We enter the store beneath the neon sign I’d seen in movies, its letters still vibrant in the afternoon light.
An employee instructs us to wait under a chandelier in chartreuse chairs, so we sit, looking at our phones until someone grants us entry to the bridal salon.
“I doubt anything here will work,” I say. “Too expensive, too classic, too femme.” I’m nervous-talking, unsure where this rush of anxiety came from.
“Just enjoy it,” my friends reply, speaking softly, the way they always do when I need to calm down. I feel obligated to assure them that they don’t have to pity me—I’ll likely leave empty-handed and that’s fine. Totally fine.
Someone offers us drinks, and I’m relieved. The free prosecco was the carrot I used to lure my audience to this appointment in the first place. Now that we’re here, though, I feel guilty—I have some nerve asking my chosen family to join me for a frivolous heteronormative ritual that I can’t fucking afford (which happens to be a preview for the larger, more frivolous heteronormative ritual that I absolutely can’t fucking afford). I remind myself that I chose to participate in this notoriously straight tradition. I fell for it, and now I’m faced with the consequences: Navigating the institution of marriage as a queer person, trying to make it somehow make sense for me.
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My partner, Ford, and I got engaged a year ago, though neither of us are entirely sure why. Of course we’re in love, but that hardly seems relevant—love doesn’t need marriage to endure, and queer people have been proving that fact for centuries. In hindsight, Ford and I succumbed to a tradition that seemed buried within our bones. We justified the life step citing the tax benefits and the spend-your-lives-together thing, even though we mostly did it because “it’s just what you do.”
I was 33 when we got engaged, and I finally felt like I understood myself. I knew my Big Three (Libra sun, Pisces moon, Sag rising), my Myers-Briggs personality (ENTJ – the Commander archetype), and my personal style (Marine Serre + Eckhaus Latta + literally anything that fits me at James Veloria). I came out as bisexual, then wrote a book about how difficult it was to claim such a fluid identity out loud. I felt like I’d advanced beyond the need for romantic traditions to feel complete. But when Ford got down on one knee at a Dolly Parton bar in Williamsburg, I swooned.
I want this, I found myself saying. I’ve always wanted this.
For the ceremony, we could’ve eloped. We could’ve gone to the courthouse in jeans. Ford would have been fine with either, but the most significant thing I’d come to understand about myself was how much I loved being the center of attention. We agreed that we would throw a party, but we’d do it our way. I remembered reading Jia Tolentino’s words literally ten years ago: “Being a woman today still means learning how to rehabilitate junk patriarchal traditions in the manner of your choosing.” Though a decade later, I wasn’t sure I still identified as a woman, I knew I still agreed.
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I decided I’d let The DressTM convey my political hesitations for me. Fashion could handle the nuance of this conversation, I thought. The idea was nice in theory, but it’s left me here, standing in a bridal salon with a complex and contradictory style brief. The brief says I need my wedding gown (or suit!) to be chic, but also to express an inherent disdain for heteronormativity. I need it to clearly read as bridal, but also as punk and gay as hell. I need it to give me perfect cleavage, but also to queer the very tradition of weddings itself. Bonus points if The DressTM is made by an LGBTQ+ designer, but within my budget in the bridal category, that’s been surprisingly difficult to find.
I’ve seen several gay couples on Instagram effortlessly make wedding traditions their own. Why, then, does it feel so hard for me? As a bi person, my journey with queerness has always been riddled with impostor syndrome. Our monosexual society tends to view fluidity as a temporary state, and as a result, I never felt queer enough to own my identity out loud. That now manifests in me putting my wedding on a pedestal, tasking it with being the ultimate proof that I belong. But belong where—in a closeted past? A patriarchal present? A queer future? I feel a familiar discomfort flare up, like I’m in a grade school cafeteria unsure who to sit with at lunch.
The store employee escorts us upstairs. White silk dresses line the walls, and I browse the rack, disappointed. In my intake form for the store, I’d asked to see one particular style in red (the opposite of virginal—take that, hegemonic sexism!), but the attendant informs me that they don’t carry any red versions in stock. This feels like another reminder that my taste is somehow wrong.
The rest of the dresses lack subversion or edge, tall ivory columns conjuring images of the perfect bride. In my head, “the perfect bride” refers to straight girls who wear flower crowns and use that cursive font on all their bridal stationery. Women who don’t ask too many questions. Women who do womaning right.
I catch myself admiring the draping on one of the gowns—a strapless corseted number that seems well proportioned for my body type. Fuck it, I think, then bring it into the fitting room. The attendant buttons me inside, darting up the fabric with industrial-size clips. The bodice hugs my curves like an old friend, and before I see it, I know: I look good.
The mirror confirms. My waist is perfectly cinched, my tits spectacularly zhuzhed. The attendant adds on a veil along with two strings of pearls, and my friends gasp. I look breathtaking. I’m a fuckable Virgin Mary. A goddess. “The perfect bride.”
I feel like a fairy tale. But that’s the problem. I don’t feel bisexual. I don’t feel like me.
“It’s perfect,” my friends say.
“I know,” I say, then turn to the attendant. “What else you got?”