Queerly, I Do.
This post is for all of my friends of Dorothy. And no, I do not mean my step-mom who is a devoted Wizard of Oz fan. Hi Darcy! No, I'm talking to my LGBTQIA+ family who are engaged, looking to get married, and feeling more than a little daunted by peeking into the wedding industry as they start their planning process. I am a Celebrant, a storyteller, a ceremonialist, an officiant; so I'm going to come at this topic from the actual wedding ceremony. Hopefully this will offer some general tips and encouragement for your more extensive process of planning this special rite of passage for the both of you as a couple.
I am going to use the word queer to describe these weddings as a whole. Some folks don't like that word and find it provoking. Personally, I have reclaimed it and think of it as an umbrella term for the wider LGBTQIA+ community. It's also easier to say and write.
The three topics I want to focus on are: whether to elope or include guests, some thoughts about wedding parties and the whole procession/recession choreography, and how to honor your queer identity within the ceremony and convey that no one person may be fulfilling a "bride" or "groom" role, .
Elopements vs. Ceremonies that Include Guests
Let me start this first section by saying that neither of these choices is wrong. People choose from these options for so many reasons, the least of which may be that it is going to be a queer ceremony. However, if you have family and friends who love and support you from day to day, please consider including them in the wedding ceremony.
I hear the justifications for why you don't want to include guests. This will be the first queer wedding they've attended, it will be so awkward. It is going to be short and sweet anyway, why bother inviting everyone for something so quick? We will not be following religious or cultural traditions that the guests might expect. Weddings are sort of boring and we really just want to have everyone around for the celebration. I hear that. Any one of these reasons is valid.
As a Celebrant, I am trained to put you and your love story at the core of your ceremony and work with you every step of the way so you can avoid a lot of the reasons to avoid having guests. What if you think of your wedding ceremony as a time to reflect on your relationship and to honor your love by transitioning to this new level of commitment to each other? With that concept at the core, any elements you want to add can serve that vision. Readings and rituals can serve to highlight your love and honor this transition. Someone like a Celebrant knows how to ask you the right questions to find out what those rituals and readings might be. If you do want to add cultural or religious elements in because it feels good to you to honor that part of your life, a Celebrant is going to know how to weave that in seamlessly. Most weddings I officiate are fifteen to twenty minutes, max! Adding these custom elements is more about discussing your story ahead of time. With that prep work done, we can change out the wording around the ceremonial elements so we are not adding to the length of a "traditional" ceremony, but making each part custom fit to you.
Not everyone thinks about these things and that's a big reason couples, especially queer couples, don't feel comfortable standing up in front of their loved ones in this vulnerable way. Why put yourself on display to go through the motions of a ceremony you don't connect to. I get it! That's exactly the way I was thinking when I got married and why I insisted on only including parents, siblings, and one friend each for the ceremony. It wasn't until the big reception we held the next day with 120 of our family and friends did I begin to realize what I missed out on. We chose a friend to perform our ceremony and they did not know how to guide us around this issue, so we did not know what to expect until it had already happened. When I work with couples, we can talk through the flow and the feelings and any issues we hypothetically think might come up and then plan for them well in advance.
I am an introvert, so I am totally on the side of anyone who wants to run off and elope. Elopements can be super sweet and uninhibited. I also (now) know that a larger wedding can feel supportive and cozy when you focus on the reason for the ceremony and think of all of your guests as supportive witnesses to the core actions.
Wedding Parties, Processionals, and Recessionals
It has been my experience that queer couples are less likely to have big wedding parties, if they even have one person standing up with them at all. I can think of some possible reasons for this. It does seem to be some heteronormative pageantry filled with very gendered terms. I always think cost may be a factor - why make your friends buy a special garment that they may never wear again? And the last big one may be that it's too much to recreate and orchestrate the processional and recessional with all of its coupling/escorting imagery. Let us take each of these issues in turn to see how we can queer them for your ceremony.
First, we should give ourselves some new language to talk about people within wedding parties. Instead of bridal party, groomsmen, best man, maid of honor, or bridesmaids, most inclusive wedding vendors have neutralized these terms. Wedding party describes the group as a whole, or [you name]'s wedding party and [your partner's name]'s wedding party. People of honor replace the best man and maid of honor signifiers. I live in a pretty liberal city in a fairly liberal state, so even the heteronormative couples I am marrying have some degree of gender mixture in their wedding parties, so this language has become standard in that last seven years that I have been marrying people.
