Though private and personal, I’m posting these so I’ll see them when I occasionally go back through my blog. I’m still crying every time I read through them.
“I have spent all of my 20s, with you. We started dating when we were 19! My growth as an adult, while not defined by you, has been and will be inevitably shaped by you…and that makes me SO HAPPY. You are one of the most genuine, kind and creative people I know, and you’ve helped to nurture those qualities in me. And it’s so exciting that after 8 and a half years, I get to come home to you, or go to work with you, or see you after a week of working opposite shifts.
Our relationship has not just gone through rough patches, but grown and strengthened because of them. I am confident that no matter what struggles we may face down the road, even if our marriage itself is the struggle, we have the tools, experience, and community to work through it together.
I don’t know what I could vow or promise to you today that I haven’t already told you, so I’ll treat this as a renewal, and a baseline for our marriage to come:
* I will always be on your side. Even when it feels like no one’s in your corner–even when it feels like I’m not in your corner–I’m there rooting for you to succeed.
* I will remember and trust you’re there for me. It’s easy for me go to an isolated place and feel lonely, but I know you’re there with me.
* I will continue to grow myself as a person, and as your husband.
* I will never let complacency define our marriage
* I will give you the space to fail, and succeed. I won’t deprive you of an opportunity to grow even as I want to protect you from the world.
We were friends first and always will be. Our strength comes from this foundation and I promise to cherish and protect it. I love you. “
So my wedding was this weekend. In a way that truly defines Harrisonburg, it was a family and community event. This wedding was different/special not just because it was a gay wedding, but that we’ve been together for 8 and a half years. I think the majority of gay weddings right now are people who have been together for a long time and for whom the traditional cookie cutter of a church wedding just doesn’t begin to fit around the established relationship. In many ways Kenny and I had been through our vows time and again as we’ve faced hurdles and joy through the years. I wanted to provide an overview in the hopes that it might help another same-sex or long term couple out there (or anyone finding themselves not fitting the mold) in planning their wedding. I haven’t gotten the official pictures yet, so thank you to the people I stole these from.
The Wedding Party
We had three people on each side, with our “Best People” closest to us. These people have been with us through thick and thin and did not include long lost friends from high school. These are the people we can count on here and now to support us both individually and as a couple.
image by aliceviviann
image by cdexshanley
There was no drama here, just unconditional love, support, and manpower. We let them pick their own dresses, with the idea that they would all be some shade of gray. No one spent more than $50, and two of the dresses were originally white dresses that were already owned. My parents generously bought our matching express outfits, so we were able to help the men finish out their outfits by coordinating with items they already owned.
I am quietly an atheist with a humanist focus and Kenny is spiritual but does not ascribe to a traditionally packaged religion. Our friend Colleen, who has a lot of experience creating rituals and ceremonies, agreed to officiate and help us create the ceremony from scratch. While we kept the traditional framework: a procession, invocation, a reading, vows, rings, kiss, recession, this ceremony was created for us, by us. Having been together for so long, we recognized that the big part of this day was saying the things we’ve felt out loud, and saying those things out loud in front of our community and tasking them with supporting us and our marriage. Kenny and I host a lot and don’t really do PDA–most of the people attending had not seen us kiss, much less hold hands or touch in public. In social settings, we’re usually on opposite ends of the room.
Colleen addressed this by starting the ceremony with us facing the crowd. As we made eye contact with everyone (sobbing the entire time) she called out the different groups in our separate lives to stand so we could recognize them. She then had everyone stand, raise a hand, and bless us as individuals. This was so powerful for us to acknowledge our community and bring their support and blessings into the next intimate parts of the ceremony. The overwhelming reaction we received afterwards was that this was the most meaningful part of the ceremony for people. They felt so special to be acknowledged and were happy to know that their individual presence was both welcome and necessary for our marriage.
When we were ready, we turned and faced each other. Colleen then used some guided imagery to release everything that wasn’t here and now, acknowledged and dismissed the tractor in the distance, and grounded everyone. There was a reading from Jacob Needleman’s The Wisdom of Love that fit with our theme of love tried and tested.
Our vows were said while holding a totem, or talking piece gifted to us by Colleen. In our job at The Little Grill Collective, we use the practice of Talking Circles to air grievances, communicate, and support each other. It felt right that we pour our vows into a personal talking piece that can be used in hard or important conversations that involve our marriage (we could have used this a couple years ago when we had some issues with a friend’s respect for us and our home). Because we had separated our attention from the crowd and trusted that they were there in unconditional support, we offered no explanation for this, as it was private to us. This was a good decision, and we’ve only had a couple curious questions of “So the stick…”
I wrote my vows down and will post them separately; Kenny spoke his from the heart, which is one of the amazing gifts he has. Through this whole experience we were both crying as we felt the heightened energy of the focused community pouring over us. I was reminded of that feeling you get when you let your anger out and everything unrelated comes with it, except this time it was all the unexpressed happiness and love exploding out of us at once.
