It’s June, and Kristina and I find ourselves printing the pages of our marriage license application to get it notarized and mailed in because the county office is closed for COVID-19 precautions. Until a few weeks ago, when I started to see posts on social media about it, I forgot this is also LGBTQ+ Pride Month. It’s bitterly ironic that I’m applying for a marriage license during Pride, a global recognition of queer culture, when I and my fiancée will be the only queer people at our wedding.
We started planning our July nuptials late last year, and reaching a compromise took us months. I wanted a courthouse commitment ceremony with only the judge and two witnesses present. She wanted a fun celebration with the people she loves most.
Our different visions exposed our deepest fears about our wedding. Kristina dreads the absence of family members — most significantly her parents, who don’t acknowledge our relationship — and needs reassurance from her friends that our marriage is worth celebrating. On the other hand, I loathe the idea of devoting myself to the woman I love in front of a crowd ― of any size ― that struggles to acknowledge that our queerness means our relationship is fundamentally different from theirs.
Pride Month offers our community a time to reckon with our past struggles for liberation and celebrate the freedom of our future. The assertive declaration that “we’re here and we’re queer” has always resonated with me because it’s the mantra for how I wish to live.
When I moved to Seattle from New Jersey exactly three years ago, I dreamed up a new persona for myself. I relocated during the best possible time ― in the midst of the city’s Pride celebrations ― and planned to transform into the confident, calm and unabashedly queer woman I wanted to be. The media I had consumed until that point had promised me a “chosen family” of mutually young, urban and nonconformist queers. I had no doubt that Seattle, arguably one of the gayest cities in America, was where I could find mine. I expected to be just like the “Dykes to Watch Out For” in no time.
However, June has repeatedly been the one month in every year when I feel the least queer. The declarations that there is joy in being “out and proud” remind me how much work I have left to do before I can overcome the sense of shame that, because I am queer, I simply do not belong in the world I was born into.
Shaped by a parenting model involving Roman Catholic strictness and sensibility, I inherited the message that heteronormativity is the standard, and individuality and difference are the enemy. My parents have never been hostile to me since I came out to them more than 10 years ago, but my nuclear and extended family has awkwardly stumbled in their attempts to let me know I’m still one of them.
My father, as thoughtful as he means to be, occasionally emails me articles about Catholicism and homosexuality with a note that he thought I “might be interested.” When my brother was planning his own wedding two years ago, he assured me that the invitation was intended for both my partner and me. I listened doubtfully as he explained that all of the attendees, even though most were elderly, would welcome us.
And no one close to me knows how to respond when my fiancée or I broach the subject of her family, most of whom I’ve never met, being unsupportive of our relationship. We note their religious views or mention their country of origin and the anti-queer culture there to try to explain why they won’t be at the wedding. If the day comes when I am introduced to her parents, my fiancée will bear the burden of translating most of what we say since we don’t speak the same language.
By my own volition, I have constantly revised my approach to self-expression. The space between being unapologetic about my queer identity and demonstrating restraint when I feel a situation calls for it is a large one. I have a difficult time understanding whether my urge to live a nonconformist life is informed by my queerness or by a desire to reject all the expectations of straightness that have limited me.
I met Kristina within a few weeks of moving into an apartment in Seattle. I was determined not to lose sight of the queer-as-fuck persona I intended to morph into, so at the time I was dedicated to meeting new people and forming my chosen family. I made three good friends who had also moved from other states to start over in Washington. When they all relocated again within 18 months, I was left with my fiancée’s friends, who had mutually become mine.
Among this group of people, who are all straight, modestly political and molded by cultural and conservative religious lessons even narrower than the ones I grew up with, Kristina and I are outliers. Just like with our families, we instinctually behave so that our difference is less obvious. But our performance is a little too effective, and we have fooled our loved ones into thinking our relationship is just like theirs and those of other non-queer people.
Their embrace of me and my fiancée has not been without tension. Soon after our engagement and before we even asked her outright, our closest friend shared that she could not in good conscience serve as a witness at our wedding ceremony. Disappointed but not surprised to hear her qualms, my partner and I felt forced to acknowledge — for the first time — that our friends’ loyalty to their faith is in direct contradiction to their toleration of our relationship. They love us despite who we are.
Kristina and I know that our friends should support us no matter what. But we’re also accustomed to the feeling of being tolerated, and we can’t bear the thought of losing them. So there remains an unspoken agreement among all of us to never shake the foundation of our friendship, even as the approach of the wedding risks a fatal collapse.
Being queer is not a binary experience of only joy or devastation. In my life, queerness mostly takes the form of a dull, spiritless presence. Especially this Pride Month, as I consider how far I’ve drifted from my dreams of declaring my queerness exuberantly and with, well, pride, I anticipate that my sadness will dim the joy from the “we’re queer and we’re here” sentiments. Yes, I’m queer... but I’m not exactly “here.” I’m only a work in progress.
If pride in myself is the destination, I have to acknowledge that I still face many forks in the road on the journey. The next one I’ll confront is attending my own wedding with people who love me but don’t understand me. My choice is to communicate that I need more support from them or leave things to remain as they have been.
My fiancée and I reached a fair compromise and planned a courthouse ceremony followed by a modest party with friends and family. Despite our hope that it will be the happiest day of our lives, we’re hindered by some devastating truths. Kristina’s parents won’t acknowledge our commitment. My own parents will not be present either, following my directive to be cautious and cancel their flight due to COVID-19. And the friends who will surround us cannot understand that we desperately need them to demonstrate acceptance and not just tolerance.
Kristina and I anticipate that we’ll feel a bizarre mix of excitement, joy and sorrow on the day of our nuptials, much like we have throughout our entire relationship. We are so happy and in love, but that will never mean everyone is happy that we are together.
By the time you read this, it’s possible that we still won’t know if our wedding can happen as planned. When the COVID-19 virus first reached the U.S., the idea that it could grow into an epidemic and impact our summer wedding seemed nonsensical. Now, faced with that reality, we are constantly assessing the pros and cons of moving forward with the reception. We will still get married on the planned date but will nix the evening party if our gathering can’t meet state guidelines for social distancing.
Many times I have thought we’re absurd for holding onto hope that we can gather 30 people in a small garden to share a meal and some laughter, especially when there are so many important and transformative things happening in this country right now. But the alternative — a creeping feeling of isolation and rejection if we have to celebrate on our own — seems a lot worse than wishing the show can go on. I’m selfishly upset that most local Pride events are either canceled or virtual at a time when I’m most desperate to immerse myself in the queer community. I’ve started to commiserate with my partner’s feelings at the beginning of our wedding planning discussions, since I am now also grasping for our loved ones’ attention, desperate to receive the message that our wedding deserves the same recognition as any other.
Sometimes I wonder if our family and friends would recognize our marriage at all without the party invitations. I have to remind myself that it’s too reductive to assume that if only we had queer friends, they would know better and ensure we felt validated. Maybe, or maybe not. I don’t know which perspective is more true right now. But I hope to someday be a member in a pack of confident queer folk and sense that I have been right all along to covet a chosen queer family because our innate similarities would translate into supportive and healthy friendships.
I am dusting off my abandoned dream, the unapologetically queer woman I aspired to grow into, in anticipation. For right now, Kristina and I are focused on our wish to be married and have a wedding reception. I hope everyone who attends can openly express that they love us.
Sheila Loesch is a writer and storyteller. She loves her partner so very much and is happy to live with her and their cat in Washington state. Learn more about her work at sheilaloesch.com or follow her on Twitter at @sheilaloesch.