What is no longer standard is how people walk up and down the aisle. Nobody has to escort anyone else in your wedding party. They can walk in side by side, one at a time, one partner's group first, then the other's party. There are really no rules! When it comes to parents "escorting" you down the aisle, rules are out the window there, too. We have all kinds of situations that alter how this happens: divorced parents, deceased parents, estranged parents, not wanting to be "given away". As a nerd for symbolism, I love this visual representation of showing where you come from. It's a simple symbolic nod to the life you had before you met your partner and it honors those people who grew up with you, or helped you grow in different ways. That could easily be chosen family. If you wanted to keep that symbolic feeling, but walk yourself up the aisle, I love the idea of a couple coming up the outer aisles and meeting at the altar space, then recessing down the center aisle together. And more frequently, I have couples who prefer to walk in and out together, escorting each other.
Do not let expectations of coordinated clothing be a hinderance to having your people of honor stand with you. To some, that visual of a wedding party splayed out in their matching outfits is a high priority and is part of their wedding fantasy. And that can be a costly fantasy to pass on to your friends and family. I'll pass on some advice that I received from one of my first friends in Portland. She would throw a New Year's Eve bash in her house every year and she would tell the 100 to 200 guests to dress as colorfully as possible. You could be as festive or elegant as you wanted, the only rule was no black clothes! This is because photos look amazing with all of the color! When people wearing black would pop up in a photo, because some always would, you lose them to the background. So, have your wedding party wear what they are comfortable in, give them some guidelines if you wish, and know that the variety will make any photos look exponentially more vibrant and textural and unique.
I lastly wanted to talk about celebrating your queer identity within your ceremony. Everything we have talked about so far contributes to queering your wedding. The way you walk in or what you are wearing will already subtly signal this isn't your typical wedding. I think the biggest factor is finding someone, like a Celebrant, who can tell your love story and make it the core of the ceremony.
When I create ceremonies, I typically add some acknowledgement of family, asking the couple who they would like to honor. This works for elopements, too. Just because your friends and family are not there, doesn't mean you cannot include them energetically. Same goes for your loved ones who have died. These milestones of life are the moments when we want to connect with people who have passed on as much as the people in our daily lives. With queer couples, I often ask if there are queer ancestors they would like to acknowledge. These could be famous people like Marsha P. Johnson, or Harvey Milk, or Edith Windsor. People who have stood out in our national consciousness for their work for queer rights. They could also be people who have been part of the couples' own chosen family. Often it is these people who shape us as much as or more than our biological families, so honoring them in this special ceremony is only fitting.
Readings and quotes can also bring in the feeling that you are trying to capture for your wedding. These could be integrated into ring vows. These could be blessings for your relationship. One of the readings I come back to a lot is a part of the judgement from the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that made same sex marriage legal nationally here in the U.S. It conveys simply and directly why everyone should have the opportunity to marry and emphasizes the love it takes to make this commitment. Definitely something everyone can relate to while highlighting why this particular wedding ceremony is special. I keep the vows shared between the characters Nomi and Amanita from the show Sense8 in my Sample Vow document. I share it with couples who are looking to write their own vows, but need inspiration. While they are stunning examples of vow writing, they are also excellent examples of bringing your authentic self to your wedding ceremony to make it extra special.
How else would you celebrated being queer in your ceremony? Use that comment box below to let me know. There are infinite ways. I would love to hear more.
And where do I stand? I don't mean in terms of choosing me as your Celebrant - although you should! I mean literally, where do I stand at your wedding? Most people are most comfortable with me standing between them, but this is sort of a relic of the days when the church held all the power in marrying people, so the minister or priest was the most important person at the ceremony. All eyes were on him. Yeah, always him. Well, I don't think I'm the most important person at your ceremony. You are the focus. Or should be. So, I always offer to step to the side. This puts the focus on you and it gives the ceremony more of a storytelling energy than a performance.
This couple above was the centerpiece of this ceremony. This angle of photo makes it look like I am the focus, but the guests could see their loved ones' faces and just listen to me if they wanted to. Often your guests only get to see the back of your heads. The couple can freely move around and get comfortable. In this particular picture, one is turning back to look at me, but he could have easily put an arm around his partner and stood facing out toward his witnesses. Or they could have simply kept their attention on each other the whole time without me projecting through their ears. This does not really have anything to do with queer identity, but I do see it as queering the wedding to be this thoughtful about the way you approach every aspect of the ceremony.
Okay, my queer ones, go dive into your wedding planning with some freed up minds and some fresh eyes. Remember to bring your full self to the process and to find someone who will help you let your full self be honored and celebrated. We stepped out of the closet long ago. We don't need to sneak back in to get married. We need to integrate the changes we have grown through and make a gift of this reintegration to our dear ones who love and support us.