How Do We Make Our Non-Binary Guests Comfortable?

Our families aren't familiar with gender neutral pronouns...

Q:My boo and I are big ol’ queers who come with a cavalcade of queer chosen family, many of whom are coming to our wedding. A lot of that chosen family, and we, are some flavor of trans. A lot of members of our respective birth families are, well, not trans, or queer, or familiar with gender neutral pronouns (or using the correct pronouns for binary trans people either). I don’t love it, but I get it—society doesn’t teach us very much about trans people or respecting anyone who is different in any way, so there’s no motivation to get familiar with things like this. But I love my chosen family, I want this to be a day of joy and comfort for everyone, not just the cis folks in the room.

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Where Do You Draw the Line with Family?

Outside of sending some very pointed informational emails, what can I do to protect my precious trans and gender nonconforming family?

—Anonymous

A:

Dear Anonymous,

First, I want to acknowledge how much you are already doing by giving this such thought in both a grounded and caring way. You could just focus on planning your wedding and let everyone fend for themselves. Instead, you are choosing to do the extra work of merging different worlds and communities with respect and kindness. That says a LOT about who you are, and in my experience, you’re very being will have a greater influence than anything you might do.

That said… informational emails are great! Keep them short and direct, but provide links to more in-depth information for those who are curious. In addition, you can try simply asking your people how they feel. Give them the option of choosing to prioritize their mental health and safety and comfort—even if it means choosing not to attend. Give your birth families the opportunity to ask you their awkward or inappropriate questions before the big day, make information available, and keep leading by example—using preferred pronouns, non-binary vocabulary, etc. It sounds like you are already doing what you can to create as respectful of an environment as possible. At the end of the day, some weddings are beautiful experiences where everyone rises to the occasion and behaves with the utmost decorum, and some weddings are… well, not that. I was a wedding photographer once upon a time (and occasionally I still moonlight as one), and I’ve seen it all. I’d love to tell you that your day will be perfect and people will surprise you and show up with hearts full of love to celebrate your union. And I’m sure some people will. Hopefully, everyone will. But it doesn’t always happen.

So, while letting your trans and non-binary family know the situation and asking them what might help them be comfortable isn’t required (sometimes getting through your wedding is all you can do, and you can’t also take care of other humans), it sounds like you have the bandwidth and the desire to go above and beyond to help everyone feel comfortable and be educated. And in that case, offer resources. But check in with yourself, too, and make sure this is something you’re emotionally able to take on right now.

Either way, you might want to put plans in place for how you’d like to address any Not Okay situations. Think through what might happen that would be really Not Okay, and what you or your designated Wedding Helpers/Trusted Supports can realistically do to mitigate any potential harm, or prevent the Not Okay situation from progressing. Example: Let’s say Aunt Beatrice has one too many cocktails and starts loudly asking if Caitlyn Jenner was invited to the wedding. Probably not cool. Can a sober, understanding relative intervene? Can a designated wedding helper escort Aunt Beatrice to another room?

In summary, communication, emergency planning, and continuing to be your awesome, compassionate self will go a long ways toward your desired outcome. You’re doing the best you can to ensure harmony while trying to include everyone you care about on your wedding day. It’s no easy task, but it just might open hearts and minds in beautiful, lasting ways!

And remember. As always, take care of yourself first. You’re also a queer person, and you happen to be the queer person getting married. If you can provide extra help and support to your beloved chosen family after you put on your oxygen mask, do it. But please put on that oxygen mask first. Taking care of yourself is, after all, a radical act.

—Leah Tioxon

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