Meet Sarah. She’s twenty-six and has been a resident of the beautiful city of San Francisco for more than seven years. Sarah can rock a button down and tie like nobody’s business, and is (almost) as big a fan of Beyoncé as I am. She can scream like a linebacker at a football game, and can squeal like a tiny child at the sight of a cute animal. Sarah has been my friend for almost fifteen years. We have worked together and stayed in close touch despite moves to different states. She was the first friend I called when I got engaged, and was the first to offer to help with all the little wedding details once planning was underway.
Sarah was a shoe-in when it came to deciding who I would ask to be my right-hand friend, as I prepared for the biggest day of my life.
But, as a woman who did not grow up imagining my wedding day (I can thank my family of divorcees and feminists for that), I was dumbfounded when I realized that every bridal party I came across in magazines consisted of a tall group of slender women wearing the same dress, with long hair donned with a flower crown. The bridesmaids with tattoos and shorter haircuts were dubbed “alternative,” and any mixed gender bridal parties I could find were typically a mix of six foot tall chiseled gay men and more tall, long-haired women with flower crowns. The wedding industry was basically trying to tell me that wedding parties look one way, and one way only—completely conformed to traditional gender expectations.
On top of that, the title “Maid of Honor” just didn’t seem right. You see, Sarah identifies as queer and is gender non-conforming. She embraces different aspects of gender, so she doesn’t have a preference to which pronouns are used to describe her. Even then, sometimes the best way to refer to Sarah is with a gender-neutral “they” or “them.” She presents her gender the way that feels best to her, not always the way that people expect of her. I learned that “Maid of Honor” literally means “an unmarried woman acting as principal bridesmaid at a wedding.” To define Sarah by her marital status and her gender assigned at birth was WAY far off. So, “Friend of Honor” it is. Get used to it, World. Friend of Honor is here to stay.
I never asked Sarah if “maid” is a word she would be comfortable with; I just knew in my heart that it wouldn’t make sense to put that kind of label on her. Since making this decision for the both of us, it has been my mission to keep this wedding planning process as gender inclusive as I can be. My plan is to check-in with her nonstop to be the best ally I can be, and make sure that the process never makes her feel like she should be something or someone she’s not.
Before I shared this decision publicly (I waited a little bit so I could ask her in-person), people started to ask about what Sarah’s role would be in the wedding. Keep in mind, these were all good-intentioned friends and family, who understood my relationship with Sarah, but also had some presumptions as to how “weddings work,” thanks to the very gendered wedding industry.
“You’re not going to make Sarah wear a dress at your wedding, are you?”
Hell no. Asking her to do that would be completely out of the question. I’ve asked everyone in my bridal party to dress as they want to, just keeping my colors in mind. For Sarah, that means she’ll be rocking a suit.
“Is Sarah going to be in your wedding party?”
Umm, duh. This one got me thinking… how many well-intentioned people decided not to include their gender non-conforming friends into their wedding parties because they were made to believe that they didn’t fit?
“How are you going to make sure she doesn’t look like your groom?”
Well for starters, I will be squeezing my groom’s butt all day, not hers. I’m a hundred percent certain that the platonic nature of our friendship will be completely evident to all. Also, why aren’t you concerned that the groomsmen will run into the same problem?
“Is Sarah going to be standing on your side, or your fiancé’s?”
My side! Are you only asking that because you think she’d look “better” with the groomsmen? My bridal party is wearing varying shades of grey, and that includes Sarah.
All these questions have reminded me that as a cisgender, heterosexual white woman, nobody has ever questioned the way in which I present my gender to the rest of the world. It made me really mad to think that people (who all had good intentions, they just weren’t educated on what it means to be genderqueer) were trying to put my friend into a box. It also reminded me how often these judgments and questions come up for Sarah and many of my other gender non-conforming LGBTQA friends.
Naming Sarah as my “Friend of Honor” was easy. And her role in my wedding won’t be different than any traditional Maid of Honor, other than the fact that I won’t be asking her to paint her nails gold to match my wedding colors. Bare nails suit her just fine, but she’s obviously invited for a mani/pedi when the time comes!
The truth is, weddings are best when they allow everyone involved to be who they are, and when those people are honored in the way that is the most true to them. For me, that means a day that is exempt of the gendered traditions and expectations that should be left in the 1900s.