Bridal Party: Scooch Over, Gender Binary!

So last week I had a chit-chat about the ways in which misogyny (fueled by gender binary essentialism) and weddings/marriage are too often twinned in Dominant Cultural feedback loops about tying the knot.

Here’s a joke to illustrate my point:

Soon after marriage, a lady’s husband stopped wearing his wedding ring. She asked, “Why don’t you ever wear your wedding band?” He replied, “It cuts off my circulation.” She answered back, “It’s supposed to!”


Q. Why do brides wear white?
A. So their dishwasher will match the fridge and stove.

Wow. Charming.  


a queer couple dancing in front of a van that says we are family on the back

So, I’m just going to tell a story for this post and sprinkle awesome photos of awesome queer and/or same-sex weddings in there. Sound okay?

My not-husband and I talk all the time about how, if the rise of same-sex marriage has done anything, it’s provided new ways to envision gender dynamics in wedding roles. It’s like weddings got a big queer refresh.

Of course, queer and/or same-sex weddings can be just as traditional as traditional hetero-weddings, and hetero-weddings can also easily leave tradition behind.

But one thing I found in planning my own wedding, and in being semi-privy to other queer weddings, was that the very fact of queerness and/or same-sex-ness sort of short circuited everyone’s conscious and unconscious cultural assumptions. It’s almost as though since the expectation of adhering to a traditional template wasn’t there in the first place, it opened the playing field to a real sense of freedom of expression, experimentation, and individuality. YAY!

At least, yay for me, the person with complicated feelings about a tradition that frankly hasn’t been too great for women until the last 50 years or so. We’ve all seen Mad Men!

a series of screen shots of Betty Draper from Mad Men

With no gender binary present in my relationship, there were no gender essentializing jokes lobbed at my future a queer couple taking pictures in a photoboothnot-husband by male family members or friends about anyone being a Bridezilla or about his time as a buck about town running out. No bachelorette party filled with penis cakes, lingerie, or kitchen gadgets for me—something that some of my straight female friends have been subjected to against their will.

My mother and mother-in-law (she actually refers to HERSELF as my “not-MIL” and I am her “not-DIL” because acronyms are awesome) were hands off, but supportive with regard to our planning process, something I’m eternally thankful for after watching other friends and their future husbands/wives wrestle with familial assumptions rooted in the traditional template.

a woman in a red strapless dress with a pretty hairpieceMy father didn’t expect to pay for my wedding because we wanted to be able to pay for it ourselves and I wanted to disconnect from that part of the history of marriage. Much as I love and appreciate him, I was not my father’s to give away, nor did I care to extend a tradition that orginates in the offering of a dowry. My not-husband got what he got and he did not get jewels and a donkey as proof of my worth. He got a mouthy Southern lady with a penchant for railing against covert forms of historical oppression. HAPPY DAY!

Anyway, my dad helped me design my invitations and weighed in on my dress choice when I asked him (we have similar aesthetic tastes). There were no forced guest list additions due to social expectations, no raised eyebrows at my purple cocktail wedding dress.

The Point: There was NO pressure put on us AT ALL. Wea queer couple kissing on a cliff at their wedding got to truly design everything from the ground up based on our particular relationship personality. Even my very traditional Southern aunt remarked at how refreshingly “free” our wedding and reception were, saying that she wished that she had thought more deeply about her own wedding, instead of just following suit.

I maintain that walking into our planning process as a unified team, determined to make meaning together and design a ritual around the meaning we make, as opposed to walking into the whole thing as a “Bride and Groom” and future “Husband and Wife” shifted the foundational dynamics associated with weddings and even marriage.

As of yet, no one has developed any rude jokes about one half of the unit being a burdensome, sexless money pit for queer couples. There aren’t any Dominant Cultural narratives about same-sex/queer marriages, weddings, or even relationships. A girl can hope, though!

a queer couple signing a registry at their weddingIf you’re planning a wedding, regardless of how you identify, I highly recommend whetting your appetite for saying no to traditional gender roles while wedding planning by reading “Gender Dynamics in Queer Weddings” from So You’re Engayged. It’s all about how Erica, the more masculine-identified half of a same-sex couple, planned 90% of their wedding because her partner Christina had a busy work schedule. Erica refers to herself as “Butch Bridezilla,” which I really enjoy because I jokingly called my not-husband “Not-Groomzilla” throughout our planning process. He got stressed. And his suit cost more than my dress. TRUE STORY!

