Ask Team Practical: Gender Roles In Your Big Gay Wedding

Hey, guys! Liz here. During Pride Week at APW, we really like to make sure that LGBTQ voices take the floor, and a piece of that means involving LGBTQ writers wherever possible. For Ask Team Practical this week, I’m handing the reigns over to the super talented and very capable Meigh. You might remember Meigh from the beautiful two-part wedding graduate post (the first part by her wife, Christina, the second from Meigh’s perspective), but Meigh also is a wedding and special event planner, making her doubly qualified to tell us today about handling some of the detail aspects of planning an LGBTQ wedding. When we first started discussing this post, Meg pointed out what Matthew said earlier this week: there are just no resources for LGBTQ wedding planning. Meigh (awesomely) outright addresses his question, but takes it a step further and tackles a few other minor details that can cause major headaches.


The Original (Sadly Unanswered) Question From Matthew:

I met you in Denver. I am Sara’s gay friend Matthew! I am reading your book right now and planning the best gay wedding ever. Something has been consuming me though, and I was wondering if you had any ideas since this is what you do. What do two gay men play instead of “Here Comes the Bride”? I have googled it, but was directed to sites that were not exactly what I hoped for. Mostly sites about anal sex and dildos. I wish I was kidding… Any ideas?

Your number one gay fan,

Hi Matthew,

Meigh here. Meg told me I should (belatedly) answer this question, since, well, I’m gay and a wedding planner. It’s true, there aren’t a ton of resources for same-sex weddings, although it’s getting much better than it used to be.  It seems like the question here is: “What makes a same-sex wedding different from a straight wedding?” My knee-jerk answer was, “Not much, because we’re all the same, EQUALITY, JERKS,” but I think the real answer is, “As much or as little as you want it to be.” In my experience, same-sex weddings tend toward the traditional—most likely because we’re navigating the murky waters of unclear legal status and social recognition. If we choose to marry (which not everybody in the LGBTQ community thinks is necessary) we often want to make sure our weddings are recognizable to the community so we get the same social benefits (if not all the legal ones) available to our heterosexual peers. However, a giant bash full of glitter and drag queens is an equally valid way to celebrate your commitment. (And OMG, somebody please hire me to plan that wedding!)

What tends to trip people up when planning a same-sex wedding is the multitude of gendered traditions that live in the cultural wedding script. When we’re faced with a deviation from the norm, we’re often not sure where to go. Weddings have all these sneaky rules, right? Like, a woman is escorted down the aisle to her waiting groom, or there’s a bouquet toss for the bride and a garter toss for the groom, or the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner. Whatever issue it is, it’s easy to get hung up on that stuff.

Luckily, as LGBTQ folks, deviation from the norm is our specialty. The really great thing about a same-sex wedding is you’re not bound up in all that gendered baggage. You’re free! Yes, you don’t have that heteronormative script to fall back on, but that means you get to really think about this whole wedding thing and what is going to work for you specifically. With that in mind, here are some concrete ideas for navigating past the gender roles in your Big Gay Wedding:

Here comes the Bride, er, Grooms?

Like with the above question, sometimes you get stuck on one little part of the wedding because you’re so used to only one way of doing things. Luckily, addressing this one is easy, because people of all orientations have been coming up with really cool ideas for processional and recessional music lately. APW has recently done playlists of first dance songs and classical music that contain lots of stuff that would be great for this. You can each have your own song for a moment in the spotlight, or you can choose one that has special meaning for you as a couple to play as you both walk. Also, you can just choose something that makes you feel happy.

Speaking of processionals, how the hell do we get to the altar/chuppah/birdcage installation/etc.?

This one can be kind of awkward. If you think of a wedding from a movie or TV, you’ll pretty much always see a ceremony in which only the bride processes down the aisle, typically escorted by her father. (Although in Jewish ceremonies it is traditional for both parties to process with both parents. Go equality!) So, if you’re taking turns in the processional, who goes first? One neat solution I’ve seen to this is to have your guests seated in a circle or semi circle, and process toward each other simultaneously from opposite sides. (Please note however, this arrangement is tough on your photographer, so a second shooter might be a good choice in this instance.) If your venue or personal taste don’t allow for this setup, rock-paper-scissors it and one of you can just precede the other. I promise it’ll look good either way.

