Oh weddings. Those glamorous celebrations of love, religion and typically — thanks to thousands of years of tradition and law — heterosexuality. Even though it’s not your day, going to a wedding as a queer can feel like all eyes are on you. What if the groom’s aunt keeps trying to make you dance with her son? What do you do if you’re a bridesmaid who has no idea how to walk in heels? How do you gussy up and still manage feel like yourself? We’ve read your formspring questions, sympathized and rounded up ten very fashionable grrrls and bois who’ve survived a wedding or two (or, in Robin’s case, 300 in the past 10 years) and even figured out how to have fun. Think of them as your own personal queer fairygodpeople, here to turn your beaters into bowties for just one night.
Even Badass Queers Get The Wedding Blues
I’ve spent 29 years — give or take a few years of badass toddler-hood — figuring out how best to dress myself. You know, along with forming a queer political identity, navigating complicated women and finding time to enjoy a good beer. Stylewise, I’ve gone from hoodrat femme to unfortunately awkward almost asexual nerd to what the hell is going on and back. Always thick, sometimes obese, always bespectacled and lots of the times, just completely lost. Traditional men’s clothing dwarfed my short frame and made me feel more like my dad than I or anyone else should ever feel. Traditional women’s clothing kind of makes me want to die inside when I even entertain the thought of trying something on. None of it fit my body or suited my personality, especially when I was in my late teens and earlier 20s. Only recently have I kinda gotten down what works for me and man does it feel good to be confidently queer. Not that ALL of that confidence hinges on clothing or style, but damn if it doesn’t help.
So I thought I had the MOC style down until my friend, Megan, invited me to her wedding. I’ve been invited to these things before, but up until recently I was just kind of a flakey fuck-up that never got around to RSVPing. But this time around, life is different. I’m finally a functional human being and I knew that attending Megan’s wedding was something I needed and wanted to do. One click on their wedding website later and I was an official guest. Five minutes after the glory of actually RSVPing to the thing, I realized that now I had to find something to wear. At the time I was dead ass broke and my wardrobe consisted of everything one needs to work in tv/film production if you’re not an actor or producer: men’s shorts, five rotating pairs of kicks, polos and all the t-shirts $10 an hour can buy. How the hell was I going to pull off a fly-ass wedding outfit? Could I still be fab, queer and manage to not bust my abysmal budget?
Fuck yes I could, but I would need some help. Enter two fabulous fairy fashion femmes who are actually my friends in real life. First, Juanita of Dapper Q came to my rescue via email. She sent me links to looks I might like and advice for where where I could find those items for cheap on la internet. Then two weeks before the wedding, I went shopping with Mari The Body. Together we put together vests, bowties, button downs and dress slacks. She made sure the employees in the men’s suit stores didn’t ignore us and provided the necessary comic relief when I felt like I wasn’t going to find anything. A few hours later, I had a wedding outfit and a post-wedding brunch look. Both ladies hooked me up and had me feeling dapper as hell.
So flash forward to the day of Megan’s wedding. I’m in the car sitting next to my homegirl and faux-date, Caitlin, who somehow showed up in a dress that matched my queer menswear look to a muthafucken T without us even planning that ish. My hands had started shaking. All of a sudden the reality of what was about to happen hit me harder than a backhanded compliment. I was attending a very straight, very white and very upper-middle class Connecticut wedding. I freaked the fuck out. Like yeah, being the only unicorn in the room is awesome, but you wonder if this will be the time someone tries to throw a cage around you and gawk. Like the scene in Dumbo where all the kids pick on the size of his ears and terrorize the shit out of him.
And — Spoiler Alert — I’m not like all those pretty and skinny lesbians on teevee. Not that I really give any fucks about that anymore, but people generally tend to be more accepting of you when you look like one of those women. A woman they’d wanna fuck or be friends with. Someone who doesn’t look like the dyke that “made” their daughter gay. Sometimes, blending in without conforming would be so lovely.
I said to Caitlin:
Girl, I don’t think I can do this. I’m gonna be the only dyke at this wedding and it’s tripping me out. I just shaved the side of my head. My nails are painted white. I’m wearing a men’s bow-tie. I can’t breathe. I don’t want anyone to be mean to me tonight. I’m just gonna sit in the car.
Caitlin held my hand and without any irony or sappiness said:
Those are totally valid feelings. Take a deep breath. If one person looks at you sideways, I will personally make them as uncomfortable as I possibly can without punching them. I am your date and we are going to dance and party and have a blast. This is Megan, your friend and she is lovely. Her family and friends will be too. You are an invited guest and everything will be fine. You look fly as fuck and I’m proud to stand next to you. Now get it together, Rivera, cuz I need a drink.
With a pep talk like that, I got my shit together and stepped out of the car with my best and queerest foot forward. I introduced myself to everyone I didn’t know. I hugged all the people, played with all the babies and danced with all the ladies (and some menfolk too). Judging an entire group of people without meeting them was exactly what I didn’t want them to do to me.
