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The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook

Is white appropriate? What’s the right term for a groom who’s a woman? And what to say to her mother?


Ariel Levy, right, and Amy Norquist on their wedding day in Bluemont, Virginia.  

What is the right thing to wear to a wedding? Women have been asking themselves this question for generations and, I suppose, coming up with many of the same answers as I have. Black and gray, the colors I usually wear, are obviously too somber. Red is a bad idea: too garish, too iconic—the whore instead of the virgin—and, as a saleswoman at Saks explained to me, one doesn’t want to draw attention away from the bride. But then I am the bride. Sort of.

For several months, admitting that detail filled me with a flickering dread. I knew what would inevitably follow: “Why aren’t you wearing white?” Eventually, I realized that, obviously, I could just tell Katie at Barneys or Jen at Chloé, “Because I prefer color.” But at first, I felt compelled to tell the whole mortifying truth: “Because it’s a gay wedding.” Or, if I couldn’t quite get those words out of my mouth: “Because it’s not a real wedding.”

A real wedding was not something I was raised to want. My parents were bohemians of a sort, and real weddings were like real jobs: square. As my mother has managed to mention on numerous occasions, she would have liked to elope, but to please her parents, there was a modest reception; she told them to do whatever they wanted and that she and my father would show up. When Amy and I announced that we intended to have a wedding—not a real wedding, of course, but something festive, something that expressed the scale of our glee—my mother’s response was less than gushing. “How can you feel okay about spending all that money on one day?” she wanted to know.

Naturally, I yelled at her for saying that, but the truth is I didn’t. By the time things starting getting specific and estimated costs of various things started combining to form enormous estimated sums, money was only one of many things I did not feel okay about. I did not feel okay about the word marriage, for instance, partly because it didn’t describe a legal option for me, and partly because the closer that something quite like it loomed the less it seemed like an attractive condition with which to be afflicted. (This was relatively easy to sidestep, at least in a technical sense: Our invitations promised “a party about love,” and you can’t really argue with that.) I also didn’t feel okay about spending all my free time on the phone with the flower guy and the tent man, or about making little checklists of who was coming, and who was not coming, and who was staying at the Goodstone Inn. And I definitely did not feel okay about telling the sales staff of half the better clothing retailers in New York City that I needed something fetching to wear to my big fat gay wedding.

Now that I know what is involved in throwing such an event, it is difficult to remember exactly how we decided to do so … hard to retrace the steps that led to my standing in front of a three-way mirror in a $3,700 canary-yellow Donna Karan trapeze dress, completely panicked, knowing that soon, very soon, everyone I knew and loved would be joining me for this hell of my own making, this festival of gayness and commitment.

All I can say for sure is that it started on the blackout. When I met Amy on a friend’s balcony that night, I never wanted the lights to come back on. With all the stoplights dead, traffic moved on the streets below to its own ghostly, unpredictable rhythm—everything was different. The idea that we wouldn’t be together from then on seemed unnatural, almost immediately. And so it was unsurprising that despite the considerable obstacles of other relationships and opposite coasts, eventually we had one life. We were pretty pleased with ourselves. “Look!” we wanted to say to everyone. “Look how fun! Look what’s possible! Let’s have a cocktail!” We would celebrate with our friends—our families, even. There should be music and dancing. We’d need hyacinths and shrimps! Let the wild rumpus begin.

I am not a total idiot. I always had the sense to say no wedding cake, no officiant, no first dance, no here comes the bride, no Times announcement, and absolutely no white dress. Who are we kidding? And why? We just wanted a big, awesome party where everyone could meet and go bananas. It’s a special opportunity, you know: The only other time everyone you love will assemble in one place is at your funeral. (At most weddings, some people you don’t actually love will also be in attendance. But the silver lining of my parents’ being irreverent and Amy’s parents’ being in denial is that we didn’t have to invite anyone we didn’t want to.) The thing is, though, you have to serve something, and you can’t very well go naked. You can call it a party about love all you want, but you still have to make all the same decisions that every other bride has to make, and you have to make them very carefully unless you want everyone you know to schlep to some crummy party in the middle of nowhere.


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