The Great Last Name Debate ™

I know APW has had approximately a zillionty posts and comments on this topic, but I think it’s worthwhile to spend a sec talking about the specific considerations for LGBTQ folks. In our current political and social climate, there are some good reasons for an LGBTQ couple to share a last name. It can help smooth the way in a lot of situations in which your marital status would not otherwise be obvious, such as medical forms and access, money matters, and if you plan to have some, dealing with matters related to your children. Now, I’m not saying you can’t do this with two different names. You completely can. I’m not even saying it will help you with anything legal or official. What I’ve found that it does do is simplify a lot of tedious, awkward conversations, and get the ball rolling faster than if you have to spend forever clarifying your relationship status with whoever is between you and whatever it is you need. It’s sort of cultural shorthand that says, “We are family.” You could choose one of your names, hyphenate, or go with my fave, the portmanteau (you know, like Kimye but less annoying), but sharing a name can be helpful for a same-sex couple.

How do we handle stupid questions?

Y’all, sometimes even well meaning people can ask a lot of dumb shit when they’re confronted with the unfamiliar. When I got married, I cannot tell you how many people asked which of us would be wearing pants. (Pants at a wedding are awesome and foxy, just not the choice we made, but that pesky gender assumption about our clothes got really old after a while.) I had to have a conversation with an old boss MORE THAN ONCE that no, neither of us should be referred to as husband, we could just be wife and wife and that was fine. Assuming this is a genuine question, the best thing you can do in this situation is graciously correct their misunderstanding, and then take some friends and laugh your asses off about it at a bar later. It’s a lot easier to roll with it than get frustrated; you’ve got a seating chart to worry about, so don’t let a little ignorance get you down.

The important part of all this hoopla is to trust yourself and trust your partner. You’re a smart lady, gentleman, or other human who has come pretty far in life, and now you’ve met someone you want to share that life with. Hooray! That’s a big deal! You know what you like, you know what your audience (well, guests) likes, and chances are you can make something that feels amazing and authentic without even trying all that hard.

Now go out there and rock yourselves a wedding. Or, buy a bunch of dildos and elope. Either way, do it feeling proud of yourselves and your decisions.

Photo: Moodeous Photography.

Meigh McNamee-Mahaffey is the lady behind Lula Mae Special Events, a D.C.-area company specializing in creating authentic, joyous, and sane weddings. When she’s not making weddings happen, you’ll find her sewing, knitting, gluing stuff to other stuff, and generally making new things appear.



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  • Leila

    In regards to processing: My husband and I were in a venue (Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor) that had two staircases that lead to a landing where the ceremony took place. We each walked down a staircase to eachother. Nice symbolism and might help solve processional stress. Obviously not every venue has this, but it might be the sort of thing to ask about and look out for. And I just want to note that everyone things that we pulled major strings to have our wedding there. Nope, we just asked. So, if you find a space that meets your needs, it might be worth inquireing.

    • rys

      Michigan Theater–woot! What an awesome venue for a wedding! Did the organ player come with the venue? :)

      • Leila

        We were in the lobby of the theater for the ceremony and there probably would have been an organ fee. But we did get our names on the marquee (free), made movie posters, and served popcorn (very cheap fee attached). As for music we tuned their piano (minor fee) and had one of our friends play, while another friend sang. The wedding was last Saturday so I’m still kind of gushy about it all. :)

    • Rachel

      First, that is a gorgeous venue and virtual fist bump for Michigan!

      Also, we’re in a similar boat. I’m actually happy that while our wedding venue has a central aisle, there’s no way to enter from it (it’s not like a church with doors at the back) so it solved that issue for us! There is a side door and then behind the judge’s bench there is a door on each side of it. So we’re just going to have our bridal party enter from the side and then we’ll walk out from the doors behind the bench at the same time and meet in front of the judge in the center.

