Ah, the wedding. The White Whale of etiquette mavens.
There are two ways in which the Wedding Problem may come up between you and your gay friends. One is that you may invite them to your own wedding, and the other is that they may invite you to theirs. We say "The Wedding Problem" not because weddings necessarily have to be problematic, in either case...but because let's face it, they often are. In general, but particularly in this context.
To take the first problem first:
The first step in overcoming potential problems is acceptance. Specifically, accept the fact that no matter how your gay friends feel about you, your prospective spouse, or your relationship, when they open up that big engraved invitation what they're going to see is, "Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lee Hetero cordially invite you to attend the BIG OL' HET-FEST at which you will witness approval, affection, and material posessions showered down upon their daughter while you stand outside with your nose pressed against the glass whimpering piteously." This is not a personal thing--it's not your fault that society is like it is. But, things being as they are, your friend may approach the prospect of celebrating your union with a certain amount of bitterness that has nothing to do with how they feel about you two as people or as a couple.
There are a few things you can do to ease the pain:
At the participant level, wedding-related bitterness is an irritating but comparatively minor problem; your friends, after all, have the option of not showing up, and if they choose to attend they will arrive braced for a certain amount of teeth-grinding. However, the stakes are raised when you ask one of your gay friends to
For one thing, you are essentially saying, "Would you like to become complicit in your own oppression while acting out an atavistic fertility ritual designed to reinforce the traditional gender stereotypes you have worked so hard to undermine?" Again, the bitterness factor increases with the level of formality; and so, we might point out, does the expense. Being an usher will involve renting a tux, chipping in for a bachelor party, contributing to an Ushers' Gift, etc. Being a bridesmaid will involve purchasing an expensive dress that even your straight friends will probably never wear again, and which our money says your lesbian friends will be ritually burning in their backyards as soon as they return home--plus organizing showers and contributing to the bridesmaids' gift. The more trouble and expense you put your gay friends to during this endeavor, the more it will start to bother them to be thinking, "No one's ever gonna do this for me."
You see, your straight friends will submit patiently to a fuschia taffeta dress with matching headpiece and dyeable stiletto heels because they know they can eventually inflict the same shame, humiliation and expense upon you when they get married. Your gay friends will merely feel like they've been had.
This is not to say that you can never ask your gay friends to be in your wedding. If they're really good friends, they will probably appreciate your asking them. However, they will also appreciate your making some accomodations. For instance:
As we have pointed out, a wedding for a gay or lesbian couple is necessarily going to be different from a straight wedding. For instance, unless your friends live somewhere with a domestic partnership law, or in Hawaii, there will be no legal component; and unless they have the good fortune to belong to a faith that is not bigoted (they are few and far between, but include Wicca, Unitarianism, and the Metropolitan Community Church . . . the Anglicans are trying, Lord bless 'em, but they're having internal difficulties) there will probably not be an official representative of the clergy present. Beyond that, how different things get depends on how your friends want to play it. As with all situations, you must assess the expectations and behave appropriately. To help you out, we'll go through some of the major classifications:
Weddings are supposed to be traditional, and even gay folks sometimes feel that it just won't be a wedding without a mess of hidebound, archaic, vestigial rituals left over from the days when women were bartered like chattel. These couples will want to replicate the Big Traditional Wedding as closely as you can do it without a minister, a cathedral, or his-n-hers rings. On the one hand, this makes things easier for you because it's closer to what you're familiar with. On the other, it creates its own problems. For instance, if you tell the usher "I'm with the bride's family," this won't help her much. Then there is the question of whether to have a matched set of attendants as is traditional or just split the 10 groomsmen up, 5 on each side.
Within this category there are two subdivisions: The Campy and The Dead Serious.
The Dead Serious will be easiest because you can just follow the rules for straight weddings, right up to rice-throwing and bouquet-tossing. However, it is important to realize that because they are doing it this way that does not necessarily mean that one of them sees him/herself as the "bride" and the other as the "groom." Don't for instance, worry about which one you need to say "Congratulations" to and which one needs to get "Best wishes." Unless, of course, one of them is in drag. But if one of them is, it's highly probable that what you have instead is...