At any rate, the point of this post is not about declaring everyone throw all the traditional elements of weddings and marriage into the crapper. Rather, it’s to show that gender dynamics within wedding traditions are often billed as inherent, but queer and same-sex weddings prove that tradition and traditional roles do not a better wedding make. In fact, following the traditional wedding template can be more claustrophobic than reinventing the wheel.

After all, at its best, tradition connects us to a sense of rootedness, positive familial or cultural lineages, and even at times allows us to briefly tap into a felt sense of infinity. But at its less-than-best, tradition can flatten complexity, reinforce nasty oppressive cultural narratives, and keep us from ourselves and our individual sense of meaning.

If we want weddings and marriage to be truly separate from a history of oppression, inequality, and, oftentimes, cruelty, and be about love, trust, and respect, I believe we really need to rethink what aspects of the tradition we’re perpetuating and why, including gender roles and expectations. I would argue, both as someone who is sort of married in CA’s really half-assed way, and as someone who swore they would never marry, that perhaps intentionality and individuality are key to scrapping the template and starting anew. That and having the courage to say no to family members who would put their own sense of tradition above what makes you happy. If you need to ruffle feathers, then by god ruffle them and have the day you want. 

an old cartoon of a bride and groom. the groom is wearing a kick me sign on his back. two grooms wearing just married signs on their backs

Next week: Ain’t no template like a Disney template, cause a Disney template…has been subconsciously planted since childhood. Oh Ariel. I still love you.

Previously: Surprise! Misogyny is Here!, Pomp, Power, and the Myth of Virginity

by Michael Braithwaite
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7 Comments Have Been Posted

Don't know if you've visited

Don't know if you've visited it, but was like home to me when I was planning my wedding. The forums were supportive and fun, and the blog does a good job of showing every kind of wedding they can. It really is refreshing to see more than the default theme.

I'm glad to see OBB mentioned

I'm glad to see OBB mentioned already ;) My wedding is a few years off still but my partner and I have been reading OBB for like a year already.

They even have genderqueer weddings when people submit them! And a while back in the comments someone considered using the word "bridegroom" (which isn't used so much anymore) for genderqueer/genderbending/etc. people. My partner and I have been using that for me since :)

Oh nifty, I must have missed

Oh nifty, I must have missed that! The offbeat sites have been a little slice of home for me.

Equal partners? But that's not possible!

Too bad straight people are so horribly uncreative that they need same-sex marriage to reinvent relationships for them. I say this very seriously and as a heterosexual (but permanently and intentionally unmarried) woman. I can only hope that what all those "I support gay rights but not gay marriage" idiots fear - the destruction of the patriarchy due to this novel concept of two equally competent adults with equal social status and possibly even shared tastes and interests entering into a life partnership - comes to fruition.

I hope so too! When you think

I hope so too! When you think about it, same-sex couples are proof that men and women are equal - women don't need to depend on a man for anything, men don't need to depend on a woman for anything. YAY I'm destroying the patriarchy by being myself!

signing the union card

Yes! This article goes into all the reasons why my partner and I knew that we were never going to get married but jumped at the chance of getting a civil union. We did not have a ceremony at all -- I'm allergic to attention and ritual; he had his own reasons; I was pregnant and neither of us felt like planning anything but did think that we should grab what rights we could before the baby was born.

It's interesting that all of the points you make about a queer wedding are also the points we considered when deciding on a (hetero) civil union. For us, The Institution Of Marriage is just too spoiled by nasty history, sexism and heterosexism, not to mention the horrible discourse surrounding mainstream weddings. We see our civil union as a way to subvert that discourse: there's no official story about what it means to be unionized, so we get to write our own. I also see it as claiming a queer identity for our relationship. We are also modeling an egalitarian relationship for our daughter, and showing her that she doesn't need to conform to anyone's expectations and can define family however she feels is appropriate.

I adore the word "partner." It's so easy to say and so affectionate, but it also is uncompromising about the fact that we both demand an egalitarian relationship -- and it's nice and gender neutral.


Not one part of this article brings up the obvious issue: marriage is a ridiculous concept from the get-go.

'If marriage didn't exist, would you invent it? Would you go "Baby, this shit we got together, it's so good we gotta get the government in on this shit. We can't just share this commitment 'tweenst us. We need judges and lawyers involved in this shit, baby. It's hot!"' - Doug Stanhope

Whatever happens between two consenting adults, regardless of gender, race, number of limbs, etc. etc. is their business. Marriage is useless, focus on having a good relationship where you treat each other with respect and dignity and always have each others' backs. That's the beautiful part.

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