Shaking Up Heteronormativity in Weddings
Updated: May 12
It's pride month and here at Woodland Events, we're excited to celebrate with our many LGBTQ+ friends and family! For the rest of this month (and the first month of July, since we missed the first week of June!), our blog posts will focus on LGBTQ+ trends in the wedding industry, why they matter for all couples, tips and tricks for bending outdated traditions and starting new ones, and how we can keep moving forward to a more inclusive industry and more incredible experiences for LGBTQ+ couples planning their weddings.
I think the best place to start this blog series is by addressing the heteronormativity that exists in the wedding industry today and discussing how we can think about shaking it up. As such, it may not be the most exciting blog entry for a couple planning their wedding, but I do think it will be valuable for educating straight, cis-gendered, non-marginalized people (especially other wedding business owners).
Why My Opinion Matters
Before you go asking, "But wait, aren't you a straight, cis-gendered, non-marginalized wedding business owner?" You're mostly right. I am cis-gendered, and since I'm married to a woman, I pass as straight and don't have to deal with the daily inequities experienced by same sex or transgendered couples (like two wives celebrating their anniversary and being asked by the maitre'd, "Are you two sisters celebrating a birthday?"). The truth is, I'm a queer, mostly gay identifying man, and my wife (a lesbian) and I were happy exceptions to our usual rules of attraction.
Additionally, my undergraduate degree is in Psychology from UC Davis, where I specifically studied prejudice against sexual minorities under Professor Greg Herek. During my studies with Professor Herek in 2008, he was serving as a professional witness in California's historic Prop 8 case, which legalized marriage for all statewide, and played a role in the supreme court's decision to repeal DOMA in 2013 and, later in 2015, to legalize marriage nationwide.
Heteronormativity in the Wedding Industry
When I left theatre to begin working in the wedding industry, one of the things that was instantly clear to me was that, despite a lot of strides toward a more inclusive industry over the last several years, the wedding business is still incredibly heteronormative.
Heteronormativity is the mindset that promotes and assumes heterosexuality is the normal and preferred sexual orientation and that people generally fall into male and female roles (ie, men are doctors and wear suits, women are nurses and wear dresses, and there is no gender beyond that binary).
This is most clear in the industry's emphasis on (or obsession with) "the bride." As an industry, we believe that "the bride" has been dreaming of her wedding since she was five. We assume that "the bride" will take the lead on all wedding planning activities. We have bridal shows, bridal suites, bridal showers, and more. Even here at Woodland Events, we're members of Forever Bride and use hashtag mnbride (but not hashtag mngroom) on nearly every one of our Instagram posts.
In fact, just yesterday, I received a phone call inviting me to participate in an upcoming "bridal expo" that promises "at least 500 brides" in attendance! And I get phone calls and emails of that nature ALL. THE. TIME.
In this industry, "the bride" is queen and everybody else are her subjects. So what do we do when there are two brides? Or none? Or when a groom wants to take the reins and the bride wants to be as hands off as possible (which was absolutely the case at my wedding)?
I believe the industry as a whole needs to start shifting away from this bridal obsession to truly begin to demonstrate inclusivity, particularly for weddings with two men and one or more transgender or genderqueer individuals.
An easy step to begin making this shift is to start replacing the word "Bridal" with the word "Wedding." Bridal Party becomes Wedding Party, Bridal Market becomes Wedding Market, and so on. I would just love to see this become an industry standard replacement within the next five years.
One of the easiest things wedding professionals can do is to never assume any titles (bride, groom, maid/matron of honor, etc.) It's something we should instead openly discuss with our clients. At Woodland Events, each of our clients gets a questionnaire prior to our first consultation which asks for the names, preferred pronouns, and preferred titles of both Partner A and Partner B (without ever making that assumption prior to this questionnaire). These titles could be bride, groom, bridegroom, celebrant, nearlywed, each individual's name, supreme ruler...whatever! The important thing is to ask what each partner prefers and then to only refer to them as that throughout the rest of the wedding planning process.
The same goes for the wedding party. Lots of couples these days are doing mixed gender wedding parties. There may be a Man of Honor or a Best Woman or simply an Attendant. Couples (and wedding planners), be sure to consult with each member of the wedding party prior to assigning them a title.
Other Examples of Inclusive Language
Here is a simple list of alternative words or phrases for terms commonly used in weddings:
Bride: Instead, say Partner, Celebrant, or Client
Bride and Groom: Instead, say The Couple, Engaged Couple, Clients, Celebrants, Partners, The Brides (if there are two women), The Grooms (if there are two men)
Bachelor & Bachelorette: Instead, drop the suffix and use Bach.
Groom's Cake: Instead, just call it Cake...I mean, who doesn't want a second cake?!
Bridal Party: Instead, say Wedding Party, Wedding Squad, or Attendants
Bridal Suite: Instead, say Wedding Suite, Prep Suite, Getting Ready Suite, Couple's Suite, or Honeymoon Suite
Bridal Portraits: Instead, say Wedding Portraits, Pre-Wedding Portraits, or Formal Portraits
Bridal Shower: Instead, say Wedding Shower or Couple's Shower
Bridal Market: Instead, say Wedding Market
Menswear: Instead, say Formalwear or Suits
And the most important...Gay Wedding (or Gay Marriage): Instead, just say Wedding or Marriage. Straight people don't get straight married, so it shouldn't be any different for LGBTQ+ couples.
One last thing to add, and probably the biggest shocker here, is that most of us naturally have a heteronormative mindset, even when we think we're being mindful and inclusive, and even if we're part of the LGBTQ+ community. Don't beat yourself up about it! Your mindset is built on the culture you grew up in, so you may literally have decades of thought patterns to reverse! As long as you're taking regular and consistent steps away from heteronormative, binary thinking, I applaud you!
Okay, so I realize that was a lot to take in. Definitely some heavy stuff. But now that that's out there, I'm so excited to 1) know if you have any additional thoughts to include and 2) to spend the next several weeks talking to you about much more fun things!
Coming up, we've got posts about how same sex couples are tackling archaic wedding traditions that don't make sense for them (and how straight couples are following suit), how to go about finding LGBTQ+ friendly vendors, and a post featuring some of my favorite quotes about weddings for LGBTQ+ couples! Stay tuned!!