His and hers, Mr. and Mrs., hubby and wifey: it’s the basic assumption of romantic couplehood. Every step leading up to and including a wedding assumes one basic fact: a bride and groom are getting married. This assumption is woven into every romantic comedy, it’s the biggest plot point of many classic books, and we grow up knowing that one day, we will also be expected to fulfill our role as a wife or husband.
This underlying and overt assumption that the romantic relationships between men and women are the building blocks of society is what we call “heteronormativity.” For instance, if you drop into a CVS to pick out a Valentine’s card for your sweetie, and every single card is written as though it’s from a man to a woman or a woman to a man, that’s heteronormative. And just about every wedding tradition assumes that a bride and groom play distinct, but complementary roles. So what happens when there is no bride at a wedding? I spoke with four grooms who planned same-sex weddings to see what they had to say about their experience navigating the heteronormative nature of weddings.
Jacob of New York says that for most of the straight weddings he had been to, “the bride runs the show, spends months finding the perfect dress, gets showered with gifts at three or four different parties along the way, and the groom keeps out of it, has a bachelor party, and shows up on the wedding day without having to think about a thing.” With this as the basis of his wedding experiences, he and his husband realized that they had to create something that was altogether new. They received surprising questions from their guests, which gave them pause. “A number of people asked if we would have groomsmen or groomsmaids, if we would have wedding showers since neither of us was a bride, or if we would wear white, like a woman would. They didn’t know if they should sit on a certain side of the aisle at the wedding, or if we would take each other’s last names or not.” The questions didn’t offend Jacob; rather they hammered home the point that most people are at a total loss when the typical wedding script they know so well does not apply. Jacob says, “To be honest, we had to figure a lot of these things out for ourselves, so when guests asked, we knew they meant it with the best intentions.”
Planning a wedding can be overwhelming for everyone, regardless if the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex, so the first step is often to find vendors who provide services and wedding planning expertise. But same-sex couples have the added worry that the vendors they reach out to may not be familiar with how to approach a wedding for a same-sex couple, or worse, they may be overtly discriminatory. David of New Mexico says, “There was definitely a low level of anxiety in approaching vendors who I wasn't sure would be on board with a wedding between two guys.” They tried to approach vendors that made it apparent on their websites that they were inclusive of same-sex couples, but this wasn’t always possible. “We'd eventually reach out blindly, not knowing if we would be denied service of a wedding cake or something.”
He did receive a few uncomfortable responses. For instance, one DJ responded, "We have performed several marriages like yours, and we prefer not to take any stances on this issue. We are providing a service to our clients and strive to make sure that the music we provide is our very best with the utmost professionalism." While David appreciated their professionalism, the tone of the email still rubbed him the wrong way. His fiancé, Jeff, says that throughout the process of recruiting vendors, “there were more than a couple slightly awkward moments when they found out the wedding was between two guys.” For instance, Jeff and David went suit shopping together, explaining, “we’re getting married,” but the salesmen still assumed they were marrying two separate brides, complimenting them on how well the brides’ dresses would go with the suits they picked out.
Jeff says “While our vendors were on board and accepting, they still unconsciously defaulted to trying to fit us into a heteronormative box.” For instance, after suit shopping together and explaining that they would be getting ready together with their co-ed wedding party, they were asked if they would be doing a first look, which Jeff interprets as the moment when “the groom sees how pretty the bride is.” Additionally, David says, “on some of the contracts we signed, one of us had to sign as the ‘bride.’” While he didn’t see it as a big deal, it was often an embarrassing moment for the vendors involved. Corey, who got married in “the very liberal state of California,” says that all his vendors were friendly and accepting, but even so, there were moments when it was obvious that the wedding formula was designed for a bride and groom. “One thing I remember being funny about having two grooms in a wedding was when our wedding planner first sent out our tentative ‘day of’ schedule, she had us getting ready at 9am, which might be normal for a typical bride who has to get her hair, makeup, and nails done the day of, but literally all we needed to do was shower!” He laughs, “It was obviously just a timeframe she was used to with her other weddings, but we definitely pushed that back to noon.”
After booking vendors, the ceremony poses a new challenge for same-sex couples. Jacob and his husband had a Jewish wedding. He says, “Judaism and the Hebrew language are very gendered. We had to make adjustments in prayers, in certain ceremonial pieces, and then we had to explain those changes in the wedding program so people of all faiths could understand.” Additionally, there is the consideration of the processional. Who walks down the aisle first, and who escorts the two grooms? David says that even though he anticipated the heteronormative nature of weddings would cause some road bumps, “I still found myself worrying about how others might perceive our nontraditional wedding.” For instance, he worried that if the majority of the women in the bridal party stood on his side, people would assume he was “the girl in the relationship,” something people have questioned him about on multiple occasions.
But in the end, all four of these grooms found it somewhat exciting to be able to reimagine the wedding. Corey says that he and his husband felt liberated: “It gave us some room to be creative and make our wedding more personally connected to us as individuals rather than following a strict guideline.” When evaluating traditions, they tossed them if they didn’t pertain to men, or they would both participate if they liked the custom. In terms of evaluating wedding traditions, David says, “We just had to put in an extra step or two of examining traditions and seeing if we wanted to adapt them.” Oftentimes, he and Jeff would choose to scrap the traditional expectations and then put in the work to imagine something new. Jeff says, “It was fun to basically do whatever we want because our wedding is inherently nontraditional.” Corey encourages all same-sex couples to feel liberated in the planning process. “It's your day; do what you want! Don't feel pressured by society to do anything that you don't feel a connection to.” Jacob adds some wisdom, saying that what was most important was that he and his husband approached wedding planning “knowing who we are, what we wanted, and that we loved each other.” In the end, “The goal of the ceremony and celebration was about how to make our expression of love for each other the star of the show, rather than the ‘look at her’ moment that typically happens when the bride appears at the top of the aisle.”
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