not, and she predicts that they will trend ahead of the curve when it comes to equality. As much as she’d like to believe that this comes from conviction, empathy, or political activism on the part of the vendors, she admits that in most cases, it is probably because the industry has seen a huge pocket of society whose money was previously beyond its reach. Sigh.

    Also, in the end of the book, Mead says something like: Marriage would be a better institution if every straight couple had to fight as hard as most gay couples have to fight together.

    For me, a straight gal, that stuck with me whenever I found myself frustrated with people’s expectations for our wedding. “If it’s this hard for us, how much harder is it for LGBT couples?” That yanked me out of my self-pity and prompted me to send out little prayers for y’all who have to fight so hard for your weddings and your marriages.

    • I love that last idea. It’s so easy to take my right to marriage for granted, and I think that makes it easier to take marriage itself for granted.

  • Catherine

    THANK YOU so much for your post full of strength and self-realization!!! I have a number of friends that are gay, and I fully support the right for everyone to get married to the love of their life no matter their orientation!!!!

    But still – my gaydar sucks!! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE correct us nice, genuinely loving people if we make a mistake by asking “How did he propose??” or “How did you propose to your lady-love?” if you are a guy!!!! We just want to share in your joy and happiness!!! Give us the opportunity to learn and join in on the love fest!!!!

    • meg

      Skip gaydar. Better to ALWAYS ask in a gender neutral way. It’s just nice, more than anything. It’s like asking an engaged person “How do you feel?” or “Do you need help with anything?” Instead of saying “You must be so excited!” It gives them room to tell you who they are.

  • E

    “I’ll do my darndest to remember my own advice, jump over that sudden, irrational moment of fear, and say, ‘Actually, it’s a she. It was on our five year anniversary, and it was wonderful, thank you.’ And I’ll smile, and we will all just get the hell over it.”

    Yes! I have been trying to learn this from my wife, who is much better at it than I am (although I often find that my haircut speaks sometimes so that I don’t have to as much as she does). Even on our wedding night, we got back to the hotel where friends where waiting with champagne to help us unload the car. My wife was standing between a friend and I (he was in a black tux, I was in a white jacket, we looked like the set up of a Kinsey scale choose your own adventure story) when a group of people leaving the bar came up to say congratulations, but were clearly directing it at my wife and our friend.

    While I hesitated, ready to ignore them, she grabbed my hand, kissed me, and yelled “thank you!” over her shoulder as we got in the elevator. It is still one of my favorite memories of the day.

    • MDBethann

      Good for your wife!

    • Adi

      LOVE it. Your wife clearly rocks :)

  • I only read through (so far) to this paragraph’s ending: “Because the thing is, most of the people that automatically switch to the “he,” that ask these questions and make assumptions, are not bad people, are probably not even homophobic, might in fact be thrilled to know about my gay wedding.”

    And couldn’t help but shout YES YES YES YES! I AM ONE OF THOSE WELL-MEANING PEOPLE!!!

    It’s literally only because this is my realm of experience. My fiance (a guy) proposed to me (a girl). It’s much the same way as when I’m introduced to someone for the first time: if you look young, you automatically default to being the same age as me until I find out otherwise. It is absolutely nothing personal, I promise!

    For the record, I am, in fact, thrilled to know about your gay wedding :)

    • Drat! Ran out of time to edit the comment after finishing the article and reading the comments!

      Add one more voice to those who will now be aware of and embracing gender-neutral terms!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    And I’ll add another, “Because every wedding, and every person, is different, every couple goes through something similar” comment. For us, who are it was, “Why aren’t you living together?” Mom’s suggested response: “If you have to ask that question, you don’t know me well enough to have the answer.”

  • Jashshea

    “And yes, I know that there are a number of gay-friendly venues, as well as non-traditional ways, in which to exclusively plan a wedding. But the thing is—it should be okay everywhere. At Zales, at Etsy, at everywhere.”

    Super exactly. I am exhausted on your behalf that you have to work so much harder to have your relationship accorded the same respect as others. You shouldn’t have to select from a limited list of options – it’s just not okay.

