Kimberly & David’s Bookish gender-avoiding party (with a wedding)

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rude ring shot
Photos by Russ Mathews

The offbeat bride: Kimberly, not-all-that-evil HR Director

Her offbeat partner: David, condemner of dangerous buildings

Location & date of wedding: Robert J Mohart Center, Kansas City, MO — October 10, 2010

What made our wedding offbeat: We wanted the wedding to reflect who we are, and who we are is practical, crafty people who love books, good food, and relaxed good times. We’re also people who would rather not have gender roles, pomp and circumstance, or people standing around awkwardly.

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We addressed the book part by using pages from injured books as matting and decorative elements for the invitations, making all the flowers for the hall and corsages/boutonnieres from book pages, and decorating the tables with old and lovely books. We labeled the table books with a custom bookplate for the wedding and gave them as wedding favors.

Buffet

The good food, no pomp, and no awkward standing was accomplished by putting our short ceremony in the middle of the “reception.” People were already eating yummy snacks and having drinks, and we’d been out mingling, long before the wedding itself began. That seemed to make everybody friendly and happy — maybe cause they were not hungry. Photos were mostly candid, with a few quick posed shots that didn’t involve huge numbers of people to be orchestrated (also to cut down on awkward standing time).

cheering circle

The gender-avoiding happened by dissecting the “traditional wedding,” removing unequal expectations for the partners, changing the language to gender-neutral wording, and adding in elements that replaced the ones we stripped out. We didn’t use words like “bride and groom;” rather, our website and programs referred to us as “people getting married,” and the minister made it through the entire service with nary a pronoun. David, who identifies as male, wore a full dress tuxedo, and I, identifying as genderqueer, wore a suit with both masculine and feminine features.

couple

We’re also hands-on types: we wrote our own ceremony, designed our own wedding logo (a picture representing our last names as a fox and a gear in a kind of visual pun), designed and handmade our own invitations, programs, flowers, centerpieces, favors, and other decorations. We set up the hall ourselves with the help of friends, and cleaned up afterward, too. For anything we had to hire someone else to do, we hired friends where we could. If we couldn’t hire friends, we tried to at least hire people we liked, whose businesses were in line with our ethics and principles. All of that made sure that the event went the way we wanted it, and helped keep the budget in line.

Table setting

Finally, we tried to be as eco-conscious as possible. We spent the extra cash for china instead of disposable dishes, used locally-sourced food and drink where possible, recycled our empty wine and beer bottles, asked for e-mail or phone RSVPs instead of sending a separate card, used books bound for the trash to make flowers and invitations and more, and made sure that anything that could have more than one purpose did. The centerpieces were the favors, the ribbon around the program was used in the ceremony, and so on.

D ring

Tell us about the ceremony: We included a ring-blessing ceremony that echoed Unitarian Universalist and Pagan ritual, but allowed each person attending to invoke the blessings of their own faith; a cup-sharing ceremony drawing on Jewish tradition; and a ring exchange familiar from Christian weddings. We used two readings, both from secular sources: a piece from Rilke‘s “Letters to a Young Poet” that mashed together some of his sayings on love and independence, and the delightful “Loving the Wrong Person” from Andrew Boyd‘s “Daily Afflictions.”

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Our biggest challenge: We had two big challenges for the wedding. One was that we, our families, and our friends have a wide range of spiritual and religious beliefs, so we wanted something that would be unique and authentic to us without being an occasion for anybody to attempt to convert anybody else or get into religious arguments. We ended up hiring an officiant from a local interfaith organization, and together we wrote a ceremony that was secular, but included elements from several faith traditions.

Random dancing

The other big issue for us, well, really just for me, was clothing. I’m genderqueer. Formal wear is probably the most gendered thing on earth. I went into the planning process with massive anxiety that I was going to be expected to be stuffed into a dress and grow my hair long and play femme, which is about the farthest thing from who I am that I can imagine. At some point, David looked at me and said, “I don’t know why you think you have to wear a dress. We’re going to spend money on clothes, why don’t you spend your clothing money to have something made that will fit you and make you happy?” Sudden realization! I had a local seamstress make me an Edwardian-influenced tail coat instead. It fit my body and my sense of self, which was delightful.

have some cake

My favorite moment: The ceremony included a ring blessing, in which everybody was supposed to write a blessing on a length of ribbon and then place the ribbon into the box with the rings. The minister surprised us a little by asking people to give a cheer if they supported us, and everybody gave a huge yell and waved their blessing ribbons in the air. It was such a huge feeling of love and support, it was a little overwhelming, and it felt totally spontaneous.

kiss

Also, we had written our own vows that reflected the kind of relationship we want to have, rather than the kind of relationship people want you to have. The vows included promises to love each other, to help each other, and to ask for help when we need it, and — my favorite — to always give as good as we get from the other person. We figured that included the more traditional expectation that you should return love for love and kindness for kindness, as well as sanctioning the sort of friendly antagonism and competitiveness that really is one of the foundations of our relationship. When we said that part of the vows, everybody just cracked up laughing and cheering, because they know who we are and what we’re like. It was lovely.

Wedding invite

My funniest moment: Our wedding had a secret theme, unknown even to us! Because there was a gear on the invitation, some of our friends thought it was a steampunk event. So, some came in costume, and some had stories about themselves as some sort of steampunk character. People kept coming up to me and telling me about their time-travel devices, or their balloon trips. This was totally perplexing. I had no idea why this was happening until we were almost ready to leave, and somebody said, “I didn’t know we were supposed to have a story!” David and I had to say, “We didn’t either!”

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? I wasn’t sure about the space. We knew about the Mohart Center, because David had worked in an office there in his first job in the city. They don’t usually do weddings, though. That space is usually used for community meetings and city programs like activities for senior citizens.

The person who was in charge of renting the space was having some family difficulties and taking a lot of time off to deal with them, and so it took us months and months to be able to even be sure that we’d have space. We were literally a month out from the wedding and didn’t know if we had a room to have it in. It turned out to be fine, of course. We had the space, it cost us less than we’d thought it would, and the staff were totally helpful in making sure we had everything we needed — once they were sure we were going to be there.

Cake

My advice for offbeat brides: Think about who you are, and who your partner is. Talk about who you are to each other. By the process of writing our ceremony and planning the party, we came to understand better what kind of people we are, and that gave us the security to make the wedding authentic to us. It also enhanced our relationship. Although planning the wedding was not without stress or anxiety for us, we were able to back each other up when needed and support each other.

Couple by the car

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