Weddings

I never had a dream wedding planned. I never even thought of it as “the big day.” A profoundly low sense of self had me convinced early on that nobody would ever want to marry me, so what was the point? Many years and a couple long-term relationships later, I did start to see myself getting married someday—but it would undoubtedly mean a lifetime of trifling fights, uneasy compromises, and unfulfilled desires. It still wasn’t anything worth getting excited about. As cheesy as it sounds, being with my current partner has changed everything. Now, it feels surreal to know I’m getting married in three weeks and excited about it.

Since I didn’t start thinking about what I wanted in a wedding until we got engaged last November, my imagination has been stunted by financial pragmatism. Most people probably dream first and check price tags later. When you go the other way, much of the commotion about weddings doesn’t make sense. Why spend thousands of dollars on a dress I’ll only wear once? Why make all these people fly out somewhere when I would normally never vacation with most of them? Why dump thousands more into booking a venue when we could use someone’s big backyard for free? Why pay a band or DJ another several thousand when I already pay $5.33 a month for Spotify Premium? Why invest time and money into a million intricate details with high risk (of breaking, spoiling, being late, being wrong, burning, etc.) and little to no return (fancy photographs and vague recollections)?

This isn’t a knock on anyone who pulled out all the stops for a real wedding. In fact, I really, truly admire your vision and execution. I have had, or likely will have, a lot of fun at your wedding. All that stuff just isn’t for me.

Then, as I was still toying with having a small backyard wedding, my fiancé’s sister and mother planned an engagement surprise. In the middle of a friend’s Christmas party, an enormous congratulatory cake was brought out and speeches were made. And all eyes were on us. The entire time. While our minds reeled from the sudden deluge of attention.

That clinched it. As we sat with forced, uneasy smiles, we realized a wedding would be like this magnified tenfold. We would not be able to handle it. I, who struggled with eye contact until late middle school and continued to struggle with mental health for years after, who didn’t even think I was worthy of a birthday party until I was 26, did not want all those eyes on me. At least not for such a superficial reason. I have no problem being under the spotlight to perform music or read my writing, but being there as a bride—whose entire purpose is to look pretty—would propel my anxiety through the roof. We decided a courthouse ceremony and two family dinners (one with immediate families only, one with extended) would suffice.

Another discomfiting thing about wedding planning is that it has made me reflect on gender way more than ever before. When the topic came up among his family members, they offered one salient piece of advice for the event: “Whatever she wants.” It took a lot of self-control not to roll my eyes every time. I hate this idea that hetero weddings should be all about the bride. It both dismisses the groom’s wants and lets him off the hook from helping with the plans. “Happy wife, happy life” is a garbage mentality, and I can’t stand the knowing, smirking way that mantra is often said from one man to another. Additionally, because I don’t identify as a woman, I get extra uncomfortable when someone assumes I should or would do something relating to a gender stereotype. With wedding talk, those assumptions come up with alarming regularity.

I’ve only spoken about not identifying as a woman to a handful of friends. This tweet was the first time I ever said it online, and my previous post was the first time I ever wrote it somewhere more than four people might see it. A couple folks know I went through a phase in middle school when I had people call me a boy’s name. It was half an inside joke, half an earnest attempt at self-discovery. But I’m not transgender; I simply feel androgynous. If short hair didn’t require so much frequent attention to keep it that way, I might have buzzed it all off long ago. I sometimes like wearing dresses, but it tends to feel like cosplaying unless the dress is essentially a long shirt. Being called “lady” gives me a twinge of either mischievous glee (from successfully passing as one of them) or awkward annoyance, depending on whether it’s coming from a girlfriend or someone else.

I didn’t really think about it, let alone talk, because I didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s not a focal point of my identity. I don’t feel compelled to change my name or pronouns (though she/her never felt completely relevant). But wow, shopping for a wedding outfit—even for a courthouse ceremony—is super tough when you’re androgynous. We may not be having a “real wedding,” but I still want to look festive for the day. I browsed mainstream retailers, independent boutiques, consignment shops, fashion blogs—even eBay. I looked at hundreds of outfits online: mostly dresses, but also suits, jumpsuits, and separates. Everything feels gendered. Jumpsuits are supposed to be the answer for “tomboys,” but they’re still obviously something only women would wear. (Plus, you can’t pee in them! Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to that hassle?) Suits, on the other hand, feel too masculine. For once, I found myself wishing to be feminine, so I could wear one of those beautiful designer gowns without feeling disingenuous.