Having anxiety about something is totally normal and sometimes the best thing is to just let that shit out of your system. When you need help dealing with something, reach out, reach in and put on your dancing shoes, kid. Could I have managed all of this without my friends? Sure. Would it have been half as fun, hell no. Now maybe happy endings don’t happen all the time but dammit, sometimes they do. I am so glad I made it to Megan’s wedding. It was hands down one of the most awesome nights I’ve had in years.
Say Yes To The Dress. Unless You Don’t Want To Wear A Fucking Dress
I have never worried too much about weddings. Most of my friends aren’t having them right now (for a variety of reasons) and when I get invited to the occasional family affair I throw on a dress and heels and wonder what desserts will be served. That’s the luxury of being a feminine of center ciswoman: the world assumes I’ll show up in a dress and I do. End scene.
However this summer, my very masculine of center girlboifriend (copyright Riese, 2011) was not only invited to three (three!) weddings but was asked to be a bridesmaid in all. three. of. them. Hello, cruel world. She panicked. I panicked because I wanted to help her but wasn’t sure how I could do that. Then we started talking, processing and shopping. I can now say that I feel pretty confident in knowing how to help your masculine of center person feel as comfortable as possible with the whole Wearing Fancy Clothes To A Wedding process, whether they are going as a bridesmaid or a groomsman or simply as a guest. There seem to be a few classic ways this can go down, so think of this guide as a choose-your-own-adventure book.
The pre-step: Everyone gets to start here, because this applies to every single human on the planet. Get ready, this one’s a shocker: We are all different. I cannot speak to every situation because I probably can’t even imagine every situation! You have to talk to your person and see how they feel right off the bat. Maybe this person is your longtime girlfriend and you are convinced you know exactly how she feels. Maybe this person is a casual date and you’re not sure it’s your place to say anything. Maybe this person is your ex and you ended really badly and you both cry all the time when you’re together in which case why are you going to this wedding I think that might be a bad idea! But seriously, no matter what, you need to let your person come to you about their feelings. From there, you can evaluate what you should do in order to be the most supportive date ever and maybe even have a good time at this upcoming shindig.
For the date who is going to wear a dress and is okay with it
1. Listen when your date says they are okay wearing a dress. Maybe check in once or twice to be sure they feel okay, but then stop it! Trust your date.
2. Offer to go shopping with your date. If they say no, don’t act annoyed or offended. If they say yes, be enthusiastic. Do not make them think they are forcing you to do something you don’t want to do; do not make it feel like a chore.
3. You can give your opinions, but let your date take the lead. If you never use the word “boobs” to refer to your date’s chest, they probably don’t want to hear the word “boobs” in the fitting room just because they’re suddenly wearing a strapless gown as opposed to a graphic T. You’re all smart and amazing so I feel like this is a given, but just be sure to use respectful language and do not undermine your partner’s identity.
4. Don’t act weirded out! It may be super strange to see your partner in more feminine clothing, especially if they’ve previously expressed disdain or disinterest in it, but remember that their outfit needs to be comfortable for them, not necessarily you.
5. Pick out a cute dress to match. Follow your date’s cues — if they make jokes about wearing the dress or twirl around and ask you how they look, joke right back with them. Talk about the time Shane wore that dress for Carmen’s mom. Have a good time!
For the Date Who is Going To Wear A Dress and Wants To Die When They Think About It
1. Be sympathetic. Do not blow off their concerns and fears, and do not tell them to suck it up and deal with it. This is a really sucky situation and one day we will live in a world where no one is “expected” to wear a dress but that day is not today so let’s all just take some deep breaths and try to get through this. Commiserate with them, bake them a pie, buy some beer…just let them know you are on their side.
2. Respect their decision to wear a dress. My girlfriend is super polite and was completely against the idea of even bringing up menswear to her friends who asked her to be a bridesmaid. And while the angry radical part of me wanted to call her friends up and lecture them on how fucked up it is to ask people to wear things they are uncomfortable in, the reasonable girlfriend part of me realized that would be super disrespectful to my girlfriend and the brides and that not all people who assume the gender binary is law are bad people and that ultimately it was completely up to my girlfriend to decide what she was comfortable doing. What I mean is, don’t belittle your date for not asking not to wear a dress. Everyone is doing the best they can. Wearing a dress may make your date miserable, but it may be the only choice they feel they have. They still need you by their side.
3. See steps 2-4 from “For the Partner Who is Going To Wear A Dress and Is Okay With It.” Also, be insanely supportive. Take charge if your partner needs you to take charge (like telling the saleswoman to back the fuck off when she tries to measure your partner’s chest) or lay low if your partner would prefer to be in control. Maybe bring a delicious snack to the dress store or have something comforting waiting at home if your partner would rather go shopping alone. Suggest asking the bride if your partner can pair the dress with sneakers. Try to make the dress as comfortable as possible, which won’t be very comfortable but at least might be better than a strapless pink tulle situation.
4. Do not joke about the dress. Do not tell your date how pretty and sweet they look in a dress. If your date’s friends/mother/co-worker/neighbor gush over how pretty they look in a dress or ask why they don’t wear a dress more often, do not agree with them. Come up with a secret sign/handshake/eye roll that you two can share whenever your date feels particularly shitty throughout the night. Treat your date the same way you would treat them if they were wearing a suit, or jeans, or any other outfit they would normally wear.
