From Issue 3.5 - June 1997
Same-sex marriage is a topic that reflects a division among queers, a division between the desire to assimilate and the rejection of dominant culture. While the concept of assimilation may seem futile or unnecessary to many, it is silly to discount wedding ceremonies simply because they are often perceived as supporting the status quo.
Such ceremonies can be re-written from a subcultural standpoint. A queer commitment ceremony can involve an S/M scene, sex magick, a radical faerie circle, an orgy -- whatever speaks to the experience and cultural position of those involved. A pervert wedding, like the Folsom Street Fair, can be a powerful way to bring a community together to celebrate the commitment and love it shares.
Perverts are not represented in the media circus that has ensued over gay marriage. The mainstream gay press exclusively portrays same-sex marriage advocates as white, middle class, wholesome, family-oriented queers. The gay press coverage of the Defense of Marriage Act debate painted a portrait of gay suburbia which protected the sanctity of marriage.
Gay and lesbian struggles to assimilate into mainstream culture often result in the further marginalization of perverts and leatherfolk. There are the "normal" gays and lesbians portrayed by the media who simply want to be accepted because they are "just like everyone else," and then there are the perverts that they wish would just disappear. Bob and Rod Jackson-Paris hardly speak to the experience of many perverts -- why should they be the only ones adding to the discourse on same-sex marriage? Any institution in our society is open to scrutiny and should be reclaimed and reinterpreted by those marginalized within it. The institution of marriage must also undergo reinterpretation so that queers can reclaim it.
Yes, marriage has historically been a patriarchal tool used to imprison women and to declare property ownership of a spouse. Rewriting social scripts and reclaiming institutions one has been excluded from, while never easy, can be challenging and fun. Queer commitment ceremonies aren't necessarily lending power to the status quo -- indeed, they can subvert this power through a very symbolic gesture. It sends a message to our society that either a) we value ceremony and tradition and are willing to fight for inclusion within the institution, or b) we think marriage is a sham and are willing to openly mock this straight tradition while asserting our own identities. I hope the following descriptions of two pervert wedding ceremonies will help stimulate ideas about the possibilities that exist.
In July of 1996, my partner Philip and I had a commitment ceremony. In planning our big day, we wanted it to be colorful, kinky, queer, and most of all, fun! In other words, we didn't want it to be like a traditional straight wedding. Unfortunately, Emily Post had no guide to queer wedding etiquette, and Miss Manners had remained silent on the issue. While flipping through the Bay Times, I found what we were looking for -- the Lavender Lounge Wedding Chapel. The divinely fabulous Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour (of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc.) had opened a queer wedding chapel South of Market, and looked forward to marrying us as the first couple in the new space.
The lavender chapel seated 50 loved ones and provided the queer environment we were looking for. Our wedding alter was left over from the cut/uncut contest that had occurred there the weekend before. Two white wooden phalluses loomed over us forming a giant eight foot arch, beneath which were white wedding bells. My best man, a leatherdyke in chaps, escorted me up the aisle following the flower girls, one of whom was a queerboy gender-fucker in scarlet taffeta. Philip, in his shiny black vinyl suit, was then escorted up the aisle by his best man. We exchanged our vows of love and commitment in front of friends and lovers, an important public validation of our relationship. We knew the wedding was a success when we saw that all of the butch dykes and leathermen were crying, breaking down their tough exteriors.
The wedding of Dossie Easton and Kai Harper is another example of how wedding ceremonies can be reinterpreted to be meaningful to perverts. The couple publicly committed their love for each other in August of 1996 in a redwood grove in Roy's Redwoods located in West Marin. Kai and Dossie integrated into their ceremony aspects of their sexuality and spirituality. The couple collected stones from the beach and created a labyrinth near the site of the ceremony. In a phone interview Kai told me, "We wanted to use the labyrinth as a focal point in the ceremony so that people would walk up to the site and be focused when they arrived." They also had a private piercing ritual before they arrived so that they would be connected with each other.
The area was purified as all of the guests formed a circle around the couple, symbolizing the connections a community shares. Dossie told me, "We didn't have a priest marry us, we married each other -- gathering the community in support as we professed our love." Particularly meaningful for both of them was having people enter into the circle to say a few words and to give blessings. Kai commented, "Everyone in the community gets married with you as they stand witness." The redwood grove was a special and symbolic location for the ceremony because, as Dossie and Kai's friend Bill commented, redwood trees share the same roots -- just as all of our friends share our friendship.
I asked if they structured their ceremony with traditions of the dominant culture in mind or if they completely wanted to stray from such things. Kai noted that all communities have traditions, not just the dominant culture, and that we need to celebrate those traditions. Dossie said that she integrated tradition by wearing a gardenia which was attached to a piercing on her skin -- because, she said jokingly, she couldn't find a white corset. "It wasn't about rejecting tradition, it was about identifying ourselves."
Pervert weddings can be a powerful way for a community to identify itself, to celebrate the bonds, love and traditions it shares. A fetish or "perversion" only really exists in a social context. No lifestyle or sexual act is innately a "fetish," just as no person is innately a "pervert" -- society must deem it so for these labels to have any power. Understanding the context that these labels arise within provide us with greater social power -- and often with hotter, transgressive sex!
So if you plan a wedding, run wild with it! Make it unique, queer, and powerful. While social acceptance and a legally sanctioned marriage license are nice thoughts, a ceremony is ultimately about you and your relationship. A ceremony is not about assimilation and making mainstream society accept and like us -- it is about the love and commitment that we share.
Note: although the Lavender Lounge Wedding Chapel has closed,
Sister Zsa Zsa is still available to perform ceremonies.