After handing back the talking piece, our wedding party passed the rings we’ve been wearing for a year up the line with each person pouring their own personal intentions into them. High on the energy from the vows, we silently exchanged rings, and then our party surrounded us, unintentionally like a cocoon.
This was so important. We got to experience our close friends supporting our new bond, and when we were ready, they opened up to expose us, newly married, newly committed, to the community that blessed us as individuals before.
Sobbing with joy, we all processed down the aisle past the photographer, who is very hopeful auto-focus was doing it’s job because she was crying so much.
The reception was created on a budget. Kenny grew our flowers, zinnias, in our back yard. They provided the perfect backdrop for the Rehearsal Dinner that we hosted there. While we, my mother, and our wedding party cut flowers and arranged them in the vases I cut by hand from wine bottles, our friend Morgan, a woman of many talents, created boutonnieres. She had also brought tons of goldenrod and other wild flowers from a friend’s farm. The women of the wedding party made their own bouquets, lending a to a beautiful and genuine variety.
Because we work at a restaurant, we were able to cheaply order the food in bulk and our friend Annie spent most of her week pickling 20 gallons of veggies, cooking 40 pounds of collard greens, roasting red peppers for the pimento cheese, and generally being a superstar. We did a BBQ Tempeh and Tofu mixture for the main course, with apple thyme coleslaw, chipotle mac & cheese with smoked gouda, and a watermelon, cucumber, feta, and mint salad. It was all amazing, and though I’m sure there were some people who were disappointed at the lack of meat, everyone enjoyed something.
It was a relaxed buffet atmosphere. We got local beer and cider from Blue Mountain and Bold Rock. My mother planned out the place settings with a a simple square of burlap, our flower arrangements with some twine wrapped around the bottle, and hand painted assorted Bs and Ks.
image by cdexshanley
The favors were little succulents.
Our “best people” did a joint mad-lib speech with submissions created during cocktail hour. It was so great how they crafted it: lots of funny strings of nonsense followed by heartfelt and impactful comments. I cried and laughed so much. The rest of the wedding party all got up and made public their feelings for us both individually and as a couple. My father gave a wonderful speech about how he had married his best friend, and he welcomed Kenny into our family. The overall theme seemed to be how warm and welcoming we are to the community and how excited they were as a community to help us make this day a reality. It was wonderful to allow myself to just take in the love and let it flow through and back out to everyone I hugged that night.
Our first dance was Truly Madly Deeply by Savage Garden, and we danced with our mothers to Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. We did the entire playlist on an iPod with no DJ. The dance floor was never empty, and anther compliment we got (mostly from older folks) was how danceable every song was, even if they didn’t know it. We made sure there was something for every generation that was also a classic we loved.
In the Harrisonburg way, everyone helped with cleanup, which only took about 30 minutes.
The Little Grill Collective, as a gift to us, closed the next morning for a private breakfast with everyone from the wedding. It was an amazing experience to ride out the night and then see the same people I love clapping for us while eating amazing pancakes in one of my favorite places–a place I feel the most safe. With a bloody mary and mimosa bar, it was so great that my family got to experience this big part of my life (the grill) in this way. We got to see people we missed from the night before and truly say goodbye to those headed out of town.
image by cdexshanley
image by cdexshanley
We treated this experience not as a “sending off” or “start of the great journey of marriage” but as a chance to renew our love and devotion to one another, and solidly state to our community that we are married, we are committed to one another, and that we are committed to them. I will not go so far as to say this wedding was better or worse than others. This wedding was perfect for us, and no other wedding would have been. We took the time to craft it for us and our situation and it was so effective. I’m an introvert–I don’t usually get energy from social situations and in fact find myself drained by them, especially if the people aren’t my inner circle. But Friday I made everyone my inner circle and something in me burst outward. I rode the wave of love and support all weekend and this morning feel refreshed and recharged. I genuinely love every person that took a part of our wedding. I am so happy, and I I’m itching to have a conversation where I get to refer to my husband as such. People have asked if that’s going to be weird, and I say, “NO! I’ve been waiting years to say it!”
We are officially married in DC and I think it won’t be long before it’s recognized in Virginia.
There is no way I referenced everyone who had a hand in this wedding. So many people in our lives gave their time, money, and love to make this wedding happen. I’m so grateful to them all and they will always be a part of me.
Photo by Brandy Somers