Bullish Life: How to De-Gender Weddings (And Marriage)

I got married in April. This is a column about de-gendering weddings.

I’m not suggesting you necessarily should de-gender a wedding — I just want to talk about how you can do this if you want to. If people want to play-act at retro gender roles for one day of their lives, that’s basically fine by me. When I went to the prom, my date pulled out my chair and opened all the doors for me, which is not how I want to live my life, but was cute because we were kids at the prom.

But I do think it’s good to sometimes take a step back and think about what the hell we’re actually doing.

I remember, as a teenager, taking a step back and seeing that the Pledge of Allegiance is fucking creepy and un-American, at least when schoolchildren are coerced into performing it. Are we North Koreans? Who ritualistically pledges fealty to a flag while speaking in unison? Fucking creepy. Like one of those synchronized dances wherein fifty thousand hungry children form the shape of the Dear Leader’s heavenly visage.

Sometimes, you don’t think about the cultural rigmarole you’re running yourself through.

White Dresses

Let’s start with white dresses. When asked why I wasn’t going to be wearing a white dress, I started telling people, “I don’t think purity and innocence are valuable qualities in adults, so I choose not to symbolize them.” (Shenae Grimes wore black!)

Virginity is not inherently admirable. “Purity” is a ridiculous way to describe whether someone is sexually active or not. In May, kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart gave a speech in which she said that a conservative cultural emphasis on sexual purity made her feel worthless and lessened her will to escape after she was raped by her captors. And of what value is “innocence” — about sex or any topic — in an adult?

White dresses can be pretty, of course. I just didn’t want the cultural baggage.

“Giving Away” the Bride

From Liza Mundy’s cover story in The AtlanticThe Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss:

The Book of Common Prayer for years stated that a wife must love, honor, and obey her husband, treating him as her master and lord. That language is long gone, but vestiges persist: the tradition of the father giving away the bride dates from an era when marriage was a property transfer and the woman was the property. In response to the push for same-sex marriage, Hall says, the General Convention, the governing council of the entire Episcopal Church, has devised a liturgy for same-sex ceremonies (in most dioceses, these are blessings) that honors but alters this tradition so that both spouses are presented by sponsors.

My mother, at 19, declined to participate in this tradition. She writes, “Back in 1976, I was an independent thinking young woman. It was after all the seventies and I belonged to no one. I walked down the aisle alone (to this day I don’t know if my father really understood).”

When I was a young child, my mom didn’t work outside the home, and for the most part, my parents followed pretty traditional gender roles: for instance, if both parents are in the car, my dad is going to drive. Every single time for over thirty years now. So I think it was really healthy that I always knew this about my mom: she wasn’t about to be “given away” because she wasn’t anyone’s to be given.

But, realistically, what are your other options? And won’t you hurt your dad’s feelings by skipping this part?

In my own wedding, I just had my parents walk down the aisle with each other, right after my husband’s parents. That’s nice. Dad was involved, but without it being weird.

Involving moms kind of raises the question of why they weren’t involved in the first place: doesn’t Mom have just as much right as Dad (if anyone has any at all) to “give away” adult offspring? Maybe the parent more involved in parenting should do the giving away. Or maybe the whole idea is a little irrelevant now. (Apparently the Episcopal Church allows for same-sex spouses to each by submitted by sponsors. What is this, an AA meeting?)

Of course, if we had had divorced parents or any other configuration besides two sets of married parents, our solution would have been impractical.

You don’t actually have to “present” one person to the other person

So, why do we need an aisle at all? I’m pretty sure Western-style weddings have traditionally had aisles because that’s how churches were built. (Case in point: Quaker meeting rooms are traditionally arranged in circles, sometimes with several “aisles” leading to the center. Unsurprisingly, a traditional Quaker wedding involves sitting in a circle.)

We had an aisle, despite the fact that we didn’t get married in a church and could’ve had the room arranged any way we wanted. I didn’t really think about it until a couple of days before the wedding, when I was wondering who, exactly, was going to be walking down this aisle. (I was a very relaxed bride and basically planned and negotiated the Bullish Conference full-time the week before the wedding.)

A friend of mine who put, literally, 40 times more planning into his wedding than I put into mine (seriously, his wedding has a SYLLABUS) actually dispensed with the aisle completely, creating a same-sex marriage ceremony that honored the presence of both male and female archetypes in everyone.

Robert Munafo writes:

For about 30 years I’d had a lot of nagging questions about all the little details of ritual. What’s up with all that weird stuff people do at weddings? I did tons of research and resolved to create a ceremony that would work equally well for same sex couples (like me and Rick) or for opposite-gender couples. But I also wanted to give men and women roles in the ceremony.

To eliminate the inherent bias of an “east end” or “front” of the room I settled on a circle layout with the two fiances walking in simultaneously but from opposite directions, circling each other partway then meeting in the middle. The “archetypes”, four each male and female, take the place of bridesmaids and best man/ushers. Their names and the readings are based on the literary school of thought that identifies personality attributes in mythology and literature.

