I’m a Queer Bride on a Budget — And I Went to a Bridal Expo

I never thought I would be a bride. Even before I knew I was gay, when I was a supposedly straight tween growing up in suburbia, when my best friends would talk about their “dream weddings” of the future, I just couldn’t relate. I like weddings — who doesn’t love a big party celebrating love? — I just never thought I’d have one. And now, here I am: a bride! Truly no one is more surprised than I am.

There are lots of ways to have a wedding, to get married, to throw a party, to legally bind yourself to another human. It should go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t: I do not think that marriage is any more or less special than any other means of making a family. It’s just a thing I’m choosing to do with my fiancée. And, lez be real: there is a dearth of media surrounding queer weddings. So I’m choosing to write about planning my queer wedding, just a little bit here and there. Hopefully, you’ll find the content useful if you are also planning a queer wedding (or perhaps dreaming about one).

Like many experiences on this planet, I barely knew anything about Planning A Wedding until I actually started, you know, planning one. So the thing about weddings is that they can be very simple (like, signing paperwork at the courthouse) or they can be very elaborate, but no matter how you do it, people are going to try to get you to spend So Much Money. If you’re throwing a party (traditional or otherwise) to accompany your wedding, you are actually going to want to hire a lot of vendors. But how do you choose them? How do you even know which ones you need? Well, my friends, I guess that’s where a Bridal Expo comes into play! I hadn’t heard of such a thing. And yet, I found myself waiting in line to attend one just a few weeks ago. I’ll get into that in a bit, but first, let me tell you about my wedding plans:

I felt very strongly that I did not want to hire a wedding planner, and I am very, very, very lucky that my best friend is an incredibly creative and competent individual who has planned several weddings already and who volunteered to be my unofficial maid of honor/party planner (we’re not having an official wedding party, so there is no maid of honor — but I have affectionately titled this pal the CEO of my wedding, to give context for the scope of how much work she’s doing). The function will take place on my friends’ property in the woods, and I’m basically doing all the decorations/tablescapes/set up myself and with the help of friends. We’ve hired a friend to do the catering, we splurged on the most incredible queer photographer whose work I have admired for years, and we’re going to make the wedding cake ourselves.

So when my best friend, who is so invested in planning the wedding that her phone and The Algorithm have decided that she is the bride, got an Instagram ad for the Bridal Expo happening in Portland, I was skeptical. Why would we need to go to a giant event with vendors trying to charge us So Much Money for things we already had taken care of? But my pal insisted that we might see some great inspirational stuff there. Also, we could sample all the cakes. Okay, sold.

When we arrived at the Expo, there was a giant line of people waiting to get inside. I’d say we were two of maybe ten people wearing masks, which felt bad. The event was free, but I’d had to give my email address to “sign up.” I later learned that was a terrible ploy, because even though I carefully refrained from giving my email to any vendors that day, it has become clear that the organizers shared everyone’s emails with every vendor. I will be receiving pleas from some man named Keith to see if I want him to cater my wedding from now until I perish. Bummer for me and for Keith.

One hot tip I would give everyone planning a wedding, no matter how tiny, if you’re going to use even one vendor or go to an event like this one: make an email address specifically dedicated to your wedding. I thought that was a silly idea because I didn’t care that much about the wedding (lol, that has changed, but I was once a sweet summer child, you know?) and also didn’t think I’d be interacting with that many people. I was wrong, first of all, and second of all, especially for an event like the Expo, I wish I’d given a specific email address that I could just walk away from once the wedding is over. Instead, it’s me and Keith for life, babyyyy. Okay, but I digress. The Expo!

It was kind of exactly what I thought it would be, which was: fun, funny, overwhelming, weird, exciting, eye-rolly, useful. I know that some people are just so sincerely Into It when it comes to weddings and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but some stuff is just unequivocally cringey, and I can’t hide my true feelings. White women appropriating dream catchers to make “bridal headdresses” and telling me “everyone in LA loves them?” That is fucking weird and bad! People offering “wedding coaching” services, which is “like therapy for your wedding” for when you need to wrangle the groomsmen into photos but they’re “so hungover from going to the strip club and you want to kill them?” Y’all, the straights are not okay.

