On 26th December 2020 my girlfriend Emily proposed to me and we exchanged inexpensive rings which we had picked out together. We knew it wouldn't be a traditional marriage. We're both polyamorous queer activists, more interested in running projects than having kids. Our goal is to be the elderly couple hanging out in the corner of the queer bar – unapologetically wrinkled, steeped in queer history and utterly besotted with one another. We discussed all this and more before deciding on a proposal. But as untraditional as we knew our marriage would be, we still didn’t realise how much the wedding industry is set up to exclude people like us.
It started out with little things, eye-rolling at endless references to "the bride and groom". We'd snort at the assertion that we need to "settle on a wedding diet", a phrase so steeped in fatphobia that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. While holding hands at a wedding fair, a friend and their fiancée were told: "You're getting married on the same day? That’s so cute, you must be besties!"
It’s in the way that almost every article about weddings is geared towards "the bride". The industry assumes that not only is there exactly one bride but also that she (with her all-female group of bridesmaids) has responsibility for everything. Sometimes articles include a reminder to occasionally ask the groom for his opinion. For. His. Opinion. As if the extent of his involvement is to share the odd idea and then leave the bride to do all the work while he heads off to get drunk with his all-male group of groomsmen. Where are the friends of the opposite gender?
In isolation, these are irritating oversights for queer couples planning their weddings. But they’re not in isolation. Wedding guides both reflect and shape how people think about weddings, from tastes in decor to the gendered division of labour. Taken together, the heteronormativity of the wedding industry sends a clear message to queer couples: you don't belong here.
A main problem is that weddings are inextricably linked to talk of "tradition". In weddingspeak, a Traditional Classy Wedding is the standard to aspire to, despite the fact that many of these traditions are rooted in a regressive worldview. The role of father of the bride – someone who grants permission to marry, and gives away the bride – is deeply patriarchal. The white dress represents purity and innocence, reflecting a misogynistic obsession with virginity. These are symbolic issues, of course, but symbols matter.
A certain amount of deviation from this norm is acceptable, provided it does not take us too far away from the perfect weddings which are perpetuated in our media. This homogeneity by its nature suppresses individual expression in favour of a uniformity which privileges the thin, white, heterosexual and wealthy. As someone who is only one of those things, I don’t want to force myself into that mould – for one thing, it’s at least six sizes too small.
But the biggest issue started with the church. Emily was keen to get married by her vicar Heston at All Hallows, her queer-inclusive church. While All Hallows was delighted by this, it is part of the Church of England – which does not allow same-sex marriage. I am non-binary and so I would have to be misgendered throughout the wedding, starting my marriage with a lie by denying my identity. As a compromise, we decided to marry at a registry office, followed by a queer blessing at All Hallows (a proposition at which Heston was overjoyed).
Yet when we spoke to the registry office, we discovered a much bigger issue. To be married in England you have to refer to one another as either husband or wife. If you’re a binary trans person you need a Gender Recognition Certificate to be correctly gendered in your vows. There’s no accommodation for non-binary people because, in the eyes of the law, we don’t exist. It’s hard to put into words how much this hurts. As Kelvin, a trans man exploring wedding planning, put it: "[We] don't want to be misgendered in our vows but cis people … seem to think, Oh you can just treat it as a joke!" Enbys like myself have to live with being misgendered, mocked and degraded every day. The reality that I couldn’t get away from this even for my wedding day was soul-crushing.
Given all this you might wonder why queer people want to get married at all. For some it’s a political act, claiming something we were denied for so long. For Lili, a non-binary femme who is often misread as a woman, marriage helps assert a relationship whose validity people often question: "Calling her my wife helps shut that down." But to me, these are simply bonuses. I want to get married because I am hopelessly in love with my fiancée and I want to share that with the people I love most in this world.
The question my fiancée and I face is: how to throw a wedding which reflects our values? And so we started asking the questions that mattered to us: what does this represent? Does this reflect who we are? Is it worth the money?
Once we started asking these questions, a lot of things started falling away. The classic white dress, hen dos, Emily being given away. Our decorations will be homemade and unapologetically queer, and I really don’t care if the meal is tacky. To avoid being misgendered we’ll be signing legal documents at the registry office in front of two witnesses, and as far as I’m concerned that’s not a part of the wedding.
With all this comes creation. We’ll use new language: bride marries enbride in defiant declaration of trans love. We’ll have a queer afterparty, filled with queer exuberance unrestrained by the gaze of straight relatives. It will be a place where chosen family are held in the same esteem as biological.
Queer marriage, at least in many of its forms, is still a relatively recent phenomenon. It feels like there’s a choice to make between reproducing and assimilating into the traditions of a flawed institution, and creating something new. Something which reflects our tastes, our values, our queerness. We won’t be having a Traditional Classy Wedding and I couldn’t be happier.