5. After the whole event is over, understand that your partner may need a little bit of time to feel okay about their body again. They may not want to have sex after the wedding. They may really want to have sex after the wedding. Of course sex needs to be consensual for everyone involved, so if you’re not in the mood for sex post-wedding you won’t have it, but I think it’s more important to be aware that your partner might actively not want to have sex, and you should be prepared for that. Basically just be the loving amazing girlfriend you are all the time, but be it a little bit extra. Maybe it will turn out to be less traumatic than anticipated, but maybe not. Hope for the best but anticipate the worst.
For the Date Who is Going To Wear A Suit and Is Maybe Confident Or Maybe A Little Nervous About It
1. Be excited! This is really exciting. I’m excited! Is your date excited? They should be. They’re going to look super sexy and you’re going to get to be there with them and oh my gosh I am just super happy for everyone involved. This is going to be great!
2. Except okay, in case you have never been menswear shopping with your partner before, let me just warn you: this exciting event can be super stressful. Even if it’s not a last-minute situation, sometimes it is just hard to find clothes that fit right and suddenly you’re in the dressing room and your partner has tried on 30 shirts and maybe is crying or maybe is angry and you’re surrounded by pants that don’t fit and everyone just wants to die. So how can you help in this situation? Be present and be optimistic, but do not be fake. Don’t just smile and say everything is going to be fine because everything obviously isn’t fine. Validate your partner’s frustrations and allow them to feel sad and angry. Suggest buying things a size bigger than necessary and getting them tailored. Suggest leaving. Suggest a new store. Suggest doing some online research. “Suggest going on Autostraddle and asking the community.” (That last suggestion is a direct quote from my girlfriend, how cute is she?!)
3. Have fun shopping for the accessories together! No matter what your partner’s body looks like, they’re going to be able to find a tie they love. If you’re disgustingly adorable, find a tie or bow tie for your partner that will match your dress. Sometimes the best part about getting fancy is the little details, so spend some time thinking about hair styles, shoe choices, ties, cuff links, etc.
4. When actually getting ready for the wedding, be extra supportive. If your partner is anxious about comments that guests might make on their superfly appearance, practice some responses you or they might say. Put on some fun music, flirt a whole lot, kiss in front of the mirror and generally enjoy yourselves. It’s not every day a handsome queer is asked to dress up in a suit and tie, and you should totally make the most of it because damn, your partner looks good.
5. Put on your outfit and go have a ball! You both look so good, everyone is going to be jealous. Rock that shit.
For the Date Who is Going To Wear A Dress For The Ceremony And Then Change Into A Suit
1. If your date has asked to change into a suit after the ceremony, I’m going to assume they initially fell into the category of “Date Who is Going To Wear A Dress and Wants To Die When They Think About It.” Follow steps 1-4 in that category, and then transition to “Date Who is Going To Wear A Suit and Is Maybe Confident Or Maybe A Little Nervous About It” and follow steps 2-5. You have a lot of steps! But you’re also going to have a lot of fun. I’ve capped this particular category at only 1 step, because you technically have 8 altogether, so if you’re sick of the steps it would be totally appropriate to stop right here and go take a shot at the open bar because you and your date look awesome and you’ve navigated some tricky waters of wedding wear, and you both deserve to be drunk and happy.
For the Partner Who Will Not Be Attending The Wedding
1. Respect their choice to not attend an event that will not allow them to exist in a comfortable way.
2. Decide if you are going to attend the wedding anyway, and discuss this with your partner. If it’s an event your partner was invited to and you were going to be the date, obviously you will no longer be going, but sometimes it’s more complicated. Is it your best friend’s wedding? Is your mom getting remarried? Sometimes you can skip a wedding and it’s fine, and sometimes you can’t. Your partner isn’t obligated to go, but you might be and you should talk about that.
3. If you do decide to go to the wedding solo, be respectful of your partner and acknowledge it might bum them out. On the other hand, don’t let your partner guilt you; as discussed in step 2, if it’s a wedding you have to attend, then you have to attend. Do what feels right.
4. Plan your own fancy event with your partner. Just because you’re not attending a wedding together doesn’t mean you can’t dress up and enjoy a night out in clothing that makes you both feel good about yourselves. And do you know how fun it is to go to a random restaurant dressed in evening wear? You guys, it is so fun.
5. Just show your unconditional love and respect for your partner. Honestly, this is the key to everything. As a feminine cis woman, I know that I will never know how it feels to exist in this world as a masculine of center person; I can’t possibly know what that’s like and I wouldn’t want to pretend that I do. But I also know that I’m the one my girlfriend comes home to at the end of the day when she’s feeling sad or disappointed or angry about the way the world treats her, and I know what it’s like to comfort her and raise her spirits and confirm her identity. As a community, even with something as frivolous as wedding outfits, we’re all in it to help each other. So just do that to the best of your ability and I promise you’re doing it right.
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