I started my career as a wedding photographer seven years ago. I photograph the LGBTQ community almost exclusively, because the wedding industry can be a specifically challenging (and, let’s just call it what it is, awkward) place for queer folks. My business model changed when my inquiries started to be filled with LGBTQ couples who were reaching out to me not just because they admired my work aesthetically, but because I was out and proud in my business and they were wanting to hire a photographer who was “family.”
I listened a lot to the experiences of my clients and friends who were getting married and had a good idea of how navigating the wedding world can create a unique set of challenges for queer folks. But it wasn’t until I got engaged myself last fall, that I really had firsthand experience of how strange and alienating it can be. I knew the wedding industry from a photographer’s experience, but I was quickly overwhelmed when reaching out to potential vendors and suddenly felt myself in the seat of so many who had reached out to me for help and guidance.
I’ve found myself staring down inquiry forms with “bride and groom” as the only places to fill in information. I’m still struggling to find a place that has an outfit that feels like me and can make my curvy, femme self feel seen. When I get compliments on my engagement ring strangers exclaim, “Wow he did a good job!” My fiancé and I are more likely to be assumed sisters or friends than partners, and because we don’t play into any stereotypical gender roles, most of the wedding traditions feel strange to us.
The LGBTQ community has been able to legally marry in the U.S. since 2015, but there are still so many obstacles and challenges to planning and having a wedding. Here are some of the things that have come up for me and my friends and clients as being the some of the toughest parts to navigate while planning a wedding as a queer person.
1. Money. Money. Money.
As a community, many LGBTQ-identified folks lack the resources or funds to cover the high price of weddings. Many of us are paying for the wedding ourselves due to lack of “traditional” family support, which makes budgeting or even thinking about the price of a wedding seem impossible. Add to that the fact that LGBTQ people face a disproportionate amount of discrimination and barriers to employment, and you often have a situation where money is tight. (Or tighter than it is for many of our straight/cis peers.)
2. What to wear and where to get it?
I’m a cisgender queer femme and I’ve always imagined myself wearing a dress at my wedding. This makes walking into a wedding shop easier for me, minus the fact that there’s a very limited selection of plus size dresses (a topic for another time). But for gender nonconforming, trans, nonbinary, or folks who want to wear something other than what is deemed “traditional” for their gender presentation, finding a wedding outfit can feel like an impossible task. I’m so glad that there are more suiting companies that are dedicated to tailoring for queer bodies, and this is a huge step in the right direction. But we need more of them, as well as femme clothes for non-cisgender female bodies. I mean, where are the rad wedding capes and accessory companies made and marketed toward any body? Where are the fun outfits for wedding kids that don’t immediately split them into gender? The wedding industry (and clothing industry as well), needs to open up to the fluidity of gender and create pieces that can be for everyone. And no, I don’t mean more lines of grey, dull “androgynous” clothing set on thin, white bodies.
The wedding industry can get a whole lot more queer, more representative of the folks who are getting married, and allow for more interesting, fun, and unique clothes and designs that make everyone feel great. Anyone who is getting married should be able to walk into a store and buy a kick-ass wedding outfit, while not being immediately labeled as a bride or a groom.
3. The Wedding Industry is overwhelmingly heteronormative and lacks diversity.
The constant bombardment of “bride and groom” and “Mr. and Mrs.” is everywhere, and most companies who are involved in the wedding industry are marketing toward “brides and grooms.” It shows in their advertising, the copy they use on their websites, the photos that they show, and the intake forms on their contact pages. My fiancé and I are usually able to laugh it off, but we also recognize that it’s annoying to have to cross out or asterisk when it says “groom’s info” because neither one of us identify as a groom. Even in the LGBTQ wedding world, we see most weddings described as “same-sex weddings” which doesn’t leave room for the nuances and identities of those in Queer relationships.
4. Outdated gender roles and stereotypes prevail.
I work with a lot of genderqueer, nonbinary, and trans folks who feel erased from the Wedding Industry all together. While there’s some great “Gay Wedding” stuff out there, a lot of it is stereotypical or exclusive of other queer identities. The spectrum for queerness and the way we marry is so much more diverse that “same-sex weddings.” I remember being at a wedding where the venue put out a sign that said “two brides are better than one,” which, while well intended, was awkward for the couple with one person in a suit not identifying as a bride at all. It also goes without saying that society gets stuck in gender roles and assumes anyone who is masculine/feminine presenting should fall into the correlating gender role and vice-versa.
There are also many vendors and industry folks that don’t know to (or care to) ask pronouns, and end up misgendering their couples on their wedding day. Oof.
The wedding industry is always about ten years behind, and while it’s great that more vendors are trying to be inclusive or show that they are LGBTQ friendly, there’s still so much more that we all can be doing to make sure couples in Queer partnerships feel comfortable, and ultimately safe, working with us.
5. LGBTQ couples fear discrimination from vendors, and yes it still happens all the time.
One of the biggest fears that I’ve heard from couples is worrying that upon disclosing their LGBTQ identity to potential vendors that they will be denied or discriminated against. And while I like to think that most people in the wedding industry wouldn’t deny someone based on who they love, it happens ALL THE TIME. It breaks my heart to hear these stories, or to hear the fears and firsthand experiences of my clients and friends.
6. Family can be a sore subject.
Family support looks so different for Queer folks, and it can be painful to explain to someone why your father won’t be walking you down the aisle, or why family members weren’t invited to the wedding. I’ve showed up to shoot a wedding and been the only witness. I’ve had couples who have told me that their family won’t be attending because they don’t agree with “LGBTQ marriage.” I’ve seen family members misgender people in speeches. It’s heartbreaking, but Queers have always been defining their families for themselves, and that’s what makes the community so special and resilient.
These are just a few of the challenges that I’ve encountered personally and through my clients. It constantly makes me want to reach and stretch more to be better advocates for them and us, and it makes me want to change the wedding industry to make it a more inclusive and inviting place for all queer folks.
What has your experience been in planning a wedding as an LGBTQ person? What are some of the strange or awkward pieces of it that you’re navigating? What would you like to see change in the wedding industry?