Monday, February 28, 2011

A Tale of Three Weddings

Matt Kailey is a transman living in Denver, Colorado, and an author, public speaker, and trainer on transgender issues. He blogs at Tranifesto. In his ideal world, no one would be equal to anyone else – everyone would just be equal.

 I was reading a post by Tassja, a guest poster here at Womanist Musings, about feminist weddings. She has excellently deconstructed this whole concept in a post that I think is a must-read.

I wasn’t familiar with the “feminist” wedding concept, but that’s probably because I have ignored most wedding-related things for a while. I was married twice when I was female, with two very different weddings to two very different men.

The first time, I was twenty-four and, for some reason, couldn’t really speak my own mind. Although I was (and am) an atheist, I was married in a church of my husband’s choosing, by a very religious pastor of my husband’s choosing, with wedding songs that were my second choice because the pastor rejected my first-choice songs as being too secular.

I wore a white dress and veil, representing virginity – not because I was a virgin (that ship had sailed a long time ago), but because it was traditional. My husband wore a gray tuxedo. I took my husband’s last name, promised to stay with him until death do us part, and then divorced him three years later when the abuse got to the point to where it looked like death might part us sooner than I expected.

I’ll take a gamble and say that this was not a “feminist” wedding. I will say that it was a privileged wedding and also a privileged divorce, because I had the resources available to get out of a bad situation.My second wedding, about seventeen years later, took place in a friend’s backyard and was performed by a judge holding a bottle of beer. I wore a white jeans, a white matching vest with rhinestone studs, and white sneakers – by then, I had forgotten what “virgin” meant and was just going with the flow. My husband wore Dockers and a button-down shirt.

I did not take my husband’s last name. After my first divorce, I changed my last name back to what it had been at birth (Kailey) and kept it. This was hardly a bold feminist move – the name, after all, was my father’s. Instead of the traditional round of portraits taken by a professional photographer and offered in expensive packages, like those at my first wedding, we collected various bundles of snapshots from wedding attendees.

This perhaps more closely resembled a “feminist” wedding. Again, it was a privileged wedding, but maybe a not-so-privileged divorce. My husband was wonderful, and the marriage ended when I transitioned from female to male.

The third wedding I will address was not my own, but that of an acquaintance. The bride wore a long white gown and upswept hair, and she carried a huge, beautiful bouquet. She legally took her spouse’s last name. Professional family portraits were taken, as well as solo portraits of the bride, and portraits of the happy couple kissing and looking into each other’s eyes.

The other bride wore a white vest, white shirt, and white pants. She did not change her name. In some of the couple’s portraits, she looks straight at the camera, while her spouse looks demurely downward in a very traditional pose. It was a lovely wedding. Unfortunately, this couple is not legally married and cannot receive the rights and benefits of a legally married couple.

Was this a traditional wedding? A “feminist” wedding? A privileged wedding? Or, as some might argue, not a “wedding” at all?

I don’t know. I do know that what you call your wedding doesn't really matter. Altering a few traditions or changing the name of the ceremony won't change the fact that it is a wedding, and it reflects not only a particular form of ritual, but it also represents the numerous rights that are granted to (and taken for granted by) some people and not others. And, depending on the wedding, it also represents a particular extravagance that is available to some, but not to others.

Call it what it is, acknowledge it for what it is, and then go about the business of ensuring that anyone who wants to partake in it is able to do so, and anyone who does not want to is not punished for following a different path.

Tassja knows this, which is why I was pleased to read her post. Congratulations and best wishes to her on her upcoming marriage.