On Becoming a Bride, or Everything NOT to Ask Queer Couples Getting Married

The identities of the individuals discussed have been disguised in order to protect their businesses.

My then wife-to-be and I were sitting in side-by-side styling chairs at the salon for our trial hair and makeup session for our wedding day. The makeup artist had just introduced herself, and although I had told the salon over the phone that my wife-to-be and I were coming together for this appointment, it was clear that the fact of two brides was not computing in this woman’s head.

“Who’s getting married?” She looked back and forth at the two of us.

“Both of us,” we’d say in unison. This wasn’t the first time, so we added “To each other” to make it clear.

The woman was clearly embarrassed, and like all the wedding industry professionals we’d met before her, she asked the first question that everyone (including family members) asked us as soon as they learned we’d got engaged: “Who’s wearing the dress?”

As though only one of us could.

And the question they didn’t dare ask for fear of our answer: “Will one of you be wearing a suit?”

As though it would be the ultimate betrayal to our sex or our gender. As though there necessarily had to be one dress and one suit.

This kind of bifurcated, heteronormative thinking permeated every step of the wedding planning process. If I had a dollar for every time we had to cross out the word “GROOM” on all our contracts, or inform secretaries that there was no groom but two brides (this confused them–they didn’t know how to fit us into their bride/groom computer systems), or clarify that we weren’t best friends doing their wedding planning together but that we were marrying each other, or every time (upon clarifying our engagement to each other) the vendor said they had gay/lesbian friends and/or colleagues and/or had attended queer weddings in effort to establish common ground with us “alien queers”… we could have paid for this wedding.

I can’t say I wasn’t expecting any resistance from the wedding industry. I was expecting a fair bit, but I put my faith in capitalism, hoping that their need to get queer couples’ business would necessitate their unfaltering acceptance and accommodation. But the stubbornness we were met with was troubling.

The “Who’s wearing the dress?” question takes many forms:

  • Who cooks?
  • Who cleans?
  • Who is going to have the children?
  • Who is going to stay home with the children?
  • Do you normally wear dresses/dress up?

Many times all of these questions are asked, not all at once, but spread out over the course of a one- or two-hour meeting, just so they can figure out who is “the man” and who is “the woman”–as though these divisions necessarily mean anything anymore in the 21st century. I’d answer these questions for you to prove how neither of us is the man or the woman, but since I wouldn’t ask you these questions, I won’t answer them for you, either.

These questions are so irritating because they are so invasive. No one thinks these questions are worthwhile when the bride-to-be is marrying a man. Nobody cares, nor should they. Every time we sat down with a new vendor, we felt like science experiments–like we were the very first gay people they had ever met or done business with, although that was highly doubtful since SCOTUS struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, and same-sex marriage had been legal even longer in New York State. And if you work in the wedding industry, you better get with the times, or you’ll be alienating a great deal of potential customers.

The wedding industry is unapologetically gendered and resists change in the stupidest of ways. How hard is it to write “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2” instead of “Bride” and “Groom” on the countless contracts we’re forced to sign? How hard is it to call the dais not “bride and groom table” but the “sweetheart table”? How hard is it to correct yourself once you realize that you’ve just called the brides-to-be’s dais the “bride and groom table”? (Why would you persist, unless of course you don’t feel we, two women, belong there together at all?) How hard is it to ask for a “partner’s” name instead of assuming there’s always a groom?

Somehow, the visible relief in our vendors’ voices when we told them we’d both be wearing “the” dress (underlining “THE” here–there’s still the expectation that there will only be one dress, one center of attention, as though a wedding is all about THE bride instead of the wedded couple) was more irritating. One vendor excitedly squealed, “That’s great! You both get to be the bride!” Another said, “As you should,” as though a tuxedo or pantsuit would be repulsive.

Ironically, two of the best experiences we had were in the bridal shops we visited. Of course our answer to the “Who’s wearing the dress?” question made them twice the commission. But I don’t have it in me to tarnish those very good memories in a sea of disgusting wedding planning nightmares.

Our answers to the “Who’s wearing the dress?” question were just one side of the homophobic, heteronormative coin. Not only did we have to prove that we were “women” on our wedding day, but we seemingly had to promise to “remain women” after it.