But mostly, the Expo was a lot of vendors doing a very good job at selling their services, and I can appreciate that. The things I was most invested in: floral arrangements (we’re doing our own, but it was fun to see inspiration), photobooths (we’re going to have a DIY one, but I was fascinated by all the ways technology has changed since my Bat Mitzvah), cake samples (this is self-explanatory, yeah?), a bridal boudoir photoshoot situation (wayyyy too expensive, especially when I can just have my friends take nude photos of me in cute lingerie, but I think for folks who don’t have those kinds of relationships or drag closets and do have the budget, this is very cool!), and, weirdly enough, a porta potty company!

The land where I’m having my wedding has three (3) compost toilets, and my friends who own the land politely suggested that I might want to get some porta potties for the weekend of the wedding so no one has to deal with everyone’s extremely literal shit. Well, did you know that not only do they A white person's hand with an engagement ring gestures from the left of the image at the open door of a wedding trailer, which has wood flooring, a toilet, a white cabinet, a white sink, a mirror, bright overhead lighting, soap, and paper towels inside. The photo was taken at a Bridal Expo.have wedding-themed porta potties (yes, they are white) — they also have bathroom trailers?! I rented something called The Farmgirl, and the woman on the phone told me the only problem is sometimes brides complain that the guests talk more about how great the toilets were than they do about the bride and the wedding itself. But you know what? If my guests are raving about the toilets at my wedding instead of complaining about having to sprinkle hay into a bucket they just pooped in while in formal wear, I’ll take it!

The crowd at the Expo was eclectic. It was clear some people had driven a very long distance just to attend, which endeared them to me. There were a lot of kids (which surprised me), a lot of brides, a lot of families, and, honestly, a lot of queer couples. My best friend and I got mistaken for brides together a million times — which makes sense, because we were wearing matching party dresses and kept referring to “our wedding” — and not a single vendor was weird or homophobic. Take this with a grain of salt: I do live in Portland, and the queers do sort of run the show around here — but still, when dealing with The Wedding World, I was pleasantly surprised. I was also pleased that not a single vendor seemed fat-shamey or body negative, another pleasant surprise in The Wedding World.

So would I recommend that you, a person planning a wedding, go to a Bridal Expo? It depends. If you’re hiring a wedding planner and don’t particularly want to be super hands-on, it might be a waste of your time. If you’re doing a DIY scenario and don’t want your email shared with literally hundreds of vendors and also know you won’t be using any of them, it also might be a waste of your time. But if you, like me, are planning your own wedding and still want a few “bridal” experiences,A series of six photo booth images show Vanessa and two friends in a variety of poses at a Bridal Expo. The first pair of images shows the three of them smiling. The second pair of images shows Vanessa's friends kissing her on the cheeks. The final pair of images shows Vanessa and her friends opening their mouths. The friend with bangs waves at the camera. Below the images, there are two white squares with black text and a black mustache inside. The text reads, "Stump Town Booth." Below each square, pink and white text reads, "Portland Bridal Expo 2022." Behind the images, there is a pale pink background with blue, green, orange, black, and pink geometric images that are obscured by the photos. even just to see what all the fuss is about, and you’re also open to being inspired by what’s there (and potentially unexpectedly finding the porta potty toilet rental of your dreams, lol), and you also feel confident in your ability to say “no, thank you” when people try to sell you things you don’t want or need, then perhaps a Bridal Expo is, indeed, for you! And if you’re planning your own wedding and are actively looking for vendors for specific things or want to compare options, I think a Bridal Expo is definitely for you and strongly recommend it (although I really do think you should make a specific email address for the wedding process — trust me, you’ll thank me later).

If anyone has questions about the Expo, please feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to jump in and answer them. And if anyone has requests about other Wedding Content for Autostraddle to publish in the future, let us know! When I’m not driving around the Greater Portland Area buying cheap rugs off OfferUp (for our outdoor dance floor, obviously) or scouring Goodwills for mismatched floral plates and silverware, I’d be thrilled to write more about planning this wedding. Though I never thought I’d be a bride, now that I’m going to be, I’m having a pretty nice time planning it all! I think my tween self would be confused but delighted for me.


