This year, I proposed to my kick-ass awesome ladyfriend. I have been happily jaunting through wedding blogs in search of color themes, DIY ideas, and venues ever since. We have a tiny budget, and can’t get married in either of our home states or our current state (thanks, constitutional amendments!).
The most unexpected “problem” in our big gay wedding, however, has not been worrying what people will think when only one of our three “bridesmaids” wears a dress, or having to ask each potential vendor if they’re gay-friendly (and crossing them off if there is even a tiny pause in their answer). The most unexpected problem has been what to wear.
I am not the “dreamed of her big day since she was 5” bride, but I want to wear a pretty white dress, because I am femme, and that’s what makes me feel like a bride. I want to feel gorgeous on my wedding day, and I want my fiancée to feel that way too.
Here’s the thing: my fiancée is neither butch nor femme, and this is surprisingly difficult to navigate in lesbian wedding land. We’ve started joking that she’s going to have to wear a barrel or a chicken suit. My fiancée hates wearing skirts or dresses and always has, but her identity is not butch, and I wouldn’t even call her a tomboy. She wears jeans and casual shirts. She identifies as female – it’s just that fashion, male or female, is not that important to her.
Butch and femme are definitely the most popular categorizations of lesbians: we see Ellen and Portia, Cynthia Nixon and Christine Marinoni. Lesbians discuss the invisibility of femmes in lesbian culture, and how femmes have to prove their identity. Judith Halberstam has written some awesome theoretical stuff about how one can identify as a masculine female and thereby subvert notions of what is “female”.
But all these ideas continue to reinforce “butch” and “femme” as the categories by which lesbians define themselves. Our outfit dilemma highlights a re-patterning of binary norms in lesbian culture, where the middle is invisible or unrepresented. More than that, it’s a re-patterning of heteronormativity, where the only possible representations of presenting yourself are “masculine” or “feminine”. There is little discussion or visualization of lesbians, or women as a whole, who just don’t want to be gendered along masculine/feminine lines.
Popular wedding blogs I’ve read that feature lesbian weddings, such as Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding, nearly always show either two femme brides in dresses, or one person in a dress and one in a tux, suit and tie, or other masculine attire. One of the only entries I’ve seen that shows someone wearing pants as a non-masculine outfit is Jessica and Pam’s wedding.
When you search Google for “lesbian wedding”, you get a similar pattern of pictures. (You also rarely see pictures with two butch or semi-butch women, which brings up other questions: are butch women less likely to participate on wedding blogs? Is it not a ‘real wedding’ without a dress?)
It’s both fascinating and kind of alarming to see just how far the heteronormative binary operates, even in homosexual spaces. Yet there is a whole spectrum of women, of ALL orientations, who are not traditionally masculine or feminine in their dress. My fiancée doesn’t choose or care to represent her gender through her clothing. This is surprisingly difficult, and it illuminates how, as Judith Butler would say, clothing is one of the major ways we perform gender. Subsequently, it’s one of the major ways we enforce participation in gendered choices. The barrel or the chicken suit is less funny when you realize it represents that there are so few non-gendered fancy clothing choices that you have to turn to items that are not even clothing.