      As Meigh said, venues that have double aisles or allow for other ways to solve this issue are great!

    • bonus of having two aisles: our families are awesome and our parents love each other, so when we were both walked in by both parents, they got to meet up at the end of the aisles. there were lots of hugs and it was cute and love-full and a good way to kick things off.

  • Emmy

    Another processional option: We’re having a Quaker wedding and walking in together. The idea is that we are freely giving ourselves to each other—no one is giving us away. It also just makes things a whole bunch easier! (At least once you get done explaining it to folks.)

    • Mallory

      I just attended my first Quaker wedding, and I have to say it was one of the most beautiful, loved-filled weddings I’ve ever been to. I love how intentionally it focused on the union of the couple and the love and support of their community. I’ve never cried so much at a wedding, my own included!

    • Mellie

      This is what we are doing too (straight couple). It is actually traditional in a lot of European countries, including Norway and Poland, which are big ones in our genes. That didn’t really play into our decision, but if anyone is skeptical we just say that we are doing it to honor our heritage.

  • Laura C

    Somehow this makes me think of a conversation I had last week with someone who, don’t get me wrong, is visibly joyful to be getting married, but said (paraphrasing here) “He’s totally into the wedding thing but I’ve been married twice — to women — so I’m just sitting back and letting him go through the realization of how much his fantasy wedding would cost. It’s his first wedding and my last.”

  • Parsley

    My wife and I actually flipped a coin so see which of us would walk in first! Great post.

  • KE

    This advice is wonderfully thought out and beautifully expressed. +1, Meigh.

    Since I have nothing of substance to add, I came down here to yell that you should walk in to a trumpet voluntary, because everybody should, because they are awesome.

    And best wishes!

  • Ana

    We’re doing a traditional set-up but our families are walking down the center aisle, taking the traditional groom role by standing up front, then my fiance and I are coming down the front side aisles at the same time. It’s a short walk and will drive our photographer nuts logistically, but the processional pomp wasn’t nearly as important to us as the recessional pomp.

    The gender stuff is drove us CRAZY in planning. We don’t identify with butch/femme terms but my fiance is much more likely to wear tshirts and sneakers, and the assumptions of others were really something to deal with.

  • i have to say, folks not knowing what to expect was one of the great highlights of our wedding planning – i feel like we got a lot of leeway because none of the queers we know know anything about weddings (we don’t really run in a group that focuses on marriage), and none of our family/more traditional friends had the foggiest how a queer wedding was supposed to work – so we were free to have it as traditional, but also as not, as we liked.

    also, i feel this pretty much sums up the gender stuff, courtesy of our nephew-kid who was trying to talk us into his being the “best man”, a space that was already filled (to the extent that it existed):
    he says, “*she* can’t be the best man. i’ll be the best man. the best man can’t be a girl.”
    so, my wife leans over, “can i tell you a secret? the groom’s a girl, too.”
    “yeah, *you’re* the groom,” at which point he gave us a perfect nine-year-old “what the hell does that have to do with anything?” look, like we were trying to change the subject or something.
    i love talking gender with kids, they have such a better grasp on it.

    • Ha, that reminds me of a time before we were married when when went camping, and this little kid from the next site over came up and asked us why we were kissing, b/c “only boyfriends kiss girlfriends.”(BTW, we were not like, swapping spit in front of small children or anything, but I think we smooched.) We kind of looked at each other and had this “where are your parents and why do I have to explain to you about lesbians” moment, and then just told him that no, sometimes girlfriends kiss girlfriends too. He just goes “oh, okay” and trots right off to go play again. I think of this every time some conservative is like “your marriage makes me have to talk to my kids about homos!” It’s not that difficult. Kids are awesome.

  • We walked each other down the aisle, and it was awesome! We had our parents enter first, so they were already standing in the front row when our wedding party and then we arrived.

    Also, yes… when wedding planning a lady-lady wedding, we also got lots of weird/misguided/silly questions. However, it actually provided a pretty stellar opportunity to open the hearts and minds of some people who were honestly just confused, and that was pretty great.