We quickly learned to avoid bringing up the big post-wedding chop. While “the big chop” is named precisely because so many brides lob off quite a bit of hair after getting married, somehow the idea of two queer women doing it was particularly harrowing. They’d rush to ask how much we planned to cut, begging us not to “chop it all off” (i.e. get a “boy” haircut). One of the hairstylists we did a trial with spent two whole hours trying to convince us not to cut our hair. As though it mattered to her or her wellbeing. As though we cared what she thought.

All this policing of what my then wife-to-be and I should or should not wear, what we should or should not do with our hair, and how we led our lives in general made me so irate that after a 6-hour joint hair-and-makeup trial, I lobbed off six inches of my own hair with a pair of scissors in the bathroom. I swore that if anyone told me not to cut my hair one more time, I’d buzz it down to the scalp. And believe me, I came very close to doing it.

As aggravating as this was for my wife and I, I understand that we don’t have it as hard as couples where one or both partners are trans, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming. I can only imagine that these issues multiply, that the questions become even more invasive. While no vendor refused us service, I recognize that not every queer couple is as fortunate as we are. I cannot begin to imagine the invasive questions other queer couples are asked. Frankly, I don’t want to. I’m ill enough as it is.

Perhaps what bothers me most about all of this homophobic/heterosexist crap is the fact that, after all was said and done, the vendors who asked “Who’s wearing the dress?” were also the first to beg us for pictures, which we knew would be plastered across all their social media accounts before we’d even left the wedding venue. They didn’t have the common decency to change the language in their presentations and contracts (or to keep their damn questions to themselves), but it was important for them to project a progressive image by making us the lesbian poster brides for their business.

Knowing that we specifically looked for queer representation in each of these vendors’ social media accounts before reaching out to them, it hurt even more. They were using us just like they’d used those who came before us in a ploy to get our business even though they didn’t necessarily respect us the way they respected their straight couples. Even though they tried to force one of us into the “bride” side of the contracts and the other into the “groom” side.

If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t. My wife agrees.

We’d still get married, of course, but we’d run off and elope in some beautiful garden, just the two of us. Neither of us would wear “the” dress. We’d both chop off our hair. It wouldn’t matter who carried a bouquet, who wore a boutonniere. It would just be us with flowers in our hair and love on our lips.

Ah, what a queer utopia that would be.

2 thoughts on “On Becoming a Bride, or Everything NOT to Ask Queer Couples Getting Married

  1. What stuck in my head after reading this, sadly was not the way you were treated (deplorable, yet not entirely surprising) but rather it was the phrase, “I put my faith in capitalism.” Initially I was thinking, ‘Capitalism delivered exactly as expected.’ Because, if you look up the definition of ‘To capitalize on’ it means to take advantage of.
    Cynically, I mumbled, “Congratulations, you’re the poster child for queer weddings. You were capitalized on. Are you surprised?”

    But yet, I don’t necessarily think your faith was misplaced. You’re a pioneer. You’re on the leading edge. Of course it’s going to take the rest of the world time to catch up. But they will get there, eventually.

    I feel like I should launch into one of those feel good movie motivational speeches. “No one ever said this was going to be easy, but we all pulled together, and… blah blah blah…” Yet instead, I find myself looking my faithful dog curled up next to me. Many years ago, one of his ancestors had to be the first to say, “Hey guys, maybe if we don’t attack the humans, they’ll share their food.” It took millennia, but here we are, living side by side.

    Did I just make a horrible ‘capitalist dogs’ pun there? Perhaps. But my point is, like you, I have faith, I have faith that we’ll get there. Eventually. I don’t think your faith is misplaced. The businesses that continue to operate as usual will be left behind to wither. The ones that adapt to be more inclusive will thrive. It will take time. There will be rough patches. But we’ll get there.

    Congratulations on being one of the pioneers!

    1. Davina—thank you so much for reading. I agree with you, but I also feel weird using the term “pioneer.” There was so much work and activism that led up to where we are today. I feel like I’m just reaping the benefits of everyone else’s hard work. And while I know we have such a long way to go (as evidenced by these interactions), I still can’t wrap my head around how queerness just doesn’t compute. How so many people live their lives in these binaries without questioning them. I see it in my family members and in every day life. But I guess I just expected them to be less judgmental because they know their treatment directly impacts whether we hired them or not. The ignorance of how othering these questions were is I guess what startled me most.

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