Q: Dear Apw,
How can my fiancx and I (a cis-het couple) ensure that our wedding is inclusive and affirming to our trans and non-binary friends, without asking them to perform emotional labor to ensure that it is?
My fiancx and I are marrying in September and celebrating with a not-very-formal party at my parents’ cider orchard a week later. We have extended families, family friends, and our community here all joining us. While we are a straight, cis-gendered couple, we want to de-emphasize gender as much as possible in our celebration to ensure that our trans friends are comfortable and create a safe space for everyone.
I worry that my conservative family members may make an offhand comment, so my mom and I are planning to sternly communicate the rules beforehand. While I feel… not great… about calling out extended family that I’m not particularly close to, I’d rather do it than put my trans friends at risk. It’s my job, not theirs.
My question is: how else can I make sure the space is safe and affirming? Leave optional preferred pronoun buttons at the welcome table? Make sure our port-a-potty vendor doesn’t gender the stalls? While I’m sure my friends would be gracious enough to consult with me, I hate to ask them to perform emotional labor on my behalf.
A: Dear Anonymous,
I want to lead this mini-answer by making it clear that I personally am not trans or non-binary. But I am raising a child who is, which means that often I act as his (yup, that’s his current pronoun) representative in the world. When you’re six, you can’t always make the change you need in the world.
So here is my two cents. I have strong feelings on this subject, but they are limited to my particular worldview, and I hope you’ll get lots more advice in the comments. That said, as the parent of a non-binary kid, I do want the basics to be covered without any conversation (please always have gender neutral bathrooms, for example.) But beyond that, I want you to ask me what my kid wants and needs, and I don’t want you to guess or make assumptions. Yes, sure, I don’t want our family to always and forever do all the emotional labor (because that is usually how it rolls). But the emotional labor is in the having to bring up the subject yet again, not in the finally getting to answer the question nobody ever asks.
In our current life, one of the things we struggle with is, as you’d expect, older or more conservative people that don’t understand our son’s gender expression and handle it badly. But one of our other major struggles is what I’d call “well-intentioned people.” And I get it! We all try to be those folx. But the ugly downside to the well-intentioned ally is people making assumptions about what is right for you (and/or your kid) and then forcing that choice on you, because “they tried so hard, and don’t you appreciate it?” The answer is: no, not always. And also, can it be about what my kid actually needs, not what you want to give him?
Now, I know. You want this to be about your friends, without making them do any of the work. But chances are, they want a chance to shape how they’re talked about, or called out, or any of the various things you might choose to do that might draw focus to them. And the reality is, I can’t tell you the answers. Nobody can tell you what your friends would prefer—other than your friends.
Non-gendered restrooms are always a good idea, so please do that (this goes for everyone, always and forever). And etiquette has shifted where it’s now not enough to say “please” and “thank you” and “nice to meet you”—it’s also important to ask how people prefer to be addressed, and it’s okay to remind your guests of this. How you remind them of this is a conversation that it might be helpful to include your friends in.
Send your friends an email or give them a call, asking about the things you’re already considering, and say you welcome feedback, suggestions, and preferences. Give a heads up that you may put some language on your invitations around pronoun protocol like, “cocktail attire, no phones, no assuming pronouns.” Pronoun stickers might be great… or they might put folx in a situation where they feel even more singled out in a non-queer space. (My son currently hates pronoun stickers.) So ask, and if you do decide to offer stickers or buttons, consider making them mandatory. As for strictly communicating rules to older family members beforehand? It might be helpful, or it might make trans and non-binary people feel like they’ve been put on the spot before they even walk in the door. Reach out, find out what your folx want and need, and then take on the labor of providing it.
Also, keep in mind that it would be wise to offer some training to your vendors. Think about all the times throughout your wedding that could be gendered: service during the meal, at the bar, during a bouquet toss, etc. Then communicate with your vendors and do some training with them on how to use inclusive language and, beyond that, expand their thinking around etiquette and gender. Talk to your caterer and bar staff about alternatives to “sir” and “ma’am.” (I can’t tell you the number of times a waiter has casually called my kid “little girl,” while he was wearing a dress, resulting in his tears, and me suddenly trying to determine how safe the situation was for him.) Let your DJ know the bouquet toss is for everyone who loves a competitive floral sporting event. Maybe cut some of those activities or change them entirely, but get your vendors on the same page before the wedding.
The challenge is to create space that’s inclusive for everyone… and find a way to do it that works for them. And the only way you can find out how to do that is to ask them what they need… and then listen and act accordingly. Be prepared for more than one response, and not just one singular answer. Trans and non-binary people are not a monolith, and navigating inclusion doesn’t have one simple answer or solution.
I have plenty of thoughts and feelings on this! but again, I’m a parent, not a Trans or non-binary person, so let’s open it to the floor. What’s your best advice? Trans and Non-Binary Folx, Please offer up all your thoughts and opinions… along with what you’d want at a wedding, or any other large scale social event.