  • Elle Marie

    I used Jenny Owen Youngs’ “Great Big Plans” as the processional at my wedding – one thing I love about her music is that she specifically avoids using gendered language in her lyrics. We also had a venue with two staircases, and both came down the stairs to meet each other.

  • Caroline

    In terms of processional songs, there are lot of other options. Jews pretty much don’t use here comes the bride (Wagner was a big anti-Semite, and the Nazis played Wagner in the camps. Not the best cultural memories.) we also don’t mostly don’t use Mendelsohn’s wedding march (he converted away from Judaism.) there are some other great options: using a love song, whether a modern, pop or rock song or a classic or folk song,
    Pacabel’s canon in D, or other classically peices.

    My cousin walked down the aisle to “Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry” which I could see being an awesome option for two men getting married. (It’s sung by Darlene love, who has a beautiful voice, but if that’s too heteronormative for your wedding, if you have a musical friend you might ask them to play/ record a cover.)

    • Caroline

      Also, the Vitamin Strong Quartet version of ANYTHING.

      • DEFINITELY. I highly recommend VSQ for anybody who wants a formal-ish feeling for their prelude/processional, but is more into popular music than classical. Also, it’s kind of fun to watch guests figure out what they’re listening to.

      • Jennie

        I’m guessing you meant Vitamin *String* Quartet. Was at a wedding last week where the bride walked to one of their songs. So good.

    • Class of 1980

      Good points.

      I was going to say that even hetero couples have been walking down the aisle to other choices besides “Here Comes The Bride” for a very long time.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bride walk down the aisle to “Here Comes The Bride,” so there’s that!

    • I never have either, and I’ve been to a LOT of weddings. The most common “traditional” one I can think of is Pachelbel’s Canon in D, and even that’s a fairly recent invention (in terms of wedding history).

    • Class of 1980

      Me neither! Not even back in the dark ages!

    • Ideally, my fiance (a guy) and I (a girl) will be walking down one after the other (we haven’t broken to parents yet that we don’t want to be walked down/given away), and we’ve chosen to walk to “Impregnable Question” by The Dirty Projectors. In case anyone wants to use that!

  • Kara

    I walked in to Miss Claire Remembers by Enya. My hubby walked in to a piece by Sons of Korah.

    Seriously, a glittery drag wedding?! Heck yes would I be the straight fly on a wall!

  • Remy

    Here are the choices we made for our soft-role butch-femme-generally-queer wedding:
    Drag — She wore pants and a vest and tie. I wore a dress with a HUGE petticoat (because YAY).

    Procession — She wanted to wait for me at the end of the aisle (a traditionally groomlike thing), but I also wanted her to have an aisle walk where people acknowledged her bridelike qualities. So she entered first, walked down the aisle to “Crazy Love”, then the wedding party came down, and then I entered (to “The Promise” by Tracy Chapman).

    Names & Titles — We put an FAQ on our wedsite (see below), but really didn’t have to answer many of these in person. Don’t know if it’s because our circles are more queer-savvy (not making heteronormative assumptions) or they just didn’t ask.
    What do we call you?
    Two women getting married! Which one’s the groom? Is there a groom? Are you guys — er, ladies — uh, people — “partners”? “Wives”? Is either of you changing her name?

    We’re two women marrying each other. We’re not really into serious gender roles. We ARE into equality, feminism, and humor. Labels, while sometimes confining, are also quite helpful when there are too many of the same pronoun flying around. So — for the purposes of this wedding — Lina has been designated the Butch (instead of bride or groom) and Remy has taken the title of the Femme (instead of bride or groom). Lina’s wearing a suit; Remy’s wearing a dress. (And, yes, it is white.) This will not always be the case.

    We’re already partners, and we will continue to be after we’re married. We may also refer to each other as “wife” (although “sweetie”, “honeybear”, and “my main squeeze” will be just as frequent). If you’re introducing us to folks, it’s entirely appropriate to say, “This is our niece Remy, and her wife Lina.” That would be grand.