    I second (or third or fourth) everyone else’s sentiments that I, as a straight person, need to pay closer attention to my use of pronouns. I’m not much for grabbing strangers and demanding to hear their engagement story, but I spend about 80% of my work time on the phone and only occasionally meet customers face to face, so I do hear their big news (promotions, engagements, babies, new pets, vacations). Thanks, Jill. You’ve certainly made me think.

  • Adi

    As a super-outspoken gay rights advocate, I am constantly interviewing my vendors about their status on gay rights, agonizing over non-gender wording for our invites and ceremony, and brainstorming ways to incorporate our yay gay feelings into the wedding. The thing is, I’m straight, and have been asked several times what it’s got to do with me and my male fiancé. I always explain that human rights effect us all, but it’s not until I tell people about my gay best friend that they think they get it. I’ve tried explaining that I’ve been pro-equality since way before I met her, but unless it’s personal people seem to think it doesn’t make sense. Apparently I’m not allowed to be concerned about human rights unless they directly impact my life. Bah!

  • There are definitely things I hesitate to tell people for the same reasons! I really related to you not saying anything at David’s Bridal because the salesgirl was sweet and you didn’t want her to feel bad. I consider myself pretty ballsy, but when it comes to talking about things that are non-conventional and also deeply personal (like my non-traditional engagement story or the fact that my dad is gay), I find that it’s not so much about lacking balls, but not feeling like managing other people’s reactions. They inevitably feel like an asshole and assume I’m more upset/offended than I am and then I end up apologizing to them and so often it JUST DOESN’T FEEL WORTH IT. But that attitude is exactly why people stay in the dark about such things, and continue to make the assumptions they do, so I should probably suck it up and just start telling them. I’m not ashamed of who I am, where I come from, or the choices I’ve made, but some days you just want to do your shopping without having to tell a total stranger your life story.

  • aly

    Love this post! I tend to come out, come out wherever I am even if I go beet red and break into a cold sweat every time. Funny story: I was visiting my partner’s family in a northeast PA, conservative, old coal town when I dashed into Target for some toiletries. I cruised through the sunglasses section where some teens were trying on the goods. I overheard a girl say to a guy, “Oh you look so gay in those. Oh my god, so gay!” And then, she turned to me and said, “Don’t you think he looks sooooo GAY in those sunglasses?” Briefly, I thought, why me? Then I smiled and said, “Well, I am gay so I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.” The girl’s eyes grew very wide and she apologized profusely. She even found me later in the shampoo aisle to say she was sorry again. You just never know when or where these teachable moments will find us. :)

    • meg

      Holy crap, that’s awesome. The “gay” slur is so painful to me, because at least where we grew up it was used A LOT in really hurtful ways that I don’t need to detail, since I think we’ve all seen how bad it can get.

      Related, David and I wonder all the time if “gay” will still be a slur when our kids are in school (at least in the Bay Area) or if they’ll think we’re horribly dated for still thinking about it, like how we thought our civil rights era parents were out of touch on race. Real life conversation:

      Me: Huh, that little boy shirt for sale at Gap says “Gay Surf”, which seems like it would be a really scary problem on the playground.
      David: Well, where we grew up.
      Me: I donno. Maybe anywhere. Little kids are mean.
      David: Maybe our little kids will say “Mom, Gay Surf is a totally awesome shirt. Being gay isn’t a BAD thing!” And we’ll look really old to them, and out of touch.
      Me: God, I hope so.

      • aly

        Wait, was there really a Gapkids shirt that said Gay Surf?

      • Victwa

        This is actually one area that makes me happy for human beings. I was a middle-school teacher for years and spent lots of time having corrective conversations about the use of the word “gay.” One thing that I have LOVED though, is seeing kids (well, not kids now) who I REMEMBER checking on their use of the word “gay” become very outspoken advocates for gay marriage now, 6-8 years later. (Yay Facebook for allowing me to see this growth!)

        Rather funny story that also gives me hope for the world: when I came into my stepson’s life (well, future, I suppose, because my fiancé and I are not yet married, but whatever), I went to pick him up at nursery school, and he was talking to his friend who has two moms. My stepson said, “Tell him who you are” because he was trying to explain that I was NOT his mom, but his friend was pretty convinced that I was just his second mom, and why not have two moms and a dad?

