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Coming Out: Wedding Vendor Edition

6 Jun

“Do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

It’s a simple question; it’s a series of words with a question mark at the end. It is also a necessary condition for Chris and I as we plan our wedding in Birmingham Alabama. It’s an important question for us, as a key element of our wedding day is avoiding feeling uncomfortable at any point in the day.  I also feel it is important to establish exactly the kind of people we are working with up front.

Like any good sales operation, wedding vendors like to talk to you and get to know you before they talk numbers. Most of wedding planning is done via phone and email which leads to additional complications. The online forms and websites you have to fill out to get a phone call from venues and vendors are surprisingly gender neutral as they ask for a Fiancé’s name instead of bride/groom etc.  However, I’d hate to start working with a vendor only to discover their horror when they realize the nice couple they’ve traded emails with is in fact their version of a walking abomination. Although one might assume that using the terms “partner” and the name Chris would lead to the conclusion that this is a same-sex venture, I’ve learned it is best not to assume. So within the first minutes of any conversation I have to open with “just so we’re clear, do you have a problem working with a same-sex couple?”

As someone who has lived an out and open life for quite some time, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Nevertheless in this moment that is supposedly about affirming the love between two people we open ourselves up for people to say no. What would I do, how would I react?

For the last few weeks since starting this process I have imagined what this would feel like so often that I’ve simply avoided contacting anyone all together. I wondered, would I be righteous enough to circle the wagons and lead a media firestorm? Could I follow the footsteps of the couples in Oregon & Denver who turned a trip to get their wedding cake into a national conversation on free speech and religious exceptionalism? If that can happen in Oregon, what will it be like in Alabama? I know what Chris would do if he were the one doing the talking, he’s not afraid of anything and I love that about him.  The truth is, despite all the talking, reading, and writing I do about identity and social change, when faced with a potentially oppressive situation, there’s a dreaded fear that I might not do anything at all.

As a rhetorician, I’m also at odds with the language. Is “same-sex ceremony” the right term, does this make it seem like something other than a wedding?  Calling it a “gay wedding” makes it sound like the qualifier is necessary. Does the practical needs to convey the type of persons involved in our ceremony overpower the political ramifications?   I wish that Chris’ name didn’t carry an androgynous connotation so that when I told people my fiancé’s name that I could be assured that this would clue them in that there would indeed be two men involved in planning this wedding. I wish that there wasn’t a heteronormative assumption when it comes with making a lifelong commitment to the person you love. I wish I was not required to ask a perfect stranger for approval of my relationship prior to engaging in a business relationship with them. I wish that this question wasn’t necessary. But it is, and we have to deal with it.

So, back to the question. Two weeks ago I got up the nerve and I did it. Like everything in my life the response was both comforting and oddly hilarious. It was the second venue we wanted to look at, a large warehouse with exposed brick and a place that was prominently featured on wedding websites. When I talked with the event coordinator I took a deep breath and just blurted the question out “I just want to make sure that you are comfortable with working with a same-sex couple” opting for a statement instead of a question.

The woman on the phone paused, more out of surprise than indignation.

“Oh…..well….no of course not. We hosted an AIDS fundraiser here in the spring….so we’re very supportive of….of that organization.”

And I breathed a sigh of relief as I silently chuckled at the woman who was very clearly caught off guard and forgave her ignorant correlation of AIDS and homosexuality.

Then the woman sputtered out “Oh and one of our bartenders is…….he and his partner celebrated their anniversary here….do you know him? Steve ______”

And I laughed, I laughed hard.

I wanted to tell the woman that I had failed to see him at the most recent track lighting convention. Instead I simply stated that I had not met Steve. Perhaps this whole experience would be less judgmental than I imagined. It was then that I remembered that the wedding industry is first and foremost about money. As a service organization that trades in dramatic symbolism, the wedding industry is made up of people who want that money, no matter who you are.

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Choosing to Stay.