    Neither of us will be changing her name. Remy will continue to be Ms. Remy Timbrook and Lina will continue to be Ms. Adelina Hernandez, and together our household will be the Timbrook-Hernandez family. (Hold off on the babies’ names… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)”

    • That FAQ is a really good idea! It’s a nice way to address that stuff for people who might want to know but don’t want to ask, and also keeps you from having to answer the same question a million times. I am decidedly pro.

    • Class of 1980

      Would this be a good place to recommend that APW put up a terminology guide to the LGBT world?

      Here’s why. A couple of posters during Pride Month on APW have used the word “genderqueer”, which made me realize that I had no idea what it meant.

      So, I tried to look it up online, and ended up on a page with a longgggg explanation complete with a long list of alternate meanings. My head broke. I’m pretty smart, but I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. It was too complicated.

      Help me out here!

      • Class of 1980

        Correction: Pride “WEEK”

      • Class of 1980

        Also … just noticed that we have moved on from LGBT to LGBTQ!

      • Kaitie

        Here’s a good basic resource:

        The most important point is listed at the bottom: “It is very important to respect people’s desired self-identifications. One should never assume another person’s identity based on that person’s appearance. It is always best to ask people how they identify, including what pronouns they prefer, and to respect their wishes.”

        Thanks to University of Michigan for the resource!

        • Class of 1980

          Thanks, Kaitie.

          That definition is a lot shorter than the one I found.

          I know all the others, but “genderqueer” is a new one for me.

    • “my main squeeze” is one of my fave, too :-)

      Save the Last Dance FTW!

  • Audrey

    My biggest comment on music is that if you pick anything at all orchestral it’ll sound pretty traditional. For our ceremony all our music was orchestral arrangements of video game music and none of the non-video game playing guests noticed. (Except for a few comments that the music was pretty – no one heard any comments on that it was “non-traditional” or strange.)

  • Em

    My partner and I decided against the double aisle thing because we can’t afford a second photographer, and we don’t want folks to be rubber-necking trying to see both of us at once. My partner is the more butch of the two of us, but we don’t like being put into boxes of “male” and “female”. We aren’t a heterosexual couple and we don’t want to be stuffed into het roles just to make our relationship easier to understand. And weddings are, as we all know, one of the worst places for ridiculously stifling and limiting gender role expectations. No matter what we do, I will likely end up being cast as the Bride (who is always THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON at the wedding) while my partner is assumed to be the groom (who is pretty much inconsequential and just there to kiss the bride). We want to try to shake up these roles whenever possible, while keeping true to who we are and what we want (I just DO want to wear a pretty dress), so we’ve decided that I will walk down the aisle first, and then wait for my partner at the altar, and she will walk down the aisle towards me. We both get to walk, but the beautiful tension of the couple coming together happens with me in the more “male” role, waiting for my wife-to-be. In the same way, I will be wearing a dress (that is not white) and she will be wearing white, but not a dress.

    • A-nonny-nonny-mous

      This is what we’re doing to! I’m wearing the more traditionally bridal outfit, and I’m walking in first, and she’s coming in to me.

  • Jodi

    I recently read about a wedding where instead of “Here Comes the Bride” they played “Here Comes the Sun.”

    Also, when I was married 20-some years ago (a heterosexual marriage, and Catholic so our ability to be non-traditional was limited) we opted to do a very non-traditional entrance. We had a very tiny wedding (25 people, including the priest and his assistant) and we met them as they gathered at the front of the church. Then we all walked down the isle, led by the groom and his parents, then me and my parents, then all the guests. We walked right down the big isle in this huge basilica, then made a quick right into a small side chapel, where we were married with our friends and family standing in a circle around us.

    The music was played by an organist who set up his electric piano in the side chapel, so as we all started our long journey down the isle the music was faint, and got louder as we approached our destination. By the time we reached the chapel and as everyone gathered around, the music was welling up all around us, and we all started singing. I still get teary thinking about it.

    BTW, the priest loved this idea, he called it the “Fiddler on the Roof procession.”

  • I am just getting to my APW backlog and just wanted to say: Wooo! Go Meigh! That is all.