        Progress is slow in some ways, but I do think that things are changing. Sure, it’s in my bastion of liberality here in the Bay Area, but if we can see such shifts in a matter of years in individual people, there’s hope!

  • KW

    I am a straight ally (is that proper phrasing still?) and despite my best intentions, I still put my foot in my mouth from time to time. Language conventions trip me up from time to time but so do cultural assumptions in general and stereotypes about the LGBTQ community specifically that I am not always aware that I have, despite my best efforts. Privilege raises its ugly head when I least expect it. It pisses me off and I resolve to do better, and then one day in the future, it happens again. *sigh*

    Your post reminds me not only to think before I speak, but that I too have a duty to correct inaccurate assumptions made by others if I am truly to consider myself an ally. The burden shouldn’t fall just on those most directly affected but on all of us who want to see substantive change.

    Congratulations on your engagement! I hope you and she have many wonderful years together. :)

  • I just want to say that all the conversations happening in these comments are awesome! As I knew they would be from APW readers. Thank you for your kind words! I also agree that using “they” is a safe term, but wondering what exactly is the “right” thing to say when asking questions is an excellent question. I think generally, whatever feels both genuine and comfortable to ask, while simply avoiding specific gender pronouns, would make me feel comfortable to answer truthfully.

    I also love, love, love the universality that people have taken from my stories–that we all suffer through those moments of hesitation before saying anything that might be seen as “non-traditional” in terms of wedding planning. Being different and being honest about those differences is always an act of bravery, and an act that will help make things richer and more diverse and better in the world, regardless of sexual orientation.

    • meg


  • Remy

    I’ve probably said this before, but the whole ring thing surprised me by how invisible it made me feel as a queer woman. People who knew me from work but weren’t close personal friends seemed surprised at first that I was engaged (“…to a man?” I imagined those pauses said), but since I usually used a pronoun in the next phrase, it was ironed out quickly. I figured that out early on in our engagement, and now “balance” the e-ring with a rainbow ring on my other hand, which may or may not read as “queer femme in committed partnership” to random people on the bus, but it makes ME feel better. :) Oh, and then I got my sweetie an engagement ring, too.

  • Spicy MacHaggis

    Exactly to the whole thing. I’ve been going through this. A LOT! I have to admit a certain amount of shame about it, too. (I shoulda coulda woulda oughta be able to….) In my job, I deal witha lot of relative strangers from all over the country. These are not, ordinarily, people that I’d feel a need to come out to. Throw in the fact that I’m taking two weeks off from work, (something that is relatively unheard of in my field,) and it sort of forces the question. I find myself doing a lot of mental calculations. (Let’s see, the person I’m talking to is male, lives in Indiana, has three kids and used to be a firefighter: do not disclose.) The sad part is that I am stereotyping people every bit as much as I fear they are stereotyping me.
    I wonder what I’m going to do with the word, “husband”? I mean, I’m going to have one starting Saturday, so I ought to figure that out.

  • When I went shopping for an engagement ring for my fiancée I was stunned by the horrible comments made by the sales people. I’d previously been in relationships with women, but I was preparing to ask the man I’d fallen in love with to marry me and I guess coming from my previous queer community I was unprepared for it to be such a big deal for the girl in a hetero couple to buy a ring and propose. I TOTALLY know the hesitation moment – it FEELS SUPER LONG and is so painful. Here’s to BALLS for everyone being who they are!

  • Michelle

    Awesome post. I also get the awkward “erhm. . . ” feeling when someone asks, “How did he propose?”. But I’m not a lesbian- I asked him. This even is such a revelation to people that they sometimes feel they misheard me. I do have a sparkly ring now (he asked a week later when the ring arrived), but then that can cause momentary confusion too- sparkly ring, but she asked him. . . ? People just expect what they know, and well- we are the ones changing it. I don’t need quite as big of balls as you (-; (thanks to many ballsy women who came before me!), but stepping outside the box is always a big deal. (Hopefully our daughters and sons will have a bigger idea of “normal”.)

  • Stephanie

    “Smile, and we will all just get the hell over it.”

    Priceless advice in any context. Thank you.