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Vanessa

Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. Very hot, very fun, very weird. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 395 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. This is great!
    I am so here for wedding content!
    I and my partner planned our own wedding, which happened last year in October, and it was a blast!
    The best compliment I received was from my close friend who said something like “seeing your wedding and how you did it so your way, and how it was such a perfect reflection of the couple, made me realize that my wedding could actually be an enjoyable experience when it happens!” (They are from a catholic family)
    I used to be a concert organizer so I had a great time organizing a big event with a lot of moving parts
    Lessons I learned:
    Have a plan for your invitations and stick to it. I thought I was going to write them by hand. I wish I had printed them instead because I kept putting it off because it was so much. So i wish i had either made a deadline on handwriting and stuck ti it, or just gotten them printed.
    I wish I had let other people do things more, my mother in law would have loved to help more, but I am not great at delegating

    Things I did do that were totally the right choice for me:
    I got a beautiful venue so I wouldn’t have to worry about doing any decorating
    I rented table linens so I didn’t have to get them myself
    I did not pay for expensive photography but did pay a friend to be a photographer so there would definitely be some photography
    I made my own bouquet
    I made my own dress, and my spouse also wore a non traditional wedding outfit, including a skirt I made
    I paid good money so I could get exactly the food I wanted
    I had family provide the dessert instead of having a cake. It was probably 20 types of cookies and bars and everything, and was a perfect task to give family so they could feel helpful
    I had a friend officiate

    In general I found it really useful to think about what was important to me and my partner and put money and energy into those things (food, a good dance space) and less into the other things (photos, decoration)

    • Hiiii! So starved for authentic queer wedding content!
      I’m curious about navigating chosen via bio family at the wedding. I cut off my mom this year. I’m curious if there’s any family you’re estranged from and how wedding planning went with that in the mix and how you included chosen family!

  2. Yes please more wedding content!! I want to hear about: queer vows, readings/traditions you’re (or any other correspondent) are planning to use and which you’re choosing to skip, enforcing wedding boundaries (if I see another post laughing about someone sneaking a flask into a dry wedding I’m going to combust)
    My fiancé and I are finangling the timing of our wedding with our various grad school commitments so it’s not coming up super soon but I am so excited to marry them and all the wedding/marriage content online seems to be straight and all the queer relationship content is often about choosing NOT to get married or navigating polyamory or getting divorced which of course are all good things for folks to have info on, but adding more wedding/marriage stuff would be amazing!!

  3. I love the intentionality of a well thought out celebration of love!

    I had never given much thought to a wedding for myself, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much joy I found in having a cheap (under $500 including the honeymoon to a state park) wedding. My parents had a potluck wedding 50 years ago and I loved having a potluck for mine! There were lots of local guests so it worked. And I made the cake.

    Our dresses were from thrift stores and friends made table arrangements and took pictures. The music and dancing didn’t go as planned, but overall it was nice.

    Though I am now happily divorced, it was a fun celebration.

  4. I am glad to hear that you had a good experience at a Bridal Expo. My wife and I got married almost 10 years ago, and we went to 1 bridal expo. Our time there was mostly spent telling vendors that “no, we aren’t friends getting married to men, we are getting married TO EACH OTHER.”

  5. I love this! As a chronically single person who loves to live vicariously through other’s joy, I was so excited to see a wedding article pop up! I’d love to see more about the wedding planning process altogether, especially anything you want to share about “de-hetero”ing the ceremony/celebration! I recently officiated a dear friend’s lesbian wedding and we really went through it trying to pick out all the heteronormative (and vaguely religious) parts of the ceremony, so I’d love to see another perspective on the same process. Also, congratulations!

    • ethically – supporting an indigenous jeweler and/or wooden ring maker is a way to go! there are def queer indigenous jewelers out there to find. Also, in terms of queer commitment jewelry, my partner and I decided to stick with our tradition of braiding each other bracelets from thread . . . they tend to last 1-3 yrs, when they break, which they do, we make a new one!!! it’s a nice way to affirm that thing change as we go and symbolizes recommitment & renewal for me. costs almost no dollars (thread from the thrift store), biodegradable!

  6. Vanessa this was so fun to read!! 😍 Totally agreed on making a wedding email address Lol.

    My partner and I went to the Lovesick Expo in the Bay Area in 2015, but now I think they just operate in Philly:
    http://lovesickinc.com/expos

    Also, Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride) was a great resource for us during wedding planning:
    https://offbeatwed.com/

    Offbeat used to be like the only “alternative” (ie non-hetero, non-wedding industrial complex) wedding planning website, and now I think a lot of the ideas they were promoting 15-20 years ago have become more accepted and ingrained into mainstream wedding vibes and looks.