30 May

As soon as I tell people I’m engaged they usually ask the same question, “where you are going?” Implied in this question is the understanding that in order for us to have a wedding we must go somewhere else. We must go to some province of liberalism where we will be welcomed with open arms, and our relationship is legally recognized. Of course I’m exhilarated and excited about the progress of marriage equality in New York, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Washington D.C. and Vermont I readily applaud all those who travel to hold their weddings in states that sanction legal unions. However, part of the fun of planning a wedding as a same-sex couple is that we are never required to do what is expected. So, Chris and I have decided to hold our ceremony in Birmingham Alabama. You read that correctly.  I’ll pause while you finish laughing.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

It’s ok, you can go ahead with the pictures I’m sure your mind is conjuring. Are you imagining women in hoopskirts? Confederate Flags? A reception catered by Guy Fieri or the cast of the Blue Collar Comedy tour?  I know this might sound a bit absurd to think of a clear Midwest cynic like myself, and a big silver fox from Jersey to be getting hitched in what I’m sure, to you, must look like the shooting locale from Deliverance. However, there’s an explanation, one that is as heartfelt as a Sally Field breakdown.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

Here’s our thinking, and its simple: no matter where we get married, it won’t be “legal” where we live. So we figured, let’s get married where our home is, where we fell in love and moved into a house together. To me, marriage is more than a signed signature on a piece of paper or a legal partnership that can be undone as easily as Kathryn Hegel accepts movie roles. It’s making a vow of commitment to one person for better or worse, in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live. The legal state of marriage is as unstable as Amanda Bynes psychosis so why go out of our way to make something “legal” when it can be frighteningly easy to take it away. Even if we did get married out of state federal law, thanks to the defense of marriage act, would ignore our marriage in taxes, healthcare, and other benefits bestowed to heterosexual couples.

By ErgoSum88 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By ErgoSum88 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Second, there is a symbolic element to hosting a ceremony in a state that refuses to acknowledge our union.  In Alabama, homosexuality remains on the books as a criminal act. We are not allowed to adopt a child as a couple, we are denied the ability to share the same healthcare, I cannot establish residency in this state for tuition purposes, and k-12 teachers are required to tell students that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” However Alabama is also home to a warm, welcoming, and inclusive community that helped Chris and I feel truly at home during the last three years. Alabama has a rich tradition of social justice work as The Black Panthers, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southerners on New Ground and generations of social change advocates started their journey in this place.  There is a power in our choosing to stay, in choosing to create a space that will encourage others to stay, to turn the tide of social injustice and to alter the public and civic imaginary of what Alabama is capable of. In this, we choose to celebrate our union in a place where so many fought for us to have the ability, and where there is still vehement opposition.
So we’re planning a gay wedding in Alabama, I’m sure it will make for some interesting stories.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/3033956970/”>CarbonNYC</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/496721450/”>CarbonNYC</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;
 

Hello world!

21 May

What is “engayged”

Over the past few days I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it means to plan a wedding in Alabama and while Chris and I have been engaged, or as we playfully call it “engayged” because while we deserve the same rights we are not the same as heterosexual couples. This blog is an attempt to chronicle the experience of wedding planning as it intersects with gender roles, male privilege, and the heteronormative practices of the wedding planning process. Also, it’s a chance for us to vent about the practical aspects of wedding planning from a queer perspective.

About Us

Chris and I met on match.com. Despite what you’ve read about grindr LGBTQ people do use traditional dating sites. I signed up for a free trial after moving to Alabama for graduate school. On the very last day of my membership I got an email from a match.com user with no profile picture from a guy named Chris. This sends up a red flag. Typically a person on a dating site, especially men looking for men, who does not have a picture is either (a) in the closet (b) married or (c) hideous. However the message was long, and in the world of meeting via messenger size matters.  Chris’ letter talked about how he liked my profile and the areas he thought we’d have in common with each other. Pretty soon I’d ascertained that he was neither (a), (b), and after trading pictures certainly not (c). I became infatuated with him. Our first phone conversation lasted 5 hours.

Do they have to have a man and a woman kissing on their logo?

We started dating and pretty soon fell in love. We are your classic case of opposites attract: Chris is a tall, car-loving man from Jersey who is passionate about design, horror movies, and classic vehicles, while I am a short, book-loving academic from the midwest who is passionate about television, competitive speech, and oscar nominated films.

Chris (on the left) and I on a visit to our favorite city New Orleans
Chris (on the left) and I on a visit to our favorite city New Orleans

Chris proposed in January at the spot where we had our first serious conversation about our relationship. It was the most beautiful afternoon I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot wait to marry him.

The day Chris proposed!
The day Chris proposed!
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