The Camp Wedding. This occurs when the couple in question wants a Big Traditional Wedding but realizes that in today's society that desire is fraught with all kinds of ironies. The response, often, is to do the BTW but push it into self-parody. In that case, the appropriate thing is for you to join in the humor when you can, and participate in the project of lampooning traditional bride/groom roles as far as the couple seems to want to. When Steve ceremoniously removes Hank's garter, whoop and holler as lasciviously as you like. Tell Amy she looks beautiful and tease Nell about whether she'll be able to support her in the manner to which she has become accustomed. That sort of thing.
You can see that it is vitally important that you be able to tell the difference. At a Dead Serious wedding, to insist on projecting traditional bride/groom roles onto the couple will be offensive; their point is that they should be able to have all of this without having to accept hetero gender specs. At a Camp wedding, there is an assumption that heterosexuality is an integral part of the BTW, and that the only way to lay claim to the BTW is to make fun of that very fact, so the more you get into the role-playing game, the more you're helping to Subvert the Man.
Many weddings will combine elements of both -- a Dead Serious ceremony with a Campy reception, for instance. Be aware of this, and watch the other queer attendees for cues about how to respond to things. In general, follow this rule: if no one else seems to be observing a BTW tradition, don't bring it up. If they are, get on board.
Those who opt not to go for the BTW are left somewhat in the lurch in terms of models. As a result, for many gay couples the wedding is a build-your-own affair on which they have spent a lot of thought and into which they have tried to put their own personal feelings and desires. Unfortunately, most people are not poets, and when they try to speak about their great love for each other, there is going to be a certain amount of cheese. Expect this. Bring crackers, and consume it gratefully. Cheese can be tasty if it's high-quality.
Nontraditional weddings are, of course, hard to categorize, but here are some features you can expect:
Beyond that, it's really anyone's guess. Again, the thing to do is try to assess the spirit of the occasion and get into it as far as possible. Gay/lesbian weddings are often more fun than hetero ones because they are more individualized, and we recommend you revel in and celebrate any weirdness that may be part of your friends' commitment ceremony, up to and including the ceremonial giving of tattoos.
Whatever kind of wedding you are attending, some rules still apply:
Remember, also, that is event is about them, and not you, and that for the time being you are the guest of another culture. Enjoy your time there, but respect the fact that your attendance is not a Specially Commendable Proof of Your Tolerance, Magnanimity And All-Around Coolness, but simply an expression of affection for your friends to which they are entitled.
We're not talking about hygiene here. We're talking about that interesting tradition in American culture whereby once you announce your intention to marry your friends feel they must run out and buy you presents and then fling them at you during a string of ritualized theme parties. As the bride, you do not have a whole lot of control over this because your friends will be organizing them, but you do have some, so let us let you in on a little-known secret of gay etiquette:
Nothing pisses a queer person off more than having to attend a wedding shower.
OK, there's some hyperbole in there. Being set upon and beaten up in the streets pisses us off more. Jesse Helms's continued existence on this planet pisses us off more. But showers piss us off pretty bad, and here's why: there is no purer or more obnoxious expression of heterosexual privilege than the shower. To a straight woman, an invitation telling her to show up at your apartment with a gift that has something to do with teddy bears is not simply an excess de cutesse, it is the voice of The Man saying, "Mary has taken up her role as heterosexual wife, and lo, she has found favor in my eyes. Bow ye down before her and offer tribute." Not only does this heterosexual person get prizes just for falling in love with someone, but their queer friends now have to actually pay to be oppressed. This is analogous to the policy many states are now adopting of locking prisoners up against their will and then charging them rent for the time they spend there.
My, you think. This does seem awkward, now that I look at it. What should I do? Not invite my gay friends? Wouldn't that be rude and exclusory?
Well, yes. You, my friend, are in a bind. The only truly polite thing to do is to refuse to participate in this particular part of the Capitalist Orgy Experience. However, we understand that even if you are willing to do this, your friends may not share your scruples. In this case you have a couple options:
Onward to Chapter Five: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means
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