    • Aww, Linnea! Did I meet you at the SF Lovesick all those years ago? I still miss producing those events… it was such a great party for so many years! Lovesick is no longer happening anywhere (Philly or otherwise) and it’s such a gap in the wedding world.

      And thanks thanks so much for noting how long Offbeat Wed has been fighting the good fight. It’s really gratifying to see the ways we have been able to change the wedding industry… but hard sometimes to feel like no one remembers what an uphill battle it’s been!

      • Omg Ariel HI yes!!!!!!!! 💜 I was fangirling and you graciously snapped a pic with me! LOL 😂 Lovesick was so fun and Offbeat Bride was a goddessend for me during wedding planning. You’ve been doing the good work for so long! Mad kudos! 💫

  7. There is a email trick you can do with gmail addresses where you can add “+anything” after your email to make it unique and it will all show up to your regular address. So when I shop online or need burner addresses I use for example “yourregularemail+wedding@gmail.com” or something like that. Then when you inevitably start getting the spam you can just filter/block/etc anything addressed specifically to that address!

  8. I used to work at a venue that did weddings and hosted the local bridal expo, plus i have a huge family and have been to a TON of weddings in various roles. The two beginner things i tell people are:

    a) rent your dishes. Save money everywhere you possibly can/want by doing it yourself but RENT YOUR DISHWARE because you will not have such an optimistic outlook on doing the dishes the next day.

    b) no one will eat your fancy expensive wedding cake. If you really must have a fancy expensive wedding cake get a small one for you and your spouse and then do something cheap but good for everyone else.

    The advanced wedding advice i give is: bring a wedding emergency bag. Especially if you’re an Important Person at the wedding or will be associated with an Important Person.

    A wedding emergency bag should not be bigger than an average sized lunch bag. In fact mine is a decorative lunch bag that can pass as a purse. The lunch bag route makes it waterproof and insulated. Inside the bag:

    – a large plastic garbage bag
    – a small plastic garbage bag
    – at least one ziploc bag
    – tylenol
    – advil
    – antacids
    – needle
    – thread (can be in wedding colours but at least black and white)
    – safety pins
    – long straight pins
    – hair ties
    – small brush
    – deodorant
    – water
    – snacks of your choice
    – lip balm
    – bandaids
    – tape
    – paper
    – pens
    – pencil
    – black marker (other colours too if you like but definitely a black sharpie)
    – cheap fabric flowers/embellishments that look nice enough that can be sewn onto things in the event that you must hide stains/tears.
    – hand sanitizer
    – collapsible umbrella
    – one of those teeny tiny lint brushs
    – kleenexs/tissues
    – phone charger/usb cable
    – the names and phone numbers of any vendors coming to the wedding written down. Not just on your phone (only if you’re a part of the wedding planning committee)

    That seems like a lot to fit into a single small bag but most of this is small or can be travel size or folded down flat. I can fit all of that plus my wallet and phone into the bag. Everything is multi purpose, you just have to use your wits. For example: I’ve used the garbage bag as a seat cover to avoid getting clothes wet/stained and the thread to rescue toy airplanes off the roof (sometimes the wedding emergency is small sad children).

    As far as bridal expos go, this will sound like advertising for bridal expos but a point in favour of going to one is that frequently they do a free *insert service here* draw which can be anything from win a cake to win your whole wedding. I know two people who won their whole wedding by doing the expo draw and they were not disappointed. Frequently it’s not the highest end wedding you’d get but none of the vendors want you to give bad reviews either so it’s often pretty good. Obviously it’s a long shot but sometimes you get lucky.

  9. As a former wedding venue employee my go-to piece of advice for folks is to game-plan and assign tasks regarding clean-up or any after event tasks well in advance. That way you, the newlyweds, can leave your event happy and care-free and don’t have to worry about delegating after a great day of dancing, food and maybe booze.

  10. Cake tasting was the best part of planning our wedding! Other than the cake tasting which we did about 18 months in advance my wife and I (mostly my wife) planned the entire thing in 6 weeks. It ended up being a small wedding because of covid, and the big reason we planned it so quickly was we were afraid the window in which we actually could get married would close again. But it was fucking perfect and we didn’t meet a single homophobic weirdo, though that might be because we’re based in Edinburgh which is a big queer city, and went out of our way to find queer service providers.

    • The rent a porta potty thing is a really good idea though, going to see if we can do that for my best friend’s wedding because she’s currently planning on having it in a field and I feel the one composting toilet there will not cut it.

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