I wound up commissioning an Etsy shop to produce a custom design for a very reasonable price, and finding another dress online (for the second family dinner) for even less. I bought a new pair of shoes for the occasions. Our courthouse appointment and dinner venues are set. We’ve found a bakery from which to purchase one of our favorite kinds of cake. That’s about it, we figure. And it’s been stressful enough. I can’t imagine spending months agonizing over much more than this. It has been a very interesting learning experience, but I’m glad it’s over and we can look forward to enjoying that weekend.

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Gifts

The other weekend, I went to the local thrift store with a large, overflowing cardboard box. I poured its contents—shoes, clothes, handbags, books, toys, even jewelry—into a gigantic bin by the entrance. The Lupus Foundation gained roughly $100 in value. Meanwhile, my apartment gained about three cubic feet of space, free of miscellaneous objects that had been collecting dust. Most had been gifts.

This whole post is probably going to make me sound bratty and ungrateful, but I have never been big on presents. For one thing, I am not a materialistic person. I don’t want or need many objects in my everyday life to feel happy. When playing The Sims, I always got annoyed by the characters’ need to surround themselves with impractical possessions for a positive Room score, because I couldn’t relate. In the financial spreadsheets I have maintained for several years, luxury spending has consistently placed near last. If something serves no utility, then it is likely wasting space.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was a child, my parents had many family friends who would visit. They often came bearing gifts, some of which I actually quite liked. However, I was almost never allowed to keep them. The gifts would be stashed away in a closet, to be given to somebody else later. Knowing which closet it was, I would sometimes open the door to stare longingly up at the shelf of forbidden presents.

This is not to say I had an utterly deprived childhood. I did receive birthday and Christmas presents, but they were never what I requested in my petitions to Santa. They weren’t even as good as the family friends’ gifts, which I never understood. If it was a matter of economics, why couldn’t I keep their presents, and my mother purchase her own presents for the other kids?

The main issue with my mother’s gifts was that they were often very feminine things: sparkly outfits, delicate necklaces, fashionable purses. They tended to hail from popular brands, which didn’t fit the anti-mainstream aesthetic I started cultivating at an early age. More importantly, they made me uncomfortable because I didn’t—and still don’t—feel like a girl. They were constant reminders that my mother didn’t care about the person I was, and that she preferred to keep pushing me to become someone else.

Gift-giving, I soon realized, must be an inherently inefficient process designed to leave both parties less than satisfied. This belief was reinforced by guys I dated. As you could probably guess, this is the only “love language” that does not resonate at all. For some reason, when I tried to tell them I didn’t want to do presents, they didn’t believe me. Every generic necklace and handbag thus said three things: they also wished I were a woman, they still didn’t know me, and they believed in persisting inefficient processes.

Lots of people are lousy gift-givers, even to recipients without gender issues. Half the time, they pick one thing everybody knows you like, and get you something superficial pertaining to it. Posted a few cat pictures on social media? Next Christmas, you’ll be inundated with cat pens, posters, and paperweights. The rest of the time, they get something they would like, without considering whether you share their tastes. It’s not something you ever talked about, and nothing they know about you indicates you would be interested in it—but it appeals to them, so it should appeal to you, too, right?

I like to think I am more thoughtful with my gifts than most, but honestly, I have insufficient data for such a claim. This is the other thing that bothers me: the lack of outcome tracking. As a kid, when I gave my parents handmade arts and crafts or little mall purchases, I either spotted my offerings in the trash afterward or never again. How naïve of me to expect they would have decorated the refrigerator or nightstand with them.

I gave someone an audiobook on a topic with which he was obsessed, and I’m confident he never listened to a word. I gave someone else a necklace; after months of never seeing her wear it, I felt stupid and hypocritical for doing so. I gave someone else a robot vacuum cleaner; over a year later, she asked curiously at a party whether those things really worked, clearly never having tried running one.  For all I know, those presents—and more—were also stashed away in a closet to be re-gifted in the future. I can’t believe more people aren’t disgruntled about spending money on things that evidently never wind up seeing the light of day.

The only times I see it succeed truly and consistently are through crowdsourced efforts. When friends band together, each chipping in feedback and $20 for a substantial gift, it works satisfyingly well. I’ve learned my lesson and made decisions. I won’t be participating in any more holiday gift exchanges. I won’t buy anyone souvenirs anymore unless explicitly asked. If a couple getting married doesn’t have a registry, I’ll stick to giving them cash. But if anyone wants to join forces for a low-risk idea with high expected value, do still count me in.