It’s very important to avoid sexism in either direction, and other types of gay- or hetero-leaning bias. To that end, I consider the “archetypes” to be qualities that exist in everyone, though clearly not everyone has them all to equal amounts. Finding better names and descriptions is an ongoing cultural effort: we will always be bridging the gap between the existing literature, which is inherently stuck in the past, and the way we want it to be in the future. Expressing these ideas was a minor goal of the ritual design.

A complete transcript of this amazing affair, complete with corresponding Youtube videos, is here. A generic version meant for others who want to plan a similar ceremony is here.

I had mixed feelings when I saw that someone in the wedding played the archetype of “The Crone.” However, the role of The Crone is defined in the ceremony as, “the wisdom of the community, providing honesty and guidance for women and men, young and old.” So, yes, I’m pretty into that.

Women must hide away!

The idea that no one can see the bride before the ceremony must surely have been left over from the “protect the virgin’s virginity” paradigm. Today it’s been updated to have something to do with fashion and the bride making a grand entrance.

I’m not offended by this tradition. But, personally, I am not hiding in a back room unless there’s a gunman.

Andrew zipped me into my dress, we walked normally to the wedding, and then we greeted a lot of people who had traveled a long way to be there.

When you have a wedding, everyone you’ve ever known and cared about gets together in one place at exactly the same time, so you will only get to see each of them for thirty seconds apiece. So it made sense to me to maximize the time available to visit with out-of-towners.

Men are funny, women are sentimental

I haven’t been to a huge number of weddings here, so tell me if I’m wrong: the best man is supposed to give a hilarious toast. Often, other groomsmen and male relatives also do this. Hardly any women give toasts: mainly just the Maid of Honor, who generally cries and tells a sentimental story. (Have I just seen this in movies or is this reality? Tell me.)

I say that women are allowed to give toasts and to be funny during them. Badass author Janice Erlbaum was my ketubah witness and gave a toast on my behalf. She’s wry. Wry, I say! Later in the night, I gave a little talk and thanked everyone for coming. It felt weirdly transgressive, the bride speaking into a microphone. It shouldn’t.

The whole event is viewed as a reflection on the woman’s taste

It is often assumed of hetero couples that the women made virtually all of the aesthetic decisions.

Personally, I don’t think my sense of aesthetics is any better than a professional’s, so I picked a venue that already looked nice and left it at that. My husband insisted that there be centerpieces. So he made them. They were amazing.

When entering new territory, such as wedding planning, people are especially susceptible to falling into prescribed gender roles. I feel like, for heterosexual weddings following an even slightly conventional mold, the woman is expected to do the vast majority of the planning. In such a situation, I think you would have to hand over and cede tasks to your fiance VERY AGGRESSIVELY to even get close to a 50/50 labor split.

In the end, I did end up doing the large part of the planning, but more (perhaps) because I have planned large events before than because I’m the woman.

Incidentally, I remember my cousin — who plans conferences professionally — telling me he had been shut out of offering any assistance or advice whatsoever for his sister’s wedding because, of course, he’s a dude. SEXISM.

Same-sex weddings (and marriages) are making weddings (and marriages) better for everyone

From Same-Sex Marriage Does Threaten “Traditional” Marriage:

Over and over on C-SPAN I hear people in 2013 arguing that both a mother and a father are needed in order to raise children – indeed, that children have a RIGHT to both a mother and a father.

Opponents to same-sex marriage reject the idea that marriage should be redefined as “genderless.” Feminism has been arguing for genderless marriage – for marriage equality – for decades! Most of that focus has been on equality within marriage – in matters of housework, childrearing, and sexual satisfaction. Same-sex marriage is the next step in the struggle for marriage equality, but also in the broader struggle for gender equality.

It’s an insightful post. Every time I read that kids need “a mom and a dad,” I think: it really depends on the mom and the dad. How about they need one parent who can get all the bills paid and get all the college paperwork turned in correctly, and one parent who has the patience to make up half-hour-long fairy stories before bed every night. Those could be the same parent. Having parents of two different genders isn’t that helpful if they have the same personality gaps. Having your mom explain your period or your dad tell you jerking off is normal isn’t really the most important part of parenting. A family doctor can actually do a lot of that less awkwardly anyway.

The Atlantic’s article on a similar theme pointed out that:

Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples. Critics warn of an institution rendered “genderless.” But if a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and child care and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry “Bring it on!”

If you’re a woman who wants to get married to a man, and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life re-enacting the tired rigmarole of insisting that someone take out the trash just because he has a penis, while enduring the blame every time the household runs out of soap or a relative’s birthday gets missed, it’s a good start to rethink the tired rigmarole we re-enact (or don’t) on one of the most photographed and attention-filled days of our lives.

Also, consider marrying a guy who makes good centerpieces.

First published on on The Gloss